Meaningful Curriculum

Through individually customized instruction grounded in principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), students at Shrub Oak will succeed in attaining their goals. Our curriculum transcends classroom walls, extending throughout the campus and the local communities and is delivered through a cohesive, systemic program.

Consistent instruction permeates each student’s program, with skills learned in class reinforced throughout academic, clinical and student-life programs. Education and treatment programs are supported in residential areas, the dining hall, on the fields, at the farm, and in neighboring communities.

Of utmost importance is respect for every student’s abilities, interests, and preferences; with sensitivity to sensory, communication, social, and cognitive challenges.

An integral component of our program focuses on developing competency in self-determination and self-advocacy. Critical skills for becoming independent adults, such as executive functioning, cooperative work, organization, time management, and task completion are interwoven throughout day and evening activities.

The learning environment is structured to monitor student progress, adapt and modify objectives and strategies as needed, and ensure teacher accountability. Heavy emphasis is placed upon relationship building through trust and respect.

We have found that a strength-based model, which fosters positive interpersonal relationships within a supportive and nurturing setting, can move mountains. Students learn when they feel safe, are aware of the parameters of acceptable and expected behavior, and receive motivating and exciting instruction geared toward their abilities and interests.

Evidence-Based Instruction

All too often, students graduate from high school ill-prepared for the next step. This does not happen to our students.

At Shrub Oak, preparation for postsecondary settings and career preparation is taught within the ongoing curriculum. Academics are taught through functional meaningful activities that are relevant and applicable in everyday life so that our graduates are prepared for adulthood.

With an eye toward longitudinal, life-long planning, our teachers and clinicians employ Developmental, Individual difference, Relationship-based principles (DIR), practices of Universal Design for Transition (UDT), and the Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction (SDLMI) as the foundation for individualized programs.

Gardening with student and teacher

Universal Design for Learning provides a framework of principles that guide how individuals engage in skill acquisition, while the SDLMI serves as a step-by-step guide to build competence for independent adult life and employment-related behaviors.

UDT and SDMLI serve as the underpinnings of the Shrub Oak curriculum because they have been shown to be highly effective in engaging people with learning and behavior challenges and in preparing them for independent adult living. These practices are not currently included in traditional high school curricula for students with ASD, and the Shrub Oak model will substantially contribute to the knowledge base in secondary school education.

Universal Design for Transition

UDT principles recognize that individuals are different in how they learn, interact with people and their environment, and demonstrate knowledge. UDT-based intervention modifies and adapts learning activities rather than trying to change the individual. In short, UDT offers an effective framework to educate high school students with learning differences, taking into account their learning characteristics, abilities, interests, and challenges.

UDT was created by building on Universal Design principles. The goal of UDT is to enable individuals to succeed in school and in the community by ensuring that the environment is maneuverable, manageable, and satisfying for all users. Students are enabled to succeed through:

  1. Multiple means of representation (i.e., varied ways to present information that needs to be learned)
  2. Multiple means of expression (i.e., alternative methods of assessment to demonstrate skills and knowledge learned)
  3. Multiple means of engagement (i.e., connecting work to personal interests to increase motivation).

Educational tasks are scaffolded so that participants enter activities at their own level. Goals are accomplished through concrete presentation of information related to interests and needs. Assistive technology plays a significant role in UDT, as it offers multiple avenues for information presentation, acquisition, task completion, and expression of knowledge.

Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction

Self-determination competence, a cornerstone of our curriculum, is positively correlated with educational success and improved adult outcomes. Self-determination includes concepts of independence, freedom of choice, self-direction, and responsibility.

A causal relationship between high levels of self-determination competence and student outcomes has been demonstrated, and individuals who are more self-determined are more likely to achieve positive school outcomes.

SDLMI is based on a problem-solving approach that leads individuals to bridge the gap between current situations and targeted goals. Phases of SCDC interface with person-centered planning and include goal setting, constructing learning plans, and adjusting behaviors.

