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What Are You Wearing?

July 31, 2012 in Special Education Articles by Dennise Goldberg

Another day of, “what do I wear?” You check the day’s weather, consider how you feel, what your plans are and what mood you’re in. All that contemplation in less than 2 minutes in most cases, for others, it’s a never ending question without a clear consistent answer.

Now, let’s consider your kids. Many of them waiting for the moment they get to pick out their ensembles for their day at school. However, all the aforementioned questions you deal with now become theirs in one overall question, “what’s everyone else wearing” OR depending on their age, how different can I be from everyone else? Who am I? How do I want to express myself? Read the rest of this entry →

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How we change the world is as important as the actual change

July 30, 2012 in Special Education Advisor Blog by Dennise Goldberg

Discrimination has been around for centuries, if not millenniums, and will continue long past my lifetime.  Today’s form of discrimination, in my opinion, is a little different from what we have seen in the past but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from history and the people that came before us.  Historically, the discrimination that we have heard the most about has been based on race, religion or sex.  Most notably against African Americans, Judaism and Women but today’s version of discrimination includes all forms of disabilities and of course sexual orientation.  In this article I am going to focus on the autism and disability community.  I see discrimination against the autism and disability communities as unique because the families of the parties being discriminated against are not necessarily also disabled themselves.  This has created a split between how some parents want to advocate for their children and how some adults living with autism or another disability want to advocate for themselves and others.  This divide between parents and self-advocates is becoming increasingly nasty with the autism and disability community members lining up on each side ready to strike each other down at any moment. Read the rest of this entry →

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Dear Colleague: Least Restrictive Environment Applies to Preschool

July 28, 2012 in Special Education Advisor Blog by Doug Goldberg

“Dear Colleague” might be my two favorite words in the English language when they are being spoken by Melody Musgrove, Director of the Office of Special Education Programs (“OSEP”) for the United States.  Anytime I see a letter from OSEP starting with Dear Colleague, I know I’m about to get a smile on my face.  OSEP doesn’t send these types of letters out unless they feel the School Districts are seriously misrepresenting the intention of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and need a little prodding to get them back on track (this is my opinion anyway).   In the most recent example of the Dear Colleague letter, we get guidance on whether Least Restrictive Environment applies to preschool placement; guess what, it does and I have a grin from ear to ear.  If Jerry had Dorothy at hello in the movie Jerry McGuire, this letter had me at the first sentence: Read the rest of this entry →

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The Search for the Elusive Chicken Tender

July 27, 2012 in Special Education Advisor Blog by Dennise Goldberg

I’m sure we are not the only parents who struggle to find the foods your child eats while on vacation.  As many of you, we will do what it takes to find something for our son to eat at a restaurant or hotel.  We usually stay at hotel with a timeshare so that we have a kitchen for breakfast and lunch.  Read the rest of this entry →

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The Inspirational Teacher Series – Emily Hastings-Speck

July 25, 2012 in Inspirational Teacher Series by Jess

Today in the Inspirational Teacher Series we profile Emily Hastings-Speck.  Emily has been teaching for 11 years currently in a special day class for children with Autism and Developmental Delays.  She also writes a blog that I enjoy reading called the the Teacher in Room 10.  I hope you enjoy her profile.

1. What is your name? 

Emily Hastings-Speck

2. What is your education level and credentials? 

I have an Honours BA, a B.Ed, and a Master’s Degree in Education. I am qualified in all 4 divisions (K-12), and have additional qualifications in French, ESL, Computers, Library and 2 levels of Special Ed.

3. What would you like a one-sentence description of yourself to say?

“Emily believes in the potential of all students to learn, and in their right to a safe, caring, appropriate education within the public system.”

4. Do you have a website? 

I have a blog – http://theteacherin10.blogspot.ca/

5. How long have you been a Teacher? 

11 years

6. What type of classroom do you teach (i.e. General Education, Special Day Class, etc)? 

I currently teach in a Contained Class for students with a dual diagnosis of Autism and Developmental Delays, but have also taught contained GLD (General Learning Disabilities) and been the support teacher for mainstream students with IEP’s from Grade 1-5.

