There are a variety of services and supports that can be delivered in elementary school settings. It is important to make sure that the Individualized Education Program (IEP) specifies the specific individualized supports for each child based on his/her individual needs. Since the early 2000s, there has been an increased focus on developing all students’ academic skills in reading, math, and writing and this focus is driven by state academic learning standards. These learning standards specify what all students need to know by the end of each grade level in all academic content areas. One of the ongoing challenges for parents of students with intellectual disabilities (as well as many teachers that work in life skills settings) is that many of the standards do not address basic life or functional skills. This can be challenging because many parents and teachers believe that it is critical to teach students with intellectual disabilities (ID) functional life skills.
Examples of Reading Activities that Incorporate Functional Life Skills
- Directions for cooking, building a model, etc.
- Directional orientation and map reading
- Labels on food, medicine and clothes
- Dictate a story and then read it
- Catalogs and ads
- Schedules (i.e. bus, train, television)
- Reading Community Signs and Symbols
- Newspapers and magazines
Examples of Mathematics Activities that Incorporate Functional Life Skills
- Making Change and Counting money for making a purchase
- Learning rules of measurement while cooking
- Reading a calendar
- Keeping track of money spent in an account
- Determining height and weight
- Budgeting money
- Reading a thermometer
- Telling and estimating time
One promising way to deal with the disconnect between the demand for addressing state academic learning standards and the need to teach students with ID functional life skills is to blend the two. In the tables shown we provide some examples to illustrate how teaching academic skills such as reading and mathematics can be done in a way that also addresses the need to teach students with ID functional life skills.
In addition to blending academic learning and functional skills training, there is some evidence that suggests that students with ID can learn traditional academic skills. For example, Browder and colleagues (2011, 2008) have conducted several literature reviews to identify research-based practices for teaching skills like writing and mathematics to students with ID. Generally, these studies suggest that many students with ID can benefit from explicit or systematic instruction. Explicit instruction is a skill-based teaching approach that is characterized by developing the targeted skills of students through repeated practice, constant monitoring on the part of the teacher with corrective feedback, and the gradual fading of teacher support and monitoring as the student develops the target skill.
In addition to academic skills, many students with intellectual and developmental disabilities require additional services such as physical therapy, assistive technology, speech language services, and/or occupational therapy. These services, often called “related services,” are primarily provided to ensure that the student is able to participate in school-related activities and learning tasks. Eligibility for related services is determined by the multidisciplinary team, and they must be based on each student’s needs. In the table below we provide an overview of the types of supports that are available in these areas. Sometimes school-based personnel such as teachers may not be aware of the availability of these supports. However, all districts in Oregon are required to provide such supports when children need them.
Educational Assistants / Para Educators
A final support that many students with ID receive in schools in from Educational Assistants (EAs) or paraeducators. EAs are often assigned to entire classrooms or to individual students but work under the direct supervision of the teacher. EAs can be assigned to support a student with a disability by assisting with instruction, assisting with implementing a behavior support plan, or by monitoring a student or students throughout the school day (e.g., on the bus, playground, during lunch, etc.). In the vast majority of states, EAs can provide support and assistance, but they cannot provide direct minutes on an IEP because they have not received the level of specialized training that special education teachers and other related service providers have received.