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Articles related to Special Education and Special Needs Services

A Response to A Shameful Attack on Parent/Student Civil Rights

April 4, 2013
By: Carrie Watts

AASA Document Nothing More Than A Shameful Attack on Parent and Student Civil Rights

Please go to the link below to read COPAA's response to a paper produced by the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) on "Rethinking Due Process."  Sharing information regarding why the AASA's proposals would be an afront to the civil rights of students and their parents is so important.


Read the COPAA Response at:

December 23, 2012

Feeling overwhelmed? Plagued by disorganization? Ready for a real change? AttentionB is a private practice offering innovative coaching and therapy intervention to adults, children, parents, families, and other individuals struggling with ADHD. Combining expressive art therapy tools with co-active coaching strategies to create personalized ADHD management plans. 

Dr. Billi developed the AttentionB Method™ to empower others to take pride in their unique traits and transform their personal ADHD challenges into useful assets.  She will guide you step by step how to take control of your ADHD symptoms instead of letting them control you ... so you can "Leverage ADHD to your ADDvantage." Appointments available in person, Skype or phone.

Breaking Down Barriers

September 11, 2012
By: Esther B. Hess PhD, ABPP , RPT -S

Helping Asian American Parents Seek Play Therapy for their Children with Selective Mutism

“Selective Mutism is a psychiatric disorder that affects seven out of every 1,000 children making it almost as common as autism” (Brown, 2005, p.9). It is an extreme form of social anxiety disorder where “a child cannot speak in select settings, most typically at school, even though they can (usually) speak normally at home” (Cole, 2006, p. 57). Despite the current understanding in pediatric research that advocates the benefits of early identification and early intervention in children impacted by disabilities (Cooper, 1981; Garland, Stone, Swanson, and Woodruff, 1981; Maisto and German, 1979), I have noticed in my own clinical practice, a concerning trend within first generation Asian Americans; specifically, a delay in parents getting their children who are impacted by Selective Mutism play therapy intervention services well into adolescence.

click here to read more

Free Download - Reduce Baby and Toddler Tantrums Using Sign Language

November 3, 2010
By: Dr. Kari Miller

Download this episode of Dr. Kari Miller's WebTalkRadio show "Education Revolution" and learn how sign languauge can be used to communicate with  babies.

Babies and toddlers have tantrums, but Baby Signs ® specialist Kelly Rain Collin, Director of Healthy Minds Consulting, tells parents and caregivers that many of these tantrums can be avoided!  Using sign language to communicate with infants before they can talk significantly reduces frustration for both babies and parents. Not only that, but babies who learn to communicate using the Baby Signs ® Program get a jumpstart on language, intellectual, and social skills, helping them get ahead.  The Baby Signs ® Program is easy to learn and easy to teach to your baby.  Listen to this show to find out how you can empower your baby, reduce tantrums, and jumpstart your child’s skills before he or she even gets to school.

Download the show here

Effective reading comprehension techniques: Clicks and Clunks

October 15, 2010
By: Dr. Kari Miller

The “clicks and clunks” technique was originally introduced by Christine D. Bremer, Sharon Vaughn, Ann T. Clapper, and Ae-Hwa Kim in 2002.  Read their original article here.

When it “Clicks,” all is well in the world of decoding and easy comprehension. Reading is a joyful way to explore the world!

But when students encounter parts of the text that are not understood, they “Clunk!” and the reading process slows down.

Students can learn to recognize when their reading is Clicking and when they have encountered a Clunk.

When the Clunk is due to unknown words, follow these simple and effective steps to return to Click mode.

Reread the sentence with the clunk.

For more difficult material, reread the sentence before the clunk, the sentence containing the clunk, and the sentence after the clunk.

Ask the student to substitute a word for the clunk word that might make sense in the context and continue reading. The student will usually be able to confirm the prediction with further reading.

Substitute a word such as “candy” for the unknown word!  Not only will this keep the flow of the reading going, but it will also lesson the student’s discomfort as a smile and chuckle result.

Mark the clunks in the margin — repair by looking up in a dictionary.

Keep a dictionary of clunks, using them in future writing assignments.

Read more about research-supported reading teaching strategies.

Effective reading comprehension techniques: F.A.C.T. Mnemonic

October 15, 2010
By: Dr. Kari Miller

A mnemonic, (pronounced ni-mon’-ik) is a device used as a memory aid.

The F.A.C.T. mnemonic helps students organize and remember important comprehension strategies. The letters in F.A.C.T. stand for effective, research supported strategies that support comprehension:  Focus, Ask questions, Connect, and Turn on the visuals.


Comprehension is only as strong as the student’s focus while reading.  Encourage focus by using your child’s imagination and interests. Here’s some suggestions:

• Your child can read aloud to himself with a “cool” accent.

• Students who like to dance can think about how to choreograph the action.

• Students can summarize the material to a friend, a pet or a toy!

• Draw a picture, take notes, develop an outline or draw a concept map.

Ask questions:

Teach your child to ask herself questions as she reads. This builds attention, focus, commitment and memory for details.

Here are examples of general questions:

• Who or what is this about?

• What is the most important thing about this who or what?

• Do I know anything about this?

• What does this remind me of?

• What will the teacher ask us on the test?

Students can also be taught to turn section headings into questions. For example, if the title of the section in the science book is “Cellular Respiration,” teach your child to turn this into a question such as, “What is cellular respiration?” or “What are the important facts about cellular respiration?”



Show your child how to connect parts of the reading together for greater understanding of cause and effect, motivation and sequence. Encourage him to notice patterns and to talk about what he finds.

For example, when reading a story about a child who has just moved to a new city, have your child talk about what it would feel like to be the new kid in school. Ask her to remember a time when she was “the new kid” and to talk about how other people reacted to her. Have her find examples in the story about strategies “the new kid” used to make friends with other people and how she felt.

Turn on the visuals:

Encourage your child to actively visualize while reading. Show him how to create effective images that are full of color, movement and surprise. Encourage your child to draw, graph or act out the reading so he better understands and remembers.

The reading process: Research supported teaching strategies

October 13, 2010
By: Dr. Kari Miller

Reading is a highly complex, integrated activity that daunts as many as 33 percent of the population.

Many children become proficient readers regardless of how they are taught. However, for children who experience difficulty learning to gain meaning from print, reading must be systematically and carefully taught.  Mastering the following components of the reading process is essential if students are to become proficient readers.


Appreciation and enthusiasm for reading
It comes as no surprise that children who are passionate about reading are more skillful readers.  Reading is more exciting to students when students are:

* Read to frequently
* Allowed to choose their reading material
* Exposed to a wide variety of interesting reading materials


Phonemic awareness
Successful reading depends upon understanding that words are composed of individual sounds. Children need direct teaching in the skills of breaking words into their component sounds and in blending individual sounds together into words.  Phonemic awareness is one of the most important skills upon which early reading depends.  Children who have poorly developed phonemic awareness skills are at great risk for becoming poor readers.


