Tomorrow Is Too Long to Wait for Inclusion

Achieving Inclusion with Grit and Gratitude

scrabble letters spelling out the word grateful

By Laura Bratton

Just a few months before I started third grade I was diagnosed with an eye disease. My vision was deteriorating, and I would eventually become blind. So as I started the new school year, my parents were faced with a decision regarding my education. They were told that I would have to leave my current school and go to school in another city. Being a teacher, my mom knew that I was completely capable of staying in the same school. She knew that if I received the appropriate accommodations I could complete third grade just like everyone else. For example, by sitting at the front of the classroom, using large print textbooks, and a magnifier for worksheets I would be able to complete the assignments. My parents also knew that I would greatly benefit from being around all types of students; those without disabilities as well as those with different types of disabilities. So my parents were determined that I would stay in the mainstream school system.

The following is an excerpt from my book Harnessing Courage, which describes the impact of my parents’ decision to keep me in my regular classes:

“I will never forget speaking to a class of middle schoolers one year when I was home from college. Before I spoke, I was in the school office. A lady walked up to me and said, “Please tell your parents thank you for the work that they did.” I looked up at her, confused; I had no clue what she was talking about. I was giving the talk in a different school district than the one in which I grew up. She added, “Because of the work that your parents did for you to keep you in regular public school, countless other children who came behind you are also able to stay in public school.” I stood in the office of that school not sure how to respond. I replied with a simple, “Oh, that is great!” However, it just did not seem like enough. I was excited and touched to know that the bravery my parents displayed not only benefited me, but it also benefited many other children we will never know.”

I am grateful beyond words that I had the opportunity for inclusive education for two main reasons. First, I was able to receive the same level of education my peers received. Teachers expected me to perform at the same level as the other students. Yes, of course, I received the needed accommodations such as twice as much time to complete tests. However, once the accommodations were in place, I was held to the same standard. I learned that I could not use my blindness as an excuse for not performing at a high level.

The second reason I am grateful for inclusive education is because of the socialization I received. Being around students who did not have a disability as well as students who had different types of learning disabilities taught me how to advocate for my needs. For example, I learned how to ask a friend for help when I needed to find the correct lunch table in the cafeteria. I developed the ability to communicate my needs clearly so that I could interact with all students. Receiving the same level of education and socialization as other students gave me the tools I needed to live a productive and full life. For the gift of my parents advocating for me: I am grateful. For the opportunity of inclusive education: I am grateful.

Photo credit: EKG Technician Salary/Flickr

laura bratton

Laura Bratton was born and raised in South Carolina. She graduated from Arizona State University in 2006. In 2010, Laura was the first blind student to graduate from Princeton Theological Seminary with a Masters of Divinity. Laura is the pastor at Laurens Road United Methodist Church and founder of Ubi Global LLC. She is the author of Harnessing Courage. Visit Laura’s website at www.ubiglobal.org.

A Place for Parents: Autistics and Allies

Sticker of two people holding hands.

By Larkin Taylor-Parker

Disagreements between stakeholders of various kinds are fairly common in the disability community, but conflict plagues autism discourse. The place of parents is particularly contentious. As I prepared for this post, I glanced around the Internet for what had already been said. There are too many existing attempts to fix this with a blog post, or, worse, one that oversimplifies the conflict or makes a straw man of one side. I decided this would not be another iteration of an endemic, useless thing. As I read others’ thoughts on the subject, I happened on a year-old article called Who Should Lead the Autism Rights Movement? Instantly, I knew how to articulate the problem and solution.

The answer to that question is obvious: people whose lives are most shaped by society’s decisions on what to do with autistic people deserve the final say. Social change that undermines oppression has never been ally-led. Agency as charitable donation is a contradiction in terms. We must take it for ourselves, not wait until others deign to bestow it. The thrust of every argument I have seen against our leadership is that we are too disabled to have a say in our future. I see this sentiment often. It comes couched in sympathy, recommended for convenience’s sake, and presented in the tired terminology of a moldy eugenics textbook in my vintage and antiquarian collection. I have never seen these claims hold up to scrutiny. The arguments are full of transparent fallacies. Besides, Autistics and other people with disabilities are challenging notions of our incapacity in numbers hard to dismiss as anecdotal evidence. Given a measure of control over our lives, we usually improve them. We will always know more about how to do that than allistic* people. We know our priorities, experiences, needs.

Parents may not be able to set the agenda, but they have a natural role in neurodiversity and disability rights efforts. It is partly restraint. They can be quiet in our safe spaces and encourage others to do likewise. They can stop calling anyone capable of typing insufficiently disabled to have valid opinions. They can stop speaking for and talking over us. However, not everything we need from them is passivity. There are active roles no one could better fulfill.

The media asks them about autism before it does us. Parents have the opportunity to amplify our voices where they would otherwise be ignored, redirect questions, challenge purely negative perceptions. Parents can raise money for worthy causes and organizations. The silver lining of the Autism Speaks problem is that many learned fundraising. Parents can raise assertive autistic children with a healthy sense of self-worth. They can bring up kids who carve a place for themselves in the world and understand their right to be here. Parents can stand with autistic children and adults as we demand a fair chance at rich, full, dignified lives.

As parents work to ensure they are on our side, autistics should help. We must find a healthy middle ground between the extremes of ignoring ableism and writing decent people off for one ignorant word. This is more than being humane. It is pragmatism. We need allies more than most groups. At just over one percent of the population, we will never have the numbers to go it alone.

*non-autistic

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in 2012 and has been updated with a new author bio as well as a new featured image. 

Larkin Taylor-Parker is a second-year law student at the University of Georgia. She is interested in disability rights, the experiences of young professionals from historically marginalized groups, and fixing internet culture. She is also an avid recreational tuba player.