This is a self-directed process using a problem-solving strategy where the teacher supports the student in identifying and setting goals, developing an action plan to achieve the goals, monitoring progress, and revising the action plan or goals as needed.

The Shrub Oak Vocational Program

Principles and practices derived from UDT serve as the framework for the Shrub Oak Employment Intervention System (EIS). Staff members move students toward attaining vocational and career goals through customized support to address specific needs and cognitive styles, while providing functional job-skill training and continuing to build self-determination competence.

Shrub Oak’s EIS is drawn from state-of-the-art knowledge about needs of persons with ASD. The following elements are featured throughout our EIS:

  1. Work internship experiences in settings that take into account students strengths as well as challenges, such as executive dysfunction, concrete thinking, rigidity, and social challenges
  2. Self-determination competence development activities leading to job identification, which takes into account talents and skills that may have been developed and honed to high levels through interests in specific topics
  3. Modeling and video presentations that take into account unique learning and behavior characteristics associated with ASD (e.g., difficulty with abstract concepts, trouble with fast-paced instructions, preference for well-organized presentation)
  4. Participation in individual work, cooperative tasks, and technology-driven activities that take into account social interaction challenges (e.g., difficulty with generalization of learned behaviors to new situations, desire to have friends but difficulty taking initiative or acting reciprocally, difficulty understanding expectations in cooperative group situations)
  5. Use of technology to enhance performance, and
  6. Reflection and evaluation through self-assessment to look at consequences of one’s actions, as well as interpretation of, and response to, one’s acts by others.
Vocational learning

In sum, Shrub Oak’s unique curriculum accommodates sensory, cognitive, and behavioral characteristics, with emphasis on building skills for life-long success, including executive functioning, self-regulation of behavior, information processing, and social interaction.

The education curriculum is innovative in its combined utilization of UDT and SDMLI, both of which have been supported in efficacy studies and have been shown to improve learning outcomes. By extending use of SDMLI and UDT into a strength-based education setting, student outcomes can be significantly improved, leading to increased independence and success.

Modules That Guide Shrub Oak Teaching Staff

Module Title Overview Sample Tasks
Authentic Inclusion of Student and Family Individuals with ASD, teaching and clinical staff, and family members explore and identify learning goals
  • Interactive meetings including family partners, staff, and other members of support network
  • Students actively engage and self-advocate; accessing needed services, navigating school and community, and resolving problems and obstacles
Functional Academic Assessment Focus on translation of academics into meaningful life learning
  • Utilize tools to assess individuals’ academic levels and goals with regard for support needs in the context of a therapeutic school environment
  • Support decision-making across domains of independent living, social interaction, academics, employment, physical/environment, thinking and communicating, and social/behavioral
Transition Planning Universal Design used to build on individual strengths rather than deficit-based model
  • Strategies and steps to enable students to transition to the next setting in their development, whether headed for further education or employment
Relationship- Based Strategies Build positive supports and relationship-based approaches to deal with challenging situations in school and community
  • Focus on positive behavior supports and relationships to build adaptive behavior and resolve issues in school and community-based settings
  • Specific instructional and clinical interventions customized to the individual, their support system, and local environment
  • Relationships with peers
Self-Determination Competence Phases of SDLMI (identify goal, work toward goal, adjust plan or goal)
  • Person-centered planning utilized to facilitate choice-making and goal setting
  • Train clinicians, residential staff, peers and others in techniques to build self-advocacy competency
Community-Based Engagement Teach universal skills and generic behaviors vital for successful adult life – school, community, family, employment
  • Plan and implement strategies to foster ability to self-regulate, attend to and complete tasks, follow directions, organize activities, manage time efficiently, and work cooperatively with others
  • Develop skill in navigating community resources
Independent Living Skills for Community Participation and Job Success Requisite independent living skills for job success and quality of life will be identified
  • Build skill in managing tasks related to financial budgeting, laundry, personal hygiene, time management, meal preparation, being on time, and home cleanliness
  • Use of leisure time and recreational activities