Cheryl M. Jorgensen, Ph.D. - Inclusive Education Consulting
"Ask Cheryl"
Here's your opportunity to ask us questions about inclusive education, curriculum development, effective change strategies, and more. Just go to the "Contact Me" page and submit your question there. Every month or so I'll feature a new question and my answer. I'll be sure to disguise your name and location.

November 2018

Dear Cheryl,

I work with a student who is included in social studies and science and I don't know how to make 10th grade books and other texts accessible to him. He reads at about the 2nd grade level. Can you help?

Speech Language Pathologist

Dear SLP,

I sure can! Let me start by sharing 6 principles of adapting materials:

1.Make sure that the essential content of the academic standards are represented.
2.Always have the un-adapted materials available.
3.Provide more than text-to-speech access.
4.Use symbols, pictures, animation, and sound to support comprehension.
5.Accommodate for vision, hearing, and movement difficulties.
6.Focus on removing barriers to full participation. Don’t simply provide alternate materials to be used in an alternate activity in a different setting.

With these principles in mind, you have 5 choices (not all mutually exclusive) for making grade-level text accessible for your student.

The first is to have the student LISTEN to the text using a text-to-speech option in Microsoft Word or a specialized program such as Read & Write, Kurzweil, Bookshare, or an iPad or Android app. Obviously your student would need to have grade-appropriate listening comprehension skills in order for this option to be appropriate.

Second, you can order lower reading level informational texts through these sources: 

Ablenet Curriculum Materials
Don Johnson Literacy Starters and Core Curriculum -

Third, you can use a text-leveling app called Snap and Read Universal. This  app has the following features:
• Reads accessible and inaccessible text aloud
• Works across Google Drive, email, websites, Kindle Cloud Reader, and PDFs
• Works offline
• Dynamic Text Leveling
• Study tools
• Annotation
• Translation into 100+ languages on Chrome
• Data for reading level and usage
• Bibliographer
• Shows Readability

Fourth, you can do a Google search to see if there are free adapted materials available from websites such as these: 

The most effective search terms are:

NAME OF THE BOOK or TOPIC + adapted + modified. For example, I found lots of adapted materials for Charlotte's Web and To Kill a Mockingbird by using that search method.

Adapted materials for unit

Chapter summaries

Re-written text in PPT format – several versions

Boardmaker symbols and photos of TKAMB characters

Background knowledge videos and websites

And fifth - after you have exhausted the first 4 options, is to create an adapted book or chapter "from scratch." Here are some tips for simplifying text and adding picture or symbol support.

First, determine your student’s reading level
Determine what symbols (e.g., photos, line drawings, Google images, cartoon clip art, Boardmaker) symbols you might use to enhance your student’s understanding of the text.
Remember the rule: DO NOT ADD PICTURES TO TEXT THAT YOU WANT YOUR STUDENT TO DECODE. Enhancing text with symbols can help students with comprehension of text and their participation in read alouds. It does not help students learn to “sound out” or learn to read sight words.

Guidelines for Simplifying Text:

1. Breakdown compound and complex sentences. Remove transition/connecting words and make them into 2 separate sentences.


Unsimplified: A shiver convulsed Joel, though the sun was still bright and hot, and he began to move woodenly toward the spot where he had left his clothes.

Simplified: Joel shivered.  He walked to the place where he left his clothes.

Text excerpts from: On My Honor, by Marion Dane Bauer

2. Watch the pronoun use. Try not to have too many pronouns where it may not be confusing who/what it might be referring to. Make sure that the pronoun has what it is referring to right before it or in the preceding sentence. When using character names/dialogue, try to not have too many: he, she, they, we. Use them but sparingly—try to use the actual name while not making it so mechanical. This might make it easier to follow the conversation.


Unsimplified: Maybe Tony could still be saved if he got help.

Simplified: Maybe Tony could be saved if Joel got help.

3. Simplify vocabulary words. Keep some rich vocabulary words to explain and teach. But, will want to keep it in balance to allow time for teaching all of the other text concepts/connections. When simplifying vocabulary words, also consider the vocabulary on the student's AAC device.

Unsimplified: Joel fell over and vomited again. 

Simplified: Joel fell over.  He threw up again.

4. Consider the student’s background knowledge. Clarify concepts/terms that students may not have the background knowledge to understand. For example, a student who has never ridden a bike before may not know the name “Schwinn.”  Try to clarify when possible.

Unsimplified: Tony said, “I get dibs on the Schwinn!"

Simplified: Tony said, “I want the Schwinn bike!"

5. Clarify figurative language


Unsimplified: Joel gave Tony a high five, taking in his friend's face as he did.

Simplified: Joel gave Tony a high five.  Joel looked closely at Tony’s face.

