Special Education Death Sentence

In a cramped elementary conference room a young second grade teacher, from one of the finest colleges on the East Coast, sits with a mother and father, the principal and several other specialists, delivering the devastating news with as much care as possible.

“I’m sorry Mr. and Mrs. Smith, this must be very difficult for you. However, it’s clear from testing, your son has a very severe communication disorder. He will probably never learn to read or write. That will make math difficult, if not impossible. If he gets along with his peers, it is possible he could be on a vocational track through High School. But you must prepare yourself. He won’t graduate with the rest of his class. He won’t get a standard diploma. He could get a certificate stating he put in three or more years at high school, but that’s all. It will be very difficult. But if we work hard, and we are lucky, it is possible he could grow up to be something like a plumber’s assistant or something–just not the guy who fills out the paperwork.”

That was 1968, and my diagnosis as a 2nd grader — Dyslexia.

Two graduate schools later, having worked paying my mortgage (for three years sun-up to sun-down) writing for CNN, having created television shows and designed the world’s largest television newsgathering network, having managed companies and 300 million dollar budgets, having lived my life with a big (backwards) scarlet “D” on my shoulder, I really would like to go back in time to 1968, find that teacher and slap her. (That is, if I were the slapping sort, which I am not.)

But she’s is more than 70-years old now and no longer relevant. What is a worry is the 23-year old version of her, now in 2010. What are they saying to parents about children with communications disorders? Even communication disorders which seem so overwhelming such as Autism.

Dyslexia was the “Autism” of its day, in 1968–pervasive, disabling, not understood. A real spear in the side of the then current educational paradigm. But just as it will with Autism, things changed. Our medical understanding of Dyslexia grew, technology advanced, and our educational approach adjusted.




  • I was enrolled in some of the earliest pilots of reading programs which later became elements of the Edmark reading program
  • My mother demanded I remain in general education, making me one of the first “inclusive” special education students
  • Daily tutoring after school for 3 hours
  • Visiting every medical specialist in existence
  • Advent of commercially available portable cassette tape recorders and players


  • Advent of Educational Television (Sesame Street, Electric Company)
  • Increased understanding of Dyslexia in medicine
  • Increased understanding of psychology’s role in education
  • Increased understanding of Dyslexia in education
  • Advent of home video players and educational videos
  • Advent of sony walkman cassette tape players
  • Advent of interchangeable cassettes for white-out and ribbon on electric typewriters
  • Advent of spell check prediction on electric typewriters
  • International direct-dial-up telephone communication


  • First “luggable” IBM PCs with amber screens and rudimentary word processing
  • Computer daisy-wheel printers, with uninterrupted paper feeds.
  • Office newsrooms completely computerized with global mainframe access, word processing & electronic messaging
  • Micro audio recorders

And on and on (over the course of 15 years)…allowing my first job out of Georgetown’s Graduate School of Foreign Service to be with NBC in their Cairo, Egypt bureau.

My 2nd grade teacher’s world of type-written stamp-and-envelope post for business communications and the very rudimentary direct instruction and rote transcription that defined education, was quickly snuffed out by advances in technology, education, psychology, medicine and changes in the the type of work needed in an economy ever morphing into the future.


In advances in communications technologies??

In advances in educational practice??

In advances in medical understanding of communication disorders such as Autism??

In advances and changes in the job skills demanded by the future economy??

In advances in the integration of these four trends with one another??

  • Technology & Education
  • Education & Communication
  • Medicine & Technology
  • Medicine & Education

The answer, WE DON’T KNOW. Heck even the best minds studying the future barely see 1 to 2 YEARS out.


We need teachers who are surfing these trends rather than handing out death sentences based on the static information of the day.

I’m not talking about tilting windmills.  I know many special needs students will never have “normal” careers.  But there’s more to life in the next 15 to 30 years for heavily impacted (read “non-verbal/ID”) people than institutionalization.  There are real opportunities for a fulfilling life of happiness and friendship.

