Stephen M. Shore, Ed.D. is a clinical assistant professor at the School of Education at Adelphi University. As a child, Dr. Shore was nonverbal and diagnosed with “atypical development and strong autistic tendencies.” His parents rejected institutionalization and instead opted for intensive early intervention and support. Today Dr. Shore is an internationally renowned professor and author on issues pertinent to students with disabilities, particularly autism.
In a workshop hosted by School Leaders for Change, Dr. Shore gave a presentation and shared autobiographical experiences to illustrate how schools and teachers can develop and use educational accommodations in inclusion settings to support all students in the classroom. Participants learned about curriculum modifications and their appropriate usage. Shore’s discussion focused on educating students by employing their strengths.
Do you remember the pictures in Highlights Magazine where there are two pictures and you have to spot the differences between the two images?
It is a visual perception exercise and Dr. Shore was making the point about how we perceive disabilities. We need to reframe how we view the students in our classroom who are on the spectrum. We want to look at the whole spectrum. Move from deficient model to a strengths model. Autism brings challenges but how can we use their strengths so these students can succeed in our classrooms? For example, a child who is judged to be learning disabled, hyperactive, dyslexic can also be considered learning different, a kinesthetic learner, a spatial learner (For more see Turning Lead Into Gold by Thomas Armstrong, 1989).
When addressing student challenges do the following:
- Indicate how you would go about determining the functions behind these behaviors,
- Suggest a plan that would help this student keep him/herself properly regulated
- Describe what you might do as the teacher to implement this plan
Everyone has strengths and challenges. Rather than looking at students on the spectrum from a deficient model, look at strengths and match their special skills with the curriculum or find something closely connected. With all learning differences, how do we make it work? Think about size, time, levels of support, input, difficulty, output, participation, alternatives, and substitute curriculum when modifying and implementing special ways and techniques for all students to succeed.
For example, maybe a student needs the size and quantity of information reduced. You might even think about having students complete five questions early in the week and then five more questions when everyone else is taking the test to chunk the test into more manageable parts. Thus, the student it still completing the same amount of work, it is just broken down over the week to support their accommodation.
Think about time and the executive function of time management, teachers can create a timeline that is posted on the bulletin board or Google Classroom for all students to post where they are in the writing process and monitor the requirements of the assignment. A teacher might even employ students to help out in this situation as peer buddies and teaching assistants to monitor that students are completing the steps of a multi-step assignment.
Teachers have to adapt the way instruction is delivered to the learner (Input). The more ways we differentiate, the more students we can reach. Utilize Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences and go beyond functional math and reading intelligences. Teachers need to help students process and express information (Output). Think in other modalities. Allow students to demonstrate mastery in other ways. We want to undo any barriers that get in the way of students showing their learning and understanding — these are merely extensions of good teaching practice.
The second part of Stone’s presentation was on sensory issues and having participants experience and understand sensory processing disorders to we can rethink the classroom environment to be a more sensorially friendly place.
Overall, there were so many takeaways from the morning. Throughout the presentation we addressed easy to implement, practical solutions for including children with autism and other special needs into the regular education experience. The key idea is that everyone can learn and with the right modifications, all students can succeed.