Tagged with 'Special Education'

Is ESSER III Right for Me?


As we enter the 2023-24 Academic Year, we also enter the final months for the availability of ESSER III funding. This funding technically ends on September 30, 2024. However, the products that you are using the funds for must be purchased and delivered by that date. I have also heard of some districts that are seeking to have the funds encumbered by the end of this academic year to allow time for the shipping and receiving of products. I have been asked a lot of questions about these funds, so let’s address some of the ones that are asked the most.

How much money does my school have? Monies were distributed to districts, so how those funds might be allocated can vary. One thing to do first is to check your district website. Most districts have a page on their site that outlines how much funding they received and how those funds are being allocated. If you cannot find the web page with the correct answer, the next question may give you that information.

Whom should I contact about these funds? This is the most common question I was asked by both teachers and administrators. The reality is that ESSER funding is from the Federal Government. You want to reach out to the Director of Federal Funding in your district with questions. Many moderate and smaller sized districts may not have a specific individual with this title, so you may have to contact the Treasurer or CFO of the district. I have seen many districts where the funding was then allocated to schools and programs where there was a secondary lead figure. This is an important person to know as the remaining funds have more flexibility in what can be purchased.

Can I buy whatever I want? The simple answer is no. You want to work with your district leads to make sure that what you are hoping to order fits under both the federal and district guidelines. Unfortunately, some districts ran afoul of the government with ESSER I funds as those had very specific purposes. Anything outside of those purposes was misuse of the funding.

So, what can you use the funds for? You can use the funds for anything that supports students through overcoming any potential loss from learning that may have occurred on account of the pandemic and is still hindering the student’s ability to learn. This is where I have seen devices like the Reader Pen2, ScanMarker, Livescribe Pen, and switches or tools for access have been able to be purchased. Assistive Technology is one of the areas where fund usage is permissible.

What is covered under the idea of supporting mental health? This question has arisen from many districts. The implementation of sensory/calming rooms has demonstrated positive support for all students, especially those prone to escalation. Sensory room products can be purchased. The caveat is groups that want to include other classroom furniture. I have worked with some districts who thought that any chair or desk could be included. That is not always the case. Always work with your district to make sure that what you are getting again lies within the guidelines. In this case, a beanbag chair is acceptable while a standard desk chair may not be. Don’t think that you can only buy sensory room packages. Work with the groups that you trust to help in the design of a room that best meets your needs and the needs of your students. Both Jodi Szuter and I are available to support you with questions and recommendations.

I have time so do I have to worry about this now? Please start thinking about your plans now. Your district may have an end date for the encumberment of these funds. I know of several districts where that date is around the end of this academic year as I mentioned in the first paragraph. When you are dealing with federal funds, the end date means that you have already ordered AND received the products. If an audit were to be conducted on the following day, you could show the auditor the products or, at least, the boxes they are still in on district property. That is an important distinction as with other types of funding, the items simply need to be ordered and invoiced. There is a difference here and those in your district overseeing the funds will be focused on that. Another reason I bring this up is because there is still a global chip shortage. For example, there are still schools waiting for chip-driven devices like some types of screening devices and AEDs because of the lengthy delays in getting chips. We are seeing production of these chips going up, but still not catching up to the demands over the last few years. Be sure to work with your sales representative to determine if the products are available and will be able to be delivered on time. Another point to be aware of is the fact that some products are not even being manufactured anymore. That discussion with your sales representative will help to guide you the correct way.

There are a lot of groups speaking about “ESSER-approved” products. Is there a list somewhere? Please reach out to your lead in the district about this. There are some districts which are being more restrictive about the funding to protect everyone legally. There is no list of “ESSER-approved” devices, generally. Some groups may simply be referring to what other districts have purchased. It is better to ask the folks in your district first before simply placing the request with them. When I work with groups, we look at products that support potential learning loss, assistive technology, items that maintain a healthy physical environment (including air purifiers), and products which support mental health and well-being, like sensory products. Your district will have any specific information you might need.

Should I just stock up on cleaning supplies? The short answer is no. Utilize these funds to get those devices and products which best support the students and think about purchasing multiple items of products that can work for many students. I have seen large deployments of Reader Pen2s and ScanMarker Readers because of the overall impact devices like these have on learning. By utilizing these funds and thinking ahead, you can support the next several classes of students. I have seen some districts utilize their funds by purchasing AAC or access devices to have back-ups in case a student breaks or loses one. Think about what was difficult to purchase in the past and buy now. Cleaning supplies and simple items can be purchased annually when this funding ends.

If you do have any other questions, feel free to reach out to me at rheipp@schoolhealth.com and I will support you as best I can!

Do You Know the History of the Bendy Straw?

Gabriel Ryan, School Health Blog Writer and Contributor


I was honestly grasping at straws, no pun intended here, to come up with topic for this month’s Access Angle. Then, as I focused on the beverage I was drinking, an idea came to me. Of course…it was right in front of me… the bendy drinking straw! I am frequently using bendy straws and always have some with me in my backpack. Surely, I am not the only one who gets excited when a restaurant happens to have a bendy straw! 

Do you know the history behind the bendy straw? Let’s start with a basic definition. A drinking straw is a paper, plastic, or edible[EP1] [RR2]  tube that people use to bring liquids to the mouth. A variation for the straight plastic straw is the bendy straw, or articulated straw. The bendy straw is designed to be more flexible with a bend at the top.

