Tomorrow Is Too Long to Wait for Inclusion

Is 100 Percent Inclusion Right for All Students with Disabilities?

100 percent inclusion; green circles overlapping each other

100 Percent Inclusion

Is 100 percent inclusion for students with special needs always possible?

Scrolling through my Facebook feed recently, I came across a post by someone in a group I am in that advocates for the “100% Inclusion for individuals with special educational needs.” The post is as follows:

So I buy the 100% inclusion argument. I have seen the research. I’ve made the argument myself. But sometimes I get this pang, maybe it is from other parents who say that sometimes inclusion is overwhelming for our kiddos. Is there ever a time when 100% inclusion is not right? How would one know? I just want to be sure that I’m not forcing my values and not paying attention to my kiddo. y’know? Thanks for your thoughts!

What if full inclusion is not the right thing to do?

This is a legitimate question. For inclusion advocates, it may be a bitter pill to swallow, but the fact remains that there are many places in the world that authentic inclusive education is not available. For these students, is it worth pursuing something that may not be right for this particular student?

Let us examine what it means for 100 percent inclusion to be “not the right thing to do.” If a family wants to pursue full-time inclusion for their child and the school and staff are not on board and they do not have the resources to do so are we not setting them up for failure? Although inclusive education as a global concept is right, good and honorable, it may not be the right thing to do for that student at that specific time or place. I do not believe inclusive education advocates lose any credibility in conceding this idea.

What if full inclusion is not what the parents (or the student wants?)

When I have approached certain parents about including their child more in the general education environment, they have balked at the notion. As an advocate, I believe it is important to listen to the wishes of the family when making a placement determination. That is, after all, what the Individualized Education Program (IEP) is supposed to be about, making decisions as a team.

Also, if a student is showing that they are uncomfortable (or even terrified) in the general education setting, we must listen to what their behavior is telling us. The goal, of course, is that we include them as much as possible and that we are actively working toward inclusion.

We need a bigger tent.

I am grateful for the courage of parents who ask hard questions about what the implications are of 100 percent inclusion. We need safe spaces to talk about our concerns without being browbeaten for wanting to have real conversations. For inclusive education to move forward, we need to wrestle with these concerns. There are no easy answers but if we are not afraid to ask the questions we can work together to find answers for all students.

For the record, I still believe that inclusive education for everyone is the best course of action for all students (and the research back it up.)

What would you say to parents who are questioning if 100 percent inclusion is always the right thing to do? Tell us what you think in the comment section below!

Photo Credit: cactusbeetroot/Flickr

7 Ways to Use a Sequential Message Device in the Inclusive Classroom

sequential message device; a classroom with students' belonging strewn about on desks, it looks like the students have been active all day

Have you ever wondered how to use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices in the classroom? Here are seven quick and easy ways to use a sequential message device in an inclusive environment:

Recite

Every morning across America, children are reciting the Pledge of Allegiance! This is one of the easiest ways to include our students; you can setup the device to recite the whole thing or sequence the pledge so that your student has to hit the switch at certain points in the pledge. They can lead the class in the pledge or simply participate during morning announcements.

Count

This one is too simple. There are probably a million reasons to count in a general education classroom during the day (i.e. lunch count, attendance, calendar days, the number of people/objects on a graph, skip counting, etc.is able to). Programming your student’s AAC device to count in sequence will be useful all day long no matter what subject or content area.

Giving Directions

Even if you can speak, sometimes prerecording something for them to say helps the class understand them the first time (especially if intelligibility is an issue). The student can be the teacher’s helper and ask the class to turn their papers in, take out a particular textbook, or clean up before going to lunch. This idea can be modified on the fly and does not need tons of planning to accomplish.

Vocabulary Words

This can work in any grade level. By recording vocabulary words to the pertinent lesson, your student will either be able to interject during classroom discussions or answer questions. The best thing to do is touch base with the general education teacher and find out what specific words will be used. This way your student will be ready to hit the switch at the appropriate time.

Read

There are lots of opportunities to read in class. This could be a passage from a book or worksheet as well as instructions for an activity. In primary grades…the student could read an entire picture book to the class. Perhaps you can work with the classroom teacher to create a job that your student could perform related to reading something every day. The point of using AAC devices in the classroom is to give access where it would be difficult otherwise. Using a sequential device makes reading or programming longer passages much easier.

Randomizing

Self-determination is always a good thing and giving our students choices is part of that. But…sometimes we want a random response. For example, choosing a number between 1 and 10, or picking nouns for a “mad libs” activity. In this case…some sequential devices also have a randomizer. I have found this comes in handy whenever I need a novel response quickly. The Big Talk Triple Play switches are the absolute best when it comes to this.

Social Interactions

This is probably the most obvious suggestion of the whole group, but sometimes it is easily overlooked. There are a couple of scenarios where programming social interactions are ideal. Try recording positive messages for outside play. I have had switches programmed with phrases like “this is fun,” and “go, team,” when I know there is a structured event with the class (like a kickball game). Another idea is to program simple conversations where your student can ask a peer a question and then comment on their answer. Something like, “what is your favorite TV show?” where the student would reply, “I like Sponge Bob Squarepants!” There are lots of ways you can go with this.

Not Just for Special Education Classrooms

The point of these suggestions is to get you thinking that AAC devices should not only be used in a sterile, self-contained environment or small group lesson. There are plenty of opportunities to use this technology within inclusive settings. For more ideas, check out 101+ Ideas For Using the BIG Step-by-Step™ and Other Single Message Communication Devices or Other Sequential Message Device to Access Curriculum

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Photo Credit: Allison Meier/Flickr

ParaEducate: A Resource for Inclusive Educators

book review; four books stacked on top of each other with a pencil on the top of the stack

ParaEducate

In a time when resources for training are slim to nil, it is so important to have a resource for paraprofessionals like ParaEducate (Gross, Marquez, Kurth, & Yamasaki, 2012). Many times, paraprofessionals are on the “front-lines” of inclusion programming and depending on the prior knowledge of each staff, or how each district handles professional development, they can be ill-equipped to deal with the challenges of working one-on-one with students with disabilities.

