Who Might Benefit from Developmentally Appropriate Instruction?


Generally speaking, the Pops Spedster site (www.popspedster.net) is designed for students aged 12 through 21 who qualify for special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education (improvement) Act (IDEA). Specifically, the specially-designed instructional materials (developmentally appropriate instruction or DAI) on the site address typical instructional needs of students with low incidence disabilities (LIDs, if you please).

Low incidence disabilities probably do not include students that qualify for special education services under the Specific Learning Disability category. Students diagnosed with the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) may or may not benefit from DAI, depending on the manner in which ASD affects school performance and individual learning. The same is true of students diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Certainly students with Visual Impairment and Auditory Impairment would only benefit if their symptoms resulted in academic performance that was significantly below their age appropriate and grade level peers. The same is true of students that qualify under Other Health Impairment.

Most commonly, students that will benefit from DAI will have been diagnosed with an Intellectual Disability (formerly called Mental Retardation). In that case, a collaborative team of professionals in a school setting will have conducted the necessary screenings, testing and assessments to determine if the student qualifies for services under the IDEA.

A typical profile of such a student might include IQ scores of 70 and below, developmental ability scores in the same range and assessment data showing that the student exhibits a learning pattern that is significantly below grade level and that such performance is not caused by a lack of instruction.

Since Special Education is by definition a system of educational services that increase the likelihood of the student’s success in the general education curriculum, placement of that student in a specific educational setting in governed by the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) rule that derives from various court cases. A student that might benefit from DAI is however, most often placed in a self-contained classroom with other students of similar ability levels, and is often “pulled out” to be included in the general education classes and school activities. Often general education students volunteer to be peer tutors and to assist staff in these self-contained classrooms, thus “bringing in” skills and abilities that make this most restrictive environment, less restrictive.

Because so many students with LIDs also qualify for additional related services, their Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) may specify the need for related services in a number of different service categories. It is not uncommon for students with LIDs to need related services from a combination of the following – Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP), Physical Therapist (PT), Occupational Therapist (OT), Autism Specialist, Behavior Specialist, Registered or Licensed Practical Nurse; and (as the student ages out of IDEA services at age 21) future adult service providers such as a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor may need to be included in planning for the student’s future.

The inventory of abilities found on the Pops Spedster site, addresses a number of skills in a number of instructional categories that can be related to the Common Curriculum goals relating to regular education standards. Although the goals themselves cannot be modified, the purpose of DAI is to identify goals within that system that are developmentally appropriate for the students with LIDs. The instructional materials on the site then either are already modified or can be modified to meet the needs of the individual student with LIDs.

My own personal experience is that students with LIDs might very well exhibit behavior that might qualify them for services under the Emotional Disturbance category. However, emotional disturbance per se should never be the sole qualifier for students placed in a LIDs setting. Many schools have Emotional Growth Centers that address the special needs of students identified as emotionally disturbed that otherwise demonstrate IQs within the average range.

Finally, since students with LIDs in general exhibit barriers to communication, DAI is all about developing communication skills, hopefully in an educational setting that emphasizes development of adaptive communication skills in a community-based setting.