Dear Special Education Teachers,
I hope you are all taking time off this summer to rest, relax, and rejuvenate. You should be sipping something out of some variety of tropical fruit with a little umbrella in it for all the hard work you do during the school year. But when you're done with that, here's a resource listing of teaching tips for working with special needs students!
The Ultimate Guide to Special Needs Teaching: 100+ Resources and Links.
Happy Summer Reading!
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Dear Special Education Teachers,
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
After my last post about how movies portray urban education, Christina emailed a link to a MAD TV clip that made me laugh out loud. It's called, "Nice White Lady." Enjoy! Thanks Christina
Monday, June 23, 2008
Now that my public schools are out until August, where will I get blogfodder? Where? Where?
Ah yes. I will get it from my dear googlers. As I mentioned before, I am fascinated by how people find my blog. Some randomly come to the blog by typing in “ugliest girl in school” or “you sit on a throne of lies!”. Google is a strange and magical thing.
Someone recently found my blog by googling “Movies all school psychologists should watch.” Movies, now that I can do over the summer. To my knowledge, and correct me if I’m wrong, there is no movie about a school psychologist. There are school counselors who pop in and usually a) make a difference or b)are crazier than their clients. The latter is a very popular “twist” that is so cliché it’s no longer twisting.
I sometimes imagine what School Psychology: The Movie might look like. One would definitely have to fast forward over all the hours of looking over special education paperwork for the good bits. No one would say, “Remember that Oscar ™ winning moment in which the school psychologist loses it because they can’t find any records anywhere even though the child has been in special education for 10 years?”
But I digress. Back to movies all school psychologists should watch. I must warn you, my taste is movies is not shared by people who don’t enjoy sarcasm or movies that are meant to be dramas but are actually comedies (i.e. Footloose). With that caveat, the movies I recommend for school psychologists involve the following themes:
1) Dance is the key to overcoming adversity
Mad, Hot, Ballroom – Documentary about NYC kids learning ballroom. So. Friggin. Cute. I actually cried on several occasions it was so moving. It has these adorably awkward 5th grade students trying to dance and in doing so develop a sense of confidence and camaraderie. Precious.
Take the Lead – Hollywood adaptation of Mad, Hot, Ballroom. AWEFUL. I loved it and all its awfulness. It pales in comparison to the actual documentary, but it has some good dancing and Hollywood cliches to mock. I mean, Antonio Banderas stars in this film. ‘Nuff said.
2) White woman uses radical teaching method in the ghetto (such as getting to know her students!) Lives are transformed in one semester!
Dangerous Minds – A classic tale in which Michelle Pfeifer uses her military training to reach a group of delinquent students. I admit, I’ve never seen this film. Is that wrong? I feel like I’ve seen it from the preview. I actually never rented it because I think the “White-as-Savior” story is sketchy and simplistic. Feel free to chip in if you think this one is worth putting on my Netflix or you can think of another worthy teacher movie. That is your official summer homework, fellow school psychologists. And....go.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Now that it’s summer break, I have time to do those pesky little things that get shoved to the bottom of the to-do list. I took my car in for an oil change and was informed that I needed a full service that would cost $395. I smugly said, "the warranty should cover that." She said, “Okay, let me just check my computer, clickity-clack clickity-clack, right, your preventive maintenance warranty expired when your car turned 50,000 miles and clickity-clack your odometer is at 50,325.” Awesome. The good news is you can extend your maintenance program another year for click-click-click$2650. That’s the good news?!?
I explained to her I already bought a very expensive 4 year extended warranty, but then she said that it didn’t cover prevention, only mechanical failure. I asked her, “So if I wanted my brakes checked, that’s not covered. But if I was on the highway and the brakes went out, as I was careening towards a guard rail over a cliff my last thought could be that my brakes would then be covered.” She said, straight faced, “Yes. They would be covered in that situation.”
I got to thinking, this is how a parent might feel when I present to them my assessment for special education findings that their child isn’t "behind enough" to qualify for services. In special education, you don’t get services for prevention, only failure. Sorry, your child is only one grade level behind in reading, so the law doesn’t recognize them as “disabled” yet. No resource support yet. Sorry, your child is depressed, but not depressed enough under state and federal law to be “disabled” so they don’t get any services under special education. That would be like going to the dentist and having them say they wouldn’t clean your teeth because technically, there aren’t any cavities yet.
We are waiting for our children to fail enough to get help, meanwhile, some are metaphorically heading toward the guard rail with no brakes and gingivitis. Okay, mixed metaphors and drama aside, I hope our school district makes strides toward the Response to Intervention model next year, so we can change the way we allocate services to all students in need, even those who don’t “qualify” for help.
And if you see me on the highway, rest assured I did get my brakes checked. Because I do believe in prevention in theory and in practice.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
My last week of school was this week. I had lofty goals of meeting with each of my caseload of counselees and processing the end of our work together. I have about 10 students I work with weekly at my school site, and each one has made strides in their therapeutic goals. They have reflected on their behavior over the course of the year. Some have accepted consequences of summer school. Most have made friends. They have learned how to deflate bullies. They have survived their first year in middle school or gotten ready for their first year of high school. They have looked eagerly at me and asked, “Are you coming back next year? Can we still meet?” This is the stuff of Chicken Soup for the Soul.