ParaEducate takes the guess work out of many situations that arise when working with students with special needs in a general education classroom. From a brief history of special education to defining what an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is, ParaEducate serves as an essential reference for paraprofessionals who find themselves in a new position or simply need a refresher course in a job they have been doing for a while. Gross et al. (2012) provide concrete examples for paraprofessionals to deal with challenging behaviors, adapting materials, and providing opportunities to increase communication for the student with special needs.

Something that I appreciate about the book is that it starts with the assumption that special education students should be included, “regardless of disability, within the general education setting with appropriate supports” with their same age peers (p.16). Written in a readable format without watering down any content, ParaEducate is a valuable resource for classroom teachers to purchase for their staff as well as administrators looking for a comprehensive overview of the duties of paraprofessionals. This book belongs in every special education teacher’s library (especially if you work with paraprofessionals on a daily basis).

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Megan Gross has also written a fantastic article on Positive Behavior Supports in the inclusive classroom for us. You can find it here. In addition, she is the co-author of The Inclusion Toolbox: Strategies and Techniques for All Teachers, another incredible resource for the inclusive classroom. 

Don’t forget to visit and “like” the ParaEducate Facebook page.

Photo Credit: Christopher/Flickr

Getting Over the Biggest Obstacle to Inclusion

obstacle to inclusion; lego figurine standing close to the edge at the top of the empire state building in NYC

How do you get over the biggest obstacle to inclusion? In November of 2011, I wrote a blog post for SpecialEducationAdvisor.com about educators getting over the fear of inclusive education. Here is an excerpt.

Even under the best of circumstances, there is always a bit of trepidation when starting something new. Think about the first time you rode a bike, drove a car, your first kiss, or really anytime you have ever taken a risk. The thrill and terror of it all can be overwhelming. I liken this feeling to the first time I took one of my students (a boy with severe autism and challenging behaviors) and put him in a 4th grade general education classroom. It was my first teaching job, in a self-contained classroom for students with autism in California and I was challenged by one of my professors at Cal State University Fullerton to begin the process of including my students in general education. At this time, there was little support for inclusion at my school (not even for Art, Music or PE – mainly because we did not have those programs due to budget constraints). Even so, I believed it was the right thing to do and began trying to change the hearts and minds of my colleagues. It was not easy at first, but after explaining that I was not simply going to “dump” my students off in their class, they were definitely more receptive.

This tends to be the biggest fear of people who are opposed to a “full inclusion” model. There are different definitions of “full inclusion” but one I prefer is apparent when we talk about the idea of Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). What is the environment that will least hinder the student from being educated with their typically-developing peers while still accessing the general curriculum (what everyone is being taught) in a meaningful way? There is no one-size-fits-all approach to inclusion just like there is no one-size-fits-all approach to general education (no matter how hard we want there to be). But…I am getting ahead of myself. In regards to my 4th grader who was now going to be included into a Math block in general education, I began to feel the anxiety creep up in me as the day approached. Would he keep his challenging behaviors in check? Would the class accept him when he started to script movie lines? Would the general education teacher think I was crazy for putting her up to this?

Diffusing and answering the inevitable questions was the big key into alleviating everyone’s fear. I spoke to the class before we started and explained my student, while having some differences in the way he experienced the world, was still a 4th grade boy who liked movies, music and playing on the computer. He liked Math, which is why we decided this was the best time for him to join his peers. It was also important to take the uncomfortable questions of “why does he do this,” or “why does he do that,” and answer them with the utmost respect and dignity to their new classmate. Perhaps honest communication is the best way to gain his peers’ trust…kids are too smart and usually know when you are trying to put one over on them. Once we got that out of the way, acceptance was the easy part.

Inclusion, at its very heart is a noble cause because it brings dignity to human beings when it otherwise would separate those who need love the most. Fear may be an obstacle but it certainly is not an excuse.

Source: Special Education Advisor: Fear Factor – Getting over the biggest obstacle to inclusion

Photo Credit: clement127/Flickr

Lesson Planning Tips from a Super Procrastinator

Lesson Planning Tips from a Super Procrastinator

Lesson planning has never been a strength of mine.

If you have ever worked with me, then you are aware that I struggle with lesson planning. Organization, time management, in fact, anything to do with paperwork I typically procrastinate because I dislike it so much. Being a special education teacher does not help due to the sheer amount of administrative tasks we have to complete (not including teaching the kids). So, to the chagrin of my administrators and co-workers, we slog along knowing that it won’t get much better than it is now (although I have come a long way).

But you have come to this post hoping for tips, so I shall deliver some in a few short lines. What I have learned over the last decade in education is to work smarter not harder. Here are some of the strategies I use to make my lesson planning less painful.

Pick and Time and Stick to It

My lesson planning time is Sunday night. Typically before watching the Walking Dead (one of my wife and I’s favorite shows). I tried to complete them during the school week, but I was usually too exhausted to make it meaningful. I also tried completing them during the weekend day, but between kids, pets, and the bustle of the house there are too many distractions to make the process efficient. Settling at a time when the kids were in bed was the best decision for me because I could devote my time and energy to the process.

In addition to picking a time and specific day, I also chose a length of time that I work on my plans. I typically will carve out two hours for lesson planning. If I give myself too much time, I tend to get lost in the details and over plan which brings me to my next point.

Don’t Over-plan

Maybe it is because I like the chaos, or maybe I like to live on the edge, I try to plan just enough to get by. I like to compare lesson planning with following a recipe for cooking. All the best cooks know that you add something a little extra in every meal you make. Improvisation is necessary for teaching (especially in special education). Adding that special ingredient into your lessons comes from practicing and knowing your craft and using plans that focus on the big picture will help you to do that.

In the inclusive classroom, as well as in the special education classroom, over-planning is a big mistake. You never know what is going to happen so it is best to keep things loose and your objectives broad. In my experience, there are things that I planned to take one writing segment that takes up the whole week. I love that my job is always a little different every day.