Phonics and Decoding
Letters of the alphabet are a code representing the sounds in words. Reading involves “decoding” or translating written words into their spoken equivalents.  The early stage of decoding instruction emphasizes the correspondence between individual letters or pairs of letters (such as “oa”) and the sounds they represent.  Later reading instruction stresses rapid identification of larger units such as syllables.  Identifying larger phonetic elements is termed structural analysis.  Once a student learns the correspondence between sounds and print, he or she has become a proficient decoder.


Fluent, Automatic Reading of Text
However, in order to become an efficient reader, the decoding process must become fast and accurate.  When decoding is efficient, attention and memory processes are available for comprehending what is being read.  Reading fluency training is vital for strengthening a student’s comprehension skills.  Children should have ample practice reading material that is not difficult for them to decode.  This level of difficulty is referred to as the “independent reading level.”  Frequent reading of material at a child’s independent reading level builds automatic word recognition and frees up a child’s mental abilities for comprehension.


Background Knowledge
Comprehension depends heavily on a student’s knowledge of the world.  Therefore, the skill of reading comprehension begins to develop long before children enter school.  Children who have more experiences of all types, have more background knowledge upon which to base their understanding of written material.  Parents help their child develop reading skills when they visit the museum, the park and even the store.  Parents and teachers should also read to students in order to help them create a stockpile of information that will facilitate reading comprehension.  The best reading instruction teaches a student to access background knowledge while reading.


Comprehension depends on having a large vocabulary.  Children who read widely learn word meanings at a faster rate than children whose reading is more limited either in scope or quantity.  During their school years, children should be learning several thousand new words per year.  Most of these words are learned by reading.


Written Expression
Reading and writing are two sides of the same coin.  Effective reading instruction must include training in expressing one’s thoughts in writing. Children should be given daily practice in organizing and expressing their knowledge through writing.  This builds their ability to decode and comprehend the thoughts of other writers.

The key to helping students who experience difficulty in learning to read is to identify a student’s specific reading problems and to devise programs which capitalize upon a student’s unique learning strengths.  A curriculum that focuses on specific, appropriate, and practical learning strategies will best help students become proficient, efficient and independent readers.

An appropriate literacy goal for all students should be that each student is fully able to use reading as a springboard for independent, critical thought and expression.  Reading fuels the highest levels of the thinking process.  Good readers are armed with tools to become strong thinkers.

DIR/Floor Time and Early Onset Bipolar Patterns in Children

September 13, 2010
By: Esther B. Hess, Ph.D.

Bipolar disorder clearly exists in adults. If you look at adults who have bipolar disorder in the U.S., nearly 50 percent recall having significant mood symptoms in childhood and adolescence. This isn't an illness that starts at age 25 to 30; it starts much younger (Axelson,, 2010). During infancy, children at risk for bipolar patterns begin evidencing patterns of sensory hypersensitivity and sensory craving fueling which fuel activity and agitation. Children with bipolar patterns may also have relative difficulties in the higher levels of integrative visual-spatial thinking (Greenspan, S.I. & Glovinsky, I., 2002). Early in life they tend to evidence difficulties in learning co-regulated affective signaling with caregivers (in the first and second year of life) that enable children to learn to regulate their mood and behavior (Papolos & Papolos, 2000). Furthermore, they tend to have special challenges in representing or symbolizing the full range of age expected emotions, especially those dealing with anger, loss, disappointment and humiliation (Papolos & Papolos, 2007). Carlson and Kashani (2002), summarizing the history on early onset bipolar disorder, indicate that the emerging concept of the disorder includes the following:
1. Poor regulation of emotions with rapid mood shifts.
2. Very low tolerance of frustration with high levels of irritability.
3. Hyper-arousal with poor sleep and generalized anxiety.
4. Intense energy.
5. Poor attention.
Click here to download the full article

Innovation Charts

August 10, 2010
By: Maxwell

SOI Systems


P.O. Box D 45755 Goodpasture Road Vida, OR 97488


Overview of SOI Certified Learning

SOI Certified Learning has six aspects that make it a unique education implementation.

• Management System. Certified Learning is based on a computer management system for each classroom which tracks the progress of each individual student on a weekly basis.

• Detection of Problems. The curricular content in the system is organized into modules with specific objectives, specific short-term durations of completion, and specific tests of content mastery, so any progress of all students is immediately available to the system, and, importantly, lack of progress by any student can be identified for helping procedures.

• Oversight and Real-Time Consultation. Reports of student progress are sent to SOI Systems weekly; these reports are reviewed, problems identified, and real-time consultation given to address the problems.

• Physical and Social Development. A significant portion of the curriculum is devoted to insuring that the students have the necessary physical development for learning -- sensory motor integration, body control, and perceptual (both visual and auditory) skills. The curriculum also includes units in learning deportment -- how to work in a group, how to maintain attention, and, importantly, how to become self-directed in learning.

• Unique SOI Content in the Curriculum. The curriculum not only teaches the fundamentals of each grade level, it also prepares students for learning in two ways -- both of which are unique to SOI Systems:

• SOI Learning Abilities. Students are taught the general abilities that are foundational for learning curricular content -- cognition, memory, evaluation, problem-solving, relations, and transformational thinking -- in the content learning mode that is appropriate to their development -- figural, symbolic, or semantic. These abilities are based on the Structure of Intellect model and have been developed over the past forty years.

• Concepts Before Content. Portions of the curriculum teach students the concepts they need for understanding the facts and skills that they learn by rote. For example, with something as simple as counting, we teach what counting is and how numbers are made, before students learn to recite the number series. Then, when they are taught the number series they know where and how it fits into their repertoire of learning. What is true of counting is true of all mathematics, reading, composition, math, science, health, social studies -- in fact any area of content.

• Half-Day Curriculum. The SOI Certified Learning model is based on one-half of the school day, leaving the second half of the day for group instruction, field trips, and content that is specific to a district or region. This also permits teachers to offer special help for those students who have been identified as having difficulty.

Certified Learning July 2008 page 2

SOI Certified Learning provides all of the materials required by the system -- computer programs, instructional guides for teachers, computer-based overviews for orienting teachers new to the system, workbooks, mastery tests for both computer and workbook exercises, worksheets, flash memory devices for each student, and all of the incidentals -- student ID stickers, assignment cards, mastery tokens, flash cards, and kinesthetic learning components.

Parameters of the Current Implementation

The current implementation of SOI Certified Learning was developed for schools in Texas. This imposed some parameters that satisfy local conditions, but these can be modified for implementations in other contexts. These are the variable parameters of the current implementation:

• Twenty-two Students per Classroom. Texas has a state law limiting classroom size to 22; the program is currently implemented to fit that limitation, but the number can be modified to accommodate more or less.