Mix Applesauce with Medicine to Create Inclusive Classroom Communities

jars of homemade applesauce

By Alex Dunn

Inclusion is not a place, but rather a philosophy that all students deserve to experience successful academic and social participation side-by-side with peers. 

What does successful inclusion look like?  Recently Nicole Eredics on her Inclusive Class Blog asked this question and found this wonderful visual from The Parent Leadership Support Group of Georgia, which was posted on their Facebook page, as a response.

From our four year Smart Inclusion research project, I would like to propose some small changes to this great image in order to recognize that in order to create inclusive classroom communities, we need to acknowledge that no two students are alike and that changes need to be made to existing learning environments to reach and teach every student; “barriers to learning are not, in fact, inherent in the capacities of learners, but instead arise in learners’ interactions with inflexible educational materials and methods.  (CAST Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age: Universal Design for Learning, Preface p. iv).

For those like me in the trenches, in schools every day, it is important to ask the question: How can we make a difference to the students and educators we serve and really achieve inclusive classroom communities?  A recent Twitter exchange with Jeannette Van Houten (@jvanhoutensped) and Tim Villegas (@think_inclusive) made me reflect on what we tried to do in our schools at Upper Canada District School Board in Ontario Canada over the past four years.

Educators told us that in order to achieve inclusive classroom communities they, with their students, needed to become proficient across three continuums – inclusion, curriculum, and technology.  In a way, I equate the integration of all three continuums to applesauce and medicine.  Although the technology (e.g., iPads, SMART Technology, Nintendo, Laptops etc) and other classroom manipulatives (e.g., Lego, Wikki Stix etc)  have been the all-important applesauce, I think all those involved with Smart Inclusion research would agree the key to the success for both educators and students has been the way the applesauce of technology has been combined with the medicine of bringing research-based pedagogy (e.g., Universal Design for Learning (UDL), Differentiated Instruction (DI), Aided Language Stimulation, Student, Environments, Tasks, and Tools (SETT) and Participation Models) into practice.  In short, educators cast a UDL net attempting to catch all students but sometimes, despite our best efforts, some students fall through the net and sit on the outside of education looking in which is completely unacceptable.  Pat Mirenda and David Beukleman’s Participation Model (PM) (really Differentiated Instruction with a twist) has provided us a way of catching all students that fall through the net.  As Jeannette Van Houten suggests “failure is a way to move to success”.  The Activity Standards Inventory (ASI), from the PM does just that.  Here is a link to a case study of one of our Smart Inclusion students and how we applied the Participation Model to help identify barriers to participation and subsequent intervention, including the use of technology.

A special thank you to the staff, students and parents at UCDSB for giving their nights and weekends and for sharing their work and that of their children, so that children worldwide can experience the same successful academic and social participation.  This groundbreaking research we have undertaken has been replicated in other school Districts in Ontario and Alberta, Canada.  Many other Districts, educators, parents, and students, worldwide have joined us on our journey to ensure that ALL really means ALL and that we are truly welcoming everyone, all the time, everywhere” (Pat Mirenda).

Photo Credit: Andrew Seaman/Flickr

Alex DunnAs Speech-Language Pathologist at the Upper Canada District School Board and president of Inclusioneers, Alex Dunn has presented across the USA, Canada, Germany, England, Spain, exploring technology (SMART Technology, iDevices, Assistive Technology) and theory as part of Universal Design for Learning Toolkit to ensure ALL students, achieve the goal of meaningful educational, social participation.  Recently Alex Dunn was named SMART Exemplary Educator of the Year for Canada for 2012 and appointed as an Officer for Special Education Technology Special Interest Group for the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).  You can find her on Twitter @SmartInclusion or visit the Smart Inclusion Wikispaces Page

Striving for Community as a God-Loving Aspie

man looking up towards heaven thinking about god

By Timotheus “Pharaoh” Gordon

Being autistic and striving to be a Christian is very rigorous at times, especially if there are little resources or examples for such community.

I’ve been practicing Christianity for about a year and two months. It may have been a difficult year of struggles; heck I still have to work on (e.g., having MY OWN convictions that are based on the Bible, not solely word-of-mouth). But I’m growing more convinced that through the power of the Trinity, even autistic people can change the world as Jesus did.

I love studying the bible, praying for people, helping out people, going to mission trips (to take pictures of those experiences), and hanging out.  Sometimes, I would blog about my faith on my website.

Yet, I don’t really feel like a member of the church at times. I interact with people, but not as well in huge crowds (so many people and too noisy). It seems like some would see this as not wanting to fellowship when it’s only part of my autism. I feel like very few of my peers understand my challenges with fellowshipping. I also struggle with emotional meanings behind certain passages.

I’m scared even more when it appears that I’m alone in the fight to stick with Christianity as an autistic person.  I met two boys in a Birmingham church who are autistic, but I’ve yet to find autistic adults who are Christian. How can I be an autistic Christian if there is lack of adequate examples of such persons out there?

I believe that first step in seeing more autistic Christians (especially those who are living independently and are verbal) is to provide resources that could help them grow in the faith. The catch is that resources have to come from someone or an entity who fully understands autistic Christians’ hardships in the world. Resources could even come from a person in the autistic spectrum who been the faith for a long time (e.g., at least 2 years). Providing spiritual guidance from the verbal, independent autistic’s point of view is more beneficial than turning to a place or someone with limited/stereotypical knowledge of the condition.

Meanwhile, more Christians that are autistic should network with each other and share their testimonies to non-autistic Christians. That will inspire many people and convince of how God could work through anyone.

With those, I would hope to see news of more autistic Christians making a difference in people’s lives and less of parent’s woes with raising an autistic child in a Christian household.

