Tagged with 'SPED Today'

2022 Year in Review Product Highlights

Gabriel Ryan, School Health Blog Writer and Contributor 

2022 Year in Review Product Highlights

As we head into the holiday season and think about gifts for others or products and tools to support your work starting out the new year, what a better time to revisit several products the School Health team has highlighted through social media this year. You may find the perfect gift, spark an idea that will enhance your learning, or encourage the success of students you support. All of the highlighted products are related to students with disabilities or Special Education supports, and can be found on the School Health website under the Special Education category. The Special Education category is broken down into the following nine subcategories: Sensory, Motor Skills, Augmentative & Alternative Communication, Speech Therapy, Switches, Computer & Tablet Access, Learning, Living Aids, and Positioning & Mobility.

You’ll find a category and link below from several of the products highlighted this year. Look for videos from Talkin’ Tech with Dr. Ray and some of my Access Angle blog write ups that relate to the products. I hope you will enjoy revisiting these products, videos, and blogs as much as I did!



Motor Skills

  • Handwriting- find pencil grips, slant boards, and hands on materials
  • Puzzles- letters, numbers, small knobs and jumbo knobs

Augmentative & Alternative Communication

Speech Therapy


  • Speech Therapy assessment and screening materials, fluency, articulation, phonology, workbooks and resources


Computer & Tablet Access

  • Keyboards and Mice- A variety of keyboards and Mice for all types of learners, including individuals with special needs 


Living Aides

Positioning & Mobility

Due to the multiple uses of some products, they may appear under more than one sub-category on the website.

Just a reminder to subscribe to SchoolHealth Special Education emails to stay in the loop on products and resources, here.

Wishing you all a safe, happy, and healthy holiday season!

Creating a Happy Holiday Season for All!

Creating a Happy Holiday Season for All!

By: Dr. Raymond Heipp


“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” We hear that phrase echoing from the radio throughout the month. It's interesting to now see some radio and streaming stations moving toward “holiday favorites” from November 1st on until the end of the year. A recent poll showed that many working adults believed that they needed another two weeks to be sufficiently ready for the holidays. “Black Friday” now starts earlier online (like, by weeks, on some sites) and we have “Cyber Monday” carrying on for a full week. Take all these things and add to them the excitement that can be in many environments, and one has the recipe for either an amazing season or a state of dread and overwhelm, effecting both neuro-diverse and neuro-typical individuals. How can we find ways to make this that amazing season?

First, start with you! Take time every day for yourself. Those who have heard me speak or read my blogs know that I am a big proponent of the “five-minute me time” on a daily basis. Taking just five minutes at the very beginning or end of your day can help calm your nerves and reenergize your body for all that life throws at you. Unfortunately, there is not an easy way to get the marketing of this season completely off our screens or out of our ears. Keeping a strong sense of self, staying with any exercise or stretching routines, practicing breathing, and having a nice cup of tea or coffee can assist in the body and mind being focused and dealing with life one moment at a time.

Next, bring the individuals with whom you work or live into focus. Start with the holidays that you and they celebrate. How can the ideas and essence of each of those holidays be emphasized?  If they are not celebrating a holiday which some of their peers are celebrating, how can that be explained in a manner that is accepted by them? What about those who will only celebrate the New Year at some point and do not identify with other holidays? We have to remember that it might be difficult to understand why a friend celebrates with a cornucopia or Christmas tree, when they celebrate with a Hanukkah Menorah.  Sharing the reasons behind these celebrations helps to create an understanding around the beautiful differences each one of us has. The communication of these differences through these celebrations and the highlighting of their own celebration helps to bring a better understanding of how we are all one family. This is a good place to start in preparation of this season.

We hear a lot about the creation of switch-accessible or adapted toys at this time of the year. It is great that we can create toys for so many to access by simply using a soldering iron or a battery-interrupter.  My first question is why do some only focus upon it at this time of the year? My second question is where in your community can you go to bring toys and have the support you need in making these toys accessible? Look around your community and see if any groups are sponsoring days to create these toys.  I always like to shout-out my colleagues Matt and Holly at the Virginia Tech TTAC who host events like this and supply the training and soldering irons to make this happen. There are also sites like the School Health website where adapted toys are available for ordering.  Just make sure that the individuals have a switch that they can use.