• Teacher and Aide per Classroom. Each classroom has one teacher and one aide for the four hours of SOI Certified Learning. One person handles the group instruction and the other oversees the computer and workbook instruction, which are largely self-directed by the students. A single teacher could handle all three aspects of the curriculum, but the class size would probably need to be smaller.

• Five Computers per Classroom. One computer for every five students is the requirement. If a given implementation is for twenty students, the class would need only four computers; if an implementation were for 30 students, then six computers would be needed.*

• State Standards. The current implementation is designed to meet the basic state standards for many states in the US. While these requirements may differt from state to state, the additions or deletions from the basicstandards will be minor and can easily be accommodated with modification.

English-Language Orientation of the Current Implementation

Any implementation for foreign clients might need to change if they did not want to teach English as well as their native language. There are obvious changes in the written and spoken instructions in the student instructional exercises, but there would be some more subtle changes that might need to be made as well -- the curriculum presently emphasizes left-to-right processing for language; some of the classification tasks may include components that are not familiar to foreign students; the entire LOCAN series is focused on English syntax and sentence structure; and, obviously, the letter recognition units would be irrelevant for a country with a non-alphabetic language.

These are areas that need consideration, but the modifications that would be necessary for a foreign-language implementation would not compromise the overall design of the system.

* Minimum student computer specifications: 512 MB of memory; 256 MG Graphics 3.2 ghz with ht; sound card, CD/DVD combo drive; 17” LCD monitor;

USV keyboard and mouse

Innovation in Education

August 7, 2010
By: Maxwell

December 2009

SOI Certified Learning

SOI Certified Learning

Grade One Curriculum

Grade One Curriculum

Computer Units

CE01.......How to Use a Computer.......................1 week CE02.......Counting to 100 ....................................1 week CE03.......Look and Learn Five ............................2 weeks CE04.......Different Initial Letters .........................1 week CE05.......Addition to 20 .......................................1 week CE06.......Look and Learn Six ..............................1 week CE07.......Subtraction to 20..................................2 weeks CE08.......Different Final Consonants .................1 week CE09.......Look and Learn Seven.........................1 week CE10.......Math Sentences....................................1 week CE11 .......Similar ...................................................2 weeks CE12.......Middle Vowel Substitutions.................1 week CE13.......Human Body .........................................1 week CE14.......Endings .................................................1 week CE15.......Read Remember Reason One.............1 week CE16.......Look and Learn Eight ..........................1 week CE17.......Math Questions One ............................1 week CE18.......Seeing Small Differences ....................1 week CE19.......Remembering Words One ...................1 week CE20.......Find the Difference...............................1 week CE21.......Getting from Here to There .................1 week CE22.......Remember Numbers in Order .............1 week CE23.......Word Problems One.............................1 week CE24.......Using Money .........................................1 week CE25.......Body Functions ....................................1 week CE26.......Math Questions Two ............................1 week CE27.......Tabulation One .....................................1 week CE28.......Word Problems Two.............................1 week CE29.......Remembering and Using Numbers ....1 week CE30.......Clock Reading ......................................1 week CE31.......Making Sentences from Memory ........1 week CE32.......Seeing Your Place in Society ..............1 week

Workbook Units

WE01 ......How to Use a Pencil ...........................1 week WE02......Trace Lines and Shapes.....................1 week WE03......Trace Numbers....................................1 week WE04 ......Trace Figures ......................................1 week WE05......Write Sight Words...............................1 week WE06 ......Find the Object ...................................1 week WE07 ......Ways to Write Numbers .....................1 week WE08......Seeing Parts of Letters ......................1 week WE09......Sight Word Lesson.............................1 week WE10......Sentence Structure.............................1 week WE11 ......Relations .............................................1 week WE12......Pairs.....................................................1 week WE13......Memory................................................1 week WE14......First Second Third..............................1 week WE15 ......Number Words Matching ...................1 week WE16 ......Shape Shade and Size .......................1 week WE17 ......Word Recognition (1) .........................1 week WE18......Figural Memory...................................1 week WE19......Positions .............................................1 week WE20......Magic Cyphers....................................1 week WE21 ......Word Recognition (2) .........................1 week WE22......Matching Figures in Order.................1 week WE23......Two Idea Sentences ...........................1 week WE24 ......Visual Discrimination .........................1 week WE25 ......More Magic Cyphers ..........................1 week WE26......Seeing Symbolic Information............1 week WE27......The Land That Never Was..................1 week WE28 ......Following Directions ..........................1 week WE29 ......Figural Classification .........................1 week WE30 ......Where Are You? ..................................1 week

Group Units

GE01....How to Work in a Group................................1 week GE02....Walking Line No Target ................................2 weeks GE03....Finger Tracking .............................................1 week GE04....Arrow Chart....................................................2 weeks GE05....Arithmetic Machine........................................2 weeks GE06....Concentration ................................................2 weeks GE07....Diagonal Ball Toss.........................................2 weeks GE08....Following Instructions ..................................2 weeks GE09....Thumbnail Scan.............................................2 weeks GE10....Walking Line Target.......................................2 weeks GE11 ....Sky Writing from Memory .............................2 weeks GE12....Bean Bag Toss Eye Motion...........................2 weeks GE13....Diagonal Bean Bag Toss with Counting......2 weeks GE14....Arrow Chart Opposite ...................................2 weeks GE15 ....Walking Line Reading Letter Chart ..............1 week GE16....Targeting Objects in the Room.....................2 weeks GE17.... Arc-drop into Container ...............................2 weeks GE18 ....Container Toss from Increased Distance ....2 weeks

Developing College Skills in Students with Autism & Aspergeré─˘s Syndrome

August 7, 2010
By: Sarita Freedman, PhD

When we witnessed the first “wave” of individuals diagnosed with some form of “high-functioning” autism spectrum disorder (ASD) around 1995, many of the individuals I diagnosed at that time were between 2-8 years of age.  As time passed, these children came in and out of my practice and I became aware of several issues.  First, many students with ASD “fall through cracks,” especially when they’re bright and do not have behavior problems.  The ASD student who is more difficult to manage in the classroom is more likely to be identified and receive services.  Second, In order to qualify for special education services the student must demonstrate an “inability to access the curriculum.”   Sometimes it can be difficult to prove that students need services.  For example, while a fully verbal student may participate relatively well within the classroom setting, he frequently flounders on the playground due to social communication deficits.  Developing better communication skills and having an adult present to facilitate social interactions on the playground could help this student improve his social communications skills, reduce his/her overall level of stress within the school environment, and be more accepted by his/her peers.  However, supporting the need for speech and language therapy and/or an instructional aide for this student can be challenging because he functions “so well” in the classroom.  Third, the types of services offered to these students can be quite broad, and can include any, none, or all of the following:  speech therapy, occupational therapy, social skills, 1:1 instructional aide, special instructional assistance in subject areas, and/or placement in a special day class.  Finally, the general education curriculum addresses a student’s academic skills, but not practical life skills.  This leads to students who are unprepared for life after high school.  While some students may be able to access other government-funded services after they reach the age of 18, others may not be eligible due to strict eligibility guidelines and/or funding shortages.  In any case, waiting until the age of 18 to develop independent living skills (ILS) is probably too late for students who want to go away for college.  Unfortunately, without specific programming ILS and many other skills will not come naturally to our students. 


