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Striving For More

14 May

Disability is defined as a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities.         IMG_1297

It is considered a handicap or an impairment. Not typical.
Sometimes a person’s disability can be seen…and at other times it cannot.
There are challenges for those having a disability. Accepting ones limitations without accepting defeat. Living life without living less.
On the other hand, one can be perfectly healthy both physically and cognitively, but live a far greater disability, shown by ignorance.
No one should have to live in a box, only longing to be free.
Able bodied doesn’t mean ability, anymore than disabled body mean dis-ability.
People are so much more, and have so much to offer when given the opportunity.
And shouldn’t we all strive to see the person inside? See the whole, instead of the parts?
Yesterday, I went to a conference sponsored by Joni and Friends. As one who has worked in the special needs community for most of my life, I am no stranger to working with individuals that face challenges on a daily basis. I was mesmerized and energized by the speakers at this event, making a difference in their communities in real and tangible ways.
Striving for more.
The world is always better when we stop to help each other.




Incredibly Unique

23 Apr

If you have met one person with autism, then you’ve met ….them all  one person with autism. Anyone who works with, knows, or loves someone with autism, understands that this is true. Just as we are each unique in our own right, the same goes for those on the autism spectrum. Individuals with autism share some basic characteristics, but other than that they are incredibly unique.

April is Autism Awareness month. As someone who has spent many years working with and loving those with autism, I wanted to share some of my posts from years past. It is interesting looking back and reading these posts because so much has changed in a matter of a few short years. What used to be a statistic of 1 in 150 children being on the autism spectrum, is now I think at last check, 1 in 68. (Some even say 1:50) Research needs to continue to uncover the cause of this widespread epidemic. When I was in college in the late 80’s, studying for my special education major, I don’t remember autism even being discussed. If it was, it was not in much detail. Now, twenty-five years later, everyone has heard of autism. What has changed in that short amount of time?

You can read some of my previous posts on autism, here. You can also read here and here.




Making A Real Difference

1 Feb






My friend was sitting at my kitchen counter yesterday morning. She hangs out while I work with her son during Fun Kitchen Fridays. He is learning life skills as we create a cookbook for independent living.  My friend told me that a jeep had just pulled up in my snow covered driveway. Dogs began barking as I opened the door. Flowers for me? Completely unexpected, but welcomed. The flowers were beautiful and smelled like spring on a cold winter day. The card attached read: Thank you for helping my Mom change my life. Love, K.D

The message was short. Simple. Sweet.

Yet, to me, deeply profound. I had what my son likes to refer to as “moist eyes”, as I read the card.

Over the past several weeks I have been consulting with K’s mom. K is on the autism spectrum and she needed help with school planning. Planning that would teach her, and challenge her, and benefit her….things that would make a real difference in the life of this young child.

For parents of children with special needs, many times the battles are great. Being an advocate is not easy work. There are set backs and disappointments, so when the battle is finally won the rewards are often bitter sweet.

Sometimes when life gets us down and everything seems to be going wrong, a small, simple gesture can mean so much.

Making a real, positive, difference in a person’s life. One day at a time.

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

Matthew 25: 44-45  NIV

Stakeholder Responsibilities

15 Apr

At Gibson Academy, we believe each stakeholder plays a vital role in helping all our students reach their full potential.


Parents/Family Members:

  • Participate in all meetings about their child’s education
  • Be trained in the proper use of the communication system your child will be using
  • Use the same communication systems and interventions at home to allow for consistency across environments


School Administrators:

  • Have a working understanding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act
  • Know what plans are being used with students in the school, assist with implementation as necessary
  • Attend all IEP meetings


Special Education Teachers

  • Understand Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act
  • Be responsible for implementation and compliance of child’s Individual Education Plan
  • Work with Speech and Language Pathologist, Occupational/Physical Therapists, Behavior Interventionist, Autism Specialist and any other school staff to insure student’s program is being met under both state and federal law
  • Maintain open communication with parents about their child’s progress


General Education Teachers

  • Read and have a working understanding of student’s IEP, including accomodations/modifications to be used in classroom, communication system, reinforcers, and consequences of behaviors.
  • Implement any accomodations/modifications in classroom per IEP
  • Consistently use current communication system for student
  • Collaborate with special education staff



  • Assist both special education and general education teachers in implementing IEP’s
  • Be trained in proper use of communication systems, reinforcment, and consequences for behaviors
  • Have at least a basic knowledge of Autism Spectrum Disorders


