My Response to a Linkedin Discussion</
The URL above is the location of a discussion group on LinkedIn. The topic dealt with how special educators react to having student advocates and attorneys attend meetings held under the mandate of the IDEA statute.
This is my response –
“Wow! What a great discussion! I just recently retired from teaching students with low incidence disabilities (LIDs) for a state agency in Oregon. While I was getting my SPED certification, I subbed at a youth correctional facility. I have 8 years experience teaching students aged 18 to 21 in an adult transition program which had a store-front setting in a commercial district. I opened a Middle Learning Center in a local high school for students who were having difficulties in the resource room but who only qualified for services under the learning disabled category. And I taught students with LIDs for four years in a classroom at a local high school. Possibly because I was a claims adjuster for 22 years before my special ed career, I have never felt intimidated when advocates or attorneys attended my meetings. I have discovered however, a wide difference in the degree of compliance with the IDEA statute among various states when I have had students from other states move into my classrooms with their out-of-state documentation. My first 8 years of experience were in an environment of creative collaboration. My next 5 years were spent in a environment where finances drove district policies and not to the benefit of the students. I left after I saw IEP goals being driven by Common Core State Standards rather than by the needs and preferences of the individual student. Now, I publish my website at and blog on WordPress. I look forward to reading the group’s comments.I also look forward to replies on WordPress.


Is Exposure to a Toxin in One Type of Black Mold a Possible Cause of Autism?


Here is a summary of my theory which is based primarily on personal experience and anecdotal data. There is ongoing research into the affects of toxic black mold. There is ongoing research into the affects of mycotoxins in mushrooms. But the two disciplines have not yet seemed to connect and produce research on the possible affects of mycotoxins found in toxic black mold.

I live in the state of Oregon. We have a high incidence of individuals diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). We also have lots of rain. In fact, I lived on the Oregon South Coast for nearly 30 years. That region’s climate is a rain forest per se.

We also had many leaking roofs on the South Coast.

My concern is the possibility that plywood when exposed to water damage for periods of months and years, can produce a class of black mold called basidiospores. There are around two thousand types of basidiospores. These are typically involved in promoting dry rot in wood. Professional mold reports can determine the presence of basidiospores in areas where wet plywood exists. The detection process however is unreliable since basidiospores tend to be slimy and do not adhere to adhesive tapes typically used to collect samples. Also, basidiospores can be mistaken for aspergilis spores.

My theory is that slimy black basidiospore colonies in wet plywood process the urea formaldehyde binders holding the layers of plywood together. The chemical process produces buds of gyromitrin-containing spores in the slimy colony. When these colonies are located in areas such as attics, on warm days basidiospores blossom and produce tens of thousands of spores containing gyromytrin.

From the Mycologist’s perspective, gyromitrin is typically found in poisonous mushrooms and is the substance that causes death when it is consumed. The process resulting from the ingestion of gyromitrin involves the human body’s hydrolysis process whereby, the body converts the gyromitrin into monomethyl hydrazine (MMH), a rocket fuel component used by NASA to give the Space Shuttle an extra boost during take off.

My theory is that when 20% of the human population is exposed to gyromitrin from basidiospores in black mold, they will experience symptoms to the same extent that aerospace workers experience symptoms when they are exposed to spills of MMH. The OSHA documents report these to include the development of seizure disorders, of hypersensitivity pneumonitis and death.

If this theory can be supported, then the issue of cognitive impairment of victims arises. There is one case to date in the state of Oregon in which a manufactured home was bought by an Oregon family. The home had Tyvec sealing the green wood in the support structure. The conditions with the sealed wet wood was ripe for the development of black toxic mold. The family sued the manufacturer and won based on damages that included the children of the family having developed cognitive delays during their occupancy of the home.

How many young families in Oregon live in substandard housing such as manufactured homes, trailers and apartments that go without proper maintenance of leaking roofs?

I suspect a relationship between exposure to MMH and ASD. This is particularly obvious when the classic presentation exists where a child has typical development of language and social skills until the age of two. At the age of two, these disappear.

I would greatly appreciate any and all comments on this topic.

Toward a Developmental Language


Toward a Developmental Language



Last summer, my wife and I were standing in one of those proverbially endless lines at the Fumicino airport in Rome. We listened for other English-speaking people who might be in line with us. In fact, the older woman in front of us was obviously an American. We engaged our fellow traveler in a polite conversation, and found that she was from San Francisco; that she had been leading a tour on the island of Malta; and that the language used in her tour was Esperanto.