In 1937 an inventor named Joseph Friedman patented the bendy straw. His reason for inventing a straw like this was to assist his young daughter, but little did he know that this tool would continue to be used for decades by people all over the world.

“One day in the 1930s, while sitting in his brother’s fountain parlor, the Varsity Sweet Shop, in San Francisco, Joseph B. Friedman (1900-1982) watched his young daughter Judith at the counter struggling to drink a milkshake out of a straight paper straw. Friedman, an inventor with a natural curiosity and a creative instinct, took the straw and inserted a screw. He then wrapped dental floss around the paper into the screw threads, creating corrugations. After he removed the screw, the altered paper straw would bend conveniently over the edge of the glass, allowing a small child to better reach the beverage. U.S. patent number 2,094,268 was issued for this new invention, under the title Drinking Tube, on September 28, 1937.”  --- Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, The Straight Truth About the Flexible Drinking Straw, 6/1/2002 Broda-Bahm.

A few more interesting facts that were part of this research: 

  • “In 1939, Friedman formed the Flexible Straw Corporation, later named Flex-Straw Company, and by the late 1940s he began producing the straws with machinery he created.”
  • “The Flex-Straw was well-received by hospitals, whose patients could easily position the straw for drinking while lying down, without compromising the flow of liquids. Friedman’s first sale was made to a hospital in 1947.”

According to the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, one of their archivists had the opportunity to meet the inventor’s daughter, Judith, in 2000. Judith had held onto several boxes in her garage which contained detailed documentation of the inventions of her father, including the bendy straw. She gave these to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History to preserve the process and thinking behind the inventions.

My love for bendy straw goes far beyond the sometimes-bright colors or creating fun loops if using the extra length style. Without the use of a straw, I have to rely on someone else to physically bring a drink to my mouth. Don’t get me wrong, I can use a regular straight straw, however, using bendy straws allows me even more independence when drinking a beverage. I can more easily reach the straw to my mouth at the angle that works best for my arms, hands, and neck, which have limited range of motion. I consider it a basic necessity.

Over the last several years there has been a global conversation about not having plastic straws altogether due to the environmental impact and the effect plastics have on the oceans and animals. Some major U.S. cities and restaurants are looking to implement bans on plastic straw use. Many businesses have transitioned to using paper straws or eliminated providing straws to consumers. Many consumers have started using silicone and metal reusable straws as an alternative. The high priority on the environmental concerns and reducing plastic pollution is extremely important. Finding the balance of reducing waste, while still making strides in universal supports is challenging.

The paper, silicone, and metal straws are great alternatives for some people, however for me and those I know with limited upper body flexibility, the paper straws break down before I can finish my drink. Using paper, hard silicone, or metal can often be too rigid, or at the wrong angle for a fixed bend. Sometimes the texture can affect successful lip closure and ability to suck through the straw. In my research for this article, I came across a National Public Radio (NPR) segment which aired on 7/11/18, “Why people with disabilities want bans on plastic straws to be more flexible”, NPR Morning Edition, Danovich/Godoy.

This audio clip/article provides a perspective for consideration related to disability and bans on straws. Aside from drinking beverages, the bendy straw is used by Speech Language Pathologists and Occupational Therapists. They are often working with clients on vocal fatigue, lip closure, sucking and swallowing, respiratory strengthening, and much more. Many examples and videos can be found online for strategies that involve a straw. Products like Whistling Straws look similar to bendy straws and were designed to serve as a tool to strengthen lips and cheeks by encouraging the user to blow air through the straw for breath support. This tool can also be used to work on other oral therapy related goals.

The bendy straw has been around for almost a century, such a small tool with an enormous impact. At this rate I don’t think we will see the… last straw… any time soon. 


Hot Fun (and Preparation) in the Summertime!

Hot Fun (and Preparation) in the Summertime!

By: Dr. Raymond Heipp


Thank you to Sly and the Family Stone for the title and movement into this month’s blog!

July is an interesting month in the lives of educators. They may be on summer break, others may be moving back into the building, and some may be taking courses or attending summer conferences in preparation for the upcoming year. No matter what you are doing right now, there will still be more preparation that you do for the fall. Over the last few weeks, I have had the opportunity to connect with educators and therapists at both conferences and in their district sessions. As I spoke with them, I asked what the top five pieces of advice they would suggest for July preparation to other educators. Their answers were very cool and showed the differences that each group had when thinking about the fall.


Top Suggestions:


Special Education Teacher

I’ll begin with the top five suggestions from a veteran Special Education teacher. I was at her district discussing approaches for specific students using assistive technology, along with looking at what they might need for their new students. The first suggestion she gave for her top five in July was to read any book that covers working with our neuro-diverse individuals. She suggested that reading a book like this in July put her into a generalized positive mindset before moving back into the daily grind. One book example she gave was Thinking In Pictures by Temple Grandin. Her second July suggestion was to acquire a class list for her upcoming classroom. She uses that class list to contact her students at the end of the summer with a letter or email to see how they are doing and let them know how excited she is to be working with them. She shared that this technique helps to ease the anxiety around the first day back and, in some cases, gets the students excited about coming to school. Her third July suggestion is to take a trip to the beach (her favorite place to be) or your favorite venue where you spend one day doing nothing but relaxing. For her, she stated this is “the final charge of her battery” before beginning her own routine for the school year. This activity leads into suggestion number four, which is to start mirroring times that you would normally go to bed, eat, and go to sleep during the school year. She uses “school time” for housework or other work to get her mind and body prepared for “work time.” Her final suggestion is to start getting your family into a set schedule, similar to the routine they will be using in the fall. This includes dinner at an appropriate time around practice and meetings. Her children would go screenless and read after dinner to mirror homework time. Her children are now out of college and do not live at home, making evening schedules less tedious as they once were!


