Collaboration Corner: Must-Have Books for Building Language and Literacy

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I can’t believe it’s September! For those of us in public schools, that means re-organizing and replenishing our bag of tricks. Books of course, are an easy and engaging way to expand language.

If parents are looking for some ideas on stocking up their bookshelves (or yours) this list may help.

I also rely upon my librarian colleagues for other ideas. If I can find the board book version of anything, I usually opt for that version; board books are durable and allow you to do things like add pictures with a little bit of Velcro for matching, like this:

1horsepic

For very young children, or children with language delays, I generally use a couple (or five) quick pointers when perusing the bookstore:

  • Engaging pictures that aren’t too visually complicated but have a clear character and setting.
    • Targets: Who, what, where, when questions, descriptive language.
  • Books with repetitive words and phrases.
    • Targets: Oral/expressive language and literacy skills through  predictable text patterns and repetitive lines.
  • Books that aren’t too long, maybe 10-12 pages.
    • Target: Maximize engagement for short attention spans.
  • Books that can allow the adult to target core language concepts, either through text or illustrations.
    • Target: Syntax, vocabulary.
  • Books that enable the adult to expand beyond the text.
    • Targets: Commenting, labeling how a character feels or what they are thinking.

There are many books from which to choose, but here are some good starters for your collection:

  • Good Night Gorilla: Peggy Rathmann
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar: Eric Carle
  • Have You Seen My Cat?:  Eric Carle
  • Good Night Moon: Margaret Wise Brown
  • Blue Hat, Green Hat: Sandra Boynton
  • Where’s Spot?: Eric Hill
  • Go Away Big Green Monster: Ed Emberley
  • Big Red Barn: Margaret Wise Brown
  • Good Dog, Carl: Alexandra Day

Not every book on this list follows every guideline perfectly,  but all allow for a positive learning experience that supports child language and preliteracy development.

Have an inspired school year colleagues!

 

Kerry Davis EdD, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist in the Boston area, working with children who have significant communication challenges. She conducts trainings and workshops, and serves as a volunteer speech-language pathologist and consultant for Step by Step Guyana, a school for children with autism in South America. The opinions expressed in this post are her own, and not those of her employer.

 

Collaboration Corner: 10 Easy Tips for Parents to Support Language

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As we make our way through the lazy days of summer, schedules change, and things relax. My usual theme is collaboration; parents can be one of our biggest assets in promoting language development. Parents of young children usually want to know what they can do to support their child’s language development in the absence of a structured day. Though I teach children with disabilities, I find I continually revisit the following tips with parents of young children regardless of whether a child is typically developing or needs a little more support. Here they are in no particular order of importance:

  1. Pay attention to body language, when a child is looking toward or reaching for something, they are communicating. Talk about what they are reaching for, “Oh, you want the bubbles!”
  2. Avoid the “say this” tendency. Don’t pressure the child to speak; keeping the experience positive is important. Instead, model what the child might say when he/she is ready.
  3. Take time to sit and read with your child every day. Label everything you see, and encourage them to point to the words and pictures as you talk about them. Books with repetitive lines are great.
  4. Be playful. Sing songs. Use lots of inflection. With familiar songs, leave some of the words out and see if your child will hum or sing the words.
  5. Provide limited choices when you aren’t sure what your child wants. Holding out 2 items, lessens the stress of having too many choices.
  6. Talk with your child about what you are doing, then provide the opportunity for your child to reciprocate. “I’m making some cookies, do you want to help?”
  7. Use first/then language to guide behavior, and then be consistent, “First you need to eat, then you can read.” Use this language even when moving between activities that are preferred or less preferred.
  8. Use pictures: Take pictures of your child’s day and talk about what is coming up next, or make a photo album of fun activities (vacation, going out for ice cream) to talk about.
  9. Remember language is everywhere, even if you child doesn’t understand everything you are saying, he or she needs the exposure. Car rides, walks outside, blowing bubbles are just a few examples. Describe what you see, and ask questions, e.g, “I see a cow. What does a cow say?”
  10. Simplify your props. Sometimes the simplest toys can bring out the best language. Summer is full of such opportunities: A spinning toy, taking a turn kicking a ball, bubbles…all can support your child’s development, simply by talking to them.

