Defining Appropriate Community-based Skills


Defining Appropriate Community-based Skills


In the Transition piece mandated by IDEiA, four domains of instruction are addressed – transition itself, community experiences, daily living skills and vocational and post-secondary results. It is generally agreed that IDEiA does not mandate a specific setting or instructional program for teaching skills in these domains, so it has been inferred that, as long as instruction in these domains are addressed in a student’s IEP, then that IEP would be compliant with IDEiA.


One basic assumption of DAI is that instruction takes place in an “adaptive life skills setting”. Since placement determinations under IDEiA are a team decision, there may be some disagreement about the terms “adaptive” and “life skills”. As a working definition for the purposes of discussing DAI theory, the term “adaptive” is used whenever there is a medical, cognitive, or behavioral aspect that needs to be addressed in delivering instruction to students with identified and qualifying disabilities under IDEiA.


Generally speaking, these three issues tend to have a direct relationship with the developmental levels of each student. Either the student has a medically recognized condition that impacts learning, a severe and pervasive cognitive deficit or undesirable behaviors that impact learning. In many cases, the student may exhibit all three of these conditions. Such students have need for high levels of support and specialized instruction, and tend to be placed in adaptive life skill settings where these needs can best be met. Admittedly, such settings are highly restrictive and challenge the IDEiA mandate that instruction take place in the least restrictive environment (LRE).


Again generally speaking, teams tend to interpret LRE in terms of the extent to which ALS students are included with “regular education” students whenever instruction is delivered.


It is a primary theory that DAI for ALS adult students, when delivered in a community-based setting, reduces the adverse effects of the restrictive setting itself, provided that instruction take place in the presence of and with the cooperation of adult peers who have no disabilities.


At the time that the re-authorized IDEiA statute took effect, the new requirements for students of transition age included a requirement that the team formulate a long range transition goal for each student. That goal is to be based on a “transition assessment”.


To the same extent that the transition piece itself has no requirements for setting, the term “transition assessment” has not been defined, nor has any formal, widely accepted assessment been agreed upon.


Therefore, until case law has defined that term more specifically, it is left up to each IEP team to define and to design such an assessment.


At this point, I humbly submit that the process involved in using an instructional discipline such as DAI, necessarily includes defining and using a transition assessment inherent in the DAI process itself.










ELL Language Expansion Plan 2009

March 6, 2009

Background –

ELL student R attends a middle school where his placement is a separate class for students with developmental disabilities. ELL student R’s family speaks Spanish at home, and ELL student R’s initial language in the home setting was Spanish at the time of his birth.

ELL student R has been re-evaluated for special education services recently. Testing included an assessment by a Speech-Language Pathologist in both Spanish and English. The local school district’s English Language Leaner (ELL) Teacher also assessed ELL student R’s language. While there appear to be some discrepancies in the results of these recent assessments, it seems possible to generally conclude that –

  1. ELL student R’s receptive language skills are stronger in Spanish than in English. This may be due to early childhood exposure to Spanish in the home and the continued exposure to Spanish in the home for the majority of any given day versus exposure to English in the school setting for 190 or so days for 7 to 8 hours per day per school year.

  2. ELL student R’s expressive language skills are stronger in English. This may be due to instructional interventions in English that include the services of the Speech-Language Pathologist and a may be due to a general cultural exposure to spoken and written English in ELL student R’s school setting.

  3. In a probe of ELL student R’s awareness of lexical symbols, this reporter observed ELL student R in his typical school setting, using a computer to complete a task that consisted of ELL student R copying his personal information from a cue card to a word processing program using a standard “QUERTY” keyboard. When an instructional assistant pointed to capital letters on the cue card, ELL student R typically responded by finding the appropriate keys on the keyboard. When the IA pointed to small letters on the cue card, ELL student R typically misnamed the small letters and could not find the letters on the keyboard which contained only capital letters. Thus, it is possible to conclude that ELL student R does not know the small letters of the English alphabet.

  4.  This observer also observed ELL student R in a small group setting while he was working with the Speech-Language Pathologist. ELL student R was given commands to engage in activities that required an understanding of time sequences and of relationships between objects in three dimensions. ELL student R responded accurately to the commands until he was asked, “Tell me something that you watch.” ELL student R did not respond, but seemed confused. The SLP then rephrased the question to say, “Tell me something that you look at.” ELL student R answered, “TV.” Thus one could conclude that ELL student R has some difficulties with English synonyms.

