Have you ever had a conversation (or been in a meeting) where someone laments that providing a certain accommodation is a waste of time/money/energy/personnel since it would only benefit one student?
I hope not. But my guess is that you have.
This default belief is common and it's dangerous. When we believe that providing access to people with disabilities is a favor to them, or an inconvenience to us, we hurt everyone.
Why? Because the research shows that when we make our classrooms, our companies, and our communities more accessible for people with disabilities, we all benefit.
This is Universal Design.
Confession time: I switched it up on you. The "U" in our ABCs of SPED series was supposed to be "understanding" but I've decided to focus on Universal Design instead as it's more concrete, and frankly, more interesting. You're welcome! :)
Universal Design is "the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability or disability" (via universaldesign.ie).
What this means in practice is that accessibility features that level the playing field for people with disabilities can also benefit everyone else.
See the pattern? Universal design means creating spaces that are adaptable to the unique needs of everyone.
In the classroom, this is known as "universal design for learning." This mean that teachers can implement best-practice strategies and accommodations that will support students with disabilities, but will also likely benefit students without disabilities as well.
Examples in education can include:
Really, anything that a teacher puts in place to support the academic, social, or behavioral goals of a student with a disability has the possibility to benefit other students because students with disabilities are not that different from students without disabilities.
Now, that's not to say that we accommodate people with disabilities BECAUSE it benefits everyone. We accommodate people with disabilities because it's the right thing to do, and because most of the time it's a legal requirement to do so.
That said, calling on the research behind Universal Design is a great way to advocate for a certain intervention or accommodation for your student, particularly if there's push back about doing something for just one kid.
Want to learn more? I suggest checking out Understood.org (as always!) for more information about what this could look like for your student.
Check back next week for the mysterious "V" in our ABCs of SPED series. It's getting interesting over here as I tackle V, X, and Z so soon!
Can you believe we're already at T in our ABCs of SPED series? And today, T is for Technology! Specifically, assistive technology.
Assistive Technology, or AT, is any technology that provides a student with access to participate in school and that can be used to help support a student’s academic achievement.
If you've ever read through an IEP, you might have noticed a small question in the "other considerations" section that asks whether a student needs any "assistive technology." Perhaps you've seen it, but you didn't know what it meant, or what could be included. If that sounds like you, this post is here to help!
High Tech Assistive Technology
Much of what will be included in an IEP will represent "high tech" assistive technology. This is technology as we currently think of it-- things like computers, tablets, and software.
Another common technology tool that we see for students that are Deaf or hard-of-hearing is a transcription cart. This is a service that takes an instructor’s language in real-time and transcribes it to a device placed in front of the student so that they can follow along visually with what the rest of the class is hearing. These are just a few examples! Any type of tech tool that you can demonstrate will help your student can be considered.
Low Tech Assistive Technology
It doesn't always take a fancy tablet to help a student in the classroom. There are many examples of "low tech" interventions that teachers have been using with success for decades.
Some examples include:
While less "exciting" than the high-tech stuff, these tools can be just as important in supporting a student with special needs.
Remember, assistive technology (like any accommodation!) is not meant to provide a "leg up" or an advantage to a student with a disability. Instead, it is simply meant to even the playing field and provide an opportunity for students to access the same content.
AT is any technology that a child uses to allow them greater access to participate fully in the classroom.
Does your child use any assistive technology? We'd love to hear how it's worked for them! Share in our Facebook group!
Today I'm throwing it back to some content I wrote a year ago--- because if we're talking about self-advocacy as the S in our ABCs of SPED series, the conversation necessarily turns to "When and how do I tell my child about their disability" and therefore, "When should I get my child involved in their own education?"
I get this question a lot because I tend to work with families that are beginning the transition planning process. I'll give you my answer up front: Do NOT wait until age 16 to invite your child to attend their own meetings!
We're not raising children-- we're raising future adults. We need to prepare students to advocate for themselves one day. Just like we can't suddenly expect a student to tie their shoes or use the bus without weeks, months, or sometimes years of training, we need to give our students as many opportunities as possible to see us (parents and teachers) model good advocacy and to teach them how to self-advocate.
