Monday, November 23, 2009

Solving Mysteries

I recently read a book for the International Children’s Literature course I teach at the University of Utah. We try to find well-written books that are published in another country prior to finding their way to the shelves of libraries in the United States. The book I read was called, The London Eye Mystery, by Siobhan Dowd. Ms. Dowd is English and resided in England when the book was written and published in 2007. The London Eye is a world-renowned ferris wheel and people come from all over to ride it. In this book, a young boy named Ted, whose brain is ‘wired differently,’ tries to find out what happened to his cousin. His cousin disappears while riding the London Eye. Because his brain is ‘wired differently,’ Ted is able to analyze the situation and with thorough reasoning determine where his cousin, Salim, has gone.

The reason I was so taken with this book is that no one in Ted’s life would listen to his suggestions about where to find the missing boy. His parents, his sister, his aunt and even the police, dismiss Ted’s reasoning because he is a ‘special child.’ The book subtly suggests that Ted has a form of autism, but never gives a diagnosis within the pages. I think ‘typically developing’ people always make the assumption that a child with exceptionalities cannot make a valuable contribution to the daily life of those around him. I have worked with enough special needs children over the years that I am acutely aware of the fact they usually possess skills that I do not. Because a child’s thinking patterns may differ from what we call the ‘norm,’ some have a tendency to dismiss his efforts as useless or unimportant. In The London Eye Mystery, Ted not only comes up with valuable suggestions and theories, but he eventually helps the police find his lost cousin. This happy conclusion is a result of the fact that one police officer finally listens to Ted. He followed his instincts that told him this ‘special’ boy had insight that had eluded the rest of the search party.

I think we need to always be aware of the fact that the term, ‘a child with special needs,’ refers to the fact that this child is indeed special. Different approaches to learning and discovery may be needed to help this child develop basic skills. But, in ways we sometimes don’t understand, this child is special. When I was a manager for Head Start, we had a lab classroom to model good teaching practices and train new teachers. We routinely had 2-4 mildly autistic children in our care. What became a marvel to me was how much capacity each one of these children had for learning. If we could channel their energy to focus on one thing, the results were incredible. Many of our autistic children left Head Start as readers and writers, well ahead of the typically developing children in the group. Our challenge each year was to find the magic method that would help each of these special children focus on learning a skill. Sometimes, it was just a matter of listening to them for clues of how to solve the riddle in their brain.

Reading The London Eye Mystery reminded me never to take for granted the thinking of a child with special needs. In many ways, he becomes the teacher.

This post was submitted by John Funk. Mr. Funk is an early childhood, reading, and literacy consultant, Manager of Educational Programs for Excelligence Learning Corporation and he teaches courses in children's literature and early reading at the University of Utah.

Friday, November 13, 2009

In The News

Here are some links to recent news media mentions of issues facing special needs populations and/or the educators, caregivers and others who work with them…

Budget Deficit Could Swell to $14 Billion by January

“The news of a growing deficit with more proposals of massive and permanent spending cuts likely to be proposed to close it, will have almost certain impact again on services and programs for children and adults with disabilities, mental health needs, the blind, low income seniors and families, community organizations, facilities, workers and counties to provide services and supports...”

Special Needs Kids' Parents Should Rejoice Over Health Care Bill's Passing

“…What does this mean for parents of special needs kids? The biggest piece of this legislation is the removal of the insurance companies’ ability to deny coverage based on ‘pre-existing conditions’ and the public insurance exchange…”

Judge Refuses to Halt Hawaii Teacher Furloughs

“…Varady's lawsuit, on behalf of eight sets of parents of special education students, contended that furloughs violate federal special education requirements…Varady and Seitz argued that federal law, called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, bars school administrators from changing the instructional patterns of special education pupils without consulting parents…”

School Districts, Parents Work Together for Special Needs Students

“Parents with children who have special needs may find themselves overwhelmed as they learn about their rights and state and federal rules…

Friday, October 16, 2009

Knowing Where to Begin

I am John Funk, Manager of Educational Programs for Discount School Supply. Several years ago, I had the opportunity to work as a specialist for teacher support in a fourth-grade classroom where all of the children were classified as ‘learning disabled.’ I am sure there were different levels of disability within the group. I was in the classroom to provide support for the teacher and his aides, so I did not examine the students’ IEPs (Individual Education Plan) to see where they were functioning. One thing I did know is that they were all functioning far below grade level in reading. Most of the children in the group were reading on kindergarten-to-first-grade reading levels.