Occupational Therapist

During a conference, I had the opportunity to spend time with an Occupational Therapist that I have known for many years. She also works with both teachers and students in after school yoga programs that she runs. Her first July suggestion is similar to our previous teacher because it centers around reading a book. The difference is that she prefers to read something fictional and as far from education as possible. She is a fan of mysteries and always has time for authors like Agatha Christie, Ruth Rendell, and Margaret Maron. Also similar, her second suggestion is to check-in with upcoming students. She has already designed some summer plans for her returning case load and shared it before summer break began. She uses July as a touchpoint for how the plans are followed and gets a sense of where the students may be when she or he returns for the fall. Her third suggestion is to look at the supplies you needed for the fall, especially supplies that many of us purchase on our own. She likes to have what she needs by the end of July, so that she doesn’t have to worry about shortages closer to the start of the year. Her fourth suggestion is to review one’s diet and exercise routine. The period of time from June into the beginning of July sees her stray from consistent healthy eating and exercise habits. She uses mid-July to transition back into healthier activities. Her final suggestion is to attend a summer conference or institute on a topic in your area. She recently attended a conference on movement in learning and was spending some time thinking about how she could adjust her own activities. She was also putting together some classroom suggestions for her teachers.


Administrator – SPED Director

During another district session, I spent time with an administrator. She was the SPED Director for a smaller district and her suggestions reminded me of my time in administration. Her first piece of advice was for other administrators to make sure that all student information is updated and included in packets for the teachers. She shared that her days had more flexibility in July than any other month, so she spends an hour or two a day ensuring that she has this information to distribute. Her second suggestion was also for administrators to network. She says that she puts in calls to neighboring districts, as well as other SPED Directors she has a good relationship with, to share ideas about what is working and what adjustments can be made. She prioritizes these calls above anything else she is doing in the summer as it gives her valuable insights that she may not have had prior. Her third suggestion is to host sessions for teachers and to bring in experts from different areas. She chuckled as she looked at me and said, “Now you know why you are here!” I will admit that the session I did on assistive technology was great because the teachers were excited to be there and were extremely relaxed as they did not have other pressing classroom matters to distract their attention. I had to laugh when she read me one of the end evaluations which stated, “Dr. Ray was great, and lunch was superb!” Glad I wasn’t rated too far behind lunch! Her fourth suggestion was directed at teachers and therapists. She recommends spending a week away from any thoughts on school and, if possible, to do as little work of any kind. She highlighted activities like family vacations or utilizing the time that a teacher’s children might be at a camp for relaxation. Her final suggestion was for everyone within the buildings to begin looking at the school year as a fresh start. “Bring your happy face and a lot of hope.” She has noticed teachers and therapists return feeling worn down by the world around them, especially over the last few years. She opined, “School can be a sanctuary from the world when we all work together in a positive manner.”


So, there are fifteen ideas around July preparation for the upcoming academic year. If I may be so bold, let me add two more from my own experience. First and foremost, if you are not already doing it, find five minutes every day for “you time.” It might be before everyone wakes up or after everyone goes to bed. Read, meditate, have a cup of tea, do some yoga, or go for a brief run. Whatever activity relaxes and recenters you should be a priority. People I am familiar with know that I have walks every day to revitalize myself. Second, affirm yourself and the commitment you have made to your students! You are making a difference in this world, especially in the world of your students! Know that your efforts are appreciated for without you, the future for our students would not be as bright!

It’s Never too Early to Plan for Secondary Transition

It’s Never too Early to Plan for Secondary Transition 

As one school year ends, it is only a few short months of summer until school is back in session. This can be both exciting and nerve wracking for high school students and their families as they look forward to what will come next when they graduate or promote out of high school. For students with disabilities, there is some support and services that can be helpful during this time of transition.


What are Secondary Transition services?

Transition services are defined by federal law through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This begins when students turn 14 (or earlier, if the Individualized Education Program (IEP) team agrees). From age 14 until students graduate or turn 22, students with IEPs receive transition services from their public-school districts.


Transition services include a coordinated set of activities with measurable outcomes that will move the student from school to post-school activities. There are a growing number of educators and families that start this plan well before the age of 14 for their students in an effort to get the best possible outcome and plan outlined.


Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Part B, Subpart A, Section 300.43 the regulations state the following.

(a) Transition services means a coordinated set of activities for a child with a disability that—

(1) Is designed to be within a results-oriented process, that is focused on improving the academic and functional achievement of the child with a disability to facilitate the child’s movement from school to post-school activities, including postsecondary education, vocational education, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation.

(2) Is based on the individual child’s needs, taking into account the child’s strengths, preferences, and interests; and includes—

(i) Instruction;

(ii) Related services;

(iii) Community experiences;

(iv) The development of employment and other post-school adult living objectives; and

(v) If appropriate, acquisition of daily living skills and provision of a functional vocational evaluation.