Except my final serving of Soul Soup actually burned my tongue and spilled all over my lap on my last day.
One of my students has struggled all year with fighting. He has been in and out of juvenile hall all year. He gets suspended. He hates school. His attendance in counseling is about 50%. On the days I got him, we built rapport and he opened up. On my last day, I saw him and said, “Great! You’re here! I’ll come get you after lunch.” He smiled and agreed. I was preparing myself for internal accolades about how we would connect and reflect on the year and I would give wonderful anticipatory guidance for the summer. He might reflect on his choices and we would have a powerful therapeutic moment together. Then, I heard a ruckus that woke me from my soulful journey down future memory lane. He was punching out a student in the cafeteria. Then, he ran away and never came back to school. A few of my other students were gleefully watching, saying, “Dr. Bell! That was hella tight! Did you see that?”
So much for my helping of Soul Soup, and my dreams of tying a pretty little bow on a therapy box. But as one of my supervisors told me, “Do you best, and let go of the immediate outcome. You never know what will be therapeutic in the long run.” Maybe when my boy returns next year, and I welcome him back with a smile, that will be what he needs, not a pretty little pre-planned therapy box. Stay tuned.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
This next post in the series on Psychoeducational Assessments (Background History, Testing Observations, Intelligence/Cognition, and Visual-Motor Integration,) has been extraordinarily daunting for a number of reasons:
1) I have a hojillion actual psychoeducational assessments to complete before my darlings all leave school for the summer.*
2) Every single area of “processing” is so much more complex and multidimensional than it seems at first glance.
3) Low scores on measures of “Auditory Processing” can sometimes not be due to “Auditory Processing Deficits” but rather attention, social-emotional distraction, second-language acquisition, phonemic instructional casualties, motivation, hearing loss, etc etc etc.
4) An “Auditory Processing Disorder” is an umbrella term used by a hojillion* different professions in a hojillion* different ways. Sometimes, the diagnosis falls in the realm of a Speech Language Pathologist (especially when called "Central Auditory Processing Disorder", or CAPD), though a multidisciplinary approach is the best for these reasons.
With those caveats, here’s my best attempt. I’ll start with the “classic” cases I see as a school psychologist working under the guidelines for Special Education law. I’ll explain them like I do in my everyday job, to students and parents. It’s just what I’m used to.
Phonological Processing: This is the way the brain hears the sounds in words and is able to take them apart and put them back together again. For example, you use phonological processing to hear that the word “Cat” is three different sounds, or when I say three sounds (/c/ /a/ /t/), you can tell me that the word is “Cat.” When you have a “phonological processing deficit,” it can look like a number of other things, such as not hearing the difference between “card” and “cart.” So when a teacher is helping the student look at an unfamiliar word and says, “Sound it out!” it is very difficult because the student doesn’t hear the sounds the same ways as others. It can also be hard to remember which letters make which sounds. This is why it takes students with this problem longer to read.
Short-Term Auditory Processing (aka Auditory Working Memory):**This is the ability to hear and remember what is said long enough to do something with it. It’s the same process we all use when someone gives us a phone number and have to remember it long enough to dial it (without the benefit of pencil/paper or punching it in your cell phone), or doing mental arithmetic at the store. You also need your auditory working memory to listen to directions, especially multi-step directions, such as “Get out your book, turn to page 247 and start on section B.” Kids with auditory memory problems may get out their books and have forgotten what to do next.
Language Processing: Language processing can be subsumed under “Auditory Processing” for the purpose of IDEA definitions, but certainly is more in the realm of Speech and Language. Please refer to “Notes from the Speech Pathologist,” if it exists. What? It doesn’t? Okay, here goes, from a School Psychologist’s perspective: Difficulties with overall language processing can be as varied as taking a long time to come up with the word you need (“Lexical Access”) to not being able to make links between verbal concepts (“Abstract Verbal Reasoning”).
For example, a student with language processing problems might have a hard time coming up with answers to inferential questions, where the answer is not stated, but implied. This type of learning happens all the time in reading comprehension or listening comprehension tasks (e.g. Why do you think the character did that? What do you think will happen next? Who do you think is the bravest in the story?). If it wasn’t exactly stated that the bravest character was Judy, the student may not make the connections between all the other bits of information needed to make that assumption, like “Judy raced out of her house as soon as she heard about the crisis” and “Judy had a card up her sleeve.” Sometimes the student has difficulties interpreting the non-literal language, as in the “card up her sleeve” idiom. It does not explicitly say that Judy is brave, but one can infer it. This type of verbal reasoning can be impaired in students with language processing problems.
