* Using FAB Strategies® — FAB Strategies®

This approach uses some effective strategies for kids with sensory and behavior challenges.  I haven’t used their program but recognize many of their effective ideas.

“Functionally Alert Behavior” FAB Strategies® is an evidence-based curriculum of environmental adaptation, sensory modulation, positive behavioral support, and physical self-regulation strategies for improving the functional behavior of children, adolescents and young adults with complex behavioral challenges http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED555615.pdf Complex behavioral challenges involve a combination of inter-related mental health, developmental, sensory and environmental challenges. The FAB Strategies® curriculum is individualized […]

via Using FAB Strategies® — FAB Strategies®

* The A-Z adventure begins tomorrow

Tomorrow, I will join about 1700+ bloggers who will post on a topic of interest from A-Z.  My interest is special education, but I’ll try to include other elements so my non-spec ed enthusiasts won’t snooze through the month.  I bombed out on the NaPloMo NoBloPoMo NoNoWatItWas monthly posts, probably because I could never wrap my head around that acronym.  Blogging A-Z is simple.  Um, it is kinda like a triathlon.  Since I cannot run and won’t bike after my last concussion, that means I’ll do swimmingly well, right?

TriLatta and Allison 006.jpg

Can you spot our son?

* Cheap Thrill Friday: Happy Mustache Day!

imageWilly and Everest wanted to wish all of you a “Happy Mustache Day!” I think it’s from the TV show Wally Kazan on Nick Jr., but I just couldn’t let this cuteness slide. TGIF everyone. Have a great weekend


* The Lightning Club

This is a post on one of the most delightful social skills groups I have ever taught.  There were seven kids in the group.  I was desperate for an eighth student for partner activities, but we managed.  The kids were in fourth grade but all of them had been retained, so they were fifth grade age.  Three were labeled with behavior/ emotional disorders and four were high functioning autistic students.  It was one of those wonderful groups where we actually had a non-lunch time slot and it was at the end of the day.  That meant we weren’t rushing to cram down our food and I could squeeze every possible second out the session.

The kids were a joy to teach.  They were wildly enthusiastic about everything, including bossing each other, winning every game at any cost, and being in charge of everyone else’s business.  I much prefer a group with spunk, and these guys had it in spades.  They arrived like firecrackers.  I’d selected the bossiest student to remind the others,going class-to-class, that it was time for our group,  They assured me, panting and out of breath, that they had all walked down the hall.  Of course, they immediately tattled on each other for running   So we started off in fine spirits, with additional bickering about who got to sit on the edge of the table closest to me.  I smiled at the thought of all the skills they were going to learn.  (Eventually they learned to walk to my room 76% of the time.)

Because everyone in the group was so strong-willed, it took us weeks to decide on a name and theme for our “club.”  We ended up being The Lightning Club.  They thought it was a cool name; I thought it was prophetic.  What made this group so appealing?  I loved their honesty most of all.  Everything was out in the open, including their disputes and struggles in class and at home.  They would tell me that our role-playing had no effect at all on their classroom behavior.  In their respective classrooms, and with each other, they were social outcasts.  They had been at the same school since kindergarten and had grown to dislike one another as much as other kids disliked them.  When we started The Lightning Club, none of them would pick anyone else to be a partner, citing numerous old grudges and the “disgusting” behavior of their fellow Clubbers.lightning-bolt

I started us off with games.  I could only manage two games or groups at a time, because there were so many conflicts.  Everyone memorized “Play fair, Take turns, and Say nice things” pretty quickly.  The kids used checklists to monitor themselves, although they much preferred to monitor everyone else.  “Winning and Losing” was another challenge.  I would ask, “Do you want to win or do you want friends?”  The answer was “I want to win at all costs,” but I could identify with them, easily being the most competitive of all.  They rather enjoyed smearing me in games.

We worked our way through basic skills, spitting out “nice” words to each on command.  I videotaped everything and we watched edited versions, which they enjoyed a great deal.  We role-played a skill (which was nicely done in practice), then I set them loose and refereed the semi-chaos.  We laughed a lot, because I did let them demonstrate how NOT to make friends.  They were experts at NOT making friends, so we had plenty of fun with those skits.