Create a Template

Don’t reinvent the wheel. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. These are familiar phrases that echo in the back of our minds. Using a template for your lesson planning will help you out tremendously. You can choose from hundreds of various examples just by using your search engine. It doesn’t matter which one you choose as long as it is something that you are going to use. Think of the template as the backbone of your teaching.

Something that I started to do recently is writing all of the standards that our class was working on for nine weeks at a time. That way I was not looking up each standard each time. If your administration wants you to single out each standard every week, you can either highlight the ones you are covering in class or change the typeface to bold for those weeks.

Use an Online Lesson Planning Application

Our school uses OnCourse for our lesson plans. Planning on a web application is extremely convenient and having my lessons available on my smartphone or tablet has been a game changer. There are plenty of other online lesson planners, but I would choose one that allows me to share my plans with other educators. With most everything trending toward paperless records and forms in education, it is only a matter of time before teachers will not be given the option to use an online planner. It is better to stay ahead of the curve

Put First Things First

It is likely that I will never like to lesson plan. But it is a mistake to think you can go on in your teaching career believing that you can just stumble through your day with no plans at all.  The professors in your teacher education preparation courses made you write comprehensive lesson plans until you were delirious to sear in your brain the essentials of a solid lesson.

Despite my lack of affection for lesson planning, I know that my day and my students would suffer without them. When you put first things first, you end up with more time for the activities that you want to do. Here is to all who toil and trudge every week just for the privilege of teaching kids.

Thanks for your time and attention.

Photo Credit: Thomas Levinson/Flickr

My Life with Autism: A Speech by Jordan White

jordan white; young white male wearing glasses sitting in front of a computer with the Kennesaw State University logo on it


My Life with Autism – A Speech by Jordan White… by sampsoninc916

A friend of mine spoke to our school staff (Kincaid Elementary School – Marietta, GA) about his life with autism and being included in general education during Exceptional Children Week. This video was from April 2011. The complete transcript is provided below.

Since the publication of this video, Jordan has graduated from Kennesaw State University (KSU) with a degree in computer science and is currently employed in the field of technology. You can read more about Jordan from the article “No Boundaries” published on the KSU website.

My Life with Autism – A Speech by Jordan White and Family

Tim: I just want to echo what Jodie said, yesterday was awesome the assembly was mind blowing so that was really, really a special time. Today we have Jordan along with David and Patty White they are our special quest David is friend of mine and we just started talking on day about Jordan and I was like I really want our staff to hear his story. So I thought the best kind of way first of all I want Jordan to know our staff is super nice and they’re going to smile and they are going to be completely attentive to what you are about to say you know so no worries we are all friends here. And also how I wanted to set it up I kind of thought David and Patty can kind of ask Jordan some questions his experience growing up in Cobb County schools kind of his journey towards where he is now Tennessee State University and so we’ll kind of start with that and if I feel like you know I want to add some questions I can and then if we have time we’ll open up for questions for everyone else. So why don’t David and Patty why don’t you, you know the beginning I suppose.

Patty: Introduce yourself Jordan.

Jordan: Hello

Audience: Hi

Jordan: My name is Jordan White Noel White and I was born on September 16th 1991 in Orlando Florida and I was born autistic, when my parents had me they never really knew I was autistic until I turned 3 or 2 years old and the doctors soon found out I was autistic and had trouble learning to speak learn how to socialise learning as well as learning how to be the best I could possibly be and kind of way for me no one exactly no one really understood autism and then again no one understands it today. So that’s the best choice for them to put me in a place where in a place where regular students that if I learned how to be like regular students I might be able to have a chance to succeed so they put me in a preschool and I choked and so this include dong other activities other students did, yeah I sometimes had problems in that class like the fact that I really wanted to make precision cuts on photographs making trying to write that well sometimes even my dad would come into the class room and show me some pictures so I could identify them and he actually, my mom and dad too their time to get a bunch of therapists to really help me learn so I would be prepared for the next step in the school and I think there was flash cards lean how to there was an audio test where I had to listen to a tape and stuff and I pointed to this what the sound sounds like where the sound came from  and it kind of evolve in those days we lived in  Alabama Henson, Alabama and so how for some reason we decided to move to a different city in Alabama so we moved to Huntsville. In Huntsville I chose a school well mom and dad chose a school, they chose a school the Tower of Light school. One time in one of those classes I looked at a year book and found that the school was built in the 50’s and I had no connect with that era so anyway they took they gave me classes to go to and basically it’s not like periods but like 1st period, 2nd period, 3rd period that school what we had was one class and sometimes you would walk in a line or go to another class which taught specific subjects and they would dismiss me from dismiss me at 5:30 and we would kind of walk in line and we would go out to the parking lot, the carpool where mom was waiting. Well my first classroom from kindergarten was with Miss Pool and she was sort of realized that I was autistic so the best thing she could possible do was to take some advice from my parents and they worked out some and I think they must have worked out a period of system where I a green light for good behaviour and red light for bad behaviour and basically if I was in the green light zone then I might be able to actually be improving, if I was in the red light zone maybe bad behaviour.

