Special, Special Ed Conference Thoughts

Last week was the annual conference of the Council for Exceptional Children’s (CEC) in Philadelphia. CEC is arguably the premier organization in support of quality educational interventions for children with any special need. Back in the day (which some of us still remember!), children with what we called “handicapping conditions” were often shunted away and schools definitely did not provide special help to address their particular needs. That the tide has turned is a triumph of grassroots, parental demands.

Not only parents, but special teachers need our gratitude and applause. I remember years ago when I was a reading consultant at a consortium of special education services in Connecticut (ACES). One of those dedicated teachers came and pleaded with me to come to her class and give her advice about how to better teach her students how to read. I have never felt more humble than when I stepped into her classroom full of children in tube-like breathing machines that covered their entire body except for their little faces looking up at the reflecting mirror overhead. A lesser teacher would not have persisted in wanting help for those children’s reading.

Those memories came flooding back when I remembered another request from another special teacher. By then, I was on the faculty at Tufts University, and she wanted me to ask the professors in the Biomedical Engineering Department if they could make something that would enable a quadriplegic boy to write? When I explained the need to one of the marvelous faculty members, all he asked was, “Does the boy have one moving muscle?” (He did. He could blink). The engineers created something he could use–years before computers made what they did back then seem less of a miracle today.

Perhaps that was one of the most outstanding experiences of last week’s conference: to see the incredible advances made in applying technology to meeting the needs of special education students. No doubt the pace will continue to accelerate and bring hope to even more children.

Today the children I work with at The New School in the Heights (www.newschoolheights.org) and write about in ALMOST PERFECT (dianedanielsmanning.com) primarily have special social-emotional needs; the help they need is more psychological than technological. But the basic drive to improve the lives of all our children continues to motivate those of us in special education, whatever our “special-ty.”

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