By Dr. Katie Krammer
I want to talk about what it is like to find out your son has autism when you have a PhD in special education. At minimum I knew that Trey, who is now five years old, had an expressive language delay when he was only saying or signing seven words at age two. But there were other behaviors, other warning signs that started piling up making it impossible for me to ignore. In my mommy heart I wanted to believe that everything was ok, but my training and experience told me otherwise. Trust me, I wanted to think it was just limited to language; but I knew that it wasn’t so I pushed on despite many people in my life arguing with me that “so and so was a late talker and look at him/her now,” or “he’ll catch up,” or my favorite “I just wanted to think there was something wrong because I work in the special education field.” Yes, someone actually said that to me. Can you imagine, wanting your child to have autism? At any rate, in the end I was proven right when after three days of evaluations, the Cleveland Clinic told us on November 18, 2013 that Trey indeed had ASD (Autism). In the beginning, part of me suddenly felt like I knew nothing even though I had plenty of people who indicated that I was lucky to have a background in special education. When you find yourself on the other side of the IEP table in some ways yes, I did have an advantage, but in other ways I just wanted to be treated like any other mom.
I actually started my education at the University of Kansas to become a sign language interpreter and then later moved on to Deaf Education. One of my professors at KU, Dr. Barbara Luetke-Stahlman, had two adopted daughters who were Deaf. Ironically I can remember thinking that I wanted to adopt a Deaf child someday. Little did I know that the universe had other plans for me! So after many years spent focused on Deaf Education, I ended up taking a position in higher education training teachers to work with mild to moderate disabilities including Autism and I am now an Associate Professor of Special Education. Thus, when we got the diagnosis, I considered Kubler-Ross’ (1969) work on death and dying in which she outlines the stages of grief often likened to learning your child has a disability. While I respect that each family has their own experience, for me, this model didn’t fit. I really never experienced denial and certainly didn’t experience the anger or bargaining stages. Now depression? That is another story. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t sad at the news, and that I’m not still sad from time to time. But the stage I can most relate to is acceptance. Consequently, one of my first thoughts in framing this new adventure (because I do truly see raising a child with autism as an adventure) was to think again about two other professors of mine from KU; Rud and Ann Turnbull. I thought about the model they provided for me in how they raised their son Jay. I saw from them that having a child with a disability can indeed have many positive effects, beyond just acceptance (Turnbull, 2001).
I am not saying all of this happened over night, and that there aren’t days where I wish I could wave a magic wand and take his Autism away. But, I am now able to say that being a parent to a child with a disability has made me not just a better parent, but a better professional and overall a better person. I have even more patience both at home and at work. I have more empathy and I am a more reflective practitioner. With everything I teach them I think to myself “am I doing all I can to prepare the kind of teacher I would want teaching my child?” I share with them the challenges and the joys. I use Trey’s IEPs for case studies in my classes and invite a couple of students to his IEP meetings every year. I have also partnered with another parent and our local state support team for special education and started an Autism Support Group for parents and caregivers. We are now in our second year and have grown to over thirty families who regularly attend. We have become friends and support each other in many ways including providing respite care for one another, being that listening ear, and that shoulder to cry on when need be. Additionally we have a Facebook page with nearly 100 members, we hold Autism parent nights out, playgroups, barbeques, and trade respite care for each other, and we were the leading fundraisers in this year’s Cleveland Walk Now for Autism Speaks. If it weren’t for Trey I would have never had the opportunity to meet so many wonderful new friends, nor would I have had the opportunities I have had to help my community.
In short, I have made it my mission to wear both hats at the same time in order to support others who are beginning or going on this new adventure. I thank not only all of the professors I had along the way, but I also thank Trey who is the joy of my life and has taught me as much if not more than all of my years at KU.
Dr. Katie Krammer is an Associate Professor of Special Education at Lake Erie College (LEC) in Painesville, Ohio. She is also the Coordinator for the Special Education Licensure Program and the Interim Director of Online Learning at LEC. Dr. Krammer prepares future intervention specialists to evaluate, select, plan, and implement research-based methods and instructional strategies to benefit students with mild to moderate disabilities. Her scholarly interests and research focuses on universal design for learning, differentiation, cognitive strategy instruction and collaboration and partnerships; particularly with parents who have children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).