Patty: Can I stop you on second for a minute? So Jordan has gotten to kindergarten and he was diagnosed at 3. We started pouring all of our resources into therapies, speech, occupational therapy everything because it’s our impression with autism if you don’t teach them how to speak and they didn’t learn how to interact by the time they were 5 or 6 you know their brain started changing the way it formed and such so we really poured a lot into that and it made a huge difference. When he was 4 he started talking and I was going to conventions all over the place trying to learn about autism because it was kind of new 20years ago not nearly as common and well understood as it is today. He ended up going into regular included classrooms at kindergarten he had already taught himself how to read, recite his alphabet, read all his patterns and all his colours with puzzles he went crazy. But his IQ test 79 I think he didn’t test well or communicate or anything but he was brilliant and they recognized that there was great potential so they did go ahead and let him be fully included, he was pulled out to resource or special ED or (unclear 8:42) for social skills, speech training and facial training but academically he was always included because he did really well with all of that part. He was like the first student who had gone through who was included for academics and pulled out for other stuff which kind of the opposite of what normally happens but he was fully included as a kinder garner and started doing great. But it was difficult for the teacher in a lot of ways the team worked between the parents, the resource director, special authority there and the kid creating systems that we understood normally worked you know that communication, interaction was huge in making it successful and bring home what they were doing and reinforce it. I think is one of the things that was such a huge success between the parents and the teachers willing to try what we suggested because we knew our kid better than anybody else and we had been working with him for years and kind of had ideas what helped him as far as motivate him. If they listened to what we would say it would make their lives a lot easier and helped him to be so successful, we kept that partnership going even now he at Tennessee State and my husband is an adjunct professor and he communicated with the professors so that if there is questions or how do we tell him something or you know discuss with him they even now they’ll discuss it really patiently for the success for the kid. I think it helped Jordan that his parents were on board with it, we were not in denial in any way and we were going to fix this problem our mind set primarily was that he lives in a regular world and he’s got to interact with that regular world and it’s not going to modify for him necessarily so we do as much as we can to teach him to be who he is in that world. Because he’s going to live in it and hopefully be independent and successful in that world so we want to modify what we can and what’s reasonable but we also want him to have to modify and adjust to the world that he was placed in so

David: Let me ask you a quick question about elementary school. Do you remember anybody who was special in elementary school?

Jordan: Of course I do, in 2nd grade there were 2 girls who (unclear 11:13)and Melissa but most of the time I most of the time there was this kid named Hogan not to be mistaken with Hulk Hogan but he was a sort of a big one I must say. Well what happened was he actually was there for me he seemed to be somewhat like my protector in there like he kind of protected me from bullying. I never had one bully in all my life I was pretty amazed because I never understood why a bully represented the media.

David: Who was your favourite teacher in elementary school do you remember ant name now?

Jordan: Well

David: Was it Miss Brannon

Jordan: I love Miss Brannon she was a wonderful woman she was the resource director. She let me do many things in that class, well she kind of taught me stuff about my body and how to manage it and al well as curtsied and stuff and I was allowed to talk about my interest and she helped me a bit with learning some words and stuff so basically she let me play a few games involving teachings of words and maths so I may be able to understand better about words. There was this word game where I had to collect stuff a slide scroll if you know those from video game history and there is this one game involving me as a train and the limit was 999 basically a numbers train and you press number and it would just go to that place that’s on the train track.

Patty: Jordon has always been good with numbers and one of our discipline system even when he was in 2nd, 1st, 2nd, 3rd grade was for him to collects points and when he got so many points he would get to go buy one of him favourite Thomas Tank characters or something like that he would keep up with them in his head so he and he could always tell exactly and  it was like a 100 points system not just you know a few points but he would know when it was 72 he always knew how many gains or loss that’s 2 points we take it away if you are not going to settle down right now. And because he’s black and white honest, it’s right or it’s wrong and he approaches the world that way he couldn’t lie about whether he loss points or not. It worked because he would have to be honest just because that’s what autism is. Its’ what it is just yes or its no, it’s black or its white; it’s not that grey area. The resource teacher was very good at using his strengths playing to those playing to his interests in trying to create the motivating system that they used and that was huge and using peers like he said his friends. They always try to sit him by in every classroom he always has one or two little nurturing girls that want to help or want to mother somebody and that’s where Jordan would be sitting and they love him to death and keep him on track whatever. There is always some friends like that abound you (crosstalk-well yeah) even in high school he had those friends..

David: That’s even gone all the way up to high school and Tennessee State as well students have always kind of taken to Jordan they understand that he’s in class he trying, he’s working really hard and

Patty: They usually respect his intelligence and always he’s going to help them and if he’s on their team they are going to get all the answers right then they just work with him, work with him and the teacher has spun it as a positive thing and put that emphasis on the child and the student in the room take it that way and they learn from the situation and they grow learning how to deal with this person who is different from them. And the rate autism is growing in our society one out of hundred and ten I think it is now boys for sure, they are going to have to deal with a lot of them and they are smart like Jordan the ones that are going to come along and they are all starting to come to college and this first big wave they are going to get degrees they are going to be out in the world place with these kids and they need to know how  to interact with then if they had them all through elementary school they would be much better people when they get to young adulthood.

David: So at this point Jordan graduated with honours from (unclear16:46) high school so he still has a scholarship due (crosstalk-yeah) and what did you graduate in?

Jordan: Computer Science and class one and two film unit one and two basically

David: Go ahead tell them about you’re characters in your film.

Patty: This involves movies, movies trivia, producer, actors all their names, what dates they came out

Jordan: Well what happens is that you know while I was making movies I was trying to add characters of my own I mean comparing with doing dumb stuff on YouTube I was trying to actually tell a story. Basically there were certain characters that I wanted to use to tell that story and help that story along of course I wasn’t exactly go at first but then I always jump at the top and every film I made I tried to improve and basically I’m at the point where I can direct character by a certain motivation actually to be the best he can be to. Basically there’s one character of mine Samson who looks a lot like me and

Patty: When Jordon was about seven we felt that he was getting too focused on TV and stuff so we cancelled TV in our house so he wasn’t, he has 2 brothers and sisters and of course they were all divested but we cancelled the TV and his way of kind of dealing with it was to start creating his own shows and characters (crosstalk-universe) his own universe basically where we were all in. Not that he retreated into it but he played with it and he drew it on paper and he would have pages he’d flip through and in his mind it was like different screens he was looking at, it was just really fascinating. But he kept those characters added to them and made (unclear 19:12) maybe he would create them on Popsicle sticks and move them around and take pictures of them and edit movies and he just started his second, what is your paper you just did?