7. What Research based instruction methods do you use in your classroom for your students with a disability? 

My classroom is highly based on the TEAACH system (http://www.teacch.com), which is also known as “structured teaching”, and provides clear beginning and endings to specific learning tasks, as well as systems of organizing and teaching the structures and skills to use within the system. I also dabble in a bit of Floortime http://www.icdl.com/dirFloortime/overview/index.shtml, based on my own reading and understanding of this method. We have also been using this year the reading methods developed by Patricia Olewein (there’s a pretty good explanation of it here: http://www-tep.ucsd.edu/about/Courses/EDS382/General_Handouts/Autism–Teaching%20Reading.pdf) to develop literacy skills, and it has been really successful for a couple of my students.

8. What other educational methods have you used that have been successful for your students with a disability? 

Educational methods is a pretty broad term… I pretty much try anything I think might help my students connect, engage, learn a new skill or gain comfort in their school environment. We use iPads and Smartboards to engage the students in both communication and learning activities. We keep sensory needs at the very top of our list, with specific sensory activities for each child, as well as access to a Snoezelen room every day. We use a constant stream of visuals, first-then boards and timers to help our students manage their anxiety and transitions. We teach picture exchange, sign language and oral language for different kids as needed, and try to communicate in as many modes as possible whenever possible. We use peer modelling to teach new skills and build social opportunities whenever possible.

9. How do you create inclusion opportunities for your students with a disability? 

My students attend all school events – assemblies, performances, playdays, special events & field trips. We have reading buddies once a week with two other classes, where students are read to by their peer buddies in a group setting. We have “Play Buddies” every day – groups of 2-3 student volunteers who come at various times throughout the day to interact, play games or just hang out with us. We go for outdoor play with at least one other class once a day, and out for recess with the whole school as often as possible.

At the beginning of the year, I presented to the staff at a staff meeting a poster of all our kids, their names, things they like and their favourite forms of interaction. These went up in every classroom, and then I scheduled visits with all the classes in the school to talk to them about my kids and allow them to ask questions. The kids asked amazing questions about my students’ likes and dislikes, their behaviour and why they might do certain things. I have my students pictures and names on our classroom door, so that they are not just “those kids in that class”. My class is never referred to as “the ASD class”, but rather “Room 10” or “Mrs. Hastings-Speck’s Class”, and the staff have been extremely supportive of this.

The expectation of inclusion has really created an amazing sense of community in our school, where my kids are greeted and spoken to in the halls by kids and adults, and are seen as a part of the school community. At our Holiday Concert in December, my class got up on stage and performed two songs, singing along and playing bells as they wanted. We practiced for weeks in the classroom, twice on the stage, and at the dress rehearsal in the afternoon, the entire school stood up and applauded when they finished. It was magical!

10. What behavior strategies and methods have worked for you in the classroom for students with a disability?

I really depends on each child, but usually in my room, the biggest thing is to remember that all behaviour is communication. Because my students are mostly non-verbal, it is often a guessing game to try and figure out what is causing their behaviour at any given time. For obvious ones, like task avoidance or not wanting to do something, we have found that visuals and timers have really helped to communicate expectations and what comes next, so that they can complete something and then move on to something more preferred. When it is less obvious, we usually look first at sensory issues, and try to resolve behaviours through pressure, rocking, swinging or another type of movement break. When we think behaviour may be attentional, we usually ignore it and re-direct, then praise or reinforce appropriate behaviour when they return to task. For all of them, a quiet, calm response is always the best course of action. We have also specifically taught several students how to cope with refusal (a big one!) by using “not right now” in both visual and verbal form, and offering another choice or letting them know WHEN something will be available. Social stories are very helpful for some of our students, particularly to explain things like cause-and-effect and strategies for coping with frustration and anger.

