In April 2021, OAR’s Board of Directors authorized a board-designated grant to fund a two-year project implementing that program at Empire. Led by Noor Syed, PhD, BCBA-D, assistant professor of applied behavior analysis and director of the Center for Autism Inclusivity, “Creating an Inclusive Institution through Multitiered Systems of Support” seeks to expand inclusivity and accessibility of resources. The goal is to holistically implement multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) frameworks at its Empire State College campus that will increase equitability throughout the college by modifying practices to better support autistic students.
While MTSS frameworks have strong evidence to support sustainable systems change both academically and for social-behavioral needs in K-12 schools and districts, such as stronger student academic performance, increasingly positive climates as perceived by staff, lower number of suspensions, and increased graduation rates, MTSS frameworks have not yet been assessed in a higher education institution.
To implement and lead the project, Dr. Syed has put together a team of behavior analysts working alongside autistic individuals and the broader autism community.
This project aims to:
- Lessen anxiety and forced disclosure.
- Positively affect the climate and culture of the school.
- Create an inclusive in-person and online learning environment.
In order to create a sustainable culture of inclusivity, the implementation team is conducting focus groups and town halls to gather stakeholder perspectives and input regarding how supports can be embedded throughout the college. Dr. Syed and her team will gather information to ascertain the specific needs of student groups, including prospective, current and past undergraduate and graduate students; faculty and staff; and caregivers in the autism community. She also plans to hold outreach sessions for students and other groups to explain the support system, its goals, and its components.
Dr. Syed and her team will use an MTSS framework to set up an in-person and online inclusive support structure that will include training, supports, and systems processing guidelines.
Training: The training component will include annually mandated training and training embedded within new hire orientation for faculty and staff as well as resources such as syllabi and rubric development, regularly scheduled neurodiversity support workshops, and communication support.
Supports: Supports will include an online peer mentorship program for autistic students, training for all students, and online and in-person social skill development opportunities for autistic students. In addition, bimonthly outreach sessions will be held to support autistic students. Dr. Syed will oversee expansion of the university website to include universal supports that can be accessed anonymously and asynchronously for students, faculty, and staff.
Throughout the two-year project, the team will collect and analyze data to determine the efficacy of the training and use of supports and evaluate their value to users, including students, faculty, staff, and others. They will use that information to assess whether the program can be implemented throughout the SUNY system and possibly shared with other schools and universities as well.
Sherri Alms is the freelance editor of The OARacle, a role she took on in 2007. She has been a freelance writer and editor for more than 20 years.