Technology and communication is becoming much more visual and personal than ever before.  People’s attitudes toward ID and Autism is becoming much more accepting.  People are figuring out how to work with these types of folks more and more.  These trends are going to continue and make things easier for those with communications disorders — no matter how severe.  I’m not saying many will be able to completely overcome their disabilities using technology, but the trends toward the future are promising to have a very positive impact on their ability to function.

We should be looking to sculpt an education and trajectory for these students which will allow them to keep as many options open as possible for a future which is morphing in their direction.

We need special educators who see this.


So the next time you are considering giving a death sentence to some kid…

Telling his parents what’s going to happen to a student 15 years from now…

Remember, they get to live through the next 15 years.  You’re just guessing.

21 Things That Will Be Obsolete in 2020? Try 2010.


21 Things That Will Become Obsolete in Education by 2020 is a post in Teach Paperless, a blog by Shelly Blake-Plock.  It’s a great blog about teaching.  I love how this guy thinks.

I’m reading this post in teachpaperless and I’m thinking, “Why write about it, just do it.” (I know, to share, to share …)

Here’s the list from Teachpaperless of 21 things that will be obsolete over the next 10 years, and what we (at a Title One elementary school outside Washington, D.C.) are doing about them today.

I’ve put the items teach paperless stated would be obsolete in bold.  I agree with all of them, save two (numbers 8 & 9).

The following is not bragging, I’m just stating the facts about the school at which I’m lucky enough to work:

1. Desks: A 5th grade teacher here removed all desks from her room two years ago.  She did a research project to track data on student performance.  She has not asked for the furniture back.

2. Language Labs: Hah! Forget ESOL, try finding an ETMT student (English as Their Mother Tongue).  This whole school is a language lab, and if the demographers are correct so will be most U.S. schools in the future.  We don’t have a separate language lab as a result.

3. Computers: The majority of our computers are laptops, and going forward we are trying the netbooks and the next step.  School-system finances and classroom real estate both being at a premium, small and mobile is where everything is going, not just computing.

4. Homework: We’re going 24/7 using Blackboard (2 & 3) in the lower grades and wordpress/blogspot & wikispaces in the upper grades (3, 4 & 5).  Students are doing work at home without being asked.  That’s the real power of social media.  A 5th grade teacher is currently doing educational research on best practices for homework, which is NOT the way it used to be done, more along the line of teachpaperless.

5. Standardized Tests: This is a hot topic, the details of which I will cover in an upcoming post.  But we are very much moving toward portfolios as a large percentage of our students (compared with other schools) do a portfolio replacement test for the standardized tests.

6. Differentiated Instruction as Unique: We’re already far beyond this and our teachers differentiate due to language, learning styles and/or special needs.  We have an inclusive model which requires real and meaningful differentiation as a fundamental baseline to everything happening in a classroom or other part of the school, rather than an afterthought or “something the special ed teacher do” (which unfortunately is what many teachers around the world think).

7. Fear of Wikipedia: We use it as a method to teach critical reading skills. And by “critical” we mean “with a discerning eye.”

*8. Paperbacks: Here is the one thing with which I don’t agree.  Radio was to be the end of newspapers, and radio theater the end of paperbacks.  Television was to be the end of Radio, and Computers the end of everything that came before.  People will consume information in a way that is most useful and although the percentage of market share changes we have a ways to go before books go the way of papyrus scrolls.

*9. Attendance Offices: Bio scans are great, but there will still be a frazzled office person handing out tardy slips and calling home to confirm children’s whereabouts.

10. Lockers: Well, didn’t need them anyway.

11. IT Departments: According to TeachPaperless, IT Departments will have more time to innovate as they give up control and budget-line to shared-open solutions.  A lovely sentiment, and clear-headed if one remembers fondly how there didn’t really seem to be anyone in charge of IT on the Star Ship Enterprise.  But the thought of the obsessive, slightly asburger-y engineers (the norm in most IT departments) being “innovative”, well, let’s not be silly now.