(b) Transition services for children with disabilities may be special education, if provided as specially designed instruction, or a related service, if required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education.


Why is it important?

Ongoing transition planning helps students develop independence and increase skills needed to be successful which may help them to reach their career, schooling, and adult-living goals. Even when students do not yet know what they would like to do after high school, the ability to have conversations with educators and learn about resources in the community starts to help shape ideas and goals. This is also an important time to explore assistive technology supports that may create even greater access for students.


How do you learn more about Secondary Transition?

There are some wonderful national, state, and community organizations specifically focusing on this topic. Students and families should make sure they are in contact with their IEP team through their school district and start/continue secondary transition planning discussions. To explore additional resources related to this topic, students, families, and educators can browse these national and state resources for ideas and information.


  • Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP): Policy Guidance- A Transition Guide to Postsecondary Education and Employment for Students and Youth with Disabilities.
  • National Technical Assistance Center on Transition: The Collaborative (NTACT:C) is a Technical Assistance Center co-funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA).
  • National Center on Secondary Education and Transition (NCSET)- Originally funded by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) from 2000-2008, focused on the secondary education and transition of youth with disabilities. NCSET coordinated national resources, offered technical assistance, and disseminated information related to secondary education and transition for youth with disabilities in order to create opportunities for youth to achieve successful futures. NCSET is no longer funded through OSEP, however continues to disseminate resources via this website with support from the Institute on Community Integration in the University of Minnesota's College of Education and Human Development.
  • IRIS Center: What is secondary transition and why is it important for students with disabilities?- The IRIS Center is a national center dedicated to improving education outcomes for all children, especially those with disabilities birth through age twenty-one, using effective evidence-based practices and interventions.
  • PACER’s National Parent Center on Transition and Employment- Founded in 2014, PACER’s National Parent Center on Transition and Employment builds on PACER’s decades of experience providing high quality assistance and support to parents, youth, and professionals on transition topics. This innovative project will keep the needs of families at the forefront and help youth with disabilities find success in postsecondary education, employment, and life in the community.
  • Center for Parent Information & Resources -Parent Training Information Centers- These centers are located in states  nationwide and perform a variety of direct services for children and youth with disabilities, families, professionals, and other organizations that support them. They work with families of infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities, birth to 26 to help parents participate effectively in their children’s education and development and they partner with professionals and policy makers to improve outcomes for all children with disabilities.
  • Parents Helping Parents-Connections California- An example of a Parent Training Information Center transition resources. The Connections California program applies to any person with any disability. Everything is organized into five main categories. The goal is to help find the information easily for the transition to adulthood.
  • Think College- Institute for Community Inclusion- A national initiative dedicated to developing, expanding, and improving research and practice in inclusive higher education for students with intellectual disability. It is based at the Institute for Community Inclusion, University of Massachusetts Boston.

As you explore resources and discuss supports, don’t forget School Health carries a wide variety of products that could play a role in transition planning for students. These products range from Augmentative & Alternative Communication , Living Aids , Positioning & Mobility , Computer & Tablet Access , to Motor skills and more.  Remember it’s never too early to plan for Secondary Transition!


“All students can learn to succeed, but not on the same day in the same way.”

~William G. Spady

Summer Transitioning: A Mother/Son Journey

Summer Transitioning: A Mother/Son Journey

Summer transitioning can be a painful experience for some individuals. Routines established during the academic year come to an “abrupt” end. This change can create stress and anxiety which can lead to regressions in daily activities and create ripple effects going into the following academic year. I recently had the opportunity to explore one Mother’s journey with her son through this transition and learn more about what she provided to work through this time of transition and create a foundation from which her son could find success. She was a certified teacher who had also created a Special Needs program for one of the schools in which she worked. Her son was diagnosed with autism at an early age with various expectations from the professionals who were part of the diagnosis. She maintained her own expectations and was determined to create the most positive environment for her son. Her efforts, although painful and tear-filled at times, culminated last month when her son graduated with highest honors from college.


Q: What inspired you to create your summer transition program for your son?


A: I observed at an early age that the more I was able to create routines for him, the greater the chance that he could focus on the tasks at hand. It could also lead to lesser levels of escalations, especially when tasks were difficult to complete. As he entered Kindergarten, he was placed in an inclusive setting. Knowing that he would have to be ready for those settings, I made sure that he was prepared for things like waking up at a certain time, brushing teeth, getting dressed, having breakfast, and getting to the bus stop on time. We began this process in early August so that when the school year started, the only difference in the morning activity was the fact that he would get on the bus and go to school. What this also did was teach life skills that would stick with him throughout his life. I had to monitor each part of what he was doing, even going as far as laying out his clothes the night before so he could see everything in the morning and nothing was a surprise. Skills like brushing teeth and washing one’s face were important to establish as well since he also had some sensory issues. Hygiene was a focus of our morning routine. It also led to many arguments and some escalations early on. However, the skills he worked on daily became behaviors which was the intent.


Q: How and why did you expand that into other parts of the summer?


