Special Education Professionals Soak up Knowledge at DADD Conference
Special education teachers, behavior experts and other professionals who work with those who have autism and other developmental disabilities, gathered at the University of Arkansas recently for a day-long conference.
The national Council for Exceptional Children’s Division on Autism and Developmental Disabilities hosts its annual summer board meetings on college campuses around the country. This is the second year the organization has used these meetings as an opportunity to have DADD members share their knowledge in a conference setting. This year’s focus was about how best to educate students with developmental disabilities.
Tom Smith, former DADD executive director for 20 years, noted that the speakers are leaders in the special education field and it’s a wonderful opportunity for local educators to have access to them.
“These speakers have been on the DADD board, they’ve written multiple publications,” said Smith, a special education professor at the U of A and former dean of the College of Education and Health Professions. “Their strong support has vastly improved the lives of individuals — children and adults — with autism or who have intellectual disabilities.”
Elizabeth Harkins, who’s on the DADD board and lives in New Jersey, said some of the most involved DADD members come from Arkansas.
National presenters included Jordan Shurr, associate professor of special education at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada; Robert Pennington, associate professor and Lake and Edward Snyder Jr. Distinguished Scholar in special education at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte; and Michael Wehmeyer, current DADD president and Ross and Marianna Beach Distinguished Professor in Special Education and chair of the special education department at the University of Kansas.
Shurr opened the conference with a conversation about the four learning stages in action and shared research-based practices in identification, assessment, goal setting and instruction.
Pennington walked conference participants through a variety of practical ideas for building written language skills. He noted that people with ASD or ID need to be able to express themselves through the written word for full participation in academic, employment and social contexts. Social media is important for them to be involved in if they’re interested, he said.
“If they can’t participate in social media, they’re left out again,” he said.
He suggested an app called Clicker Sentences to help teachers create sentence-building activities that are tailored to each student’s needs.
Wehmeyer focused on promoting self-determination — causing things to happen in your own life — among young people with disabilities. He shared a tool for practitioners to use with their students or clients called the ARC Self-Determination Scale. He and colleagues developed ARC, which assesses a person’s self-determination strengths and weaknesses.
He noted that students with disabilities who are involved in their own Individualized Education Program plans, among other things, have more positive educational and post-secondary outcomes.
Lory Greer, a psychological examiner from Easter Seals, attended the conference. Her goal for the day was to gather resources for the parents who come in to her for an evaluation and leave with a diagnosis.
Like many of the participants, Jennifer Rose, who will be a new special education teacher in the Prairie Grove School District this fall, was there to learn and grow.
“I’m just trying to soak up as much information as possible that’s pertinent and valuable for the betterment of the children,” she said.
Rose said she wants to help her students achieve to the best of their abilities.
Several U of A professors and DADD members presented sessions at the conference, including Peggy Whitby, Renee Speight, Suzanne Kucharczyk and Johanna Thomas.