Category Archives: Disability

Behavior Intervention Plans should include instruction

When students who have disabilities show a pattern of challenging behavior, schools are encouraged to use positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS). PBIS is an approach to addressing behavior and not a specific “program.” Individual PBIS seeks to find reasons for why a behavior is happening so that effective strategies can be identified that will meet the needs of each unique student.

Unfortunately, there are still too many schools that do not promote the use of PBIS. It is not uncommon to find Behavior Intervention Plans (BIP) that focus mainly on how the staff will respond to behaviors after they occur. Many of those schools respond to challenging behavior with things like silent lunches, in and out-of-school suspensions, behavior contracts, shortened school days, etc. All of these strategies seem to assume that the child will improve their behavior on their own in order to avoid punishment. These actions may work once in a while, with some students. However, they are not likely to be effective when the behaviors are directly or indirectly related to a child’s disability.

Many students with disabilities have developmental delays and/or weak skills in certain areas. These skill weaknesses, or deficits, can contribute to challenging behavior in many different ways. Children who cannot clearly communicate their wants and needs experience a lot of frustration, and may even resort to challenging behavior just to get someone’s attention. Children who lack the social skills to have positive interactions with other children or make friends, often experience rejection, anger, loneliness and frustration. They may even become anxious and stressed when they are placed in social situations because they expect something to go wrong. Some children use behaviors to hide academic skill weaknesses because they don’t want to look “dumb.” Other students may act out simply because they don’t know what else to do when they are given assignments that they don’t understand.

Those were just a few examples of ways that skill deficits may play a big role in why a child might have challenging behaviors. In order to create lasting change it is important to help the child improve their skills. The IEP team should consider using instruction as an important proactive way to help prevent challenging behaviors from occurring in the first place.

IEP goals can be written to improve academic and functional skills. Some of these skills will need to be worked on for a long time. For more immediate relief, children may need to learn to use assistive technology or other strategies to help make up for their weak skills. Meanwhile, children can also be taught better ways to handle situations that are difficult for them. They can learn new things to say or do that are more appropriate than what they are currently doing. These “replacement behaviors” will allow the child to meet an immediate need. Children can also be taught self-regulation and coping skills so that they can function better in a world where things are not always going to go the way that they would like. A lot of this instruction can happen during real-life activities that offer teachable moments. Other skills can be taught and practiced at times when the student is not under stress.

When students begin to use the new behaviors, they may get a natural reward such as a positive reaction from another child, or being able to get a desired outcome. Adults should be sure to praise or otherwise encourage the child so that they see the new behavior as something that works for them.

Challenging behaviors often have ripple effects that are mostly negative. Viewing those same behaviors as a sign that the child needs some instruction can lead to positive ripple effects such as  higher self-esteem, better relationships with others and improved school performance.

 

Mid-year IEP check-up time

We are just about at the halfway point in the school year.  Report cards will be coming home soon.  If your child receives special education services you should also get a report on his/her progress on their IEP goals.  This is a great opportunity to think about how things are going and whether or not some changes need to be made.  Ideally, we would all like to have a happy, socially-successful child who is learning and developing at or above the expected rate in all areas.  If that describes your child, you should give a word of thanks to all who have helped make this happen!

However,check-up-bottom not everyone is going to be so fortunate.  If there are things that concern you about your child’s education, there is still time to take actions that could help.

If your child’s grades are lower than you think they should be, try to get to the root of the problem.  Is your child having difficulty learning the material being taught? Is he doing poorly on tests even though he seems to understand the work?  Is she doing fine on tests, but has a low grade average because of zeros for several school assignments that were never completed or turned in?  Has your child missed a lot of instruction because of disciplinary actions that have taken him out of the classroom too many times?

Even if the grades are okay, there may be other reasons to be concerned.  The grades may seem to be inconsistent with what you see when your child is doing home work.  The progress on IEP goals may be moving much slower than expected.  Instructional assessments may show that the gap between your child’s skills and the achievement standard for his grade is getting wider instead of more narrow.  Is your child saying, or showing, that she does not want to go to school?  Are you getting more reports about problem behavior at school?

If you do see any red flags, the first action to take is to try to understand what is working and exactly where there may be some problems.  Talk to your child and your child’s teacher(s).  Ask what you can do at home to help your child be more successful.  Work with the teacher(s), other school staff, and the IEP team as appropriate to come up with solutions to any problems that are identified.  Make adjustments in terms of instruction, materials, strategies, accommodations, services, supports, environment…whatever makes sense for your child at this time.  Keep an eye on things to see if there is improvement or a need to try something else.

