Monday, January 21, 2013

Special Education Speaker in Medway

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What the Dracut decision taught us about the importance of social skills and language pragmatics in an IEP.
Date: January 22nd, 2013

Where: MHS - 88 Summer Street Medway, MA 02053
Time: 7pm
Open and free to the public.  Please RSVP to
Discussions lead by Elsa Abele MS CCC/SLP and clinical assistant professor at Boston University and professor at the Center For Autism Disorders at Antioch University and Attorney's Janine A. Solomon and Pamela J. Coveney, from the Disability Law Center of Massachusetts.
Funded by the Medway SEPAC 2013
Have you heard the words social skills or language pragmatics but don't really know what it means? Have you observed or know a child or adolescent who:
  • Doesn't say hello, goodbye or greet with a smile unless they are told?
  • Rarely says please or thank you?
  • Doesn't take turns when talking or interrupts often?
  • Say inappropriate or unrelated things during conversation?
  • Doesn't make small talk or show interest on others topics?
  • Not able to understand sarcasm.
  • Tell stories in a disorganized way?
  • Has difficulty understanding another viewpoint or feelings.
  • Doesn't notice others feelings?
  • Unable to build friendships or keep friends?
  • Doesn't think ahead about something nice that could be done for friend or family?
  • Always to get their own way?
  • Has difficulty discussing conflict calmly and rationally and come to an agreement about a solution?
  • Has difficulty managing their emotions?
  • Sometimes seems like they just don't get it?
  • Doesn't comprehend the impact of nonverbal communication on others and/or can't interpret the nonverbal communication that others communicate
    • Body language
    • Fidgeting/twirling/jumping
    • Eye contact or lack of eye contact
    • Facial gestures           
  • Who is on an IEP, 504 or has a learning disability?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, continue reading.

What are social skills?

Social Skills, Language pragmatics (social language) refers to the verbal and nonverbal rules that dictate our social interactions. Social skills are critical to function in society and maintain a healthy, happy, successful life.
  • Ability to control emotions, anxiety, attention and impulses.
  • Meet Greet, Acknowledge, and Communicate and interact with others.
  • Engage in a back and forth conversation AND showing interest by nodding or smiling.
  • Joint decision making, negotiation, ability to discuss conflict calmly and rationally and come to an agreement about the solution.
  • Being able to say what you are feeling without aggression or getting personal.
  • Noticing, understanding, acknowledging others feelings and perspectives.
  • Recognizing and interpreting correctly nonverbal communication (body position, eyes, tone, volume, gestures)
    • 7% communication is verbal
    • 93% communication is non-verbal
    • If one does not understand nonverbal cues it will significantly impact all aspects of life such as self-esteem, relationships, school, employment, stress/anxiety, overall health, wellbeing and quality of life.
Consequences of Poor Social Skills
  • Experience difficulties in interpersonal relationships with parents, peers, and teachers.
  • Evoke highly negative responses from others that lead to high level peer rejection. Peer rejection has been linked with school violence.
  • Show signs of depression, anxiety, aggression or withdrawal.
  • Demonstrate poor academic performance as an indirect consequence.
  • Show a higher incidence of involvement in the criminal justice system as adults.
Consequences of Good Social Skills
  • Strengthen relationships and facilitate success at school/work.
  • Ability to problem solves, manage stress and emotions, ask for assistance when needed, respectfully and appropriately and deal with conflict lead to resiliency of future events.
  • Students make healthy, safe choices.
  • Students take personal responsibility for self-discipline and actions.
What happened in Dracut???

In violation: the Dracut Public Schools failed to provide adequate transition services for the student, as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Massachusetts state law.

As such will need to : This effectively denied the student a Free and Appropriate
Public Education (FAPE), and Mr. Crane has ordered Dracut to provide two years of Compensatory services for the student and his family.

The Hearing Officer agreed with the family, noting that Dracut had declined to evaluate the student properly, plan proper community-based transition services for him or accept recommendations from highly credentialed experts who had suggested modifications to his Individual Education Program (IEP). He credited testimony offered on behalf of the student, both as to the severity of his deficits, and what was needed to address them. Accordingly, he awarded two years of compensatory transition services specifically ordering Dracut to:

· extend the student's special education eligibility for an additional two years;
· convene a team meeting in 30 days to develop a new transition plan;
· start providing new transition services within 60 days; and
· hire two of the student's testifying experts as consultants (or accept their recommendations for other appropriate consultants, if they are

The decision carefully enumerates the required elements of the student's new IEP transition plan, mandating that it include:

· systematic, step-by-step pragmatic language instruction;
· development of organizational skills;
· vocational training;
· travel instruction;
· a comprehensive social skills assessment; and
· training in social skills.

The decision has important implications for the rights of young people with disabilities approaching transition age. It carefully enumerates several legally required elements of the transition process. First, it underscores the need for IEP teams to work collaboratively, to identify students' deficits while they are still eligible for special education services, and to listen to recommendations from properly credentialed experts.

The decision also highlights the underlying purpose of transition services, and why Congress added them to the IDEA. It cites Congress's finding that, "when individuals are not prepared to make the transition into the post-school environment'[years of special education will be wasted while these individuals languish at home.   It further notes that "transition services are part of, and not separate from, a school district's responsibility to provide FAPE."

In this case, the student's Asperger's Syndrome limits his ability to apply learned skills from one environment to another. Therefore, he needs to experience employment situations within three or four community settings, to develop usable vocational skills. To determine what additional services are necessary, there must be appropriate transition assessments.

Without them, the team has insufficient information to devise an appropriate program, and plans need to be individualized for each student. The decision then underscores that mere academic success is not enough, when other deficits will likely preclude a student from functioning effectively in a post-secondary environment, whether in the community, in college, or when interacting with social and workplace peers.

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