Kerry Davis Ed.D., CCC-SLP,is a speech-language pathologist in the Boston area, working with children who have significant communication challenges. She conducts trainings and workshops, and serves as a volunteer speech pathologist and consultant for Step by Step Guyana, a school for children with autism in South America. The opinions expressed in this blog are her own, and not those of her employer.

Collaboration Corner: In Defense of the Whole Child

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I treat children with autism. I’ve been doing it for a while now. As the numbers of children with autism peak a staggering 1:88 (Center for Disease Control, 2014), the demand for trained staff has gone through the roof. Many districts have specialized paraprofessionals whose primary job is to teach and support children with autism. In the Boston area, graduate and certificate programs related to ABA are cropping up everywhere, churning out new and enthusiastic graduates by the boatload.

Before I go on, there are three things you should know about me: 1) I have never been a diehard, one-shoe-fits-all clinician, 2) I embrace whole-heartedly the principals of ABA. It’s as an evidenced-based approach, and it works wonders for all sorts of kids, not just ones with autism, and, 3) If I couldn’t be silly with my students, I would just close up shop.

As an SLP, I know there are mountains of other kinds of research, and that child language and cognitive development that are important too. In this age of ABA, I find myself wanting to shout from the rooftops, “Wait! Stop! There’s more to this kid than just autism!”

Our role as SLPs and educators

Working with so many professionals “trained in autism” made me realize that, as SLPs, we bring to the table our knowledge of childhood language development, learning, motivation and context. Never before has this been more evident to me. We also bring the friendly reminder the importance of a playful approach and rapport building.

I’ve found myself shifting discussions to the whole child, and what we know about children and learning.

Here are some pointers I frequently share with staff:

  1. Appeal to the inner child first (yours and theirs). The individual comes before the label.
  2. Not every behavior can be attributed to one definitive cause. Environments, emotional state/regulation, personality, medical/biological components, all should be up for consideration.
  3. Assessment and intervention is a daily process, which is sometimes messy and dynamic (see #2). We won’t always get it right the first time. Or even the second time.
  4. It’s possible (and OK!)  to be structured and silly at the same time. Sometimes silliness increases engagement.
  5. Watch and learn from your kindergarten teachers (see #4). I’ve learned a lot from them about having fun while being structured, thoughtful and flexible.
  6. Use visuals even if the child is verbal or becoming verbal. We can model language through PECS, topic boards and Aided Language Stimulation techniques, within natural play activities.
  7. Strive to meet every child “where they are” in all aspects of learning: attention, behavior, communication and language development.
  8. We can’t make someone ready to learn or communicate; we simply lay the foundation.
  9. Learning can’t happen in a bubble. Context is just about everything. I know what a zoo is, because I’ve been in one, not because I’ve seen a flashcard of one.
  10. And finally, my favorite: Provide random acts of praise and compliments. Make daily deposits into that relationship bank. It’s a worthwhile investment.

 

Kerry Davis Ed.D., CCC-SLP,is a speech-language pathologist in the Boston area, working with children who have significant communication challenges. She conducts trainings and workshops, and serves as a volunteer speech pathologist and consultant for Step by Step Guyana, a school for children with autism in South America. The opinions expressed in this blog are her own, and not those of her employer.