6. Delete information that is not necessary to understanding the main theme(s).

There is so much involved with teaching comprehension—there are a lot of balls to juggle for any student. It may be helpful to choose a few to juggle for the very beginning reader to make them more successful.  It is important to target and give instruction at a level a bit beyond where the student is. Try to do this while maintaining the integrity of the story.


Unsimplified: It took only about ten minutes to reach the edge of town. On their way past the school, Tony stuck out his tongue in the direction of the sixth-grade classroom where they had spent last year. Joel, deciding he might as well get into the spirit of the day, followed suit, though he liked school well enough.

Simplified: It took ten minutes to reach the edge of town. The boys rode past their school. Tony stuck out his tongue at the school. Joel did the same, even though he liked school.

Here's some of the original text of a short story by Langston Hughes called "Thank You Ma'am."

She was a large woman with a large purse that had everything in it but hammer and nails. It had a long strap, and she carried it slung across her shoulder. It was about eleven o’clock at night, and she was walking alone, when a boy ran up behind her and tried to snatch her purse. The strap broke with the single tug the boy gave it from behind. But the boy’s weight and the weight of the purse combined caused him to lose his balance so, instead of taking off full blast as he had hoped, the boy fell on his back on the sidewalk, and his legs flew up. the large woman simply turned around and kicked him right square in his blue-jeaned sitter. Then she reached down, picked the boy up by his shirt front, and shook him until his teeth rattled.

This text would be challenging for any student! Here's the text simplified:

Mrs. Jones was a large woman with a large purse that had lots of stuff in it. It had a long strap and Mrs. Jones carried it on her shoulder.  

A boy ran up behind Mrs. Jones and tried to grab her purse.  

The strap broke when the boy grabbed the purse. The boy fell on the ground and Mrs. Jones kicked him in his butt.  

Finally, many students benefit from having picture or symbol support to help them comprehend text. Here's an example of a few sentences from the book "Sarah, Plain, and Tall."

Google Images is your friend. At the beginning of a unit or just before students are going to read a book in ELA, build a picture/symbol library. Not only will you be able to use it to create adapted text like the example above, but you'll also be able to create flashcards, picture/word choices for cloze sentences, and topic boards like that depicted below.

Best wishes for a great school year!



August 2015

Dear Cheryl,

Although my son is fully included in a 5th grade general education class I am not happy with his lack of access to what is being taught. His team seems to have a good handle on how he can work on things like managing moving his belongings, moving around the classroom and school, and communicating about social things, but I don't really see him learning academics. Can you help?


Concerned Mom

Dear Concerned Mom,

Your concerns are very common and not only felt by parents but also by educators. People seem to "get" the social benefits of inclusion for students with complex support needs but are unsure about how they can learn academics. Here are a few thoughts and suggestions for how his team can make his inclusion meaningful in all ways.

1. Presume his competence to learn! Often one of the barriers to students' participation in academic instruction in the general education classroom is that they just don't think that students CAN learn academics. I beg to differ! Even if a student can't yet communicate that they are learning some of the general education content I think that it is the "least dangerous assumption" to assume that they can and are! My colleague Anne Donnellan put it this way (back in 1984):

 “The criterion of least dangerous assumption holds that in the absence of  conclusive data, educational decisions ought to be based on assumptions which, if incorrect, will have the least  dangerous effect on the likelihood that students will be able to functional independently as adults.” 

And for me, the least dangerous assumption is to PRESUME COMPETENCE for these 5 reasons:

First, when we expect students to learn, they are more likely to do so. Pretty simple and this has nothing to do with disability.

Second, traditional assessments of the intelligence of people with complex support needs - particularly those who do not use natural speak to communicate - are very flawed and often tell us more about what people can't do than what they might be able to do with support. If someone has assessed your child and told you his or her I.Q. is "low," I would just ignore that information and ask what needs to be done in order to assure that your child has full access to high quality instruction in the general education classroom.

Third, we now have over 40 years of research showing that an increasing number of people with "severe intellectual disability" labels show they are more competent than ever thought possible WHEN they have a means to communicate and are provided with good instruction. If just one person whose I.Q. was measured at 40 (or 50 or 20) shows that they are smarter than that number would indicate I think we have to question the validity of I.Q. measurements for anyone.

Fourth,  if we assume that someone can't learn x, y, or z, and we are WRONG about that assumption we have done a terrible disservice to that person.

And fifth, even IF we are wrong about someone's ability to learn, that is not as dangerous as the alternative.

2. My second recommendation is that your son's IEP team read my article (on the Resources page) called "Inclusion is More Than Just Being In." It describes a participation planning process that determines the supports needed by a student to fully participate in general education instruction based on the Common Core State Standards, taught by a general education teacher in a general education classroom. Since I wrote that article I've updated the planning forms and they (Form 1 and Form 2) are on the Resources page also.