Speech and Language Pathologists

  • Be responsible for speech and language services for students
  • Ensure compliance with hours and services listed on the IEP
  • Works with both special education and general education teachers to implement speech and language goals on the IEP
  • Assists those that work with the student, in correctly using the communication system


Occupational Therapists

  • Be responsible for implementing occupational goals as stated in the IEP
  • Assist in obtaining materials that can be used in the classroom setting to further occupational goals
  • Assist in obtaining materials and objects that can be used for sensory activities


Behavior Intervention Specialist

  • Participate in IEP/FBA/BIP team meetings as needed
  • Assist in any necessary planning to improve student’s behavior
  • Assist school staff with implementation of Behavior Intervention Plans


Autism Specialist

  • Assist school in screening for students with Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Participate in IEP meetings
  • Assist staff in understanding ASD and help provide interventions and strategies that allow for student’s success

Characteristics of Potential Candidates

15 Apr

Glennen, S.L., (1996). Handbook of Augmentative and Alternative Communication. pp.59-69. Singular.

Chapter three in this book discusses both augmentative and alternative forms of communication, and the various people that might find these types of communication beneficial.

Hanline, M.F., Nunes, D., Worthy, M.B., (2007). Augmentative and Alternative Communication in The Early Childhood Years. National Association for the Education of Young Children. website:

This was an informative article. The article talks about various AAC devices, developing AAC systems for students. and integrating them into the classroom setting.

McAfoose, L.R., DynaVox Systems LLC., (2004). Using AAC Device Features to Enhance Teenager’s Quality of Life. Assistive Technology Outcomes and Benefits, 1, 33-41.

This was an interesting article on the use of AAC devices with a 17 year old girl. The article talked about the device she used to communicate, and how it is important to be able to use devices, not only at school, but at home.

Smith J., (2012, March 15).Using Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Devices. Speech Buddies Blog. website:

The author discusses some of the various AAC devices available, and how to select the right device. She mentions that using an AAC device does not mean one is “giving up” on speech. The devices complement speech/language therapy.

Eric’s Augmentative and Alternative Communication

8 Apr

Eric Jones is my fictitious, eight year old, student that has autism. I created a profile based on a compilation of characteristics that I have observed in children on the spectrum. I will be referring to his profile throughout this blog post. When Eric’s parents enrolled him at Gibson Academy, they informed the staff that Eric was diagnosed at age four, with autism. He had a vocabulary of only a few words. His time at his previous school was spent between a self contained classroom and inclusion. His kindergarten and first grade years were chaotic and challenging. According to his parents it caused a great deal of stress and agitation for their son. They are hoping for a different outcome this school year, and want only the best for their son.

Eric Jones was given the Autism Diagnostic Interview-R along with the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule. (Lord, Rutter, DiLavore, & Risi, 2001) Conducting these interviews and observations allowed us to have an accurate understanding of Eric’s strengths and weaknesses in communication. They also allowed for a clearer picture of what Eric will be able to accomplish. Following this, we were able to create a comprehensive communication profile that will assist us in meeting Eric’s educational and vocational needs. The staff also completed informal observations of Eric, have spoken numerous times with his parents to better understand their perspective and what things they would like to see Eric achieve, his parents also allowed us to look at school records from their son’s previous school, as well as contacted Eric’s medical physician that has followed Eric since infancy.

Eric will require instructional strategies to foster his functional communication. We would like to see him be able to communicate in “real life” situations across all environments. That is the goal. The school staff, therapists and family will all need to work together to insure Eric’s success. We will help Eric to have a consistent routine each school day. He will be expected to use a schedule in each classroom and at home that will also help with his task organization. In the beginning a short schedule of two tasks at a time will be used. If Eric completes these two tasks he will be given a reinforcer. Since Eric enjoys numbers, we might consider a reinforcer that could somehow incorporate his love of numbers. We might consider time on the calculator, or math games on the computer. A visual timer will be used during the reinforcement time. Tasks will be increased in increments as Eric makes progress in using a schedule consistently. Consistent routines and schedules, predictability in his classes throughout the day, and consistent consequences will allow Eric the stability and structure that he needs. He will begin working on attending during class, learning cause and effect (might use an If-Then card to accomplish this), and relating to others (saying hello, I’m finished, or I need help). Eric’s teachers will be called on to make certain necessary modifications or adaptations in order for Eric to be successful in their classrooms. After a time, when Eric has mastered these objectives, he may not require as many adaptations. We will be calling on our speech and language pathologist to spend some of her sessions with Eric, working on his functional communication and pragmatics in his homeroom class. She will have Eric practicing his language and social skills with his general education peer group. This is very important, as peer interactions will be stressed in Eric’s plan. The occupational therapist will obtain fidgets for Eric to use throughout his day at school. We feel that these will help to relieve stress that Eric might feel in his classes. He will also be taught some self-awareness skills. When he starts to feel anxious, he can use some of the destressing techniques that he will be taught. (counting aloud, since this is a favorite thing to do, using a pack of number cards to flip etc.) It is expected that teachers will allow Eric to have sensory breaks or “time away” as needed. This preventative measure will allow Eric the opportunity to calm down, without having tantruming or out of control melt downs.