Jordon: The farm project

Patty: Yeah or his English composition class he had the choice of doing it as a multimedia or a written paper and he is extremely good with sentence structure and his spelling and grammar is excellent. But he chose multimedia so he just made a little movie where he pulled in movie clips and all kinds of stuff

Jordon: I give credit to those people who almost believed because they would come up as honest

Patty: And that’s the right thing to do give credit for the work, give them credit for it

Jordon: And well

Patty: Just a second

Presenter: So Jordon this is for earlier, what did you find as you got older Jordon and you started going into middle school and high school was there any point where it became really hard to be in regular you know regular classes? Like did it get harder as you got older?

Jordon: Yes it did basically I was a bit stressed out by the fact that I was getting a little more look than usual and the fact analyse literature and I also had to write essay that point to the person specifications about, I’m not exactly that I don’t know if I’m actually good at writing essays I wish I am but I don’t. I’m good at stories and personal I remember those times.

Patty: He wants to write what he wants to write always.

David: we had a little, little problem in 10th grade he was in private school and we had some anger issues about being too good with the computer and so he ended up missing a lot of school and cancelled them out the first test that you took and I believe your history class (unclear 21:36) remember and you sat together with people who were watching over you and he twelve students, here’s the best grade

Patty: Jordon had the top grade in (unclear 21:50) class. Jordon he went to public school starting in 3k with the 3 year old class room, he was put in a room with a couple of fairly profound kids when he was 3 and we lived in Florida.  And we moved to Alabama and they wanted to do it again to be in a room with all ages of kids you know lining up pencils not that that’s bad but it was a vast array of ages they were teaching some over here to use washing machines and they had little four old Jordon you know in the same room. So we were not pleased with that so we put him in our church preschool and provided an aid to be him so that, that would be manageable and actually the public school would pay for half of it because we kind of pushed that issue some. So he did that and he started regular kindergarten with public school too at the end of 4th grade when we moved to this town from small Alabama to big city and these great big school with so many people this school seems to me to feel very much like the little school he was in was a neighbourhood school in a town but being on a smaller scale. There were 3 of each grade instead of probably 10 you know having. You know some of these schools around here are so huge but we were just not comfortable with him going right in at the middle of the year and we started home schooling and he stayed home and he being the you know the right and wrong kind of guy he is I would just give him a list and he would just check, the perfect home school student

David: (Unclear23:21) ten fifteen

Patty: Yeah but he knew he wasn’t getting his social interaction and I wasn’t trained in special Ed or anything so we knew he needed to be with kids and be forced to be regular in the world and not that home school aren’t but they are isolated and his biggest need is social skills and so that’s why we had to have that and my other son was at North Park Christian at the time so we talked to them and they were willing to give it a try probationary from one year to the next and he stayed through to the middle of10th grade that’s when he came to (unclear 23:56) and that was a fabulous move the best we were kind of afraid to do it because still a little bit sheltered about it but it was a fabulous experience and excellent support and that was the first time he had ever had peer coach and when he was in high school public school they provided the peer coach. Because he was in advance classes they were pushing the limits with all the other students and he could do the work but behaviourally he was sometimes distracting and so then he was beginning to get up and walk the halls and they couldn’t just let him do that without an aid and you know some of those kind of things and to reach over and give him the stress ball to squeeze or whatever needed to happen

David: So he was so on one hand he was (unclear 24:37) and on one hand he was (unclear 24:38) a real difficult thing for a (unclear 24:42) because that’s rare to have that combination so they worked greatly with us and I can’t say enough about (unclear 24:51) they did a great job with Jordan and Tennessee State has been incredible with their flexibility the special services they have they get it. The wave of autistic kids coming through it’s not going to stop and it’s going to benefit the normal kids because they are going to manage kids like this someday. Microsoft they are already starting autistics to do coding some of these bigger companies understand where their strength are so  you’re likely going to managing them in the future and they will be in your communities as well.

Jordan: Please I sort of feel that I’m been sort of speaking too much

Patty: Maybe they want to ask you some questions.

Jordan: Okay, you can ask me some questions, oh yeah.

Audience: Jordan when did you know that you had autism?

Jordan: Well I think my parents told me.

David: But when did you realize it Jordan?

Jordan: I think I must, I think I was about maybe 99 or 2000

Patty: How old were you?

Jordan: About eight or nine.

Audience: Did that change things for you?

Jordan: A little I think but what happened was I seemed to try to understand it, yeah it might have changed things a bit.

Patty: I don’t think he really spoke it and said I’m having trouble with this I’m autistic and so that’s why I’m having a difficult time with till I would say the last 2 years. He didn’t start using that as an explanation for other people to understand why he was stressed out at that moment or anything like that. But it’s been very helpful for people around him and we felt from the beginning that it was very helpful to in every situation he’s been in to for all the people around to understand what was going on so when he’d show up at a church or show up a birthday party to say you know it must have been (unclear 27:22). He didn’t have a lot of friends because it was awkward but to go in and say Jordan is autistic and it’s a positive thing because of that he can do this and he can do that and this is wonderful but I don’t even know this and that and the other and we are wide open to chatting about it you know it’s an open door situation but it helps you to know and almost every time he’d start in a class and a couple days into the new year or new situation we would you know go out and have a special airing for Jordan while the teacher would explain to the other students with our permission so that they understood too you know I just felt that was always best for him and for all the people involved to understand what was going on. But yeah I think you started talking about it recently, say mom how much.

Jordan: Of course

Audience: Can you tell us what when you were in school what was the hardest thing for you and what was the easiest thing for you?

Jordan: Well when I went to school?

Audience: Yes

Jordan:  Okay well one of the hardest things for me when I went to school was trying to dealt with some of the extreme social situations, the you know crazy stuff happening and the also the changes in the schedule heck the lunch time was sometimes noisy. The one about changing the schedule I might have freaked out so other things that was hard was sometimes getting frustrated about doing things right and things not going my way. Of course one time I lunch wasn’t what I want so I kind of took that lunch sheet and crossed out the (unclear 29:51) and changed it to (crosstalk-the easiest?)Maybe the easiest thing was the good times like when I actually did stuff that I knew I could do and actually improving on my skills and hanging out with these people who loved me and they were trying their best to take care of me as well as and show me which like possible do to make things to keep me satisfied and on field day. Field day was kind of a good day because I would be getting some good treats especially (unclear 31:09) yeah some popcorn and pizza

Patty: He loves to eat, didn’t always love to eat very, very picky with his food from a young child and then I guess from around 4 or 5 years old we started deciding he could live off of hamburgers and chicken nuggets for the rest of his life and had to force entry of new foods and we picked things that was common in life as opposed to what would be good for him because we wanted a successful better kid so we picked pizza, we picked hot dogs we picked stuff that would be in a social situation he would need to be able to eat spaghetti whatever would be served mostly likely when he was out in public and try to teach him how to learn to eat all that stuff  and  he (unclear 32:03)

David: So Jordan it’s all most time to get going so tell them thank you.