I thought to myself, “Now that’s about as specific as you can get.” Commercially, there is a demand for tour groups to Malta, conducted in Esperanto by nice old ladies from San Francisco. What an interesting world we inhabit!


When I returned to the classroom this past fall, I found myself creating all of the picture supports that I could create. I was inspired by my experiences in Italy. Neither my wife nor I spoke any Italian. Yet somehow, we had successfully communicated our wants and needs.


I had been working on an adaptive, computer-based communication device for one of my students. So, I was very much aware of just how basic language can get while still communicating appropriately and clearly.


The decision-making process in and of itself is often a challenge for the person with developmentally altered abilities. Can every need be met with a simple “yes” and a simple “no”? What is the basic common unit that communicates those concepts most effectively for the community that I serve? What are the common experiential modes where a common understanding of that basic unit is found?


My students had never been to Rome. My students had never stood next to Colosseo and watched the cheesy Italian actor-gladiators pose with tourists for photographs.


But many of my students had seen the movie “Gladiator”. I soon found that they all understood a simple “thumbs up” and a simple “thumbs down”. It is a concept that can be rendered pictorially, and it can be rendered in a tactile format.


We have been doing “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” for nearly five months, at the Adult Transition Program where I teach. I have found that image to be more effective in communicating “yes” and “no” than any words, written or spoken.







Total Quality Management and the Adaptive Life Skills Department


Total Quality Management and the Adaptive Life Skills Department



In the fall of 1994, our local community college conducted a staff training that consisted of a workshop in Total Quality Management (TQM). The training included all employees, and was designed to encourage the staff to view the college’s students as consumers of a product. The goal of the training was to create processes and procedures that would promote quality in the educational services offered at the college; quality that would be defined by the entire educational community.


In 2007, whenever I read the research on Special Education, I keep running into the phrase “community of practice”. It occurs to me that (my former place of employment) is a community of practice. It also occurs to me that as a department, the Adaptive Life Skills Department (ALS) has relatively few complaints about the quality of the services we deliver.


Therefore, I am proposing for the sake of maintaining quality services, that we formalize processes and procedures to the extent that they become a discipline for our community of practice. Furthermore, I am proposing that we encourage the entire (my former employer) to join in us in this effort.


When I was attending an OIS training last year, I was inspired by that training because of the comprehensive nature of its basic philosophy. The adverse student behaviors that we as behavioral scientists are trained to address, all have a basis in the human act of attempting to communicate our needs to others. Adverse behaviors arise from anxiety and frustration over not being able to communicate our needs to others.


As specialists in communication, we special educators need to formalize our own practices. Since we teach individuals with developmental disabilities, developmental issues should be the first consideration when we design our instructional interventions.


The political nature of the process that produces legislation such as IDEA 1997 or IDEiA in 2004, creates an outline of legal standards. Such laws do not create the discipline needed for an educational community to use the most promising practices of that discipline.


Since I began teaching in 1970, I have seen the Special Educator emerge from the little room behind the boiler room in the basement of the church across the street from the school, and into specialized settings such as the ALS classroom, the Resource Room and the Emotional Growth Center. Along with that move, came the responsibility of the Special Educator for becoming a learning expert, a behavioral expert and a paramedical expert.


One of the important legal issues associated with placing students in Special Education settings is the issue of Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). In the case of the Adult Transition Program (ATP), we are often put in the position of having students referred to us who have been mainstreamed with supports and accommodations from various Special Education Resources, but whose abilities qualify them for settings less restrictive than the ALS setting.


Over the years, ATP staff has discovered standards that could become a partial basis for improving the quality of ALS services while addressing the issue of LRE.


Therefore, as a part of our commitment to Quality, I am proposing that the ALS Department, develop a standard of practice that is research-based and proven effective in classrooms. I am proposing that we devote some in-service time to working collaboratively as a department in this effort.


I have developed a 320-discriminator assessment of adaptive behavior characteristics. I would very much appreciate it if every staff member of the ALS department would review that assessment and add to it to take away from it, so that we have an instrument that can be used from the end of Early Intervention to the end of Free Appropriate Public Education at age 21, to systematically provide us with a standard of practice that promotes LRE for our students, while respecting individual developmental issues of each student.



Respectfully Submitted,



James M. Kemp, Adult Transition Teacher

Frank Bensen and DAI


Frank Bensen and DAI


If we are serious about using a model of instruction based on developmental appropriateness, we need to have a paradigm shift in the way we look at literacy issues. Prior to his death, neuroscientist Frank Bensen proposed a brain structure model that analyzed the structures necessary for producing spoken word and a written word.