We might consider using a Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) (Bondy & Frost, 2001, 2009) with Eric, considering he is a visual learner, and has a limited verbal vocabulary. The pictures would be images of real objects. A portable electronic communication board, such as Go Talk, or Picture Card may also be an option for Eric. All of his classrooms would use labels and pictorial directions as often as possible in order to aide in learning. A picture schedule/calendar will be posted in Eric’s homeroom class, where he starts his day. This will give him a visual of what to expect during his school day, such as different special area classes like music, art, library or physical education. A minature version of this schedule would be on his clipboard. This would also be used to make him more aware of assemblies, or upcoming field trips etc. Undoubtedly, there will be some challenges that we will face, as is normally the case any time something new is attempted. Teachers will have to be reminded to be consistent with the daily schedules, and Eric will need to be prompted to use his schedule, and to take his communication system with him throughout the day. He will also need to be assisted, at least in the beginning, with making choices. We can help Eric with this by giving him more “real life” choices throughout his school day. Using incentives to help him make choices is a possibility. Since Eric tends to fidget with his fingers, or eyelashes, we might help Eric use more socially appropriate figits like a stress ball or putty as an incentive, these objects could help relieve his stress and feelings of anxiousness. The end goal is for Eric to “own” his communication, so it is important that he buys into whichever system he ends up using. We will work together to get through each of the challenges. We want to see Eric successful in his second grade classroom.

After six weeks of school the team will meet together to evaluate how Eric is progressing at Gibson Academy. Classroom teachers, paraprofessionals, therapists, and the principal will attend the meeting. Eric’s parents will be asked to attend the meeting also, as they will be able to give valuable insight into whether or not Eric is carrying over the communication skills he is learning, into his home environment. The group will discuss the positives that are happening with Eric’s communication plan, as well as any challenges. All involved, will be asked to brainstorm solutions to known challenges, in order for things to run more smoothly. Everyone is encouraged to think outside of the box. Questions to consider: Is Eric using his communication system consistently? Is he using it in all of his classes? Are there some classes he is having a harder time with than others? Why? What can be done to help him be successful? How is he doing with transitions through out the day? Is he requiring the same amount of prompts/reinforcers as he did in the beginning? Is Eric any more verbal? Is he initiating communication more often? Is he actively participating in more interactions with his peers?

Our hope is that Eric, over time, will be more involved in his classes, instigate more conversations, have more interactions with his peers and the adults in his life, and ultimately have an overall sense of purpose in his communication.


Bondy, A.S., & Frost, L.A. (2001). A picture’s worth: PECS and other visual communication strategies in autism. Bethesda, MD: Woodbine.

Lord, C., Rutter, M.A., DiLavore, P.C., & Risi, S. (2001). The Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule. Los Angles, CA: Western Psychological Services.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication

8 Apr

Charlop-Christy, M.H., Carpenter, M., Le, L., LeBlanc L., Kellet, K. (2002). Using The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) With Children With Autism: Assessment Of PECS Acquisition, Speech, Social-Communicative Behavior, And Problem Behavior. Journal Of Applied Behavior Analysis, 35, 213-231

This article discusses the Picture Exchange Communication System and how it works. Data collection on the effects of the PECS system are also explained.

Millar, S., Scott, J., (n.d). What is Augmentative and Alternative Communication? An Introduction. website:

This article discusses augmentative and alternative communication devices. The authors explain unaided and aided communication, and advantages and disadvantages of each.

Mirenda, P., (2003). Toward Functional Augmentative and Alternative Communication for Students With Autism: Manual Signs, Graphic Symbols, and Voice Output Communication Aids. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services In Schools, 34, 203-216

The author poses the question of what ACC modality is preferable to use? And what do we know about voice output aids for people with autism?

Randle, K., (2005). Augmentative and Alternative Communication and Autism: A Review of Current Research. website:

The author discusses, current research on communication devices and the results of various studies. Different augmentative/alternative devices, were looked at.


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