A: As we came to the end of a school year, I knew that his routine was about to take a drastic shift which could create escalations. Along with that, I also knew that the skills he had been working on in school- things like printing and reading, could regress if we did not maintain consistency in practice. I also realized if I started creating a home-school environment, he would miss out on the idea of summer fun and the idea in the workplace of a vacation. So, I spent significant time researching what he would be covering the following year, along with other opportunities he could be involved in during the summer months. I want everyone reading this to understand that preparing him for the summer was not something we did on the first day of break either. I began preparing him in early May for this transition.  As he grew, he also participated in the design and expectations of what we were going to be doing to add to a dimension of independence and accountability on his part. We would set a schedule which had to include some academic skills that needed to be supported, along with time for fun and exploration. I involved him in local camps for play and made sure that he was able to participate in tee-ball to add that athletic dimension. Exercise is important for all our children. Though with some, we have to “disguise” exercise in fun activities. By the end of May, we would have our daily schedule set with a checklist of items to accomplish each day. Because of the timing of the various camps, practices, and other fun activities, I looked at setting schedules which varied a little each day. Even though the timing of his activities might differ, he still had a checklist of items to accomplish each day. In his younger years, the writing aspect of our work was the most difficult and created the most stress for both of us. He handled the math, reading, and keyboarding skills adequately. He, like many other children, would have preferred to simply play and avoid “academic” activities, but became more accustomed to it.  


Q: You mentioned trying out various camps and activities. Tell us a little more about that process and what it led to for him.


A: I wanted to make sure that he had experience in many different areas. The playground camps were good because it helped him to work on his social interactions. The tee-ball experience was good for exercise. He did transition away from tee-ball after coach pitch as it was not interesting for him. His Middle School Principal suggested that he get involved in Cross Country. He did as he entered Junior High school and that maintained enough exercise for him that kept him in shape and healthy. I also experimented with other camps just to have him try out new things. Some worked and some did not.  In many cases, I had to do my homework on the camps and explain some of his needs as we went into them. As he grew older, his experiences allowed him to make new friends and learn more about himself.  It was during the summer he was preparing for Junior High that he tried an acting camp. He fell in love with the idea of acting and really found a niche that fed his self-esteem and independence. I would never have thought that would be an area of interest, but I am so glad that these camps were available so that we could try out different things. Acting became a passion for him throughout High School as well as being his major in college. All the pain we went through in printing and writing also paid off as he moved into AP English courses and found interest in writing his own plays and screenplays as well. The routines we established in those early days led him to understand and partake in summer work experiences throughout his older years.


Q: We could go on speaking about the generalities as well as specifics of the journey the two of you took during the summers. What is some advice that you can give to parents and teachers working with these parents as they look to do similar programs with their children?


A: First, this story is one of success and perseverance. Parents and teachers must understand that this is a journey that has many rough patches and detours. There will be escalations, tears, anger, and high levels of stress. The critical piece is not to give up or abandon this idea. Our children look to us for guidance and how they see us react will also be part of the behaviors that they learn throughout this process. When the escalations happen, be sure to give time for your child as well as yourself. You need to be aware that giving up an important activity because of an escalation does create a pathway that can lead to trained behavior which promotes more escalations. Stay with the process and adjust over time as opposed to eliminating activities altogether.

Second, look at the activities and see how they prepare your child for the rest of her or his life. Things like brushing teeth and washing one’s face are only a part of life skills. Understanding how to set a schedule and how to create to-do lists are another important part of life. Using the idea of camps to get both an idea of what interests them and what they might have some abilities in is good. The camps can also signify that work experiences are part of life and how one can be prepared to have the skills associated with summer or part-time jobs. Printing and writing are forms of communication. I understand that some individuals may not be able to physically print or write, but they could use products like speech-to-text software and eye-gaze or head movement devices to put words together and create stories. Never look at these activities as something just for school. Everything has a purpose and be sure to share that purpose with the child. Even doing math can lead to counting change, balancing a checkbook, or becoming an accountant.

Finally, guide them into making some decisions early on, and more decisions as they get older. This is an important skill for everyone! When you guide them, give them some flexibility while maintaining their accountability, and celebrate their successes, they become confident and independent adults.  Sharing this experience with them does have its highs and lows. However, when you see them doing something that others have told you would not happen, know that you have helped them succeed in life! Celebrate all victories with them and love them for who they are. They may even surprise you with what they can and will accomplish!

May is A Time of Preparation and Transition

May is A Time of Preparation and Transition: Keeping a Balance in All Aspects of Life

Preparation and transition are words that have such great depth and significance when we work with our neuro-diverse populations.  As we enter May, we can quickly be overwhelmed by all the activities upon which we need to be working. The most important idea to keep in mind is maintaining a balance in our own lives. During this month, we are in a unique time of wrapping up this academic year, while transitioning into the next. Without keeping ourselves balanced, we can lose sight of what we hope to accomplish!

We begin by looking at the teachers and their roles throughout May. We come to the end of IEP time, which sees our teachers pulled out of classes for these meetings throughout the months of April and May. In the cases where this happens during the academic day, those teachers must make sure that their classrooms are properly supported, and that learning can continue. I tried to have the inclusion teachers present their information first in these meetings so that questions could be addressed, recommendations made, and then they could return to their classrooms. I always suggested that they have independent work sessions happening while they were out of the classroom (like silent or supported reading, working on papers or presentations, or other individual activities) so that full class instruction was not missed or presented by a substitute teacher. This takes some of the pressure off the teacher in lesson preparation when they are out of the classroom. Lesson preparation is not the only thing they are doing during this time as preparation for the IEP or 504 meeting also takes place. Another suggestion for the teachers is to keep good notes throughout the year and take a block of time, about a week out from the meeting, to put thoughts together. Why a week before? We do have unforeseen circumstances that arise in schools, and we do not want to put off putting our thoughts together until the last minute. Walking into that meeting with prepared notes from which to work and a simple plan for the classroom means that a teacher can be prepared and ready to move between meetings and classes.