Since I had served on a reading research committee a few years before, I wondered if some of the problems these children were experiencing came from missing pieces in the development of each child’s reading skills. The classroom teacher and I decided to go back and work on kindergarten and first-grade reading skills. Because the children had the maturity of fourth graders, we had to adjust some of the teaching materials to be more age-appropriate.

For example, we couldn’t really use nursery rhymes very effectively (“that’s baby stuff”), so instead we had the children write their own rap songs. The only rule was that the “songs” had to rhyme. This was a great activity for these children, especially since school had not been a very positive experience so far in their educational careers. Before long, the students were identifying sounds in words without any help, and easily choosing rhyming words.

What we discovered through this experience was that these children did not have the basic skills of phonemic and phonological awareness. These skills should be addressed in preschool through first grade, yet somehow these children had missed that important brick in their reading foundations. Other bricks that we continued to work on were alphabet knowledge (identifying every letter automatically with no hesitation), listening comprehension, print awareness and oral language. I’m pleased to say that these children made significant gains during the school year. Almost every child exhibited more progress in reading than they had during the three previous years put together.

I have taught reading methods courses to pre-service elementary teachers at the university level. They always question why I make them work with preschool and kindergarten children. I always tell them that they must know how reading begins and what skills build that literacy foundation. If they know those skills, they can help any struggling child they may have in any grade. This same strategy will help the teacher work with special needs children who may be mainstreamed into their classrooms. Although a special needs child might progress at a different rate than a typically development child, she will still need the same skills. Knowing and using early childhood content and teaching strategies (the reading foundation) can benefit the teachers as they work with children.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Daily Visual Schedule

One strategy suggested by the Center for Social Emotional Foundations in Early Learners (CSEFEL) for children that are developmentally delayed or mildly autistic is to use a daily visual schedule for classroom routines. Although suggested for special needs children, it is also very appropriate for typically developing children to encourage and support positive behavior.

Teachers in early childhood classrooms should always display a daily visual schedule to give children the opportunity to feel secure in the classroom routine. Using pictures gives children visual clues about the environment and what activity will come next during the school day. It becomes a good reference point and a simple way to discuss day-to-day activities. For children with mild autism and developmental delays, a visual schedule allows the teacher to focus the child’s attention on one item or activity. It is suggested that for special needs children, the teacher should indicate and use just one picture activity at a time, as opposed to lining up the entire daily schedule. When displaying a visual schedule in the classroom, the teacher should remember the following points:

• The schedule should be placed at the eye level of the children. This allows the schedule to be a true teaching tool and not just a decoration.
• The schedule should always be displayed horizontally, left to right. This becomes a great tool for emergent reading skills, reading left to right.
• Although the teacher may begin the year with generic pictures for each activity, as soon as possible the teacher should replace those pictures with actual pictures of the children in the classroom functioning at each scheduled activity.
• The teacher should talk through the schedule on a regular basis, allowing the children to help with the discussion.
• For special needs children, the teacher may want to have duplicate pictures and allow the child to carry the individual picture reminder about the activity they are doing. When a new activity or routine is introduced, the special needs children to receive the new picture. This allows the child to focus on one event at a time.
• The activity word should also be placed by the activity picture. This is another good pre-literacy strategy.

Whether working with special needs children or typically developing children, using a daily visual schedule is an organized way of keeping children on task and giving each child a sense of security because the will know “what comes next.”

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Color Vision and Young Learners

Think about all the reading and spelling support materials you have seen. You probably take it for granted that color distinctions are used to emphasize new words, letter combinations and associations. Many math materials do the same thing.

Now imagine you are a 4- or 5-year-old trying to keep up without benefit of the color clues included on the learning materials you are using. While we can probably all think of ways impaired colored vision might impact the daily life of an adult, it can make learning in school a tedious and frustrating experience for young children.