Collaboration Corner: Love Your Librarians!

librarian

One of the best resources in my school is my librarian. I have an amazingly knowledgeable colleague who knows top to bottom, every resource on the shelf or online. Here are some things (online and off-line) that she taught me about my school library:

  • Libraries are an excellent resource for wordless picture books: I can never have enough wordless picture book resources to target narrative language, my kind librarian researched wordless picture books, and printed out a list of titles available throughout the district. The best part is I can check out books as I need to, which saves me from out-of-pocket costs for materials.
  • Libraries are a great place for pre-voc skills: One year I had a minimally verbal student with ASD who was so great when it came to sorting and shelving books in alphabetical order. I’ve had other students help with book check-in or check-out.
  • I have access to so many subscriptions purchased by my schools district, including curriculum-aligned resources, which includes my most recent favorite place, PebbleGo.
  • As we continue to help our students understand fact, fiction and other online places, there are a ton of resources for digital literacy and education, including cyber-bullying.

 

Finally, the library is a welcoming place for all kinds of learners. My generous colleague purchased multi-sensory books and curriculum which help my students connect with literacy in a way that is enjoyable. Whenever a student of mine is having a tough time, we can come to a place for quiet and a little bit of sunshine…there’s a spot right by the window whenever we need to beat a little bit of those winter blues!

Kerry Davis, EdD, CCC-SLP, is a city-wide speech-language pathologist in the Boston area. Her areas of interest include working with children with multiple disabilities, inclusion in education and professional development. The views on this blog are her own and do not represent those of her employer. Dr. Davis can be followed on Twitter at @DrKDavisslp.

 

Collaboration Corner: Developing an IEP with C.A.R.E.

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How can we make goal-writing and individualized education programs less daunting?  Recently I wrote an article for the upcoming March volume of SIG 16 Perspectives. I took the literature and combined it with what, in my experience working in public schools, makes the process collaborative.  Since I’m a visual person, I drew a model:

 

visual

 

So as you sit down as a team to write your next IEP, you may want to consider these four parts:

Context:

I apologize to those of you who have heard this from me before, but I can’t stress enough how important it is to remember that language is everywhere. Aside from basic artic goals, we really can embed our goals under most curriculum areas. Look to see how your speech and language targets may actually fit across other areas such as math (descriptive/comparative language), history (explain/describe/narrate), and science (using temporal language to order steps in a process, vocabulary).  If our ultimate goal is generalization, then it is logical to think broadly, holistically.

 

Assessment

Assessment doesn’t happen just at IEP time, it should be ongoing. If an IEP is collaborative, then data can be collected from a variety of general education activities and speech and language activities. Don’t reinvent the wheel; look at the assessments the general education teacher is giving your students and either analyze their findings or offer to provide the assessment. This is not extra work; it helps to inform your intervention. Recently I helped a Kindergarten teacher with a dictation assessment, and was it ever so enlightening!

Review & Reflect

Review your approach honestly; reflection is how we, as practitioners, learn and grow (Tagg, 2007). Since we have very little time in our crazy professional lives, this often falls by the wayside. As related service providers, we need to find time to discuss what we are seeing, and consult with teachers on how this can translate academically. In some cases, this may mean including in the IEP that the team will meet every certain number of weeks, to discuss and update one another on the student’s current performance.

Extend

Think about how to create goals that can extend beyond the immediate environment. For the majority of the students who I see, I am constantly looking for ways to connect academics with independence. A student learning math and money, for example, may need a trip to the store. A student working on following directions may bring a list to the store and come back to follow a recipe. These kinds of experiences make the abstract become concrete.

C.A.R.E is about creating a smooth, efficient and collaborative IEP process. This way we can move on from the paperwork part, and get back to the business of intervention and academic success. For more detailed information, please keep an eye out for my article entitled, “Autism in the schools: IEP best practices at work,” coming out in the next SIG 16 Perspectives issue.

Kerry Davis, EdD, CCC-SLP, is a city-wide speech-language pathologist in the Boston area. Her areas of interest include working with children with multiple disabilities, inclusion in education and professional development. The views on this blog are her own and do not represent those of her employer. Dr. Davis can be followed on Twitter at @DrKDavisslp.