(sidebar) Links related to Autistic Christians:

Autism Society (Religion and Autism): http://www.autism-society.org/living-with-autism/family-issues/religion-and-autism.html

Books and Resources on Religion, Spirituality, and Moral Development: http://www.neurodiversity.com/religion.html

Christianity and Autism Forum: http://www.aspiesforfreedom.com/showthread.php?tid=21631

James Tuttle (autism advocate, political advocate, and commentator on spiritual issues): https://www.facebook.com/pages/James-Tuttle/23053891623

Spectrum Ministries: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Spectrum-Ministires

Photo Credit: Carlos Solares/Flickr

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in 2012 and has been edited for clarity, has a new author bio and has as a new featured image.

Timotheus GordonBorn and raised on the south side of Chicago, Timotheus “Pharaoh” Gordon has loved the power of writing since 3rd grade when he copied love poems and read history literature in his free time. He got married to poetry in 2003 after turning in a humorous poem on his daily routine for a homework assignment. Writing, especially poetry, also helped him develop a voice as an African-American male with autism.
He is a freelance writer and blogger specializing in autism acceptance, social commentary, sports, cosplay, and comic/anime conventions. He is published in online publications such as Football.com, Creative Loafing Atlanta, and Yahoo Contributor Network. In addition, he takes event pictures at anime/comic conventions, rallies, college events, class reunions, 5K races, and church functions. Along with those two professions,  am currently an independent marketing representative, where I utilize social media and word-of-mouth to provide essential productions and show people how they can gain financial independence. Connect with him on Twitter @TimotheusGordon or his other social media outlets.

Frequently Asked Questions about IEPs

parents shaking the hand of a teacher in a classroom

By Amanda Morin, Understood.org

There’s a lot to know when your child has an Individualized Education Program (IEP). From the legal to the logistical, here’s a look at five common questions parents have about IEPs and, more importantly, some answers to help.

  1. I don’t think everybody uses IEP the same way. What exactly is an IEP?

IEP stands for an individualized education program, which is the blueprint for your child’s special education experience.  But sometimes people also use “IEP” to refer to the legal written document that that contains all the information about your child’s program. Technically, that document is an IEP plan.

People may also use IEP to refer to the team who helps puts the program into place (“she’s on my child’s IEP”) or the meetings held to review the program, (“we have an IEP this afternoon”). But those references are shorthand for “IEP team” or “IEP meeting.”

  1. I heard my child’s IEP is supposed to be standards-based. What does that mean and how do I know if it is?

Each state has standards that lay out what students are expected to learn in math, reading, science and other subjects by the end of each year. A standards-based IEP means the program aligns your child’s learning needs and goals with the academic standards for your state.

Schools haven’t always tied IEPs to grade-level standards. But a 2015 guidance letter from the U.S. Department of Education made it clear that all IEPs must be tied to state academic standards.  If your child’s IEP isn’t tied to state standards, it violates her legal right to a free and appropriate education (FAPE).

You may wonder how your child will meet grade-level standards if she’s behind. Every IEP has a few key parts:

  • Your child’s present level of performance
  • Annual goals for your child
  • Special education supports and services to help him reach the goals
  • Accommodations and modifications to help your child progress
  • Measurements for your child’s progress toward goals

In a standards-based IEP, those are all aligned with state academic standards. If, for example, your child has dyslexia, her present level of reading performance will be measured by what grade level she’s reading at.

Her annual goals will be written to meet standards for her grade. And any services, supports, and accommodations she receives are intended to get her to meet those grade-level standards. She may not reach that goal, but it’s important that her educational experience is aiming to get her there.

  1. I keep hearing about “smart goals.” What makes a goal “smart?”?

SMART isn’t referring to whether or not a goal is clever or not, although SMART goals are very well-written. SMART stands for the key components of a well-written goal:

  • Specific: This means the goal is specific in naming the skill or subject area and how your child will achieve the targeted goal.
  • Measurable: This means the goal states the way your child’s progress will be measured. That can be done using standardized tests, curriculum-based measurements or screening.
  • Attainable: This means the goal represents progress that may be ambitious, but still realistic for your child.
  • Results-oriented: This means the goal clearly lays out what your child will do to accomplish it and explains what she’ll be able to do once the goal is met.
  • Time-bound: This means the goal includes a time frame in which your child will achieve it, given appropriate supports and services. It also explains when and how often progress will be measured.
  1. We just had an IEP meeting and I feel good about the accommodations for my child, but how will I know if they’re working?

You can begin by talking to each teacher to make sure he understands the accommodations and when to use them. Ask him to give you an example of how it would look in a normal class period to see if you’re on the same page.  And check with your child to see if she knows what her accommodations are when they’ll be used and how she can access them.

If you’re not comfortable that the teachers or your child are using the accommodations appropriately (or at all!), ask that an IEP team member makes it a priority to follow up. After that, you can keep track of your child’s progress in general and special education via homework, progress reports and by how she’s acting and reacting to school. If it’s not going as well as you expected, it’s a good idea to revisit the accommodations.

  1. What do I do if I don’t agree with a decision the rest of the team makes during the meeting?

You don’t have to agree to the entire plan, but you need to make that clear in writing. In most states, there isn’t a section for you to sign and approve the IEP because the federal law doesn’t require a parent to sign. When the very first IEP is finalized, you do have to sign to provide permission to provide services, but after that, the law doesn’t require your signature.

Once the IEP plan is completed, the school will send you a prior written notice explaining what actions were taken and the decisions that were made. When you get the prior written notice, it will provide a date on which the new IEP will begin.

If you disagree with any of the services or background information, it’s best to write a letter explaining what you disagree with or the services you are declining. You may want to call another meeting to discuss the issue again. If the team still doesn’t agree, you have to decide if you want to pursue the issue through due process.

There’s a lot to learn about IEPs, and it can be tricky to track. With a better understanding of how the program works, what the IEP plan should include, an understanding of your legal rights and the school’s responsibilities, you’re off to a good start!