Seven percent of males in the United States and about 1% of females are color blind, and, like everything else connected with learning issues, identifying a child’s color vision issues as early as possible is key. The sooner a child is identified as being color-vision- impaired, the sooner that child’s teacher and parents can take steps to minimize the impact on the child’s learning. Using prompts other than color to assist the child with reading and learning lessons is a simple response to this issue, as long as the issue has been identified!

As the buyer for Special Needs products at Achievement Products, I knew the Color Vision Perception Kit was not only a very fun way for all children to experiment with color vision, but could also be a tool for teachers and parents to quickly identify children with color vision issues. Plus, the kit can be used to help that child’s peers understand their difference, and experience it themselves in a very unique way.

Have any of you had experience with a child who was struggling due to color vision issues? Or do you think a child you currently see struggling could be impacted by color blindness? We would love to hear your stories.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Social Emotional Teaching Strategies

I’m Patty Mazzoni, the Early Childhood Manager for Salt Lake CAP Head Start in Salt Lake City, Utah. This summer I am teaching a class on Social and Emotional Teaching Strategies for Young Children. The class offers a variety of techniques to help children learn the importance of getting along with others, problem solving, classroom practices that prevent challenging behavior and positive parenting that promotes children’s social and emotional development.

Before we begin to teach these strategies, we focus on the foundation of an effective early childhood education program. This foundation is a positive, supportive relationship between teachers and children as well as families. Good relationships are key to effective teaching and guidance in social, emotional and behavioral development. A positive teacher-child relationship built on trust and understanding will foster children’s cooperation and motivate and increase their positive outcomes in school.
Some key points to think of are:

Your potential influence on children’s behavior grows significantly; children notice responsive caring adults.
Children pay particular attention to what such a teacher says and does.
Children seek out ways to ensure even more positive attention from the teacher.
Children develop a positive self-concept, confidence and a sense of safety that helps to reduce the occurrence of challenging behavior
The time spent building a strong relationship is probably less than the time required to implement more elaborate and time-consuming strategies.
You will feel more positive about your job.
You will begin to see a ripple effect. Children will become more skilled at building positive relationships with other children.

Next time a child pushes your buttons, think about this metaphor. Think of a piggy bank. Are you making a deposit in this child’s life or are you making a withdrawal? You can make an impact on a child’s life by building a close, nurturing relationship.

Patty Mazzon is the Early Childhood Manager for Salt Lake CAP Head Start in Salt Lake City, Utah. She manages early childhood services for 150 staff and 2,000 children and families. For the past seventeen years she has worked with children with Special Needs. She also consults on the Achievement Products catalog for children with Special Needs.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

RTI - Response to Intervention

By John Funk, Educational Product Manager, Excelligence Learning Corp.

To keep up the ever increasing demand for individualization, many education settings have been implementing the Response to Intervention (RTI) system of teaching. RTI was initially started to help special needs educators have more support and continuity with the classroom teachers. However, Response to Intervention is an excellent way for educators to track the individual progress of all the children in her care. Although RTI began in the school age education systems, it has now filtered down to early childhood. Public preschool programs, as well as Head Start agencies, have started using RTI as a way to help teachers individualize and for special needs to be more inclusive in classroom instruction.

Basically, preschool RTI systems include a 3-tier program. Here is a simple way to look at each tier:
Tier 1: (Large group instruction) The teacher must organize a road map of developmental skills and track the progress of each child in mastering each skill. This tier targets 80-100% of the entire group of children. POCET (Preschool Outcomes Checklist and Evaluation Tool), from Discount School Supply is an excellent example of Tier 1 teaching because it provides a road map of skills and an easy way to track the progress of each child.

Tier 2: (Small group instruction) In Tier 2, the teacher responds to children with known risk factors and skill deficits. In other words, the target children for Tier 2 are those who have not mastered the skills during whole group instruction. This kind of intervention can usually take place in small group settings.

Tier 3: (Individual instruction) This tier provides additional reinforcement, along with intervention from appropriate personnel, to children showing a continual need for developmental support.

