Where On The Continuum?

 

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Those of you that know me personally, or have been reading my blog for some time, are aware that I am a special education teacher and an independent special education consultant. I have a myriad number of friends with children that have some type of diagnosis. I grew up with an aunt with intellectual disabilities, and have a grandson on the autism spectrum. I have an online page for parents of children that have various special needs, and am co-founder of a parent networking and support group. I tell you all these things, not to give you a list of my credentials, but to let you know, when I speak about special education, it is from years of experience. My passion and drive has always been to educate an advocate for those individuals with disabilities, and their families.

I am “back in school” to get my Master’s degree in Autism Spectrum Disorders. My classes on transition, collaboration, and behavior have validated a lot of what I have thought for years. The other day, during class discussion, we were going back and forth about the “Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)” continuum. The continuum being from very restrictive, such as individuals living in an institution, to the very least restrictive, when children (with disability diagnoses) are in their general education classes with only a minimum of supports.

I read an article the other day, written by a mother of two children. One diagnosed with Down Syndrome and one not. The article discussed how she wanted her child with DS to have full inclusion. The author believes, in her opinion, that all children, regardless of (dis)ability, should have a fully inclusive experience at school.

Her article made me wonder. Do all parents feel this way? Is full inclusion really the best education, regardless of diagnosis, for all children? Is being with “typical” peers, using the same general curriculum, always the most appropriate learning for all involved? I took this topic to my online page for parents. Those that replied to the discussion, had some interesting perspectives. Parents told of their children, that are in full inclusion, getting in trouble frequently, and often requiring, but not receiving, more sensory breaks. Others talked about a mixture of “pull out” special ed classes and general ed, while others wanted their children out of the general ed classroom altogether, because their child was being bullied. This parent spoke, of feeling her child was safer in a special education classroom. I believe all these parents wished full inclusion would work, but unfortunately that often isn’t the reality. Maybe some of my readers  have children in full inclusion and it is working. I’d love to hear your stories.

Special education has come a long way since the enactment of Public Law 94-142, The Education of All Handicapped Children Act, forty-one years ago. Reauthorizations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, over the last twenty-six years have created more opportunities for those students with disabilities, and their families. Before 1975, special education services were hit and miss. Some students, who desperately needed services, didn’t get anything at all. Even with all the good that has occurred since this time, there is still a long way to go……….

I am a firm believer in everyone having a voice. I believe in real collaboration, working together to form solutions that will be good for all involved. Do I expect perfection? Absolutely not. I doubt anything will ever be perfect……but, it can be better. Here are some questions I think about, not because I have all the answers, but because I think we need to think about these issues and consider the implications. In this way we (the families, student, schools) can make the best choices possible. Isn’t that what special education should be about?

  1. Is full inclusion always appropriate if a child is unable to work at their grade level? Should we alter the integrity of grade level curriculum in that classroom? Or are modifications always okay? How many accommodations/supports are too many to still be considered for full inclusion?
  2. Is having a special education teacher in the general education classroom for one or two academics, enough?  Does working with the special ed teacher, in the general ed classroom, make the child feel even more different? Is working one on one or in smaller groups in a special ed. classroom, wrong?
  3. What about all the non-academic activities? Some students have difficulty during unstructured times. Some students require more sensory breaks. Some students require a person to teach them and daily practice with them, social skills.
  4. Is is right to expect a general education teacher (who might have only had to take one or two special ed. classes to get their degree) to understand a myriad number of disabilities their students could have? Can we expect them to be proactive instead of reactive in their classroom behavior management? Is it fair and equitable to treat all the children the same? Does fair always mean equal?
  5. How do we keep students from being unkind to each other? Do we talk about a student’s disability to the class? In order to help the class understand “why” a student might act the way he/she does?
  6. Should the student who has a severe intellectual disability, be subjected to taking standardized tests at their grade level? (For example, should a fourteen year old with the cognitive ability of a toddler be expected to take an eighth grade test? And if so, why? How will the results even be close to any kind of accuracy?)
  7. Should a teenager with high functioning autism have less supports in his general ed classes, because he “doesn’t look like he has autism” and “we don’t want him labeled”?
  8. Is overlooking a student’s true needs, an inherent danger in inclusion, because sometimes a student doesn’t “look” like he/she needs special ed services/supports? (whatever that is supposed to mean)
  9. If/When do the rights of a child with special needs carry more weight, than a child who does not have special needs?
  10. Are we making decisions now that will ultimately benefit the student after he/she graduates? Shouldn’t all of school be preparation for life after graduation? Especially, with teenagers, how to we make sure our children will have a smooth transition?

