A major part of one’s quality of life is impacted by peer relationships. Connections and engagement with peers open up new opportunities for learning and belonging and fill our need to be a vital and important member of communities. While this is particularly true for students with significant cognitive disabilities, often their peer relationships are limited, variable and dependent on those who are paid to be part of their lives, such as related service providers and paraprofessionals. Research has shown the power of peers for students with significant cognitive disabilities in terms of growth in their communication skills, social-emotional skills, progress on individual goals and access to and using natural supports in their environment.
Students with complex communication needs who are using or are beginning to use Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) benefit from social support from peers and adults. This TIP describes circles of social support and the many communication strategies that the AAC communicator might use with partners who know them best. It also describes strategies that the AAC communicator may use with less familiar communication partners. Being able to use a variety of strategies helps the student communicate in many types of situations for different purposes.
We invited leading experts to share their expertise on implementing these nine educational interventions to promote meaningful engagement and relationships among students with and without disabilities. They created short, practical implementation guides based on their extensive experience working with local schools.
Everyone wants to be valued and have a sense of belonging in their community. The need for valued belonging is true for students in a school community as well. Although belonging is equally important for all students, students with significant cognitive disabilities are less likely to experience a deep sense of belonging.
During COVID, how can teams prioritize the least restrictive environment and inclusive education? How do we assure that we are teaching students with significant cognitive disabilities in the least restrictive environment possible during distance learning and as we return to various in-person delivery models? Considering three questions at key decision points regarding instructional models can raise the awareness of the impact of a team’s decision on a student.
Paraprofessionals are central to the success of educating students with disabilities in general education contexts, especially students with significant cognitive disabilities. Distance learning is pushing the field to consider how paraprofessionals can fulfill their roles in new and creative ways, particularly with the use of technology. Apply the Learning Components framework to clarify paraprofessional roles and how they can be carried out whether instruction is in-school or during distance learning.
This multi-media TIP describes how educators can encourage peers to use (Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) with students with significant cognitive disabilities who also have complex communication needs. Embedding simple, evidence-based strategies that involve peers will serve to increase success in inclusive settings for these students.
The parents of a woman with a significant disability describe her experience attending a segregated early-education program followed by elementary, middle, and high school at her local neighborhood school. They describe her experiences in school and beyond.
Describes how peer support arrangements and peer networks can be used to change the social landscape of students with significant cognitive disabilities, while benefiting both students with and without disabilities.
Shares how student Jaimar Fish’s communication network was expanded through participation in a peer network, how students formed lasting friendships, and how the Kentucky Peer Support Network Project has benefited students with and without disabilities.
Supporting students with complex communication needs is an important part of creating inclusive classrooms. Five strategies are described for using augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) in schools.
After opening with vignettes showing how two boys with similar disabilities experience very different school days, this article details how collaborative teaming is used to provide an inclusive setting and experience for a student with significant disabilities. (See “Unfiltered Truths of Co-Teaching” for a companion piece.)
A parent shares how she learned the safest space for her daughter, Maggie, was not in a sheltered classroom, but in a classroom surrounded by typical peers. She also details how Maggie’s friends helped the adults around her understand and better address her needs and desires.
A companion piece to “A Family’s Journey of Inclusion;” in it, Thomas Bryne describes his experiences being a student in an inclusive setting. (See also: “Who’s Missing? The Essential Question for Catholic Schools.”)
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