In Developing College Skills in Students with Autism & Asperger’s Syndrome, I outline skills in a developmental perspective so that parents and professionals can stimulate skill development throughout the child’s life.  I also recommend ways to break through some of the road blocks that commonly occur.  For example, it’s challenging for students with ASD to participate in “non-preferred” tasks.  As such, parents of students who go away for college worry that their student will spend most of his time playing video games, rather than focusing on college studies.  Sadly, the risk of this happening is quite high.  However, students can learn strategies to manage and balance their time, provided the student receives adequate programming throughout his life.  I had the pleasure of interviewing several students and their parents while writing the book, and their insights and experiences helped inform some of the recommendations I made.  A handful of these families recognized the importance of ensuring that their child learn practical life skills from very early on.  Reinforcing these skills became an important piece not only of the child’s educational programming, but also a natural part of their family’s “culture.”  All of those students are faring well in their post-secondary studies.  One student in particular has completed his college education at UCLA, passed a professional licensing exam, and is working in his chosen field!  If we begin the process of preparing students for life when they’re very young, they’ll be more likely to independently manage themselves by the time they’re ready for college and will more likely have a positive experience there.   


(Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2010.  Interview reprinted from the monthly JKP Autism Newsletter. Join the mailing list at!)

Why I became a Special Education Attorney

April 16, 2010
By: Jane DuBovy

Eight years ago I switched my law practice from bankruptcy to special education. This was not just on a whim. A few years prior to that switch, my youngest son was diagnosed with Autism. After accepting the challenge of the Autism diagnosis, I submerged myself in learning everything I could about Autism, special education advocacy, regional center services, and whatever support groups existed. What I learned could fill a book, but here are the key elements that I think are helpful for parents seeking assistance with special education more from special education attorney Jane DuBovy

Apply Brain Research Raise a Successful Student

March 25, 2010
By: Dr. Kari Miller

The role of emotions and parent-child interaction in developing inspiration and intelligence

The amazing brain astonishes us with its adaptability and sophistication.  Ever in flux, highly complex, and intricately orchestrated, the brain’s ability to engage in behaviors as simple as listening to the radio or as complex as composing a symphony provokes our curiosity and awe.   

Parents are concerned about how to guide their children’s brains toward academic accomplishment.  The good news is that you can help your child become a better student by using brain research to guide your parenting techniques and to encourage your child’s
intellectual development.  

One of the most important things for a parent to realize about their child’s brain is that it
is plastic, constantly changing and evolving, and that your child has control over how his
brain changes.

Learning is dependent upon many things. Learning occurs when brains grow new cells in response to the environment.  Researchers have identified at least 15 factors that either promote or inhibit new brain cell growth.  For example, while emotions such as joy encourage brain cell development, stress impedes brain cell generation.  When children are happy and level-headed, they learn and remember more than when they are anxious, tense or irritated.

Because of the way the brain is wired, emotional states run our lives, whether we like it or not.   Emotions provide the platform for interpreting our experiences.  Every activity in which your child engages is determined by his emotional state.  Emotional states are
constantly in flux, and are easily influenced.  

Fear and threat take a tremendous toll on intelligent behavior.  Circumstances that your child finds unpleasant and out of his control produce a stress state in the body.  

Chronic stress reactions release chemicals that reduce blood flow to the brain’s behavioral control centers, cause atrophy of the brain’s nerve cells, and impair memory.

However, certain brain chemicals such as dopamine stimulate intelligent behavior.  Your child’s brain releases dopamine in response to pleasurable circumstances.  The brain doles out dopamine in response to concrete rewards.  But even more importantly, the brain releases dopamine in response to desirable things such as security, recognition, and success.  

Dopamine travels to the front of the brain where it influences skills essential for learning.  The frontal lobes of your child’s brain are largely in charge of critical skills such as paying attention, recognizing and discriminating critical features, decision making and
judgment, all essential for intelligent behavior and school success. 

Parents can use the tendency of the brain to respond to pleasure by helping their child to orient his belief system toward joy in learning and success.  Students who are inspired to learn for their own reasons have the full support of the brain’s chemical system.  When
learners are interested in a subject and believe they can perform well, they are more attentive and try harder.  When they believe they can learn, they study and their study efforts are more skillful and effective.  When they believe in interesting, fulfilling futures,
their judgment is enhanced and they make sound choices. 

Kindling interest and passion is much more beneficial to your child than pointing out ways in which his performance is lacking.  When your child repeatedly views his behavior as flawed, his future success is stifled. Alluding to failures sours inspiration, blocks the release of dopamine, and decreases the opportunity for your child to be

Talk with your child about his future goals.  Explore possibilities with your child.  Kindle passion and purpose.  Demonstrate your faith in his success.  Never be discouraging about his chances of victory. 

Education Needs a Revolution

March 9, 2010
By: Lisa Johnson, MS

Times Have Changed So Why Haven’t We? March 6, 2010

SO, I don’t expect people will be  knocking my door down about the Educational Revolution right away. That’s ok because I can see from word of mouth that people believe in the Revolution and have not came together or had a voice to articulate exactly what the problem is as they are lead to freedom. This is a little melodramatic but it is very true.

We know that education is suffering in many ways. Education is suffering nationwide. More special need students are being identified all the time. Viable students are dropping out of school according to the America’s Promise Alliance. In April 2008, ABC World News segment (“Failing Grades,” April 1) featured a report from America’s Promise Alliance and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that showed 1.2 million students drop out of high school each year. This is a good jumping off place to start. The information we have is communicating something to us. We have to figure out the whys, hows and an action plan.

Last blog, I discussed how students could get behind and not really be noticed. I also stated a plan of action:
learning how to examine students developmentally, emotionally and physically; learning how to customize interventions to fit the students; and making this fabric part of our educational system. It would be revolutionary to utilize these practices.