11. How do you involve parents in educating their children in and out of the classroom? 

Parents are an invaluable resource. I meet with all my parents at the beginning of the year to set IEP goals when writing the IEP, and check in after each reporting period (either by phone or in person) about how they’re feeling about the goals, progress, etc, and if we need to tweak anything. I’ve had parents come in and observe things like picture exchange, sign language modelling, etc. so that we can have consistence at home and at school. Parents know their children best and are often able to make progress and familiarize students with materials or concepts at home, and vice versa – sometimes we are able to make progress at school on things that are more challenging at home, and we can help parents transfer useful methods or strategies to a home environment.

12. How do you communicate with the parents? 

I write in each student’s agenda every day, letting parents know how their day has been, what they’ve done and asking questions or sending information. Parents often write back to share information or respond, and we use these to set up meetings, phone calls or visits. I sent home a monthly calendar with our special activities on it, as well as a bi-monthly newsletter with pictures and anecdotes from the room. If there is something complicated or unusual, I will always call parents at the end of the day to touch base or discuss, and parents know they are welcome to do the same whenever they need to. A couple of my students, who have a little bit of verbal ability, do their own “daily activity log” that they carry home each night, where they have stamped which activities they did that day, with a little note or detail about each. I encourage the parents to ask their students about their ay at school, using the logs as prompts to encourage communication.

13. How do you collect data to determine if a child has met their IEP Goals? 

Each student’s goals are posted in the classroom for staff, as well as in the front of their tracking binder. Each student has their own tracking binder in which activities and tasks get recorded daily by whoever they work with that day, along with information about what kind of prompting was used, and observational notes. I am able to track through the binders student success rates with specific academic learning goals, as well as collect frequency data about requesting, behaviour and other qualitative information. For specific IEP items, I will sometimes run discrete trials of a skill, if it is appropriate for data collection, and use those to inform the meeting of IEP goals.

14. What is a typical day like in your classroom? 

Typically, students will enter the room and follow morning routines – unpacking, adding items to a chart and making a choice of preferred activity to settle in. Once everyone has arrived, we do a 10 minute Circle Time, including welcome routines, calendar & weather activities, and songs. The students then move into individual work settings, either one-on-one or 2-on-1 (partially independent) to complete a set number of tasks, and then have a preferred activity. They have outdoor play at least 2X per day, as well as scheduled time in the Snoezelen Room and the Movement Room (a gross-motor play area) They have Play Buddies at least once each day, and at least one period with another teacher (Gym, Music or Art). In the afternoon, they do another individual work block, and we usually have some kind of group work block (usually related to a theme or upcoming event), where students are all working on the same activity with varying levels of support as needed. Throughout the week, we will also include Library, Cooking, Guitar Time (music therapy) and a visit with our therapy dog and his handler. We try to do a neighbourhood walk (either to the park or the grocery store) once a week, as well.

15. What is the most inspirational thing you have ever seen in the classroom? 

Inspiration happens in the smallest of things every day in our room! This year alone, I’ve had a student go from “’puter” to “I want computer” to “I want help computer frozen” (spontaneously!) when requesting. My littlest one’s mother was beside herself trying to give him a bath and clip his nails (he hated both those things) and asked for our help. He now sits like an angel to let me clip his nails and we’ve discovered that while he still hates baths, he loves being spritzed with a spray bottle for a weekly (sometimes daily!) “shower”. When I went to visit one of my girls in her IBI program last month, her therapist asked me if I knew any reason why the child might be reading the word “the” – she had pointed it out twice that week spontaneously. Turns out the little reading program we had been working on at school was working beautifully! And the first time our therapy dog came to visit, I snapped a picture of my always-anxious “whirling dervish” lying perfectly still on the carpet beside the dog, staring into his eyes. The fact that my students manage to overcome their own internal struggles to connect and learn every day is inspiring to me.

16. What advice would you give other Teachers about teaching students with a disability? 

Don’t underestimate them. Students with disabilities are like all other students – they need to be supported and challenged, and given opportunities to rise to the expectations you set for them. Believe that they are capable, even when the paperwork says they’re not. Teach them the way you would want them to be taught if they were your own child – with caring, compassion and courage.