In this month’s Talkin’ Tech with Dr. Ray, I also describe how to take stuffed animals or items like vibrating pillows and add a little weight to them to add another sensory dimension to favorite toys that can also serve to assist in calming individuals. Other options include weighted animals and weighted lap pads which have already been made at a certain weight. Please work with your OTs for precise ideas on the weighting for your individuals always keeping in mind the idea that anything weighted should be only 10% or less of their body weight unless reviewed and approved by an OT. The sensory side should always be considered for our individuals and sensory “toys” may be very appropriate!

As for the “sights and sounds” of the season, we need to have our individuals ready as well!  As a child, I remember my parents driving my sister and me around the city to see all the lights. That can be a wonderful experience. We also must be aware that the visual stimulation of too many lights or the flash patterns of some lights may also be overwhelming. Start slow and small. Be aware when an individual may become over-stimulated. Have space to go where there are less lights or even have them put on sunglasses to tone down the brightness.

On the auditory side, be certain to have tools that can allow an individual some quiet time. Bringing noise cancelling headphones may be a good idea for some. Other products that are not as easily seen and may give noise reduction rather than cancellation, like Vibes, might be a good call for other individuals. Again, it is important to know the limits of your individuals. 

Finally, be sure to dress appropriately for the weather. If you live in an area where it is cold outside and you will be outdoors for some time, bring hand warmers or additional layers of clothing. No matter what the weather, bring socially and event-appropriate fidgets like a School Health Sensory Tangle Toy or a Cuddle Ball to provide some soothing for those who may become overwhelmed by the emotions of those around them or the temperature of the environment they are visiting.

We need to be centered ourselves in order to think of those events which may be triggers for some of our individuals. We do not need to initiate a level of trauma by what we think is something simple. One example is trying to make sure our individuals who celebrate Christmas do not “catch” Santa or someone placing gifts beneath the tree. I can assure you that the escalation which comes with not “catching” the gift placer is not one you want to experience! 

With each one of us remembering to center ourselves and then support our individuals, we create a season of joy and celebration! We are also creating routines and actions which can be replicated throughout the year and for many years to come.

I wish you and yours a wonderful holiday season filled with much joy and minimal escalations!

Thinking through October and all it brings for our Individuals

Thinking through October and all it brings for our Individuals

By: Dr. Raymond Heipp

During a brisk October morning, I thought about all the wonderful activities that occur in October and throughout autumn. Remembering my days as an administrator, October would bring us to the end of the first quarter of the academic year, along with student testing. The academic side of this month was only one endeavor October brought. We were in the midst of the fall athletic season and the beginning of the winter season. We moved closer to the start of major extracurricular activities in theatre, speech, and other clubs. Depending upon the district, we were potentially looking towards Halloween or other holiday activities. In all, October is both busy as well as transitional to progress the school year. Let’s review these ideas and what we might want to keep in mind.

Starting with the end of the month, I have read and written pieces about preparing our students for communities which celebrate Halloween. This can be one of the most over-stimulating holidays for individuals. The sights, sounds, tastes, and movement can create high levels of both excitement and anxiety. We want to make sure that individuals come to an understanding that some might dress in “scary” ways. If that preparation is not done, the first appearance of a werewolf or zombie could be confusing and frightening. Pictures and old costumes can be shared with individuals to prepare them for Halloween events. We also need to make sure that we are educating nutrition information to not eat all the candy or snacks in one sitting. Additionally, we should be aware of individuals who need unique costumes. Think of those in wheelchairs or those who use walkers and what can be designed specifically to their interests to allow them to participate with their peers. Do not forget that some of our individuals may not be able to afford a costume. How can we repurpose what we have or use items that we can pick up at a local dollar store or resale shop? Sometimes, simple costumes can be better as they might not cause sensory adverse reactions, allowing better participation. If you are in a building or community which celebrates Halloween, please be sure to have your individuals ready for a fun-filled and not fright-filled evening!

