TOP Sports T-ball League starts

August 31, 2012 by cpehrson

TOP Sports T-ball League is starting on September 10th and going through October 15th, weather permitting. Games will be held on Mondays from 5:30-6:30 p.m. at the Smithfield softball field at Forrester Acres in Smithfield, Utah, 500 West 100 North.

The cost is $15.00 per person and registration is required.  Contact Erica Lundahl at 435-563-1574, ericajl74@q.com or Emily Larsen at 435-563-9005, kjblarsen@hotmail.com to register.  Children from 3 years old and up with disabilities are invited to play on the League.  Parents, family, and friends are encouraged to come and cheer on the T-ball players.

The TOP Sports program is a collaborative partnership made up of Logan and Smithfield City Parks and Recreation programs, the Center for Persons with Disabilities, and parents of children and youth with disabilities.  TOP Sports offers activities throughout the year for children with disabilities and their families to participate in, including basketball, soccer, bowling, swimming, and art classes.

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Let’s keep the main thing the main thing.

August 30, 2012 by JoLynne Lyon

Dr. John Copenhaver

Dr. John Copenhaver

In the next month, the CPD will wrap up its 40th Anniversary events. In the spirit of the celebration, we invited John Copenhaver, Director of the CPD’s Technical Assistance for Excellence in Special Education, to reflect on his career in the field.

Here’s his retrospective:

I was seventeen years old when my high school psychology class took a trip to what was then the state training school in American Fork, Utah.  It was 1964 and “special” education was not very special.  Parents of children with severe disabilities were counseled by doctors and clergy to take their child to the state hospital saying, “it will be better for them and your family.” Individuals with disabilities did not have the same civil rights as others.

I did volunteer work at the state hospital for the next three years and met a wonderful little girl by the name of Gail. She was five years old at the time.  Gail had severe physical and cognitive disabilities and she was placed at the hospital by her parents when she was just a baby.

I know it might sound funny, but even though Gail never uttered a word, we seemed to communicate on a different level. She smiled when I came to feed her. It was quite simple with Gail, it was a communication through heart and spirit.

I was able to get to know her mother and father. They encouraged me. She passed away at ten years and I was able to be part of the service. We visit her gravesite whenever we are in the area.

In those days, the state hospitals were overcrowded, lacking educational programs. They followed a medical model of treatment. The facilities were outdated and depressing. Residents lined the perimeter of the buildings in diapers, rocking back and forth with very little stimulation.

Because of Gail and others like her, I went on to the University to pursue a career in special education. No one in my family had ever attended or graduated from higher education.  I worked full time and went to school full time.  I couldn’t have done it without the support of my wife, Kathy, who went on to become a wonderful second grade teacher. I was determined to make a difference in the lives of children with disabilities.

The same year I began my special education journey, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed and outlawed major forms of discrimination against racial, ethnic, and religious minorities and women. About the time I graduated from college, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Education of All Handicapped Act (EHA) passed and opened public school buildings to all children with disabilities.

My first job in special education was in Elmo, Montana on the shores of Flathead Lake.  Elmo was on the Flathead and Salish Indian Reservation. Special education teachers in the state and throughout the country were provided training on the “Individualized Education Program” (IEP). We invented how the IEP should work. I taught in special education classrooms for the next eighteen years in various school districts in Montana and helped develop over one thousand IEPs.  It was very gratifying to work with parents and children with disabilities. Each child was unique and valued. Between 1975-1990, it was all about physical access, procedural safeguards, and developing appropriate IEPs. During that time, I was blessed to serve as a special education teacher, school psychologist, and special education director.

In 1990, I took a leave of absence from my job in Montana for a position with Mountain Plains Regional Resource Center at Utah State University.  Dr. Glenn Latham was the director when I arrived. Since that time, I have experienced the great fortune of working with and providing technical assistance–or advice on how to enhance special education and meet its legal requirements–to numerous state special education directors across the country, including the BIE.  I have been at all 183 BIE schools in eighteen states.

From 1990-2012, special education started to change.  State complaint investigations and due process hearings increased, and attorneys became part of the educational landscape.  Accountability became a buzzword after the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 2004.  Every State in the country was required to submit a State Performance Plan (SPP) focused on 20 performance and compliance indicators.  Part C has 14 indicators.  Every February, the State is required to submit an annual performance report (APR) that reports the progress of each indicator. IDEA has created an accountability system that involves the IEP for the student, the SPP for the State, and the APR for the school district.  Data, accountability, disputes, and fiscal issues begin to overshadow the focus on the child and their IEP.

In the 1990s and before, the barriers were attitudes and discrimination. Today the barriers for special education are excessive regulations and bureaucracy. Data and accountability are important, but it has been carried to an extreme, at the expense of serving children.

Despite the challenges we currently face, there have been numerous accomplishments over the past thirty years in special education.