We’d been together about a month when I initiated our altruistic phase.  I wanted them to experience the satisfaction of helping others.  Their suggestions?  All variations of me buying them stuff.  Ultimately, they decided to record a series of self-created puppet shows on social skills for younger kids.  I had dramatically described the difficulties these younger kids were having, so my wild group was quite eager to set the little ones on the right course.  The puppet shows were challenging.  Lightning Clubbers had to agree on a theme, fight over the more desirable puppets, and take turns being the bossy director.  I kept reminding them of our purpose, to help these poor little kids who had no friends.  It was a worthwhile project for a couple of reasons.  Their practice was more authentic than it had been when rehearsing for themselves and the videos were actually engaging to younger kids.

By winter break, The Lightning Club coalesced into a real community.  We settled into a natural rhythm of activities, often suggested by the kids, with opportunities to role-play, critique videotapes, and work through conflicts between group members.  Kids no longer had to be forced to think of positive comments for others.  Yes, there were days when keeping everyone separated was my best strategy.  Like a large family, we laughed and struggled together.  We had parties to celebrate almost everything.  When the kids decided to make gifts for one another, I felt like a contented mother hen with a brood of spunky chicks.

I wish I could say that the rest of their school year was as successful.  On the last day of school (a half day, at that), most of my group had been transported to me for an impromptu “session,” booted out of their rooms for disruptive behavior.  Their presence was bittersweet under the circumstances, but I was thrilled they could spend their last few hours at school under my wings.

* Survival Tip #9: Don’t let compliments go to your head

Years ago, in the early days of my teaching career, I was working with a profoundly deaf and quite unique boy named “Don.”  He was tiny for his age, nonverbal, but used sign language pretty effectively when he wanted something.  Don never made eye contact unless he wanted something, usually something sharp, heavy, and dangerous.  His primary fixations were with women’s high heels and car tires, but scissors would do in a pinch.  Don loved putting his face directly under the point of a woman’s heel (of course, I was no fun because I wore “sensible” shoes).  The tire problem emerged as we got ready to go on field trips.  If not stopped in time, he would manage to press his face against (parked) car tires so firmly that he wore a black smudge on the tip of his nose.  Don and I got along really well, although I am not sure what that said about either of us.  In fact, we got along so well that his mom asked if I would accompany them on his yearly visit to the audiologist.  She’d had many traumatic episodes with Don in that sound-proof box; he was not at ALL interested in wearing headphones or chucking blocks into a bin.

I was quite flattered that Don’s mom thought I could be of assistance.  I felt really important as I walked into that crowded waiting room.  Perhaps this would be a defining moment in understanding the exact nature of Don’s hearing loss.  I scanned the room and saw Don fairly quickly.  He was almost in a chair, his face pressed to the sole of a lady’s shoe.  A lady who looked terrified.  I noticed that everyone was staring at little Don while his mom pulled on him, to no avail.  By chance, I guess, Don saw me.  To my amazement, and great delight, Don looked right at me.  I mean, he stared at my eyes intently.  Then, in a moment that made me think I was Annie Sullivan to this boy-version of Helen Keller, he ran straight to me, arms outstretched!  I was a genius!  He literally jumped up into my arms (I staggered a bit) and then, before another self-aggrandizing thought could form, that remarkable little boy head-butted me in the nose.  I nearly dropped him.  Tears flowed involuntarily down my face (I thought it was blood) and I felt like passing out.  As quickly as that had happened, it was undone.  He raced back to the lady’s shoe as I staggered across the room, trying in vain to look like all was well.  And no, we got less than nothing from the hearing test.

* What It’s Not

Great perspective on what inclusion is and isn’t. I especially like her “three things you need to have.” Read on for more!

The Diary of a Not So Ordinary Boy

Inclusion is a funny thing that seems to mean all sorts of different things to different people, so I thought I’d put together a list for those of us who have special people in their lives, be that professionally or personally; you know those people who find it difficult to learn things or have specific disabilities.