3. Suggest that your son's team read the Guidelines for Creating Accessible Instructional Materials that is on my Resources page. In this document are many links to already adapted or modified books and other texts, descriptions of apps and software pages that can be used to make instructional materials (both literary and informational text) accessible to students, and instructions for making "from scratch" adapted books and other materials.

I would also remind your son's team that making instructional materials accessible for students with disabilities is required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 2004).

I hope these suggestions are helpful and good luck.



November 2014

Dear Cheryl,

We have a student who is included in all general education classes in 10th grade. So far she hasn't shown that she is getting anything we are teaching her. Wouldn't it be in her best interest to be in our "Life Skills" class instead?


Concerned Teacher

Dear Concerned Teacher,

I understand where you are coming from. When students don't currently show progress we wonder if we shouldn't make a big change in their educational program. I would like to offer my point of view, developed over the last 29 years.

I think all teachers have had students who led them to that “ah-ha” experience that helped them realize why they got into teaching in the first place. The students were eager, curious, funny, stubborn, persistent, or just plain nice kids. It happened for me back in 1992. I was doing some school reform and inclusive education work with a newly built high school in southern New Hampshire. On my first day at the school, I met two incoming 9 graders, both of whom had pretty significant disabilities. Let’s call them John and Rob. John looked terrified as he made his way down the busy hallways. He didn’t use his voice to communicate, but cobbled together some gestures and signs to try to make himself understood. He seemed unable to read and his most recent three-year re-evaluation revealed a 42 I.Q. He had some compulsive behaviors and was very anxious most of the time. He was shy and withdrawn, clumsy and overweight. The second student I met that day couldn’t have been more different. Rob appeared to be thriving in 9 grade, giving high-5’s to just about everyone he met as he walked through the busy hallways between classes. He seemed cooperative and was a real jokester. He had recently learned to use a communication board and was a whiz at spelling, although he, too, did not use his voice to communicate. In fact, I heard a classmate tell him “Hey, slow down, slow down, I can’t keep up with you!” I learned that he was an assistant manager of the football team and he wore his team jersey proudly. When I looked through John’s cumulative file, I saw a pretty typical educational history for a student with his “developmental disability” profile. He had been in all self-contained classes through 8 grade except for art and physical education. His IEP goals focused on pre-academic skills (e.g., matching, 1:1 correspondence, letter identification); as well as on self-care, vocational, and life- skills. He spent most of every day with other students who had significant disabilities and participated in Special Olympics. Rob’s educational program was quite different. He was included in all general education classes. His IEP contained goals and objectives that reflected the essential elements of the general education curriculum, as well as objectives related to reading, managing his belongings, participating in extracurricular activities, and communication skills. In speaking with John and Rob’s parents, I saw starkly different future expectations for these young men. John’s parents thought he would live in a group home, work in a sheltered workshop, and spend most of his time with other people who had significant disabilities. Rob’s parents expected him to eventually live away from home, perhaps with roommates who might get free rent in order to provide some support to him. They thought Rob might work in the family pizza business or perhaps in a fitness facility since he liked sports and was so gregarious. They hoped that the friendships he had developed in school would continue on into adult life and that those friends who stayed in the area would hang out together doing what other 20-somethings did in their spare time. When I talk about these two students in workshops, I ask people to come up with a hypothesis about why their educational programs and futures look so different. Several people always say “Well, it looks like John is a lot lower functioning than Rob.” And there it is. Across the U.S. , only 16% of students who are labelled as having an intellectual disability are included in general education classes for most of their school day. Over 50% of students taking alternate assessments do not have the assistive technology (including augmentative communication) that they need in order to demonstrate what they really know. Our judgments about students’ intellectual capacity affect every decision we make about their educational programs, their communication systems and supports, the social activities we support them to participate in, and the futures we imagine. OK, time to fess up. There actually weren’t two students at the high school. Just one and his name was Amro Diab. Amro had been in self-contained classes his whole life before moving into 9 grade. A key special education teacher who served in the role of Inclusion Facilitator at his new high school, together with some folks from the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire, developed Amro’s educational program based on the idea of presuming his competence. They believed that with the right supports, Amro could learn the essential elements of the general education curriculum, communicate effectively, have a full social life based on shared interests with his classmates, and graduate to an inclusive adult life in the community. This notion of presuming competence tends to be a deeply held belief and those who hold it don’t need I.Q. or other test scores to back them up. For them, and for me, it’s the “least dangerous assumption” I can make about any student, any person. As I’ve thought more deeply about this idea over the last 30 years – and yes, there have been students who’ve challenged my beliefs – I’ve identified five reasons why presuming competence will always guide my work. First, people’s expectations matter. When teachers expect students to do well, they do even better than expected. Second, I.Q. and other tests that purport to measure human capacity are terribly flawed. They usually tell us what students can’t do rather than what they might do if they had good instruction and high quality supports. Basing a student’s whole educational career and future on a test score just seems fraught with potential harm. Third, a growing body of research shows “unexpected” abilities in people who had been identified as intellectually disabled when they were provided with a means to communicate. Think Hellen Keller or Larry Bissonnette. Fourth, to presume incompetence could cause irreparable harm to our students if we are wrong. And finally, even if we are wrong about a student’s ability to learn and to communicate in ways that are on par with his classmates without disabilities, being wrong about that isn’t as dangerous as the alternative.   