Dr. Krammer is a Kansas native who went through an Educational Sign Language preparation program, earned her Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education, her Master of Science in Special Education, and her Doctorate in Special Education all at the University of Kansas (go Jayhawks!). Before going into higher education, Dr. Krammer spent several years as a sign language interpreter and also as a Teacher of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing for Blue Valley School District. She met and married her husband in 2006 when he was stationed in the Air Force near Kansas City. Upon completing his term in the military she and her husband returned to his home town in Ohio. They have two children; Quinn who is one year old and Trey who is five and has ASD.
Kubler, R. E. (1969). On death and dying. New York, NY: Scribner.
Turnbull, A.P., & Turnbull, H. R., III (2001). Families, professionals, and exceptionality: Collaborating for empowerment. Upper Saddler River, NJ: Merrill.
By Dr. Michael J Orosco
The Multi-Tier System of Supports (MTSS) framework has garnered much attention as a means of improving the education of culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) students. CLD students are part of a large and increasing U.S. student population that may come from homes in which their native language is not English and from varied cultural/racial backgrounds. As an example, the majority of students in the 100 largest school districts in the United States were Hispanic or Black (63 percent) (Sable, Plotts, & Mitchell, 2010). In addition, about 4.85 million students enrolled in public schools were not yet fully proficient in English in the 2012-2013 school year, representing nearly 10 percent of the total public school student enrollment (Aud, Hussar, Johnson, Kena, & Roth, 2013). The English Language Learner (ELL) population is the fastest-growing population of public school students in the United States.
MTSS reform effort has been seen through research in many ways. As an example, many articles have been authored promoting MTSS as a multi-tier prevention system of academic, behavior, and social difficulties through the explicitness of delivering instruction, utilizing and developing effective curriculum, administering assessment, and using data to guide instruction, especially in the elementary and middle school grades, having pushed the field further substantially. In addition, the use of MTSS has provided 1) screening for at-risk students; 2) monitoring of responsiveness to instruction; and 3) problem solving intervention within schools. MTSS hold promise in helping policy makers, administrators, educators and researchers in shifting the education field from focusing on finding disability or within-child deficits to focusing on providing the best instruction for all students.
With this said, although MTSS and associated policy innovations (e.g., IDEA and NCLB) have benefited many general and special education students, the academic outcomes of CLD students continue to be far from satisfactory. Evidence of this systematic failure is that national reports continue to document the instructional ineffectiveness of these students in comparison to White students, for example, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (Aud et al., 2013), in 2012 only 7 percent of ELL fourth graders and 3 percent of ELL eighth graders scored at or above proficient on reading assessments, as compared to 37% and 35% of native English speakers. As MTSS school-based research continues to be conducted in addressing this achievement gap, researchers will need to also look at the role sociocultural and cognitive needs play in this coordinated effort. Research on the role of practices in supporting the development of CLD students’ sociocultural and cognitive needs for academic, behavioral, and social improvement is extremely sparse.
Multitier Systems of Support
MTSS has the potential to change ways schools think about supporting CLD students that past models could not do. For example, in past approaches, students needed to experience years of academic decline, and possibly for several years of poor general education instruction before adequate instruction and intervention was provided. Thus, increasing the probability of a student being misidentified with a learning disability (LD), and being placed in special education. MTSS moves away from this previous approach by: (a) emphasizing the focus on making sure all students receive an evidence-based (e.g., high-quality and meaningful general education); (b) providing ongoing student progress monitoring that identifies at-risk students, and providing immediate intervention support for these students prior to special education referral; and (c) having a systematic and strategic plan for improving and building upon instructional capacity at all levels that is driven by a student data-based decision making model.
