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Highlands County Collaboration

Sometimes difficult circumstances can lead to positive outcomes. This has been the case for Audrey in Highlands County. Audrey was having difficulty in middle school and engaged in behaviors that interfered with her education. Highland's county ESE Coordinator, Connie Tzovarras, introduced Suzanne Ather of CARD-USF to Audrey and her aunt and requested an individual consultation for Audrey. It was this openness to collaboration, technical assistance, and individual consultation that led to ongoing positive relationships and positive outcomes for Audrey.

When it was time for Audrey to transition to high school, Suzanne was there to explain and model approaches with Audrey, but after a period of calm, things began to deteriorate. Mrs. Tzovarras and Becky Johnson, Assistant Coordinator of ESE, saw the need for intensive support and training for those working with Audrey and Suzanne connected them with the Positive Behavioral Support (PBS) Project, an affiliated project of CARD-USF.

The PBS Project provides training and technical assistance to teams comprised of educators, families, behavior specialists, and others in a position to support the focus individual who has autism. These efforts are geared for building district-wide capacity in addressing challenging behavior. Highlands County ESE department and school administration willingly accepted training and technical assistance from the PBS Project for Audrey's team and also requested additional training for other teams in the county.

Collaboration between Suzanne Ather, Selina Bustamante of the PBS Project, and Highlands County started at a time when things looked grim for Audrey. A team was re-established and included her new teacher, Don Hickman and Highlands County's new behavior specialist, Melissa Blackman.

The process began with several school visits and a review of Audrey's behavior support plan that came with her from middle school. Adjustments were made to the behavior support plan and classroom personnel received training. After the training Melissa maintained a presence in the class to provide additional support to the personnel who were implementing the support strategies. Since the training, Audrey's challenging behaviors have decreased and this has led to more educational time throughout her day.

The openness to collaborative efforts between Audrey's family, Highlands County ESE department, Avon Park High School, the PBS Project, and CARD has had results that reach beyond individual circumstances and improving the education and quality of life for just one student. It has resulted in the PBS Project assisting with the establishment and training of additional teams in Highlands County.

"Collaborations are defined as organizational and inter-organizational structures where resources, power, and authority are shared and where people are brought together to achieve common goals that could not be accomplished by a single individual or organization independently."

Sharon Kagan, 1991