June 2014 - addendum

Dear Website Friends,

I've been helping a mom and her daughter's team with inclusion this year and in preparation for next year, one of her daughter's teachers asked "how it was determined that Ashley will benefit from inclusion and how we'll measure that benefit. I thought her answer was just fabulous and she has given me permission to share it with you.

"What I can do is give you my perspective as Ashley's mother.  Ashley started school as a "Guided Learning" student and remained in that class until 5th grade.  (She did get to experience some time in class with her typical peers through morning meetings and specials.). During IEP meetings we, Ashley's Dad and I, were often asked about our vision for her and what we wanted her school program to look like.  We knew we wanted something different than what she was experiencing. 

We know Ashley does not have to "earn" being included or prove herself worthy of it or demonstrate skills to be given the opportunity.  She deserves to be educated along side her more typical peers as well as those differently able with high expectations for her academic achievement and social involvement.  She deserves to be perceived as competent with knowledge, skills, talents, aptitudes and dreams.  It is her legal right and it is her civil right. 

Measuring progress as a direct result of inclusion - I have a couple of thoughts.

If you asking about the team's progress in implementing appropriately differentiated instruction, then in my mind this can only be measured when the team has achieved a fidelity of implementation of 80% or higher. 

If you are asking about administration's progress in supporting inclusive education practices then looking at things like professional development opportunities, supply acquisition, protected planning time, number of special educators per grade, and case loads could be a measure.

If you are asking about Ashley's academic progress then looking at goals/objectives derived from the core curriculum and her successful attainment of them that could be a measure. 

Perhaps looking at her alternate assessment portfolio would give additional information.   

If you are asking about the progress being made towards having a desegregated school community that embraces diversity of all kinds, values students of all abilities, and creates equal opportunities then the culture and social norms of the school could be a measure.


Kathy Campbell"

June 2014

Dear Cheryl,

We are working with a student with Down syndrome who will be transitioning from 4th to 5th grade next year. He is a beginning reader and doesn't have any writing skills. He does talk but about 50% of it is not understandable. Does it really make sense to include him in the regular English Language Arts class?


A Speech-Language Pathologist

Dear SLP,

Great question for this time of year! I would say unequivocally "Yes!"  Here are some suggestions for supporting his participation and learning.

1. Make sure that he has a way to communicate about what will be going on in the general education class - academic and social subjects. He should have a way to fulfill the following communicative functions or purposes:

a.  Expressing feelings and sensory states
b.  Requesting
c.  Making choices
d.  Asking questions
e.  Providing information
f.   Answering questions
g.  Making comments
h.  Refusing

If your student does "not communicate in ways that are commensurate with his same-age classmates without disabilities, then you ought to have an augmentative and alternative communication evaluation done. Reassure your team that providing him with "augmented" ways to communicate will not decrease his verbal communication and it may increase it.

2. Provide him with books and other text materials that are fully accessible for him. If you check out the "Resources" page of my website you'll find a sample book that I adapted for this student I'm working with this year - Sarah Plain and Tall.  Remember, Google is your friend! Enter these words into the Google Search bar and you might find other websites with adapted materials:

"TITLE OF BOOK + adapted"
"TITLE OF BOOK + modified"
"TITLE OF BOOK + accessible"

Here are some other websites to search for accessible books so check these first to find out if someone else has already created accessible versions of the 5th grade literature. 