Collaboration Corner: “Out of my Mind” Speaks Volumes

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This year, I worked with a fifth grade class who was reading “Out of my Mind” by Sharon Draper. The story is about a nonspeaking 11- year-old girl with cerebral palsy. Her classmates, teachers, and even  her doctors underestimate her abilities. Little do they know she has a photographic memory. One day after months of fighting with insurance, Melody (the protagonist) is given the gift of voice through an AAC device; the drama unfolds from there.

The teachers read a little of this book every day to the class, but wanted the students to get a better understanding of Melody’s struggles. They asked me to come in and show students various kinds of AAC devices.

This was the perfect launching point for a lesson on inclusion and AAC. This was one of the most effective ways I’ve worked with teachers and students regarding the challenges AAC users face everyday.

Here’s all I used:

  • A PECS book;
  • Two iPads with two different communication apps;
  • An alphabet board;
  • Low-tech battery operated voice output device;
  • A sheet with a picture of two “thought bubbles” and two hearts (see below);
  • Index cards with written scenarios; and
  • A sheet of emotion cartoons.

First, the class gathered together, and I gave them an overview of how people might communicate. Most understood body language, words, and some mentioned sign language. Then I brought out the different systems. Their eyes lit up. Then they started to make connections to other children in the building who used these systems. They were hooked.

Next, the children broke up into groups of four or five. Each table had two AAC systems. Within each group, students paired off. One student had a “speaker” card, and the other a “listener” card. Speaker cards had clues like, “you can’t speak, but you can point and read. You really want to tell your friend about the movie you saw last night.” The partner’s card (“listener”) read, “Your friend can’t speak, but she can point and read. She really wants to tell you something, find out what it is.”

I wish I had taken a video. The interactions were amazing, and the students really dove into the activity. Each group got a turn with a different kind of system. A nice, unexpected experience: Teachers went by and facilitated interactions with tips like being closer to the speaker, or waiting and not interrupting.

Finally, I collected the devices. Each group received a copy of a words related to emotions and a worksheet, which they worked on individually. This gave them a chance to reflect.

On the worksheet were only two fill-in the blanks on top:

When-I-was-the-speaker

On the bottom were two more:

When-I-was-the-listener

And then the teaching part happened! Here were some of the responses:

  • I was thinking, why can’t he understand me!!! I was outraged!
  • This is so hard! I felt like giving up.
  • I don’t have enough words. I felt like oh, well, never mind.
  • I wanted to help you, I’m sad and frustrated for you
  • I can’t understand you, I felt impatient.
  • Keep trying! I felt helpless.
  • I can’t spell, this takes too long! I felt annoyed.

I kept copies of every single sheet, I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to do with them, though I’m fighting the urge to wallpaper my office with them.

Kerry Davis, EdD, CCC-SLP, is a city-wide speech-language pathologist in the Boston area. Her areas of interest include working with children with multiple disabilities, inclusion in education and professional development. The views on this blog are her own and do not represent those of her employer. Dr. Davis can be followed on Twitter at @DrKDavisslp.

 

 

 

 

Collaboration Corner: Supervision 101

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As a school-based clinician in the Boston area, I’m grateful to have access to some of the greatest learning institutions in the country. As an off-site clinical supervisor, I feel particularly obligated to make all that learning translate into something meaningful. In a public school placement, the school day can become insanely busy. This month I’ve decided to share a few tips that guide me both as a clinical supervisor and a professional.

Create a clear contract of expectations: Provide a copy of the school calendar with holidays, early release days. Provide a week-by-week schedule of expectations, including which specific clients your student will see, and how much supervision will be provided. Include any evaluations, reports and meetings your student will be expected to attend. Provide a mid-term check-in (even if the institution does not require it) and review academic expectations, this way you can give structured and specific feedback.

Know your learner, know thyself: Figure out early in the game, how she or he prefers to get information to you, including email or text messaging. Establish up-front what kind of feedback your student finds helpful, and how/when it is most helpful.  Generally, this seems to work if the student has pretty good insight as to how they function real-time. If they aren’t sure, provide examples. For example, do they mind if you jump in during a session, or do they prefer notes afterward?

