Applying the Ziggurat and CAPS Model
in Your School District
Updated by Melissa Dubie, M.S.
and Certified Ziggurat Trainer
(originally created by Melissa Dubie, M.S. and Kristie Lofland, 2013)
In school districts across America, teams work together to build effective, proactive and positive comprehensive plans for students on the autism spectrum with the goal of facilitating their success at school and at home. There is common consensus that consistent programming across the school day is essential. Two useful tools that provide a framework for developing a comprehensive plan are the Ziggurat Model (Aspy and Grossman, 2011) and the Comprehensive Autism Planning System (Henry and Myles, 2007). These two tools combined help staff optimize a student’s daily program by incorporating needed supports in a well-organized manner.
The Ziggurat Model is consistent with practices associated with PBIS, RTI and MTSS (Aspy and Grossman, 2011). The Ziggurat Model includes four steps in designing a comprehensive intervention plan. The first step involves completing the Underlying Characteristics Checklist (UCC). The UCC addresses eight core characteristics of ASD, including social, restricted patterns of behavior, interests and activities, communication, sensory differences, cognitive differences, motor differences, emotional vulnerability, and known medical or other biological factors. It is best if every member of the multidisciplinary team receives a copy of the UCC prior to meeting. All team members (e.g., family members, teachers, related service providers, administrators, paraprofessional, and other relevant professionals) should be encouraged to reflect on each question about the individual from their own perspective. A meeting should then be held to gather input from all team members through a discussion of each of the questions on the UCC while collecting everyone’s input onto one protocol. While lengthy, professionals who have used this protocol have found it incredibly insightful. The exciting part of this process is that everyone learns from one another about the individual with ASD, and often new insights are gained. This process can also be used as part of the functional behavior assessment for individuals with severe behavior problems when the team is struggling with creating a proactive and positive behavior intervention plan.
Currently (2019), there are five different protocols for the UCC which include:
• UCC-HF (high functioning) for individuals ages six through adulthood that have high-functioning ASD.
• UCC-CL (classic) intended for individuals six year through adulthood. The classic is described as individuals with significantly below average cognitive functioning skills. Many of these individuals have not developed functional language skills.
• UCC-EI (early intervention) are for individual’s ages 3 months through 72 months of age, and the group is considering the diagnoses or can see signs of ASD.
• UCC-SR-Adolescent (self-report adolescent) is for individual’s ages 12 through 18 with characteristics or diagnosis of ASD and average or above average cognitive skills.
• UCC-SR-Adult (adult self-report) is intended for individual’s ages 18+ years with characteristics or diagnosis of ASD and average or above-average cognitive skills.
In conjunction with the UCC, an Individual Strengths and Skills Inventory (ISSI) should be completed by all members of the multidisciplinary team, including family members. This tool helps to identify the individual’s strengths and interests related to social skills, communication, sensory needs, cognitive abilities, motor skills, and emotional and biological issues. Often individuals with ASD have extreme interests that only a few people on the team have noticed or had insights on how these can be incorporated into the day. When the Comprehensive Action Plan is developed, these strengths and interests will be embedded across the day to create academic assignments, calming breaks, visual supports, and to build high interest activities.
Third, is the Antecedent, Behavior, Intervention– Iceberg (ABC-I) which is an essential tool that builds on the strengths of the functional behavior assessment model. This is a good time to specifically describe what the behavior looks like and determine the antecedents (what occurs before the behavior) and consequences (what occurs after the behavior). The ABC-I investigates the function of the individual's behavior. The final portion of the ABC-I (under the water line) may be completed by using information gathered from the UCC. Choose up to ten items that are most directly related to the antecedent, behavior, and consequences listed on the bottom portion for the ABC-I. Try to choose items that can truly assist everyone in understanding the underlying causes of the student’s behavior. This often becomes a “ah ha” moment of clarity for the team to understand the reasons the individual with ASD is having behavior issues as it relates to their disability.