In addition, October brings back thoughts of outdoor sports. Having participated in and coach fall sports, one wants to be used to the needs of individuals based upon the weather. I had the wonderful opportunity to spend many October nights in the mid-to-late 1990s at the ballpark with my father watching playoff baseball with our Cleveland team! (Great to see them back in the playoffs this year! I know that Dad is looking down from some great seats above!) My father spent the last 30 years of his life in a wheelchair due to suffering from Multiple Sclerosis. That never inhibited his love of our pro teams and desire to see them in person. It was at these sporting events that I learned how clothing needs to be assessed individually. My father always had his winter coat, gloves, and hat ready. For a long time, it was assumed that his jeans would be enough to keep his legs warm. We later realized that having a wool blanket to cover his legs made it more comfortable for him. Gabe Ryan, in his Access Angle blog, discusses some of the clothing available today, which really works at keeping the entire body warm. This allows more enjoyment at any outdoor event or even the travel to and from events in cold or wet weather. Not all clothing works for everyone, so be sure to learn what works best for your individuals when they are going out in multiple environments. We want everyone watching these events to be included and not allow the weather to interfere.

As I mentioned above, October brings us to the end of the first quarter of the academic year. There are times when that transition between quarters is overwhelming. During October, we specifically “Go Red for Dyslexia” to bring attention to the number of individuals who struggle with this condition. We want to provide any support we can for these individuals and understand that the use of devices or software does not mean that these individuals are “cheating” when completing work or taking tests. We want to understand that there is not a “one-size-fits-all” solution. I was recently involved in a conversation with a district who simply wanted to address dyslexia in students with software on Chromebooks. I think that is a great idea, but let them know that they also need to have alternative devices for students who are trying to interact with papers or physical books. Many students become embarrassed if they have to use another person as a “Reader” when interacting with these materials. Having a device as simple as a Reader Pen can not only increase an individual's confidence in their own abilities, but also create a stronger sense of independence.

The more we are aware of conditions that can inhibit individuals from participating in academic, social, or personal events, the better we can prepare to help them. Consider all the various environments our individuals may be encountering and think through how we prepare to go to a high school football or soccer game. Now, expand what we do through the eyes of our individuals to pick up some other ideas about how to help them become more fully involved. Autumn can be a beautiful time of the year when everyone has access to all of its activities!

Changing Perspectives

Changing Perspectives

By: Dr. Raymond Heipp

A few weeks ago, I ran into a former student of mine who graduated from the Class of 1987. It was enjoyable to catch up on life and share some fun anecdotes from the past. Then, last Friday, I virtually connected with a teacher to discuss some approaches that she was seeking to use to help keep her students calmer this academic year. As we wrapped up, I heard a thunderous sound from outside that kept getting louder. It was a clear and sunny day, so I had to investigate. To my surprise, it was the Blue Angels flying by. This should not have surprised me, as it’s a normal event for the Cleveland Airshow over Labor Day weekend to have the Blue Angels flying in my area. As I sit here on Labor Day, I am reflecting on those three events and thinking about how our perspectives in education have changed over time and what they are now.

If we go back to the late 1960s and early 1970s, Labor Day not only meant the suggested, “end of summer,” but also the factual end of summer vacation for us students. School started on the Tuesday after Labor Day, so we cherished that last chance to enjoy the outside freedom and play from dusk until dawn without homework! We knew that teachers were in school the week before, as the rooms were always decorated and bulletin boards were ready to display our work. When I became a teacher, I had the chance to visit with some of my own elementary teachers. They shared that the week before Labor Day was focused on getting the classroom ready, as well as making copies of worksheets for the activities throughout the first month of school. Those of us from certain generations remember the “Ditto Machines” and how careful we had to be with the master copies and to be ready to clean the blue ink off of our hands! It was an action that we don’t put much thought into today as our worksheets are either online or in a file, which makes printing a simple task.

Thinking back to my former student from the Class of 1987, we began school the week before Labor Day. This was done so teachers could get the administrative tasks (seating charts, assigning of textbooks and numbers, handing out of syllabi, etc.) completed and begin teaching before the weekend. Some of my colleagues used that long weekend to assign a paper or an extended homework assignment, while I knew that students would put in little effort because of the longer weekend. When speaking about past classroom environments, it was different than today. I was on the fifth floor of a 100-year-old building. “Air conditioning” meant that I opened all of my windows and my classroom door, and the teacher across the hall did the same thing. Teaching in Cleveland also meant that the Friday before Labor Day was practice for the Blue Angels at Burke Lakefront Airport. You did not want to schedule any tests or quizzes on that day as the noise did not allow any concentration. Making sure we had air circulating and that the students were not hanging out of the windows were our most important responsibilities. Today, air conditioning and air purifiers keep us comfortable and healthy.