  5. ELL student R’s cumulative file shows that an assessment was done for Autism services. While ELL student R was not found eligible for Autism services, the Autism Specialist made recommendations regarding ELL student R’s instructional needs. These included ELL student R’s need to see and hear words presented simultaneously, and his need to engage in Kinesthetic activities associated with language presentation.




    Pedagogical Theory –


    The Needs and Interests of the Student


    ELL student R is entitled under Federal Statute, to have educational experiences in two specific settings (or perhaps, an appropriate blending of the two required settings). One such required setting is a Special Education setting where instructional consideration can be given to ELL student R’s needs as a person with a documented developmental disability (Down Syndrome). The second such setting is one where ELL student R receives instruction in the language of the dominant culture where ELL student R functions, while maintaining a learning environment that enhances ELL student R’s learning by being based in the culture which ELL student R experienced since birth (Hispanic).


    ELL student R was observed to have instructional needs related to his disability that also relate to his cultural needs. Therefore, considering ELL student R’s receptive and expressive language needs and the accompanying delays that have been related to his disability and not to lack of instruction, lessons have been developed for the purpose of expanding ELL student R’s English language skills and for the purpose of addressing interventions to enhance ELL student R’s language-based learning environment that considers the nature of his developmental delays.



    Instructional Intervention


    In a few years, ELL student R will be a student of transition age. Federal IDEA statute requires that ELL student R’s multi-disciplinary team address ELL student R’s future needs in the areas of community instruction, daily living skills, vocational skills and transition planning. Data show that ELL student R has had and continues to have difficulties in accessing and functioning in the greater community.


    These difficulties include, but are not limited to –

  1. A lack of understanding of common safety requirements of pedestrians;

  2. Behavior-based acting out of aggressive impulses;

  3. Toileting needs;

  4. A lack of understanding of common numerical  values;

  5. A lack of understanding of common lexical features of English.

With these difficulties in mind, a meeting was held by this observer with ELL student R’s Special Education Teacher and with the school district’s ELL Teacher. This team reviewed ELL student R’s cumulative file and data related to the difficulties described in this report.

It was agreed that, beginning March 16, ELL student R’s bus will drop ELL student R at the ELL classroom during the first period of the day; that the ELL teacher will provide direct instruction to ELL student R in the ELL setting; and that the Special Education teacher will provide an instructional assistant known to ELL student R who will assist ELL student R in gaining access to instructional materials.


It was agreed that the basis for instruction would be lessons designed by this observer that would be fashioned in such a way as to consider ELL student R’s strengths in Spanish as a receptive language and also, ELL student R’s strengths in English as an expressive language.


Pre-teaching Probe

Given the operant pedagogical theory that ELL student R’s receptive language strength may be Spanish, but not necessarily lexical-based afferent information, it would seem likely that ELL student R’s primary memory input register (to use the Frank Benson model of language processing) would be phono-literal and therefore auditory-based rather than lexical-based. No measurement has been made to determine if in fact, ELL student R either recognizes or can reproduce meaningful expressions in Spanish other than verbal expressions which he would have heard since birth.

Therefore, the team agreed that instruction should begin with an assessment of ELL student R’s skill levels in identifying common community-based words that will have a direct impact on ELL student R’s ability to function effectively in his community. A list of ten such “emergency vocabulary” words was agreed upon by the team.

The team also agreed upon an assessment protocol in which ELL student R will be presented with full sheets of paper on which will appear a single “emergency vocabulary” word in capital letters in English. ELL student R will be instructed to pick any of the words he can say and to build a stack of these recognized English words.

Next, ELL student R will be presented with full sheets of paper on which will appear a single “emergency vocabulary” word in capital letters in Spanish. ELL student R will be instructed to pick any of the words he can say and to build a stack of these recognized Spanish words.

If the operant theory proves to have validity, ELL student R will likely know more written words in English than in Spanish.

Next, ELL student R will be presented full sheets of paper on which will appear a single “emergency vocabulary” word from the same original lists, in capital letters in English along with a paired associate graphic image, illustrating the meaning of the word. ELL student R will be instructed to pick any of the words/ paired associates he recognizes and to build a stack of these recognized English words/ paired associates.