Jordan: Well thank you for having me and I wish you in your education and I also thank you for helping to improve this world for people like me and making sure that these kids do their absolute best in the future.

Tim: Just one more minute before everyone leaves behind where Gail where Sidney sits is a bookcase and on that bookcase are books about exceptional children, gifted kids, kids with autism and we have the  Temple Grandin movie it’s like your own blockbuster script it’s great. There are a lot of movies and I try to buy movies that are applicable you know to our kids but they are just really good so if you haven’t seen it please check it out it’s there for us and the parents. There is also a movies called Including Samuel it’s a documentary about a film maker who son has cerebral palsy among things and they live in New Hampshire and him being fully involved in general education he is 4 or 5 years old in this film. There are a couple of books, Why Bright Kids Get Poor Grades, Being Smart About Gifted Children, there are probably almost half the books that are over there about gifted education because we don’t want to forget about our target kids and also Quick Guide To Inclusion this is a new book just really simple one kind of page ideas of how to make inclusion work in our schools in special grade. So you know we’ve got the bulletin board over there on the other side I’ve seen some people posting stuff and really excited about that, we have the resource library these things are here for all of us to take advantage so we can you know I mean Kincaid is just an awesome place already but I want to make sure everyone feels equipped and you know ready to take the challenge on for helping our kids and doing the best we can, right Jordan?

Jordan: Yeah

Tim: Alright so I think that all I have so

Forum Facilitator: I’d like to thank let’s give a round of applause so thank you for coming in and talking to our staff and thank you Tim for taking the time to organizing it. It was very motivating and at this time we are finished adjourned and don’t forget we have some cookies over here that Tim brought for us.

End of Transcript

Photo Credit: KSU

 

Blind Actor Performs in a Southern California Production of “Annie”

Young, Blind Actor Performs in a Local Production of "Annie"

A young actor is getting ready to perform in a local production of the play “Annie” next month, and there’s one thing that distinguishes this talented man from others sharing the stage with him — he’s blind.

Young, Blind Actor Performs in a Local Production of “Annie”

Mason Fessenden, a 16-year-old actor is performing for the first time with actors who can see. The video below is the local Southern California news coverage from ABC 7 Eyewitness News.

Mason Fessenden is an actor and sometimes what people don’t notice is that he’s blind.

“He was born three months early. There were times people told that he would never walk, he would never talk, he would never be able to read braille,” explained his mother, Martha Fessenden.

He’s proved his doctors wrong and although he can’t see, the 16-year-old can sing, act and play the piano.

“He’s great on stage and he sings really well,” said co-star Tessa Barkley. “He just lights up the room.”

This will be Mason’s first time sharing the stage with actors who can see, but his voice coach said she has no doubt in his ability and is even pushing him to dance.

Martha, one proud mother, said she’s confident the world hasn’t seen anything yet. She expects Mason to continue wowing audiences into the future.

“He never sits in a corner and complains about his blindness and…couldn’t ask for anything more,” Martha added as she wiped away tears.

First of all, we want to say that this is a fantastic opportunity for Mason and we wish him the best of luck with his acting and singing. Hopefully, this is one more step in the right direction for disabled actors to be represented on television, film and stage productions.

Second, if you are in the Southern California area, you can watch Mason perform at the International Full Gospel Fellowship of Los Angeles church in Monrovia. He will play Bert Healey in “Annie” from Dec. 8-11 (2016). To purchase tickets you can go to CenterStageInc.com.

Do you think that there should be more actors and actresses with disabilities included in stage, television, and film performances? Tell us what you think in the comment section below!

Source: Young, blind actor breaking barriers in Southern California | abc7.com

What I Learned About Inclusion from My Administrator with Tourette Syndrome

Brad Cohen, star of the movie Front of the Class, holding a director's clapperboard.

The Interview

As I passed through the entrance of the school and walked down the hallway of the office of my next potential employer, I heard Mr. Cohen’s vocal tics off in the distance. My special education supervisor had mentioned that the assistant principal had Tourette Syndrome and while I have had brushes with people who have had the syndrome, I had never worked with someone so closely.

I took a seat in front of the principal and the assistant principal of Addison Elementary School and the interview commenced. Throughout the entire meeting, Mr. Cohen displayed a wide range of motor and vocal tics.  Despite Brad’s unusual mannerisms, they didn’t impact the dialogue or the demeanor of either the principal or Mr. Cohen. It was easy for me to take my cues from them and proceed with a “business as usual” attitude and by the end of the talk, I didn’t give it a second thought. What did cross my mind was how fantastic it was to have the opportunity to work at a school where inclusion was not only something that was talked about but was lived (even in the front office). Spoiler alert: I got the job!

Vocal Tics and Stims are Distracting

Brad Cohen will be the first one to admit to you that his tics can be distracting. He has been making them since he was ten years old and was often ridiculed by his teachers and classmates for not being able to control them. Fortunately, this tribulation only strengthened his resolve and he committed to become a new kind of educator, entering into the very profession that let him down in the early stages of his Tourette Syndrome. After 24 elementary schools rejected his application for a teaching position, he secured a job at Mountain View Elementary School in Cobb County, Georgia. He wrote a book about his story, Front of the Class: How Tourette Syndrome Made Me the Teacher I Never Had and it won the Independent Publisher Book Award for Best Education Book for 2005. The book was later made into a Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movie Front of the Class.