Photo Credit: Innovation_School/Flickr

a-morin-headshot-2Amanda Morin is a parent advocate and former teacher. She worked in classrooms and as an early intervention specialist for 10 years. Since 2007, she has been working as an education writer and, more recently, as a parent advocate to empower parents and affirm the pivotal role they play in their child’s education.
During her years as an early childhood educator, she taught kindergarten and worked with infants, toddlers and preschoolers with disabilities. She provided education and training to parents of children with disabilities and led multidisciplinary teams in developing and implementing Individual Family Service Plans.
Morin received a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Maine and special education advocacy training from the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates.
She is the author of three books: The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education, The Everything Kids’ Learning Activities Book and On-the-Go Fun for Kids: More Than 250 Activities to Keep Little Ones Busy and Happy—Anytime, Anywhere!
She also writes for Understood.org.

Tech Tools to Boost Writing Skills of Students with Learning Disabilities

stack of lined paper with some drawing and sloppy writing

By Michael Yarbrough

In practice, teachers quickly learn how often students with learning difficulties (LDs) face problems related to writing skills. One of the most frequent issues is Dysgraphia, which appears when your student has difficulty with correct spelling or handwriting. Specifically, your student may spell words on paper incorrectly and mix cursive with print or uppercase with lowercase letters. Another trouble is Dyspraxia, which may cause some difficulties with movement, including the physical process of writing and printing. Another common issue is Dyslexia. This is a learning disability that leads to reading problems that can also influence writing. If your students cannot make sense of written words or recognize them, they may have Dyslexia. Fortunately, today’s schools provide special programs for students with LDs so they can develop the skill sets they need to use their strengths and overcome their challenges. Furthermore, there are special technical tools your students can freely use for boosting their writing abilities:

  1. Speech-to-Text Synthesizers. This kind of software is created for children whose oral abilities are better than handwriting. They can dictate into a microphone and see their spoken words appear as text on the computer screen. Suggest using either Dragon Speech Recognition or Dictation software to create more complicated and longer essays free of spelling mistakes. Research has shown that essays created with the help of voice recognition software are better than those written in the more traditional way. Other benefits of using the above tools include enhancing core reading abilities, better navigating skills on the computer, and increasing a sense of independence while lessening anxiety.
  2. Word Prediction Software. This type of software is especially valuable for students with Dyslexia, as this technology predicts the words students want to write after just a few characters have been typed. As a rule, there is a box with several suggestions, and the user can choose the appropriate word to be inserted into the text. Try to test word prediction software using either WordQ or Co:Writer. These tools can also be used when sitting in a classroom and taking notes during lectures, as dictating aloud would probably disturb other classmates. Statistics show that word prediction is actually able to help students improve their spelling and transcription accuracy, increasing both word fluency and the academic quality of work completed. Furthermore, students enjoy how the program suggests a wide range of options so they can select the most appropriate ones without constantly worrying about spelling mistakes. Still, the process of choosing requires careful attention as there are many confusing words and word forms, so using this software isn’t as easy as it seems to be at first. Nevertheless, this tool is really effective because in many cases it shows more significant results than voice recognition software, as it not only helps deal with problems but actually does its best to solve them!
  3. Tools for Students With Rare Disorders. In addition to the common problems of Dysgraphia, Dyspraxia, and Dyslexia, there also are some other issues that, although they occur rarely, are important to know about. Cryptomnesia is when something that was forgotten returns suddenly but is thought to be new. In other words, memory resources become a new knowledge for writers without their realizing it. In this way, writers auto-plagiarize everything they remember, whether it’s a song or a literary composition. What is most surprising is how they do it unintentionally. To prevent these situations, students with Cryptomnesia can use Unplag to check their papers for plagiarism to be sure they use their own original thoughts and unique ideas. Dysantigraphia is when students cannot copy any printed or written material. Instead, students can write this material down if it is being spoken aloud by the teacher, but as soon as they take a look at a printed version of what they’ve heard, they become incapable of copying it. Scholars presume this disorder may be related to a stroke or other brain trauma. Screencast-O-Matic is a tool that will help students conquer Dysantigraphia by turning printed material into listenable sound files.

What You Can Do Besides Using Tools

Fortunately, there is a lot of information out there from reliable sources about difficulties with writing. Lots of research by psychologists, neurophysiologists, behaviorists and other specialists has taken place, which means there are many ways to improve written expression even without leaving home. Below are some ideas that are the easiest to follow. You just have to inspire your students to use them effectively!

  • Never stop encouraging students to learn;
  • Prove that reading is FUNdamental;
  • Concentrate on effort, not result;
  • Make them focus on their studying process;
  • Inspire students to stay hungry for new knowledge;
  • Advise them to take notes on everything;
  • Have the highest regard for their writing;
  • Allow them to use keyboarding when they’re tired;
  • Evaluate their achievements according to your expectations;
  • Pride yourself on constant teaching and improving together with your students.

With tools and strategies like these, you can help put your special needs students on the pathway to academic success!

Photo Credit: Yasmeen/Flickr

About the Author:

Before he became a private teacher, Michael spent five years in the school classroom. He always was an inclusive education advocate, and still, believes that everyone should have access to good education.  Michael shares his thoughts on education, pedagogy and digital learning on his Twitter and his personal education blog Cultivating Education. Follow him, and you will not miss his new posts!

My Child Is Starting an Inclusive Preschool: Now What?

three children standing in front of a brick wall that has been painted with chalkboard paint. they are smiling and laughing.

By Nakeshia Wright

Somehow, inexplicably, the school year starts. Summer vacations were had, swimming lessons were taken, and probably too many popsicles and ice cream treats were enjoyed. Throw in a few inevitable tantrums and occasional mischief due to summer boredom, and most parents will be sending their children off to school with a relieved grin on their face. However, if you’re a parent sending your child to an early education program for the first time, you may experience more complex emotions, especially if your child has a special need.

