Tomorrow Is Too Long to Wait for Inclusion

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:


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.


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, 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.


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.


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

(affiliate link)

Photo Credit: Allison Meier/Flickr

I Can Hear You: A Poem

I Can Hear You

Have you ever heard a teacher talk about what a student with special needs could or could not do? Have you heard a teacher call a student “low” while they were sitting right in front of them? This poem, from the Teaching Learners with Multiple Special Needs blog is pitch perfect.

I can hear you.
It seems like you don’t know that,
Do you?
I am sitting here,
In this chair.
Trying as hard as I can.
Or I was, at least.
Are you?
You ask me questions,
But you won’t wait for me to answer.
You talk so fast.
And you don’t check that I am ready.
When I’m quiet I’m good
When I’m noisy I’m bad
You boss me around,
Press this,
Touch that.
If I do or if I don’t,
It doesn’t matter.
You have already decided.
You have decided that I can’t.

Read the rest of the poem HERE.
Please visit Teaching Learners with Multiple Special Needs for more resources and ideas for teachers of learners with severe, profound, intensive, significant, complex or multiple special needs.

Limits Not Included: Two Posts You Need To Read


About a year ago, I struck up an email conversation with a fellow educator of students with significant disabilities named Sharon. We went back and forth about the benefits and challenges of including students with severe disabilities in general education. I think the conversation stretched us both. No matter what side of the fence you fall on the philosophy of inclusive education, it is an incredibly nuanced discussion. Recently, my email partner reached out to me and shared that she had started a blog about the experiences with being an inclusion minded teacher for students with multiple disabilities. They were so good…I wanted to share them with you and encourage everyone follow her blog, Limits Not Included. I suspect there will be more to come.

1) Rationing Time In this post, Sharon expresses her concern about functional communication training for students with significant disabilities in inclusive classrooms. Watch the ten minute video and see if you notice anything that may be missing.

In the classroom, time is, always, our most limited resource, and if students are receiving one service or participating in one activity, it means that they are not receiving another service or participating in another activity. That is the same argument used by proponents of full inclusion for why all related services should be push-in, so that students do not lose access to the instruction and peer access available in the general education environment. But that coin has another side, and those students *are* losing access to time spent in direct instruction of specific skills. And I’m worried that’s time we can’t afford to lose.

This video, of a young lady who has been fully included, was touted as evidence of the benefit of full inclusion for the development of real meaningful social relationships at a webinar I recently attended.

Did you notice what was missing? Jocelyn’s mother was interviewed. Jocelyn’s friends were interviewed. Jocelyn was not. Everyone else spoke about what they *thought* Jocelyn wanted/thought/believed. They don’t know. Because they can’t ask her. Why? As far as we can tell from this video, Jocelyn has no formal communication system (not even a yes/no.) For all we know, Jocelyn wishes these girls would leave her alone and only tolerates them to make her mother happy. We don’t know. We can’t ask Jocelyn.

And that’s what worries me about full inclusion for students like Jocelyn – and for the students I teach. I worry that their limited classroom time will be focused on social integration and on access skills that make them part of the classroom instead of on developing meaningful functional communication systems that will help them create independent lives for themselves as adults.

Listen very carefully to the voices of non-speaking self-advocates. Their intelligence was realized by others after someone taught them how to use a communication system and they were able to communicate their desire to learn (or what they had already learned.) Access to education is nothing without a system to communicate what you know. If we are going to implement full inclusion, we have allocate the time and resources to develop functional communication skills from the very beginning. And for our older students who have not had access to the communication and academic instruction they should have before now, for whatever reason, we have to recognize that our number one priority has to be communication – and that takes time.

2) Assessing Our Place In this post, Sharon shares her opinion about what alternate assessment is really about in relation to students with severe and multiple disabilities.

The controversy over state and national assessments, the common core, and the place of students with disabilities within that structure is a loud and large debate on which everyone has an opinion and everyone knows best.

I don’t know best, but I do have an opinion, which I would like to share.

The MCAS-alt (Massachusetts’s alternate assessment protocol for students who are unable to take the state test, even with accommodations) may not be a valid, or even meaningful, test of student progress toward meeting grade level standards. However, it is an important requirement of all students educational program because it requires teachers, for 40-90 lessons out of the school year, to provide at least some academic instruction to all students, regardless of perceived “ability.”

These are the teachers, and some of them have been my colleagues, who are inordinately proud of themselves for keeping their students safe and happy. They feel that is proof that they are doing a good job. I can’t help but wonder if they are familiar with the difference between the job description for babysitter and the job description for teacher – and which one they think they are doing?

These teachers truly believe, and have convinced many wonderful parents as well, that the MCAS-alt is a waste of both student and teacher’s time because it takes away from focusing on the important (usually developmentally-based) skills that the student “should” be working on according to her/his IEP.