  • We now have a zero reject policy for children with disabilities in public schools;
  • Parents take an active role in their child’s special education program;
  • Children with disabilities are viewed as general education first;
  • The “inclusion” movement has provided increased involvement in general education for children with disabilities;
  • We are using “people first” language out of respect;
  • We have eliminated inappropriate language such as “retardation”;
  • Infants and toddlers with disabilities now are entitled to services;
  • There is more accountability at the State and school district levels;
  • Response to Intervention (RtI) systems are getting to at-risk children earlier, before they are placed in special education.

I could go on with more accomplishments we should all be proud of, and continue our efforts to improve programs and services for children with disabilities. This effort should always include families and community.

As I move toward the end of my career, I hope the pendulum starts to swing back to a focus on each child and their IEP team, making sure to always keep the main thing the main thing – children with disabilities and their unique needs.

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How does Hollywood depict people with disabilities in films?

August 29, 2012 by cpehrson

When was the last time you watched a movie featuring a person with a disability in a main role?  Were you pleased with the way the actor depicted the disability?  Did you feel it was an honest portrayal of how someone with that disability would have responded to the events in the movie?

The Turner Classic Movies channel is taking the month of October to examine how Hollywood is showing people with disabilities in films.  The movies will be shown each Tuesday evening throughout October at 6:00 p.m. MST.  Each night’s feature will explore particular aspects, themes, or types of disability, such as blindness, deafness and psychiatric or intellectual disabilities. In addition, one evening of programming will focus on newly disabled veterans returning home from war.

Over 20 films ranging from the 1920’s to the 1980’s will be aired.  They include such classics as An Affair to Remember with Debora Kerr & Cary Grant (1957), A Patch of Blue with Sydney Poitier (1965), Charly with Cliff Robertson (1968), and The Miracle Worker with Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke (1962).

The Projected Image series is a valuable opportunity to view the movies we all know and love, to see them from a different perspective and to learn what they have to say about us as a society.

Go online to view the film scheduling.

(This story was first published in the OPTIONS Sept/Oct 2012 Newsletter.)

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Free online training on T-Coil technology for hearing aids

August 28, 2012 by cpehrson

The Utah Assistive Technology Program (UATP) will present a FREE online interactive training, T-Coil: A hidden benefit to hearing aids, on Wednesday, September 12, 2012 from 3:00 – 4:30 p.m. 

This free training, presented by Mitch Moyers from the Utah Division of Services to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, will cover a feature that many hearing aids have, but are often ignored, or unknown. Many people are not aware they can have this feature included as part of their hearing aid, or are not familiar with the technology.

This training will cover how a T-Coil benefits the hearing aid user and what accessories are available to promote better hearing and access to hearing aid users. Bluetooth may be all the rage, but the T-coil has long been a cheap and reliable technology for many users.

Mitch Moyers is currently the Outreach Program Manager at the Utah Division of Services to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, where he also oversees the assistive technology program. His duties include research for new, emerging technology for Deaf and Hard of Hearing consumers. With the rapid advance of technology for hearing-loss in the market today, Mitch hopes to be able to make sense of it all!

In order to participate, you will need a computer with high-speed Internet access. If you are interested in participating please RSVP by Friday, September 7, to Storee Powell via email storee.powell@usu.edu, or call 435-797-7412. Participant instructions will be emailed to you.

If you are a screen reader user please contact Sachin Pavithran at 435-797-6572 or sachin.pavithran@usu.edu, no later than Monday, September 10 to make arrangements to participate via phone. If you need any other accommodations in order to participate in the training please let Sachin know by this date also.

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Seclusion and Restraint: safe learning from a parent and administrator’s point of view

August 27, 2012 by JoLynne Lyon

photo of Norm Ames

Norman Ames

The following is a guest post by Norman Ames, a former administrator of special education programs. He is the current associate director of Mountain Plains Regional Resource Center, located within the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University.

My son, Levi, is 6 feet tall, 175 pounds, and has autism.  Although he is considered to be on the mild end of the so-called spectrum, he has his moments.  My wife and I started to notice these “moments” as he was turning three years old; unpredictable temper tantrums, screaming, scratching, biting, throwing himself on the floor seemingly without any concern for hurting himself or others, suddenly bolting into the streets…as his parents, watching these moments was terrifying.

There would be times when we would have to literally wrap our arms and legs around his body in order to keep him safe from hurting himself or others.  At age three and having qualified for special education services we enrolled Levi into a developmental preschool program at our local public school.  Almost immediately we became introduced to something called, “The Basket.”  The veteran preschool teacher clearly loved her work and was very experienced.  We respected her experience and training and were agreeable to the use of physical restraint while he was in the classroom – after all, we had to restrain him at home and we certainly did not want Levi to hurt himself or others while at school!

The Basket hold is a restraint technique that involves having the child sit on the floor with legs stretched out while the adult sits or kneels on the floor behind the child.  The adult uses the weight of his or her upper body to lean forward against the back of the child while holding the child’s arms at the side, applying forward pressure and positive control over the child, essentially immobilizing him or her.  Levi’s teacher used this technique as part of a larger, strategic plan for behavior modification.