How times change! My last Labor Day, which only focused on administrative tasks and continuing the movement into the new school year, came on September 3, twenty-one years ago. As a veteran administrator, the school year had already started, and we were getting ready for parent back-to-school nights. Another school year had begun, and everything was moving along. It would be only eight more days until the unthinkable would occur and I would never be able to look at the start of the school year with thoughts of simple planning again.

Although I was already out of administration and working with School Health, Labor Day weekend of 2020 meant something completely different for my colleagues that were still in schools. Administrators were furiously making sure students had access to equipment, internet, and other requirements for virtual learning. Teachers were adjusting for another year’s worth of lessons to be conducted in a virtual format. Some even needed to plan to conduct both virtual and in-person classes simultaneously. The focus became how we could teach in an environment that we never have before.

This year, the focus of teachers and administrators is looking at the health and well-being of our students. I want to remind all educators that we need to also make sure that we are taking care of ourselves within that structure! Breathing breaks, sensory breaks, calming areas, and yoga sessions are part of how we can all continue to move forward and live healthier lives. We need to look at education in a holistic manner and understand that a 30-60 second sensory break or teaching a student how to use breathing to calm down, creates a life skill that will assist them forever. Our students, as well as ourselves, are still in an anxious state of mind. By modeling how we can grasp all of the unique events that come our way each day, it gives them a greater lesson, compared to teaching them a science concept or a math equation. We give them a way to live.

Over the summer, I had an administrator ask me how much more difficult I thought it was to be in education now, compared to 20, 30, and 40 years ago. I told him that it was simply different. Our world 40 years ago was local and today it is global. Thirty years ago, we still had to research topics and questions in libraries using reference materials and today, we have students jump on their cell phones for the same information. Twenty years ago, we were focused on the safety and security for our schools and ourselves, and today we are more aware of everyone’s well-being. Perspectives and students are the key parts that have changed. We still need to operate with the idea of, “in loco parentis,” and adjust it to teaching life and coping skills. The most important thing for myself that I shared with the administrator, was how we, as educators, are now more aware of how our mental well-being is the key factor for us to bring our students to that same level.

Although the perspectives have changed, there is one task that we continue to do. We give our students the tools to make differences in their futures and, therefore, keep those perspectives changing to adjust to the world around them!

Beginning the New School Year Inclusively

Beginning the New School Year Inclusively 

By: Dr. Raymond Heipp

As we move into the 2022-23 school year, we have hope that this will be a more traditional year than the past two. We are also cognizant of the issues we still face as we prepare to work with our students. We are going to take a journey that brings in the themes of literacy, access, sensory support, inclusivity, and transparency. At the same time, we will take inspiration from a Paula Abdul song from 1991, “Promise of a New Day”:

So time over time
What will change the world?
No one knows (no one knows)
So the only promise is a day to live, to give
And share with one another

As we move into the new academic year, we are reminded that some of our students are still struggling with literacy and reading skills. Virtual learning took its toll on some students, even with Herculean efforts by their teachers. Learning styles are significant for everyone and our master teachers recognize the needs to have multiple styles of teaching built in for the sake of all learners. This need is heightened for those students who, due to the conditions they face, need structure, consistency, and multiple ways to understand what is being presented. I recently posted a Talkin’ Tech video extolling alternative uses for Alphabet Pebbles. The beauty of these pebbles is the fact that they can be used in classrooms from grades Pre-K through 12, adding a level of physical/tactile interaction to activities. As we look at the other conditions our students face, we see that assistive technology like the Reader Pen or LiveScribe can aid our more developed students while permitting them to display their abilities. Assistive Technology is NEVER a way of creating an unfair advantage and those who argue that point do not subscribe to the ideas of inclusivity. Inclusivity means that students are able to use the tools which allow them to work alongside every one of their peers within that room.

Literacy is so essential in the lives of all our students. As we look at programs like the Science of Reading, as well as other approaches, we see the opportunity to have all of our students understand letters, phonemes, and words in multiple styles. Take some time to reflect on how we can turn lessons involving literacy into something that is tactile in nature. When we look at our students who have moved into lessons focused on reading and notetaking, we must remember that not everyone will cognitively process the information the same way. Incorporating tools that permit text-to-speech principles, along with alternative forms of notetaking (think about taking digital images of your notes on the dry erase board and putting them into a PowerPoint or utilizing the save features within your interactive whiteboard and including those notes into an online PDF), provide all students with alternative access. Research demonstrates that by giving students the opportunity to review notes they may have missed, actually increases the attention they pay within the class itself.