By the time the teacher reaches Tier 3 with a student, the teacher has so much background information she can make more informed decisions about support and help for truly special needs children. I think RTI provides an opportunity for teachers to more efficiently individualize instruction for each member of her class.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Yoga - The Inclusive Activity

As the merchant for Achievement Products I am constantly reviewing the sales results of the items we offer, identifying the best sellers to insure we offer the best of the most desirable products. Generally, the trends we see in best selling products are the result of: current therapy practices as noted in therapy newsletters and related publications; the introduction of entirely new products; the updating of existing popular items. Once in awhile though we see a trend that surprises us because the results cannot be easily explained within these common sales drivers. Our sales results for yoga related products are a perfect example of this.

When I saw the successful sales results of the yoga products we offer, assorted card decks, cd’s and mats (you will find a link to the most popular items below), I was intrigued and wanted to know how and why yoga was such a popular choice in the special needs markets. I learned the following:

* From the perspective of a special needs teacher, yoga:-improves focus and attention-enhances relaxation through stretching and breathing-fosters reduced anxiety resulting in fewer behavioral meltdowns by redirecting the children with special needs to a breathing or stretching exercise at the onset

*From RONNO, author of "Catch a Brain Wave Fitness Fun", yoga:-develops flexibility, strength, stamina, agility, balance, coordination and cardiovascular fitness-emphasizes proper body alignment so children avoid injury-promotes mental and physical health and a positive attitude toward exercise-promotes concentration, self-discipline and develops inner strength and clarity-teaches children to value their breath because breath meditation helps them to deepen and slow down their breath, becoming calmer and more inward focused-can build cooperative skills and good social behavior by working with a partner or group-promotes positive communication and good listening skills which foster self-respect, compassion and respect for others-encourages children's creative imagination and self expression-is suitable for all ages and physical abilities-builds self confidence

*From a registered nurse and certified massage therapist with a degree in cardiovascular health, yoga: -teaches tone-stretches muscles-works the respiratory system-strengthens by "holding poses"--helps attention span-gives more stability

*From the guide included in our best selling YOGA FOR KIDS CD item # AP9172
by Mary Hanley Martin who has studied Yoga extensively with various instructors from Europe and the U.S. while attending the University of Cincinnati for courses in anatomy and physiology.


-Yoga means simply, “union”. It is an ancient science developed centuries ago in India to help bring together a person’s spiritual, emotional, mental and physical parts into a united whole. Its goal is spiritual peace, mental alertness, emotional well -being and physical health
-The basic building block (of yoga)…concerns the physical part of a person
-After concentrating on performing the (postures), the…Yoga student notices his/her body becoming flexible and strong; the mind becoming calm and tranquil. The postures release inner tensions and the student discovers a sense of emotional well-being. The knowledge of how the body works, moves and responds to the directions of one’s mind can cause the person to respect and like oneself
-(Yoga) can be done right in the home or school without any equipment except the floor, a rug or mat
-the Yoga postures are self-rewarding and when children find they can perform a posture and look like a bird or a turtle, their self-confidence is elevated and they become more enthusiastic
-in…yoga effort is everything. Perfect accomplishment of any posture is of little importance
-yoga postures are extremely adaptable and substitute variations can be used in any position.
-for children who have physical limitations, you can use your imagination to work around those difficulties. You will find that these children respond beautifully because Yoga is a physical activity from which they are not excluded
-realize that you are giving to your children an easy, effective and beautiful psychomotor therapy program that they can carry with them into adulthood!

I came away from all this with a number of thoughts:

1.) I need to enroll in a yoga class right away!
2.) If everyone in the world took a 15 minute yoga break everyday, this world would be a different place!
3.) Yoga is a wonderful activity for the inclusive classroom. It is one of those products that transcend typically developing and special needs children as well as age. That makes it one of my favorite products of all!

Do you have experience in your program or your child’s program with yoga? Please share your stories with us. Yoga seems to be a very empowering activity so there must be some wonderful stories out there!

Achievement Products offers the following yoga items:
Yoga Kit for Kids AP7157
Angel Bear Yoga Play Deck AP90062
Yoga for Kids CD AP9172
Yoga Activity Cards APDYOGA

Rainbow Mat AP643
Folding Exercise Mat AP1401
Ultra Light Folding Mat AP11191
Patterned Folding Mat AP1123

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Messy Art: The Power of Sensory Play

Editor's Note: Some children love the experience of tactile, “messy art” while others, particularly those with sensory disorders, may find it unsettling. Encourage all children to participate at a level and pace that makes them comfortable.