Finally, ELL student R will be presented full sheets of paper on which will appear a single “emergency vocabulary” word from the original lists, in capital letters in Spanish along with the same paired associate graphic image previously associated with an English word, illustrating the meaning of the word. ELL student R will be instructed to pick any of the words/ paired associates he recognizes and to build a stack of these recognized Spanish words/ paired associates.

Keeping in mind that the purpose of instruction is to expand ELL student R’s level of understanding of English words, which is the language of the dominant culture in which ELL student R is being prepared to function, and given the likelihood that ELL student R will draw upon his phono-literal input register as a source for matching perceived items with recollected items, and if the operant theory proves valid, ELL student R will learn more effectively if the presentation of instructional materials is done in conjunction with lexical stimuli in English and with auditory stimuli in Spanish.

Given the data that ELL student R also tends to learn more effectively when instruction includes related Kinesthetic activities, the team agreed that a third (if you will) Rosetta Stone effect might be created if the stimuli were presented in conjunction with signs based on American Sign Language.

The team agreed that ASL would have two effects on ELL student R’s acquisition of the “emergency vocabulary” words. First, simultaneous signing of the stimuli would create a third graphic register which would be “meaning neutral” where either English written words or the Spanish spoken words are concerned. The kinesthetic sign will relate in meaning to either and to both the English and the Spanish words.

The second effect is more related to ELL student R’s Special Education accommodations. As a person identified with Mental Retardation, ELL student R requires additional processing time for placing any afferent stimuli into a meaningful context. By requiring that ELL student R use a physical gesture simultaneously with a related word written in capital letters, and/ or with a spoken word in Spanish, persons eliciting a response from ELL student R will become aware that they are communicating with a person who needs time to draw upon multiple memory resources, each of which could be used as a basis for cuing and prompting ELL student R about his “emergency vocabulary” words. Such cuing and prompting might be better generalized throughout various settings and circumstances that ELL student R encounters daily in school and at home.


Instructional Methodology

Once it has been determined which of the ”emergency vocabulary” words ELL student R recognizes in English, instructional interventions should be directed at –

  1. Maintaining ELL student R’s present level of performance;

  2.  Enhancing the environment in which ELL student R receives instruction;

  3. Increasing ELL student R’s level of recognition of English sight words that will contribute to ELL student R’s being better capable of accessing and functioning in the greater community;

  4. Maintaining ELL student R’s increasing level of comprehension of English vocabulary words.


First, each instructional session should begin with a review of the vocabulary words ELL student R already recognizes. The stimuli should be presented in a manner that requires the least level of support and moves to utilize all of the prompts and cues discussed this report, and typically in the order prescribed in the Pre-teaching Probe section of this report.

Following review of present levels of perfromance, the staff doing the presentation of stimuli, should present the unrecognized vocabulary words from the list in at least one of the three presentation formats – written English, spoken Spanish and signed ASL, to determine which format is most effective for ELL student R’s recalling each individual word from memory in spoken English.

The ELL teacher will provide ELL student R with a digital dictionary where ELL student R can enter English words using a keyboard and use the voice output feature of the digital dictionary to produce the spoken word in Spanish.

The staff doing the presentation will collect data to inform the Special Education Teacher and the ELL instructor about the effectiveness of the instructional methodology so that methodology can be adjusted and improved by these teachers.

Once ELL student R has effectively acquired recognition of all ten of the “emergency vocabulary words” to the extent that, given appropriate processing time, ELL student R can speak the words when the presentation of stimuli with the least level of support (English words printed in capital letters), Instruction can proceed to include various additional lists of functional sight words of a similar nature that will increase ELL student R’s access and functioning in the greater community.


James M. Kemp, Special Education Teacher

Adult Transition Site Consideratiions 2002


Site Considerations for the Adult Transition Program


The Adult Transition Program (ATP), has operated in a residential setting since the fall of 1996. During that time, the program has been located in three different residential buildings. During that time, the program has expanded both in terms of numbers and in terms of increased severity of altered abilities demonstrated in the students with special needs that are served by the ATP.

