Assistive technology contributes a great deal toward enhancing the ability of students with
physical disabilities to move, communicate, attend to daily living skills, attain their best possible physical health, and
possess a sense of agency. By becoming familiar with the assistive technology their students with physical disabilities
use, teachers can successfully include these students in their classrooms. Such assistive technology includes adaptive
equipment, augmentative and alternative communication, and medical technology assistance. Assistive technology can be
as low-tech as adapted spoon handles and Velcro and as high-tech as computer-operated devices (Turnbull et al., 2002).
TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY
Teachers of students with traumatic brain injuries should address
the cognitively based deficits the brain injury has caused. To help improve these
students' brain functioning, teachers can utilize compensatory strategy
training (practicing obtaining and retrieving information), component training (practicing processing
and organization), and functional retraining (engaging in everyday activities to retrain the brain). When introducing a new skill or strategy, teachers should model it carefully. After that, they must allow sufficient time for students to learn and practice the
new skill, offering guided assistance and immediate feedback when necessary. The
more active student participation teachers can elicit, the better. Since students
with traumatic brain injury often experience behavior problems, teachers can help them with their behavior by using antecedent
behavior management. If students have sustained injuries to the frontal
lobes of their brain, their memory may be affected and traditional approach of positive/negative consequences to behavior
management may not work well. While working with the student's family, teachers
should follow five steps for using the antecedent behavior management program:
- Discertain how the student's behavior has changed since the brain injury.
- Observe and describe the student's current behavior.
- Determine the cause of the undesired behavior and apply a strategy to correct it that is followed in both
the home and school environment.
- Evaluate the strategy's effectiveness regularly, focusing on the student's adaptive and compensatory skills.
- Make sure to continually involve the student and his or her family, accounting for the student's wishes, needs, strengths,
and ways of learning (Turnbull et al., 2002).
Carole, a special
education teacher in Oxnard,
CA, suggests that cognitive therapy and self esteem support can prove helpful for children
with traumatic brain injury. These students also often struggle with a good deal
of anger, towards which teachers should be sensitive (Interview 6/29/03,
Not a loss -- just a status
Brooke is a recent graduate of Harris Bilingual Elementary School
in Fort Collins, Colorado. This fall she began Junior High. A computerized voice interprets the
e-mails she receives; she writes and sends messages by herself, having memorized the keyboard. She apologizes for typos,
but her spelling and punctuation mistakes are almost nonexistent. Although she was born blind, she has always been fully
included in regular classes (with the exception of being taught to read in a different part of the classroom). Asked
what advice she'd give to teachers of blind students, Brooke suggests, "Treat us normally! Like, don't treat a sixth
grader like a pre-schooler." She continues, "I have hardly thought about the fact that I am the only blind person
in my class, but I do know one thing. I am glad that I wasn't put in a school for the blind. I would say if [blind children]
want to go to a regular school, go for it. It's just that everyone has their own opinions. If someone worries about my getting around, they might as well be worrying about someone with x-ray vision (that is,
if I have my cane and brailler). People think that when they are blindfolded, they can see what it's like to be blind,
yet they can't."
Most people's inability to function blindfolded aside, Brooke doesn't
conceptualize those who can't see as distinct from those who can. "I don't see the difference," she writes,
"If you're born [blind], you can do whatever anyone else can. (E-mail interview, 6/4/03). "Vision is a crutch for us,
but for her, it's nothing," Brooke's mother points out. "[Blindness] is not a loss, it's just a status. Healthy
people don't define themselves by their disabilities."
Before beginning at her public elementary school, Brooke attended
the same church pre-school her brothers had attended. "The teachers tried to accommodate her," Din, Brooke's mother,
recalls, "but they were unprepared and had no clue." As in mainstream society, everything was oriented around vision.
Worse still, Brooke's classmates picked on her because of her disability. Fortunately, Brooke's parents had a
positive experience sending her to a private pre-school for blind and low vision children in Denver. This school did
an excellent job training Brooke for school and life, says Din.
As a parent, "you want your kid's needs to be met and for [your kid]
to be challenged," Din states. The school district makes a number of accommodations for Brooke. It employs at
least one full-time braillist to translate all her assignments into Braille ahead of time. Brooke uses a Braille machine
to complete her work, which a part-time para-educator then transcribes into print. Furthermore, Brooke arrives at school
an hour early every day for orientation and mobility cane work.
The degree to which the school district accommodates her needs,
however, didn't happen without a struggle. If her parents hadn't assertively advocated for her, she would have
been given minimum help and "shoved to the back of the room." Din has observed that many parents of children with
disabilities are used to being told to go sit in a corner. She advises, "You have to be a squeaky wheel or they will
run right over you. You cannot be passive."
The emotional difficulty of IEP meetings further intensifies that challenge. Din
finds administrators as well as teachers unbearably insensitive to her child's education. The farther away from Brooke
their job seats them, the less cooperative they tend to be in addressing her concerns. IEP
meetings overwhelm her with the feelings "It's not fair" and "Why my kid?" Luckily, the
district has hired a coordinator of students with special needs, and this coordinator has been instrumental
in winning Brooke's accommodations.
"It's a huge challenge for teachers. The teacher will say to
the class, 'Look at this,' which means nothing for Brooke." Those who end up serving her well look at it as a learning
experience. Those who don't help her are "the struggling teacher who can't make it to the end of the day [even without
a blind student in the class] and the administrator who's trying not to rock the boat." Brooke's teachers have
all been relatively good with her because the type of teacher that would want to teach at a bilingual school, Din speculates,
tends to be the same type of teacher who adopts an attitude conducive to including a blind student in the class.
Raising a blind child has forced Brooke's parents to rethink everything
they do. "You can't live life the way you do with sighted people," Din explains. "There's no way you can know
before the fact. . . you need to learn along the way." She advises parents of blind children to take one day at a time.
"Don't get overwhelmed. Don't have pre-conceptions. Try not to project your worries onto your kid. Don't get bogged
down in the negative details. Your kid is always better off than some other kid. Don't mourn. Don't define your
child by what he or she doesn't have or can't do. Focus on the positive." (Telephone interview, 7/31/03)