Thursday, July 25, 2013

Tips for New Special Ed Teachers: Understanding Formal Reports

One of the most daunting things in special education is all of the very formal reporting! We see a couple random examples in college, but it's something I feel many teachers aren't really trained to understand how to read before starting their careers. You see them, but they rarely make sense before you've had to read one that actually pertains to our own students.  I'm here to hopefully help you make sense of it all!

Note: I am not a doctor or clinician. I am a teacher with a Master's in Special Education. I'm telling you how to get to the basics for those who are new and worried about all the paperwork. There is soooo much to these reports, but I don't want to overwhelm you. I want you to know where to start.
1) Find the essentials! 
 When there are 50 pages in a file by the time a kid reaches 1st grade, these files can get very thick and daunting before you've ever begun! You have to find the important part and start there!
  • Find the most recent IEP, read the 1st page that says the key student information: age, disability category, severity, etc.
  • Look at the scoring tables within the report that show the percentile rank (%tile). Look for any section where the student has a score of 50% or lower. Those are the areas you need to focus on! If the student has a severe disability, that could be every section. In that case, focus on the lowest numbers and know those will be the student's greatest challenges.
  • Skip to the end and read the qualified services section. This will tell you how many minutes you should be providing specific interventions, or allowing for therapies such as speech and OT. It also tends to include approved accommodations and modifications for class work and tests.
  • Then skip the final pages and find the IEP goals. This will tell you exactly where the student is starting (Baseline) and exactly what the goal is for the student to learn in that area. There are often a mixture of academic, social, speech and OT goals. 
  • Find food allergies and diet information!! Students in special education have an exceptionally high rate of food allergies and special diets!
2) Take Notes!
Most special education teachers have a minimum of 5 kids on their caseload and I've had friends with upward of 100 if they are doing pull-out services. It's best if you have a quick cheat sheet for each child. Here is the link to mine, but use whatever makes sense to you. I currently have 10 kids on my caseload, so Lauren (my co-teacher) and I filled one of these out for every kid tonight. We sat on the floor of the office until 7:15 tonight working on them. It was totally worth it to help us make a plan for each child.

3) Understand common phrases and abbreviations:
  • Sensory Processing Disorder- trouble processing information, generally physical things such as sound (volume/tone), smells, tastes and touch. Students usually crave or repel from different sensory things, which can vary greatly by child. Sensory seeking often means they crave touching/feeling/chewing or other sensory activity more than the average child.
  • Auditory Processing Disorder- trouble understanding verbal/audio information. This can result in very slow response times between you asking a question, and the student being able to answer. It also results in poor auditory comprehension (remembering a story read aloud to them).
  • Perseverate- Get stuck on the same idea/topic and struggle to change topics despite the fact that it is inappropriate for the audience or situation (i.e. constantly talking about trains during reading time, recess, AND math).
  • Social Skills- ability to interact appropriately with peers and adults. This includes making friends, maintaining appropriate personal space, solving social problems appropriately, and theory of mind (understanding other people have different thoughts than yourself and may not know what you know). For example, poor social skills could include a student who likes to play with others, but hits them, as well as a child who'd rather play alone. They are different sides of the same coin.
  • PDD-NOS- Pervasive Developmental Disorder- Not Otherwise Specified. This can take a HUGE range of appearances! It generally means they can diagnose that something is wrong, but can't quite give it a label. This often occurs with students who have significant social skills challenges, but don't quite fit the mold for autism spectrum disorders. 
  • Fine Motor Skills- Refers to small coordination tasks such as holding a pencil properly and cutting with scissors. This can result in students not knowing how to tie their shoes at the appropriate age.
  • Gross Motor Skills- This refers to larger movements such as hopping, skipping, throwing, etc. These can often be seen in PE class. Jumping jacks can be very hard for some students!
To be perfectly honest, this list could go on forever! I plan on updating this list as I think of more, so be sure to check back when you are curious about something. Or leave a comment below about a question you have or term you don't understand and I can edit the post :)
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