Scaling Up for Diversity Complications
Although MTSS holds significant potential, many schools are finding “scaling up for diversity” complications that threaten this systematic reform effort. In raising this issue, schools are concerned with underlying assumptions embodied within the MTSS model regarding the way schools should be organized that are incoherent and difficult to espouse within a system, especially with schools that have distinct features such as cultural and linguistic diversity. Some of the assumptions underlying MTSS may be flawed, problematic and a cause for concern. As an example, because the MTSS model has been primarily developed and implemented by experimental researchers using “evidence based practices” that were rigorously tested on White-dominant English-speaking populations, this has left many school leaders with a narrowly conceived model that presents a universal blueprint (“one size fits all approach”) for how to intervene with non-diverse student populations, but little focus on how to deal with the sociocultural and cognitive needs of a growing culturally and linguistic diverse population (e.g., Orosco & Klingner, 2010). Also, many school districts lack the expertise to develop programs that meet the specific needs of their culturally and linguistically diverse populations. And because of this, many school-based teams may be without the professional development and expertise to implement this model. Finally, the inadequacy of MTSS literature in providing specifics on how to address CLD student needs’ should be addressed poses significant challenges for schools. Without this added emphasis, schools face tremendous barriers in developing people, policy and practices in addressing the learning needs of their growing CLD populations.
At this point, it is too early to know whether MTSS will have a systematic effect on the educational opportunities provided to CLD students. Not only must schools adequately interpret the MTSS concept, but also they then need to decide how to implement this recommended model according to the nature of their student body and the community context. If the model fails, the assumption may be that school personnel were incapable of or resistant to carrying out the model when in fact implementation might not succeed because of an inability to provide their students with the learning and evidence based supports they need (Orosco, 2010). I am concerned that if we do not engage in addressing the sociocultural and cognitive needs of CLD students, MTSS models will simply be like old wine in a new bottle, in other words, just another deficit-based approach to educating children (Klingner & Edwards, 2006).
Aud, S., Hussar, F., Johnson, G., Kena, G., & Roth, E. (2013). The condition of education 2013 (NCES 2013-037). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from: http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2013/2013037.pdf
Klingner, J. K., & Edwards, P. A. (2006). Cultural considerations with response to intervention models. Reading Research Quarterly, 41(1), 108-117.
Orosco, M. J. & Klingner, J. K. (2010). One school’s implementation of rti with English language learners: “Referring into rti.” Journal of Learning Disabilities, 43(3), 269-288.
Orosco, M. J. (2010). Sociocultural considerations when using rti with English language learners. Theory Into Practice, 49(4), 265-272.
Sable, J., Plotts, C., and Mitchell, L. (2010). Characteristics of the 100 Largest Public Elementary and Secondary School Districts in the United States: 2008–09 (NCES 2011-301). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Michael J. Orosco is an associate professor in education specializing in bilingual special education at the University of Kansas. He was a bilingual special education teacher for five years before earning a PhD in Education from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Dr. Orosco’s research foci include the disproportionate representation of culturally and linguistically diverse students in special education with learning disabilities, comprehension strategy instruction for culturally and linguistically diverse students, and enhancing the sustainability of culturally responsive and evidence-based practices through professional development. Dr. Orosco has published in several journals, including Exceptional Children, Exceptionality, Journal of Educational Psychology, Journal of Learning Disabilities, Journal of Special Education, Learning Disability Quarterly, Learning and Individual Differences, and Theory into Practice. Dr. Orosco has received funding from the U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences and Office of Special Education & Rehabilitative Services. In 2014, Dr. Orosco won the Samuel Kirk Award for outstanding article, Effects of Cognitive Strategy Interventions and Cognitive Moderators on Word Problem Solving in Children at Risk for Problem Solving Difficulties (awarded at the Council for Exceptional Children). Also, in 2011, Dr. Orosco won the Frank Pajares Award for Outstanding Theory into Practice article, A Sociocultural Examination of Response to Intervention with Latino English Language Learners (awarded at the American Educational Research Association). He is a member of the American Education Research Association, Council for Exceptional Children, and International Academy for Research in Learning Disabilities.