The lack of understanding students to their core leads to a lack of vision in education. I’ll say it again, education lacks vision. This does not mean there not great things happening in education, do not get me wrong. There are wonderful programs, teachers and administrators that serve students well. What I’m talking about is the student that is not served well. This kind of student is growing in numbers by leaps and bounds. The student could look like one that ignores the teacher, sleeps in class, or just does not turn in work. The student could also look like the student who tries hard to please yet struggles anyway. The student could look like a reading disability that does not qualify for special education services. The student could look like many things. The disservice in education is that all are not getting what they need. It’s no one fault. They need too much for the current system to handle. That’s why we need a revolution.

Look, times are different and we have to change with the times. Our children are over exposed to stimuli. Input is constantly coming into the senses of people today: videos, ipods, text messages, computer screens, cell phones, etc. This upbeat of sensory heightens the system and the system craves for more. Kids in elementary and middle school are on video games, text messages and even Facebook!

Constantly, I hear kids saying they are bored. One student said it today as an excuse of why he drew an obscene picture! Students are not bored they are unregulated or unable to sit for periods of time without input. Am I over exaggerating? No. With the changing times, lack of real community, family time and bounding our children are being raised by the television and the media. How many moms or dads need a break and they put little Johnny in front of a movie or his favorite show, in which they TiVo’d for him! When the kid starts emulating the characters, speaking in gibberish or lost in fantasy thoughts we think something is wrong with the kid.

This form of thinking something is wrong with the kid permeates throughout education for those that struggle. Unlike mom and dad that start the ball rolling with too much media, teachers get what they get in a student. That student can come with a fertilized foundation for educational growth or with nothing but a blank slate somewhat ready to learn. Regardless, at sometime in the educational journey an educator, administrator and or parent starts to “victimize the victim” when the child is not learning and the interventions are not working.

The lack of understanding students to their core leads to a lack of vision in education. That’s why we need a revolution.

Happy New Year

January 7, 2010
By: The Kelter Center

Happy New Year

Since 2009 has drawn to a close, we would like to say "Thank You" to all who have helped The Kelter Center through another successful year. Additionally, we would like to take this opportunity to update you on what is happening at The Kelter Center and share with you some of the changes that have transpired.

Sasha is in semi-retirement, enjoying real winters and a peaceful lifestyle in Ashland, Oregon.  She, Russ, and their new puppy, Sam, are hiking to the snow on occasion and finding friends and entertainment in the rich cultural environment.  On alternate weeks, Sasha returns to us here in Los Angeles to let Russ and Sam fend for themselves.  Where ever she is, Kelter Center continues to be the primary focus of her days.


Rebecca is the new Director of Educational Services.  She brings with her 14 years of administrative experience, years of educating students of all ages, and several years as a Kelter Center Educational Therapist.  Any of your questions or concerns can be brought to Rebecca in Sasha's absence, or even if she is here.

 Vanessa, the Office Manager, and Monica, the Administrative Assistant, complete the administrative team, doing a marvelous job with scheduling, communicating with our clients and professional ties and keeping us at The Kelter Center, all on the same page.


You may have already heard that we will not be contracting with Los Angeles Unified School District as a Non-Public Agency after December. We will continue to work with other districts, as well as charter and private schools. 


We have been busy expanding our abilities, and receiving training so that we are able to offer new and exciting programs to address a wider spectrum of student needs, from the Writing Clinic to mild Traumatic Brain Injury and children who survive cancer.  Of course, we continue to use research based interventions with highly trained Educational Therapists for cognitive enhancement and educational therapy for all our students, Our specialties include the reading and spelling of individual words, understanding what you read, expressing your ideas in writing and the facts, concepts and procedures in math.


We do not work with social skills nor behavior intervention - The Kelter Center provides instruction in basic skills.  Our 33 years of fabulous results are because of our infrastructure.  Our unique training nd mentoring  have proven to produce the excellent educational results parents and schools are looking for.

Look for our new branch office opening in the Sherman Oaks area in 2010!


Sasha     Rebecca     Vanessa     Monica

Easy Study Tips For Your Child

November 16, 2009
By: Jamie Altshule

Create an Organized Study Area at Home

At school, students have their locker. At home, students have their room or maybe the use of a family office. An effective way to begin the year is with a designated area, organized and maintained by the student. Cleaning out all the drawers, organizing the remaining objects, creating a file for important papers, and finding a place where all school books will "live" while at home are important steps in setting up a system for keeping overwhelming clutter at bay.
While your child may need some help creating their ideal at-home study spot, it is important that they feel they have created their office for themselves. Keeping their space clean and organized throughout the year should become part of their nightly routine.

Go to a Teacher's Office Hours
Ask any teacher who their favorite students are and the answer is not surprising: teachers connect with students who express an interest in their class' subject matter and put in visible effort to achieve a strong grade.

So how can students let their teachers know that they care?  Tell them!  Start now, early in the year, and before the first round of grades have been calculated. Visit your teacher's office hours, and let them know how you are committed to succeeding in the class. Ask for suggestions and check back in every 4-6 weeks for more insight.  Your teacher will be pleased and rooting for you to do well.

Build in Rewards While You Are Studying
826 logoYou have to read Acts II and III of Hamlet by Thursday.  There will be a class discussion, and if you do not know your Polonius from your Rosencrantz, you will be in bad shape.   But the brand new version of Beatles Rock Band is in the living room, calling to me!
Don't torture yourself.  Reward yourself.  Use that new toy as an incentive to get your work done. Create a nightly schedule for yourself that includes breaks. Make a deal that for every hour you spend plowing through your work, you will give yourself 15 minutes of free time doing what you want to do.  That 15 minutes will be all the more satisfying knowing that you earned it.

Nicky's World

October 9, 2009
By: Sharon Hensel-Cohen

Nicky's World
Building a Community for Limited Communicators & Their Families
Communication is a basic human need & right

Mission: To provide the individual and their family with a place of their own where they can grow literacy, communication, friendships and a community to turn to and support them in order to improve their quality of life.

Every beginning is couched by the knowledge that the 'Only constant is Change'. Nicky's World is intent on supporting this community of limited and/or non-verbal individuals and their families to develop and move towards resolution of their needs, while supported by professionals and families whom are all experts in this area. The concept of Nicky's World was built with the idea that a community without voice was isolated and had little hope to grow towards quality of life and change in all environments. Nicky's World will have classes, parental and professional presentations and workshops, support groups, family outings, drum circle and much more! Membership will have tiers of involvement based upon class attendance, both without and/or with minimal charges.

Join us for our Open House for food, fun and information on November 1, 2009 form 3-6 pm at Nicky's World to find out more about our goals and plans (18719 Calvert Street Tarzana, Ca. 91335) and RSVP to with the number attending. This will be an 'adult only' open house. Family open house will follow in the spring. Looking forward to seeing you! Sharon Hensel-Cohen, Director.

