Adolescents with Autism for Adult Life" began operations in September
of 2006. PAAL is a specialty secondary-educational program for
adolescents with moderate to severe autism between the ages of 14 and
21, which establishes a professional collaboration between the
educational system, families, and the
community-at-large. The primary goal of the PAAL
program is to identify and teach the skills which must be
mastered to prepare the student for his or her post-21 years.
Since "best practices' indicate that individuals with autism learn
better in the naturally-occurring environment, the program utilizes the
community as its classroom. By so doing, the fundamental
principles of transition and integration into the community for adult
life are supported.
Peter F. Gerhardt Ed.D, President
of the Organization for Autism Research (OAR), is Primary
Consultant to PAAL. Dr. Gerhardt, who consults nationally
on the issue of adolescents with autism, and has over twenty-five
years of experience in this field, works with PAAL to develop
our program and to monitor its implementation. Dr.
Gerhardt advises on staff training as well as on critical policies
and procedure. To learn more about Dr. Gerhardt, click here.
number of school days. PAAL student hours are 9:00
AM through 3:00 PM. In order to more closely emulate a
junior and senior high school day, plans are in the works to extend
PAAL student hours. An extended school day would allow students
to participate in peer-to-peer programs, after-school
sports, and similar activities. Additionally,
transition-age students need to maximize instructional time to prepare
for the demands of adulthood.
- Click here to view a typical weekly schedule (PDF)
ABA Based Programming
Intensive Learning Environment
- Frequent, intensive, structured, and consistent learning opportunities.
of student/teacher ratio is 1:2 (community) or 1:3
(classroom). Wherever necessary to meet a student's
needs, classroom/community support staff with the availability of
1:1. A fundamental program principal is to increase
ratios as quickly as is competently possible. Independence is the
goal, and further, 1:1 ratios are rarely available in adult
Entirely Community-Based Instruction
education and instruction for acquisition of prerequisite skills.
The classroom facility is located in the heart of
the business district of Downingtown, PA, and is in close proximity to
the Chester County High School, thus presenting opportunities
for interaction with typically-developing peers.
A peer-directed leisure-skill acquisition program to take
place during after-school hours is in the planning stage. It
is anticipated that student-interns at Downingtown East,
Downingtown West, and Shanahan High Schools will function as
- The classroom
facility and life-skills house are within walking distance of
public transportation that accesses both the Exton Mall and
West Chester Borough. Students with autism are eligible to
ride public transportation at zero or reduced cost. PAAL staffers
assist families in registering with the transportation
- The classroom facility
and life-skills house are within walking distance of two
parks with basketball courts, tennis courts, and playgrounds.
They are located close to walking and biking trails.
Partnerships have been established with such businesses
as the Desmond Hotel, Palace Bowling, ACAC Gyro, Regal
Cinema, a local gymnastics gym, a pool hall, ice hockey rink,
rock climbing facility, miniature golf course, and pottery
Curriculum and Learning Opportunities Specifically Tailored to the Defined Characteristics of Adult Life
The curriculum of the PAAL Program has been designed for adolescents between the ages of
14 - 21. The curriculum has the following core components:
- Highly Individualized
- Intensity of Instruction
- Community Based
- Implemented According to the Principals of Applied Behavior Analysis
Philosophically, PAAL follows the Syracuse Curriculum.
As referenced in the Syracuse guide, this curriculum is highly
individualized, intensive in nature, and focused on the development of
adaptive behaviors in the areas of social competencies, community
living, community training, interdependence, and
self-determination. Every aspect of the curriculum is intended to
have a functional goal. Functional academic skills are addressed:
primarily math, reading, and writing with an emphasis on functional
communication training. Practically, once these skills are
targeted through the IEP process, baseline data is collected to assess
competencies and identify areas for increased mastery.
Once mastery criteria is set, data is continually collected and
assessed in order that learning programs and interventions
strategies can be continually modified to increase
independent skill levels. All learning is implemented and
monitored according to the principals of Applied Behavior Analysis,
utilizing systems of reinforcement, prompting strategies, and the
naturally-occurring cues within the natural environment to teach skill
acquisition. Skill acquisition learning programs are developed
for each skill taught. Each student's day is scheduled pursuant to
the Comprehensive Autism Planning System (Myles, Brenda 2006)(CAPS).
Functional assessments are performed to determine the function of
maladaptive behaviors prior to the development of behavior reduction
plans. Appropriate replacement behaviors are
identified prior to the development of positive behavior
Learning Opportunities may be in the following areas:
Choice (PAAL advocates to re-engineer the traditional view concerning
vocational opportunity, and tailors opportunities to individuals with
- Where and How We Live -
Lifestyle Issues (PAAL begins with the student's family's
vision of life post-21; identifies existing supports; creates new
opportunities; then backward chains in order for students to acquire
the skills necessary to make the vision a reality.)
and Hobbies (PAAL identifies the skill sets necessary for students
to engage in meaningful recreational activities on an
- Other Quality of Life Issues, including Public and Private Social Circles (PAAL cultivates community acceptance.)
strategies employed include PECS, incidental teaching, fluency-based
instruction, task analysis, backward chaining, schedules of
reinforcement. positive behavior support, peer modeling, functional
analysis, data collection, and strategies to promote social
Adaptive Physical Education
at ACAC Fitness Center maximizing opportunities to acquire skills
necessary to appropriately function within a community setting.
adaptive physical education goals are IEP-driven, but may include
swimming, running on the track, proper use of fitness equipment, team
sport instruction such as soccer and/or basketball, and callisthenic
- Students access and utilize
the community physical fitness facility just as any other member of the
community, complete with their own key fob for check in.
- Utilization of the locker room to change into appropriate fitness attire and for showering.
Emphasis on Pragmatic Communication
Home and Coordination
Life Skills/Respite Transition House
1600 square foot home in a residential neighborhood within walking
distance from the classroom facility and retail
- Once identified as an
appropriate IEP goal, opportunities for learning in the life-skills
house occurr on a daily basis.
parking allows for safe access to school transportation for
community activities that require transportation.
life-skills house is within walking distance of public
transportation to Exton Mall and the Borough of West Chester. Students
will learn appropriate and safe access to public transportation as part
of their regular instruction.
Respite and Transition Opportunities
is planned that the life-skills house will be available for older
students (18 through 21, and post-21) to experience time away
from home in a familiar environment with familiar responsible adults
(ie. school staff.)
- Time away from home
serves to prepare the student for transition to whatever independent
living arrangement is decided upon, should residence away from home be
contemplated following graduation.
opportunities will provide respite to the
students' families and prepare the families for the eventual
departure of the student to his or her adult home.