  1. It’s not saying that everyone is welcome and then being flummoxed as to what to do with them when they turn up and sticking them in a corner or out in the corridor with a Special Helper and a box of cars or an iPad.
  2. It’s not having the exact same expectations for them as for the rest of the class/group, all in the name of aspiration.
  3. It’s not letting them get away with whatever they please because, aww, look at them, they haven’t got much, or they can’t understand, or they can’t process…

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* Using Nearpod For Safe Discussions

A great use of technology for teaching social skills while also giving students confidence and experience in making presentations.

Teacher Talk

nearpod app for ipadUsing 1:1 iPads can be tricky with middle school students.  They want to access music and games, and otherwise multi-task while attempting to complete their class work.  In addition,  the type of students I work with will do everything in their power to avoid classwork; they also can be super anxious about talking out loud or contributing to a discussion.  We want to have classrooms be more real-life project-oriented to get students interested in learning, but the students I work with need intensive structure and support; they aren’t good at independent learning. I wanted to provide a fun way for students to interact and participate in a class discussion in a safe way.  Last school year I heard about an app called Nearpod, and I’ve found it to be really fun and engaging for my students.

Nearpod allows someone to create a “presentation,” and then allows others to see it on their…

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* If you want to comment or reply anonymously

… just let me know. Most people I know don’t want their personal struggles in special education to be broadcast across the web, but you may have strategies, experiences, and successes that could be encouraging to others.   Just indicate in your comment that you want the post to remain confidential and I will remove all identifying information.  I will most likely refer to you as a reader, parent, teacher, or student.

* 2e case study #1: a wild ride

I met Kimmie when she joined my self-contained class as a kindergartner.  She came with quite a dossier.  Most of her young life had been spent in the foster care system; she was kicked out of a long list of day care centers because of her severe behavior problems; and her IQ was assessed in the 40’s.  She had a twin brother out there somewhere in the world of group homes.

My first impression of Kimmie: she seemed to be a feral child.  A cute feral child.  A feral child equipped with an engine set in 6th gear.  She didn’t talk much but made up for that in mileage around the room.  She exploded into my class with no apparent socialization or understanding of group life at all.  Had I not reviewed her history, I would have thought she’d been raised by tigers.  Other kids?  She viewed them as the enemy, for the most part.  They were in her way, everyone in the space she wanted to occupy for a moment or holding the materials she demanded.  She would bite if grabbing didn’t work.

My class was organized around predictable routines, consistent rewards and consequences with frequent praise; clear and high expectations; and FUN.  I figured that we should enjoy our time together,  so relationships were at the top of my list. I approached Kimmie with all of the above, but firm consistency and silliness were my best allies in her socialization process.  I found ways to slow her engine into 3rd gear, often with playfulness.

Patience, gentleness, and humor made the first chinks in her armor.  Kimmie smiled during her first week and then she laughed.  That laugh!  It rang through the classroom!  It echoed in the hallway.  I’m surprised the entire school didn’t hear it.  I knew we were going to be fine.  Kimmie and I played our way through through social skills, reading, and math.  Every activity was kept short and sweet, leaving her with a desire for more.  In that dismal dossier of hers, someone had described her as having “street smarts,” but as I watched her lightning quick responses, I could see more than a (remarkable) ability to survive.  In fact, I could see a really sharp mind at work.

With glee and that raucous laugh, Kimmie quickly learned the “system” in my class.  She was handsomely rewarded for her efforts.  She discovered that it was much more fun to play school than to run like a wild child.  She learned to read very quickly.  I had to keep reminding myself that she was only 5.  Kimmie became the proverbial sponge, albeit a sharp-tongued sponge, soaking up every nuance, displaying a facility for learning that was miles beyond her IQ scores.  Kimmie wanted me ALL to herself, so social skills remained more challenging.  But what a gutsy learner she was.  She had her hands in every science experiment, never gave up on areas of interest, loved all our field trips, and laughed her way through it all.

