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MEETING THE NEEDS WITH KALONA NEWCOMB – 8 OF 8 Critical Growth Components in Autism Education

By Anthony KaDarrell Thigpen


Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder have special needs that are best accommodated in Autism-only schools. Individual Educational Plans often require support services and specialized therapies. The Autism Academy for Education and Development places strong emphasis on meeting the needs of every student. Individual Educational Plans (IEPs), include onsite occupational, speech and animal therapies, as well as sensory support and so much more. As nationwide leading experts in Autism education, their vision of keeping kid’s first, results in quantifiable growth. The Autism-only school employs over 180 staffers, with an enrollment of almost 500 students occupying 6 facilities and 4 campuses throughout Arizona. AAED administrators publish best practices to strengthen shared values in Autism education nationwide. As a result, this weekly blog series contains 8 critical growth components available at

This eighth week features Speech, Occupational and Animal Therapies with Kalona Newcomb.

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

Kalona Newcomb is the AAED director of therapy services and executive team member.

“Speech and occupational therapies are fundamental to the programming offered at AAED,” she said. “We have developed an amazing therapy team where everyone is cohesive and collaborative and works hard to develop the best individualized plans to insure the child is as independent as possible.”

According to Newcomb, many schools have discontinued offering onsite essentials therapies. Developing an effective and efficient IEP is a critical component to a child’s success. The process of creating a quality IEP can be complicated, but produces rewarding results. It is a principal part of the special education process. Parents play an important part in helping to lay the foundation. There are 6 essential steps when writing a solid foundation to an IEP.


1. Communicate the time, place, purpose and people involved in the IEP meeting.

2. Evaluate annual goals at least once every 12 months.

3. Develop, review, and/or revise IEP documents as necessary.

The IEP Document Includes:

· Student strengths

· Parent concerns

· Results of the previous evaluation

· Academic, developmental, and functional needs

4. Discuss Special factors or considerations which involves communication needs, assistive technological devices, behavioral concerns, visual and hearing impairments and limited English proficiency.

5. Identify current information that describes academic achievement and performance that covers all developmental areas that need support.

Examples of Academic Skills to Consider for Support:

· Math, reading, writing

· Daily life

· Social

· Behavior

· Sensory

· Communication

· Mobility

· Vocational skills

6. Consider extra help needed for related services to aid in the special education process.

Related services can include, but are not limited to:

· Assistive Technology

· Audiology

· Counseling Services

· Occupational Therapy

· Orientation and Mobility Services

· Parent Counseling/Training

· Physical Therapy

· Psychological Services

· Speech-Language Pathology

Developing a good IEP is a learning process. When parents and schools work together, the process works well, and produce the best results.

“I deliver best practices in Speech therapy for the various levels on the Autism Spectrum,” Newcomb explained. “I also work with various therapy providers and other supportive staff members to motivate students to be their best.”


Autism spectrum disorder causes a wide range of learning disabilities that are unique to each child. Classrooms must remain equipped to help every student work around those difficulties. Each individual’s functioning level and sensory processing plays a role in the disability types and necessary accommodations. With the right accommodations, it is possible to overcome barriers to learning and help children with Autism to tackle schoolwork with confidence. AAED provides occupational, speech, and animal therapies, and sensory rooms,which also supports best behavioral practices.

Speech and Occupational Therapies

Autism Academy for Education and Development has a rapidly growing therapy department which encompasses both speech and occupational therapies. A majority of our students receive at least one, if not both, of these direct services. The speech language therapy takes place within the classroom setting, as well as small groups and individually. This depends on the specific needs of the student as outlined in the IEP. We use the latest and proven techniques to equip students to achieve the highest possible degree of individual progress. Occupational Services at the Autism Academy are tailored to meet each students’ individual needs as well.

The OT team addresses fine motor skills, visual motor skills, visual perception skills, gross motor skills, executive functional skills, sensory processing, and self help skills. OT provides classroom support by identifying and recommending adjustments for environmental adaptations. These adjustments also take place within the classroom, or as needed individually based on the student’s IEP. AAED uses OT techniques that play a crucial role in assisting teachers in developing and integrating sensory strategies in the classroom. The school’s approach has been proven to improve focus and participation. AAED takes a multidisciplinary approach while working with students. Their collaboration between speech therapy, occupational therapy, behavioral practices, and classroom instruction is unique to any other Autism program. This is because it ensures that each student is provided with the support needed. AAED aims to help students achieve academic, social, and behavioral excellence in an environment centered on strong character values.

Animal Therapy

AAED uses 6 well-trained therapy dogs that specifically work with students at school only. These dogs are used for animal therapy. Animal therapy helps children with Autism who are experiencing sleep conditions, dangerous tendency of wandering, the need for positive touch and friendship. Dogs help calm, console and distract them from disappointments. The dogs also aid nonverbal students by responding to hand commands. During the program, students transition from fear to calmness. Teachers also use animal therapy as a way to reward and promote positive behavior.

Behavioral Practices

AAED applies 5 diverse methods to reinforce positive behavior:

1. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

2. Augmentative Devices

3. Small 4-1 group ratios

4. Classroom Schedules

5. Sensory Rooms

Sensory Rooms

Sensory rooms on every AAED campus are multi-sensory environments to allow those using it to control sensory input. These rooms are designed to help students with Autism cope with sensory concerns such as sound, lighting, smell, touch, temperature and space. The goal is to empower the student to seek activities to help regulate their body. When a student has poor processing of sensory information it is difficult for them to perform routinely. Learning cannot occur when students feel out of control or disorganized. AAED sensory rooms provide various equipment to facilitate different types of input to assist a student in regulating their sensory system. The occupational therapists at AAED also provide sensory based treatments. The well-trained staff uses a variety of techniques to improve sensory processing, self regulation and increase focus.


There are many revolving components to meeting the needs of students with Autism. This 8-blog series, Critical Growth Components in Autism Education, is intended to provide parents and professionals with a general overview. Newcomb is dedicated to providing ongoing support to students, staff and the school to ensure that AAED program continues to serve as the nation’s best. As a result, readers nationwide are able to duplicate strategies and best practice to adequately service students with Autism across the country.


Newcomb earned a Bachelors of Science in Speech Language and Hearing from the University of Arizona. She is currently pursuing her master’s in business administration. Her experience with Autism Academy began in 2013, when the Autism-only school first opened. She started working as a paraprofessional and helping wherever needed. As a member of the executive team, Newcomb works with the executive director to support all areas of programming.