12. Centralized Institutions: He’s right on the mark.  He’s talking about school buildings being like a factory where students show up for a shift.  I would also include decentralizing central offices.  “Employees who do not spend at least 10 hours a week with student should be sacked,” is a budget solution suggested by one of the teachers at my school.  All “central office” types should be housed in schools. That way they might accidentally run into a student every now and then.  At our school we house central office types, and it helps them understand the school and students, and helps us by having them more accessible.

13. Organization of Educational Service by Grade: We’re already doing this by necessity, because when one successfully differentiates, it’s done.

14. Education School Classes that Fail to Integrate Social Technology: I agree, but would reword this to say the following will be obsolete in two years, “Education School Classes that Can Successfully Continue to Keep Social Technology Out.” (I mean MiFi kind of screws up all the “firewall technology” on which we are currently spending money.)

15. Paid/Outsourced Professional Development: Our school has a specific model which is co-teaching, coaching and inclusive.  One can walk into any room at any time and nobody bats an eyelash.  The kids and teachers are used to constant traffic.  This raises the bar, because no one can go into their room, shut the door and come out in June.  Professional accountability which includes an AP coming in twice a year is ridiculous.  Constant feedback on everything at all times is what professional development is now and going forward.  Implementing it is the hard part.  We have.  There’s still a place for Paid/Outsourced PD, but the guts of our PD is inhouse PLC, and it works.

16. Current Curricular Norms: We’re doing this, but it is easier in a K-5 environment.  Differentiation demands it.

17. Parent-Teacher Conference Night: More and more classroom blogs are cropping up at my school. These keep the parents in the loop in an ongoing way.  One instance (not at this school) is an individual blog being used for a special needs student instead of a journal they take from home to school and back.  The dialog is deep and meaningful and discrete.  A reality to which I think Blake-Plock is alluding.

18.Typical Cafeteria Food: We’ve made no great inroads here, but one can only hope.

19. Outsourced Graphic Design and Webmastering: Here again is a tension between the creative flow in a school and the need of many DIT departments to assert control claiming “Internet Security” as the cover.  In the future, with social media becoming a utility, and technology becoming ubiquitous, “Internet Security” emanating from within a technology department as a firewall or other technology will not be possible.  “Internet Security” will principally be achieved through behavior management by education of students from Kindergarten forward.  Our 3rd and 4th graders are doing MySpace and Facebook pages at home already.  They are doing google pages, blogspot and wordpress at school.  Given the tools, they could do what Blake-Plock is suggesting next week, but current technology setup of our formal graphic design and webmastering prevents this.

20. High School Algebra I: OK, well, N/A for this K-5 school.

21. Paper: In the last three years, we have moved from a deskjet at every teacher’s desk to a small set of networked centralized printers.  Paper use (and toner) has declined exponentially.

Thanks to Blake-Plock and TeachPaperless.blogspot.com for everything they are doing to support the mission.