Don’t assume anything: I usually get a list of the student’s academic resume and personal experiences. This doesn’t provide me with much information, so I go into the relationship assuming nothing. First, even if my graduate student has experience in a school, each school runs different, and has a unique culture. Second, I can’t assume they have any experience (or minimal experience) working with students like mine. Third and perhaps most importantly, don’t assume reading translates easily into application. A very clever mentor of mine once said, “Remember, you are only as smart as the last thing you read.” This is an important perspective, because not only are you teaching methodology, which brings text to life, but as a supervisor, you are setting the foundation for students’ clinical skills. Show them what they need to learn.

Encourage your student to journal: Reflective learning is the most important part of clinical growth. There is a ton of research supporting opportunities for reflection and professional development. I don’t ask students to show me their journal. I do ask them to take 10 minutes out of their week to sit down and write about two things: something that they learned that week, and something that they need to work to improve. I also encourage them to think larger, not just clinical skills, but interpersonal skills, and how they handled a difficult situation. Then, every other week or so, I have a heart-to-heart on how they think they are doing, and what they think their biggest accomplishes and challenges are thus far.

Leave at least 15 minutes twice daily for check-in: Once in the beginning before school starts to review lesson plans, and then once around lunch or at the end of the day. The first opportunity provides guidance on how to run the lesson; the second should be a chance to discuss how your student perceived the lesson-in-action.

Don’t take the little things for granted: Your students are always learning from you; this includes the good and unfortunately, the not-so-good-but-human moments. How you approach a conflict with a student or co-worker is a lesson. How you are able to comment on your mistakes (a good thing) is a lesson. So remember you are always a role model, not just as an SLP, but as a successful professional. Here’s the best part, I find students make us be the clinicians we want to be; even after a long week of parent conferences, a full moon of behavioral outbursts, or after one too many caffeine-fueled moments, they keep us accountable.

After all, after 16 years, I’m still learning, too.

Kerry Davis, EdD, CCC-SLP, is a city-wide speech-language pathologist in the Boston area. Her areas of interest include working with children with multiple disabilities, inclusion in education and professional development. The views on this blog are her own and do not represent those of her employer. Dr. Davis can be followed on Twitter at @DrKDavisslp.

Collaboration Corner: The Technology You Need to Get It Done

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Like most school years, I’m always amazed at how chaotic re-entry can be. As a traveling therapist (locally, and now globally) a few everyday tech tools are an integral part of connecting with my colleagues and consulting with other educators. As practitioners, we are stretched in a thousand different directions. Here are some quick ideas to use with these virtual life-savers. Best of all, they are free:

Googledocs: Get online and create group documents without several versions sent around in different attachments. It’s a totally collaborative platform. In my workplace, we have used it to:

  • Make group SMART goals even smarter; create group professional development goals all in the same place.
  • Make Power Point presentations for that next staff meeting virtually.
  • Create spreadsheets to share caseload information, class lists, inventories of tests and supplies.
  • Collaborate on evaluations and writing reports.
  • Have a place to access reports and notes from any laptop or computer.
  • Create meeting minutes for everyone on the team to access.

 

Doodle: Have a team meeting to set up? This little online tool allows you to email several time slots to one group of people all at once, and poll the best date.

 

Microsoft Word - Collaboration Cornersept[4].docx

 

Skype: Nothing like a little face time, right? Using Skype is free, but conference/group chats are available for a small monthly free. If you have a camera and a working mic on your laptop, or i-device you are good to go. I can consult with South America while looking at the notes I’ve pulled up from my google docs. I like Skype because it is super user-friendly for those who are a little tech-shy. This year I’m even using Skype to consult with supervising a SLPA in training. Through Skype I can chat with his supervisor who is out of state.

Dropbox: Similar to Google docs this has the additional ability to drop in video, notes, or whatever information you want to share all in one folder. You simply download the app to your desktop or portable device. If you put it on your iPad, then you can take videos on the go, and put them directly into the shared folder. This is great forum to video your sessions with your students, and share them with parents and teachers.

