National Inclusive Education Initiative

This project was completed in September 2011 and these resources are no longer updated.
NIEI logo

The NIEI is focused on improving educational services and outcomes for students with autism and related disabilities through efforts in the areas of leadership development, personnel preparation, professional development, model demonstration, clinical evaluation services, and research and policy, briefly described next.

This project is supported by the Fund for the Improvement of Education and is administered by the U.S. Department of Education.


As the population of students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) increases (1 in 150 children is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder in the U.S.), educators need strategies and resources to improve their ability to teach students with autism spectrum disorders and related disabilities (ASDRD) in general education classrooms and neighborhood schools alongside non-disabled peers. Over 30 years of research has shown that academic and other important outcomes are positively correlated with the amount of time that these students spend in general education classrooms (IDEA, 2004). Furthermore, the high costs and poorer outcomes associated with educating students with ASDRD in out-of-district and/or segregated placements are troubling to families, schools, and communities. Emerging best practices need to be translated into formats that are accessible and usable, disseminated broadly to increase awareness, and sustained over time. Families must be fully engaged in the process of education, and therefore, also need skills to advocate for their sons and daughters. And finally, state and national policies must be informed by best practices in order that regulations, funding formulas, and enforcement activities support access to the general education curriculum, graduation, post-secondary education, and productive adult lives.

The Institute on Disability (IOD) at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) is a nationally recognized source of cutting edge research, teaching, and service related to children and youth with ASDRD. With support from the Fund for the Improvement of Education administered by the U.S. Department of Education, the IOD has established the first National Inclusive Education Initiative for Students with Autism and Related Disabilities (NIEI).

Books & Publications

The Inclusion Facilitator's Guide

This strategy filled guide prepares educators and administrators to be successful inclusion facilitators by discovering the secrets of effective collaborative team leaders, using the University of New Hampshire's proven program as a model for the professional development and learning from the stories of real life professionals.

The Beyond Access Model

Practical, forward-thinking, and person-centered, The Beyond Access Model shows education professionals what meaningful inclusive education looks like and gives them the critical guidance they need to make it happen.

Autism Spectrum Disorders and AAC

Essential for SLPs, OTs, PTs, educators, and other direct service providers, this book gives readers a complete understanding of the diverse AAC options- knowledge they can use to help people with ASDs develop the communication and social skills they need to succeed.

Leadership for Inclusive Education

The Institute on Disability’s National Inclusive Education Initiative supports several leadership initiatives for youth, families, adults with disabilities, educators, and school administrators. For information about each of these efforts, please read the descriptions provided below and if you want more information about how to replicate these efforts in your community or state, please visit each program’s website and contact its coordinator.

Y.E.S. – Youth Empowerment Series

Youth Empowerment Services (YES) is a three-year initiative designed to develop and promote leadership and self-advocacy skills to help young people prepare for their future. Twenty five young adults ages 16-22 with and without disabilities from the target areas of Concord, Manchester, and Peterborough, NH have be selected to participate in the YES project. Parents, guardians, and/or family members of YES project participants will also participate in a training series, Specific Planning Encourages Creative Solutions (SPECS), which is designed to assist individuals in achieving their life goals. Youth and their families involved in this project will participate in an intensive training series in the areas of leadership, self-advocacy, and futures planning and receive follow-up support to achieve identified goals.

Project Coordinator: Frank Sgambati (

New Hampshire Leadership Series

New Hampshire has achieved national recognition in recent years for its innovative approaches to supporting people with disabilities and their families within their communities and fostering communities - where everyone belongs.

Substantial positive changes have taken place during the past decade in New Hampshire, and many of these changes are a direct result of work by leaders who have graduated from the New Hampshire Leadership Series.

The series, which began in 1988 at the University of New Hampshire's Institute on Disability, was modeled after Minnesota's Partners in Policymaking Series with later input from the Colorado Partners in Leadership Training. The seven-session long series is held from September through April, and provides parents with state-of-the-art information and strategies to effectively impact local and state organizations on issues related to individuals with disabilities.