Your child is the winner when his educational team is working together toward the same goal!

The Prom that wasn’t

Aimee Combs, ECAC Parent Educator, shares her mom’s-eye-view of a Prom Season experience with her son Joey.

April 29, 2016

This day has been on my radar for a long, long time. And now it was here: Joey’s senior prom. It’s today. And Joey’s not going. I don’t know why she changed her mind. I just know that she did. I mean, I can certainly speculate why.

The prom tuxedo coupons featuring the popular model-type teens on them, started showing up when Joey was in 8th grade and have come every year since. I hated those coupons. They seemed a cruel reminder of who my son was not nor would ever be. One year I was actually going to write to the retailer and say “If you saw my son, if you met my son, you would know he’s nothing like these perfect teens on your flyer. Save yourself some postage and save me some grief. Count us out!” Soon after came the mailers from the Marines, the modeling agencies, and the “exclusive” mega smart scholar student recognition clubs all claiming that they had an interest in Joey. I know many parents think this means something when you get this junk in the mail. It does. It means your child’s high school probably sold your name to some database that preys on gullible parents of middle school and high school students. This information comes to your mailbox based on a birth date and nothing more. I know this because Joey is obese, has autism, and has a learning disability in reading, writing and math. I’m pretty sure none of these folks are truly interested in him.

Years ago, Joey refused to go to his 8th grade formal. I got it. No questions asked, as it made sense to me. Middle school was the worst experience of his life. He was happy to close that door as he had no desire to attend a dressy social outing where he might be ridiculed by some of the bullies that had made him miserable for 3 years of his life.

I did hold out hope for high school. When the Junior prom came up last year, he again refused to go. He said “Besides I don’t have a girlfriend.” I tried to explain that a prom “date” does not have to be a girlfriend. It can be a girl that is a friend. This idea seemed lost on him. Must be the literal autism brain, but to him a date is a date, and a date is of a romantic nature only.

Then there were the area special needs proms that came up. Joey had no interest in these either. When your child is diagnosed with high functioning autism, there is a huge sense of relief. But there are also burdens. Kids like Joey feel like they don’t belong with the “lower functioning” folks, or the folks with visibly obvious disabilities. Yet they don’t feel like they fit in with their typical or “normal” peers either. Joey has been to events with other kids on the spectrum and sometimes will ask “Uhhhh, is there something wrong with that guy?” I’ve explained to him some folks on the spectrum have a lot of autism, and some have a little. I’ve told him he has a little, and that his best friend, Drew, has even less than him. I once asked if he would date someone with a disability and he said that he is “open to dating someone with a disability but, not to be mean, only certain disabilities, not all of them”. Fair enough.

Weeks after the Junior prom last year, Joey told me that a girl had asked him to the prom months before, but that he didn’t know that she was serious. I was like “WHAT?!!!! And you’re just telling me this now?!?!” I dug deeper. Is she a friend? Was she serious? Was he sure? She was a friend. She was serious. He was sure. I then explained to him that he should have told her “yes”, and that he may have hurt her feelings and so on. He said it was okay because they had agreed to go together senior year.

So throughout all of the 2015-2016 year, Joey said the plan was still on. The prom coupons came and this time I saved them and I didn’t curse out the handsome boys in tuxedos featured on them. I checked in weekly to see if anything had changed with the plans. Nope. It was still a go. Soon the email reminders about prom dues started coming. I was reminding Joey that he would have to find out what color dress she was wearing. What are the plans? Pictures? Dinner? Transportation? He seemed bored and bothered with all of the details. I tried explaining that this is not something you just show up at. It is a coordinated effort. I told him he needed to get her phone number and he disagreed. His sister had suggested that Joey “promposal” the girl but Joey said “No way!” He said he told his date his sister’s suggestion and that she asked what a promposal was. He told her it is when the guy makes a poster and some sort of special surprise to ask a girl to prom. She said it sounded stupid and Joey agreed.

But I remained the doubting Thomas. I had to know for certain that this was legit. My daughter attends the same high school and knew who the girl was. She said the girl was super sweet, very nice and quiet. I asked if she would mind checking with the girl to see if she REALLY was going to the prom with Joey. She asked and the girl confirmed that she was! It was REAL!

It was real…until about 3 weeks before the prom, when it was no longer real. Joey didn’t even tell me. One of my daughter’s friends asked Joey if he was going to the prom and she  overheard him say “Not anymore. She changed her mind.” And then my daughter told me. I hoped that it wasn’t true, yet I knew that it likely was.