Try not to fret; there are plenty of resources and experts out there to help make the transition as smooth as possible. Inclusive early education programs, like the Frazer Center, are a good place to start. As an Inclusion Specialist, it is my job to ensure children with disabilities and their families receive the direction and resources they need.  Still, having an inclusion professional within the program is just one of many benefits. There is more and more research available that supports the benefits of inclusion for young children with and without disabilities. Studies have shown that individualized evidence-based strategies for children with disabilities can be implemented successfully in inclusive early childhood programs, according to the U.S Department of Education.

Once you’ve found an inclusive program that you feel comfortable with, check out the list below of things you can do to ensure your child remains developmentally on track. Starting your child with a special need at an inclusive early education program can be stressful, but remember you are not alone and the benefits and resources your child receives will be a tremendous tool for his or her future learning.

  1. Start the Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) and Individualized Education Program (IEP) process as early as possible. The process can be very involved and often overwhelming. Unfortunately the longer you wait, the more daunting it can become. While your child must be at least three years old to qualify for an IEP, it’s never too early to get help for potential developmental delays or learning issues. Starting an IEP/IFSP as early as possible not only ensures accommodations and supports for your child, but makes the transition from preschool to kindergarten much easier. This is particularly the case if schools in your district can not provide the resources needed for your child and other accommodations have to be arranged.
  2. Communication is crucial. Communication is important for every parent, but especially for parents of children with special needs. Most likely it’s your first go-around caring for a child with special needs. It’s not ours or the other experts you will work with. Has your child not been sleeping as much as usual? Is there a new fear to overcome? Are you confused about something on the IEP? Let us know! Not communicating upfront often leads to increased, inefficient communication down the road. It might also be useful to start a communication log. The notifications and updates you will receive about your child is significant and will only increase. Catalog them all together.
  3. Start a routine for before and after school. This only goes for older children that will be starting kindergarten shortly—infants have their own (albeit unpredictable) routine. Regular routines help kids cooperate, learn to take charge and keep a schedule. It gives them consistency, certainty, and safety. The structure at home regularly translates to good behavior at school, reducing time spent on negative feelings and distractions, allowing more time to learn and develop.
  4. Get involved. Any high-quality early education program affords plenty of opportunities for parents to stay actively involved in their child’s blossoming education. Join the parent-teacher committee, serve as “lead” parent for your child’s classroom, volunteer when asked. If your schedule is just too hectic to commit to a large time invest, at least make sure to always attend a parent-teacher conference, IEP meetings, and program-wide functions. Staying engaged is the most direct way to stay informed about upcoming events and potential policy changes. It’s where you strengthen relationships with teachers and administrators, as well as form beneficial relationships with other parents. As a parent with a child with special needs, program changes may affect your child more than a typically developing child. You are your child’s voice when decisions are being made, make sure they are heard.

Photo Credit: Frazer Center

The post was originally published on the Frazer Center blog and is used with permission.

nakeshia-wrightNakeshia Wright is an Inclusion Specialist at the Frazer Center in Atlanta, GA, one of the metro area’s only inclusive early education programs. In this role, she works closely with families, teachers, therapists, and other entities to provide the best possible experience for children with special needs. Nakeshia has worked for the Frazer Center since 2009 in various capacities including assistant teacher, lead teacher, and lead Pre-K teacher. She is reliable in using the Inclusive Classroom Profile and was named GAYC Certified Teacher of the Year in 2012. Previously, Nakeshia worked at the Muriel Humphrey Center in Woodbridge, VA (2005-2009) which was a day program for individuals with Special Needs from 6 weeks to 22 years. She began working with children with special needs in high school and has a Bachelor’s of Sciences in Communicative Sciences and Disorders from Hampton University. She’s a photographer, plays the piano and viola, sings, raps, and writes music. She also owns a t-shirt company (Be Brand Clothing) and button business (Take Notes).

 

How Data Would Have Improved My Inclusive Classroom

How Data Would Have Improved My Inclusive ClassroomBy H. E. James, MBA

I haven’t taught for many years, but I recall my first year of instruction in a junior-senior high school vividly. I was one of two ninth-grade English teachers in a school district that barely had 100 students in it. When my much more experienced colleague and I were dividing up the students, it came to our attention that many of them were on 504s or IEPs.

He panicked, and I boldly offered to take many of them under my wing. I knew next to nothing about working with special needs students other than what I learned through practicums and teaching experiences during school. I’m not sure which of the two of us had more experience working with students with special needs, but I certainly was more willing. Was I great at it? Probably not; I didn’t have a lot of training in inclusive education. What I had was data, and had I been better at analyzing it, I know I could have been a better teacher.

Their Performance

Because keeping records of things is in my nature, my grade book contained healthy details on how all my students performed in my classroom. Back then, we kept students’ data on paper or computer grade books that were rather clunky. Today’s teacher tech allows many of us to collect and analyze student data on a much more aggressive level.

Tools can tell teachers exactly what an assessment means within the environment of their classrooms and help them adjust student behavior. Data that they actively contribute, according to their skill level, is also great at informing instruction. Despite the necessity of giving formal assessments, teaching is all about the students, and when we actively seek their input, it will be much more valuable to their teachers.

You can use tools like Kickboard and actively solicit data to analyze your students’ performance and behavior. If you are working with a paraprofessional to educate a student, you can use your collected data to recognize the target behaviors the two of you want to bolster and those you don’t, then use prescribed teaching methods to target the former.

My Performance

Student-centered data is also teacher-centered data. When my students struggled, that typically meant I struggled; not always, of course, but it was usually a good indicator of gaps in my teaching or the performance of my aids. Teacher effectiveness is a powerful thing, and it should be measured, but measuring it through classroom observations by the administration isn’t going to help in real-time.