As of the date of this paper, May 2002, the ATP is again faced with the need to move the program site. This need is necessitated by several factors. Anticipated enrollment for the 2002-03 school year includes several students who use power wheelchairs as a primary mobility device. Doorways in residential settings do not allow for the efficient access by power wheelchairs.

Furthermore, the primary pedagogical consideration of a transition program is that it prepares students with special needs for the transition from a school setting to a community-based setting. In terms of a “best practices” model for such a program, many alternative settings can be used. Certainly, the residential setting is a valid setting if attention is paid to access issues where students’ special needs are concerned.

Since all students in the ATP have Individualized Education Programs (IEP), that call for specially designed instruction that generally falls into five or six instructional domains, the selection of an appropriate instructional site should consider the instructional factors related to such instructional domains.

Although all IEPs are completely individualized, they share in common certain instructional goals that research has determined will best enhance the instructional experience. Typically in the ATP, these goals fall into the following domains – Community Instruction, Daily Living Skills, Vocational Instruction, Recreation and Leisure Skills and various functional communication goals.

Therefore, an appropriate ATP site would need to be one where students have reasonable access to community resources. Students should be able to walk or wheelchair to such resources without barriers to mobility. Appropriate site considerations should include accessible sidewalks and pedestrian traffic controls.

Since most students arrive at the ATP by bus, another appropriate site considerations involve safety issues of loading and unloading near the site.

Zoning issues can be a significant factor since most non-residential settings that have appropriate access to community resources tend to be in commercially zoned areas that require conditional use permits to occupancy as a school. Coincidentally, the same is true for residential settings.

Finally, it is the opinion of this Special Educator that the primary pedagogical consideration involves the concept of transition itself. If we are doing appropriate community-based instruction, then the ATP program should be located in a non-school setting. Otherwise, students with special needs might merely remain in the classroom setting in each student’s high school of residency where no real, authentic community-based instruction would be likely to occur.




James M. Kemp, Adult Transition Teacher


My Community of Practice 2006



As usual, I came to work early today, before our program staff arrives and before four or five short, yellow buses and one or two long, yellow buses pull up to the front door of our storefront educational setting and drop off ten or eleven adult students, each of whom has been diagnosed with a condition that prevents each from participating fully in regular education classes at the local community college where peers with no developmentally altered abilities attend regular college level classes.


I am a special education teacher. I really do not know if I should capitalize that term special education teacher or not. It is not my really my title. My title is Adult Transition Teacher. Specifically, I am employed by a statewide system of agencies that provide special education services to local school districts in the state of Oregon.


I have my job because the federal government has passed several pieces of legislation that require local school districts to provide specially designed supports and accommodations to students who have been identified as qualifying for those services, as the qualifying criteria are codified by statutes on both the state and federal levels.


I have been doing my job for almost six years. I am licensed by my state to do my job. I am also designated Highly Qualified Educator under another piece of legislation that is currently subject to legal interpretation in the American judicial system.


I am a smart guy.


I am well paid to do my job. I estimate that compared to many local professionals, my income is equivalent to that of many management professionals in the private sector. I have great benefits that include a retirement plan financed by the tax payers in my state. I look forward to retiring in six years.


So what do I have to complain about? If I myself did not exhibit obsessive/compulsive personality traits, such as an obsession with perfectionism, I imagine that I would have nothing to complain about.


But I have been clinically diagnosed and treated for both chronic depression and for OCD.


My professional colleagues therefore, are often overburdened by my insistence on perfectionism and attention to detail.


Like my students, I am a product of the American education system. I have benefited from it. I have been abused by it. As I say, I am very much like my students.


Some of my past supervisors would answer, “Yep. That’s Jim. Always vulnerable to transference with his clients.”


And that is the perspective from which I write – that of a person with a disability whose life has been profoundly impacted by that disability, and who has chosen a career where I have the opportunity to champion the causes of others with disabilities.

Now let me tell you about a meeting I attended yesterday. Yes, mine is a classic case of triangulation, the process by which people with emotional disturbance involve others in drama triangles, out of the need for emotional stimulation and excitement. Many of us with similar behaviors are incarcerated.


Many of us are not. 


The IEP Meeting from Hell


Yesterday started very differently from today. At 7:30 am yesterday, I had driven to the district offices of a local school district where I had been asked to attend a placement meeting for a student whose current placement was an adaptive life skills classroom at a local high school where my agency provides special education services to that district.