Fourth, is the actual interventions posted on the Ziggurat worksheet. The specific behavior from the ABC-I and up to 10 UCC items are carried to this worksheet. A serious look is then given at how the underlying characteristics should be addressed in the areas of sensory and biological needs, reinforcement, structure, and visual/tactile supports. In addition, the range of task demands for the individual student and ultimate skills to teach within all of the areas will be addressed. Strategies used should be proven evidence-based practices. Addressing programming at all levels is essential and contributes to the effectiveness of the others. Thus, if needs in all areas are not addressed, the intervention will not be as effective and skills will not develop (Myles, et.al, 2009). Once the Ziggurat worksheet is completed with ideas on how to address the five areas, a CAPS can be developed for the student’s day.
While the Ziggurat worksheets allow a team to develop an intervention plan that is thorough and targeted, the CAPS provides a structure for implementation. The CAPS model provides an overview of an individual’s daily schedule by time and activity, and specifies supports the individual needs during each period (Henry & Myles, 2007). The nine key components of the CAPS worksheet include time, activity, targeted skills to teach (from IEP), structure/modifications, reinforcement, sensory strategies, communication/social skills, data collection, and generalization across settings. Thus, the CAPS enable the multidisciplinary team to answer the fundamental question: What supports does the individual need for each activity throughout the day? Together the multidisciplinary team goes through the student’s day to create this comprehensive plan. At the end of the meeting or several meetings, a specific hour by hour plan should be developed that all staff can follow. The plan is concise, easy to read and can be used by any staff member—including a substitute! This plan should be reviewed each semester for its effectiveness.
The CAPS worksheet can also be used to share information when a student is transitioning to a new school building or level (e.g., when the student is transitioning from middle school to high school.) At that point, of the planning process, it may not be possible to have all the information for a detailed CAPS worksheet (e.g., exact time, teachers, and schedule of classes for the next school year). However, what can be provided using the CAPS worksheet is an overview of supports the student would need to be successful during group work, individual work, tests, lectures, etc. This plan can then be expanded if necessary for each individual class as more information is obtained or support is needed.
The Ziggurat and CAPS models are two effective tools in providing a comprehensive program for your students with ASD that will ensure that all key components for success have been addressed while incorporating the needs, strengths, challenges and interests of that individual student. It ensures that all staff who work with a student provide needed supports in a consistent manner.
Aspy, R., & Grossman, B.G. (2011). The ziggurat model 2.0: A framework for designing comprehensive interventions for individuals with high-functioning autism and Asperger syndrome. Shawnee Missions, KS: Autism Asperger Publishing Company.
Henry, S. & Myles, B.S. (2007). The comprehensive autism planning system (CAPS) for individuals with Asperger syndrome, autism, and related disabilities: Integrating best practices throughout the student’s day. Shawnee Missions, KS: Autism Asperger Publishing Company.
Myles, B.S., Grossman, B.G., Aspy, R., & Henry, S.A. (2009). Planning a Comprehensive Program for Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. International Journal of Early Childhood Special Education, 1(2), 164-180. Retrieved on July 30, 2019 from http://www.texasautism.com/WorkshopFiles/Ziggurat_CAPS_EarlyChildhoodJournal.pdf
Myles, B.S., Henry, S.A., Coffin, A.B., Grossman, B.G., & Aspy, R. (2007). The CAPS & ziggurat models: Planning a comprehensive program for students with autism spectrum disorders using evidence-based practices. Autism Advocate, 48(3), 16-20. Retrieved on July 30, 2019 from http://www.texasautism.com/WorkshopFiles/AdvocateZigguratCAPS.pdf
Smith, S.M., Myles, B.S., Aspy, R., Grossman, B.G., Henry, S.A. (2010). Sustainable change in quality of life for individuals with ASD: Using a comprehensive planning process. Focus on Exceptional Children, 43(3), 1-24. Retrieved on July 30, 2019 from https://texasautism.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/sustainable_change.pdf
Dubie, M.(2019). Applying the ziggurat and CAPS model in your school district. Retrieved from https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/pages/Applying-the-Ziggurat-and-CAPS-Model-in-Your-School-District.