Instead, teachers should look at their collected student data, break it up into chunks according to learning outcomes, and assess their performance based on the data. If you have identified via data what a successful learning outcome should be, seeing it not being met across the board is an indicator to change your behavior. Viewing these learning outcomes will enhance all students’ performance as well as their behavior.

Data can’t equalize the playing field in the classroom, but it can certainly help each student reach his or her potential. Teachers just have to learn how to use it.

Our Performance

Of course, learning how to use data in an inclusive classroom, or any classroom, is the rub. Today, there are much more options than I had if I’d wanted to continue my education in inclusive teaching. Teachers today can earn degrees in Applied Behavior Analysis, which combines data analysis with behavior analysis to bolster performance and conduct of students.

There are even certificates available for educators who wish to specialize in data-driven instruction. You can earn one in Data-based Decision Making and Organizational Improvement. This kind of specialization is designed to teach teachers and leaders how to create and their mine data for instructional decisions.

Educators can even be certified as Education Data Specialists. A more technical certificate, this one prepares educators to create their data systems to inform decision-making. These are just a sampling of the more technical training options out there today, which can improve how teachers use data in inclusive classrooms.

In the end, no matter your training, you always have to remember that each student is different. Each classroom dynamic is different, which will in turn influence the students and their performance and behaviors. Thus, each data set is unique. Identify the outcomes you want to track and the data you want to collect, and you and your students have hit the ground running.

Photo Credit: Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine/Flickr

Hattie JamesHattie is a writer and researcher living in Boise, Idaho.  She has a varied background, including education and sports journalism.  She is a former electronic content manager and analyst for a government agency.  She holds an MBA and enjoys local ciders.  Tweet at Hattie: @hejames1008.  Find her on Linkedin at https://www.linkedin.com/in/hejamesmba.

One Big Misconception About School Readiness

school readiness: young girl ready for school waiting for the bus on the side of the road with a purple backpack

By Sandy Ginther

As the parent of three daughters, I was always bothered by “Ready for School” initiatives. While my two typically developing girls passed their kindergarten readiness tests, I was still troubled by it. It was like they had to earn their right to go to kindergarten. After all, if one didn’t pass, didn’t that imply she could not go to kindergarten? And why would we start any child’s school career with rejection?

Least Restrictive Environment Is Interpreted Differently Among School Districts

My third daughter, Abbey, has Down syndrome. With an emphasis on academic skills, she would not pass the kindergarten school readiness test. Her eligibility for special education entitled her to the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). LRE presumes that environment to be the general education classroom with accommodations and other services recognized as appropriate for support. This principle should not deny a child ‘not ready for school’ their right to the same kindergarten, but gets the ‘school ready’ for the child. However, our public school system saw Abbey’s LRE as being in the self-contained special education classroom. The Ready for School initiative only advanced their position. In the end, however, Abbey did attend general education kindergarten in her neighborhood school where her sisters attended.

As a parent, my personal view has absolute relevance for my family. But how does my opinion stack up against the rest of the world when it comes to school readiness?

Guess I am not alone in my opinion as the American Academy of Pediatrics had this to say on their website Healthy Children: “The idea that because of their birth date some children are “ready for school” and others are not has become controversial. Just as children begin to walk or talk at different ages, they also develop the psychological and social skills necessary for school at varying ages. Also, many parents and educators feel that schools need to be ready for children. This newer approach emphasizes designing curriculum so that all students of the chronological age to entering school can benefit from the program.”

School Readiness Policies Have Unintended Consequences

This concern about Ready for School influence on kindergarten access is however just one reason for controversy on the child-ready-for-school compared to the school-ready-for-the-child views. Recent studies and early childhood experts have chimed in to call for re-thinking school readiness. As recently as March 2016, ‘Young Exceptional Children Journal’ (Vol. 19, Number 1, Division for Early Childhood of the Council for Exceptional Children) published the article, “Voices from the Field: Three Mistakes Made Worldwide in ‘Getting Children Ready’ for School”. The article states that readiness policies have had unintended negative consequences. And that tensions exist between developmentally appropriate practices in effective early childhood education and the ready for school practice. The article, by authors from across the world, identified the three mistakes as:

  1. Conceptualizing “readiness” as a trait
  2. Outcomes are fragmented and taught in isolation
  3. Policies and practices emphasize standardization

They went on to offer a new definition of readiness: “Readiness is a developmental process, mostly unpredictable and highly influenced by the child’s social relationships and interactions. Readiness requires a whole-child perspective where individual differences are expected, valued, and celebrated.” (pg. 49) They expand the child’s social relationships and interactions factors as the bottom line in determining readiness. Their whole-child approach to development and learning avoids the focus on a child’s level in performing ‘discrete skills or a set of narrowly defined skills’ and embraces the ‘integration or clustering of skills into a functional whole’. A whole child approach, they report, realizes a natural pace can’t be accelerated by targeting developmentally IN-appropriate outcomes.

Readiness as a Personal Trait Puts the Responsibility on the Child

Author, David Elkind in his 2014 book ‘Parenting on the Go’, states: “The problem with viewing readiness as a personal trait, rather than a relationship, is that it puts the entire onus on the child.” (pg. 193) Elkind reveals that when we demand certain skills be met, it is we determining a child’s readiness, or lack thereof. So he writes: “Knowing one’s numbers and letters are not what a child needs to know to succeed… A child needs:

1. To be able to listen to and follow instructions
2. To concentrate and bring a task to completion
3. To be able to work cooperatively with other children
If a child has these, the numbers and letters will follow.” (Pg. 194)

And yet our kids with disabilities may still be emerging into Elkind’s three skills.

That’s what special education services are for — to follow the child into the least restrictive general education environment. The Individual Education Program should support the child while she/he is observing and emulating kindergarteners that already possess those skills.

