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What is the SCERTS® Model?

The SCERTS® model was developed by a multidisciplinary team of professionals who have training in speech-language pathology, special education, behavioral and developmental psychology, occupational therapy, and family-centered practice.1 SCERTS® is based on more than 2 decades of empirical and clinical work focusing on autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities.2 The SCERTS® Model is a research-based approach that utilizes methods from other intervention strategies including Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) (in the form of Pivotal Response Treatment), TEACCH, Floortime, and Relationship Development Intervention (RDI).

According to the professionals who developed the intervention,1 the acronym “SCERTS” refers to the focus on:

  • Social Communication (“SC”) – the development of spontaneous, functional communication, emotional expression, and secure and trusting relationships with children and adults

  • Emotional Regulation (“ER”) – the development of the ability to maintain a well-regulated emotional state to cope with everyday stress, and to be most available for learning and interacting

  • Transactional Support (“TS”) – the development and implementation of supports to help partners respond to the child’s needs and interested, modify and adapt the environment, and provide tools to enhance learning. Specific plans are developed to provide educational and emotional support to families, and to foster teamwork among professionals.

The SCERTS® Model is a program that develops goals that will help children and families with children on the autism spectrum to overcome the most significant challenges caused by the disorder. According to Dr. Barry Prizant, a co-developer of the SCERTS® Model, the SCERTS® Model utilizes 10-step assessment process that begins with “meeting the child, then involves engaging the parents through questionnaires and active involvement in the team process to develop the goals and strategies that are most important and looking at activities through a child’s day, across home-school and community settings.”4 One of the core values of the model is teamwork between professionals, educators, and parents. These partnerships allow for a systematic approach that “provides family members and educational teams with a plan for implementing a comprehensive and evidence-based program that will improve the quality of life for children and families.”1 The SCERTS® Model promotes learning experiences that occur in a variety of settings with a variety of partners, such as parents, teachers, siblings, in everyday routines in a variety of social situations.1

How does the SCERTS® Model make a Difference for Individuals on the Autism Spectrum?

The SCERTS® Model utilizes a systematic process that charts progress overtime as children undergo a variety of functional, meaningful, and developmental activities on a daily basis to help achieve predetermined goals developed during the assessment progress. The SCERTS® Model “is most concerned with helping persons with autism achieve ‘Authentic Progress’, which is defined as the ability to learn and spontaneously apply functional and relevant skills in a variety of setting and with a variety of partners.”1 The SCERTS® Model makes it possible for an individual on the autism spectrum to participate in a classroom setting while learning at their own speed.5 The SCERTS® model “prioritizes Social Communication, Emotional Regulation, and Transactional Support as the primary developmental dimensions that must be addressed in a comprehensive program designed to support the development of young children with ASD and their families.”6 Similar to other intervention strategies for autism, the SCERTS® Model utilizes an individualized approach. This approach consists of specific goals and objectives presented through a flexible curriculum, which allows the team to track progress, modify the supports that are needed, and establish new goals based on the child’s developmental status and parent priorities for their child’s development.4 This 2007 issue of The Inclusion Notebook contains two real-world examples of two students utilizing the SCERTS® Model in an classroom environment.

Who is Qualified to Administer the SCERTS® Model?

The professionals who developed the SCERTS® Model have published a two-volume manual that provides specific guidelines for helping a child to become a confident and competent social communicator, reduce problem behaviors, and provides guidelines for helping families, educators, and therapists to work together in order to maximize progress and supports for the child.8 In addition to the training manual, the SCERTS® website details four 1 to 2 day training sessions, which vary in degree of intensity, offered to educational/therapeutic professionals, direct service providers, administrators, and family members interested in implementing the SCERTS® Model for persons with ASD.8 However, there is no official certification of licensure process for SCERTS®. The SCERTS® Model intervention works best when all individuals involved are “on the same page”, which not only applies to professionals, but also includes parents and family members are participating in education and treatment methods. Individuals interested in undergoing training or purchasing the SCERTS® Model Manual should visit the Training Corner section of the SCERTS® Model website.

What Should You Expect From a SCERTS® Model Treatment Provider?

As previously mentioned, the SCERTS® Model is a team-oriented treatment intervention and the SCERTS® Model includes a 10-step assessment process that begins with meeting the child, seeking out parental input through the use of questionnaires, and developing goals and strategies that meet the priorities of the child. SCERTS® professionals working with parents are encouraged to maintain a team approach to avoid fragmentation in the child’s educational program.4 SCERTS® professionals provide educational and emotional supports for families to encourage them to not only feel like equal members of the team in working with their child, but also to provide the child with lessons and activities that can fuel his/her progress beyond the classroom environment. All of these components provide “continuity in programming,” and a change in the system for the way we educate individuals on the autism spectrum.4 The SCERTS® Model covers a wide range of abilities and can be helpful for individuals of all ages on the autism spectrum.

Where Do the Treatment Providers Work?

Although the SCERTS® model works best when implemented under a team approach, the intervention strategies can be implemented in the home or in private practice by professionals. Schools that use the SCERTS® Model employ a team of professionals trained in the SCERTS® methodology, which assesses the strengths of the child while accounting for the family’s priorities for the child’s education, and then identifies the supports needed in home school and community settings.

What Research is there to Support the SCERTS® Model?

Florida State University is in the midst of a 4-year study that began in 2010 to test the effectiveness of implementing a SCERTS® curriculum for children with ASD. Slated for completion in 2014, Florida State University researchers were awarded a $3 million grant to complete the Classroom SCERTS Intervention study , which involves 40 schools with a focus on kindergarten to second-grade classrooms and will test the implementation of the SCERTS® Model vs. the typical special education classroom.9 Currently, there is a minimal amount of randomized controlled trials (RCTS) that have been conducted on the SCERTS® Model. The similar can be said for efficacy research concerning the intervention. For updates on research concerning the SCERTS® Model, visit the SCERTS® Research Corner.

The SCERTS® Model is predicated on past research that has focused on the most effective ways of addressing the core challenges of ASD, which were found to be social communication and emotional regulation (the “SC” and “ER” of “SCERTS”). The SCERTS® Model “incorporates evidence-based practices consistent with the recommendations of the National Research Council (NRC, 2001) of the National Academy of Sciences. These recommendations were derived from its review of educational treatments for children with ASD and more current research.”10 In addition to evidence-based research, the professionals who developed the SCERTS® Model were able to draw from “more than 100 years experience in university, hospital, clinical and educational settings.”1 For updates on research concerning the SCERTS® Model, visit the SCERTS® Research Corner.

The National Standards Project, an organization that reviews the scientific literature to test the effectiveness of behavioral treatments for ASD, failed to include the SCERTS Model within their publication. However, the document did review 5 social communication intervention studies that met their criteria and categorized these types of interventions as “emerging.”11 An emerging treatment is one in which one or more studies suggest that the intervention yields positive results, but additional high quality studies must be undertaken before the NSP can feel confident in the treatment’s efficacy.11

Where is SCERTS being Implemented and Where can I find more Information?
Dr. Barry Prizant explains that the SCERTS® Model is being implemented in agencies and school districts across the United States, US Virgin Island, Canada, Europe, Australia, China, Japan, and New Zealand.11 Additionally, the SCERTS® Manuals have been translated into Japanese, and there are future plans to translate editions in Spanish and Chinese. Individuals interested in learning more about the SCERTS® Model should visit the SCERTS Website.