Posts filed under ‘Special Education’

Transition Services for Students with Disabilities – Better, Not Necessarily More

Education Week has previewed the anticipated GAO report on transition services for students with disabilities. Lack of access and inadequate coordination of programs were both cited as obstacles for young adults leaving high school in need of services. While the bureaucratic maze must be streamlined and realigned for service delivery, there is another opportunity…reduced demand for adult services through successful earlier interventions.

For many students with moderate disabilities, transition services at the end of high school offer too little too late. For others with more severe disabilities, access to a lifeline is a basic necessity for survival. In between, there are individuals for whom targeted interventions can make all the difference in the world for their success in life.

The current model is overwhelmed by excessive demand and conflicting objectives. Inadvertent or intentional denial of service is a poor solution for failure to understand and manage that demand.  Federal and state agencies could achieve their goals more efficiently and offer better outcomes all around by organizing efforts around expected levels of need and refocusing delivery models for students with moderate disabilities at an earlier age.

Students with more severe disabilities benefit from a lifetime of support services. They need them, and their independence requires that services be organized for access and ease of delivery. Interagency coordination at the federal and state levels must meet the imperative of efficient and effective service. Outcomes should include quality of life for the beneficiary and organizational productivity measures for the government entities.

Students with moderate disabilities receive services based on an eligibility model from the onset, and they enter a transition phase for adult services as they approach high school graduation. The plan is flawed at both levels. One missing ingredient is a measure of progress toward grade level proficiency from the start of services. The regulatory model essentially lacks an incentive for overcoming the obstacles created by the disability through compensatory strategies. The other shortcoming is the absence of the student from the education planning team until the last couple of years before graduation.

When a student is diagnosed with a moderate disability, the goal of services is to enable the child to function like any other student. Initially, the team seeks to level the playing field through accommodations and modifications in the educational process. However, through gradual release of control over management of the disability to the student, other members of the team should play a diminishing role. By the time the student reaches graduation, the need for external services should be limited to a few clearly defined supports, if any, and the student should be empowered to advocate for himself or herself effectively.

When considering IDEA and the implementation of transition services, I recommend effective demand management, market segmentation based on level/complexity of need, and streamlining of operations to meet divergent demand. In addition, I suggest modification of the law and regulation thereof to place the child on the education planning team at an earlier age and to measure progress toward grade level proficiently in addition to eligibility in the evaluation of the service delivery model.

Earlier related posts:

August 7, 2012 at 8:20 AM Leave a comment

The Kids Stay in the Picture

Parents coming to terms with a child’s Special Education needs are dealing with uncertainty. Their hopes and dreams hang in the balance, and it hurts. It would seem cruel to put the child through that as well. But with many disabilities, the child has been aware of his or her differences long before the grown-ups. By age 10, not only do children have a pretty firm grasp that there is an issue, but they are actively solidifying compensatory mechanisms that may complicate their responses to intervention if not uncovered through dialogue.

A sixth grade boy with Asperger’s syndrome smiles with genuine relief as he reads a book on the autism spectrum, saying “OMG! That’s what’s going on.” A young student with severe dyslexia stares at the adults incredulously and explains, “That’s not so bad. I thought I was just stupid.” A father and daughter laugh when the psychologist explains that the lines don’t actually converge in geometry because the girl’s visual processing disorder – the triangle doesn’t exist. “I told you, Dad,” she says, vindicated. “He hears a thousand airplanes landing on the roof. Your voice doesn’t always register,” suggests the audiologist, reassuring the boy who’s always getting in trouble. Facing such conversations need not be trepidatious.

Children get locked in their own worlds because of disabilities, and many experience altered states that leave them frightened, bewildered, embarrassed, or frustrated. Seemingly small explanations can be incredibly reassuring and key to their engagement in interventions. However, the children are left out of many of the conversations, often because of false hopes of protecting them from the reality the adults are trying to confront. A child who is special does not need to be burdened with the details. As if…

Legally, the children with special needs are not included in their own education planning until high school.  In my world view, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) should be modified to open the dialogue in special education to include the children as of fourth grade. The wording of amendments would have to allow for parental discretion, but the benefits of including children on their education planning teams need to be considered and supported.

Children seek to fit in with their peers and are quite willing to participate in the code of silence surrounding their learning differences. However, they tend to be incredibly cooperative with therapies once they understand the rationale and the desired outcomes. They can be empowered to set some of their own goals and measure their own progress. Chances are that no one has a stronger vested interest in overcoming obstacles than the child. In fact, that self-interest may already be driving a series of coping strategies with varying degrees of success.