Children with Disabilities Do Not Need to Be Ready to Be Included

Also in 2014 Erin Barton and Barbara J. Smith generated the ‘Brief Summary: Fact Sheet of Research on Preschool Inclusion’. One point states: “Children with disabilities do not need to be ‘ready’ to be included. Programs need to be ‘ready’ to support all children.” DEC/NAEYC (2009) Early childhood inclusion: A joint position statement of the Division for Early Childhood (DEC) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

But make no mistake: there are real actions that can be taken by us, families, to promote our children’s entrance into a school through our nurturing the love of discovery (AKA learning) and healthy relationships.

The same Healthy Children website cited above also includes advice for families. Reading to your children, exposure to enriching experiences like museum visits, farms, cities, and opportunities to play alongside or with other children either in the neighborhood and larger community are all beneficial for early development.

Building a Relationship with Your Child Promotes Readiness

The Three Mistakes article also states that there is a need to ready families and communities. So there are many sources of parental interaction and parent provided activities for our young children that will acclimate and prepare them. The standard fare for families to practice includes: reading aloud DAILY, encouraging and supporting them to try new things (demanding and forcing can defeat), listen and show you are listening and paying attention (we want them to learn to pay attention), provide nutritious foods and drinks (that you eat and drink too), demonstrate sharing and turn-taking, acknowledge what they are doing with descriptions (it’s better than – and harder than – the typical ‘good job’ praise), point out when your child has reason to feel good about themselves, and set limits for your child (it’s practice for the teenage years).

Here are some examples of activities:

  • Sing to and with your child, simple melodies at first.
  • Use natural materials. Give your child a spoon and pots, pans, or plastic bowls to bang on; shake a large rattle or plastic container filled with beans, buttons, or other noisy items; and blow through empty toilet paper or paper towel rolls, etc.
  • Show your child how to take part in nursery rhymes. Help them copy your hand movements, clap, or hum along.
  • Encourage your child to sway and dance to music by your example.
  • Scribbling, cutting, and pasting helps to develop fine motor skills, using different materials to find what interest them (messy paints, chalk, markers, Crayola’s, etc. are worth it).
  • Help your child learn how to use blunt nosed scissors, starting with free form cutting.
  • Paste items, such as scraps of cloth, yarn, string, or cotton balls, to paper. You can make a paste with flour and water or by using leftover egg white.

Socially, remember our preschoolers are usually black and white concrete thinkers. What they see is what they get. Watch your example, because they are.

Advocate for High-Quality Inclusive Education Programs

Finally from the Early CHOICES’ perspective, one of the best things families can do to prepare their children for kindergarten is to advocate/obtain high-quality inclusion with typically developing children during the preschool years. So it is neither one nor the other, but both the school being ready for the child AND the child being ready for school, which bring the best outcomes for kindergarten and the future. By shared information between the school and families about what readiness means, both can be ready. And like our young children, establishing those relationships and interactions is crucial.

References

American Academy of Pediatrics.  (Last Updated11/21/2015).  Retrieved from https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/preschool/Pages/Is-Your-Child-Ready-for-School.aspx

Barton, E. E. & Smith, B. J. (2014). Brief fact sheet of research on preschool inclusion. Pyramid Plus: The Colorado Center for Social Emotional Competence and Inclusion. Denver, CO. http://www.pyramidplus.org

Elkind, D. (2014) Parenting on the go: Birth to six, A to Z.  Boston, MA: DaCapo Press.

Pretti-Frontczak, K., Harjusola-Webb, S., Chin, M., Grisham-Brown, J., Acar, S., Heo, K., Corby, M., & Zeng, S. (2016). Voices from the field: Three Mistakes worldwide in “Getting Children Ready for School”.  Young Exceptional Children, 19, 48-51.

Photo Credit: clappstar/Flickr

Sandy GintherThirty years ago when Sandy’s daughter was born with Down syndrome, she became active in endeavors related to disability, inclusive practices, children, and education. She has been employed with the state’s Project CHOICES, directed a countywide Early Intervention Program, served as an Early Intervention Statewide Trainer, been an Early Childhood and Family Resource Specialist, and is currently a consultant for Early CHOICES, an Illinois Preschool Least Restrictive Environment initiative. Sandy has a B.S. in Communication and a minor in Special Education from Illinois State University, and graduate hours in Early Childhood from Western Illinois University, Portland State University and the University of Colorado. The foundation of Sandy’s work is composed of personally recognizing the need for an accepting society, professionally following researched benefits of inclusive supported opportunities and the significance of the early childhood years.

The Importance of Inclusion in One Infographic

by UNE Online

Social exclusion can impact entire families and entire communities, and is therefore an important point of discussion for social work degree seekers. Social inclusion is extremely advantageous to society by contributing to the alleviation of poverty and negating effects of exclusion like decreased productivity and human capital development. Achieving social inclusion requires a multi-level effort. Our latest infographic explores why that is and offers unique solutions for what we can do to create change in our world for the better:

Social inclusion is the allocation of specific rights to every community, group, and person in a society. These rights include healthcare, education, housing, and employment. The World Bank stated, “Social inclusion forms the foundation for shared prosperity and plays a major role in poverty alleviation.” Exclusion, they report, “is costly to communities and nations’ economies — negatively impacting productivity, human capital development, and engagement by citizens.” If social inclusion is so advantageous, why has it been so hard to achieve? How can we, as a society, pinpoint roadblocks and make changes?

Social Inclusion: Benefits Beyond the Definition

The effects of social inclusion on people, and society as a whole go far beyond economics:

Both physical and mental health are impacted by social inclusion or exclusion. Health is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a “state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. Factors that affect mental health, according to the American Institutes for Research (AIR) include: Social Exclusion, Bullying, Poverty. Due to the lack of funds, only one out of five children who suffer from behavioral or mental disorders get a referral for the help they need.