Access also becomes such an essential piece for some individuals. One might not be able to access digital information in the same way as peers. Hence, an alternative mouse, like the Glassouse, might be appropriate, while other individuals may need switches or AAC devices in order to access information and communicate with others. This leads us into thinking about the creation of classrooms with transparent, Assistive Technology. I do not mean that the technology cannot be seen, but transparent, AT is so ingrained within the classroom that no student views it as different or strange.

Examples of this would be to use TalkingBrix 2 as a way of providing students classroom feedback or instructions at a station so that the teacher does not need to be involved. One could use a GoTalk 9+ as a way that students could read a book to themselves. By putting page pictures on the GoTalk 9+ and recording the words from that page on the device, students can then take the book and interact directly with the device to have it read aloud to them. In both of these cases, we are using AAC devices for tasks other than simple communication. In effect, we begin to de-sensitize the neuro-typical students to use AAC devices. Therefore, when a student needs to use the device for communication purposes, other students do not find it unusual because it is a familiar device. Switches can also provide access by taking a switch not being used by someone in particular, like the Jelly Bean or Compact Switches, which can be connected to a light and used like an answer button. By using these devices as something common, it breaks down barriers when students see an individual using one for digital access in other classes.

As we prepare our classrooms, we need to take the sensory needs of all our students into account. Fidgets or kinetic releases are both socially and classroom appropriate. Items like Mad Mattr or Tangle Jrs. are great tools to have available for all students when they feel overwhelmed in the classroom. We must remember that we are in a global environment where anxiety levels are high. Creating sensory breaks and even sensory stations within a classroom will be healthy for everyone. Think about having a corner or location where the students can go to just sit and relax. Adding in an object like the Fiber Optic Lamp introduces light and texture to the area. Breathing activities and yoga can also be used to help students relax.

The most important responsibility to remember for this year is that you need to take care of yourself. Those of you who have worked with me already know that I urge everyone associated with schools to take 5 minutes of “me” or “quiet” time each day. This “me” time is critical for you as it helps to re-center and refresh. The school environment is stressful for all of us who work within it. Ironically, we focus on taking care of our students first and then look to take care of our families afterwards. We tend to leave ourselves out of the “care equation.” We can only give as much as we have, and if we do not have a lot, we cannot give a lot. We need to take time for ourselves daily, as well as engage in other healthy activities, to allow us to be the best we can be! In being the best we can be, we maintain that promise of a new day by being able to share the most we can with our students!

Help Me, Funding-Won-Rayobi!

Help Me, Funding-Won-Rayobi!

By: Dr. Raymond Heipp

Picture if you will: A small robot rolls into my office and suddenly a message comes forth.  Except take out the robot and make that my personal cell phone in another room and the message is the noise letting me know there is a voicemail.  This happens on a regular basis.  However, the message this time was different.  At the end of my work calls, I grabbed my cell and checked the voicemail.  It was a wonderful old friend who also was a long-time colleague (no, she does not have a hair style that looks like cinnamon rolls on the sides!)  She did though leave this brief message with a chuckle, “Help me, Funding-Won-Rayobi!”

When I called her back, we caught up for a few minutes and then she let me know the purpose for her call. “I am so sick and tired of people reaching out to me, telling me they know how to help spend my ESSER and other special funding opportunities, then proceeding to tell me about their only product. How can I best spend my funds and still support my teachers and students?”  I was shocked that she asked me that question.  She had been an administrator when I was still in that office and has continued to move into higher administrative positions while I moved into the consulting and supporting arena.  I asked her why she would call me on this question, and she responded with, “You’ve been in my shoes, and you have always been supportive when I needed something.  Plus, you give me solutions and ideas, not product placements!”

So, I started off by asking her some questions.  The first question which is something that we, as administrators, should be asking is, “Tell me about the difficulties your students with differing abilities are experiencing today and how those difficulties are similar or dissimilar to pre-pandemic times.” Her response to this one is something I have heard from many districts recently.  She began by talking about the literacy abilities of her students.  She spoke of how the movement to virtual classes interrupted the progress of many students and created significant challenges for her younger students, especially those who missed out on direct instruction during critical developmental times.