Throughout his life, Brad was told that the uncontrollable noises and movements that he made would be too distracting for his co-workers, his students, and perhaps even his loved ones. Not unlike people with vocal or motor stims (the repetition of movements or sounds typically by people with autism), he was written off and was burdened with the curse of low expectations. As I began my first few weeks at Addison Elementary I was struck by the parallels between Brad’s Tourette Syndrome and the noises and movements of autistic students that I have worked with in the past and the present.

The Threat of Distraction Is Often an Excuse to Exclude

One of the biggest aha moments that I had this year was when I was discussing with my wife about working at a school where Mr. Cohen’s Tourette Syndrome was not hidden but something that was talked about from the very first day. During the first week of school, Mr. Cohen explains to the students why he makes certain noises and movements and tells them it is okay to ask him questions about it. In addition, his vocal and motor tics are seen and heard every morning when he does the announcements on the live simulcast throughout the school. They are evident during school assemblies, ceremonies, and staff meetings when everyone is expected to be quiet. They are unmistakable as he makes his way around the school visiting kids and teachers in their classrooms. Seeing how the students and staff have adapted to Mr. Cohen made me think how a similar familiarity happens when students with disabilities are included in general education. It may be weird at first but by the end of the year, it is just “business as usual”. How many times have students been removed from general education classrooms and put in self-contained classrooms because they are thought to be too distracting? It usually only has to be the threat of disturbance and not even the evidence of any that will cause the removal of a student. Furthermore, what does this tell us about what we think of self-contained classrooms as effective places to learn when we populate them with the most “distracting” students? Don’t those students deserve a distraction free environment for learning as well? The students and staff at Addison Elementary presume competence when we are confronted with who he is. We give him the benefit of the doubt and we take our cues from the people who have known him the longest. He has demystified Tourette Syndrome for us. What if we could do the same thing for autism? or any other disability for that matter?

Tourette Syndrome Is Involuntary. Stimming Is Self-Regulatory.

As I read some of the explanations of how tics are involuntary they remind me of how people with autism describe stimming.

“Tics are involuntary. They are in no way willful. All tics both motor and vocal are the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain. Persons with Parkinson’s Disease have slowed down movements because of a similar chemical imbalance. We would never accuse a person with Parkinson’s of being voluntary disruptive and we certainly would not punish them for these uncontrollable movements. Tourette Syndrome is no different. People with TS are sometimes able to suppress some symptoms, but frequently this requires extreme energy and attention and it only can be done for short periods of time. Also, typically when a person is expending so much energy into suppressing, they are unable to concentrate on anything else. Tics when suppressed will almost always worsen in the long run.” – via Tourette Association of America

What I find most interesting is the insight that trying to suppress tics not only increase their likelihood but at great emotional and psychological expense. This is analogous to how autistic individuals describe “passing”, or pretending not to be autistic.

“If you are the parent or guardian of a stimmy child, and your goal is to stop your child from stimming—to teach her to stop flapping her hands, or repeating her cat’s meows, or chewing on her shirt sleeves in the grocery store—know that you are aiming for an impossible standard.

Stimming is a valuable tool for autistics to self-regulate, self-sooth, and gain familiarity and control over their bodies and environments.

…if you keep your child from stimming, the stim will always come up in another (usually worse) way.

I find this mentality most common among what I call “anti-autism” parents or specialists. These are the people that say, “I love my child, but I hate my child’s autism.” They are usually well meaning (if misguided) parents who only want to spare their child a difficult life.

But autism is not like depression, anorexia nervosa, or PTSD. Autism is not the demon we should be fighting. The true demons are disability, anxiety, and misery.” – Kirsten Lindsmith

Distractions Are in the Eye of the Beholder

We define, as a society, what we believe is acceptable or unacceptable behavior.  It is based on this criteria that we claim any impact (positive or negative) on the environment, whether that is a classroom or a movie theater. We also have the opportunity to educate the people around us as to the difference and diversity of human beings. Teaching at a place where Mr. Cohen’s Touertte Syndrome is not only tolerated but accepted has shown me that it is possible for inclusion to become a mindset for a school. How far-fetched would it be for us to do the same thing for students (or even adults) on the autism spectrum?  An attitude of inclusion needs to start at the top (our administrators and district leaders). How fortunate am I to live that out on a day to day basis.

Thanks for your time and attention.

Photo Credit: Flickr/frontoftheclass (used with permission)

Donald Trump Is Bad for Students with Disabilities and America

donald trump in greenville, south carolina

Where does Trump stand on educating students with disabilities or disabled people in general?

If Trump’s mocking of a reporter with a disability in November of 2015 or the title of his book (Crippled America) is any indication, one can only infer the lack of respect he has for disabled individuals.

If that is not bad enough, he consistently and unrelentingly disrespects people from a whole host of backgrounds. Here is a meticulously compiled list of insults that he has made (and this is just from Twitter).

Maybe Trump is not that bad… Yes. He is.

Perhaps you are thinking along the same lines as Ben Carson…that Trump’s demagoguery is just “all political stuff” or he will suddenly stop all this hateful rhetoric when he becomes the Republican nominee. Don’t count on it. Trump has tapped into the bitterness of some of the most heinous and repulsive segments in our society and it is all playing out for us to see.

Carson decided recently to endorse the Donald after a series of conversations with each of the GOP contenders. Initially, Carson was hesitant to support Trump, given the noxious tone of his campaign, which included a few ad hominem attacks on the retired neurosurgeon.

But it appears Carson’s reservations melted away after learning that Trump doesn’t really believe all those terrible things he says – about Mexicans, about Muslims, about disabled people, about women. It’s all part of the show, you see. If Trump were indeed as dumb and venomous as he lets on, well that wouldn’t be presidential material. Luckily, though, it’s just par for the course, a little red meat for the racists and jingoists in the base. – SALON (March 14th, 2016)

This (in my opinion) is what makes Donald Trump so dangerous. Now is not the time (nor is there ever) to throw decency out the window.