Without better understanding, a child with ADHD, for example, is at risk of becoming the class clown or rebel to deal with his or her impulsive behavior. Exhausted by the extra effort needed for achievement, a child with longer processing times may exhibit a learned sense of helplessness. A child who shuts down or tries to be invisible may get under-served or overlooked by his or her own design. Fear of exposure may turn into defiance in lieu of participation. Children are resilient, but their solutions, while imaginative, are limited in scope and target social acceptance rather than academic progress. Delaying their involvement in their learning plans until high school accentuates that tendency toward dysfunction.

Children with special needs benefit from participating in conversations that explain their disabilities, expand their awareness of possible remedies, and allow them more options, especial if the interventions are counter-intuitive. Further, learning strategies are subject to trial and error. The sooner the child realizes this and gets involved as an explorer and evaluator, the more likely he or she is to be an effective problem solver….Because the ultimate goal is to enable the child to take charge of his or her own destiny despite special needs. With accelerated progress, there is no reason why many students with moderate disabilities should ever reach high school still in need of services or transition plans.

June 13, 2012 at 11:01 AM 1 comment

Funny Business

The Autism Spectrum is no laughing matter, but the cognitive science of humor offers hope in our link to children who suffer alone too much of the time.

Susan LaPierre was a friend and personal hero before her children were born. Fifteen years later, watching her older son smile, laugh, and reach out for hugs, I realized she had achieved stardom. Children with Asperger’s Syndrome rarely watch people, wait patiently for an opening, and then delight them with ironic observations. Not everyone has a mother who teaches them the cognitive path to humor.

Unlocking children on the Autism Spectrum has become a subject of great concern as the incidence rate for the diagnosis has accelerated.  The biopic on Temple Grandin offered hope arising from one woman’s perseverance and the family members and mentors who championed her cause. Yet, the reality of education today is the creation of isolated autism programs serving this burgeoning population. Online educational programs and “virtual peers” simulations have demonstrated improvement in some outcomes, but early diagnosis of language acquisition disorders and patterning by well-trained parents may offer the most promise in preventive treatment of the underlying causes of the relational aspect of the disorder.

I was intrigued by an interview in the Boston Sunday Globe with Matthew Hurley, one of the co-authors of “Inside Jokes: Using Humor to Reverse-Engineer the Mind.” Hurley is a cognitive scientist working on his doctorate at Indiana University, who had conceived of the idea in an undergraduate term paper. He considers humor to be universal, yet uniquely personal, and is looking at it as an important path to truncating our pursuit of erroneous thoughts and actions. So, what are the implications for one who has been bypassed in this otherwise universal trait? Can we reverse-engineer the humorless world of autism?**

Seeing children change as they begin to “know” the jokes that they cannot instinctively “get” can be heart-warming for all involved. The therapeutic value of humor in the sense of belonging in social settings and the intrinsic reward of successful interactions should not be underestimated.

**Cool coincidence…On, notes on the authors of  “Inside Jokes” included the comment below from Simon Baron-Cohen, Professor of Developmental Psychopathology and Director, Autism Research Centre, Cambridge University. It doesn’t answer my question, but I really like the idea that these guys know each other…

” What’s so funny about a robot with a sense of humor? In this highly original analysis, Hurley, Dennett, and Adams try to locate the holy grail, the essence of a joke, by using a variety of tools (from computer science, cognitive science, linguistics, philosophy, and even evolutionary psychology) to dissect why we laugh. This powerful team of authors goes a long way to explain why and when we laugh, and in doing so uncover insights about how the mind works. But like the proverbial millipede who, trying to analyze how he lifts each of his legs in the precise sequence, starts tripping over, readers should beware that getting inside a joke risks dehumorizing it!”


November 21, 2011 at 8:25 AM Leave a comment

The Long View on Special Education

A post-high school longitudinal study of children with disabilities has confirmed the results of leaving these children behind in school. Their success rates on a number of academic and career measures lag those of their peers without disabilities. So, how can we close that achievement gap instead of allowing it to widen for life?

We must stop leaving children behind. The National Center for Special Education Research has completed a longitudinal study of students with special needs after high school. The results are not promising. Now can we begin our longitudinal study of the achievement gap for children with disabilities during their K-12 years? How did we get here? What happened along the way? Are we finding children in need soon enough? Which of our interventions are working? How can we become more focused in our interventions?

This study validates important policy initiatives from Seven Keys to Education Reform. Point 1.2 calls for longitudinal student data. Point 6 calls for opening the dialogue with students with Special Needs before they enter high school.