Tar Heel Reader is a growing free library of accessible, beginning level readers for students of all ages. Exemplar Text Supports A collection of open-source, accessible texts that were created to provide students with significant cognitive disabilities with access to the content of the Exemplar Texts listed in Appendix B of the Common Core State Standards at a complexity level that will help them develop reading skills. Bookshare provides print materials for individuals with print disabilities, such as blindness, low vision, a physical or reading disability that makes it difficult or impossible for them to read standard print.New York City Schools and Baltimore City Schools have adapted books and topic board available across a variety of subject and academic content areas

3. Take the time to plan the supports he'll need during ELA. I suggest first using the "Inclusive Common Core Unit Planning Organizer" - Parts II and III - that is on the "Resources" page of my website. The "Routines Based Support Plan" will help you determine the supports your student will need during those recurring routines that happen over and over again in the ELA class such as whole class discussion, partner reading, vocabulary study, spelling, journal writing, guided reading, and so forth. After you have completed that, then use the Unit Planning Form part of the organizer to think about what your student's priority learning objectives will be for each unit of study or novel. Again, check out on the "Resources" page of my website a completed one that my consulting student's team completed for Sarah Plain and Tall. 

4. Figure out the supports that the student needs for writing.Some possibilities include:

a. Have someone scribe for him
b. Have him plan what he wants to write using Inspiration , convert the graphic organizer to the "outline" format, and then support him to build sentences from there.
c. Use an app such as Abilipad or Sentence Builder .
d. Use word prediction software such as Co-Writer
e. Use Clicker 6 software or apps

For the student I am working with, we are actually using a variety of strategies and tools given the writing demand and situation.

5. I definitely support the idea that he should have 1:1 or small group reading instruction to build his fundamentals. Schedule that at a time when he will not miss out on core academic instruction. I know that is a real challenge because everything is important. A student I'm working with now gets this instruction during the first half hour of the day when all students  go to different classrooms for reading instruction.

6. As an SLP you should begin to plan for how you will "push in" to the Language Arts (or any other) class in order to support your student. We know that pull-out language therapy has some serious drawbacks so you can support him in the classroom in any number of ways - to ask questions, to read with fluency, to identify main ideas from a story, and to expand his vocabulary.

7. And finally, remember that learning to read and enjoying reading is a functional, life skill for every student. A very articulate Mom recently posted an essay on her blog about the benefits of learning Shakespeare for her son. Definitely words of wisdom.



November 2013

Dear Cheryl,

Our school is just now beginning to think about including our students with autism in general education classrooms. We have ten students with an autism label in Kindergarten through 5th grade. Where do we start?

Sincerely, An Elementary School Principal,

Dear Principal,

I am so glad to hear from you and to know that you are committed to including students with autism in general education classrooms. This is actually the perfect time of year to begin taking steps toward having all students with autism as welcomed members of age-appropriate general education classes next fall.

Step 1: Bring together a team of folks representing your key stakeholders and designate them as your Inclusive Education Leadership Team. I would suggest including a general education teacher from each grade level, all special education case managers, your speech-language pathologist and occupational therapist who provide services to children with autism, a couple of paraprofessionals, your reading specialist (or a Title I teacher), your building or district special education administrator, and a couple of parents.

Step 2: Develop a plan for keeping all parents of children with and without disabilities informed of your plans as they evolve. This might include giving a monthly update at a PTA meeting, holding special information sessions for parents, and certainly, talking with the parents of the children with autism about the "whys" and "hows" of inclusive education.

Step 3: Identify a few key books, research articles, and videos that everyone on the Leadership Team will read/watch together. I would suggest You're Going to Love This Kid! by Paula Kluth for the book, Including Samuel and We Thought You'd Never Ask for the videos, and a soon-to-be-published booklet I wrote for the National Education Association called Including Students with Autism.

Step 4: Visit an inclusive school. There is no substitute for seeing inclusion in action. Since I know that you live in Wisconsin I would suggest contacting the Fox Prairie Elementary School in Stoughton. They have been designated as a "knowledge development school" by the SWIFT project which is funded by the U.S. Department of Education as a school where all students are included in general education and all "siloed" resources from general and special education and from Title I are deployed to support all students' academic and behavioral success. The SWIFT project has lots of great resources on their website as well.

Step 5: Identify which general education classroom each student will join in September 2014. Provide monthly professional development workshops for those general education teachers and other members of your students' educational teams. I would focus these workshops on 7 key topics: 1) the rationale for inclusive, 2) inclusive education best practices, 3) collaborative teaming and new roles for special educators as supporters of students' participation in general education instruction, 4) peer supports and cooperative learning, 5) universal design for learning and assuring access to all instructional materials, 6) planning curricular and instructional adaptations for students with intensive support needs to encourage their full participation, and 7) positive behavior interventions and supports. If you have students who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), workshops for those students' teams would be important as well. You might look for online webinars, conferences (one sponsored by the Colorado PEAK Parent Center is super, workshops offered by the Wisconsin Department of Education, or contact the Wisconsin TASH chapter to get recommendations for great workshop presenters (

Step 6: Plan next year's school calendar so that each student's educational team has one hour of common planning time weekly. During these meetings each team will talk about upcoming lessons and units and discuss the supports that the students will need in order to fully participate and learn. You might use the instructional planning forms that I developed that are discussed in this article:

Jorgensen, C.M., & Lambert, L. (2012). Inclusion means more than just being “in:” Planning full participation of students with intellectual and other developmental disabilities in the general education classroom. International Journal of Whole Schooling, 8(2), 21-35.