What does this have to do with education or students with disabilities?

For those of us who care about education and the ramifications of Trump becoming president on special education and other disability rights legislation there is cause for concern.  Though Trump has not explicitly stated that he would cut the Department of Education (DOE), it stands to reason that he would make is sufficiently harder for the Department to conduct any oversight. The DOE houses the Office of Special Education Programs (one of the chief organizations that has control on how states implement the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). Trump has also been a vocal advocate of getting rid of Common Core and giving control back to the local school boards but does not clarify what he exactly means since many (if not all) decisions about curriculum are already based at the state and local level. The truth is that the impact of a Trump administration is largely unknown and simply conjecture. This does not mean that Americans should just roll the dice and see how things shake out. This is especially true for those of us who advocate for full and authentic inclusion and believe that deep down we are fighting for civil rights.

We do know where some of the other candidates stand on the issues regarding disability.

Notably, the Clinton and Sanders campaign were one of the first ones to fill out the PwDsVote 2016 Campaign Questionnaire which was designed for people with disabilities and their loved ones  to know where candidates stand on the issues.

The questionnaire asked all of the presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle to comment on 16 disability questions. Former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders responded by addressing all of the questions, and have significantly different views on the issues. Dr. Ben Carson and Gov. John Kasich filled out parts of the questionnaire, and also have significantly different views. Despite numerous requests in person and by phone and email, the campaigns of Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and Republican front-runner Donald Trump have not yet filled out the questionnaire.” – The Respect Ability Report (February 29th, 2016)

You can read the results released by RespectAbility here.

Bottom Line: Donald Trump is bad for the disabled and for America

It is not typical for our website to be for or against a particular political candidate but this is a singularly unique time in our history. We would hate to be silent on this issue when it is this important. We will leave you with some thoughts from Senator Elizabeth Warren.

There’s a history of demagogues calling those they disagree with “terrorists” and using that as justification for…

Posted by Elizabeth Warren on Monday, March 14, 2016

 

Thanks for your time and attention.

Photo Credit: Jamelle Bouie/Flickr

Things I Wish I Knew My First Year Of Teaching Special Education

a picture of the front of a circa 1930's school building in Pasadena, CA

Nothing prepares you for that first day of teaching.

I can still remember calling my wife during my lunch break (hey…I taught in California then…breaks were mandated) almost in tears…saying “I have absolutely NO idea what I am doing”.

But approximately two thousand instructional days later…I can say with some amount of certainty…it gets easier.

When people find out that I teach special education, I usually get the obligatory comment of “you must be a very patient person”. To which I never have found a good response. This remark while well-meaning assumes a couple things…1) that special education kids require a lot of patience…to which I would say…any teaching position that necessitates interaction with kids requires a lot of patience and 2) people who work in special education have a superhuman ability to work with “those kids”. Okay…this is probably too harsh…and getting off topic. Here are a sundry list of things that I wish I knew my first year teaching special education (in no particular order).

I wish I knew that…

  • I needed to keep an extra set of clothes in the classroom…for myself. You never know what kind of fluid or edible material you might find flying around
  • you should always look to the student’s interest first to try to gain their attention and to provide motivation to access their curriculum
  • you should always presume competence with your students…it is the least dangerous assumption
  • it is possible to be a self-contained special education classroom teacher AND be an inclusive education advocate and not feel guilty about it
  • most general education teachers do not have a clue what you really do or that you are a REAL teacher (it is your job to educate them on everything you can bring to their classroom and the school)
  • all behavior serves a function…even if you think it doesn’t…it does
  • it is okay to not know exactly what you are doing that first year…it goes by so fast…you need help…just ask for it
  • the best resources are your fellow teachers in your local school…everyone has had a first year/first day…we all can relate and we want to help
  • it is extraordinarily hard work (50% of new sped teachers [drop] out [of teaching] in 5 years…75% out in 7-10 years) …harder than you can imagine
  • I would see things that would bring tears of joy to my eyes and things that would break my heart
  • I would care so deeply about the students and their families that I would spend much of my free time working out problems that we had in the classroom
  • teachers often get the short end of the stick when it comes to resources and training
  • you have to advocate for yourself to get the support you need…don’t be afraid to be the “squeaky wheel”
  • you also have to know when you have been beaten by the system…regroup, plan and fight another day
  • I needed to expect the best but prepare for the worst
  • it is sometimes difficult to “manage” your paraprofessionals when you are half their age
  • some of your best friends will be the people who work in your classroom
  • there is most likely not a curriculum…you will have to come up with one on your own
  • there is more freedom than you think in education…you just have to look for it
  • your students are children first…don’t focus on their disability…use that knowledge to help understand them but realize that they are people with hopes, dream, wants and needs
  • inclusion is belonging…create environments of acceptance so that all students are valued
  • simply because a student acts out in a self-contained environment…it should not preclude them from being included with their typical peers
  • a student can earn their way out of general education classes but should never have to earn their way in (Lou Brown)
  • you need to talk to the parents first before you draft goals and objectives…the Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a team sport
  • I would spend a lot of my own money on my classroom
  • systematic teaching, applied behavior analysis and focusing on communication skills…works
  • I would constantly be “borrowing” things from my house to bring to school
  • the student’s parent was their first teacher
  • there is no silver bullet…so don’t be afraid to try new things
  • it is exhausting…but exhilarating
  • I would have developed my Personal Learning Network (PLN) earlier (like Twitter #spedchat – #iechat – #edchat and Facebook Groups)
  • you should join a professional organization (TASH and Council for Exceptional Children, to further your education) and sign up to receive Education Week and ACSD newsletters
  • you should never…ever give up
  • I would still love this job after a decade in the classroom

There are obviously more things that I could type…but this post is already getting a little too long. What would your advice be for new teachers in special education?  Are you one of the statistical anomalies…how many years have you been teaching in special education?

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in 2013 and has been updated with a new featured image and information. The school pictured is the actual school the author first worked at in Pasadena, California.

Photo Credit: Tony Hoffarth/Flickr

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