I wasn’t sure how to approach Joey because I was not sure if he was hurt by this. When I inquired about what happened, he said her friend approached him and told him that “she changed her mind and decided she doesn’t want to go to the prom this year after all.” I wondered if this was true. Did she find another date? Was it due to prom costs? Did her friends talk her out of it? Was she ridiculed? Was she worried about what others thought? Was she worried that Joey thought it was a romantic date? What changed? What happened? I tried to get a feel from Joey if he was upset, and he really didn’t seem to be. He didn’t seem overly eager to talk about it, but he’s not overly eager to talk about anything outside of his interest categories.

None the less, I saved the coupons just in case. In case she changed her mind. In case he wanted to go solo. In case he wanted to ask someone else? Another classmate? Someone from church? But he didn’t. He said “The prom just really doesn’t interest me.”

Turns out that Joe’s best friend Drew’s was not going either. The girl he asked told him “I’ll think about it”. I’m not sure that she ever started or finished thinking about it.

So instead of going to the prom, Drew has invited Joey to the movies to see Ratchet and Clank. Joey is pumped! He loves Drew. He loves animated movies. He loves to share a story where Drew told him how he got kicked out of the movie theater when the Titanic was re-released in theaters. When folks were jumping into the frigid water, Drew was standing and yelling out diving scores: 10! 5! and so on, LOL. Joey can’t wait for tonight.

I really thought this day would make me sad. Thought I would throw myself some type of internal pity party. Perhaps an emotional tantrum of sorts. Thought I might not be able to type this post without some tears. But it is okay and I am okay. I may never see my son in a tuxedo and that is okay. Tuxedos and proms are expensive. But two teenage buddies with autism, spending a Friday night hanging at the movie theater with buttered popcorn, watching an animated film, not caring a bit about the prom… Well, that really is priceless.

End note: Yes, just for kicks, I did place a photo of his face on the mailer and dang – he looks good! Joey's head in tux

Here’s the senior yearbook ad that we purchased for Joey:

Joseph Combs IV – You will not be found on the “popular” pages. You were never the star athlete nor did you ever receive any academic awards. You were not voted “best” this or “most” that. Yet you made us and anyone that knew you and your story incredibly proud. Despite having autism and the obstacles that come with it, you found your way. You made friends and you made a positive impression on every teacher that ever taught you. Even when the grades were low, the praise was always high. Respectful. Kind. Well Behaved. Funny. Delightful. Caring. These are all words repeatedly used by teachers to describe you. You are a blessing! We love you and thank God for the mighty young man that you are. Well done son!
Much love-Mom & Dad

Aimee's Joey

How to stay in the information loop

circular image of question marks around the word knowledge Often parents don’t hear about major developments in education or public policy that impact our children until long after the chance to influence those decisions has passed. A large part of being an effective advocate for your child, or children in general, is to keep up with what is going on at the school, local, state and national levels.

School news:  Attending PTO/PTA meetings, and reading the school newsletter and other notices, can help you stay on top of things that are happening at your child’s school. Parents may have a voice in deciding how certain funds are to be spent, changes to school building policies, or even where the 5th graders will go for their optional spring field trip.

School District: Most school system websites have a “News” section where all sort of events, new developments, school board meetings, policy changes and other announcements are featured. This is a place where you can find out about the school calendar for next year as soon as it has been decided, central office staff changes, new programs and initiatives, major accomplishments, etc. If you visit the website at least once a month, you will have a greater understanding of what is going on and how things work within your local school system.

State and local public policy in North Carolina:

NC Partners has an email newsletter with information on events, State Board of Education meetings and actions, and other issues affecting North Carolina’s public schools. For more information or to subscribe, please visit the website.

NC Child is a broad-based advocacy group that describes itself as “The voice for North Carolina’s children.” They focus on the health, safety, education and economic well-being of all children in the state by engaging communities and informing stakeholders and decision-makers. NC Child distributes InfoNet, a free e-news service that provides information about state and local legislation and public policies, stories of national interest, relevant newspaper opinion pieces, as well as resources for parents and advocates.

Around the Nation:

The U.S. Department of Education has great information on it’s website about Early Learning, K-12 Educational Reforms, Family and Community Engagement, various education-related laws and guidance, Financial Aid for Post-Secondary Education and other topics. You can also sign up for email updates.

SmartBrief is a digital media company that gathers information on a wide array of subjects and offers more than 20 different newsletters focused on some aspect of education. The SmartBrief on Special Education contains articles on new developments, research findings, promising practices, training opportunities and noteworthy events from across the nation.

