Every child who receives special education through a public school has an IEP — Individualized Education Program (or Plan) — developed by the child's parents, teachers and other interested parties, such as counselors, therapists, doctors, and the child himself by junior high or so. Development of an IEP is mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which affects all schools that accept federal funding. (For more information about IEPs, see "The ABCs of an IEP.")
Joseph Cohan has Duchenne muscular dystrophy. He's 9 now and lives in Stratham, N.H., a small town near Portsmouth. His mother, Margaret Cohan, didn't think much about academic difficulties when Joe started kindergarten. She and her husband, Dennis, were thinking more about mobility problems in the future and were building an accessible home. Joseph hadn't encountered any major problems in preschool.
Below is the "Classroom modifications" section from Joseph Cohan's IEP. The complete plan includes test scores and teachers' reports, and sets specific objectives with a method to evaluate progress.
Joseph Cohan's IEP — "Classroom modifications" section
To address auditory processing deficits:
Any oral directions, especially multistep directions, should be paired with visual stimuli, such as visual models or charts, or with verbal cues and repetition.
If directions are given at circle or to entire group, Joseph needs to be asked if he understands the directions once everyone begins the task(s) and needs to be monitored to see he is completing the multistep tasks. Phrases like "This is important" and "Listen carefully" should be used.
To aid in processing and retention, associate new information with familiar knowledge; i.e., help Joseph make these connections. Encourage Joseph to verbalize these connections to himself, peers or adults. Use questions and sentence frames to assist him in phrasing and structuring responses during group presentations. Provide preferential seating during discussions. Provide directions to aid in retention.
Provide oral review of stories he generates to assist with sequencing, organization and completeness.
To address gross motor delays:
Aide or other adult to assist Joseph to and from bus, monitor and supervise playground use during recess, monitor and assist him on stairs, getting up off floor, on field trips, during fire drills and any time quick evacuation needed.
Make available adaptive seating in classroom and in computer, art and music rooms. Make available floor seating with modifications. Use lower table and chair, backrest and wrist rest to improve posture.
Encourage Joseph to participate in physical activities without adult assistance during recess and physical education (PE) class. Help to maintain independent mobility as much as possible, with adult assistance as necessary.
Joseph should attend regular PE class with modifications, as well as separate, adaptive PE class. Therapists to provide modeling and demonstration of techniques for physically assisting Joseph.
To address fine motor problems:
Intersperse fine motor tasks with non-motor ones to provide physical breaks. Monitor manipulative activities that involve much wrist extension and resistance, and grade level of difficulty if fingers become curled. Reduce repetitive work once mastery and pertinent information are achieved. Once fine motor fatigue is noted, ask Joseph if you can write for him.
Make available to Joseph use of spongy, cylindrical pencil grips and barrel-shaped mechanical pencil to aid in keeping fingers from slipping down the writing tool. Make available use of slant board for writing, and give access to computer for written output as needed to address fine motor fatigue.
To address short-term memory deficits:
Have Joseph use a daily log to aid in remembering homework and items he needs to bring to school, and to encourage associative and organizational techniques. Provide a weekly calendar to aid in planning for school week, and encourage use of checklist to double-check homework needs, etc.
Develop and introduce new graphic organizers to help with memory and organization of information, as needed.
Click here for main story, "The Brain in Duchenne Dystrophy [DMD]," Quest, January 1997.