John Bynner of the University of London Institute of Education reported that children often bear the brunt of their parents’ social exclusion, because it can affect their entire lives due to:

Limited access to social, education, and training resources, affecting literacy and development. This leads to Higher school dropout rates; Alcohol and drug abuse; Problems with law enforcement early in life; Rising crime rates and criminal convictions; Unemployment; Teen pregnancies; Poor mental and physical health. In sum, what hurts our children collectively impairs our future.

Bynner also found early intervention and support are crucial, because the effects of social exclusion early in life lead directly to social exclusion later in life. The social exclusion process has a domino effect, because one problem it causes often supports the occurrence of another. Exclusion can become a cycle without early intervention.

Social Inclusion: It Start with Our Youth

That is why breaking destructive cycles and starting constructive trends Starts with Our Youth. Positive attitudes on social inclusion must start early for maximum reach and impact. Given this, Tolerance.org believes that educators “must prepare students to live in an increasingly diverse society,” so they award their Teaching Tolerance Award to teachers who:

  • Provide students with the tools they need to collaborate and reach their academic goals in a diverse environment
  • Support the practice of reducing social exclusion in and out of the classroom using research and innovation to encourage group interaction and equality.

Many colleges and universities are teaching the concept of social inclusion, embracing the definition of health by the WHO. Educational institutions are empowering future healthcare, social workers, and other professionals to encourage human dignity, respect, and social inclusion by working with communities and individuals to wipe out inequality, violence, and human exploitation.

A powerful example of the challenge and the importance of social initiatives can also be seen over the course president Obama’s administration, in actions spearheaded by the president as well as the rest of the federal government.

LGBT Rights, Obama, and the Federal Government

For instance, LGBT rights advanced tremendously during the Obama administration. In his first two years of office, Obama repealed the military’s ban on gay service members, the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, thereby fulfilling his campaign pledge that every worker should be judged on his or her ability to do the job–and nothing else.

Six months into his administration, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama hosted the first LGBT Pride reception ever held at the White House.

Outside the Executive branch, the Windsor decision, authored by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in 2013, overturned a key section of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), creating a ripple effect that impacted future court rulings. For example, Obergefell v Hodges, the second DOMA case, landed in the Supreme Court two years later. At that time, same-sex marriages were legal in 36 states. Urged by President Obama, the Justice Department filed a “friend of the court” or amicus brief, to argue for the rights of same-sex couples to wed in all of the 50 states. The final ruling, issued in June of 2015, ended gay marriage bans nationwide.

Following this establishment of same-sex marriage rights, workplace discrimination is seen by many as the next battle in the ongoing fight for complete LGBT rights.

In 2015, President Obama’s executive order on LGBT Workplace Discrimination went into effect. It shielded federal contractors and subcontractors from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. However, this protection does not currently extend to all LGBT employees nationwide who work outside of the federal system. Currently, only 21 states offer workplace protection to members of the LGBT communities, and individuals who identify as Transgendered are able to be legally fired in 33 states.

The lack of protection also creates an issue of pay equity when it comes to LGBT persons of color, such that this group is more likely to experience lifelong poverty than those who self-identify as white. Trans individuals are four times as likely to have an annual income of less than $10,000 than cis individuals, with those in marginalized communities being the most affected.

Women’s Right to Equal Pay

Another area of inequality and exclusion that has come under federal scrutiny–though without the same degree of progress–has been women’s right to equal pay. When President Obama first took office, women only earned 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. Seven years later, that difference has only risen to 79 cents, despite Obama’s efforts.

In January of 2009, Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, named in honor of a woman who worked for Goodyear and, because of wage inequality, lost more than $200,000 in earnings. The act enabled future victims of wage discrimination easier access to legal recourse. Then, in July of 2010, Obama openly supported the Paycheck Fairness Act, which was a modern extension of the 1963 Equal Pay Act. This Act stalled in Congress and was defeated; the same thing happened yet again in 2014 when it was reintroduced.

By January of 2014, Obama called attention to the lack of progress, referring to the equal pay issue as an embarrassment in his State of the Union Address, and earning a standing ovation from listeners.

Two years later in January 2016, Obama announced that he had revised the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to allow the Labor Department to collect data in order to pinpoint companies that have unfair wage practices. Under this law, companies with 100 or more workers must report salary data to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) annually, identifying the gender race of every worker along with W-2 earnings, bonuses, taxable benefits, and tips.

Potentially affecting more than 63 million companies, this proposal was rejected by business leaders who felt that the government was interfering in the private business sector, were concerned that the data reporting obligations would create additional work for companies without leading to accurate or usable data due to differences between employer types and industries. They also worried that the law would encourage fraudulent reporting practices, and would otherwise be too difficult for the government to gather and analyze efficiently.

Meanwhile, according to a White House report, the wage gap in the United States is 2.5 percentage points wider than the average for other industrial countries. Countries like the UK, which has lowered its wage gap by nearly 9 percent, along with Ireland, Denmark, Japan and Belgium, which each lowered their wage gap by 7 percent, provide an example for the U.S. to follow in its efforts to achieve greater equality.

The United State of Women Summit, held on May 23, 2016, was hosted by the White House along with the Department of Labor, the State Department, Civic Nation, and the Aspen Institute, featuring the Tory Burch Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and Goldman Sachs 10,000 women. The summit examined improvements in pay inequality in the U.S. during Obama’s administration, as well as global changes. Their collaboration is intended to find answers and solutions to the problems that persist for today’s working women.

As these examples show, the fight for social inclusion goes on, and as more groups form and lobby, more changes will come. Social activists and others must align with the federal government to urge them to pass laws that will fuel change in our society. As this all takes place, a domino effect will be created that, hopefully, will break down the walls of social exclusion around the world.

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