Blog readers, what do you think? I would be interested to hear your opinions, your experiences……

 

 

One Hot Mama

 

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Here I sit, on a hot and humid mid-July morning in rural Ohio. It is already hot as hades, and amazon jungle humid….and our air conditioner is on the fritz.  I am just not made for this weather. I think I must have Scandinavian blood in me. You know, the countries of the north, where it is cooler, and there are snow capped mountains even in the summer, and humidity isn’t as much of a thing.  Yes, I know I lived in east Tennessee for twenty-three years. I understand hot, muggy, summers in the south, but this chick does not “glisten”. I sweat like a horse. There, I said it. I know that is gross, but there is no getting around it. My hair is plastered to my head, I have a very attractive sweat mustache, and if unable to find some cool air soon, will be found deader than a doornail lying in a puddle on the floor. Okay, fine. This might be a slight exaggeration, but……only slight. My dogs and cats tell me to get over myself, I cannot possibly even understand heat until I’m wearing a full fur coat with temps in the 90’s. Yes, for those of you who care to know, I speak fluent canine and feline. What??!! Stop looking , staring, reading (?) at me like that. My husband calls me Dr. Doolittle for a reason. Kidding, people. Really. I am. I am not clinically insane. Yet.

I have an autoimmune disease, that I was diagnosed with when I was just fourteen. This particular “gift” makes me extremely heat sensitive. I told my husband the other day, “When it is cold you can put on socks and crank up the electric blanket to stay warm. In the summer months, when I am caught in the seventh circle of Hell, I am unable to escape”. I suppose I could strap a box fan to me, and just wear it around my neck as an, albeit unusual, fashion statement. I can only strip off so many clothes to cool off, before being arrested. Just sayin’.

I have summer loving friends, who thrive in the heat. I still love them, even though in my mind I’m thinking, “freak of nature” how lucky they are to be able to enjoy the summer months. Fine. Just fine. You enjoy the months of sweat, and frizzy hair (or stick straight hair, however it is you roll), and sunburn, and having to shave your legs because you want to wear shorts. And don’t even get me started on going bathing suit shopping. I don’t care if a woman is skinny as a rail or resembles Jabba the Hutt, or anywhere in between. After a certain age, bathing suits are not a girls best friend. The struggle is real. Sisters, can I get an amen?

So, as I sit here sipping my iced coffee, in front of a box fan going full blast, just know that I am dreaming of October. My month of bliss. Crisp, cool temps. Sweater weather. Hot chocolate. And pumpkin everything. I just have to hang on for what seems an eternity another two and a half months. Lord, help me.

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I Don’t Want To Miss Them

Life gets busy and I fall into bed at night, exhausted.

My to do list is long and my need to rest is even longer.

There are days when I go from one thing to the next,

forgetting to live in the moments that are now.

Stop. Slow down. Look around.

I whisper, “Thank you, God, for these moments.”

I don’t want to miss them. Not now. Not ever.

Being thankful is a gift in itself, and there is always so much to be thankful for.

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Mr. Mole

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I read The Wind and the Willows as a child, and because of that I am feeling some guilt over the story I am about to tell you…….