As the meetings wrap up, there is always the need for reviewing the technological needs for the individuals in the next academic year. We recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to technology, so we want to be aware of what we have and what we may need to get. Each district handles this in their own way. Some of the best practices I have encountered worked around the earlier preparation. The first step is to have an inventory of the technology within each classroom and building as well as what may be in a warehouse at the district level. This sounds like a major task, and it is when done the first time. However, it saves time, energy, and money in the long run when trying to make sure the individuals have what they need. Even on my current travels, I always ask to see what technology is in a building. It gives me an opportunity to share alternative uses of devices educators might not even know they have!  So, the preparation piece here is to have a definitive list of working assistive technology by classroom and building first. Then look at what needs to be ordered. Be sure to work with groups you can trust as there are still some items which may be unavailable due to manufacturing issues. The last thing you want to do is order something that may be having issues and then not have it in time for the next academic year.  

The other idea that some districts have implemented is to have someone come into the district on an end-of-the-year PD day and present both new and current assistive technologies. I have done some of these sessions and it is such a positive way for people to see what is out there as well as hear from their peers in attendance about how they might be using some of these devices with certain students. I was also recently asked to be part of an AT Playground where teachers, therapists, and AT Specialists from a state were invited to come in and speak on various topics in a round-table format created to engage others on how they might be using the technologies in the topic.  I led the Low-Tech AT session where we spoke about manipulatives and sensory items, as well as switches and single message communicators. The information shared by the group was fantastic! Of course, everyone wanted some time in the Blackout Sensory Tent. Thinking of switches and single message communicators as low-tech was also mind opening for some. I was then asked to add depth to the discussions during the eye gaze/headtracking/alternative access session which also gave people an understanding of what is available. There were some who had never heard of devices like a Glassouse and saw how that could be a great choice for some students. This type of preparation offers an opportunity to think ahead and be ready to better support individuals.

Administrators, May always brings flowers along with thunderstorms!  Some of those storms are those events or issues that seemingly arise out of nowhere. How can you maintain that professional balance? One best practice that I see in our districts with the master administrators is that of proper delegation. I wish I had known about that twenty years ago! We want to make sure everything goes well in support of our faculties and students. Therefore, we try to oversee everything and take some of the pressure off others. Think about what you can delegate. Your support can come through written or video guidance of the process and a quick 15-minute personal meeting from time to time to get a sense of how things are progressing. Work with your teams to find those who excel and are excited about taking on an additional activity. Empower them to make decisions on some of the smaller issues so you can focus on larger issues. Have a weekly planning meeting on Monday morning so that everyone knows what is happening on each other’s days that week. Ask who needs support and who might have time to be a support when other matters arise.  Communicate and delegate. These are great opportunities to bring you a better sense of balance in this hectic time.

The most important idea regarding preparation and transition is to take care of oneself. Those of you who have heard me speak know that my focus is always on making sure that each of our lives is as balanced as possible. When we are living a balanced life – or as balanced as it can be at this time of the year– some of the toxic stress drains away and we are better able to support our individuals. The excuse which is too common and has been used for generations is, “You don’t understand how busy I am!” That never changes! We are all busy. We are wrapping up one academic year, getting ready for another, helping individuals transition into the next phase of their lives, plus attending or being the chauffeur for extracurricular activities which can include athletic contests and practices for our own children, going to or planning graduation parties, and being part of family events. Think of all those things and realize that they are all happening along with your regular duties this week alone! Take time for yourself each day!  Remember the five-minute rule. Take five minutes and just be you. Sit or walk and don’t think of anything but how important you are to this world. Have some water, coffee, or tea with you and just relax. That five-minute recharge and centering can be done at any time of the day. I am seeing more teachers, therapists, and administrators taking that time during lunch and just going outside for a walk.  You can also choose to find the time in the morning or the late evening when it is just you. By taking this time, it helps you to regain that sense of you which so many people are counting on. Just remember what my Big Mack tells you every time you press it: “You are Awesome!”

Candy Corn and Jelly Beans: More Than Just Sweet Treats

Candy Corn and Jelly Beans: More Than Just Sweet Treats

Accessibility Switches Increase Access to Technology and More

There are many switches on the market for people who need alternate ways to access their computers, tablets, communication and mobility devices, toys, games, and other daily living activities. Figuring out which switches are right for your needs can be difficult. Comparison charts can be a helpful way to learn about a variety of switches and their features. These types of charts provide an easy way to review the switch type, activation type, activation force, type of feedback, size, color, and more.

A few switches I really like are the Candy Corn Proximity Switch and the Jelly Bean Switch. Both switches are highly sensitive to touch and activating them is very easy. Here is a bit more information on each.

 AbleNet LITTLE Candy Corn 2 and BIG Candy Corn Switch

These switches use highly sensitive proximity sensor technology for activation. When the user is near or barely touching the activation surface, the switch will activate. When activated, an auditory beep and light appear. This feature can be turned off if it is not needed. A replaceable battery is included.