Messy art is great fun for children and provides them with delight! Children love to play with paint and other gooey materials that tickle their senses. Messy art lets children discover the emotional pleasures of sensory and tactile play. Not only does messy art engage a child's senses in open-ended play, it also develops cognitive, social-emotional and multi-sensory skills. Self directed learning with fluid, sensory and tactile art materials is especially important in early childhood. These fluid sensory art experiences provide children with exciting physical contacts that motivate exploration. The fluid nature of paint provides for dynamic and rapidly changing explorations of color, shape and textures on paper. Painting is indeed, a powerful process!

Reduce clean-up by using Colorations Simply Washable Tempera, Washable Glitter Paint, and No Mess Art Trays.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Visual Timers

As a parent of a child with Autism, I am always looking for tools that will help my son manage in a world that can so easily overwhelm him. One of my biggest challenges has been helping him learn patience and the concept of time. The Visual Timer has been one of the best solutions I have found to address this problem. You set the timer by turning a dial to the desired number of minutes. The time you set shows up in red and as time counts down, the red goes away. There are several versions to choose from, including one for the computer, one that has an audible“beep” at the end of the timer and one without a beep.

My son is a visual learner, so having time he can “see” has been crucial to his understanding of time and patience. We use the Visual Timer at home and at School, and have experienced fewer non-compliant episodes when transitioning because he can see when it is time to switch and prepare for it, even when it is to a non-preferred activity. I suggested this product to the teacher of an inclusion program he was part of and she said that not only did it help my son, but it helped the rest of the class as well.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Special Needs

Hello, I am John Funk, the Manager of Education Programs at Discount School Supply. My job is to help create products that are developmentally appropriate for early childhood. I was a classroom teacher for over 25 years, working with PreK, Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grades.

In 1975, the U.S. Congress passed Public Law 94-142, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). A central component of IDEA was the Free and Public Education (FAPE) provision, which guarantees a free public education for all students with exceptionalities. One of my favorite parts of this law is that it guarantees the opportunity for schools and families to hold each other accountable for a student’s education.

Involving the family members in a child’s education plan is critical. I think it is important for all children to have that family involvement. We know through research that parental involvement creates a higher level of school success for a child. As educators, we have a responsibility to help parents develop skills as well as their child. Through my years of teaching I found that unsupportive parents usually lack parenting skills. If I gave them certain activities to do at home, most families followed through and completed those activities. Parents want their children to succeed. Sometimes, they just don’t know how to make that happen.

The law insists that parents of children with exceptionalities be involved in the education plan. Every parent should be involved in an educational plan.

Here are few suggestions for training and involving family members:

**Give the parent the responsibility of one of the development guidelines (outcomes) appropriate for their child. For example, one preschool standard is: “The child shows interest in reading-related activities.” Assign the family to document for a couple of weeks every time the child wants to read a story or shows any other interest in reading activities. Have the parent report back to you the results.
**Host a family night where you demonstrate simple activities to do at home to support learning.
**ALWAYS answer notes and requests from parents the day you receive them. Parents feel disconnected when the teacher doesn’t respond in a timely manner.
**Never send homework unless there is a clear explanation on how it is to be done. Parents feel discouraged when they can’t help the child complete a task. Don’t assume parents have all the information needed.
I loved training and involving the parents in my classroom. Family members feel more confidence and have a healthier attitude toward their child’s school when they are involved with the process.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Something To Noodle On

I was intrigued by Brain Noodles. The name alone had me curious. What are Brain Noodles? Were these some kind of delicacy found in distance lands? (No.) A pasta dish that increases intelligence? (No, sorry.) A fun and tactile sensory experience for almost any age? (Yup!)
Brain Noodles: Stimulating toys that encourage hands-on learning.

I set out to test this set of 12 soft, fluffy, pipe-cleaner-esque toys that seemed simple and open ended while offering such an appealing tactile sensation. The box was taken to a 2-hour class with one child with autism, age 8, and his two younger brothers, ages 5 and 2.

