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Supporting Students with TS+, Part 1: Key Terms

Teacher and Student at BlackboardFor parents of children with exceptionalities like Tourette Syndrome, OCD, ADHD and mood disorders, classroom strategies are a very popular topic. Parents are eager to understand how their child’s education team can help remove roadblocks to learning, but it is easy to get overwhelmed by all the information, terms, resources and texts out there.

This blog series will help breakdown this information into easily digestible chunks. It is by no means exhaustive, but it will assist you in your effort to build a strong knowledge base. Part 1 is an overview of key terms. Part 2 will consist of classroom strategies and specific supports for students. Part 3 will share answers to frequently asked questions. And Part 4 will feature expert advice from a guest blogger.

Understanding key terms is always a good starting place when you’re trying to build a strong knowledge base. The word “modification” is important, though it often gets confused with the term “accommodation.” In fact, you may be surprised to learn that accommodations and modifications mean two very different things: Modifications change what a teacher teaches, tests and grades, whereas accommodations change how the teacher teaches, tests and grades.

For example, a modification might be having a student submit an outline rather than a whole essay. An accommodation would be allowing the student to have extra time to complete the essay. Modifications change the expectations. In this example, the student was expected to complete an outline rather than an essay. With accommodations, the student has the same expectations as everyone else in the class but is given additional supports to help them meet that expectation.

Another important term is Education/Program Plan. This is called different things in different provinces like IEP (Individual or Individualized Education Plan) or SEP (Special Education Plan). The idea of your son or daughter’s teacher having a “plan” or “program” specifically for them may sound complicated. After all, don’t all teachers “plan” out their lessons? Can’t they adjust things on the fly?

Well, maybe they can. But other reasons exist for having a written plan about how a school will assist a student with exceptional needs. For example, this gives everyone (parents, teachers, administration) a shared understanding of how the student will be assisted. The process of developing the plan or program will often help to unlock the funding that is needed to carry out the plan as well.

The contents of the Education Plan/Program are written by school staff and experts like psychologists in consultation with parents. It may include both modifications and accommodations or one or the other. To help the school create content tailored to the student’s specific needs, the student may undergo a psycho-educational assessment, or psycho-ed assessment as it is sometimes called.

A psycho-ed assessment consists of a series of tests conducted by psychologist. The tests usually focus on: learning style, ability to use language, reasoning skills, ability to do written work, ability to interpret and analyze visual material, and reading comprehensive, spelling, and math. In short, the assessment measures a student’s learning potential. Typically, a psychologist will gather information about the student through interviews, reviews of school records, observations and reports from parents and teachers as well. Keep in mind that because this assessment is so detailed, it can take several visits. If done through a school board or hospital it is free of charge, however, there are usually waiting lists. A number of private organizations will perform these assessments for a fee. Some extended health benefits or private insurance packages will cover a private assessment if the student has a referral from a physician.

A final important term is assistive technology. This term includes a number of services, devices, strategies and practices that help individuals with exceptional needs access school curriculum. It might include use of special computer software that types out the spoken word or reads the written word out loud. Other examples include digital recorders, alternative keyboards, spell checkers, pencil grips, raised-line paper, and paper stabilizers. Using assistive technology may be one type of accommodation that a student needs to do his or her best in school.

Do you or a family member use assistive technology at school or work? Is it helpful? Do you think that there any downsides to using the technology?

Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 of this blog series, which will be published later this week.

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