Abbreviations Relevant for the Sensory Integration

Knowing the language is a key to advocating.> ABA = Applied Behavior Analysis
> ABA = Applied Behavior Analysis (therapy method)/
> AD = Alzheimer’s Disease
> AD = Attachment Disorder
> AD/HD = The DSM-IV eliminated the diagnosis of ADD and replaced it with AD/HD (for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder). The specifiers for subtypes for this disorder are Predominantly Inattentive, Predominantly Hyperactive or Combined
> ADA = The Americans with Disabilities Act
> ADD = Attention Deficit Disorder. Now replaced by AD/HD
> ADD-RT = ADD that lasts into Adulthood is referred to as ADD-RT (Residual Type)
> ADHD = Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
> ADL’s = Activities of Daily Living
> ADSA = The Australian Down Syndrome Association Inc.
> AEA = Area Education Agency, provides support services to
> AIDS = Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome
> AIT = Auditory Integrated Training
> AIT = Advanced Individual Training or Auditory Integration Therapy
> ALE = Alternative Learning Experience
> ALS = Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
> APA = American Psychiatric Association
> APD = Auditory Processing Disorder
> Applied Behavioral Analysis
> AS = Anklyosing Spondylitis
> AS = Asperger’s Syndrome (part of the autism spectrum)
> AS = Asperger’s Syndrome/Autism Spectrum
> ASA = Autism Society of America
> ASD = Autism Spectrum Disorder
> ASL = American Sign Language
> ASPIE = A person with Asperger’s Syndrome
> ATA = Alliance for Technology Access
> AUTIE = A person with Autism
> BAMH = The Burnaby Association for the Mentally Handicapped
> BASC = Basic Assessment System for Children
> BD = Behavioral Disorder
> BEH = Behaviorally/Emotionally Handicapped
> BH = Behaviorally Handicapped
> BIC = Behavior Improvement Class
> BIP = Behavior Improvement Plan
> BMP = Behavior Management Plan
> BP = Bi-Polar (formerly called ‘manic depressive’)
> CACL = Canadian Association for Community Living
> CADRE = Coalition Advocating for Disability Reform In Education
> CAN = An organization called “Cure Autism Now”
> CANDLE = Childhood Aphasia, Neurological Disorders, Landau-Klefner, and Epilepsy
> CAPD = Central Auditory Processing Disorder
> CARS = Childhood Autism Rating Scale (diagnostic and evaluation tool)
> CAT Scan = Computer Axial Tomography – a scan using an xray machine linked to a computer that produces a scan in cross sections catalog of medical diagnoses)
> CCBD = Council for Children with Behaviour Disorders
> CCD = Considerable Conduct Disorder
> CCD = Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities
> CCHS = Congenital Central Hypoventilation Syndrome
> CD = Conduct Disorder
> CDC = Center For Disease Control and Prevention (a government agency)
> CDGS = Carbohydrate Deficient Glycoprotein Syndrome
> CF = Cystic Fibrosis
> CF = Casein Free (milk protein)
> CFF = Cystic Fibrosis Foundation
> CFIDS = Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome
> CFS = Chronic fatigue syndrome
> CHADD = CHildren & Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder
> CHDD = Center on Human Development and Disability
> CNS = Central Nervous System
> CP = Cerebral Palsy
> CPS = Child Protective Services
> CRC = Clinical Research Center
> CSE = Committee for Special Education (called MDT in some states)
> CVPD = Central Vision Processing Disorder
> DAS = Developmental Apraxia of Speech
> DCD = Development Coordination Disorder (DSM IV 315.4)
> DD = Darling or Dear Daughter (in email)
> DD = Developmentally Delayed
> DD Council = Developmental Disabilities Council (Each state has one)
> DD = Development Disorder/Developmental Disabilities
> DS = Darling or Dear Son (email)
> DEF = Deaf
> DH = Darling or Dear Husband (in email)
> DH = Developmentally Handicapped (used in some areas instead of DD)
> DHH = Deaf and Hard of Hearing
> DHS = Department of Human Services
> DMG = Dimethyl Glycine (a supplement)
> DSM = Disablity Statistical Manual (enormous industry-standard
> DSM-IV = Diagnostic Statistical Manual (edition IV) the current
> DSMR = Diagnostic Statistical Manual (Revised)
> DSPS = Disabled Students’ Programs and Services
> DVD = Developmental Verbal Dyspraxia
> DX = Diagnosis
> EASe = Electronic Auditory Stimulation effect
> EASI = Equal Access To Software And Information
> EBD = Emotional Behavior Disorder
> ECG = ElectroCardioGram – records electrical activity in the heart
> ECS = Early Childhood Services
> ECSE = Early Childhood Special Education
> ECT = ElectroConvulsive Therapy (electroshock)
> ED = Emotionally Disturbed
> EDS = Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome
> EEG = ElectroEncephaloGram – records electrical brain-wave activity in the brain
> EI = Early Intervention
> EMH = Educable Mentally Handicapped
> ENS = Epidermal Nevus Syndrome.
> ESD = Educational Service District
> ESE = Exceptional Student Education
> ESY = Extended School Year
> EYSD = Extended Year Special Ed
> F2F = Face to Face
> FAPE = Free Appropriate Public Education
> FAS = Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
> FC = Facilitated Communication
> FDA = Food and Drug Administration
> FERPA = Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act
> FMS = Fibromyalgia Syndrome
> FNS = Functional Neuromuscular Stimulation (also see TES & TENS)
> FRAXA = Fragile X Syndrome
> FSP = Family Support Plan
> FVS = Fetal Valproate Syndrome
> FWIW = For what it’s worth