It all started a few days ago. My husband was laying down river rock in our front flower beds. (The reason we have river rock in our flower beds, is a whole other story, but it will suffice to say, we have dogs. Dogs that like to dig. Dogs that like to chew. Dogs that like to dig up entire bushes and carry them, root ball and all, to the four corners of the earth. Dogs that live out the words, UTTER DESTRUCTION.) So anyway, as he is working out front, the dogs figured out that something was under the stone steps that lead up to the porch. That is all it took for the barking and digging to commence. There is no stopping them when they get like this. My husband noticed dirt flying OUT of the hole—and not by the dogs. We had found a couple of good sized turtles and thought that might be what was digging. Then two days ago, when I was walking out to the barn, I saw the end of the flower bed (aka rock bed) was dug up. They were after something again! I gave all the dogs a stern talking to, letting them know that this was not acceptable behavior to allow our front flowerbeds to look like someone had dropped a bomb in our front yard. They sat quietly and listened to me, but the second I turned my back they took off. Dogs are like perpetual toddlers. Just sayin’.

Last night my husband and I were out, it was starting to get dark when we returned home. As we pulled into the driveway, our headlights landed on three dogs standing around something laying in the yard. Living with a pack of dogs out in the sticks, one can never be sure what said object might be. My husband went over to investigate. He said that he thought it was a rat. Just then Mitford (not yet two year old, Collie mix) grabbed it and took off across the yard, then dropped it again. It was big, whatever it was. Now, I had my doubts that it was a rat. I lived in the city for years, and we had rats (not inside!) that would eat dog food. Those rats were the size of opossums. They would stand up on their haunches and stare at me with their beady little eyes, daring me to catch them. I was completely freaked out and usually ran off screaming. Around here, we have field mice that pretty much are the size of my pinkie finger. I still am not friends with rodents, but they are more manageable. I digress……I told my husband I thought it might be a mole, but it was too dark to really tell.

This morning I was ready to head to the barn. I will readily admit I looked like the “What Not To Wear” page in Glamour magazine. My outfit consisted of a pair of paint stained University of Tennessee shorts, an oversized gray t-shirt with a hole in it, and my knee high rubber boots (a country girl’s best friend). Whatever people, don’t judge. Seriously, when one is going to muck a stall, who cares what I look like? Jazz loves me regardless. On the way over to the barn, I decided to investigate last night’s “kill”. I found it in the yard, the dogs all gathered around me, as if to say, “We did this for you. Receive our gift as a token of our undying love and devotion and well, we just like to chase things and catch things, and sometimes kill things.  Sorry. We’re dogs, after all.” (Pant. Pant. Pant. Slobber. Slobber.) It was indeed, a mole. His little mole “hands” stuck up in the air, like he had just finished a “Praise Jesus” chorus. Rest in peace little guy. Your digging days are over. Just then Mitford licked me. With his mole tongue. Sad thing is, that doesn’t even phase me anymore. Whatever. I can wash off when I get back to the house. If, by any chance,  there is some rampant mole disease going around, that I don’t know about, well then, I guess I’m a goner. Now, my husband is going to fix the flower bed, and the holes around the stone steps. Hopefully, this mole doesn’t have an entire mole family mafioso, that will now target our dogs for extinction, to avenge the death of their dear mole father. Or worse yet…..take out their revenge on our flower (um…rock) bed.

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And people think the country life is boring and slow……..they know nothing! #lifecanbescaryoutontheprairie

Llama Love

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The neighbors across the road have llamas. I never knew how much I loved llamas until my family moved here. Our little slice of heaven has a llama field directly across from our house. The llamas often greet me at the mailbox, their ears turned in like fuzzy question marks.On occasion some of the llamas break free from the confines of the fenced in area. Have you ever seen a llama jump a fence? It is not unlike a deer, as far as that goes. Of course, they are taller than a deer, but are about as silly, as neither knows to get out of the road. Standing in the middle of the road is not safe…..if you are a deer, a llama, or a human being for that matter. Move it, my furry friends! Sometimes the llamas will decide the grass really is greener on the other side, and trounce their way to our front yard for a snack. I do not fancy myself  the “lord of the lawn” or “the grass master” (that is my daughter, actually) …..so I don’t really care if they snack on our yard, eh….as long as they are helping to keep the grass down. Besides, it gives the dogs some fun and excitement. Oh, there is also a brand new cria (baby llama). Picture a black and white cotton ball on stick legs. My husband and I got some pictures the other day. His were better than mine. It never fails. Every time I go to take a picture, the subject moves! Then it sort of resembles a blur. Just use your imagination.