On the data issue, regulatory policy requires periodic snapshots of a student’s abilities and progress toward goals. What is missing from this series of pictures is tracking of comparative data over time. A child with a disability who is not making suitable progress in school qualifies for services; however, the effectiveness of those services in bringing the child closer to grade level proficiency also should be evaluated and met with corrective measures as needed. Too many children continue to lose ground academically even as they receive a high level of service that should be enabling them to overcome obstacles and compensate for their disability.

Beyond service delivery, the students themselves need more empowerment in understanding their growth potential and managing their progress toward goals. Children with disabilities are brought into the formal education planning process as part of their transition from high school to adult life. These children would benefit from involvement in the process in grades 4-8. These are crucial years for actively engaging students as they begin to establish their identities as capable, lifelong learners as well as managers of their special needs.  Absent this involvement, many students with disabilities enter high school with a mixture of dependency on adults and avoidance of academic challenge.   

Armed with data and partnership with the students, special educators will be better equipped to facilitate mastery of math and literacy basics within their students by the end of middle school.  This is an absolute necessity for closing the achievement gap for students with disabilities. High school must be a time of growth in academic sophistication and analytical capability. A loose patchwork of supports exists after graduation for students with serious residual issues. However, for the vast majority of students with moderate disabilities, services end with high school.

Extending remedial support beyond high school is looking backward with regret. Today’s twenty-something young adults with disabilities may deserve support in light of our failures, but this is not the stuff of progressive policy. These young adults would have been far better served through intensive development of compensatory abilities at an earlier age.

September 12, 2011 at 10:09 AM 3 comments

Something to Talk About…Part II

 Headmasters and their assistants need to know every child with an IEP. They need to carry on a continuing dialogue with the children about their strategies to overcome obstacles. Each child should come to expect that their principal will take a private moment to ask what goals they are working on, how it’s going, and what their back-up strategies are. And this could happen at any time, so they should always be ready. This is not a pop quiz, but a way to transfer ownership of the learning process back to the child. Knowing that school leaders value creative responses to learning challenges will motivate the children and their teachers to work together to find compensatory strategies. They will no longer be going through the motions of Special Education on a treadmill of lowered expectations.

 The plan…

  • Take charge of the situation.
  • Provide professional development to ensure robust strategies are in place and readily articulated.
  • Open a dialogue directly with the children.
  • Ask for help from SPED teachers and the children as collaborators.
  • Streamline the IEP process and create data banks that track real progress over time.

 There is no Get Out of SPED Free card. Children must know that they will have to work harder than their peers sometimes to overcome obstacles. They have to want it. And they have to know that there is a good chance of success. Having the head of their school recognize their plight and show interest in their progress takes the battle out of the closet and elevates the reward for accomplishment.

(to be continued…)

February 10, 2011 at 2:39 PM 1 comment

Something to Talk About…Part I

Among the things that “everybody knows” is the fact that Special Education is the cause of all the trouble in education finance. This budget buster is the thing of entitled teachers and under-funded mandates. School administrators complain about it to Everybody!

 “You guys are killing us. You are where all the money goes. I don’t know what you do in there, but it is costing us a fortune…” Special Ed teachers worry a lot and try to please their bosses. With a death grip, they hold onto their classrooms and try to manage them as tightly as possible. It is the least they can do. Meanwhile, the children, far from understanding what all the worry is about, sit in class with heightened anxiety (as if learning has not been stressful enough for them already) and try to follow the assorted learning strategies that their teachers recognize as best practices..

The trouble is…nobody told the kids what is going on or why they are doing what they do. They know there is an embarrassing issue about which dozens of adults have met and   held lengthy discussions. Confidentiality is so well protected as to obscure the process, to keep it hidden from the child. Counterintuitive strategies meet protests, motivation is uneven, and unknown achievement benchmarks are missed.

In business, managers know what their real budget busters are, and they monitor them closely. This is rarely the case in schools. Special Ed department heads and teachers are entrusted with the care of the Students with Special Needs according to the letter of the regulations. Is the child making reasonable progress at this time? Is the child in need of services? Is the child in the least restrictive environment? These questions are answered according to a schedule, and the child is re-evaluated periodically. However, longitudinal information is not tracked. Funds are available regardless of progress over the long haul.

One could hypothesize that these factors contribute to children becoming SPED for life. Critical intervention opportunities are missed and childhood learning issues become entrenched patterns of dysfunction that pervade the adolescent’s world socially and intellectually. Persistent concrete thinking yields naïve decision-making and impulsive behavior. Processes that are rational in the abstract appear random in the concrete. Acting out behavior is a natural outcome that is misdiagnosed as a discipline issue. Social learning is truncated as rigid rules replace sheltered exploration. Academic success becomes more elusive. Students seek failure as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

 (to be continued…)

February 10, 2011 at 2:10 PM 1 comment

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