By attending IEP meetings:
1. Students will learn the language. This means sharing with students the name of their diagnosis, the symptoms or expressions of their disability, the names of the accommodations, tools, or supports they need, and the vocabulary that's used to describe these things. If we want and expect our children to be able to manage their own case at some point, these are the words they will need to be able to use. Expose them early and often. But won't my child feel embarrassed or uncomfortable if s/he hears us talking about deficits or areas of weakness? This leads us to our next point...
2. Students will see their needs as normal, rather than viewing deficits as shameful. You know what happens, as humans, when we realize that certain topics are approached with whispers and secrecy? We start to believe that there's something embarrassing about the topic. This is what we unintentionally teach kids when we don't invite them into the conversation. By opening up a dialogue, we communicate instead that having needs is a normal part of life. That asking for help is something that EVERYONE does. That having things that we're good at and things that we're not so good at is a typical part of the human experience. Shielding our kids from these realities does not help them-- it makes it seem like their autism, or their dyslexia, or their depression is something they should be ashamed of or "can't handle." This isn't true, and it will prevent them from being able to live authentically and successfully in the future.
3. Students will get comfortable sharing about their needs and preferences. Once our students know what their needs are and have the language to talk about them, attending IEP meetings gives them the opportunity to practice expressing those needs. Advocacy, or standing up for what you need or what is important to you, works like a muscle. It can be painful at first, but the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Do we really want the first time our children ask for what they need to be at a job with a stressed-out boss? Of course not! Start early, and start often.
4. Students will provide ideas that we may not think about. Have you heard the phrase,"Nothing about us without us"? We don't like the idea of someone talking about us without our input, and neither do our kids. By having students attend their own meetings, they learn that their voice matters. We often worry about our kids being taken advantage of, and a great way to prevent that is by teaching them, through our actions, that they have a say and that their ideas and boundaries are worthy of respect. In addition, our children know better than anyone what helps them. Perhaps your child has an idea of how they can participate meaningfully in a certain class or manage their anxiety in a crowded lunch room better than we can. By inviting students into the meeting, we show them that they can and need to be part of solving the problem. In addition, the solution will likely be easier to implement with student buy-in from the start.
So what age am I thinking? The earlier the better. Even a kindergartner can join for 10 minutes to share (verbally, with pictures, pointing on a choice board, etc) about their preferences and what helps them at school. Prepare by talking in advance about what an IEP meeting is, how it can help them and what they may want to share. You may want to assist them with writing down their thoughts and questions. Build up stamina and increase from there as the years go by. I can promise that you will not regret it.
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Something my mom said growing up was that the 4th of July was the midpoint of the summer. She wasn't incorrect, but I still hated hearing it! We just always seem to get here so fast! If you're nearing the new school year (we start back in one month!), today's post will be helpful for you.
Today we're taking about the 3 R's. Not the typical ones, but important nonetheless, especially for goal-setting:
Realistic, relevant and research-based
If you've been following along with IEP Guru for awhile, you may recognize these as the "R" in the SMART goals acronym. This post will break down what this looks like and why it's so important.
We want to make sure that goals are written to be appropriately challenging yet attainable with high quality instruction and the correct supports. Goals that are too easy lead to boredom, while goals that are too difficult lead to frustration and shutting down! A realistic goal is just outside of reach based on the child's current abilities, but is able to be reached with appropriate support and training from a teacher or service provider.
We want goals that are relevant for our child's future, and that will offer long-term benefits. For example, how often in your adult life have you needed to know that Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin or that Clara Barton founded the Red Cross?
While knowledge such as this is often found in state standards, we must consider that there are often far more areas of need for our students than we can address in one school year.
As such, we want to focus on goals that will offer the most long-term benefit and can be transferable into other settings or from school year to school year. The best goals look at age-appropriate grade-level standards, and then distill them into a developmentally-appropriate stepping stone (or benchmark!). This can be as simple as taking a standard about American history (i.e. the Red Cross) and using it to create a realistic and relevant goal about identifying colors and shapes. We want to make sure the connection to grade-level standards is there while also making the goal relevant to what will help the student long-term.