My experience in teaching K, the child with autism, had already shown me how to engage him using his affinity for puzzles and playing in the window, as well as ball play in open spaces. He was not as interested in crafts. Since these Brain Noodles straddled the line between something used for crafting (such as sculpting or decorating with it) and a tactile fidget, I wasn’t sure how he’d react.

K took to them immediately. He looked each one over carefully. He threw them in the air and across the room, ran to pick them up, threw them again and shrieked with delight. This went on for several minutes. Because these are soft and light and the ends are not sharp, I felt comfortable with him throwing them indoors around his brothers.

K’s brothers also enjoyed the Brain Noodles. The toddler chewed and held tight to one of them. The kindergartner sword-played and tossed them like his brother. He also wrapped one around his arm. K followed suit, removing the coiled noodle and tossing it again. This time the colorful “zebra” noodle spiraled in the air, twisting and returning to him, like a curly boomerang. Soon all noodles were his to wrap around his arm, remove as they held their coiled shape, and tossed again. Then, multiple noodles were attached to create longer, colorful coils that could be tossed and bounced around the room. K played with these for almost an hour, undeterred and completely focused. He was active, happy and discovering something new.

In this teacher’s opinion, Brain Noodles: a success!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

"Sock Critters" Make Calming Weights

Here's a creative and fun way to make simple, calming weights for young children. Research suggests calming weights provide deep pressure touch that helps some children calm themselves down. These simple "sock critters" were made by preschool children at Pressman Academy in Los Angeles. A creative teacher had each of her students make his or her very own sock critter at the beginning of the school year. Children filled old, adult-sized athletic socks with sand and then decorated them with markers and wiggly eyes. The sock critters often rest quietly in a wicker basket, but, during stressful days, the teacher passes the sock basket around during story time and the children hold their critters during the story. This seems to provide the group with calming results. Weighted products are non-invasive, easily applied and are generally pleasurable and self-motivating. A wide variety of professionally weighted products such as vests, blankets, and stuffed animals are available from Achievement Products.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Topics in Special Education

My name is Lori Shaver, and I am a National Sales Representative for Achievement Products. I have always had a passion for working with the special needs community, primarily because I grew up with a sister who has special needs. We were children in the 60’s, and my family discovered that there were so few resources available to parents and teachers of children with special needs. It is exciting to see how far the development of resources has come, yet it is very clear that there is still so much to learn. Every child with special needs has different challenges.

I spend a lot of time on the road demonstrating different items from the Achievement Products catalog. I especially enjoy getting feedback from teachers, occupational and physical therapists, and parents as to how the products have been useful to them. I often find that my time at professional meetings and trade shows actually brings me more information than I can give out.

I recently visited Salt Lake City for a conference. I had great feedback on quite a few products, but the one that really stood out was the Visual & Audible Timer. This is great for children who are deaf or visually impaired, or for any children who are learning to tell time. It actually shows passing time: a red space on the clock disappears as the time elapses. This visual “measure” of time passing is easier for children to comprehend than just the moving hands of a clock. This is great for self regulation because the children are able to know how much time they have without asking parents or teachers and it reduces stress.

Another product that stood out was the Elastablast. It is so important to make all children with all abilities feel included in the classroom setting. Elastablast is a fabric-covered elastic tube that is used with a group of children to encourage group cooperation and movement. And they have so much fun with it! There is an activity book available that includes a DVD. I am a visual learner myself, so I think that the DVD really is helpful.

For a great sensory stimulation product, I showed Weighted Animals. These can either be put in the microwave or the freezer, depending on the child and the need. Then the “animal” wraps around the child’s neck. It’s a “friendlier” source of heat or cold.

As I continue to travel and show products, I will share information that I have learned. I also welcome any feedback that you have for me.. I have always thought of teachers, therapists and parents as the experts because they are finding great uses for our products.
I am hoping that this blog will give us a new opportunity to share information and experience. I hope to hear from you.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Including All Children

My name is Patty Mazzoni; I am the Early Childhood Manager for Salt Lake CAP Head Start in Salt Lake City, Utah, where I manage early childhood services for 150 staff and 2,000 children and families. I also do consulting for the Achievement Products catalog for children with Special Needs. For the past seventeen years I have worked with children with Special Needs. I remember my first experience teaching in a Head Start classroom in 1992. I had a very diverse population including children with disabilities. I had never heard the term “inclusion” prior to that year of teaching. I learned a lot that first year. I began to understand all children have unique personalities, abilities, likes, and dislikes. My interest in continuing to work with children with special needs grew. Within a year I returned to school to complete a Masters in Early Childhood Special Education.