We then spoke about how ESSER funding could be used for just about anything for her students when it came to literacy.    For those students who were still struggling with literacy development, we spoke about manipulative products like Alphabet Pebbles, Alphabet Beanbags, Traceable Alphabet Shapes, and Letter Foam Magnets allowed for so many types of activities within classrooms for both individual students as well as groups.  If she wanted to go outside of the classroom and into the gymnasium or playground, she could also consider something like the BRAINBall™. Using manipulatives adds the physical dimension to learning and early literacy which many students need after virtual learning environments.

For students who were older, we looked at reading supports like the Reader Pen and Orcam Read as well as software like CaptiAssess and CaptiAccomodate.  The Reader Pen could create scenarios where her students who struggle with reading due to dyslexia or other issues could read their texts and paper tests right there in an inclusive classroom; giving a stronger sense of independence along with the ability to handle the information.  The Orcam Read could work in a similar manner and support students on computers or tablets; especially those with visual impairments or fine motor issues as well.  The Capti software family can reside on the school computers and be something that supports her students in all phases of learning, while constantly giving feedback to the teachers as well.

As we discussed these ideas, she asked about tools for access.  Access is huge for me as I am always encouraging schools to find the strengths of their students and use the tool for access which best fits each individual student.  Again, under ESSER funding as well as other standard special education funding sources, tools for access and communication are available.  I am a big fan of both Ablenet switches as well as switches from Enabling Devices.  I shared with her that Enabling Devices recently went to manufacturing their switches in a new manner creating more flexibility in how the switches can be tailored for schools as well as how they work.  With any switch though, the critical piece is to look at the student.  Do they need a standard switch like Specs or a Piko Button.  Do they need something along the lines of proximity like a Candy Corn, Honeybee, or Movement Sensor switch?  What about something more specific like a chin switch or a finger switch?  This is where I suggested that her AT team have a “testing kit” of several different types of switches that could be loaned out for evaluations and to order these kits through current funding.  I did suggest that she add into those kits a Glassouse alternative mouse and a head mouse for some of her more severe students.  Finally, I let her know that I will be back out on the road conducting AT Seminars again along with Jodi Szuter for schools to see and interact with many new and familiar technologies to review.  I always want schools to see the applicability of assistive technology to all spaces within a school to make them more inclusive and create a level of positive transparency around assistive tech.

Finally, she mentioned the need for sensory support.  She was worried that her OTs were being overworked as they were doing an amazing job of supporting so many students.  That is again happening throughout the country as OTs have been so critical in helping students reacclimate to the routines of the classroom.  She was also concerned that simply putting in a sensory room in a building would drastically limit how many students could receive proper support.  So, we talked about the creation of sensory spaces again using ESSER funds as well as other IDEA funding to bring in items which could be placed in multiple classrooms and shared with students throughout the day.   The critical piece I shared with her is that sensory inputs work to maintain wellness and create less anxiety allowing the focus to be on learning.  She and her team had been so focused on a single sensory room that they had not even considered “mini” sensory rooms throughout the school. 

I shared with her that the critical piece is to know the needs of the students through the insights of the teachers and not to be focused on only one product.  There is no “one-size-fits-all” technology.  However, there are many solutions that can be created for students that maximize the money being spent, and protect the schools for changing environments in the future.  She was grateful for that call and let me know that I will be invited to visit in the late summer.

In the same way, I am available to support all of you.  Feel free to reach out to me at rheipp@schoolhealth.com for thoughts and ideas around your students.  We must be able to work together and see what will work for our students.  We cannot simply purchase things because we are told that they work under ESSER funding.  Many devices do fall under those guidelines.  We need to put together plans that look, not only at next year, but for years to come for our students.  In that way, we all benefit!

Hot (Accessible) Fun in the Summertime!


Those of us of another era may remember the song by Sly and the Family Stone, Hot Fun in the Summertime.  For many, the summer means excursions outdoors to places like beaches, parks, amusement parks, cook-outs, family gatherings, and athletic events.  Many other songs and stories talk about the noises of summer being filled with happiness and a sense of freedom which warmer weather can afford.  Unfortunately, not all of these activities might be accessible to a significant number of individuals.