More than 800 parents and adults with disabilities have graduated from the NH Leadership Series, which is updated and revised each year. These leaders advocate with service providers, use the legislative process to achieve change, and organize communities to support inclusion.

Leadership graduates serve on school boards, family support teams and councils, judicial benches, local and state government, and other community boards. Graduates are representatives in the current New Hampshire House of Representatives and the NH state Senate. When asked about their entrance into the world of leadership positions, many graduates point to the NH Leadership Series as a pivotal experience in their lives.

Project Coordinator: Beth Dixon (

School Administrators’ Leadership Series

This archived webinar series is designed to provide school administrators in general and special education (and other school leaders) with state of the art information about inclusive education for students with autism and related disabilities. This series is a companion to two other webinar series – Fundamentals of Inclusive Education and Educators’ Leadership Series.

Five webinars have been created and archived for viewing at your convenience. Each webinar is between 60 and 120 minutes. Each webinar consists of a PowerPoint presentation, practical examples, research citations, links to related professional articles, and in some cases, video examples.

The webinar topics include:

  • A New View of Students with Autism and Related Disabilities
  • Including Families and Students as Partners
  • Creating a Leadership Team to Promote and Sustain Inclusion
  • Creating a Welcoming Classroom, School, and Community for All Students
  • Desired Outcomes and Best Practices for Students with Autism and Related Disabilities

Educators’ Leadership Series

This series provides general and special education teachers, administrators, and others in leadership positions with state of the art information about inclusive education for students with autism and related disabilities in a PowerPoint format that is “ready to go” for presentation in your own schools and communities. We are making them available to people who are already “content experts” who have experience supporting students in general education classrooms. This series is a companion to two other webinar series – Fundamentals of Inclusive Education Series and Administrators’ Leadership Series.

Each of the seven PowerPoint presentations in this series is between 60 and 120 minutes and consists of practical examples, templates and forms that can be useful in planning, research citations, links to related professional articles, and other resources.

The PowerPoint topics include:

  • Inclusive Education Benefits and Rationale
  • Getting Students “IN”: Membership and Participation in the General Education Classroom
  • Instructional Supports for Students with Autism and Related Disabilities
  • Collaborative Teaming that Supports Inclusive Education
  • Core Values and Practices of Inclusive Education
  • Facilitating Social Relationships
  • Establishing and Focusing the Work of Leadership Teams for Inclusive Education Systems

Project Activities


In 1988, the IOD developed the first NH Leadership Series for parents of children with disabilities. The series was modeled after Minnesota's Partners in Policymaking with input from the Colorado Partners in Leadership Training. The seven-session series provides parents and adults with disabilities with state-of-the-art information and advocacy strategies to effectively impact their own lives and those of their children, and local and state systems and policies. The IOD has recently begun a leadership series for youth ages 15-21, including those with ASDRD – called Y.E.S. (Youth Empowerment Series) – to support them develop the leadership skills necessary to apply self-determination and advocacy skills at the individual, community, and policy-making levels.

The NIEI will support these existing leadership efforts and offer two new leadership programs: one for 40 school administrators and one for 40 teachers (both general and special education). The project will support all four of these leadership programs to reach a national audience through partnerships with national colleagues and broad dissemination efforts.

Personnel Preparation

The NIEI will recruit 10 scholars into each of four existing programs of study at UNH that address issues related to inclusive education of students with ASDRD including: (a) the Graduate Certificate in ASD, (b) the master’s level Teacher Certification Credential in Intellectual and Other Developmental Disabilities (IDD), (c) a 4-module sequence in Augmentative Communication offered as part of the master’s degree program in communication sciences and disorders, and (d) the Graduate Certificate in Assistive Technology. The NIEI will provide technical support to faculty who teach in these programs to offer two ASD-specific courses via distance learning to a national audience. A national symposium will be hosted and proceedings disseminated to foster consensus on high quality personnel preparation curricula in the area of ASDRD and to develop a follow up technical assistance strategy for assisting institutions of higher education to adopt such curricula. 

