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CHARACTER BUILDING AND DEVELOPMENT WITH DERRICK JAMERSON – 6 of 8 Critical Growth Components in Autism Education

By Anthony KaDarrell Thigpen  


Building a culture of character amongst children with Autism is a multifaceted daily task that requires risks. Autism Academy for Education and Development is one of the nation’s leading experts in Autism education. The Arizona-based Autism-only school has nearly 180 employees, over 400 students, 6 facilities and 4 campuses statewide. Their vision of keeping kid’s first, results in measurable and calculated growth. Character building and development is one of the schools 8 ongoing growth components. AAED administrators strategically publish these shared values to strengthen Autism education nationwide. As a result, the ongoing weekly blog series contains 8 critical growth components. This sixth week features Character Building and Development with Derrick Jamerson.  

Critical Growth Components in Autism Education Blog Series:   

  1. Independent Living with Jennifer Sevier 
  2. Autism Academic Awareness with Kimberly Baltzley 
  3. Living Your Best Life with Katie Nieder  
  4. Positive Behavior Support with Darnell Cherry
  5. Curriculum, Coaching and Culture with Shawn Davis 
  6. Character Building and Development with Derrick Jamerson
  7. Fostering A Fun Atmosphere with Carrie Hatanaka 
  8. Speech, Occupational and Animal Therapies with Kalona Newcomb  

Derrick Jamerson is the new AAED program director.  

“My new role is multifaceted,” Jamerson said. “I will work to help create and provide professional development, particularly with paraprofessionals.” 

Jamerson is also responsible for character building programs like Special Olympics and community-based initiatives. Character building and professional development are key growth components that directly correlate to the culture of every school. Professional development in an Autism-only environment demands a unique skill set. 


According to recent data, more than 312,000 paraprofessionals provide services to students with disabilities in America. With the growing reliance on paraprofessional support in Autism education, a direct line of knowledge and training is needed. This type of support for paraprofessionals allow schools to effectively implement individualized education plans (IEPs) and a tailored curriculum. These components allow AAED to meet each student’s current need. The process of seamlessly creating a functional learning environment weighs heavily on skilled paraprofessionals.   

“I am a servant leader that believes in sacrificing for the greater good,” Jamerson said. “I believe that leaders are responsible to empower others to grow and take risks.” The are 3 common responsibilities for paraprofessionals at AAED: 

  1. Support lead teachers; 
  2. Proactively reinforcing positive performance; and 
  3. Understanding how to implement the ABCs of challenging behavior.  


  1. Antecedents  
  2. Behaviors 
  3. Consequences 

The ABCs include the antecedents, behaviors and consequences. Antecedents (A) are any type of motivation that precedes a behavior. Any person, place or thing that is presented as a stimulus creating a response is an antecedent. Behaviors (B) are based on interaction. Everything a person does is behavior. Behavior is termed as a problem when undesired or dysfunctional responses occur. Consequences (C) follow behavior. Some behaviors deserve proactive reinforcement while other behavior requires redirection. This is why providing proper training to paraprofessionals is imperative in Autism education. Proactive reinforcement of positive behavior is how paraprofessionals at AAED limit unwanted behavior and create a more productive environment conducive to learning. 


In order to employ positive behavior, there are two key aspects needed: 

  1. Reinforcement, 
  2. Reinforcers,  

I   Reinforcement  

Reinforcement refers to any interaction that increases, and sometimes decreases, the likelihood of various responses. Reinforcement is important for improving classroom performance and motivating students to steadily produce positive results. AAED employs a variety of interactions and verbal praise: 

  • Highly Preferred Activities  
  • Tangibles: (stickers, bonus bucks, stars, etc.)  
  • Behavioral Systems: (points, tokens, acknowledgements, etc.)

II   Reinforcers   

A reinforcer is the role of the paraprofessional and teachers to use specific rewards to stimulate an increase in desired responses. It is important to build supportive relationships amongst students with Autism to best identify the stimulants that work.   

Common Classroom Reinforcers:  

  • Snacks 
  • Toys 
  • Stickers
  • Games  
  • Prizes  
  • Tokens 
  • Points 
  • School Store Bucks  

Positive behavior support amongst all staff leads to an academic environment and culture that creates a climate for character building. The character and social skills program at Autism Academy for Education and Development provides a solid life-skills foundation. The entire mission of the school is centered on programs that support the overall mission. The mission of AAED is to assist every student with Autism to be equipped and able to achieve academic, social and behavioral excellence in an environment centered on strong character values. The school’s character values program has key components designed to teach students anti-bullying strategies. As an outstanding listener, Jamerson’s approach offers a great deal of educational research and experience. 

I value insight and perspective from all members of the school community,” Jamerson said. 

As a result, Jamerson plans to increase student participation, volunteers and coaches to the Special Olympics, dances and social events. This very important component to sustaining continued growth of character building and development strengthens any school with a solid foundation.  


Jamerson earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Education from Ball State University. He continued his education at Indiana Wesleyan University, earning a Masters in Curriculum, Assessment and Instruction.  Indiana Wesleyan University is where he also advanced into the Administration Licensure Program. After excelling in the Indiana Principals’ Leadership Academy, Jamerson’s relocated to Arizona where he received an Autism Specialist Certification. Jamerson invested 6 years working with students as a classroom teacher, prior to working in administration. Jamerson has 24 years experience in the field of education and 5 years at AAED.