Adaptive Curriculum Game-Changer for Students with Autism

Cory ready for school and life!

When Pam Roth met Theresa Cortney, a Transition and Employment Specialist for Klein ISD, Houston, Texas, she was concerned about her son’s future. Cory has intellectual delays. In middle school, his teachers saw his aptitude decline. Mrs. Roth knew that her son liked hands-on activities.  Cory didn’t do so well in classes that were mostly listening to teacher-led instruction. His mom asked his teacher, Ms. Cortney, “How is Cory ever going to make a successful transition to a job and be ready for adulthood?”

Cortney, a seasoned special educator, has worked with hundreds of students, like Cory.  And each year, she develops their individualized education programs (IEP’s), to include transition graduation requirements. She oversees the plans under the Texas House Bill 617 or HB5, a law requiring schools to prepare students for college and careers.

HB 5 Requirements for students with special needs

“For general education students, this transition requirement seems fairly easy,” says Cortney, “but not so for students at risk and with exceptional needs. Career exploration is critical for students with cognitive, physical or behavioral issues. These kids are often labeled ‘unteachable or unemployable,’ and that can lead to a downward spiral in their abilities and confidence. Our district provides an alternative academic and vocational curriculum based on a student’s ability levels. This can be a game-changer and a safety net for alternative students who may think about dropping out of school and society.”

teresa cortney
Ms. Cortney (center) with colleagues.

Career Exploration Compliance with HB 5 for students with special needs

Students with IEP’s graduate in Texas with a Foundation of 22 credits or an Endorsement of 26 credits. Cortney says, “Using an adaptive curriculum and appropriate teaching strategies, more students with severe challenges find a vocational interest and skill set that they are able and eager to perform. Students who are low functioning are taught skills at a basic adaptive or beginning level. Students who are high-functioning take the intermediate and advanced courses. The Project Discovery curriculum is our first step in helping these students develop their passion and calling.”

Project Discovery offers career exploration curriculum for all students

Each of the 89 career kits include job-related equipment and supplies customizable to the interests of students in middle, high school and adult education. The curriculum integrates aligned reading and math skills instruction with vocabulary based on a student’s competency level and abilities. Assessment data provides measurable academic progress reports with work performance benchmarks. Cortney says, “The flexibility, adaptability and progress monitoring guide our instruction and help to comply with our graduation requirements in HB5.”

Learning Job Skills in an inclusive classroom

At Klein ISD, students study the curriculum in both inclusive general education and resource classes. They learn skills in automotive repair, small animal care, cosmetology, child and health care, law enforcement, retail and grocery clerking, graphic arts, accounting, dental care, banking,  tourism and hospitality and more. Life skills lessons teach students to prepare for jobs, live more independently, learn what cyber bullying and Internet safety are, learn how to make healthy food choices, learn kitchen safety, money management and more. “Students enjoy the hands-on activities that are practical and fun,” says Cortney. “We’ve seen significant improvements academically and socially.”

Cory caring for an animal.

Using Job Skills in the Community

Cory volunteers at a local animal shelter. He can read medical charts, administer medications, feed and bathe animals. He has enrolled in a veterinary assistance program at a local college. His life skill abilities have improved. He can manage money and complete job applications. His mom says, “Initially, Cory was denied job services, but this curriculum changed his life because he had a natural ability to work with animals. Today, he is more talkative and holds eye contact with classmates and teachers. He realizes he has choices and his confidence level has taken a big step forward!”

Ms. Cortney adds, “When students enthusiastically tell me, “I got into the Future Farmers of America or I’m attending college or I’m working,” it makes our district and educators so proud. Educators always want to dwell in possibilities and give every student the opportunity to succeed.”


choice_partners_logoProject Discovery is an awarded choice partner in Texas schools.


                                                            “Dwell in possibility.” Emily Dickinson, American Poet


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