From flashcards to therapy balls, Carlsbad Municipal Schools have a variety of tools to help students with special needs achieve academic success.
Schools across the country use what is known as assistive technologies for students with disabilities or developmental delays. CMS partnered with the New Mexico Technology Assistance Program (NMTAP) to provide students with assistive technology and training for school staff, said Director of Special Education Justin Gossett.
“The district has also purchased Read & Write for Google Chrome for every student in the district. This gives every student access to speech-to-text and text-to-speech regardless if they have a disability or not,” Gossett told the Current-Argus in an email.
Gossett said the district also provides students with disabilities access to Bookshare, a program that gives them access to textbooks and library books in audio format.
CMS also has a physical therapist, a speech therapist and an occupational therapist to provide students with individualized support.
The district’s occupational therapist Mary Tomas said that toys are often used as part of therapy.
“We do play therapy because you want the kids to enjoy what they are doing,” Tomas said. She said this can include bean bags, fidget toys and therapy balls.
Tomas said part of her job is helping young children with developmental delays. Some of these children may need assistance with simple tasks, such as holding a pencil or using scissors.
Some students don’t have strength to put pressure on a pencil and write correctly, but can use toys like putty to strengthen their fingers and special pencil grips to help them write, she said.
Assistance through the senses
Some children with disabilities benefit from sensory tools to help them focus in class.
Tomas said these sensory tools can help children with autism spectrum disorder and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Some of the tools include sensory cushions, strips of Velcro and even peppermints.
Tomas said every child had their own unique sensory needs, some may have what is known as a “high arousal.”
“They’re bouncing off the walls and constantly moving, and you know fidgeting,” Tomas said. “Then we want to give them something that’s going to help them calm down.”
Tomas said this can include a weighted vest or a platform swing.
Children with a low arousal can benefit from assistive technology that will help wake them up such peppermint or using a special ball chair.
Tomas said the technology a student uses can change over time.
“What may work one day may not work another day, so for sensory issues a lot of it is trial and error,” Tomas said.
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that can result in trouble paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviors and intense activity, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Autism is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges, the CDC stated.
Tomas said the students she works with typically receive multiple forms of therapy at school – determined by their condition and need. Children with autism may need speech and occupational therapy, and those with cerebral palsy may need all three, she said.
Technology helps students with disabilities speak
Some students with disabilities may have a difficult time speaking or communicating according to speech therapist Tracy Bellah.
Some of these students may have a stutter or lisp that may improve through speech therapy.
While the severity of these conditions vary, children with autism or cerebral palsy may not be able to speak at all. Children with autism sometimes struggle to develop language skills and express their needs using typical words or motions, according to the CDC.
“Cerebral Palsy is a group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture,” the CDC stated.
The district has been able to provide these students with a variety of tools to help them communicate such as flashcards, Bellah said.
“This is individualized for each child, ’cause they’re all different,” she said. “What we’re looking for is things they like to eat, things they like to do, telling us they need to go to the bathroom, I’m hungry, I’m thirsty—some of your basic wants and needs.”
Bellah said some students use more high-tech devices with recordings or tablets that allow older students to input words or phrases that are played on a speaker.
Claudia Silva is a reporter from the UNM Local Reporting Fellowship. She can be reached at [email protected], by phone at 575-628-5506 or on Twitter @thewatchpup.