Overall, “Auditory Processing Deficits” are the hallmark of traditional “Learning Disabilities” sometimes referred to as “Dyslexia.” Contrary to popular belief, reading disabilities are not typically visual in nature (e.g. seeing “b” for “d”) but are typically a problem with the auditory processing channels. And as the length of this post suggests, the variations in what constitutes an “Auditory Processing Deficit” is not exactly cut and dry.
And if I ever want to finish my actual psychoeducational reports I need to write, I might want to look into abandoning the blog for Twitter, where there each post is required to be 140 characters or less. Somehow, ”Auditory processing is complex. It involves sounds, memory, and language” doesn’t really satisfy me.
*Hojillion (hoh.jill.eee.on). (Adj.) A large and exaggerated number somewhere between a hundred and a million, typically used at the end of the school year to purport an overwhelming sense of a ticking time table for work completion.
**Ug. Such a huge topic. So much overlap with other disabilities, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Distilling it to a paragraph makes me queasy, but here goes.
Monday, June 9, 2008
While waiting at the airport the other day, I overheard a mother saying solemnly to her friend, “Dillon is such a picky eater. AND he doesn’t like the tags in his clothing. I hope he’s not autistic.” Friend said, “You should have him evaluated.” I looked over at young Dillon, probably age 3, and he was happily playing with his sister, smiling, talking up a storm and laughing. I know it takes a village to raise a child, but I managed to hold my tongue from saying, “Show me a 3 year old who likes tags itching him and every food you put in front of him and I’ll give you a million dollars.”
The problem with certain disability awareness campaigns is that it makes parents paranoid. Parents are scouring their children’s developmental checklists and if there is a slight lag in anything, then the fear of a disability can take over. I don’t blame parents for wanting reassurance that their child is on track developmentally. I do empathize with difficult balance of appropriate awareness and the call for microscopic examination of children that is pervasive in the media (and sadly, sometimes in our own field).
I am reminded of a college biology unit in which we studied microorganisms. We were asked to swab a surface of our classroom and put it in a Petri dish to examine later under a microscope. To this day, I wish I never had such an up close and personal relationship with bacteria that lives on doorknobs. *gags to self* How could I have been so oblivious to the perils of opening doors?!? Look at all those little evil microorganisms just waiting to infect me! I’ll never open a door without a Haz-Mat suit again!*
Truth is, most are harmless. But when you put things under a microscope, you see things you normally wouldn’t see.
And what I saw as I waited for my flight, was a happy little normal 3 year old boy named Dillon whose mom probably caught an episode of Oprah in which Jenny McCarthy told her to send him to the developmental pediatrician at the first sight of any “autistic-like behavior.”
*I recently attended a Health and Safety seminar for my work and am now also paranoid of sneezes. They showed a sneeze up close in slow motion and it was disgusting. The national health standard for sneezing, just so you know, is to sneeze into your sleeve. Spread the word, not the germs.
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
So far, this series has addressed the following components of a Psychoeducational assessment:
1) Background History
2) Testing Observations
In this post, the psychological process of “Visual-Motor Integration” will be addressed. Loosely defined, visual-motor integration is eye-hand coordination, and is required for tasks such as writing and copying material, handwriting/cursive, pencil-paper tasks, copying from the board, and drawing. As the name suggests, the student can have difficulties with the visual aspect, the motor aspect, or integrating/coordinating the two together. Often students with such deficits can have even more difficulties when the task is timed (sometimes, this will be called “Processing Speed” on intelligence tests, but that can be a general term as one can slowly process auditory information too.)
Students with visual motor integration difficulties are often impaired in their ability to keep up with written work. It would be like using your non-dominant hand to write. You can do it, but it is mentally taxing. If you want to simulate this, go ahead and write left-handed all day (if you’re a righty). Also, get someone to hover over you and ask if you’re done yet and encourage you to hurry up because everyone else is moving on. Let me know how that goes!*
I am reminded of a student I worked with who was 13 at the time, and “refused” to do any written work. Upon testing him, he had a severe visual-motor integration deficit, despite above average intelligence. He couldn’t even copy a triangle, let alone take notes from the board with speed and accuracy. I can see why he refused to work. It’s better to look bad than dumb when you are 13.
I was presenting the results of this student's testing to the parent, school staff, and an outside therapist (the student had some emotional difficulties related to his poor achievement as well) and as I like to do, I showed them the picture of the triangle he was supposed to copy and then what he produced. His triangle was like a rectangle with one side missing, so the triangle would never connect if he continued the lines. The therapist gasped and said, “Oh my, it’s so phallic! Look what he drew. He took the triangle and made it phallic. Very disturbing.” And she went on and on with a psychoanalytic interpretation.
What was actually disturbing was that she missed the entire point. He had visual-motor integration issues and was trying to copy the triangle picture that the test developers made up. She will have to take up the obscene triangle stimulus with PsychCorp. In my head, I imagined them saying to her, “Lady, sometimes a triangle is just a triangle.”
*Most teachers, once they find out the student has a visual-motor integration deficit, will accommodate such that the student gets more time to complete written work, or the task demand is reduced for quality, not quantity. Teaching computer skills is also a good compensatory bypass strategy.
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