In our case, we are dealing with a population whose brain structures may be so severely impacted that the very concept of teaching them to read the written word will never really meet with success.


Back in the old days of computing, a central processing unit on a motherboard was enhanced by installing a mathematical coprocessor chip. If the motherboard did not have such a feature, then the cpu’s ability to process complex math functions was greatly affected, and the computer owner’s level of frustration with the machine was increased along with the owner’s anxiety levels.


In our own case, what if we have students that do not possess the brain structure or structures necessary for processing meaning derived from the common alphabet? What if we are, as teachers, really trying to superimpose our cultural values onto a system which has no ability to process those values?


As a society, we value the individual’s ability to process the written language into meaningful concepts, and the meaningful concepts become the basis for our understanding of the world. We pass laws that require teachers to have children reading at specific grade levels of ability when we have a population co-existing that could possible understand the values, just not the system used by the educators to instill the values. How much anxiety is involved in that process which is doomed to fail from the beginning?


Short of growing new neurons and reprogramming newly grown brain structures (if such a process really existed), how do we successfully superimpose a language system into brains that are incapable of processing language efficiently?


Our own laws already posit the answer to that question – change the way we look at literacy; at least for that 1 to 2 percent of the population who do not possess the mental hardware for processing the language system used by the majority of our culture.


So what then can our population with special needs use as a system for effectively communicating with the alphanumerically literate majority? Our special education classrooms have been using pictures and graphic symbols as a basis for communication for decades. Unfortunately, the English language has developed into an intellectually esthete system that has been used politically to segregate the intellectual elite from the rest of humanity.


In the English-speaking world, if you can’t process multiple synonyms, obscure cognates and a backwards scanning grapheme system, you are judged to be illiterate and therefore, unqualified for the benefits of education.

Ever since the invention of the printing press however, literature that has sought to influence human behavior has tended to use paired associates (words paired with pictures) as devices for increasing human understanding. “With Adam’s fall, we sinned all”, reads the chapbook from the American colonial period.


Not only does that bit of history illustrate my point about the use of paired associates, it also illustrates my point(s) about the use of language to effect desired behavioral outcomes – both moral and political.


All literacy teachers know, whether NCLB has approved of the research or not, that one effective way of teaching literacy involves the use of paired associates. Consider things as simple as children’s alphabet blocks. Literacy teachers often combine paired associates with other techniques to the point that after a while, children learning to read no longer need to associate the graphemic representation with the paired image. At that point, we begin to fade the paired image. Like a child learning to ride a bike using training wheels, we remove the training wheels and the average child learns to read a book in the same manner that the average child learns to ride a bike.


To special educators, things like paired associates and training wheels are simply supports and accommodations required by law in the instruction of children with impaired learning abilities.


So, let’s stop beating ourselves up because we teach a population that often simply does not have the necessary brain structures required for effective grade equivalency literacy achievement. Instead, let’s look at our student with impaired abilities in light of their strengths, which often include the strength to process pictures into meaningful information.




Evaluating Self-directed Support Services


When the Administrative Rules that govern quality assurance are applied in a relationship of advocacy between the service provider and the client, the evaluation tool should be client-friendly. Most service contracts are aleatory contracts which impose a greater duty on the maker/designer of the contract than on other parties to the contract. Surveys and other tools that attempt to measure client satisfaction in the case of clients with developmentally altered abilities, should furthermore be designed to consider the developmental characteristics of those very clients. Tool design consideration should be given to orthopedic, cognitive or any other existing factors that impact those clients’ abilities to experience and to enjoy admirable lives.


In any case, the clients of such agencies deserve a tool which speaks to each client’s needs while communicating on a level that the average person with developmentally altered abilities can comprehend. There it is again; that old “c” word.



To summarize briefly if not concisely, a wealth of research exists on the use of visual supports with all ages of readers and with all ability levels to increase literacy levels. It started shortly after the printing press was invented. In England, these supports were called emblem books. They were, by our current standards, similar to what we would call comic books.


These emblem books consisted of woodcut prints containing a symbol or drawing that was matched with a more abstract verbal concept that was usually intended to convey some religious or moral standard. In America, we had the classic “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all” in the lesson materials of the New England school masters. The phrase was paired with a woodcut of Adam and Eve being ejected from the Garden of Eden.


In special education, we call these “paired associates”. In one theory that addresses acquisition of literacy skills, paired associates are presented to persons learning to read. The matching pictures are gradually faded until the student recognizes the text without the picture support.