Soon after receiving my degree I became the Special Needs Administrator for Head Start in our area. Our philosophy was and still is to support inclusion. Teachers were trained to include a child with special needs in the full range of classroom activities. For some it required a change in their way of looking at each child as an individual, not at the child’s disability. They felt a child with special need should be placed in a “special” classroom, away from typically developing peers. It became difficult for a few teachers when planning activities to take in to consideration each child’s diverse needs, strengths and interests so that all children could participate at some level. Training and ongoing support was essential, along with patience, understanding and acceptance.

As the program grew and I became the Early Childhood Manager, I never gave up my passion to include all children. Teachers now embrace children of all abilities. They work on individual goals. They understand that some children with special needs may require unique adaptations, special equipment, or therapy depending on the need of the child. Others may not. Teachers are very thoughtful when adapting materials, they know how to choose appropriate materials, and they understand the importance when planning activities. They share stories, offer suggestions, and provide understanding for those that may struggle. Many of them mentor others giving guidance and support. We have been successful in our long journey, and I am very proud of our achievements.

I believe that inclusion can benefit all children. Careful planning, individualizing, collaboration and a classroom that is developmentally appropriate create an environment where all can participate. Does your classroom or school have the same experience with inclusion? I would love to exchange ideas or solutions that work for you.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Achievement Products: Resources for Children with Special Needs – Inviting special stories about children with special needs

For over 30 years, Achievement Products has been proud to provide top quality therapy, special needs and special education products across a broad range of physical, cognitive and developmental areas particularly for young children in their early and preschool years. From standers and walkers, to positioning, seating, therapy balls, assessments, oral and fine motor products, therapists, teachers and parents have looked to Achievement Products for the broadest selection of items to help the youngest special children in their care. Our products are available from our catalog, request one by calling 1-800-373-4699, or on our website at

I am Julie Fraser and as the buyer for Achievement Products I am always excited when I find new products to help all children realize their full potential. When reviewing new items I love to visualize how they will help children become stronger, more capable, self confident and independent. While the features of any one product offer benefits for a general good, it is the individual stories of success or change that imbue the products in our line with the greatest benefit of all, a child becoming the best that he or she can be.

I also love that many times, the product innovators for these items are therapists or parents themselves, filling a need for their own clients and children. The unique products that often find their way into the market from these sources are frequently remarkable for their simplicity and a marvel for their benefit delivery. Last year one of the items I presented to our sales team was such an item, the Handi-Writer. To look at it, it is simply a charm hanging from a soft wrist band, but when I demonstrated how a pen or pencil slips into a small loop, and how when the charm is held in the palm the hand automatically assumes the correct “tripod” writing position, this simple and easy to miss small item had the room chorusing, “I need one for myself!” I’ll never forget the reaction of one of my fellow buyers, “I thought my new storage caddy for art supplies was so ingenious when the real innovation is here! Who would have thought of such a clever and useful tool!?” A pediatric occupational therapist is who and her product has been strengthening and improving the writing grasp of children across a broad age range since it was introduced. I strive to have every page of our catalog filled with such items!

As we launch our 2009 line of products that includes over 200 new items, it is our sincerest wish that you share with us, and the greater Achievement Products community, your child’s success story. Are there unexpected benefits derived from a product intended for one use but valuable for another? We already have stories we will share in the coming weeks about some of our new products, how Brain Noodles, a wonderful tactile perceptual motor product, kept a high energy child with autism engrossed for an evening, or how we are beginning to learn, and want to learn more, about the benefits of yoga for children with special needs. And of course we invite your product ideas and needs, we want Achievement Products to be the best it can be for you too. We invite you to join us frequently to learn and share how the children in our lives are progressing, learning and achieving to their highest level!