Professional Development

The NIEI proposes several professional development initiatives for 2009-2010. The first will be the development and offering of a self-study web-based module on “Improving Access to the General Education Curriculum for Students with ASD.” Features of this module will include: (a) presenting a strengths-based view of ASD; (b) presenting a social construction view of learning; (c) designing individualized supports for membership, participation, and learning of the general education curriculum in the general education classroom; (d) structures and processes of effective collaborative teaming for instructional planning and problem-solving; and (e) evaluating program implementation to ensure appropriate student and team outcomes.

The second professional development activity of the NIEI will be the establishment of an online Community of Practice (COP) for professionals and family members where they can have access to the latest information about educating students with ASD in inclusive classrooms, find out about learning events related to this topic, and ask questions of NIEI staff about challenging issues they are facing.

The NIEI will co-host the IOD’s 11th annual Autism Summer Institute whose theme is “Show Me the Evidence: Effective Strategies for Including Children and Youth with ASD in Natural Environments and General Education Classrooms.” Individuals from all over the U.S. and other countries typically attend this institute.

To advance policy and practice, the NIEI will publish a document titled “Best Practices in Educating Students with ASDRD in Natural Environments and Inclusive General Education Classrooms.”

Model Demonstration in Schools

The IOD has been engaged in model demonstration work related to inclusive education since 1985 through many state and federal discretionary grants. From 2002-2006 the IOD designed, implemented, and evaluated the Beyond Access Model to promote membership in general education classrooms, participation in general education instruction, and learning of the general education curriculum for students with significant disabilities, including autism. Since 2007, the IOD has collaborated with the NH Department of Education and other agencies to design, implement, and evaluate a school improvement model of Response to Intervention (RtI). (See NH Responds for more information.) RtI utilizes collaborative team leadership, data-based decision making, and evidence-based, multi-tiered instruction and interventions to improve student outcomes and to improve school capacity to sustain this educational model with diverse learners.

The NIEI for Students with Autism and Related Disabilities has conceptualized a model that blends the principles and practices of RtI and the Beyond Access Model. In NIEI’s model demonstration, schools will be provided with professional development, technical assistance, and leadership team facilitation to:

  • tailor the NIEI model to their school/district,
  • develop the consensus for inclusive education at their school/district,
  • design the infrastructure needed to implement and to sustain inclusive education locally, and
  • initiate implementation of their model of inclusive education.

Schools that are already familiar with or who are already implementing RtI or the Beyond Access Model are STRONGLY encouraged to apply! The NIEI professional development and technical assistance will be tailored, as much as possible, to meet individual schools/districts needs.

For the first year of its work, the NIEI aims to recruit twenty schools (50 students and their families, 200 educators and administrators) as national model demonstration sites. The NIEI will partner with these sites through July, 2010 (possibly longer if additional funding is secured). Lessons learned from these schools will be documented in procedural manuals for other schools to use and published in research articles to advance the field of education of students with autism and related disabilities.

Based on work with the model demonstration sites, a film concept will be developed, highlighting effective practices for improving the membership, participation, and learning of students with autism and related disabilities in general education classrooms.

Research and Policy

The NIEI will produce a white paper that describes the current “state of the nation” with respect to inclusive education for students with ASDRD. Members of national stakeholder groups will participate in a “think tank” to discuss the paper and to develop recommendations for future research and policy change. 

Project Evaluation

The project’s evaluation plan consists of formative activities to assess whether the project’s activities are being successfully implemented on a timely basis and to assure that project staff is meeting their job responsibilities. Data from these formative assessments will inform corrections in the implementation plan to assure that all objectives are met by the conclusion of the project. Summative evaluation activities will be conducted to measure the project’s impact on its participants and constituents. An Advisory Committee of national stakeholders – including youth and adults with autism and related disabilities, family members, educators, higher education faculty-researchers, and policymakers – will provide guidance and feedback to the project by meeting two times per year to review the project’s activities and outcomes.