Disability Scoop describes itself as the “Nation’s premier source of developmental disability news.” They scour the headlines and other sources for information on “issues that matter to the developmental disabilities community.” These issues include, but are not limited to education, health, civil rights, legislation and real life success stories.

By signing up for any of these newsletters, information and news comes to you without the time and energy it takes to constantly search the web. Knowing what is going on in your community, state or in our nation will help you better understand how the pieces of the puzzle fit together and how our systems work. This information can also give you ideas to bring to the table and advance notice of actions that you can take in order to influence decisions before they are made. Remember, knowledge is power!

Consider the whole child when disciplining students with disabilities at school

Children with disabilities may get into trouble every now and again, just like other children. When it comes to the discipline of students who have disabilities, public schools have a special obligation to consider the possible role of the child’s disability. There are federal and state laws that provide guidance in this area.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits any program that receives any federal funds from discriminating against an “otherwise qualified” individual based on their disability, when it comes to accessing, participating in, or benefiting from that program. If a student is punished for a behavior that is caused by his disability, that could be considered discrimination.  In order to be sure that such discrimination does not happen, schools should take a look at any possible connection between the behavior in question and the student’s disability when making decisions about discipline. Many school systems use a process that is similar to Manifestation Determination Review (MDR) that is described in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA ’04). Each school system must develop its own Section 504 policy so you would need to check with your local school system to learn the details about how the discipline of students with disabilities is handled.

IDEA ’04 and state special education laws, allow school officials to consider the discipline of students who receive special education services on a case-by-case basis. This allows them to consider things like the nature of the child’s disability, the functioning level of the child, the intent of the behavior and other relevant factors. This flexibility is there to help make sure that schools respond to violations of the code of student conduct in an appropriate way, especially when a change in placement is being considered.

If a decision is made to change the placement of a child with a disability (as defined by IDEA), the school must hold an MDR meeting to determine whether the behavior in question was caused by, or had a direct and substantial relationship to the child’s disability. The group, which includes the parent,  a representative of the school district, and relevant members of the child’s IEP team, will also consider whether the behavior or violation was the direct result of a failure to properly implement the child’s IEP.  If the answer to either of these questions is “yes”, then the behavior is determined to be a manifestation of the child’s disability and the child is returned to his or her previous placement and provided with appropriate positive behavior intervention and supports.

Sometimes the team that conducts the MDR looks too narrowly at the child’s disability.  They may only consider the child’s category of eligibility for special education services.  Instead, the team should review all relevant information in the child’s special education record, including the child’s IEP, along with teacher observations and any relevant information provided by the parents. As an example, a child’s category of eligibility could be specific learning disability, but consideration of the child’s “disability” should also include possible impacts of  ADHD and anxiety disorder diagnoses. The team should look at the whole child as they make a decision about whether the behavior was a manifestation of the child’s disability, just as they should consider the whole child when determining eligibility for special education, or when developing the IEP.

Free Audio Book Resources

Individuals with disabilities that affect their access to print have some free options  for obtaining audio and braille books, magazines and pod casts. The local public library is bound to have a collection of popular audio books that can borrowed at no cost, as long as you have a library card and return the books on time. In many libraries, books can be reserved in advance and/or brought in from another branch so you are not limited to what happens to be on the shelves of that branch on a particular day.  Public libraries often raise money by selling donated books and used ones that they have replaced. It’s a low-cost way to build your home library.

The North Carolina Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped has a history that goes back to 1958.  With Federal, State and private funding, it eventually became part of a regional network of libraries operated by the the Library of Congress.  Even though the name of the library has not kept up with current preferred disability language, the library itself has continued to change with the times and now offers materials in a wide variety of accessible formats fr people of all ages.  Individuals must complete an application  and provide documentation of a disability that qualifies them to use the library.   Please visit the website to learn more http://statelibrary.ncdcr.gov/lbph . If you don’t live in North Carolina, ask for the branch that serves your area.

 

Bookshare is another great resource for people who have print disabilities.  Bookshare is free for qualified U.S. students and schools, thanks to funding from the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) of the U.S. Department of Education. Organizations  and non-students can apply for paid memberships that will give them access to accessible materials through Bookshare. Check out Bookshare at https://www.bookshare.org  to see if you or someone that you know can benefit from what it offers.

Whether you are reading for school, work or pleasure, it’s good to know that there are some free services available to make sure that people with print disabilities have access to the information, ideas and wonderful imagining that is contained in printed text. Read on!