In Pursuit of the MSSE Deaf Plus Super-staff
As we have learned in class the question is when and not if we will encounter students with secondary disabilities. Consider this quite incredible statistic; according to the CDC in figures released in March 2013, one out of every fifty children will be diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (|\http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/50-american-kids-autism-latest-figures-article-1.1302872).It is impossible not to be impressed by the results of the three schools in Boston with regard to inclusion of students with special needs. Throughout his book Hehir makes vague references to qualities that seem to be shared by the exceptional teachers who work in these schools; they are mission driven professionals, thrive in a collaborative environment, are committed to professional development and are not afraid of working long hours.
However, because Hehir was primarily focused on the connection between leadership and inclusion, I found his book frustratingly thin on the ground when it comes to specific strategies that I could implement in the classroom. Many of us are just months away from embarking on our first student teaching assignment, so my concern was on the practical skill-set and knowledge we all need to become successful teachers of deaf and deaf plus students. With this in mind I set out to develop a hypothetical model of an MSSE deaf plus super-staff.
In their 2001 article, Essential Competencies For Teaching Students With Hearing Loss And Additional Disabilities, Luckner and Carter note that many teachers for the deaf have, "limited knowledge, skills, or experience with ...students who have additional disabilities" (8). In their opinion this creates a self fulfilling prophecy of failure which creates poorly prepared and overwhelmed teachers who dislike working with deaf plus populations. The authors surveyed 243 teachers with deaf plus experience and selected sixty seven essential staff competencies. Please read the full article, but for the purposes of the Wiki I have highlighted ten of the most crucial competencies below explaining next to each why I believe it to be worthy of special note. Having worked with folks with secondary disabilities for many years I was fascinated by the responses of the teachers and look forward to hearing what my MSSE class mates make of the article.
Top 10 list of Teaching Competencies
1. Use appropriate adaptations and assistive technology such as switches, adapted keyboards, and alternative positioning to allow students with physical and health disabilities full access to the core curriculum (12).
Why? Because Universal Curriculum Design really supports inclusion as we have seen in Boston.
2. Assist students in the use of alternative and augmentative communication systems (10).
Why? An inability to communicate needs and wants leads to frustration and behavioral problems.
3. Assess non-linguistic forms of communication (e.g. changes in respiration or body tone, facial expressions, laughing, crying) (13).
Why? A good teacher must develop a sixth sense in order to spot subtle warning signs in their students and address them proactively. I believe that this principle applies to all individuals with secondary disabilities not just deaf-blind populations. Many autistic students have great difficulty labeling feelings which can often lead to explosive behavioral problems.
4. Knowledge of the social/emotional aspects of individuals with learning disabilities, including social imperceptiveness, juvenile delinquency, and learned helplessness (11).
Why? Many individuals with secondary disabilities lack very basic social skills. They may stand out in a crowd and have limited awareness of personal boundaries. This creates cycles of rejection, low self esteem and despair. A teacher must work hard to break this cycle by building positive relationships with their students and modeling socially appropriate behaviors.
5. Monitor and evaluate program activities for the purpose of continued program development or refinement (10).
Why? A flexible approach to learning is needed and much trial and error may be necessary in order to find a desirable outcome. It is not realistic to "wait for the next IEP" to make changes.
6. Assess variables within specific environments that influence the learners use of hearing and make appropriate adaptations to enhance the learner's auditory functioning (e.g. curtains, carpeting, tile floors, concrete walls, ceilings, noise from air conditioners and TVs, chairs moving in a classroom, loud talking, public address systems in classrooms) (10).
Why? In class we learned that may individuals with ASD suffer from auditory and processing problems like Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD). This is akin to having somebody standing next to you with a megaphone and yelling directly into your ears. These type of environmental variables must be managed before they become an issue; remember, your students may not possess the skills to explain what is bothering them.
7. Plan, organize and implement individualized student programs appropriate to the cognitive and affective needs of the students with special consideration to use of reinforcement systems and environmental conditions (11).
Why? Structure (both in terms of schedule predictability and consistent approaches to teaching and behavioral support) is critical for deaf plus students. The importance of the environment is huge for deaf plus students! The superintendent of the O' Hare school in Boston related how an innocuous event like a change of bus driver can really pull the rug out from underneath a student with a learning disability. If a student exhibits sudden behavior changes, a teacher must put on his or her detective hat and try to figure out what is going on.
8. Integrate academic instruction, affective education, and behavior management (11).
Why? As stated in #4 many students suffer from low self esteem and learned helplessness. Affective education pays special attention to the feelings of the students helping them to set academic goals to build their self image and teaching them how to work successfully with their peers.
8. Teach students to use a variety of test-taking, study skill and organizational skill strategies (11).
Why? Teaching deaf plus students metacognitive and compensatory skills will create self sufficient problem solvers. Think visual strategies, graphic organizers, short study periods followed by a break, activating prior learning.
9. Design learning environments that are multi -sensory and that encourage active participation by learners in a variety of group and individual learning activities (10).
Why? A student with a learning disability may have great difficulties sitting through a lecture on the judicial system but may thrive on researching a famous legal case and acting it out in class.
10. Provide opportunities for the learner to learn from naturally occurring successes or failures (10).
Why? I assume that those who responded to the survey included this one to remind us that although deaf plus students may require extra support at certain times, an effective teaching strategy can work for everybody in an inclusive classroom. One of the most tried and tested approaches is allowing students the opportunity to learn from the natural consequences of their behavior. Whether positive or negative, first-hand experience can be a more effective learning tool than a hundred lectures. I hope that "deaf plus" will not be used as a negative label or to imply that students always require specialized attention; this would be both unfair and innacurate.
Hehir, T. with Katzman, L. I. ( 2012). Effective Inclusive Schools: Designing Effective Schoolwide Programs. John Wiley & Sons, Jossey Bass: San Francisco, CA.
Daily News. March 29th 2012. http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/50-american-kids-autism-latest-figures-article-1.1302872