We know in the case of individuals on the Autism Spectrum Disorder, language development is a key component of any educational intervention. Writers like Temple Grandin, a person with Autism who designed animal confinement systems, report from personal experience that individuals with Autism tend to think in pictures.


The interesting aspect of Temple Grandin’s case is that her developmentally altered abilities include the meta-cognitive skill that allows her to reflect on her own thinking processes and to share those reflections with the greater community.


How many other disorders and syndromes include criteria that would suggest an affected person would naturally think in pictures? How many of those other disorders and syndromes include individuals who can communicate about the ways in which their brains work?


In designing tools therefore, that are intended to communicate with (and not to) persons with developmentally altered abilities, the quality assurance component needs to be based on some common communication aspect that is experienced by the entire community of involved persons.


I suggest that common ground is a picture support system for communicating abstract concepts and the reduction of abstract concepts being communicated to a common level of understanding. That common level of understanding is language reduced to the least complex and unambiguous word choice.


Many of you special educators reading this will respond that these ideas being discussed in this paper are a restatement of the obvious. My personal experience suggests that the level of understanding of persons with developmentally altered abilities tends to be more greatly appreciated in the educational arena that in other federally funded service delivery systems.


My intent here is not to indict those other agencies. My intent is to include them in a collaborative effort to improve communication with our mutual clients.


I was recently asked to review a form used by one federally-funded agency to measure the satisfaction of its clients with the services the agency was delivering. I suggested to the group that clients might benefit from picture supports for each question on the survey.


I was told that the agency had discussed that possibility, and concluded that picture supports were believed to be insulting to the clients. The picture supports being considered were “smiley” faces and “sad” faces.

I cannot evaluate if these would have been insulting to the clients. I can conclude that this specific picture support has been overused to the point of becoming trite and ineffective (if not down right silly at times as in the case of the emoticons so frequently used in email communication).


I submit that the common level of understanding is in fact a level at which written language is secondary to the processing of concepts conveyed in pictures. I will avoid the cliché that measures their worth in the thousands of words.


I submit that the resulting language is an experiential language, much like American Sign Language. It is based in common gestures and iconic images that surround us in our daily life activities.


I submit that I am describing a community-based language that we all speak out on the streets of our communities. At its worst, it is a language that caters to our basic instincts. At its best, it is a language composed of signs and standards that keep us safe.


I conclude that a tool designed to measure the satisfaction of a client with a developmentally altered ability level is useless unless it allows the client to communicate about the most significant of client concerns – happiness.


In my humble opinion, every survey that was designed to measure client satisfaction and the quality of service delivery, is useless unless the clients can communicate whether they enjoy the homes in which they reside, or whether they do not.


Can you imagine a picture that you can use with your client to communicate about your client’s happiness? I will bet that you can. In fact, you may just have found the first grapheme in your own developmentally appropriate language.






Cognitive Behavior Supports


Cognitive Behavior Supports



Because adults with disabilities often do not possess the cognitive ability to manage their own behavior, experts in the behavioral sciences have devised various programs to address the behavioral needs of people with impaired cognitive functioning. Often, these programs come down to one simple concept – reward positive behavior constantly and replace unwanted behaviors with socially acceptable behaviors.


In a developmentally appropriate continuum, however attention should be given to the cognitive abilities of each individual adult. In this model, assessment of the adult’s ability to manage personal behavior should be the basis for developing an instructional plan that considers individual cognitive abilities.


Under IDEA, we often ask the question, “Does this person have behaviors which impede his or her own learning and/ or the learning of others?” If the answer is that the person does have such behaviors, the statute requires that we initiate various functional behavior assessments to determine the cause of the undesirable behavior, to determine what environmental conditions exist that reinforce the undesirable behavior and to determine if the behaviors are the related to the individual’s specific disability.


A behavior specialist then typically writes a positive behavior support plan for that individual student and for staff dealing with that student. Data is collected in the process, and used to help the instructional team promote that evasive quality – the self-regulating person with cognitive developmental impairment.


Adaptive Life Skill (ALS) settings however, attempt to duplicate and/ or simulate real world experiences and settings. Academic skills are emphasized only in a functional context in terms of the extent to which the academic skill is involved in daily functional routines.


Where undesirable behaviors are concerned in the ALS setting, attention should be given to emphasizing and increasing the adult student’s awareness of social context and the need to engage in positive, pro-social behavior in this environment which also emphasizes vocational skills. In short, in the ALS setting, the social fabric of instruction is no longer reading and writing, as much as it is simply getting along with fellow workers in a cooperative setting.