The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires students who are eligible for special education and related services to receive them in the least restrictive environment (LRE). And, 62% of these students now spend 80% or more of their time in general education classrooms—a 90% increase over the last three decades.
Despite this trend, many teachers and therapists cling to the days of pulling children with disabilities and disorders out for therapy.
But, what would happen to your regular education classrooms if integrated therapeutic and supportive services became the norm?
At Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS) we’ve found that combining integrated services with foundational training, gives teachers many new tools for their toolbox!
Integrated services create perfect “show and tell” opportunities. Once teachers see a technique work, they’re more likely to use it with students themselves.
As PTS’ Co-Founders Diana Fongheiser and Pam Hackett write in Take a Bite Out of School-Based Therapy Costs, “By integrating your related services and allowing teachers to not only see but [also] participate in these interventions, your district can eliminate [related services’] mystique and create a more collaborative, cohesive instructional environment.”
Three Ways to Bring Related Services into General Education
Here are three strategies for integrating related services into general education with maximum effect (and, without blowing your budget).
1. Educate the Educators Through In-Service Training
Most teachers regard special education related services as something delivered by a “trained therapy professional.” You can change this status quo by consistently offering in-service training.
Have practitioners teach different kinds of techniques and interventions to groups of teachers and paraprofessionals, preferably by grade level and building. Let them tell teachers what makes these supportive services effective, and show teachers how to help implement them.
As a result, your teachers’ capacity to handle a greater variety of students’ needs (not the overall number of referrals) will grow.
2. Identify and Train Teachers Who Hold Dual Certification
Your district may already employ teachers with certification in both special and general education. Because of their familiarity with many related services concepts and language, these teachers can become in-building power users of therapy techniques.
We’ve found schools with a higher percentage of dual-certified teachers can handle a broader swath of special education students in the regular classroom. Before each academic year, identify all dual-certified staff, as well as those eligible and willing to earn dual certification.
Dual-certified teachers “allow for greater options in LRE and scheduling,” as the Georgia Department of Education notes, as do special education teachers who hold interrelated certification. They can “serve students with learning disabilities, behavioral disorders, and mild intellectual disabilities.” That fact makes achieving LRE goals even easier.
3. Create Collaborative, Co-Taught Classrooms
Co-teaching isn’t new. But, during the last couple of decades, it has gained more momentum. It creates an excellent opportunity to deliver services in the regular or special education classroom.
In collaborative classrooms, certified special education practitioners share responsibility with general education professionals for a single, diverse group of students. Some of these students will benefit from special education, as determined by an IEP team. Others won’t be found eligible to receive related services.
From a “one teaches, one observes” approach to “tag teams,” co-teaching can take various shapes. People generally think of co-teachers as a regular and special education teacher.
But, what about teaming teachers with therapists? Most education-based therapy goals can and should be addressed in the context of the curriculum. By bringing therapy into the instructional environment, all students benefit from the techniques, and the classroom teacher gains firsthand experience with successful therapeutic strategies.
Related services providers can also function as co-teachers who integrate therapeutic activities into the lesson plan. For example, in an elementary math class studying addition, an Occupational Therapist can bring in manipulatives such as LEGO® bricks to build hand strength and visual-motor coordination.
As Hackett and Fongheiser note, this approach is “profoundly more effective” than “pull-out” therapy. It addresses goals set by IEP teams and the goals of the curriculum at the same time.
Partner with PTS to Bring More Services to Children with Disabilities
We’ve been helping administrators across the greater Delaware Valley integrate special education related services into general education for more than 20 years.
Would you like to explore how we can help you integrate your related services, as well as do more for every child with a disability or disorder whom you serve, without letting costs get out of control? Request your free related services audit, now.
Give us some basic information about your program. And, we’ll give you immediately actionable suggestions for increasing its quality and effectiveness, without increasing your budget!