Step 7: Give each student's team a day's worth of planning time during the summer to get a head start on instructional planning. It will help all the students start the year off positively if the team feels as if they can "hit the ground running" on Day 1 with a couple of week's work of materials and other supports already planned.

Step 8: Write each student's IEP so that his or her goals and objectives are aligned with the Common Core State Standards  and so that special education services are delivered within the context of general education instruction in the general education classroom. Go to this website to view a description of a webinar I did on this topic and then contact Cat Jones at the Univ. of New Hampshire's Institute on Disability ( to find out how to access the recorded version. 

Step 9: Create your staffing schedule to maximize the time that special education teachers and related service providers are IN the general education classroom co-teaching whole group lessons, working with small groups, or providing side-by-side support to individual students.

Step 10: Encourage each student's parents to host at least one summer get-together for a few children who will be in their child's classroom. A low key play date in the backyard with one structured group activity goes a long way to help children feel as if they are "part of the group" even before the new school year begins.

The first few weeks and months will be filled with challenges and daily questions from staff so be sure that you are a daily presence in those classrooms providing leadership, encouragement, and tangible supports so that everyone can have a successful year.

Best of luck!




October 2012

Dear Cheryl,                

Although we’ve been back at school for over a month now, one of my students is having a very difficult time adjusting to this new grade. It seems like we are back to “square one” and we are all getting very discouraged. He is hiding in the bathroom, refusing to do his work, lashing out several times a day, and we are at a loss. Help!

Sincerely, A High School Guidance Counselor

Dear Guidance Counselor,

I can really empathize with you and although I don’t know your student I do know there are lots of possibilities for what the source of the problem is – not feeling well, sensory overload, frustration because the work is difficult, and so forth.  I do have two ideas and related strategies that you might consider. Your team will need to discuss them, maybe gather some data, and decide which (if either!) of these ideas might make sense. I’d recommend that you pick a couple of strategies at first –preferably those that have the highest team agreement rather than an idea that one or two people like but the rest of the team aren’t really committed to.

Relationships, Relationships, Relationships!

I would put lots of energy during the next few weeks into the development of your student’s social relationships. I know that you know how important it is for all students to feel welcomed and secure on the social front. Otherwise all the positive behavior support plans and curriculum modifications in the world won’t help at all, right? First, make sure that there aren’t any things standing in the way of your student feeling like a welcomed member of the school and his classes. ·         Does he ride the regular school bus? Is he enrolled in general education classes? Is his seat in each classroom right alongside his classmates’? If he is supported by a paraprofessional, does she give your student lots and lots of space…to get to the next class, to choose where to sit at lunch time, to hang out with other students of his own choosing?  

Second, find out what your student’s interests are and then support him to join an extracurricular activity that matches those interests. If you aren’t sure what might really get him excited, pick an activity that lots of his classmates are members of as a place to start. Have a chat with the advisor of that club or activity, describe your student in a holistic way (e.g., shy, keen on computers, loves music, uses a communication device, can be stubborn, likes being “just one of the guys"), and then figure out how the other students in the club can provide any supports that the student needs, before thinking about whether he needs an adult to attend the activity too.

Third, after doing numbers 1 and 2, if social relationships are not happening and your student seems as unhappy as ever, he may need you to take some very intentional steps to help create “community” for him. I worked with a student some years ago who sounds an awful lot like your student. We asked a bunch of students if they would like to come together with Brandon to help figure out what was standing in the way of him really being part of the social fabric of the school. We got an energetic student teacher to advise the group, and they used a wonderful book called “Seeing the Charade” by Tashie, Shapiro-Barnard, and Rossetti to guide them. It’s my experience that the group really does require an adult facilitator. They could do “getting to know you” activities, activities exploring various aspects of diversity (“How are we alike? How are we different?”), and help figure out what seems to be standing in the way. Brandon’s group told us that his paraprofessional was a big barrier to his having natural interactions with his classmates. Your student’s group could also plan out of school activities for the weekends. It is important NOT to frame this as “we are recruiting people to be Brandon’s buddies” but rather “Brandon would like to invite students to join this group because he and other students we know are interested in how to build better connections and friendships based on shared interests for all students in your school.”

