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Special Education Strategies and Curriculum Development. Ann Rooney M.Ed. Head of School The Whole Learning School. Ann Rooney Head of School for The Whole Learning school 16 years teaching special education Masters of Education Teaching and Learning

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special education strategies and curriculum development

Special Education Strategies and Curriculum Development

Ann Rooney M.Ed.

Head of School

The Whole Learning School


Ann Rooney

  • Head of School for The Whole Learning school
  • 16 years teaching special education
  • Masters of Education Teaching and Learning
  • Licensed in Specific Learning Disabilities, Developmental Cognitive Disabilities and Emotional Behavior Disabilities
  • Director of curriculum and instruction
  • Assessment specialist
  • Workshop trainer


  • Private, nonprofit school
  • Designed to accommodate the individual learning styles of students with developmental and learning disabilities
  • Integrates individually-targeted traditional curriculum with essential life and social skills, resulting in an independent adult life
  • Hands-on and multi-sensory, integrated and cross-curricular
  • Instruction is individualized and designed at each student's instructional level

Who’s in the crowd?

  • Principals
  • Executive Directors
  • Regular education Teachers
  • Special education Teachers
  • Therapist- speech or OT
  • Psychologists
  • Parents

504 Plan

The "504" in "504 plan" refers to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, which specifies that no one with a disability can be excluded from participating in federally funded programs or activities, including elementary, secondary or postsecondary schooling. "Disability" in this context refers to a "physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities." This can include physical impairments; illnesses or injuries; communicable diseases; chronic conditions like asthma, allergies and diabetes; and learning problems. A 504 plan spells out the modifications and accommodations that will be needed for these students to have an opportunity perform at the same level as their peers, and might include such things as wheelchair ramps, blood sugar monitoring, an extra set of textbooks, a peanut-free lunch environment, home instruction, or a tape recorder or keyboard for taking notes.


Minnesota Department of Education Categorical areas for special education

  • Individual Education Plan primary disabilities
  • Blind-visually impaired
  • Deaf and hard of hearing
  • Pervasive Developmental Disabilities- Autism
  • Specific learning Disabilities
  • Developmental Cognitive Delay
  • Emotional Behavior Disorder
  • Other Health Disabilities
  • Speech or language impairments
  • Physically Impaired
  • Traumatic Brain injury

Individualized Education Plan (IEP)

An IEP, which falls under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, is much more concerned with actually providing educational services. Students eligible for an IEP, or Individualized Education Plan, represent a small subset of all students with disabilities. They generally require more than a level playing field -- they require significant remediation and assistance, and are more likely to work on their own level at their own pace even in an inclusive classroom. Only certain classifications of disability are eligible for an IEP, and students who do not meet those classifications but still require some assistance to be able to participate fully in school would be candidates for a 504 plan.

pervasive developmental disorders
Pervasive Developmental Disorders

PDD pervasive developmental disorders (PDD), refers to a group of five disorders

characterized by delays in the development of multiple basic functions including

socialization and communication. The pervasive developmental disorders are:Autism,

Asperger's syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, Rettsyndrome, and PDD not

otherwise specified (PDD-NOS).

All of these disorders are characterized by varying degrees of impairment in

communication skills and social abilities, and also by repetitive behaviors. Symptoms

of PDD may include communication problems such as:

Difficulty using and understanding language

Difficulty relating to people, objects, and events

Lack of eye contact or pointing behavior

Unusual play with toys and other objects

Difficulty with changes in routine or familiar surroundings

Repetitive body movements or behavior patterns

Children with PDD vary widely in abilities, intelligence, and behaviors. Some

children do not speak at all, others speak in limited phrases or conversations,

and some have relatively normal language development. Repetitive play skills

and limited social skills are generally evident as well. Unusual responses to

sensory information – loud noises, lights – are also common.



Autism was first identified in 1943 by Dr. Leo Kanner of Johns Hopkins Hospital. At the same time, a German scientist, Dr. Hans Asperger, described a milder form of the disorder that is now known as Asperger Syndrome . These two disorders are listed in the DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).

Autism, is a developmental brain disorder characterized by impaired social interaction and communication skills, and limited range of activities and interests is the most characteristic and best studied PDD. Autism is a complex neurobiological disorder that typically lasts throughout a person's lifetime. It is part of a group of disorders known as autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects nearly 1 in 150 children1 making it more common than pediatric cancer, diabetes, and AIDS combined. It occurs in all racial, ethnic, and social groups and is four times more likely to strike boys than girls.


Aspergers Syndrome

Asperger's disorder, also called Asperger's syndrome, is a type of pervasive developmental disorder (PDD) as defined by a distinction between Asperger's disorder and autism is that young children with Asperger's have normal language development, although the rhythm, pitch, and emphasis are irregular.

Unlike autism, Asperger's disorder does not delay other aspects of development. A child usually has age-appropriate self-reliance and an interest in the world around him or her. But as with autism, children with Asperger's disorder have abnormal social communication. Asperger's disorder affects males 4 to 5 times more than females. Its cause is unknown. More research is needed to confirm whether Asperger's disorder is a condition that is genetically related to autism.


