Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Blow Your Nose, kid!

     Kid struggling with blowing their nose?

    Have them "race" with other learners where you need to blow a tissue across a table to a finish line... with their nose!


Monday, December 19, 2011

Simplicity In Intervention

     I have a 29 month year old client who has recently been crying for the majority of his session. I am not going to get specific, but today we shared a peaceful moment of quiet and companion -- over a balloon.

     In this field, at times we tend to over-complicate things. We look for iPads and toys that light-up, whirl, and speak. However, the truth of the matter, is that modified Occam's Razor can often prevail. That is to say, the simplest intervention is often the best intervention. An iPad may be terrible for a child who would prevail with PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) for an AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) intervention. And in my case, a balloon was the game changer, not the obnoxious light up toy.

     Especially with our early learners, we need to meet them where they're at, while at the same time setting our expectations high. Even if a learner is delayed by many years, we should set goals that are developmental age appropriate, while being actual age respectful.

     A balloon saved my rapport and instructional control with this learner. Not an epiphany, but remarkable nonetheless.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Growing Up & Milestones

You know your child best. If your child has developmental barriers, let's keep a few things in mind.

1) Even if your child is 6 months old, they are going to get older. Circumstances will change. The topography of behavior will change. Their preferences will change. The same is true for your child as they turn 1, 5, 11, et cetera. Some things will be messy, others will be seamless. Do not expect anything -- do your best to be proactive, but also take as they come. Learn from what has happened, and be proactive therein.

2) There is a terrible misunderstanding that certain diagnoses present in fairly predictable ways. Children with barriers are still individuals. If you and your friend had children around the same time, and they began to present with certain symptoms around the same time, this does not mean that your other friend's child will develop in the same way.

3) What worked over the Summer, may not work in the Fall. Read into and think about this statement.

4) What is a milestone for a similar child may not happen with your child until much later, but they may have met milestones that their counterpart has not.

5) Be careful what hype you buy in to. There are a few hundred therapies for children with disabilities, and less than a dozen that have empirical, scientific evidence that they actually prove effective.

Finally, people are not just one thing. There are always competing factors, other diagnoses, quirks, and preferences that need to be considered. Remember that. There is never a single root to any one cause.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Teacher Education

     The state of Iowa is proposing a requirement for candidates of teacher education programs to have a minimum of a 3.0 GPA. An argument against this is that it would turn away potentially great teachers. The argument for it, according to Gov. Terry Branstad is that we need to have high standards for our teachers.

     Is it's a mixed bag. Both arguments have some validity. However, I am inclined to agree that minimum requirements are necessary. Most graduate teacher education programs in my state, Illinois, require a 3.0. And most Universities mention a minimum 3.0 GPA, even with some concessions made. So, the question becomes, is this proposed requirement a shock, or a step finally made in the right direction? I am inclined to think, when I do have children, that my children's teachers had at least a B level understanding of the high school material they may be teaching to my child.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Color Scheme

Hi All.

I received some feedback on the color scheme for this blog and just wanted to point out that, empirically, it is shown that high contrasting colors (not on a white background) for text and background make it easier to read for inidividuals with disabilities.

Just a note...

To read more, check out this link.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Chicago Public Schools - Schools on the Line

    On WBEZ's most recent program of the series Schools on the Line, Chicago Public Schools' (CPS) CEO Jean-Claude Brizard and Project Manager Katy Ellis were discussing charter and magnet placing for students -- in a phrase, selective enrollment. These schools typically require students to meet certain criteria and test in. Schools such as Whitney Young, Peyton, North Side College Prep, to name a few, are some of the best schools in the state -- and they are in Chicago proper. However, the vast majority of schools in Chicago are mediocre, or outright bad. I made a visit to a school earlier this year. Let's say that the school has has great teachers, but they also had RtI posters in the hallways, metal detectors, and when I went to the local store to buy something, a woman bursts in talking about her friend who had just been shot up the street -- in the direction of the school. So great, we know that there are great schools and terrible school in Chicago. This is no secret.

     The thing that really got me thinking was this notion of finding schools that "fit personalities," or seem like the best choice for personal other than academic reasons. If you can "choose" where you want to go in terms of your personality, that's fine. I take no issue with that. But the problem is what about the student's who don't have this choice. The student's who won't test in, or reach scores above the cut rate. Do we not care that their schools may not fit their personality and may also be academically suboptimal? Are they just supposed to deal with it?

     The answer of how to make schools perform better is one that is beyond anything more then, for me, personal philosophy at this point, but I will say that there is a lot of waste and pork in CPS, and the majority of it seems to stem from the decentralization. This is an issue concerning the administration and the amount of schools the administration is supposed to cater to. The same is seen in Los Angeles, and Detroit, and New York City. Why are these districts so large? Would it not be simpler and more effective to break the districts down into smaller units and then administer them? I think yes. And I think this would create many more opportunities for schools in large districts to be more student friendly in terms of fit and academics.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Sensitivity, Understanding, and Practice

     I worked in the schools for 3 years. This makes me no special education expert.

     I am not a parent. This means I am not a parenting expert. And as far as not being a parent, let's also note that I do not have a child with a developmental delay.

     I am currently a behavior therapist at a private, pediatric clinic. This does not mean I am a behavior expert.

    I know what I know. I take what I have learned and experienced, and think about it.


     The disparity between what we do in practice and want parents to translate into their daily dealings with their children is large.

     So, when a client of mine with autism becomes sick, and the reason is because they are on a gluten-free/dairy-free diet, and they tell me that their child "really wanted" the M & Ms and popcorn ball they trick or treated for, thus causing their illness, I am a tad bit torn.