Functional Behavioral Assessment and Positive Behavior Support Plan

If the strategies described above just aren’t paying off in your student having an easier time of it, maybe it’s time to conduct (or to update) a functional behavioral assessment (FBA). IDEA does not require FBAs but encourages schools to do them when students have challenging behavior that hasn’t responded to the schoolwide prosocial behavior supports that are implemented with all students. Here is a link to the requirements of the law  and a pretty comprehensive guide for how to do one

The nice thing about the principles behind FBAs and Positive Behavior Support plans is that they don’t place the problem solely within the student (i.e., “He’s just doing it on purpose”) but rather acknowledge the interplay between the complexities within each one of us, the environment, and the difficulties that so many of our most vulnerable children have at school. This is a wonderful article about people with challenging behavior It won’t give you the 1-2-3 steps to do, but may help you and the team keep the big picture in mind.

So, to sum up…be sure that your student is experiencing a welcoming school environment, support him to join some student activities, consider intentional community facilitation, and then consider doing a comprehensive FBA to delve more deeply into the factors that might be at play in your student’s difficulties with school. 

Good luck! Cheryl    


JUNE 2012

Dear Cheryl,

We offer a 4 week summer program for our high school students with autism and other developmental disabilities. It consists of tutoring in reading, writing, and math as well as working on some community living skills like making store purchases, using public transportation, and so forth. Some of our parents aren't happy with this and want a more typical summer experience. I'm not really sure what would be appropriate for these students and "doable" given our tight resources? Do you have any ideas?


C.K., Special Education Coordinator

Dear Sped. Coordinator,

What a timely question! When students with disabilities are included in general education classes and other typical activities during the school year the way to extend those experiences to the summer is first to ask yourself this question: "What do students without disabilities typically do during the summer and how might I support our students with disabilities to do the same thing?" Although there are some differences depending on where students live (rural versus suburban versus urban communities) I see high school students working, hanging out with their friends, going to the beach, and maybe attending a camp related to one of their special interests. I've worked with many schools that partnered students with disabilities with classmates without to work at jobs like house painting, babysitting, doing light maintenance at a health club, and doing farm work. Many typical camps, town "Park and Rec" departments, and community agencies like the Boys and Girls clubs are eager to offer work and leadership development opportunities to the youth in their communities. In many cases, the school special education personnel provide some initial support to the student but the goal should be to rely mostly on natural supports in the environment. These summer learning opportunities are not only fun for students but can help students maintain their reading, writing, math, communication, cooperation, and self-advocacy skills in the most natural environments possible.

Good luck!