> GF = Gluten Free (protein in small grains)
> GFCF = Gluten Free / Casein Free diet
> GI = Gastro Intestinal
> GT/LD = Gifted & Learning Disabled
> HDSA = Huntington’s Disease Society of America
> HFA = High Functioning Autism (autism without mental retardation, e.g. w/IQ of 70 or higher)
> HFS = Health Food Store
> HI = Hearing Impaired (all of us in general)
> HIV = Human ImmunoDeficiency Virus
> HOH or HH = Hard Of Hearing
> HSLDA = Home School Legal Defense Organization
> IBD = Inflammatory Bowel Diseases
> IBS = Irritable Bowel Syndrome
> IDEA = Individuals With Disabilities Education Act
> IED = Intermittent Explosive Disorder
> IEP = Individual Education Plan
> IME = Independent Medical Examination
> IMMV = Individual Mileage May Vary (your experiences might be different)
> InLv = Independent Living (support group)
> IOW = In Other Words
> IQ = Intelligence Quotient
> LD = Learning Disabilities/Differences
> LDA = Learning Disabilities Association
> LF = Lactose Free (milk sugar)
> LFA = Low Functioning Autism
> LI = Lactose Intolerant
> LICC = Local Interagency Coordinating Council
> LINC = Learning Independence Through Computers, Inc.
> LKS = Landau-Kleffler Syndrome – a form of aphasia with seizure-like activity
> LLD = Language-based Learning Disability
> MAO = monoamine oxidase inhibitors – a type of antidepressant
> MBD = Minimal brain dysfunction (another name AD(H)D has been known by)
> MBD = Minimum Brain Dysfunction
> MBTI = Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
> MCS = Multiple Chemical Sensitivities
> MD = Muscular dystrophy
> M-D = Manic Depression (Bipolar depression)
> MDO = Major Depressive Disorder
> MDT = Multidisciplinary Team (teacher, SLP, OT, psych and
> mental retardation, e.g. w/IQ lower than 70)
> MIDD or MC = middle child (late deafened or hard of hearing AFTER spending life as hearing)
> MR = Mental Retardation, Mentally Retarded (IQ less than 70) (Preferable Term is ID or Intellectual Disability)
> MRI = Magnetic Resonance Imaging
> MS = Multiple Sclerosis
> MSDD = Multi-Sensory Developmental Delays
> MUMS = Mothers United for Moral Support – support group
> NAAR = National Alliance for Autism Research
> NADDC = National Association of Developmental Disabilities Councils
> NDA = Not Diagnosed with Anything
> NEA = National Education Association
> NEC*TAS = National Early Childhood Technical Assistance Systems
> NLD = Nonverbal Learning Disability
> NOD = Not Otherwise Defined, Often appears alot with DX by psychologists
> NOS = Not of Specific Origin/Not Otherwise Specified (usually
> NRSI = National Reading Styles Institute
> NT = Neurologically Typical (no diagnosable neurological disorder)
> NTID = National Technical Institute for the Deaf
> NVLD = Non-verbal learning disability
> OCD = Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
> OCR = Office for Civil Rights
> ODD = Oppositional Defiant Disorder
> ODS = Orton Dyslexia Society
> OEA = Overseas Education Association
> OHI = Other Health Impaired
> OMA = Ocular Motor Apraxia
> OT = Occupational Therapist or Occupational Therapy
> P&A = Protection & Advocacy
> PCA = Personal Care Attendant
> PDCA = Physical Disability Council Australia ( Peak National Body)
> PDD = Pervasive Developmental Disorder
> PDD/NOS = Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified
> PDR = Physician’s Desk Reference
> PECS = Picture Exchange Communication System
> PET Scan = Postronic Emission Tomography (a nuclear scan that measures
> blood flow in brain, heart etc.)
> PHP = Parents Helping Parents
> PLAN = Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network
> PM&R = Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
> POHI = Physically or Otherwise Health Impaired
> POV = Point of View
> PPA = (PhenylPropanolAmine: A D-amphetamine analogue)
> PPS = Post-Polio Syndrome
> PT = Physical Therapist or Physical Therapy
> PTI = Parent Training and Information Centers (Each State has at least one)
> PTSD = Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
> RA = Rheumatoid Arthritis
> RAD = Reactive Attachment Disorder
> RDI = Relationship Development Intervention
> RL = Real Life
> SERT = Special Education Resource Teacher
> SI = Sensory Integration
> SIB = Self-Injurious Behavior
> SICC = State Interagency Coordinating Council
> SID = Sensory Integrative (or Integration) Disorder/Dysfunction
> SIDS = Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
> SIS = Shaken Infant Syndrome – also referred to as SBS
> SLK = Severely Labeled Kid
> SLP = Speech Language Pathologist
> SLP = Speech and Language Pathologist
> SLT = Speech Language Therapist
> SPED = Special Education – also used in referring to a Special Ed Teacher
> SSI = Social Security Income
> SSRI = Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor – antidepressant medication
> includes Prozac, Paxil, Luvox, Zoloft
> TA = Technical Assistance
> TAN = Tangentially
> TASK = Team of Advocates for Special Kids
> TBI = Traumatic Brain Injury
> TCS = Tethered Cord Syndrome
> TEACCH = Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children
> TEF = Tracheo Esophageal Fistula
> TENS = Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation
> TES = Therapeutic Electrical Stimulation
> TMH = Trainable Mentally Handicapped
> TMJ/TMD : Temporomandubular Joint Dysfunction
> TNI = Targeted Nutritional Intervention
> TRIP = Translating Research into Practice – a teaching/learning strategy
> TS = Tourette Syndrome
> VQ = Verbal IQ
> VR = Vocational Rehabilitation