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This morning I was sitting at the kitchen counter, scanning through Facebook posts, as I am wont to do, when all of a sudden I heard them. My ears are attuned to all things llama. The boys were fighting! I grabbed my phone and ran out to the front porch. I turned the video on my phone. Of course, my phone does not zoom in well and it was too far out to really do a good job of videoing. Although the picture is not zoomed in, one can really hear the llamas (they are extremely noisy when going at each other!). Young male llamas like to neck wrestle each other. Usually it has to do with dominance and territory. One of the llamas neck wrestled the other to the ground but, wait…….he popped back up, bellowing at the top of his lungs. Just like two teenage boys fighting. During the entire video I am giving “Wild Kingdom” commentary. Great stuff, people. I might have missed my calling in life. Of course, at the end of the video, one can hear my dogs standing beside me panting (I promise it is them, not me), and then I can’t get the video off and so you get to see my feet and part of my front porch before I mercifully end the show. I never claimed to be a videographer, people. (I was going to attempt to download the video because it is only two minutes long. Alas, living out in the sticks, there is no fast download of video. I might post it tomorrow, because it will probably take that long to load!)

I love living in the country! City living might be more convenient, but one can’t see llamas in the city….and that is really sad for you. I, on the other hand, can watch all the llama drama right from my front porch.  #greenacresistheplaceforme #llamalove #llamadrama

Taking The Next Step

As many of my readers know, I have been a special education teacher for twenty-six years. For several of those years I have also been an independent special education consultant. I grew up with an aunt that had intellectual disability. I have a grandson on the autism spectrum. I have dear friends who have children with a myriad number of different diagnoses. About a year and a half ago, I started thinking about going back to school. (I have either been in school as a student, or as a teacher, for 43 of my 48 years. Wow. That is a lot of school.) I wanted a graduate level degree in autism spectrum disorders. Although I am a passionate advocate for all individuals with disabilities, those with autism have a special place in my heart. Last January my new adventure began.

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I have been enjoying my classes. There is something to be said for going back to school in one’s forties. I enjoyed college my first time around, and did well. (C-N Class of ’90, Go Eagles!) After receiving my bachelor of science in special education, I set out to begin teaching. Twenty-six years, with a plethora of experience later, here I am. I am back in school. My professors are probably around my age, which is kind of funny. This time around I am not intimidated by my instructors, as I was when I was in my late teens and early twenties. (Professors are not the gods of academia as once thought, but go grocery shopping and to their kids ballgames, just like the rest of us. Go figure.) I’m bringing a lot of experience to the table this go around, and have ample opportunity to show off my intellect and my razor sharp wit. (Well, okay maybe not razor sharp anymore, since I’ve mellowed with age, but definitely not dull. Just sayin’.)

In one of my classes we have been discussing transition from high school into adulthood. That transition is difficult enough for a typical high school student, but for a high school student that has a disability and has been receiving special services it can be down right overwhelming! I want to share something I wrote in one of the discussion boards about transition. We had been talking about a broader vs. more narrow perspective on this transition from high school to adulthood. I think it bears repeating.

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“Before answering these prompts, I just wanted to say that I was so into this reading. I was reading silently, but would frequently interrupt myself with, “Exactly!”, “Yes!”, and “That is what I’ve been saying!”, as I scribbled notes in the page margins with a highlighter. Honestly, this subject is one that has been on my radar for quite some time now.

Kohler (1998) describes the tenets of a broad perspective of transition for a student, as one where all classes, programs, and activities while in high school are part of a plan, that focuses on a student’s goals after high school. Each student is different, and requires a plan that addresses their individual needs, interests, and preferences. In a broad perspective, students are not treated with “cookie cutter” plans—one size fits all. This way of thinking does not just accept a checklist of transition steps, that covers legal obligation. A student’s school career is ultimately about preparing him/her for the rest of their life!