I discovered that she did NOT have literal street smarts as we ventured into the community on walking field trips to restaurants.  She approached each street corner as a challenge: how quickly could she dash across a road?  So we held hands and she developed restraint.  I will never forget a trip to a posh seafood restaurant.  The owner gave free rein to my squad (bless his heart!) and Kimmie was soon sampling every sort of sea creature.  She never met a food she wouldn’t try, never met a button or knob she wouldn’t push, never met a rule she wouldn’t stretch to its limits.  In short, she was a delightful dynamo.  I loved her.

To speed ahead, I paired her with a buddy from a regular classroom, she started spending time in that class (still laughing but anxious about this process), and in fourth grade, was out of my room and in the mainstream of education.  Her IQ was retested, she scored in the superior range, and was placed in a program for gifted kids.  She did well for the rest of her school career, with a few glitches here  and there.

To this day, I love my unconventional, laughing, and adorable Kimmie.  She’s a mom with her own girl who runs wildly through stores and drives HER teachers a little crazy.  Kimmie is a twice exceptional person, a survivor of abuse and poverty, a brilliant woman with a laugh that will make your day.

* Twice Exceptional Kids

This post is the first of a series describing the challenges and solutions for children who are labeled “twice exceptional” or “2e.”

What does “twice exceptional” mean?  These students are gifted but also have a disability, such as dyslexia, high functioning autism, or attention deficit disorder.  There is no single special education “label” for 2e kids.  They may be labeled by a disability, such as Learning Disabled or Autism Spectrum Disorders.  They may identified as gifted.  And they may not be labeled and/or identified at all.  Twice exceptional children are both under-identified and under-served.

What challenges do 2e kids face?  The 2e child often struggles with feelings of anxiety, discouragement, “stupidity,” and frustration.  Both the regular classroom environment and special education setting can be a poor fit for twice exceptional students who need both remediation and stimulating instruction.  These 2e kids may act out in a classroom as a result of the discrepancy between their giftedness and learning challenges, or they may try to blend into the background, hoping not to be noticed.  Such a student may be able to solve complex abstract problems but be unable to write a complete sentence.  They may develop anxiety about going to school, especially over subjects related to their processing weaknesses.  Many of these kids are working twice as hard as their peers at school, holding it together during the school day only to fall apart when they get home.   And then they still have homework to complete!   Young twice exceptional students cannot make sense of their struggles any better than their teachers (and sometimes, parents).

What challenges do parents and teachers of 2e kids face?

Parents first:  Think about parenting a child with average abilities who is also hyperactive, learning disabled, or on the autism spectrum.  Now add superior intelligence to the mixture.  What do you get?  A handful!  Toss this into a school environment and you usually get misery.  Parents may be as confused as teachers about why their child is struggling.   They may react with the same distress as their child.   Now let’s suppose that you have somehow navigated the world of 2e and finally have some sense of your child’s needs.  How do you convince the teacher that your non-reading child is gifted?  How do you explain that this disruptive child is cooperative and pleasant with their neighborhood friends?  How do you pay for private evaluations so that the school will recognize your child’s giftedness?  Do you also pay for private tutoring  so that your child will learn?  Or do you let your child “fail” so that they can be identified as disabled?  Do you become “pests” to the classroom teacher for continually trying to help the school understand your child’s unique challenges?  How do you help your child with their nightly tears and morning struggles?  You may often feel alone, a voice crying aloud in the wilderness.

What challenges do teachers of 2e kids face?  “What are 2e kids?”  “What are you talking about?”  Despite educational research of twice exceptional students that predates the 1970’s, many teachers have little understanding of this dual exceptionality.  This is true for special educators as well.  Twice exceptional kids present serious challenges for educators.  It can take time to assess and determine the special gifts and weaknesses of 2e kids.  There is a reason that so many of them “fall between the cracks”: their strengths and weaknesses may mask one another.  This is especially true of gifted kids with learning disabilities.  They may even appear average and receive average grades at school.  As mentioned above, teaching 2e kids requires a fine balance between remediation and appropriately challenging instruction.  This can be extremely difficult in a large group setting.

The following video from the Your2eTV on YouTube proves a short overview of the twice exceptional student and their needs.

In the next post, we’ll look at examples of 2e kids from my own teaching experience.

If you have experiences and opinions related to this topic, please share them.  If you request, I can delete any identifying information before approving your comments.