MAY 2012
Dear Cheryl,
I'm concerned about the impact that having students with more significant disabilities will have on my general education students. Don't they draw resources and attention away from the rest of the class?
A Concerned Teacher
Dear Concerned,
Your is a common question and I can best answer it in three ways. First, let me reassure you that the research - and there is over 30 years of it - shows that the learning of students without disabilities is not adversely affected by having students with disabilities as part of a heterogeneous general education classroom. It's important to focus on that word "heterogeneous." A truly inclusive classroom is one in which there is a "natural proportion" of students with and without disabilities. So in a class of 25 students, there should be about 3 or 4 students with disabilities and certainly no more than 1 student with an intellectual disability or other intensive support needs such as autism. If the ratios are heavily weighted towards children with disabilities, then that's not really an inclusive classroom! Furthermore, the research shows that students without disabilities have more positive attitudes towards people with disabilities when they grow up with and go to school with kids who have disabilities.
Second, there are a number of recent research studies showing that when whole schools or districts embrace inclusive education as a schoolwide effort - with strong leadership from the principal, lots of professional development for teachers, the availability of common planning time for teams - the academic achievement of all students rises! You might want to check out this article for a description of schools engaged in these inclusive reform efforts.,-Belong,-Learn.aspx 
And third, your question about students with disabilities taking attention and resources away from the other students really makes me wonder if YOU are getting the support that you need. As you may know, students with disabilities educated in general education classes are entitled to supplementary aids and services to enable them to learn and those aides and services also includes resources for the classroom teacher such as training; special education personnel who come into the classroom to share the teaching load; assistive technology for students who have difficulties reading, writing, and communicating; and so importantly, common planning time. When I consult with a school district I say that the IEP team of students with "intensive" support needs must have 1 hour of common planning time weekly.
So to wrap up, I hope that you will sit down with the other members of your students' IEP teams and your administrators and have an honest discussion of what supports YOU need in order to teach all the children in your classroom well. You deserve no less and neither do they!
Good luck,
MARCH 2012
Dear Cheryl,
We have a 6th grader with Down syndrome on our team and we are wondering what the long term goals is for her. We're just not sure that a continued focus on academics makes sense for this girl.
Shouldn't she be focusing more on "life skills?"
Thank you,
B.R., Case Manager
Dear B.R.,
The long term goal for any student, including one with Down syndrome, is to be college and/or career ready by the time she leaves school. Your team should develop your student's yearly IEP goals based on that long term goal and remind themselves of the long term goal frequently.
Desired educational outcomes for students with Down syndrome include:
  • Become literate – read, write, communicate, compute.
  • Acquire lifetime wellness habits (e.g., hygiene, nutrition, exercise, stress management, sexual health, drugs/alcohol).
  • Develop work habits, earn money, manage money.
  • Learn about the world – science, social studies, etc.
  • Develop artistic talents (e.g., music, art, drama, dance).
  • Be proud of being a person with Down syndrome and be able to advocate for herself.
  • Learn to cooperate; acquire and sustain friendships.
  • Develop ethics, caring, and responsible citizenship.
  • Learn to drive and/or get around one’s community.
Years ago, the possibilities for people with Down syndrome were severely limited: congregate living, sheltered work or “day habilitation” activities, and social relationships only with other people with disabilities. In 2012 the possibilities for people with Down syndrome are limited only by our expectations for them and our creativity in providing them with the support they need to access those opportunities. One of the most exciting possibilities for students with intellectual disabilities is to go to college! The website provides resources related to this topic.
And how do we realize these goals for students with Down syndrome? Thirty years of research shows that students’ academic achievement, communication skills, social relationships, and post-school outcomes (i.e., living in the community, being maximally independent, being financially secure, the number and quality of their social relationships) are positively correlated to the amount of time that they spend in a general education classroom.
So keep up the good work of including your student fully in a rich academic curriculum.
Best wishes,
Dear Cheryl,
I teach in an intervention program with high-risk 4 year olds. I have a sweet little friend who has the label of “developmental delay” and has begun getting served by resource daily. He is very affectionate and has recently begun trying to touch my breasts when he hugs me. When I try to stop him and tell him not to it turns into an awful meltdown. I've mentioned it to the parents, but nothing has changed.  Is there a better way that you can think of to re-direct my little guy without causing so much upset? I made him a social story book at the beginning of the year. Do you think a page about appropriate touching would be a good idea? Do you have any other ideas? I didn't realize how many children I was going to be advocating to get services for... my goal is to get things taken care of before they start the kindergarten next year.
Thanks - T.M., special education teacher
Dear T.M.,
Yes, I think using a social story is a great idea! Try it out and see what happens. I also wonder if you might ask yourself (and the other members of this little one's team) WHY they think he is doing it. Having a hypothesis about the causes and functions of this behavior will really help you tailor supports in a more precise way.
Some questions you might ask/discuss are:
- Are there certain times of the day when he does this?
- During certain activities?
- BEFORE or AFTER certain activities?
- What need is being met by him engaging in this behavior?
Curiosity about anatomy/bodies?

Dear Cheryl: I'm a special eduction teacher at an elementary school. Our administration pays lip service to inclusion, but really isn't committed to following through. What can I do to to help them see that this issue is so important? Thanks - B.R., special education teacher.
Dear BR: How frustrating! What we know from the research is that inclusion is much more than students just being "in" a regular education classroom - it's really welcoming all children into our classrooms and schools and providing students and staff with the supports they need to be successful. Here are two ideas for engaging everyone in the conversation about why and how inclusion works best for all students.
Idea #1: Establish an Inclusive Education Implementation Team. This team is comprised of key stakeholders such as your principal, special education coordinator, general and special education teachers, related service providers, and a parent/guardian. The team's role and responsibilities include:
  • Model inclusive values and practices.
  • Identify key issues/concerns
  • Develop a plan for building consensus by researching options, reading literature together, engaging in critical dialogue, visiting other schools
  • Draft, vet, finalize, and share with whole faculty a Mission Statement re: inclusive education.
  • Create needed infrastructure and oversee an implementation plan for inclusive education.
  • Identify and use data management systems to evaluate the quality of student and team supports, and student learning.
  • Plan and provide job-embedded professional development.
  • Actively communicate with staff members, families, school board, community (internal/external stakeholders) regarding inclusive education.
Idea #2. Start an Inclusive Education Professional Learning Community (PLC). It's probably the case that everybody in your school has a different idea of what inclusion is, its effects on students with and without disabilities, and the resources needed to make it work. A PCL is a small group of people who commit to learning about an issue together. Members of a PLC might pick a book to read and discuss together (my Inclusion Facilitator's Guide; Paula Kluth's You're Going to Love this Kid!); they might do a literature search on inclusive education to find out what the research says; they might watch a video about inclusive education and discuss their beliefs and values about disability and diversity.
The first step to moving from "lip service" towards being a school that welcomes all children is the development of shared understanding about and commitment to inclusion. This doesn't happen overnight but both of these suggestions might help get you there.
Best wishes and good luck,
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