17. What else would you like Parents and other Teachers to know that we haven’t already asked?

For other teachers: Knowing that we are welcome and included makes a world of difference. Sometimes, especially in a contained program, we’re not always aware of everything going on in other classes. An invitation to watch a music or drama performance, participate in an art activity or join you on a field trip goes a long, long way to modeling inclusion for your students, and for helping mine feel they are a part of the school community.

For parents: I love your children, and I don’t stop thinking about them at 3pm. They are always on my mind. I teach my class because I believe that all kids have a place in our public school system, and that families shouldn’t have to seek out expensive private programs to give their children a caring, challenging education that meets their specific needs, whatever those may be. Special Education should not be a dumping ground, a label or a curse – it should be a place (physical or theoretical) where kids get whatever support they need to be successful. Please know that as a teacher, I’m fighting for that just as hard as you are!

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Occupational Therapy: More than just handwriting!

July 24, 2012 in Special Education Articles by Jess

Many children who have an IEP receive Occupational Therapy (OT) as a related service to address poor handwriting.  While handwriting referrals are an appropriate use of Occupational Therapy services and OT’s are well equipped to address handwriting challenges that impact learning, illegible or sloppy handwriting can be a symptom of more significant processing or motor challenges and poor handwriting is not the only type of symptom that educators and parents should be considering when determining the need for OT services.  Occupational Therapy is an underutilized and often misunderstood discipline, that can serve as a valuable resource to address many IEP related goals.  Read the rest of this entry →

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Feeding Therapy: Treating the Whole Child

July 23, 2012 in Special Education Articles by Jess

I have the fun of meeting a LOT of cute kids in my practice as a feeding therapist and  likewise, the honor of meeting some great parents.  Sometimes the kiddos have Down syndrome or a gastrointestinal tube for liquid tube feedings or autism or for one reason or another are just darn-picky eaters.  Know what the common denominator is among all these families, regardless of a child’s diagnosis?  STRESS.  Parenting a child who does not eat well is STRESSFUL and it’s a very unexpected problem to have in a family.  I have never met a new mom who cradled her brand new baby and said,  “Gosh, I hope he eats his broccoli.”  It never occurs to a new parent that their child will have difficulty eating.  Read the rest of this entry →

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Free for Download: The Updated Freedom Stick

July 22, 2012 in Special Education Articles by Jess

It is time for Universal Design for Learning to be put in the hands of every student. It is time for every student to be given the opportunity to discover and experiment with a range of tools which can support their own individual differing communication needs – not just in school, but throughout their lives.

Schools, traditionally, have provided students one way to do things. If the class was supposed to read something, everyone had the same technology – paper with alphabetical symbols printed on it which students needed to “decode.” If the class was supposed to write, everyone had the same technology – usually a pencil or a pen used to create alphabetical symbols on paper. If the class was supposed to get “organized,” everyone had the same technology – an “assignment book” or perhaps the infamous “middle school planner.”

If students could not function well with that “one way” they either failed, or were diagnosed as being “disabled” and were prescribed a different “one way” to work – a way which would set them apart from their peers forever. Read the rest of this entry →

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Middle School Magic or Madness

July 22, 2012 in Special Education Articles by Jess

Last year my daughter entered 6th grade and middle school.  Rachel has Down syndrome and has always been fully included. Middle school conjures up visions of all kinds of difficulties for families of typical students. Add in an intellectual disability and the imagination can go wild with all the “what if’s.”  Based on the testimony of many parents and students, some of those “what ifs” are real and not imagined.  We had a fabulous first year of middle school and I’d like to share some of the reasons I believe this to have been so. Read the rest of this entry →

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What is Online Speech Therapy like?

July 20, 2012 in Special Education Articles by Jess

Online speech therapy, or telespeech, is a service model approved by ASHA [1] that can provide better results than face-to-face speech-language therapy [2]. The student and certified speech-language pathologist meet in a virtual classroom designed specifically as an optimal eLearning environment. For many students, the employment of games, interactive whiteboards, HD video chat, and high fidelity audio catalyzes progress. Read the rest of this entry →

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