Let’s start with the idea of the “noises” of summer.  One often thinks of the “crack of the bat,” the sounds of an orchestra or hometown band, and fireworks.  For those with sensory processing issues, those noises could cause more pain than enjoyment.  Consider the individuals with whom you are attending these events.  Be sure to bring along noise reduction or noise cancelling headphones or earbuds to help that individual be a part of the group and activity.  Although that individual might like going to a baseball game, the “roar of the crowd” might be too much.  Aside from the headphones or earbuds, see if your favorite team has a sensory area where they allow those who need it to take a break.  Don’t forget that as beautiful as fireworks are, the noises accompanying them can cause severe escalations if we do not prep our individuals and have the proper protective devices in place!

A trip to the beach sounds like fun for many folks.  The sand, sun, and surf make for a great combination.  Unfortunately, for those in wheelchairs or walkers, the beach is not something that is easily accessible.  Standard power and manual wheelchairs are not made to traverse sand.  Check with the beach where you will be visiting to see if they already have beach chairs which allow individuals to be transferred into the chair and moved more easily across the sand and to the water.  Some beaches, like one in Oregon, are putting down trails which let wheelchairs move without going into the sand itself.  Check things out first before going to make sure it is an enjoyable and accessible trip for your entire group!

There is always a concern about time off from school for younger individuals as the question about potential regression of learning arises.  Think about alternative ways of playing games which can be fun as well as enjoyable.  I always suggest having some Sillishapes letters and numbers around to play easy games which can occur in any environment, including the beach.  Have a letter of the day and talk about all the words that might start with that letter.  Engage in spelling activities when something is seen like a bird or a boat if the letter is “B.”  Another fun thing to consider is to borrow some Brainballs from the school and have outside games like “Fourquare” with a twist.  Instead of trying to get the others in the game to miss the ball, purposefully have them catch it and come up with a word that starts with the letter on the ball.  Every player must use different words until a person cannot think of any.  That person is then out.

Another game that inspires interaction is tag.  Adjust tag though to make it more accessible, even for those in wheelchairs or walkers.  Use pool noodles as the tagging agents.  Adjust the lengths for those who might be more mobile versus those who are less mobile.  Now, many more individuals can feel a part of the game.  You have also created a game that has some social distancing occurring naturally.

Some of our individuals may enjoy traveling to parks or campgrounds so that they can simply relax.  They might wish to read some books for enjoyment.  The problem arises when their reading skills are hindered by conditions like dyslexia or reading processing issues.  Look to borrow tools like the C-Pen Reader pen from the school so that reading can still be independent and fun.  If the text is online, make sure you have good text-to-speech software or a device like the OrCam Read to read whatever digital content is in front of them.  Reading can be another way for individuals to relax and still maintain literacy skills, no matter how they access the material.

The summer months can also be a highly charged time from a sensory feedback view.  So much excitement surrounds what is happening in the summer.  Be sure no matter what type of an adventure you might be embarking upon to have sensory fidgets that will be socially acceptable as well as easily transportable.  I am a big fan of the Tangle Jr for the reason that it can go anywhere, including a soccer game, summer concert, family reunion, or fireworks show and provide that sensory release when things become somewhat overwhelming.  At the pool or on the beach, I also recommend using a pool noodle or a piece of a pool noodle for that sensory feedback.  When you are around water, you want to make sure that the sensory tools make sense. 

Whatever type of sensory tool you are using, be sure to test it out first.  If it works for an individual in a home setting, it will have a higher probability of working outside of the home as well.  Never just pick something up without testing it first.  That could lead to further escalations while you are at the event.  Because you may also be in the heat, look to those items which are plastic or foam as opposed to metal or sand.  My good friend Gabe Ryan has suggested to me as well as to the groups with whom he speaks that when you have found a fidget which works, always have two when on the road.  In case one becomes lost, you immediately have a back-up!

Summer can be a wonderful time to relax and recharge!  Take a little time to make sure that every individual can also do the same and may need some simple accommodations along the way.  I wish you a wonderful, healthy, and relaxing summer!

Celebrating 100 Years of the Council for Exceptional Children

by Dr. Raymond Heipp


The year 1922 brought two national treasures into existence. The first was Betty White. May she now rest in peace. The second was the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) which is celebrating its 100th year as an organization. The celebration takes place in Orlando from January 16-19 at the CEC Conference. While it may be something to celebrate, the impact of the CEC goes well beyond just their annual conference.