AbleNet LITTLE Candy Corn 2 Proximity Switch 

AbleNet BIG Candy Corn Proximity Switch

  • Activation surface is nearly two times the size of the LITTLE Candy Corn Switch
  • Product Dimensions: 3.85-in L x 4-in W x 0.58-in H
  • Plug Size: 3.5mm mono (TS) plug

AbleNet Jelly Bean Switch

This AbleNet Jelly Bean Switch activates by pressing the top in any location. The color of the switch can be changed to red, green, blue, or yellow. There is a clear snap cap for symbol use. You can download the AbleNet Symbol Overlay Maker Application for free to create printable symbol overlays with access to thousands of symbols for devices and accessibility switches. The App. requires an iPad with iPadOS 13 or newer.

AbleNet remarkable ideas- using Jelly Bean and Candy Corn Switch is a five-minute video which provides practical and functional ideas on how these switches can be incorporated into the classroom and daily living activities.

I’ve had the experience of connecting these switches to an AbleNet Powerlink 4 Control Unit to control appliances independently, such as; turning on and off lamps, an oscillating fan, and even a handheld mixer (helping mix muffins) which was possible using either switch. They were both easy to operate. Positioning is always an important consideration when deciding on placement and switch access. Mounting or angling the switch might take a few trials to get it right. 

A longtime friend of mine, Justin, also tried out the Candy Corn Proximity Switch. At the time, Justin was using switches mounted to his wheelchair near the sides of his headrest.

His mom explained, “For Justin, turning his head to the right and left is his most reliable and purposeful movement. Justin has a harder time turning far enough to activate a button switch. By positioning the Candy Corn proximity switch within his range of movement, he was able to access his computer games and switch toys without repeated tries.” 

Judy also said that she liked the audio cue of the Candy Corn, which prompted Justin to move his head back to midline. 

There are many benefits to using switches as they help people with limited movement to enjoy greater independence, improved self-esteem, communication with others, access to technology and computers, an increase in inclusion and participation at home, school and in the community.

School Health is an official US Distributor of AbleNet products. Visit the SchoolHealth website to explore these and other switches.

School Health Welcomes Local Special Olympics Athletes


School Health is proud to welcome five Special Olympics athletes to our headquarters on April 18, 2023. Nate Freeman, Ashley Jones, Katie Hajost, Sam Deveraux, and Kevin Stuercke will meet the School Health team and learn what we do to help students, staff, and communities across the country.

Learn more about the athletes below!


Nate Freeman

Nate has been doing Special Olympics since 2014. He has done a variety of sports through the school district, but the sport he loves the best is swimming, which he does through his local YMCA. Nate grew up in Mount Prospect, IL and attended Hersey High School and the Life program at Forest View. He loves to bake and watch videos.

Ashley Jones

Ashley grew up in Hoffman Estates. She is 33 years old. She has participated in Special Olympics for 25 years. Ashley competes in multiple sports, but her favorites are gymnastics and golf. She won five medals in gymnastics at the Special Olympics National Summer games in Seattle, WA. in 2018: Two gold, one silver and two bronze. She was also chosen as one of the athletes who was part of the Illinois Sate Lottery Special Olympics scratch off charity ticket campaign. She was on billboards, on the internet, street signs, and bus stops. 

Fun fact: Ashley’s sister sent former CBS news anchorman Rob Johnson, an email stating he was Ashley’s favorite news person. Since he thought he took too long to see the email, he called Ashley at home and talked to her. Since then, they have met several times.

She has also been featured in newspaper articles and publications regarding her activities, and medical discussions regarding individuals with Down Syndrome. 

Her favorite activities are dancing and listening to music.



Katie Hajost

Katie grew up in Palatine, Illinois, and has been involved in Special Olympics since she was 8 years old, for a total of 29 years. Her favorite sport is swimming. Besides competing in swimming, she also competes in gymnastics and track & field.

 Fun fact: When she started high school, she wanted to be on the swim team with her older sister, Jenni. Despite not knowing how to swim, the head coach said they would teach her, and they did! She competed on the Regular Ed team all through high school while competing with Special Olympics! She loved it!

Katie also loves music, old TV sitcoms, and word search puzzles.


Samuel Deveraux

Samuel is a 22 year old athlete who has been enjoying Special Olympic programs since he was been four years old. His favorite Special Olympics sport is downhill skiing. He also enjoys the team sports of basketball and soccer. When he isn't playing sports, he enjoys gardening and walking his dog, Luna.

CSUN Assistive Technology Conference Highlights

 CSUN Assistive Technology Conference Highlights                                                                                                                  

California State University, Northridge (CSUN) held its 38th Annual Assistive Technology Conference March 13th through March 17th, 2023 in Anaheim, CA. This conference is focused on cutting-edge practices in the field of accessibility and assistive technology. The attendees typically are practitioners, educators, advocates, family members, individuals with disabilities, exhibitors, etc. This year the conference held hundreds of sessions, an exhibit hall, and many networking opportunities.

School Health was proud to participate in this year’s conference exhibit hall at booth number 104. I had the opportunity to represent the team along with my colleague Jodi Szuter, Specialist - Special Education, and the representatives from AbleCon as they provided real time demonstrations of the AbleCenter Camera System.

Sharing the products at our table such as the GlassOuse PRO and the Cosmo Devices drew attention from many conference attendees. The best part was meeting practitioners and school district staff looking for ideas to better serve their clients and students. We had many engaging conversations with individuals with disabilities who were looking for tools to assist their everyday lives. Their insights were helpful in understanding the variety and complexity of their needs. 

