March has been National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month since 1987. President Reagan’s goal for this annual observation was to increase “public awareness of the needs and the potential of Americans with developmental disabilities” and to provide the opportunities and supports individuals with developmental disabilities may need to lead productive lives and reach their full potential.
Special education research is improving ways in which educators help realize this goal by enhancing teaching strategies for working with students with developmental disabilities and their families from early childhood through the transition to young adulthood. Below are examples of current NCSER-funded projects that are focused on supporting educators who work with students with developmental disabilities across childhood and adolescence.
Early childhood and education (ECCE) providers play an important role in the development and well-being of children; however, training opportunities focused on working with children with developmental disabilities are often limited for ECCE providers. Dr. Rebecca Landa at the Kennedy Krieger Institute is developing a professional development program for ECCE providers to implement Early Achievements (originally developed for young children with autism spectrum disorders) with children with developmental disabilities. The program will train ECCE providers to implement the three evidence-based practices of Early Achievements—explicit targeting of language, social, and cognitive development; strategies to enhance meaning (such as themes and hand-on learning); and naturalistic developmental behavior strategies (such as prompts and natural reinforcers).
At Purdue University, Dr. Rose Mason and colleagues are developing Para-Impact, a PD package for educators who work with elementary students with developmental disabilities. Para-Impact trains special educators to use practice-based coaching to support paraprofessional implementation of systematic instruction. Paraprofessionals often have access to few formal training opportunities on how to implement evidence-based practices, and special educators often have limited experience supervising and training paraprofessionals to implement such practices. Dr. Mason’s work addresses this gap by supporting educators in training and supervising paraprofessionals in the use of systematic instruction with students with developmental disabilities. The ultimate goals of this work are to increase the engagement of students with developmental disabilities in the classroom and to increase student progress on their individualized education goals.
At the University of Massachusetts Boston, Dr. Allison Hall is exploring whether and how the information special educators provide to parents about transfer rights and guardianship may support or limit transition outcomes for students with developmental disabilities. Special education regulations state that parental decision-making rights will transfer to students at the age of 18 unless parents obtain guardianship. During transition planning, special educators frequently encourage parents to seek guardianship despite the growing array of available formal and informal alternatives to guardianship, such as supported decision making. Dr. Hall and her research team are examining the factors that affect how special educators provide this information to families and the ways in which this information may impact transition outcomes, such as parent expectations and student self-determination.
We look forward to seeing how these projects support students with developmental disabilities in leading productive lives and achieving their full potential.
This blog was authored by Alice Bravo (University of Washington), IES intern through the Virtual Student Federal Service.