CEC 2019 saw some unusual weather in the Indianapolis area. The arrival of the polar vortex was not what most attendees were expecting when they were planning their trip this year! I happened to be speaking to a group recruiting teachers to Alaska and they were using the tagline “Alaska is the Hawaii of the North!” as on the first full day of CEC, Anchorage, Alaska was 25 degrees warmer than we were in Indianapolis and that doesn’t even count the wind chill!
Yet, inside the building, there were excellent ideas and presentations going on. As I prepared for the conference by reviewing the sessions, I was not surprised by the number of research-focused sessions. However, I was pleasantly surprised that the next three most prolific topics there were: Autism Spectrum Disorder/Intellectual Disability; Collaboration and Inclusive Practices; and Personnel Preparation. We are at a point in time where the ideas of inclusivity and awareness of how to support students with differing abilities are at the forefront of Special Education.
Within the context of inclusivity, there were a myriad of sessions describing how the simplest adjustments can bring about high levels of success for all students. The critical piece though in any movement toward true inclusivity is to ensure that the teachers and paraprofessionals are properly supported and trained in approaches which work for all students. Even when I was heading up a Special Needs Program in the 1990s, I remember the concern of teachers being “how can I help these students when I know nothing about their issues?” Back in the 1990s, we were mainly dealing with issues of ADD and physical issues like CP. Today, we see that there are more differing abilities which are not restricting our students from succeeding in classrooms. It is the lack of funding for holistic preparation for our teachers which is slowing us down. The irony is that the techniques which best support our students with differing abilities also are supportive of our neuro-typical students too.
How do we continue to move toward more inclusivity and a transparency in technology for students in the classroom. Teacher preparation is the first step. I am seeing many universities already moving toward courses which focus on inclusive pedagogies within their general education classes. This is not to say that there should not be Special Education classes. However, the awareness of how to work with a student on the autism spectrum is also good for working with the neuro-typical population. Simple things like pacing, verbiage, sensory awareness, and approaches to assignments are supportive of all students. We also need to recognize that there are students with differing abilities who may not be diagnosed. Understanding a variety of teaching techniques is important for those students too.
Another important take-away from the conference was the message that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach for working with students with differing abilities. The more we share approaches which work, the more we are able to adapt to the specific needs of our students. Using approaches which incorporate multi-modal learning along with including opportunities for sensory feedback better meet the needs of our students, but require proper training and support to be used effectively.
Due to the timing of this year’s conference, vendors found themselves with a decision as to whether to attend CEC or ATIA. Only about 5 vendors sent groups to both conferences. On account of that, I was not able to see the “Sidekick” from Ablenet in action. Thanks to my colleagues, Terri Griffin and Gabe Ryan, I was able to get some firsthand feedback. It seems like an amazing device which permits any user to use devices like a trackball or a standard mouse with an iPad. Thanks to the good folks at Ablenet, I will have one when it officially comes out later in the year and will be able to feature it in some of my AT Seminars. So look for a review of that in the coming months. While at CEC, I was impressed with the Talking Pen. I am doing a little more research with this device, but see many potential applications for our classrooms, including adding to making reading a more inclusive process.
If you were not able to attend either CEC or ATIA and would like to have me stop out and talk more to you and your staff, please let me know. I am back out on the road bringing AT Seminars and other sessions to districts throughout the country. By sharing what is working for us in the classroom, we are able to come closer to creating highly inclusive environments for our students.