While at the conference, I made my way around the exhibit hall visiting over 90 booths. Many booths provided assistive technology equipment, software, or resources with focuses on two major areas: low/no vision and accessibility of websites and documents. There were some booths with augmentative and alternative communication devices, employment offerings/accommodations, and smart home speakers and cameras. 

One thing that really stood out to me at this conference was the number of attentive and helpful staff available to assist attendees in finding their way around the venue. Wearing their bright red shirts, they were easy to find, and with so many attendees using canes and guide dogs, their individual attention was exemplary. The CSUN 39th Annual Assistive Technology Conference is already scheduled for March 18th-22nd, 2024 at the Marriott - Anaheim, CA. 

 On a personal note, it’s not every day you meet a famous pop-culture icon but look who snapped a photo with us at this year’s CSUN Assistive Technology conference! Stevie Wonder!!!

Autism Acceptance is Key in Inclusionary Practices


During each spring, tens of thousands of students check their email or standard mail waiting for an acceptance letter from colleges. For thousands of middle school students, spring brings acceptance letters from private high schools. Parents in certain locations throughout the country seek acceptance into special pre-school programs for their young children. Individuals of all ages hope for acceptance into groups or other activities. The idea of acceptance is nothing new. We have seen it throughout the history of humanity. The idea of not being accepted brings concern and sadness and may even cause feelings of failure. Acceptance is an important part of any community and can help to establish higher levels of diversity and success within that group.

A few years ago, we moved from April being the month of “Autism Awareness” to “Autism Acceptance.” This came about because one can be aware of another person, but not accept them for any number of reasons. With the large number of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, acceptance of who they are is important to maintain a socially healthy community. Those who push back and fight accepting these individuals often do not understand that many individuals who may have had undiagnosed ASD have provided amazing insights into the world because of their “uniqueness” or “idiosyncratic” approach to life. Some people fear a label and do not give that person a chance to demonstrate what they can add to life.

Several years back, I was contacted by some consultant colleagues for insights on a project they were working on with a district. The district was moving toward having a strong inclusive approach to their student population and was developing a plan and budget to properly support faculty and students.  The seven-person Board had final approval and it looked like it would be a close vote as two members were opposed simply because of costs for the professional development. Two members were former educators and were very positive about the movement. So, both sides had the opportunity to present the pros and cons of an inclusionary program. The only argument against the plan was fiscal in nature. I was asked for insights on proper training and documentation because of work I had done internally with schools in the 1990s and early 2000s.

On the night of the public Board vote, both sides had one final time to share their side. Each side did and the crowd was asked to remain silent while the vote began. One of the three Board members who was undecided offered to vote first with his rationale. He shared his status as a parent of two students as well as a citizen concerned about doing what was right. He then went on to share that although the inclusion of students was important, he was going to vote against it because he did not want his children to “catch Autism.” Chaos arose in the meeting, but his vote was cast, and the other two undecided folks voted along with him in fear of something that wasn’t real. That district voted down inclusive classrooms because of being labeled without knowing anything about it. Fortunately, two years later a new superintendent entered the district and was able to put through a resolution with proper funding and training for “modern classroom teacher support and training.” Inclusion was able to be introduced in that way.

Events like that demonstrate why awareness is not enough. Too often, individuals making decisions are not aware of what actually happens in the classrooms. This is especially evident in our politically charged environment today where people assume they “know education” and “what really goes on” because they went to school. We have to put ourselves in a situation where these generalities and labels are pushed to the background while the individuals and the great things they bring to the community are in the forefront. One way of doing this is to highlight the accomplishments of all students side-by-side. Create videos and materials that surround the amazing work done by students, making sure that neurodiverse students are featured with their neurotypical peers.  

When we look for examples, think about some of the students on the autism spectrum who may be excellent actors or actresses. Be sure to use them in some of the advertising for shows or for recruiting others into the fine arts. Look at some of those individuals who may have other conditions and still make a positive difference in activities throughout the school. Be sure to have these students along with other students as examples to the community of the positive things being done by the students.  

Create community events like “Talent Evenings” with performances from the bands and choirs surrounded by art and pottery from student portfolios. Have the actors and actresses perform a short piece while speech and debate can mirror some of their competitions. I mention all these areas as various districts have shared with me how their neurodiverse students are thriving in these settings – something that the larger community may not be aware of at all!

We have heard of using the Universal Design for Learning principles for arranging classrooms and other educational settings. Keep the idea of "universal" in mind when highlighting the efforts of our students. We have experienced some of our students who may be on the autism spectrum becoming great athletes in sports like basketball, cross country, soccer, and volleyball. We don’t have to promote their condition, but we do have to promote their accomplishment. This way, we are designing a platform where individuals are assessed on what they have accomplished.

The question might arise surrounding those students who may be in programs to give them life skills with the goal of transitioning into the workforce. Celebrate them as well. Offer evenings and weekends when the community can interact with them as well as with those in standard vocational programs.  Look at what dishes can be cooked and serve those without distinguishing one group from another. Have some students work together to build something that can be presented to the community. Inclusion comes from the acceptance we have of one another. The way to break down some of those barriers is to highlight what can be done as opposed to how individuals are seen. By starting within our schools and programs, we can develop acceptance which can then be modeled for the world outside of our school walls!