     Firstly, because being able to tell with certain learners that they "really want" something sounds like farce. Secondly, because I can't imagine what it is like to be a parent of a child with barriers, desperately wanting some normalcy with their child -- some semblance of typical development paired with typical interactions. (It is actually interesting to think that a tantrum over candy brings more relief than their constant scripting and pica). And thirdly, because if the way you judge that your child "really wants" something is by the fact that they are tantruming (or other maladaptive methods), then you are invalidating their behavior therapy.

     Being able to relate is impossible. I don't want or care to try. But the professional and ethical side of this is something I am curious about.

     Is it more important to, at all times, be implementing the strands of therapies that we train parents to use outside the clinic than for the parent to, every now and then, build their children up in their minds that they are typical?

     This seems to be parent specific. At once, the parent always wants what's best for their child (their treatment) and to give themselves some mental respite by thinking that their child is defying a barrier; in this case, communicating something aside from their basic human needs. Let's now bear in mind that in regard to some learners, for a parent to feel that things beyond the basic human needs are being communicated to them is a drastic event.

     So, the point. Or, question, rather. Where is the line where we either A) let the parent have their moment, even if disillusioned and, B) telling the parent they are being unrealistic.

     To stray from my previous example, I had a student that would not comprehend addition without expensive, time consuming, and intensive interventions. They were highly maladaptive behaviorally. The parent wanted 90 minutes per day of at-table academics. This learner could not sit at a table for more than 3 minutes without becoming aggressive, tantruming, or eloping -- they were able to sit, let alone engage in academics, for less than 1% of their day.

     When do we say, this is unrealistic and possibly detrimental to your child, even though you think and want them to do it? It's a tough question with an answer that really cannot be standardized; however, we can operate with some basic rules of thumb.

1) If the professional consensus is that what is being done is detrimental to the child, then the parent needs to be educated;

2) If we professionally make our priority list of goals, and the parent wants a C-level goal to be enacted more frequently than an A-level goal, then the parent needs to be educated;

3) If the parent needs a little bit of faith in their child, then we should make concessions to try and accommodate that without disrupting their education or therapy;

4) As it is said in the medical profession, Primum non nocere -- "First. Do no harm." This counts for the learner as well as their parent.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Age Appropriateness vs. Age Respectfulness

     This will be quick.

    When considering certain interventions and activities for learners with developmental disabilities, it is important to remember two questions for the learner's dignity and ability to learn. Is the activity age appropriate? Is the activity age respectful?

     Not sure? We'll, here's the difference.

     Age appropriateness refers to the learner's developmental age. If a learner is 11 years old, but is developmentally about 5 years old, then reading kindergarten books and engaging in certain activities with others who are more their developmental age is, you guessed it, age appropriate. There is no concern for age respectfulness, because the learner could not read at level and may struggle socially with children who have met their milestones by age 11.

     Some kindergarten aged learners may carry around little toys or a blankey. The same 11 year old referred to above should NOT be doing this. It does not respect their actual age. They should not be out on community outings and holding hands in line with 5 year old children. An 11 year old carrying around a Barney doll is like putting them in a shirt that say, "I am a actually 11, but am developmentally 5." It is undignified, and, to be glib, will not help them make friends with their peers. 

     This does not mean that opportunities with similar aged peers should be excluded, or that inclusion in the general education classroom should be neglected. (This author is 100% for inclusion as much as possible. Hopefully always.) These are merely examples. Please task yourself to think of examples when considering the differences between age appropriateness and age respectfulness.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Buy Books, Not bombs (or at least save some money for education)

As districts go to new lengths to provide services, current budget cuts, and the looming end to the Education Job Fund, one can't help but be upset and worried about the future of special education. Thankfully, IDEA does a decent job in mandating what is required, but one may wonder how far the reach of IDEA can actually extend into local school districts. Sure, the federal government may step in and say "This is what needs to happen to our exceptional learners," but coercion breeds contempt and resistance. Schools who have financial hardships, who are overpopulated and understaffed, are not going to take the time necessary to help their learner's with exceptionalities.  We've seen this in Connecticut. And when I worked in Connecticut in 2008, I recall hearing that as the results of PJ v. BOE were being more strongly implemented, and there was a sincere dread by administrators at having more and more exceptional students being included.

The point is this. As federal money dries up, education will falter. Pensions get cut, staff gets downsized, and students get less attention. However, what is worse, is the limbo that our students will fall into. They will receive less support when they need it most, and then, when they get older, will need even more support that cannot be afforded, and may be outsourced out of their home school due to serious needs. Or, they may simply be pushed through the motions. Both are bunk options. The toll this takes on the school system and families is enormous. The highest figure I have heard thus far for a residential outplacement is $300,000 a year. Some of this cost may be burdened by insurance, but the residential component will definitely fall on the shoulders of the family. And the cost of educating the student is fully taken on by the school system. So, in the end, the same school system that failed the learner by not being able to provide early intervention services and supports due to a lack of financing, now is paying out the wazoo to outplace.

Given the above image, you may be waiting for a statement on the wars, engagements, and other conflicts that global superpowers are currently engaged in. So, let me say this: War is bad, but you and I are not going to single-handedly end any wars. We can single-handedly make a difference in our learner's or children's lives. As special education faces issues with financing, we need to work even harder to affect systemic change and continue to set an example the our learners, now matter how delayed, are priority number one.


The purpose of this blog is to report on and analyze news and research related to special education, and at times education in general. It is also a place for me to express my opinions, and welcome discourse, on special education. It's aim is to be all encompassing and informative. Yes, it's primary purpose is to convey the author's opinions on the matters at hand, but the author will always cite the original story so that others may be privy to the content.

I thank you for visiting. We will see how this goes.