• STEP (Structured Teaching Education Program)


    Vision/Core Beliefs

    The STEP Program is committed to supporting the success of students who present with an Autism Spectrum Disorder and benefit from a structured teaching approach that capitalizes on student strengths. Students grow and develop through the program's focus on independent functioning and skills generalization in the areas of academic achievement, social-emotional functioning, communication, behavior management, and self-care.   

    Program Description

    STEP is a self-contained, special education program primarily for students who have an Autism Spectrum Disorder. The program is designed to support student success through the development and strengthening of social skills, academic skills, communication skills, independence and learning stamina across all school settings. The program consists of three classes taught and supported by a certified special education teacher and licensed paraprofessionals. In addition, students in the STEP program may receive related services in the areas of Speech & Language, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Social Work, English Language Learner, and Adaptive Physical Education, as determined by the IEP team.  


    Opportunities for Inclusion 

    To the extent that is educationally appropriate, students in the STEP program are included in the general education setting for parts of the school day. Minimally, on an annual basis, the IEP team determines the appropriate level of inclusion to meet the individual needs of each student.  The STEP Program is a strong class community in and of itself, and students may also be assigned a general education classroom that serves as their class community and home base for general education instruction and/or community activities. The program recognizes that student needs exist on a continuum and participation in the general education classroom may look different from student to student.   

    A list of the benefits of inclusion for students with disabilities and students without disabilities has been compiled and families are encouraged to view this resource together.


    Student Considerations

    Students who will benefit from the STEP Program:

    • Often need access to total communication methods (e.g. verbal behavior approach, core vocabulary communication board, PECS, alternative communication device, etc.)  
    • Require a highly structured learning environment, predictable routines and visual schedules/lists/supports
    • Require modified or alternate curriculum for part or all of their school day
    • Require significant modifications to make progress toward grade-level standards
    • Are able to safely access and transition in shared spaces (e.g. hallways, lunchroom, playground, auditorium/multipurpose room, bathrooms, locker room) with support (e.g. visual schedules, staff redirection)
    • Benefit from frequent reinforcement and “first/then” structures in order to increase focus and attention to academic and functional tasks 
    • Benefit from a structured teaching approach with behavior supports/interventions


    Student to Teacher Ratio Guidelines*



    Grade Level

    Maximum with Paraprofessional(s)

    Adult:student ratio











    Middle School (6-8)



    *Table represents ISBE guidelines for maximum student placement. STEP class size and adult to student ratios are typically smaller, taking into consideration individual student needs and class make up.


    Curriculum Information 

    Students in the STEP Program are instructed utilizing various curriculum materials that support learning focused on Illinois Learning Standards and Illinois Common Core Essential Elements. Students access learning through modified general education curriculum and/or alternate curriculum and supplemental resources. Structured teaching strategies are utilized to support student learning.  

    Math: Eureka, Unique Learning System,

    ELA: Reading A-Z, Unique Learning System, EdMark, Just Words, Core Vocabulary

    Social/Behavioral: Zones of Regulation, Social Thinking

    Communication: Boardmaker, Core Vocabulary


    Sensory Processing

    Students in the STEP program frequently present with seeking and avoiding sensitivity and registration behaviors as well as differences in how they take in sensory information (auditory, visual, touch, movement, and behavioral). This increases the need for external supports in the classroom and additionally impacts student awareness, tolerance, and availability for learning.  These differences are expected for students on the Autism spectrum and the STEP classroom is designed to support these differing needs through environmental and adaptive modifications while also providing the student with opportunities to access learning within the larger general education school environment. 

    Sensory supports that may be provided include but are not limited to:  

    • Increased movement opportunities (e.g. sensory room, playground equipment, heavy work tasks/routines).
    • Direct instruction in imitative skills (e.g. following the group plan, problem solving skills, social interaction skills).
    • Access to quiet/safe spaces 
    • Use of visual schedules/supports.
    • A system of predictable patterns of visual and auditory cues
    • Use of tangible/edible rewards 
    • Access to a variety of sensory strategies/supports (auditory, visual, touch, movement, behavioral).
    • Additional adult support 
    • Small group environment and instruction
    • Consistent routines 
    • Use of a Behavior Intervention Plan to support skill development



    Students in the STEP program have a range of communication skills. Total communication strategies are modeled and supported, including verbal and nonverbal means of communication. Verbal language is frequently supported visually, with visuals present throughout the classroom environment to support social functioning and academic activities. Additionally, educators use visuals and nonverbal language (e.g. gestures, pointing, basic sign) to prompt students (e.g. in following directions, engaging in academic work, etc.). Partner augmented input is used to model core vocabulary manual communication boards and/or AAC devices to support receptive language input, as well as expressive communication. Students may have difficulty expressing their wants and needs and as a result may demonstrate use of negative behaviors. Students are taught and encouraged to use appropriate means of communication, using language to make requests and appropriately protest to reduce these negative behaviors for communicative purposes. Language skills are often assessed and monitored using the VB-MAPP. 

    Communication supports that may be provided include but are not limited to: 

    • Core vocabulary manual communication boards and visuals
    • Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)
    • High tech AAC devices 
    • Visual schedules 
    • Visual communication supports (e.g. visual directions/prompts/rules, sentence strips, white board, basic sign, etc.) 


    Social Skills

    Social skills development is an integral part of the learning for students in the STEP Program.  Students may receive social work services individually, in a small group, or as a part of whole class learning. Students receive explicit teaching of skills as well as support in generalizing these skills across settings. Some of the areas of focus include:

    • Coping Strategies
    • Initiating Conversation
    • Joint Conversation
    • Requesting
    • Reciprocity
    • Non Verbal Communication
    • Reading Social Cues
    • Defining Emotions
    • Theory of Mind
    • Emotional Regulation
    • Active Listening
    • Play Skills


    Program Transition

    Prior to finalizing an IEP recommendation to transition a student to the STEP Program:

    1. A student observation will be conducted by either a teacher or other designated member of the STEP team. The STEP teacher will be given access to the IEP for review and have an opportunity to gather information from a member of the sending team. 
    2. A parent visit will be scheduled (optional) to tour Lincoln and meet the receiving teacher.
    3. An IEP Review will be scheduled by the sending team to include the STEP teacher and selected team members.


    Important Contacts

    Michelle Cooney, Principal - cooneym@district65.net

    Luke Larmee, Assistant Principal - larmeel@district65.net

    Rob Pionke, Teacher - pionker@district65.net

    Nora Murphy, Teacher - murphyn@district65.net

    Masafumi Hoshi, Teacher - hoshim@district65.net