Laurie, a high school girl with Down Syndrome, has presented our biggest transportation problem thus far for our district. Yet, I can say with a smile, that with teamwork and strategizing, Laurie can now endure a twenty minute bus ride without any commotion.
In brief, Laurie needed to be transported to a vocational/special educational school every day. Although we had a one-on-one aide assigned to ride the bus with Laurie, it didn't stop her from removing her shoes and whipping them at the football players in the back of the bus! Laurie would then call them names for the entire bus ride. We tried a variety of techniques and nothing worked. Laurie's mom even offered to ride the bus, but we felt there had to be another way to encourage Laurie to behave appropriately.
Then one day the answer was right before our eyes! While waiting for the bus, one of the football players was listening to country music and asked Laurie if she wanted to hear the song. When he gently placed the ear piece in Laurie's ear, a huge grin came across her face and she began moving to the music. The student let Laurie listen to the music for the entire bus ride and she was in her own happy world. The following day, we had music ready for Laurie and it worked! In addition, we discovered she loves to do word search puzzles.
When the CSE/IEP team determines that a student with special needs will benefit from a program outside of the school district, transportation needs to be addressed. The same is true if the child has to daily ride the bus to and from school. Some students with special needs won't need any special accommodations, and others students like Laurie, will need a plan in place to ensure the student's safety and the safety of the other students.
Here are some considerations when discussing transportation needs of a child with special needs:
- Determine whether or not an aide is needed for the bus. Some buses already have a bus monitor, but is there a need for an adult to sit with or near the special needs student? The need for an aide isn't always due to behavior, it could be for a physical need. If the CSE/IEP deems that an aide is needed, it should be included in the IEP.
- Train the adults on the bus. The bus driver, bus monitor if there is one, and the one-on-one aide all need to be trained on transporting students with special needs. The training should be upbeat and staff should be looking forward to working with all students.
- Utilize a behavior chart. Depending on the child's needs and personality, many students with special needs respond well to a behavior chart. For little kids, it might mean using stickers and for older students using tally marks. After so many stickers or tally marks, the child is given a small reward for good behavior. For a high school student with behavioral issues, a behavior contract could be utilized.
- Find out what the student enjoys doing. If the student has a special bag that contains music, puzzle books, a squishy ball, or whatever he or she enjoys while traveling, it can make all the difference in how the bus ride goes.
- Keep good communication with the parent. A parent needs to know that transportation is going well. Then on the occasion when there is a concern, it can be discussed and a new strategy can be tried if needed. If you only contact a parent when there is a problem, then it might cause the parent to be on the defense or feel hopeless.
- Determine which mode of transportation is most appropriate for the child. Some older students with special needs will travel better if they are with younger students. They don't feel intimidated or that students are staring at them. In some cases, a student just can't handle riding on a large bus and will need to be transported by a small bus or school vehicle.
As we discovered with Laurie, you might need to try a variety of things before you find a strategy that works. Keep your sense of humor and stay positive. Once you discover the right combination, transporting a child with special needs can be very rewarding. What types of things have you tried that have worked for your child?
Navigating the Waters of Placement in the Public School System
Your child was just determined eligible for special education services in your public school system. Sitting at an IEP meeting and listening to someone on the team list the array of possible placements for your child, with all their pros and cons, can be overwhelming. Who wants to make a decision that will affect your child’s life, based on a five minute snapshot of information during an already stressful situation? Wouldn’t it be an advantage to understand these placements before the actual moment in which you’ll make that decision? This article will do just that: identify and explain typical public school special education placements, along with their pros and cons.
Least Restrictive Environment
Schools are, by law (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 2004), required to provide a student with the least restrictive environment (LRE). This means that, to the extent possible, your child should be exposed to the general education curriculum and be placed with the general education population. The LRE is not specifically defined, however, because just as every child is different, so too will the LRE for that child be different. For the purpose of this article, we are going to presume that the public school setting is deemed appropriate for your child. Within that system there are many different types of placements. We are going to start with the one that has the maximum time with the general education population, and move our way back to the most isolated placement in a public school.
Mainstreaming is, literally, putting the classified student in the general education classroom with little to no accommodations. This can work if the general education teacher is able to work well with a student who has a disability. The student must be near grade level in that subject and able to conform for the most part to the rules of the classroom in order for this to be successful.
Inclusion has been the buzzword since the mid-1990’s. In an inclusion class, there are two teachers, one of whom is certified in general education and the other in special education. The two teachers co-teach. They both teach the entire class at the same time. The way they do this depends on the needs of the students. At times, they may teach the class as a whole, taking turns leading the lesson. At other times, the special education teacher may split the class or take a smaller group to reinforce the class work. The special education teacher also modifies the materials as necessary for the classified students. This may include class work, study guides and tests. Students who are in inclusion settings usually have lunch and electives (i.e. art or music) in the general education setting.
Some students require the support of a small group setting. A resource room is taught by a special education teacher. Usually, these students spend part of the day, including homeroom, lunch and electives in an inclusion setting. They go to the resource room for the subjects that they need the most help with. The students get more individualized attention and learn at their own level. The pace is usually somewhat slower than the general education classroom. Teachers are able to tailor lessons to the students’ needs. After the class numbers reach a certain amount, it is required by law that a paraprofessional be in the room for extra support. This number varies by the grade of the student, the classification of the student, and by state.
The classroom that provides the most support for the student is the self-contained classroom. In this classroom, the student is taught in a small group all day. Students in this classroom usually report there for homeroom and stay there for all academic subjects. They typically have lunch and electives with their peers in general education. The pace and level of the work in a self-contained classroom is tailored to the needs of the student. After the class numbers reach a certain amount, it is required by law that a paraprofessional be in the room for extra support. Again, this number varies by the grade of the student, the classification of the student, and by state.
More and more, students are spending there days in more than one of these settings. IEP teams are realizing that it is beneficial to these students to spend as much time in the general education setting as possible. Regardless of their placement, the goals and objectives of your child’s IEP must be followed. Hopefully, you now have a better idea of the options available to your child in the public school setting. Remember to come to your meetings prepared, and with an open mind. It is always your right to call another meeting in between your annual reviews if you believe it is necessary.