ADHD 101: Medical treatment for ADHD and ADD

September 30, 2009
By: Dr. Kari Miller

In this edition of expert corner, Dr. Audrey Griesbach, Los Angeles developmental pediatrician, discusses medical treatments for ADHD.

On a behavioral level, what is ADHD?
When people think of ADHD, they often assume that the problem lies in the individual’s willingness to pay attention or listen. In fact, it is not a problem of ‘wanting’ to pay attention.

What we think of as ‘attention’ is actually a very complex processing function of the brain that operates continuously and allows us to engage in and demonstrate skills we refer to as attentive behavior. These skills include the ability to concentrate, seamlessly shift our focus from one thought to another, regulate alertness, maintain mental effort, organize our thinking, retrieve and access information efficiently, manage frustration, and self-regulate our emotions and actions...full article

This article is copyrighted © and should not be reprinted in its entirety without Dr. Miller’s permission. Please contact her at

What is the Difference Between the ACT and SAT?

June 16, 2009
By: Jamie Altshule

Over the past decade, virtually all colleges and universities have moved to accepting either the SAT or ACT. So, with your No 2 pencil in hand, which test is right for you?
Here are a few basics: the ACT questions, especially in the math section, tend to mimic the type of substantive, content based questions most students confront in their daily academic life while the SAT tends to ask more logic and reasoning based questions, some of which are designed to lead students into incorrect answers. Some people describe the difference between the ACT and the SAT as the difference between knowledge and reasoning. The SAT tends to have a more "strategy" based assessment, while the ACT can be a little more straight-forward in its approach.

Finally, the biggest difference between the two tests may be stamina. The SAT is an hour longer, and for some students, the tank may run dry in that last hour. For other students, who can stay focused for longer periods, the SAT may offer an advantage.

Why Social Learning?

May 31, 2009
By: Lisa Johnson, MS

Overview- Why Social Learning?

Today, one in every 150 individuals is diagnosed with Autism, making it more common than pediatric cancer, diabetes, and AIDS combined. More specifically in the state of California 1 out of every 154 students are diagnosed with Autism according to Autism Prevalence Public School State Ranking 2006-2007.

As these children grow toward adulthood these difficulties continue to persist for the children and their caretakers. The age appropriate life skills that typical children established naturally are quite a challenge for the child with autism. Life skills such as: navigating and engaging the community, problem solving, playing team sports, expressing needs and desires with peers and adults and self-care are areas of need for young adults with autism. The communication of the world at large becomes difficult to navigate for autistic youth who struggle with communication and sensory deficits. The primary caretakers of these young adults can assist in paving new pathways of experience yet; the caretaker alone cannot fulfill the necessary social needs of their child. These young adults need a variety of age-appropriate, experiential, social, and learning developmental support. This learning developmental support should be delivered with a humanistic, systematic, individualized framework that supports and expands each youth as they explore and engage new learning environments.

Center for the Developing Mind: A State -of-the-Art Multidisciplinary Treatment Facility in West Los

May 14, 2009
By: Esther B. Hess, Ph.D.

Dr. Stanley Greenspan and his partner and colleague Dr. Serena Weider have spent years challenging the traditional view of how children learn and develop. They understood the critical connection between emotional and social interaction and how these elements impact on sensory and cognitive functioning. Drs. Greenspan and Weider used this information to enlarge the way that clinicians think about and assess and treat children, by having the professional consider the possibility that the functional disorganization often associated with developmental delays like autism, could be caused by the interconnection of impaired neurobiology, developmental delay and the relationship breakdown between parent and child.
My name is Dr. Esther Hess and I am a developmental psychologist, certified in DIR/Floor Time and specializing in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of children and adolescents impacted by developmental delays and/or regulatory disorders. Many years ago when I started the process of becoming certified in DIR/Floor Time, I was part of a group of clinicians from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines who had come together to learn about treating the whole child. In our group, there were mental health practitioners, physicians, speech pathologists, occupational therapists and educational specialists all brainstorming together under one roof.
I remember the last session of the last day of clinic. A speech pathologist got up to present her case and quite spontaneously asked me to join her on the podium to bring notice to the attachment concerns in the case that were so obviously glaring to me, but not necessarily noticed by the other clinicians. Similarly, the occupational therapist pointed out the childé─˘s sensory seeking gestures and the physician in the group making us pay attention to the possibility of an underlying seizure disorder that was potentially responsible for the developmental delays that we were all witnessing in the case.
In psychological terms, I had my é─˙ah haé─¨ moment! I understood there and then the multidisciplinary message that our mentors had been emphasizing all along. To help a child with developmental and/or regulatory disorders, you have to approach treatment from a position that takes into consideration and focus your efforts on all of the different systems that make up that childé─˘s concerns.
Children impacted by developmental challenges often need a variety of services when it comes to dealing with their overall problems. Over the course of my clinical career, I have met hundreds of families, where parents have expressed the need for one unified service center that approaches the healing of their child from a variety of disciplines, all working together as a team. From this need, Center for the Developing Mind was born
As founder and executive director, it is my pleasure to introduce to you Center for the Developing Mind a state of the art facility that addresses the specific needs that children have when they are struggling with challenges. Clinical interventions include mental health, social skills, genetic counseling, speech and language therapy, occupational and physical therapy, educational support and Individual Educational Planning, parent/sibling and grandparent support groups and community outreach. Therapists are available not only on an individual basis, but also collectively to conduct multidisciplinary assessment and diagnosis. Center for the Developing Mind additionally offers combined therapeutic treatments within individual sessions and the opportunity for parents to be part of complimentary case conferences to assure that everyone is working together as team to heal both the whole child and support the family.

I invite you to contact me at or call at (310) 652-7581 for any inquiries that you may have. We are conveniently located where the 405 and 10 freeways meet at 2990 South Sepulveda Blvd., Suite 308, Los Angeles, CA 90064.

Reframing Methodology Disputes

April 28, 2009
By: A2Z Educational Advocates

Methodology is a hot topic is cases, IEP meetings and discussions all across the country. With an plethora of programs available, emphasis on research, and an influx of stimulus package money intended to be used for programs and curriculum, the timing is ripe for more and more methodology disputes to emerge. Here’s what you need to know as advocates and parents:

Anticipate methodology disputes

Methodology disputes arise when the disagreement is in regards to two or more options that could each appropriately meet the child’s unique needs. The general rule in these cases is that school districts are given discretion to choose methodology, so long as the methods chose provide the student a FAPE. The key is to anticipate when these disputes will arise, and to reframe the issue as being about FAPE, rather than about a choice among methodologies.

Pay attention to possible procedural violations

Even though discretion is given to school districts in choices of methodology, that does not mean that the district doesn’t have to play by the rules! School districts are not permitted to predetermine methodology prior to the IEP or to have a blanket policy to refuse a specific methodology or program. Even if the issue is about methodology, school districts still have to meet the requirements of prior written notice, and must ensure that parents can meaningfully participate in the IEP process.