Happy techno-collaborating!

 

Kerry Davis, PhD, CCC-SLP, is a city-wide speech-language pathologist in the Boston area. Her areas of interest include working with children with multiple disabilities, inclusion in education and professional development. The views on this blog are my own and do not represent those of my employer. Dr. Davis can be followed on Twitter at @DrKDavisslp.

Collaboration Corner: Teaching in South America

aug 15

 

This summer, Scotia Bank sponsored me to support the Step-by-Step School for Autism in Guyana, South America. All of the children have an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis, and a majority are functionally non-speaking. The school officially opened in 2011. Ten children attend the program, most stay from 8:30-12, and a few stay in the afternoon. My talented colleague, Dr. Jim Ellis, PhD, BCBA-D,  assesses the children as they come in, and writes up all of the ABA programs. As far as I know, he’s the only person in the city (more likely the country) that diagnoses children with ASD. He visits several times a year, brings supplies, and supports the staff through Skype sessions and video.

The school sits on the top floor of a car dealership. If you look closely, you can see a trampoline in the top right…which is their outdoor space.

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I think I underestimated the cultural adjustment. While the primary language is English, the dialect is Guyanese Creole, a form of Creole influenced by African and East Indian languages. A couple of days new families came in to meet with me at the school; luckily one of the head tutors was there to gracefully interpret and mitigate any language difficulties. Everything was different from what I was used to–the roads, the livestock wandering the street, the weather, the sound of generators. Not an ATM in site. I did love the mangoes I got to eat every day, and the neighbor next to the school had three beautiful (and loud) McCaw Parrots for pets, which were amazing.

Most of the families do not have enough money to pay tuition. The cost per child is $4,800 per year, which pays for the tutors’ salaries. Assistance is also given for snacks and  transportation costs if the families need help.  That’s right, tutors make about $480 per month, which is considered relatively high for teachers. And don’t think the cost of things is much lower… I spent 300 Guyanese dollars on a bottle of soda, which was about  $2.

In Guyana there are no speech-language pathologists per say, rather there are trained “rehab techs” that, after 18 months of training provide OT, PT and speech services to children and adults. The pay is so low, that qualified people simply leave, so there are simply no speech-language pathologists in the country.

Kudos to the tutoring staff there, aside from a few who have children with ASD, very few of the tutors have any teaching experience, let alone experience with autism, but they do remarkable work. They work around the power outages, flash floods getting to work, and that one morning where we didn’t have running water. The entire program is supported by donations from private citizens and businesses, so finding consistent financial support is a struggle. Despite these obstacles, the students are clearly benefiting.

I appreciated that the tutors welcomed me, a total stranger, into their school. In the mornings, I observed or worked with the students and tutors.  In the afternoons, I conducted training and workshops. A few of the rehab techs from the hospital came to the school, observed the tutors working with the students, and then stayed for training. The majority of my time was spent modeling how to use each student’s communication system, evaluating language, and coming up with communication and language goals.

First, however, the tutors needed a foundation. While I evaluated the students, I assessed the most practical things that the tutors needed to learn. It’s important to know why you are doing what you are doing, so lecturing at them wouldn’t be helpful (let’s face it, none of us really learn that way). Every day, I divided the seven tutors into groups, one group per table. Each table had slightly different materials, whether it be games or books. Every day, the tutors made therapy materials, and then role-played with their partners using the materials to support the games or books on their tables. Then they swapped tables and partners. This was important so they could naturally provide feedback to one another. So, in 10 days, the tutors focused on:

  • How to create communication books and use pictures to communicate (we made 10 in 10 days!)
  • Preliteracy activities: How to modify and present books to enhance language
  • How to use play to support language development
  • How to use Boardmaker® software
  • How to use an iPad to support language and social skills (iPads donated by the British High Commission)
  • How to use pictures and language to support transitions
  • How to use functional sign language to support language development
  • Typical language development for grades K-1

pic 2

Learning language through play

One statement that stuck with me, was one tutor who said she loved the sense of teamwork that she felt that week, every tutor pulling together to make materials for all students. Another commented how nice it was to play, and to see how the students responded. The students were amazing and so responsive to intervention.