It was conspicuous that mine was one of the few vehicles in the parking lot, and I was not early for the meeting. I asked the district secretary about the room where the meeting was being held. She had no knowledge of any such meeting.


I pulled out my trusty cellular phone and called the classroom at the high school. It seems that someone had neglected to tell me that the meeting had been moved.


This was particularly disconcerting since I already knew that the IEP team would be proposing that the student whose placement was being addressed, should be more appropriately placed in my off-campus program rather than in the local high school.


To those of you who have no background in special education, my discussion thus far and my introduction may seem to contain nothing more than jargon. That is exactly what it contains, because special education jargon has become a second language to me.


(to be continued)



Chapter 1 – My Kids With LIDs

Book 1
Chapter 1 – The First Short Yellow Bus
On the first day of student attendance, Cheryl and I and our three full-time instructional assistants, had arrived early at the little house on Spring Street. The house was a three-bedroom “rancher”. The living room had a large office table in the middle of the room. The kitchen was a typical residential kitchen.
The family room had a fireplace at one end. In front of the fireplace was a makeshift folding screen. Behind the screen was a changing table. There were slider doors that went out onto a patio in the rear of the house.
The garage was already filled with physical therapy equipment. A large piece of white formica board hung on the wall. Its surface was divided into spaces by black electrical tape that formed a structure for monthly calendars.
The house had two full baths and three bedrooms. One bedroom contained two teachers’ desks and a file cabinet. One bedroom contained a conference table, more file cabinets and a small student desk used mostly by instructional assistants and itinerant related service providers from the agency.
The third bedroom was essentially empty. Cheryl had pointed out to me that students usually hung their coats and backpacks from hangers in the closet of that bedroom.
“By the end of the day, everything usually ends up on the floor of the closet.” Cheryl had advised me.
Prior to the arrival of that first short yellow bus, Cheryl and I had several days to meet with our instructional assistants and to review our expectations where instruction and work assignments were concerned.
Prior to this school year, the agency had placed Cheryl in an itinerant position for several years. Cheryl’s job had been to deliver instruction to home bound students. There were days however, when she was assigned to fill in at this adult transition program when our predecessor was in charge.
Cheryl already knew our kids with LIDs. She knew many of their parents and legal guardians. She knew some of the details about how each school district we served, managed programs for these same kids with LIDs.
In short, the agency had assigned Cheryl to work with me as a mentor, and I could not have been happier to have her working with me.
And so, when Bus 8 arrived from the Blue Sky School District, Cheryl and I walked down the driveway to greet our students as they descended from the bus. The first kid with LIDs was a tall young lady with dark, black hair who appeared to be at least 50 pounds overweight and about 18 years old. She was obviously upset by something. Cheryl addressed her.
“Kathleen, hi. How are you?”
“That goddamn driver wouldn’t let me sit behind her.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. But we do need to use our school words now.”
Kathleen frowned, looked down at her feet and scuffed one red sneaker on the pavement. Then I had to chime in, “Hi, Kathleen. My name is Tom. I’m your new teacher this year.”
I extended my hand and offered a hand shake. Kathleen looked downward with a shy facial expression and then shook my hand.
“Tom? My Mom’s boy friend’s name is Tom. He takes me fishing. Well, whadda I do with this?” Kathleen held out a red backpack she had been carrying behind her. A doll’s head with well-worn hair hung out from the top zipper.
Cheryl suggested, “You know where we hung our things last year?”
“Yah. In the goddamn closet…”
“Sorry. In the gosh darn closet.”
“Right. And leave your baby in your backpack. Go see if Jill needs some help in the kitchen. I think she has some breakfast burritos made.”
“OK, Cheryl. I love you , Cheryl.” Cheryl grinned and nodded her head.
Jill was our instructional assistant who had the most experience. She had worked for the agency for over 20 years. Jill’s home base was the kitchen. I soon learned that Jill had taken over all duties usually assigned to school cooks including the financial management of the Child Nutrition Program.
As Kathleen sauntered into the little house on Spring Street, I noticed the district bus driver was busy at the back of the bus. The rear doors were open and an empty wheel chair lift had been positioned at the passenger floor level of the bus.
Next I saw the driver bend down inside the bus and toss a safety harness to the side of a wheel chair. As Cheryl and I walked to the rear of Bus 8, a small, dark face popped up from within a pile of lumpy blankets.
“Paulie!” Cheryl shouted.
The mouth on the face of the African American male buried in the pile of blankets, turned into a very wide smile, revealing teeth that seemed to protrude from red, inflamed gums.
A gravely voice came from that mouth,”Ahhhhh!”
“Paulie! So you decided to come to school today? Paulie, this is Tom. He’s our new teacher this year.”
Paulie made eye contact with me and said, “Ahhhhh!”
“Hi, Paulie. I’m Tom. It’s good to see you today. Did you have a good summer break?”
“Ahhhhh!” By this time, drool had formed on either side of Paulie’s mouth. I then noticed that Paulie wore a red bandana. As the driver was about to ride down on the lift with Paulie and his wheel chair, she took a corner of the bandana and wiped the drool from Paulie’s mouth.
“His mom says he’s having surgery later this year to remove his saliva glands.” The driver told us.
Cheryl and I looked at each other and then back at the driver.
“Did Mom say when?”
“Nope.” With that reply, the floor of the lift hit the pavement with a thud. The driver undid another safety harness that she had fastened to the wheel chair before she made that mechanical descent.
“Here ya go, Paulie. Have fun. OK? I’ll be back to get you around two. OK?”
Paulie nodded his head as he looked at the driver and said, “Ahhhhh!”
Cheryl turned to me and said, “Paulie needs a tube feeding before morning group. Let’s go see if Audrey can help us with that. She and Jill are both signed off on the nursing protocol.”
When I realized that Paulie was not reaching out from under his blankets to wheel himself into the house, I grabbed the handles on Paulie’s wheel chair myself and pushed him toward the front door.
Another bus had already arrived at the driveway. Several more kids with LIDs were descending from another short yellow bus from a different school district.
Audrey had come to the front door to take Paulie to his feeding. I looked back to the street and back at Paulie being wheeled away by Audrey. Paulie still was not moving from inside his pile of blankets.
I thought to myself, “And just how are we going teach Paulie and Kathleen so that they will be able to meet their long division math goals?”