Focus on FAPE, not on one program vs. another

It is important to always stay focused on the principles of FAPE, so that the dispute doesn’t become a battle of the programs, in which the parents will lose. Focus the discussion on the unique needs of the child, and what is required to meet those needs. Don’t use the word “methodology,” but rather ask for appropriate research-based interventions. Make sure your child’s IEP goals are clearly measurable, and keep track of progress in case you need to demonstrate that the program offered is not appropriate for your child. Utilize experts to recommend specific programs, rather than the request originating from parents. And remember, parents should keep an open mind too!

Learning to read with Orton-Gillingham

December 0, 0
By: Karina Richland, M.A.

Learning to read in English would be such a simple task if all similar-sounding phonemes were spelled the same.  They aren’t.  English is such an unfair language with so many iniquitous rules!  For most of us, learning to read means memorizing the symbolic code of letter combinations and then using them in new contexts.  Many of us just read naturally, understanding that these letter combinations create words and sounds.  Linguists call these sounds ‘phonemes.’  Our brains just register the words and are equipped to read three or four words ahead of time.  We are also mentally able to pull words apart, separate them into syllables and apply all of those unfair spelling rules easily and logically. 


For a student with a reading disability, this process of reading does NOT come naturally.  Students with dyslexia, for example, do not use the process of sounding out phonemes (decoding) while reading and applying spelling rules while writing (encoding).  Dyslexics, in general, memorize words in entirety and make mental pictures of each word they learn.  The predicament with this strategy is that when they get to a word that they are unfamiliar with, they have no coping mechanisms to attack that particular word. 


An example of the difficulty for some of us to learn which combination of letters creates which phoneme is the sound of the letter ‘a’ as in the word ‘cake.’  The long ‘a’ sound is written differently in different words, as in baby, ape, sail, play, steak, vein, eight and they.  For students with reading disabilities, something interferes with the acquisition of these written phonemes, and in order to learn, these students must be taught how to read in a different way.  One such way is using a multi-sensory method.


Students with a reading disability often struggle with auditory and/or visual processing.  They have troubles recalling words and how they are pronounced.  This means that they do not comprehend the roles that sounds play in words.  These students have difficulties rhyming words as well as blending sounds together to form words.  These students do not understand or acquire the alphabetic system expected of them in the early years.  If a student with a learning difference is given a task that uses just hearing and vision, without drawing upon other senses, this student will be at a disadvantage.  When taught with a multi-sensory approach, students will learn alphabetic patterns, phonemes and words by utilizing all pathways – hearing (auditory), seeing (visual), touching (tactile) and moving (kinesthetic).


When learning the vowel combination ‘oa,’ for example, the student might first look at the letter combination on a picture of a GOAT, then close his/her eyes and listen to the sound, then trace the letters in the air while speaking out loud.  This combination of listening, looking, and moving around creates a lasting impression for the student as things will connect to each other and become memorable.   Using a multi-sensory approach to reading will benefit ALL learners, not just those with reading disabilities.


The other significant component in helping a struggling reader learn to read and write is utilizing an Orton-Gillingham approach.  In Orton-Gillingham, the phonemes are introduced in a systematic, sequential and cumulative process.   The Orton-Gillingham teacher begins with the most basic elements of the English language. Using repetition and the sequential building blocks of our language, phonemes are taught one at a time. This includes the consonants and sounds of the consonants.  By presenting one rule at a time and practicing it until the student can apply it with automaticity and fluency, students have no reading gaps in their word-decoding skills.  As the students progress to short vowels, they begin reading and writing sounds in isolation.  From there they progress to digraphs, blends and diphthongs.


Students are taught how to listen to words or syllables and break them into individual phonemes.  They also take individual sounds and blend them into a word, change the sounds in the words, delete sounds, and compare sounds.  For example, “…in the word steak, what is the first sound you hear?  What is the vowel combination you hear?  What is the last sound you hear?  Students are also taught to recognize and manipulate these sounds.  “…what sound does the ‘ea’ make in the word steak?  Say steak.  Say steak again but instead of the ‘st’ say ‘br.’-  BREAK!


Every lesson the student learns is in a structured and orderly fashion.  The student is taught a skill and doesn’t progress to the next skill until the current lesson is mastered.  As students learn new material, they continue to review old material until it is stored into the student’s long-term memory.  While learning these skills, students focus on phonemic awareness.  There are 181 phonemes or rules in Orton-Gillingham for students to learn. Advanced students will study the rules of English language, syllable patterns, and how to use roots, prefixes, and suffixes to study words. By teaching how to combine the individual letters or sounds and put them together to form words and how to break longer words into smaller pieces, both synthetic and analytic phonics are taught throughout the entire Orton-Gillingham program. 


Students with reading disabilities need more structure, repetition and differentiation in their reading instruction.  They need to learn basic language sounds and the letters that make them, starting from the very beginning and moving forward in a gradual step by step process.  This needs to be delivered in a systematic, sequential and cumulative approach.  For all of this to “stick” the students will need to do this by using their eyes, ears, voices, and hands.


Functionally-Based Curriculum for Teens with Severe Cognitive Impairment

December 0, 0
By: Rebecca Sperber, M.S., M.F.T. P.P.S

Functionally-Based Curriculum for Teens with Severe Cognitive Impairment

By Rebecca Sperber, M.S., M.F.T. P.P.SSpecial Education Articles


Students with severe autism, severe intellectual disabilities, severe brain damage and other such disabilities often lack the capacity to understand and use traditional educational subject matter to improve any aspect of their life.  However, IEP-driven programs for low cognitive, low verbal students continue to overemphasize traditional academics, and underemphasize functional academics.  Over-teaching material that is beyond the cognitive capacity of a child to understand and apply to their lives in a meaningful way, is disrespectful to that child and to their disorder.  Alternate curriculums for these students should primarily focus on daily situations, and the people, objects, locations and functions within those situations. Instead of this functionally based approach, students are being introduced to information in academics which are irrelevant to their needs and interests, and which do not advance the opportunity for cognitive growth and social success in the school, home and community.

This practice of teaching is as disrespectful as it would be to instruct these students in a foreign language. Reactions by students to curriculum they cannot understand or use can range from aggressive behavior, emotional shutdown or social withdrawal.  

When an educator is made aware through formal assessment that a student is able to grasp more complex or abstract topics, it is of course important for that child to have a curriculum that provides such academics. In a special day class, where there is a range of cognitive impairment from mild to severe, it is fine to include a child with more limited cognitive abilities in some modified way, but not to the exclusion of functional academics. It is most important that these students be taught to buy their lunch, locate different parts of the school, engage in reciprocal communication and behaviors with peers and spell, read and write words that help support a better school experience.

