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LIVING YOUR BEST LIFE WITH KATIE NIEDER – 3 of 8 Critical Growth Components in Autism Education

By Anthony KaDarrell Thigpen  


Actively tracking your future, allows teacher to gain a better sense of control of your life and prepares you for the kind of personal growth that allows you to live your best life. This is why Autism Academy for Education and Development places strong emphasis on two paths, academic leadership and parental support. A personal growth plan also helps structure your thinkingListing your necessary steps connects your goals with a system. Having a personal development plan is key to a meaningful life. Teaching and parenting children with Autism is one of the most challenging responsibilities in life. Having a strategy is half the battle.  The Autism Academy for Education and Development is a rapidly growing Autism-only school with four campuses throughout the state of Arizona. The growth of the organization is a direct correlation with the school’s philosophy of professional development. Our ongoing weekly blog series contains 8 critical growth components. This third week features Living Your Best Life with Katie Nieder.   

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

Katie Nieder is the director of AAED Tempe campus. Education is truly a calling,” she said. “Teachers are the key that will unlock the minds and hearts of students.” 

Nieder understands the importance of purpose and personal development for teachers and students. In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle argues that personal growth is a category of wisdom and intelligence. He says the practice of these virtues lead to happiness. In other words, having the need to become the best version of ourselves is the path to self-fulfillment and reaching our full potential. At Autism Academy for Education and Development, aims to help staff and students maximize their potential. Personal growth is how AAED empowers and equips individuals to live their best life.  Personal growth is an unending process. It is mostly shaped in our early ages by parents, teachers, and coaches.  

“As the Tempe director, parents can expect someone who can work alongside families to promote the success of all students at AAED,” said Nieder. 

The A-Plus Academy offers a once-a-week discovery explorer curriculum with unique subjects of study. The specialty curriculum encourages students to engage in various career paths. It provides students with a hands on overview to evaluate their individual interests. Explorer class curriculum includes the following coursework: 

  • Robotics 
  • Dance 
  • Crafting 
  • Ninja & Obstacles 
  • Cooking & Nutrition 
  • S.T.E.A.M. 
  • LEGO Lab 
  • Space Exploration 
  • Science 
  • Babysitting & Childcare 
  • Newspaper 
  •  Zumba   

This adapted program emphasizes gross motor movements, balance, crossing the midline and body spatial awareness. As a result, students with Autism reap social and personal benefits. As we grow into adulthood, we expand our self-awareness and continue improving ourselves. Teachers at AAED are encouraged to create lessons plans for students and a personal growth plan for themselves.  A personal growth plan tracks effectiveness. You can focus on one specific area or all of them at the same time. This plan impacts your intellectual, professional, social and physical life. 


The focus of intellectual growth is knowledge. The brain develops throughout life. Like muscles, intelligence is shaped by exercise. Ultimately, increasing intelligence is acquiring and retaining information.  

Exercises for Intellectual Growth: 

  • Accelerated Learning 
  • Reasoning 
  • Critical Thinking 
  • Speed-Reading 
  • Improved Memory 
  • Analytical Thinking   


The focus of your social life is having fun. These are the activities you do for entertainment, energy, and enjoyment. Social growth includes community, co-workers, friends and most importantly, family. How we treat others paints a clear picture of who we are. Relationships often require hard work and repeated effort. Social growth fosters healthy relationships. 

Social Growth Includes Components Like: 

  • Reading Novels
  • Watching Movies 
  • Social Gatherings 
  • Sports Activities  
  • Creating New Hobbies  


The focus of your physical life is health. Health and wellness plays a large role in defining our lives. Nothing else functions well without a healthy body. Health and wellness has much to do with diet and exercise. Physical growth requires short and long-term goals.   

Tips to Consider for Physical Growth: 

  • Nutrition 
  • Exercise 
  • Hygiene 
  • Strength Training 

This aspect of growth helps students and staff at AAED live their best life.  

“I realized that education is the greatest gift we can give to someone,” Nieder said. “Through my experiences, I became extremely passionate about helping and guiding teachers.” 

Her expertise is an asset to the Autism community. Nieder says helping teachers is what led her down the path of leadership and administration. AAED is sharing 8 growth components, week-by-week, with national blog readers. Our aim is to equip educators across the country with growth strategies to provide the highest quality of education for children with Autism.  


Nieder earned a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from Illinois State University. She earned a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership and Administration from Ottawa University. She has taught 1st, 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grades, both in general education and social studies/history. Nieder has experience in charter and public schools. She has a niche for personal growth and development for staff and students. This is her 2nd year in private education with AAED.