Leading By Example

Leading By Example

Problem solving is such an important life skill. IEP teams are no stranger to problems… so what are we doing to model collaboration and problem solving for students? How are we involving students in the problems that we are trying to resolve?

“Every opportunity to problem-solve provides students with a chance to practice the important skills required to solve real-life every day problems.”

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Self-Care: Establishing and Supporting Healthy Roots

Self-Care: Establishing and Supporting Healthy Roots

“On the surface we can all probably agree that self-care is important. We might even be able to recite the Top Ten Self-Care Strategies. But I’ve learned that believing in self-care and knowing the tools aren’t always enough. Putting these tools into practice, establishing healthy habits, accessing the support and resources to maintain these habits…. these things are all about trial-and-error.

But, there’s something else at the root of the matter, something that keeps self-care from our reach and that perpetuates the experience of depletion for parents, caregivers, and teachers alike…”

A Lesson in Listening

“Whenever I choose to share a post, I worry a little and wonder how my ramblings and perspective may come across to others. I want this blog to be a place for honest conversations and perspective sharing, a space that open doors to communication and brings insight into the realities that others experience, and that promotes empathy and collaboration between families and professionals…..”

A Scrapbook for Special Education

“After over two hours of sitting at a table among dedicated team members, I could hardly believe the book we had written. This book of nearly 50 IEP goals outlined every hope and desire of one incredibly passionate mom, a mom who would not settle for anything less than the absolute best for her kid.

While the teacher and the therapists at the table struggled to imagine how any student would ever meet this many goals in one year, there was something special about that moment. We knew that this mom needed to see her hopes on paper. She needed us to experience the urgency that she felt every day as she imagined her child’s future….

Inclusion in the Church

Source: http://ministry-to-children.com/special-needs-seminar/

Churches often struggle with knowing how to support children and adults with special needs. They may be ill-equipped or just don’t know where to begin. Thankfully, there are a number of organizations out there that are committed to provide support and resources that support inclusion, education, and care.

However, I think that we are only beginning to scratch the surface of what it means to serve individuals with special needs within the church. Collaboration between special education professionals and churches is such an important part of this conversation!

What resources have you found that support collaboration between schools and churches?

Here are  a few organizations who have made it their mission to provide and develop special needs ministries:

Northwest Area Resources:

Bridge Disability Ministries: This Washington non-profit provides spiritual care, respite retreats, a mobility ministry, and guardianship services for individuals with developmental and physical disabilities.

Young Life Capernaum- Greater Seattle: Young Life Capernaum is a ministry for teens with disabilities in the Greater Seattle area. Through weekly clubs and camps, teens gain access to friendships, adventure, and acceptance. Capernaum ministries are also available nationwide.

Upward Bound Camp: This Christian-based camp located in Lyons, Oregon provides year-round educational and recreational activities and respite camps for teens and adults with disabilities.

National/International Resources:

The Inclusive Church: This blog provides a range of tools and resources to support churches with the development of special needs ministries.

Joni and Friends: This organization provides tools, resources, and training to support the development of special needs ministries around the world.

Snappin Ministries: This Christian non-profit organization provides opportunities for collaboration and mentorship to address the concerns and needs of parents of children with special needs. Their blog provides relevant tools and information and promotes discussions related to special needs ministry.

Special Needs Ministry Handbook: This handbook provides practical steps and methods  to implement a special ministry in your church.

Scream Louder, I Can’t Hear You

Imagine that you are in pain and no matter what you say or do, you are ignored. Would you continue to ask for help? Would you scream in desperation in an attempt to be heard? At what point would you give up or give in to your circumstances?

imagesCA08RGEMIf an infant is crying, a parent will do his/her best to identify and respond to what the child needs.The cry is a baby’s means of communication. As a child develops, behaviors become more complex. Sometimes a child needs attention and sometimes a child wants attention. As the child develops their voice, they must gain the skills to communicate in ways that are appropriate and effective.

Students with special needs often struggle to communicate effectively and to be understood by others. Deficits associated with their disability make this especially difficult. Some students struggle to speak in words, some use words differently, and some have only gestures. Behaviors are a clue that many professionals and parents struggle to interpret. Led by educated guesses, assumptions, and our best deductions, it can become an endless exercise in trial and error.