The supports and strategies used to support a child's goals should be based on best-practice research. Your child is not a guinea pig! As I often say, education is too important to be left up to chance. If your child needs something, or the school is proposing something, make sure you ask what the research says to support X or Y. Does your child need a reading intervention program? Make sure the team is using a proven curriculum that has been shown to be helpful for students with disabilities. Does your student require behavior interventions? Argue for a methodology such as A.B.A. which is research-based.
So much of education is "status quo," i.e. "this is what we do because this is the way we've always done it." Don't be afraid to ask for evidence that the status quo is actually effective! And if it's not, don't be afraid to do your own research into what may be better.
Does your child have realistic and relevant goals that are supported by research-based curriculum and interventions? If you're not sure, I can help! Check out our Personalized IEP Review service to see how we can get your child ready for the best school year yet!
Every week I get on this blog and I scroll back ~15 posts to my list of the full ABCs of SPED. I've gotta see what concept is coming up next!
Each time I feel a sense of hopeful anticipation that the concept for the week is something really fun. Something that I think is super important and fun to write about. Something that will really benefit parents who are trying to improve their child's IEP.
Something like today's concept!
I looked for the Q on my master list (unable to remember what in the world I chose for a letter like Q!) and I had to smile-- you may not think data types are interesting, but this is one of the easiest concepts to understand and one of the easiest ways to fix up a lackluster IEP.
You've gotta know the difference between quantitative and qualitative data.
Let's start from scratch.
Quantitative Data is data based on hard evidence. It is information that is measurable and can be quantified using numbers. That my sister is 5'8" from head to toe is quantitative data about how tall she is. Quantitative data is objective.
Qualitative Data is based on an assessment of characteristics or attributes. This type of data provides information about the qualities of someone or something. Observing that my sister is tall enough to get something out of the cabinet above the fridge is qualitative data about how tall she is. Qualitative data is often subjective.
Maybe you're wondering, "Okay gotcha...but why does this matter?"
Learning the differences between these two types is important because the IEP process is FULL OF DATA.
Determining eligibility? Gotta look at the data.
The Present Levels of Performance section of the IEP? Nothing but data.
Annual goals? They'll be measured by collecting data.
The decision to do a state or alternate assessment, provide ESY or other accommodations? All based on data.
Because of this, the data collected and reported throughout the IEP process needs to be high quality!
So which type of data do you want or need? Both.
One type of data is not better than another. What is important to remember is that each type of data, on its own, is incomplete.
To get a well-rounded sense of something we need to see both types of data represented.
I often see IEPs that only include qualitative data. The Present Levels section will feature statements like, "Jimmy is able to add two-digit numbers with greater accuracy than in the previous 9 weeks," or "Sarah is able to write her name with prompting." This is not bad information! But it is incomplete information.
High quality IEPs include both quantitative and qualitative data in how they describe a student and report his or her strengths and deficits.
To improve the two examples above, one might say:
"Jimmy is able to add two-digit numbers with greater accuracy than in the previous 9 weeks. In August, he was able to add 10 two-digit numbers with 80% accuracy in at least 3 of 5 trials. In October, he is now able to add 10 two-digit numbers with 90% accuracy in at least 4 of 5 trials."
"Sarah is able to write her name with zero letter reversals 90% of the time as measured by weekly spelling tests. With one verbal prompt, she is able to write her name with zero letter reversals 100% of the time."
See how these examples give you so much more information about what the child is able to do? And not only that, it tells you when and how they're able to do it.
If your child's IEP is vague, particularly in the Present Levels section, ask for more quantitative data to be included. If there's nothing but numbers, ask for more qualitative data to be included. If a team member isn't sure where to start, suggest the lists below for ideas about how and where they can pull new data.
Qualitative Data Sources (which provide numerical evidence):
Qualitative Data Sources (which provide narrative information):
A good IEP will include BOTH types of data. If your child's is lacking one or the other, start asking for more!
Like I said, this is a super easy way to advocate for a better IEP. Better data means clearer, more measurable goals, which should mean better outcomes.
Start with data!