During the summer of 1922, a group of twelve educators attending courses at the Teacher’s College of Columbia University came together to form the International Council for the Education of Exceptional Children. Elizabeth Farrell, aside from being a founder, was its first president. I highly recommend you purchasing a copy of Elizabeth Farrell and the History of Special Education, 2nd Edition from CEC. In this inspirational story, you’ll learn how Elizabeth Farrell devoted her life to making a difference in the lived on children in public schools. Not only did she begin the idea of teaching “ungraded” classes for students who had difficulties, but she developed the basic principles and concepts under which Special Education still operates.

Over the last 100 years, CEC has focused on making education for exceptional students the best it can be. During that first year, they committed themselves to the design and establishment of “professional standards” when it came to teaching exceptionalities. They have continually sought to take these standards and strengthen them along the way. The current name, “Council for Exceptional Children,” was formally adopted in 1958 and in 1962, they would convene a National Convention with the main focus on addressing the national standards around teaching these students. 

As CEC moved into the 1970s, they saw the changing landscape in the world outside of education and the need for support for those with exceptionalities. Taking that into account, they redoubled their efforts to make sure that teachers, and the students with whom they were working with, had the support needed for excellence in education. Many may not be aware of the impact that CEC had in the passing of The Education for All Handicapped Children Act, also known as Public Law 94-142.  This was significant due to the fact that most students with exceptionalities were not always able to receive the education and opportunity being provided to their neuro-typical peers.

As we moved into the 1980s, we began to see a shift in how exceptional individuals were being seen in the medical community. The publication of the DSM-3 demonstrated a movement toward better understanding of issues facing our individuals. For example, this manual was the first to formally acknowledge Autism as its own category and NOT a sub-category of Schizophrenia. Imagine the impact that had on the medical community. CEC took it upon themselves to focus on the legal aspect of supporting our exceptional students. With guidance and a focused approach, they helped to bring about multiple events and laws for the years to come. In the beginning, they joined with other groups to create the International Year of Disabled Persons. This event in 1981 was created to bring awareness, along with the hope, and helping to change the perspectives of those who did not understand the depth of what individuals with exceptionalities bring to the rest of the world. CEC was also instrumental in the passage of the Perkins Act as well as several other laws which focused on brining services to families with children who had exceptionalities from the time of their birth. These services were not required until a child turned three prior to this time. CEC’s role continued to grow after 1990 thanks to the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which brought grants, resources, and free appropriate public education to eligible children. 

For me, the CEC has always been the bedrock to what we as teachers, administrators, and therapists buil upon to make our classrooms and schools the strongest they can be for our students. Personally, I used the standards they discussed as I worked with individuals with autism in the 1980s. I then transitioned into working with students who had reading difficulties in the late 80s. It was often difficult to work with students facing those difficulties as the assessments were not always able to pick up processing delays or conditions like dyslexia. The CEC always provided a sense of hope as they were a group that spoke to what we did as educators and reminded us that we were making a difference no matter what “standardized tests” were saying about our students. Directing programs in the 1990s, I saw the rise of students with ADD (ADHD would be later identified as well). It was not easy to get teachers and parents to understand that attention issues were real and not simply because a child was lazy or bad. CEC guided us as to how to stay focused on the most important aspect of our role as educators, the education of that child. 

In the last two decades, we have seen CEC continue to lead the way globally as well as here in the United States. They supported the use of technologies as early as the 1980s and continued to shape policy so that the assistive technology was available for individuals who needed it. We, as a community, were already overcoming so many barriers in education when the pandemic hit in early 2020. CEC has been there as a guide the entire time by continuing to support educators and provide ideas needed to transition to virtual and hybrid settings. While we may not have been perfect, we did an amazing job with what we had. Now, as we face continued uncertainty, CEC continues to guide us through webinars, conferences and materials.

Good organizations are generational and support groups for a period of years. Great organizations maintain relevancy for multiple generations. The Council for Exceptional Children have been with us for 100 years now and still manage to evolve to the times. They are outstanding as an organization and have done so much for each and every one of our students.

Thank you, CEC, for all that you have done and here is to another 100 years of being a national treasure, supporting all of us along the way!