The Key to Overcoming Challenges in Different Stages of the Educational Journey
Whether it’s the very first year of school or the last, embarking upon a new educational journey brings a lot of excitement—and preparation. When a student has a developmental disability, preparing for a successful school year often requires extra planning. Thanks to services provided by the Department of Economic Security (DES) Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD), this planning is all part of the process.
Yvonne and Jason McMillan.
Six-year-old Jason McMillan will start 1st grade on August 5. Although Jason has attended a special-needs preschool and kindergarten, transitions are difficult for him. One way his mom, Yvonne, is helping him prepare is by simply talking to him about going back to school. “He has experience going to school [and] taking the bus,” said McMillan. “So, we’ll start having those discussions coming up soon. He really does like school, so I anticipate that he’ll be excited about going back.”
Jason has had an Individualized Education Plan from the time he started at a special-needs preschool. “He’s continuing with that,” said McMillan. “They just update the goals as he progresses.”
The goals he has successfully met include: learning how to use utensils to eat, washing his hands on his own and putting his trash in the trash can. One goal Jason is working on now is sharing. “He’s an only child, so he doesn’t have as many opportunities to share as other children. He’ll also be working on sight words. He recognizes his numbers and he associates them with the quantities now, so he’ll be moving into mathematics.”
In addition to Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy, Jason also receives speech therapy from DDD. “He doesn’t speak very well. We are working on getting him to vocalize.”
“That gives him the confidence. He’s got quite a bit of confidence [from] being in the program and being in school. He used to just kind of freeze … he’d be attached to my leg. He did not want to interact with anyone. Now, if he identifies a kid from the area, it’s ‘bye mom, I’m gone.’” It’s been a really great experience to see him open up and socialize, and gain that confidence to explore and learn.”
Confidence is a powerful attribute and one outgoing young woman has it in abundance. At the opposite end of the public education spectrum is incoming high school senior, Katherine Shuttles. Her goal for the 2019-2020 school year is to be able to graduate with honors in art and pursue additional education at the East Valley Institute of Technology.
Katherine recognizes that subjects such as English and history are more challenging for her. “There is a lot of writing, and she has some difficulties with writing,” explained Katherine’s grandmother, April. So, Katherine opted to take her senior-level English course during summer school, an intense, six-hour per day, four-week long course. With the English class behind her, Katherine is prepared to face the rigors of classes in American history and Arizona government to achieve her goal of graduating with honors in art.
April pointed out that while academic skills are important, life skills are just as important. “Because without life skills, how are you going to take care of yourself? How are you going to feed yourself?” Katherine’s been learning how to cook using an instant pot, Crock-Pot and electric skillet.
“I believe there’s going to be some day where I’m going to live on my own and I need the cooking skills to live on my own,” said Katherine. She is also learning container gardening and grows her own tomatoes.
Additionally, Katherine works four hours each Saturday and Sunday at Chandler Fashion Center. This opportunity came about due to the Work Bridge program offered at Tempe Union High School District and the DES Vocational Rehabilitation program. She also receives speech therapy through DDD to help her communicate better.
“It’s also super important that she knows about bills,” said April. “We work with that all the time.” Katherine saved her earnings to get a cell phone and budgets her money to pay the phone bills. She also saved money to purchase new clothes for the new school year, including a special outfit for homecoming.
Katherine has two goals: To live on her own, and to become a mortician.
“I would like to go to cosmetology school and go to [become an aesthetician], said Katherine. “Then, I’m going to be a mortician.”
Katherine explained, “The reason why I want to do mortician science is because I want to do the embalming and all the chemicals that are with it because I like science. I like doing hair and make-up, but I mostly want to do more science.”
“It doesn’t matter how long it takes … to get there,” said April, “Anything you want to do with your life, you can do.”
Katherine responded, “I already know that it’s going to take me longer and I don’t care. I’m motivated to be one. It just takes me a little longer.”
Attitude, behavior and confidence. These ABC’s are the key to a life well lived in and out of school.
By Lyn Riley