So, I’m hooked. We will keep collaborating via Skype, and I’m sponsored for two more trips this year. And in August, I will go back to my public school with my newfound perspective of gratitude, and what can be possible.

For more information about the school, please visit the Step by Step Foundation, or feel free to contact me directly by posting to this blog.

Kerry Davis, Ed.D, CCC-SLP, is a city-wide speech-language pathologist west of Boston. Her areas of interest include working with children with multiple disabilities, inclusion in education and professional development. The views on this blog are my own and do not represent those of my employer. Dr. Davis can be followed on Twitter at @DrKDavisslp.

Collaboration Corner: Being Included

July 18

 

This is a story of why inclusion works. This story is about the sincerity of a fifth grade class, who like most 11-year olds moving to middle school, are full of excitement and angst. They had been together since kindergarten. When they were in fourth grade, a new student arrived. Abby (not her real name) entered their classroom as sweet student full of spunk and delight. A child with Downs Syndrome and autism, Abby is non-verbal. While in school, she learned how to use PECS, some signs, and her Dynavox. Most of all, she developed a fierce attachment to her peers, teachers and school community.  The feeling was mutual. When she was absent, her friends would ask how she was doing. Her peers pulled her into their games and conversations, whether by using sign, or learning to use her communication systems. An outside observer would never  have guessed that Abby was relatively new to the class or her school.

Which is why, two days before fifth grade graduation, when Abby didn’t come to school, her classmates became worried. They discovered that just a few days earlier, Abby had fallen and broken her leg, and would miss her graduation.

And that’s when the good stuff happened. The class decided to make Abby a get well video, and sang Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, a personal favorite that she often asked for when in class. Her elated parents called the school. According to her parents, Abby sat in her leg cast, watched the video, and beamed.  She smiled and waved at the video while her friends wished her get well and sang.

Then the school organized a graduation ceremony. Given her injury and sensitivity to sound and large crowds, the school arranged a smaller graduation, just with her fifth grade class. We all hoped that Abby would be well enough to make it that following Monday.

Monday arrived. With fans blowing, and classrooms sweltering 90 degrees, Abby came into school by wheelchair. Even though the class had graduated a week earlier, they wanted Abby to experience the same excitement they did at their own graduation. The staff cued up Pomp and Circumstance, and the class filled in the bleachers with Abby in line. My friend and colleague gave a graduation speech dedicated to not just Abby, but to the whole class. She spoke of how this class that grew up together readily embraced a new student to their class. How their acceptance reflected sincerity found in communities of people that care for one another. They learned how to reach out to her, and she taught them how to become a friend and advocate.

The ceremony concluded with the class singing and dancing to, Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, Abby’s favorite song. Then, for the second time in a week, the students received their diplomas, congratulations and a handshake from the principal and staff. As she rolled up and took her diploma, the class gave an enthusiastic (but silent) cheer for Abby.

As the class emptied the bleachers row by row to the song, Time of your Life, Abby began to cry. Maybe it was the activity, or the noise, but it almost seemed that on some level, Abby knew that this was the end (or the beginning) of something special.

The values posted on the front of our school building our simple: Be kind and respectful to everyone and everything. Include everyone.

Role models are what we need most in inclusion. Congratulations to the class of 2013, you sure are the best. Thanks for reminding me why I got into this career in the first place.

 

Kerry Davis, Ed.D, CCC-SLP, is a city-wide speech-language pathologist west of Boston. Her areas of interest include working with children with multiple disabilities, inclusion in education and professional development. The views on this blog are my own and do not represent those of my employer. Dr. Davis can be followed on Twitter at @DrKDavisslp.