Not only did the Basket provide a way for the teacher to prevent Levi from any further aggression, it also served as a “punisher” for inappropriate behavior.  The plan called for positive reinforcement of appropriate behavior and punishment for inappropriate behavior.  We learned that the punishment portion of the plan involved the use of the Basket (physical restraint) and also the use of Time-Out (seclusion).  After one year of this preschool program, Levi’s incidents of biting, scratching, and head-butting were reduced significantly.  For Levi, it worked.

For other students, results have been different, if not tragic.

In July 2009, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan sent a letter to Chief State School Officers addressing his concern over testimony heard by the Education and Labor Committee of the House of Representatives.  The committee held a hearing to “examine the abusive and potentially deadly misapplication of seclusion and restraint techniques in schools.”  Secretary Duncan stated that he was “deeply troubled” by the testimony and affirmed that the first responsibility should be to “…make sure that schools foster learning in a safe environment for all of our children and teachers.” He then encouraged each state to “…review its current policies and guidelines regarding the use of restraints and seclusion in schools to ensure every student is safe and protected…”

Leading up to the Education and Labor Committee hearing, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted a month-long research and information gathering project in February of 2009.  Results provided to the Committee as part of the hearing including several case studies that are quite disturbing.  Ironically to my wife and me, one such case involved the use of the Basket hold, which our son Levi experienced.  In this case, the teacher took the student to a time-out room, engaged him in the Basket hold, and the boy died.  The cause was not specified in the findings, but the teacher who initiated the Basket hold testified that she thought he was just “playing dead” after she released him from the hold. Another case involved a child suffering bruising and post-traumatic stress disorder after teachers restrained her in a wooden chair with leather straps – described as resembling a miniature electric chair – for being “uncooperative.”  The GAO summary gave examples of other cases resulting in injury and even death to children as a result of the use of seclusion and restraint.  While severe cases such as these can be considered statistically rare, I am sure that no one would agree that even one instance of harm or death is OK.

So this begs the question, can the absolute safety of children in schools be guaranteed without the use of some kinds of seclusion or restraint?  As a school administrator myself, I know that there are no guarantees except for homework and school lunches; absolute safety cannot be guaranteed.  There are too many variables in the business of education and the supervision of children.  Any business that relies on humans must realistically plan on some mistakes.  The challenge is reducing those mistakes to as close to zero as possible.

As I stated earlier, Levi is now much larger than he was when we agreed to the use of physical restraint and seclusion by his preschool teacher.  In no way would either my wife or I, or his current teaching staff, be able to put him into a Basket hold now.  Thankfully we don’t need to do anything like that at this point for him.  We are lucky.  But there are parents and school staff who are responsible for the safety (first priority, according to Secretary Duncan) and teaching of students who put themselves and others at risk on a regular basis.  So we have to ask, is seclusion and restraint a necessary component to the process of educating students in our schools?  If so, how should it be implemented?  Who decides what kinds of practices are acceptable?  Who should be allowed to implement such practices and what kind of training do they need, if any?  Who provides the training?  Do parents get a say?  Where is the liability?

From the chair that I sit in, both as a parent of a special needs child and as a school administrator, I certainly have my own answers to these questions based on my own personal and professional experience.  As evidenced by the findings of the GAO analysis, there is no federal guidance from which states are designing guidelines for local districts.  Therefore, the burden of determining appropriate practices and ensuring that learning occurs in a safe environment rests squarely on the shoulders of the school staff, the parent, and the child – in other words, the Individual Education Plan Team.

Parents come to the IEP planning meeting knowing their child best.  They need to feel safe in sharing their ideas, concerns, and hopes about their child.  They need to be brave in disclosing to the educational staff what works at home and what doesn’t.  Professional staff and other IEP team members need to listen to the parents as well as the child.  Professional staff also need to be heard and trusted in this process.  They will use their training and experience to draw from and give input.  They need to use any and all information available to them, including school based evaluation data and parental input to help in the problem-solving of the issue.  The two members of the team most concerned, typically the parent and the teacher, may have to be willing to adapt, compromise, and be open to other ideas in order to work out solutions.  It’s a process.

So, in the absence of state and federal guidance around Seclusion and Restraint, take comfort in your own ability to determine what is appropriate practice alongside your IEP team members.  As long as each member of the team has the best interest of the child at heart, it will work out.  In my son’s case, this is what we did.  As he enters his sophomore year in high school this year, we are scared, excited, anxious and hopeful – all the same feelings we know his school staff are feeling.  We take comfort in that.

Norman Ames is a 1996 Alumni of USU’s School Psychology graduate program.  Before coming to the Mountain Plains Regional Resource Center he worked in Utah and Washington state public schools as a school psychologist and Administrator of special education programs.  He has been married for 24 years and has four boys.