Best Tracking of Student Data (for Behavior Plans or Anything) for the Busy Teacher

Graphic of Google forms for data collection
Graphic of Google forms for data collection

This is a way to use Google Docs and an iPhone or any hand-held device that can hit the web to track student data.

Remember in Educational Research, APA ethical guidelines require no information be used which could be employed to identify the student.

1)In Google docs, open a new Spreadsheet.

2)Name columns with the items you are tracking; Disrupting Teacher; Disrupting Students; Absence of Bad Behavior for 30 minutes, for example.  This will be determined by the student’s Behavior Intervention Plan or whatever research question you are tracking.  Each entry you make will automatically be stamped with the time and date, so you don’t have to worry about that column.

3)On the “Form” menu of the same spreadsheet click on “Create form.”  Name the form something you can remember, but not the name of the student.  Then on the Form menu choose “Go to live form” which opens your form as a webpage.  Along the bottom of that window is the “You can view the published form here: url” which is the web address of your live form.  Make a shortcut to the live form and put that on your iPhone or whatever you want to use to enter data.

From that point on, everything you enter into the live form and save, will be entered into your spreadsheet as a row and saved for your later analysis.

On the way out, remember to Save your form, and choose File and Save your spreadsheet.Too Easy!

For extra credit, on the forms creation page, you can edit the questions and make them multiple choice or check boxes to make data entry even easier!

Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence: Music & Symbolism

Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen

One doesn’t think of how odd sheet music is as a language.  Ubiquitous and rather separate from other languages.  Appealing no doubt to the musically inclined.

As Gardner (1999, p38) puts it, “Symbol systems may have been developed precisely because of their preexisting, ready fit with the relevant intelligence or intelligences.”

Gardner, Howard, (1999). Intelligence Reframed, NY: Basic Books.