Functional Behavioral Assessments (FBAs) are a tool that allows us to examine what we know about a student and to analyze the function of a behavior. Behavior Intervention Plans (BIPs) expand upon this information by outlining strategies for increasing or decreasing certain behaviors as well as accommodations to support the student’s specific needs.

I can’t begin to tell you how many FBAs and BIPs that I’ve read that point to the underlying cause of a student’s behavior as a means for gaining attention. The suggested response is to ignore the behavior because giving attention may reinforce the inappropriate behavior. While I understand the reasons for this approach and I have seen when ignoring may be an effective strategy, I feel that ignoring is often misapplied or over-used and in some cases it becomes an excuse for professionals or parents to stop thinking or pursuing the underlying need that is driving the behavior.

In my career, I’ve done my share of ignoring. I’m ashamed to admit that there was I time when I reached that point of indifference, where I settled for the belief that behavior is that simple. I had been desensitized by the realities of working with kids who demonstrate challenging behaviors. Kicking and screaming just came with the territory. I had learned to tune it out, and no longer had that sense of urgency to calm a child in distress.

I think we have to be careful with how we interpret behaviors, paying careful attention to the child’s intention. Is the behavior an issue of motivation or is there a missing skill? I would argue that most of the time, kids with special needs genuinely need attention and they rarely want to be disruptive. Even when a behavior looks like defiance, there is often an underlying missing skill that if present would result in a more appropriate behavior.

Am I saying that adults should let go of all expectations and appease every desire? Absolutely not. But I think we must never ignore a child in distress and we must demonstrate empathy so that students begin to feel heard. This begins with moving past ignoring and opening our eyes and ears to hear the message.

Giving students a voice and the skills to advocate for their needs is perhaps the most important aspect of their development. If students have to scream in order to be heard, then maybe we’re missing the most obvious clue of all. Screaming is a flashing red light indicating that there’s an important message worth listening to. We must rid ourselves of the assumptions and beliefs that hinder our ability to do so.

When we choose to ignore a student in distress, I wonder what gets reinforced. Are we teaching kids that what they think or feel doesn’t matter… that they have to scream louder and longer in order to be heard… or that it’s better to be compliant or quiet than to have a voice that allows them to say what they really need?

I’m amazed by the courage and the resilience of students who have refused to give up and who continue to fight to be heard. Still I wonder how many students have given up, seemingly compliant and calm, yet screaming on the inside.…

Let’s Be Honest: Does Everybody Really Win?

I’m ashamed to admit that I’m a sucker for singing shows: American Idol, The Voice… any sort of talent show really. For me, it’s the stories of each contestant that pull at my heart strings. I love hearing about all that people have overcome, and I’m often inspired by the courage so many have found to take the risk to follow their dreams.

Last night’s show was deemed “Battle of the Sob Stories” by the Hollywood Reporter. There was a veteran who is a survivor of traumatic brain injury, another contestant who sings in spite of a speech impediment, and more than one victim of bullying. Every one of them sang beautifully and made it through to the next round of the competition.

But this time I’m left thinking about a not-so-uplifting story: a sweet young man who auditioned because someone who overheard him singing in the bathroom told him that he should try out for the show. Unfortunately, he wasn’t the talent that the judges were looking for, and he was left with a big “no.” He walked away seemingly discouraged and a bit confused.

The bad auditions aren’t anything new. I suppose they make “good TV.” Some who fall into this category are clearly hoping to be discovered for their talent as a different sort of entertainer. Others are looking for the thrill of being featured on national television. The remaining members of this group seem to think that they are genuinely talented and are heartbroken when the opinions of the judges does not match their own perceptions. Somewhere within these stories, there’s almost always a mention of a teacher, choir director, friend… someone who affirms their “amazing talent.”

In our “everybody wins” culture, parents and teachers are often concerned about the self-esteem and well-being of students and children, and rightly so. However, when every little accomplishment is affirmed and little (if any) real, specific feedback is provided, we’re guaranteed to be left with more and more “bad” auditions in the form of confusion, denial, and deflated self-esteem.

As parents and professionals in this crazy world, we must examine how our words may be interpreted and consider our role in shaping the identities of our future generation.

Everybody doesn’t win. That’s the truth.