Yet, when the IEP is written with the grade level curriculum as the starting point (as opposed to the outdated and usually bogus notion of the student’s “developmental level”) as the starting point, the MCAS-alt portfolio flows naturally from the student goals, even for students who do not have a formal communication system and students who are working on “access skills” (not necessarily an interchangeable group.)

These teachers get offended at all the requirements to keep a portfolio from being marked incomplete. (10 different dates. Data on work samples must match data on graphs if the dates match. etc.) Yes, it’s a pain, but if you actually teach the lessons throughout the year, it’s really not hard. And that’s the point. Fundamentally, this assessment isn’t about whether the student learned the grade level material (because if they can access grade level material, why are you doing alternate assessment?) It’s not even about showing student progress and mastery (because teachers chose both the skill – within limits – and the mastery criterion.) No, at its most basic level, the MCAS-alt is about forcing teachers’ hands to ensure that all students get at least a little access to instruction in the academic curriculum. And as long as we have teachers who don’t think their students “are ready for” academics we will need the MCAS-alt portfolio assessment, with all its hoops, to make sure they give their students at least a little bit. For the rest of us who are teaching curriculum and trying to move our students forward into more inclusive environments? Well, it’s one more bureaucratic hoop to jump through, and in the world of special education, who will notice one more?

For more from Sharon, follow her on Twitter: @gallianstone

Autism: Are your eyes listening?

Autism- Are your eyes listening- - YouTube.clipular

Watch this brilliant video made by Sarah Stup on how she experiences autism.

Sarah Stup is a critically acclaimed author with autism. Although she cannot speak, her words speak for her. Here, she takes us inside her world and the very experience of autism.

For more information about Sarah and her books for children and adults, go to

5 Videos That Will Change Your Mind About Inclusive Education


I don’t know which side of the fence you are on in regard to inclusive education. And for all intents and purposes…it does not matter. This post could just as easily have been called, No…Really…I’m Not Crazy…Inclusive Education Works! Usually when I talk to people who are not familiar with the idea of having students with disabilities (including significant disabilities) in the general education setting they say they are having a hard time “wrapping their head around it” or want to see “what it actually looks like”. So…just for those of you who need to see it to believe it, I have picked out five videos that will most definitely change your mind about whether inclusive education is really a good thing or not (or at least they should).

Including Issac

Including Isaac from Kala Project on Vimeo.

including isaac | a kala project from Bradley Productions on Vimeo.

Including Issac is a 13 minute video about a boy with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) and his story of inclusion in a private Christian school in Michigan. It takes commitment from a school on all levels to make inclusion work for students with significant disabilities and this a clear example of how coming together for the benefit of one student can benefit all students. Watch this beautifully filmed and powerful video.

Damian’s Inclusion Project

This video was made by the Georgia Department of Education (2011) to highlight a pilot inclusion program for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities in cooperation with Cobb County Schools. I am currently working on a follow up video to show how Damian is progressing through his 4th grade year (slated Fall of 2014). He is currently included for all segments in general education.


Thaysa from Dan Habib on Vimeo.

Thasya Lumingkewas, 8, has autism and thrives at Maple Wood Elementary School in Somersworth, NH. The school has implemented Response to Intervention (RtI), Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and Universal Design for Learning (UDL). This film highlights the power of presuming competence, differentiated instruction and augmentative and alternative communication.

Tana Vogele’s Story

Every year since Kindergarten, Tana Vogele has been included in general education classrooms despite her significant physical and intellectual disabilities. Watch this compelling video about the friendships that have been nurtured during her 4th grade year and what inclusion does to a classroom and school community.


AXEL open captioned FINAL HD 1080p from Dan Habib on Vimeo.

This short film (16:39) focuses on Axel Cortes and the staff at Idelhurst Elementary School in Somersworth, NH. Axel is a fifth grader with autism who is non-verbal and exhibited significant behavioral challenges when he arrived at school. Axel came to Idelhurst during his 5th grade year from another school where he was exclusively in self-contained settings and was being taught preschool/kindergarten level. Through effective implementation of supports – including AAC, UDL, RtI, social stories, visual schedules and positive behavioral supports – Axel was able to learn 5th grade general education curriculum in a general education classroom within a few months. His challenging behaviors also decreased, and he thrived through interaction and engagement with ‘typical’ peers. Once Axel had an effective means of communication, the staff found that Axel was was bilingual and bi-literate (his family speaks Spanish at home).

This film illustrates the potential for students with significant cognitive disabilities to achieve high academic outcomes. The film has received support from the National Center and State Collaborative (NCSC).

The video shows how Axel accesses his environment via Augmentative and Alternative Communication as well as how his classmates accept him into their community. Watch how Axel is learning to type independently and makes strides with communicating his wants and needs in the general education setting.

Sometimes we need to see examples of inclusion to really understand that it is possible and happening all over the world. Perhaps you are the one who can influence your local school to implement inclusive practices.


Pin It on Pinterest