Monday, May 4, 2009

Plan Now for Strong Fall Transitions with Students Using Assistive Technology

As we face spring and the end of the school year, we have transitions...the movement of a student from elementary to middle, middle to high school, on to college and then out the door to life. It seems like it happens all too fast.
There are so many changes and adjustments to make. Parents get nervous about new settings, new staff and how their child will fare. Teachers feel overwhelmed by new cases that they have to study and students that they have to become familiar with. There are new routines to learn, new curriculum, new environments, etc.
I have seen transitions that were seamless and transitions that were bumpy at best. New teachers have to get up to speed on a student, but sometimes the same assistants go with a student to help. New IEP's and new goals, re-adjusting and fine-tuning what is being done - all can slow down progress being made.
In assistive technology, I have the distinct honor to follow sudents through their school career, so I can be one point of A.T. memory so to speak, going to new schools with the students as they advance and sharing what we have been doing can help a lot.
To help prevent the potential bogging down of the wheels of progress, here are some ideas you can implement in your transition planning now to make next fall a whole lot easier:

1. Don't assume anything! Never assume that a new school in your district will pick up the AT torch and carry it on without any glitches. Be available every step of the way to get things started. The AT specialist (or other specialist in charge of it) may be the only AT advocate for the student in the new environment for awhile. Don't dismiss your importance in training and sharing what is being used for support and accommodations.
1. Use Video: Take video now (don't wait) of a special activity that showcases the use of AT with a student. Send it on with the student and let the up-coming staff see first-hand what the student can do and what is possible to accomplish.
2. Send up-to-date reports at the end of the year explaining what was used specifically and how it was incorporated. Don't assume therapists in other areas will include details about it in their reports. Many of the files I get on new students have sparse AT notes. Sometimes there are notes of trials or recommendations, but not a lot of detail on things that were used and how they were used.
3. Transition equipment as well as students within a district. Try to make purchases district purchases - not individual school purchases. I have some schools that buy a Big Mack, a recordable communicator, or some piece of equipment and send it on with a student within the district for the student, but sometimes a school will keep the equipment for other students and send a student on empty-handed. It then becomes the high school or middle school's responsibility to find the money to get it to continue a service plan. This can eat up weeks or even months of time. I have an equipment center that can loan items to schools in the interim, but many districts don't have that luxury. Plan ahead for these glitches.
4. Spend time investing in the new staff that works with the student as soon as possible. Try and shorten the lag time between the first day of school and getting AT implementation up and running, by really shadowing an assistant for a few sessions. Follow the "Watch me, then do it with me, then do it by yourself while I watch you" steps to training and you will have strong AT implementation coming out of transition.

Following these steps takes some extra effort, but when you weigh the time spent at the beginning of a new transition done well vs. time spent over an over throughout the year struggling to get something going, the first example is more efficient in the long run and will save you time. I know there are many of you that have advice in this area and it would be great to hear from you.

Our new topic for our next Assistive Technology Blog Carnival coming up will be on transitions and how they went well or went bad - what tricks or tips help, what the obstacles are and how to overcome them. I will be posting more on this over the week and hope to hear from many of you. We can share information that will strengthen this area for all of us.

All the best as you press into the last few weeks of the school year!



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