Vocational Supports and Accommodations in Adaptive Life Skill Settings

Vocational Supports and Accommodations in Adaptive Life Skill Settings


The U.S. Department of Labor sponsors a website called “The Job Accommodation Network”. On this site are printable “fact sheets” that address the needs of employees with various types of disabilities, who would be covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).


One such fact sheet is titled “Job Accommodations for People with Mental Retardation or other Developmental Disabilities”. That fact sheet lists appropriate accommodations in ten categories –


  1. Cognitive Limitations: Reading
  2. Cognitive Limitations: Writing
  3. Cognitive Limitations: Calculations
  4. Organization
  5. Time Management
  6. Gross and Fine Motor Limitations: Computer Use
  7. Gross and Fine Motor Limitations: Telephone Use
  8. Gross and Fine Motor Limitations: Workstation Use
  9. Gross and Fine Motor Limitations: Tool Use
  10. Social Interaction.


The list is presented is a straightforward fashion as an apparent all-inclusive list that any employer might use to troubleshoot any problem related to employing a person with mental retardation or developmental disability. The list almost reads like an owner’s manual – i.e.- if you as an employer experience this problem with you employee try the items in category 4.


In fact, people with low incidence disabilities often demonstrate a need for accommodation in more than one of these categories; certainly in all of the first five, and most likely also in number 10.


This list does provide a starting point for understanding some of the very complex vocational accommodations and supports needed by individuals with developmental disabilities.


Where designing developmentally appropriate instruction for adults in adaptive life skill settings is concerned, this list also has parallels with the developmental milestones suggested by the American Academy of Pediatrics.



New Content on the Pops Spedster Site


Since my retirement in June of 2013, I have been adding content on Special Education topics to my website at

As of today, there is a link to this blog on WordPress.

Many other additions have been made to the site including many new videos from my You Tube account that relate to supports for students with low incidence disabilities.

If you are a contributor to WordPress, please log in and add your comments. If not, I urge you to register and to join this discussion.

Wishing you the best of the best,
Pops Spedster AKA James M. Kemp