Rote information about history and science that is beyond their cognitive abilities to currently grasp is not providing an appropriate education.

How These Children Learn

Because severe cognitive impairment limits the ability to conceptualize, analyze, compare, infer or reflect, traditional academics have little value in improving functioning in any of the developmental domains. In place of higher level cognitive processes these children rely on visual learning, rote learning, systems learning, imitating, auditory processing and learning through repetition and reinforcement. By the time students with severe cognitive challenges are of high school age, parents and educators have a good idea about their ability to benefit from instruction in the state core curriculum courses.  The accuracy of the student’s cognitive assessment should result in appropriate curriculum content.

In the absence of higher cognitive abilities, information taught should be presented in a way that aligns more with sensory functioning and personal interests, rather than conceptualization.  These differently-thinking children become more engaged, and consequently more able to learn and generalize when curriculum reflects their interests and skills, and includes familiar people, places and established activities from their life.    When the brain is lighting up with emotion and recognition, the potential to go up the cognitive developmental ladder increases.  The reason why so many special education classes continue to overemphasize traditional academics in place of functional academics, is baffling and concerning.

An additional issue of concern is the practice by many special education programs of resisting parental input related to curriculum content.  This diminishes the quality and efficacy of individual student programs.  After all, by the time a special needs child is in high school and entering young adulthood,  it is the parents that  have the most extensive knowledge about that child’s skills, interests, weaknesses and clinical issues.  How can an appropriate curriculum be constructed without parents having some “authority” about what educational materials and methodology are included and excluded from it?

As the mother of an 18 year-old boy with severe autism, I know that what motivates parents to “know” what they are talking about regarding the educational needs of their children, is a concern about how that child is going to function in the world when their parents are no longer around to protect and help them.  This fear driven passion is an effective motivation which can translate into a useful resource for ideas that can improve an otherwise generic or inappropriately chosen curriculum.

Choosing the Right Subjects and  Methodology for a Functional Academic Program

Setting aside an emphasis on history, science, math (other than for daily life skills), and other traditional academics, a program for low-cognitive, low-verbal students should include daily living topics such as;

  1. Self Care ( dressing, cleaning, first aid)

  2. Cooking

  3. Cleaning and organizing

  4. Safety

  5. Social engagement

  6. Weather

  7. Transportation

  8. Recreation and hobbies

  9. Shopping

  10. Relationships,

as well as vocational topics such as;

  1. Clerical

  2. Maintenance

  3. Stock work

  4. Food service

  5. Gardening and Landscape

  6. Computers

  7. Sales

  8. Mechanical.

Within these real life situations, functional academics, such as using money, telling time, safety and communication can be taught and generalized.

When educators have accurate knowledge about how their students learn, (i.e. what their processing strengths and weakness are), life and vocational skills can be learned, and some degree of personal independent functioning can occur.  In support of these emerging functional abilities, tasks and sequences of activities must be broken down into steps.  One effective method of support is the pairing of real-life photos with signing, gestures or written words that label objects and describe actions that the child needs to take.   Photos are presented to the child and actions modeled to reinforce learning.   “Hand over hand” support also helps some students “feel” their bodies move which reinforces the concept of them doing the action.  Words are continuously verbalized while pointing at pictures and performing desired actions.  It is with this multi-modal strategy of combining visual support, simultaneously with auditory reinforcement and enactment of the actual action to be taken, that children with severe cognitive impairment become aware of what needs to happen, and what part they play in the action sequence.  This process of teaching increases executive functioning, in that through learning to understand what needs to happen in a given situation, the child becomes the problem solver – more of  thinker, not just a doer.  These children canbe taught the behavioral, communication, and inter-personal skills needed to participate in the their world to whatever degree their abilities will allow.

Most high schools are equipped with the necessary settings to create experiences in these types of vocational and daily life skill experiences.   They should also have trained staff who can implement strategies that are consistent with the learning styles and abilities of the student.  The problem seems to lie in the lack of commitment on the part of many schools to develop structured programs that provide these experiences on a daily basis, and that use methodology which includes the components of teaching tools such as “pre-teaching”, “Social Stories”, and data collection and analysis.

“Pre-teaching” as a Strategy for Learning

Pre-teaching” is the teaching of skills prior to the activity that utilizes them.  Pre-teaching parts of a skill or activity is effective because it allows the child to comprehend a reduced portion of information, prior to being expected to process and learn a skill or activity spontaneously in real-time.

This teaching approach is particularly effective for children with cognitive disabilities.  For example, if applied to an activity such as going to a grocery store, a child can be helped to prepare a list of items to be bought at the store.  He or she could look at a map of the store and become familiar with the location of preferred items.  Preparing list of names of people in the store, either by first name (if a familiar person) or by job title is also helpful.  The words attached to this pre-taught information is an opportunity for meaning language development.  These pre-teaching activities can be done both individually or in a group setting.

Creating a “Social Story” From the “Pre-teaching “Method 

A “Social Story” is a simple narrative that includes accurate information about a topic of interest or situation of relevance to a child.  The story is brief and is presented in a clear and reassuring manner.  The goal of the story can be to affirm something that the child does well, or to teach the child about a skill or event of importance.  Although the goal of a Social Story should never be to change a behavior, the students improved understanding of events and expectations may lead to more effective responses.

Expanding the Utility of Functional Skills Classes and Training 

Daily living curriculum including classes such as cooking, art, computer, gardening or clerical skills should include components that measure functioning in all domains.  Too often the goals for the student are limited to performing simple behavioral tasks that they were willing or able to do.  What is missed in this limited view is information regarding language acquisition, socialization, spontaneous problem solving, and emotional regulation.  It is within these real life situations, while performing real life tasks in interaction with others, that meaningful cognition can occur.  Improved cognitive function can lead to improved language and communication skills.   These action-oriented learning environments are much more appropriate for cognitively challenged students, than sitting for long periods of time doing worksheets.

School personnel, from administrative to teaching staff, need to learn more about the clinical aspects and realities of low-cognitive, low-verbal students in order to develop appropriate curriculum.  They need to understand how these students learn, and what is most important for them to be learning, at this time in their development.  If collaborative, effective programs are in place, developmental gains can made for even the most severely affected child.  To do any less for these children should not be tolerated.  It is great to “mean well”, but more important to educate these students appropriately in order to support their transition out of school with skills that will help them find their place in the world.

About the Author

22 years in private practice in Brentwood, California. Specializing in autism, addiction/recovery issues, and relationships. Author, lecturer and media experience dealing with autism, relationships and addiction and self esteem issues.

Rebecca Sperber, MS, MFT
Family, Individual and Couples Therapy
11950 San Vicente Blvd. #103
Los Angeles, California 90049

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