In my opinion, I feel that unfortunately, many schools still do not hold the broad perspective of transition, falling back on the “we’ve always done it this way” mentality. The more narrow perspective primarily focuses on the last couple of years of a student’s high school career, and setting them up with agencies/providers for their postschool life. In the reading, (bottom of page 180) I was struck with the sentence, “Many local education agencies’ tendency to meet the letter of the law rather than the intent of the law has resulted in expanded IEP forms……”. So, true! As special education teachers we have paperwork on top of paperwork! In the case of transition, there is a bog down in the process. All of education should be preparation for life. With this in mind, shouldn’t we be concerned with everything leading up to life beyond school?

I was deeply touched by the part of the paper that discussed how schools work with college bound students, preparing them, readying them, helping them for the time when they will leave high school and step out into the “real” world. Why should it not be the same for our students that receive special services? Are they not just as worthy as a college bound student? Can’t their futures be just as bright as the ones who ace their AP courses? The narrow perspective puts our students in special education, into a box. A “to do” list. Half the time, these young people aren’t even actively involved in the plans for/about THEIR lives! I have been asked to attend IEP meetings for high school students in a consultant capacity, by parents who are desperate to have the school consider a more broad perspective for their child.

I can immediately think of a case that is a prime examples for the narrow perspective of transition. This case was a young man diagnosed with intellectual disability and several medical issues. He is extremely personable, gregarious, and doesn’t know a stranger. He is a friend to one and all. He is also very daring, and athletic. (He recently tandem jumped out of an airplane, and is a member of a rock climbing club.) In my mind, for this young man, the sky is the limit! Sadly, his transition planning was about checking off the legal boxes for his plan, per IDEA. His involvement in his own life, consisted of being asked, “What do you want to do after high school?” Because of his intellectual disability, he struggled to voice his dreams of life after high school. His mother was told that they were inviting agencies/providers to his next IEP meeting to prepare him for after graduation. He told his mother he did not want to work at the workshop. That was boring. He was not interested. He even said to his mother, “Why can’t I play on a community softball league? Why do I have to only play with the Special Olympics?” The whole situation just bothers me. I want so much more for him, than the school or the local board of DD is willing to give!

 

On the other hand, I read a story recently about a high school special education classroom that owned and operated their own coffee shop, in the school. They worked as a team, everyone was involved! They took orders from teachers and students, and delivered coffee (and baked goods!) They were learning social skills as well as business skills. They were required to collect payment for the drinks/food, and figure out change. They kept “the books” for their business, giving some of the proceeds to school based activities and functions (the rest going back into the business). Their teachers commented that the students confidence and self-esteem had flourished. They were more open to ideas, and excited about what the future might hold. I think this opportunity was a great example of a school that has a broader perspective on transitioning through high school, and being adequately prepared for the world beyond the school. These students are learning things across the board, that will help them as they step out into their communities.”

I understand that there are some students with more severe disabilities that might not be able to work out in the community. They might be learning life skills in high school, as opposed to academics. Working at a sheltered workshop might be the best placement for some of these individuals. That is fine and good. My point is that all students are unique, with their own abilities and interests. We cannot have cookie cutter responses to our students in special education, just because “we’ve always done it this way”.

Having a tailored plan requires effort. That is the point of an individualized education plan.

  • Kohler, P (1998). Implementing a transition perspective of education. In F. Rusch & J. Chadsey (Eds.), Beyong high school: Transition from school to work (pp. 179-205). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

 

 

Rest, Peace, Joy

School is out for the summer, my students are excited. My grad school assignments for the week are completed. I have no appointments today. I’ve already done the grocery shopping for the week. Everything is pretty much done….so I am taking today as my mini vacation. I will blog. I will journal. I will play with the dogs. I will read. I will watch a marathon of X-Files, this evening, with my husband.

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I need today.

Time to breathe. Time to ponder. Time to do nothing, but just be still.

How many times have I been guilty of rushing around, finishing things, checking items off my lists, proofreading that paper, meeting with people to the point of exhaustion?

I appreciate  these days of doing nothing, which are few and far between. These days turn out to mean everything.

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Thank you, Lord……that I can find rest, and peace, and joy in You.

Psalm 62:5 “Yes, my soul, find rest in God: my hope comes from him.” Amen.