Monday, January 7, 2013

How to begin

How do I begin to set up a successful program for children with various disabilities?

This has to be the most frequent question asked by Special Education teachers! It is asked repeatedly, because the students change, and therefore, their disabilities and needs change continually.  In this world of budget cuts and larger numbers in classrooms, we have to be creative to educate children in general. It is especially a challenge to effectively educate those with disabilities. In one classroom, there may be students diagnosed with Autism, Downs Syndrome, Learning disabilities and Cognitively Impaired. Each one learns differently, each one requires and deserves our attention!

I am a teacher and case manger for elementary students, who are considered to have “intensive” disabilities. The way my program looks has changed dramatically in the last 5 years. Five years ago I had a self contained classroom (self contained is defined here as a  classroom that has strictly special education identified students and special ed. staff). We did our own thing pretty much, I was master of my curriculum and schedule! I have always followed the philosophy that my students can learn what the general ed. students are learning, only it might need to be presented differently and slower. So that’s how we rolled for quite a while. That didn’t work for everyone. That’s the special education mantra isn’t it?
My classroom has evolved, more children being in regular classrooms all day, with support from us in that classroom! Exciting and scary!

My goal  is to share what has worked for me, both in a self contained setting and in a “regular” classroom setting.

The Inspiration
A few years ago, I attended a class presented by TEACCH. ( )I was feeling discouraged, nothing seemed to work. Sure, I could keep everyone busy, the room was organized, there were lesson plans for every day, but were my students PROGRESSING?  I observed other teachers who were using TEACCH, in a pre-school setting, they mostly had what they referred to as a TEACCH desk and would work with certain students at that desk. The organization of TEACCH, use of visuals and schedules looked very promising to me. I work with  students in the kindergarten through 2nd grade range. I usually have a mix of ages and a variety of disabilities.  TEACCH is geared toward people with Autism, but what if everyone followed the TEACCH model? Of course, individualize for each student, some students had object schedules, another a picture schedule, some had simple words, some had a clipboard with basic sentences. The important thing is that they knew what to expect. It was a lot of work initially and you can drive yourself crazy setting up a schedule for just one kid! Now you are thinking this is a TEACCH advertisement, but really it’s not! Their program helped me find the path, but I adjusted it to fit my students and my own needs. We special ed. teachers know how to MODIFY and ACCOMADATE ( or my husband, an ex Marine, would say “ADAPT and IMPROVISE”) The other very important thing I learned from TEACCH was how to create activities for students to do that were interesting and motivating to them.

The activities (tasks) can be time consuming, but they are never a waste of time! Even when the student has moved on, there is always someone else who can learn from that task. It might sit there for a year without use, but then someone shows up at your door and asks if you have a task for a specific skill and viola! My tasks are organized (sort of) and in one place, I loan them out all the time and the appreciation from teachers and teacher aides is rewarding.  I also teach summer school and they come in handy!

Next time I will talk more about using schedules and visuals. In the meantime you might be interested in googling and learning more about the TEACCH program in North Carolina.