PDD NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder)

Those with PDD-NOS are sometimes thought to have a "milder" form of autism, though this may not be technically true. One symptom may be minor, while another may be worse. Those with PDD-NOS are different from others on the spectrum in one specific way: While they may exhibit some symptoms of those conditions, they don't fit the bill closely enough to fully satisfy all criteria set by the experts. Perhaps they started having difficulties at a much later age than others on the spectrum. (According to the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities, they are often diagnosed between the ages of 3 and 4 years old.) Or they may have the same challenges — for example, they may be oversensitive to their surroundings — but not to the extreme that others on the spectrum do.


Developmental Cognitive Disability (DCD)

Developmental Cognitive Disability (DCD) is defined as a condition that results in intellectual functioning significantly below average and is associated with concurrent deficits in adaptive behavior that require special education and related services.

Access resources addressing the needs of students with Developmental Cognitive Disabilities (DCD) including students labeled DCD Mild-Moderate and DCD Severe-Profound. 

For current Minnesota language regarding DCD, click on MN Rule Chapter 3525.1333.


Specific Learning Disability (SLD)

Specific Learning Disability  (SLD) is a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. 

For current Minnesota rule language regarding SLD, click on MN Rule Chapter 3525.1341. For draft language consistent with the 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) which requires that states adopt new criteria for determining whether a child has a specific learning disability, see Special Education Rule Amendments: Final Proposed Rules.


Emotional or Behavioral Disorders (EBD)

Minnesota schools are serving students with a wide range of complex and challenging emotional or behavioral conditions. Medical conditions, genetic dispositions, biological and psychological conditions can impact a student’s ability to learn and function at school. A student who needs specialized services for emotional or behavioral supports may be considered for special education under the Emotional or Behavioral Disorders (EBD) category. Here users can access additional information regarding emotional and behavioral disorders.

To access behavioral assessment and intervention resources to use with children and youth with disabilities, click here. For current Minnesota rule language regarding emotional and behavioral disorders, click on MN Rule Chapter 3525.1329.


Other Health Disability (OHD)

Other Health Disability refers to a wide range of chronic or acute health conditions that may be either congenital or acquired. Students with health conditions may have associated characteristics or symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Some of the health conditions are progressive and some have associated symptoms that vary in intensity from day to day. Medications, treatments, therapies, and repeated hospitalizations for a range of chronic or acute health conditions can affect a student’s ability to learn and function at school. A student with such a condition may be considered for special education under the Other Health Disabilities (OHD) category. 

For current Minnesota rule language regarding other health disabilities, access the MN Rule Chapter 3525.1335. Access section links on the right for additional resources that address the needs of students with other health disabilities.


Speech or Language Impairments

Four types of speech or language impairments are generally recognized:

Fluency disorder means the intrusion or repetition of sounds, syllables, and words; prolongation's of sounds; avoidance of words; silent blocks; or inappropriate inhalation, exhalation, or phonation patterns. These patterns may also be accompanied by facial and body movements associated with the effort to speak.

Voice disorder means the absence of voice or presence of abnormal quality, pitch, resonance, loudness, or duration

Articulation disorder means the absence of or incorrect production of speech sounds or phonological processes that are developmentally appropriate (e.g. lisp, difficulty articulating certain sounds, such as l or r)

Language disorder means a breakdown in communication as characterized by problems in expressing needs, ideas, or information that may be accompanied by problems in understanding.

For current Minnesota rule language regarding Speech or Language

Impairments, click on MN Rule Chapter 3525.1343.


Physically Impaired (PI)

Physically Impaired (PI) is a low incidence disability area, usually about 1% of the school population. According to the 2003 Minnesota Child Count, there are currently 1657 students identified as Physically Impaired. "Physically Impaired" means a medically diagnosed chronic, physical impairment, either congenital or acquired, that may adversely affect physical or academic functioning and result in the need for special education and related services. Examples of diagnoses that may meet these criteria are: cerebral palsy, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, spinal cord injury, otegenesis imperfecta, and arthrogryposis.

For current Minnesota rule language regarding physical impairments, click on MN Rule Chapter 3525.1337.


Traumatic brain injury means an acquired injury to the brain caused by an external physical force resulting in total or partial functional disability or psychosocial impairment, or both, that may adversely affect a child’s educational performance.

For current Minnesota rule language regarding Traumatic Brain Injury, click on MN Rule Chapter 3525.1348.


Three types of Learning Styles

  • Auditory
  • Visual
  • Tactile/kinesthetic
  • The best strategies contain all three at one time

Curriculum and classroom strategies for at-risk children in special education or on 504 accommodation plans are essential to your school's operations. 

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Functional math curriculum
  • Life skill curriculum for transition-age students 
  • Resource handouts
  • Hands-on activities

Graphic Organizers

  • Story map
  • Rubrics
  • Writing prompts
  • Story retell
  • Cloze sentences
  • Charts and graphs