EF Specialists In the News

The Association of Education Therapists (AET) held their 43rd national conference on November 5 and 6 with the focus on “Advocacy in Education: Supporting Unique Learners.” Over a dozen sessions were held featuring deep explorations into neurodiversity and twice-exceptionality, as well as conversations on social justice and ethical responsibility regarding personal interactions with students, parents, and educators.

Educational therapists have always incorporated the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as part of their praxis. In the seminar held during the conference, Bibi Pirayesh of Pepperdine University and Sharmila Roy of the University of California Santa Cruz laid out ways that DEI impacts the classroom. The session delineated how advocacy for people with learning disabilities is a social justice issue, as we can see from the details of the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which puts certain educational accommodations into law. The panel also explored how gifted children from marginalized cultural backgrounds have specific educational needs that are often left unaddressed by teachers and administrators.

Many of the legal ramifications regarding special education were covered in the keynote address by Peter Wright, co-founder (with his wife Pam) of the special-education advocacy site wrightslaw.com. Wright clarified the details of section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which ensures that “All qualified persons with disabilities within the jurisdiction of a school district are entitled to a free appropriate public education.” This law undergirds IDEA as well as the individualized educational plans (IEPs) used in schools across the country to bring educational equity to neurodiverse learners. Wright reviewed resources available to families trying to negotiate the sometimes byzantine process of securing IEP evaluations and their rights regarding the state’s obligation to ensure the education of all kinds of children.

As always, the conference supported the AET mission to “foster development of self-confident, independent individuals who feel positively about themselves and their potential as lifelong learners.” Over the two days of the Zoom conference, this took several forms. One of the most practical ways educational therapists can have an impact with students is through the development of executive functioning (EF) skills. Sean McCormick, who is the founder of Executive Functioning Specialists, described how skills such as time management, organization, working memory, and adaptable thinking present in students with ADHD and related issues. Digging deeper into the EF area of working memory, Regina Richards, a therapist at UC Riverside who specializes in multisensory programs for language learning disabilities, examined strategies for “teaching” memory using multisensory techniques, including musical cues, for retrieval of information within the mind.
Another EF skill that is often a challenge for 2e students is self-regulation. In his session, George McCloskey, the director of school psychology research in the School of Professional and Applied Psychology of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and the co-author of the popular and amusing children’s book, The Day Frankie Left His Frontal Lobes at Home, presented a multidimensional approach to motivating students by drawing on their interests and strengths. He included a case study of a seven-year-old ADHD student tracked through reading and writing remediation.
Strength-based experiences are the key to understanding and helping 2e children. This was the main takeaway from the panel on twice-exceptionality led by Cynthia Hansen and featuring several experts, including Susan Baum, the director of the Bridges 2e Center for Research and Professional Development and provost of the Bridges Graduate School, as well as the co-author of To be Gifted and Learning Disabled. Parents, educators, and therapists can empower 2e students by helping them with skill-building through differentiated teaching, strength-based lessons, and a supportive environment. The specifics of how to supplement 504 and IEP planning meetings were also detailed.
Few things engage students as much as gaming. Gamification, the process of adding game-like elements to a task or lesson that is not in itself a game, as well as game-based learning projects, remedy one of the biggest challenges for many 2e students: the tedium of the expected. Bonnie Massimino led a workshop in designing and implementing goal-directed interactive and engaging activities to enhance learning objectives that relate directly to educational therapy goals. Not only are game-playing and gamification lively motivators for students, but they are also proven ways to enhance the learning of skills and content. Games are also fun.
Undergirding much of the work of educators and educational therapists are ethical concerns that reflect a variety of practical societal and personal, as well as financial, interests. Judith Brennan, a past president of AET and current chair of the Ethics Committee, moderated a panel on the intersection of ethics and educational therapy. The range of topics covered expanded from how to set fees — and how to collect them — in an ethically responsible way, to how to set boundaries with parents or teachers that could potentially drain emotional energy, as well as take up excessive time.
For the first time, the conference offered Spanish language translations of all the sessions. For more information about the conference and gaining access to the video sessions, head to https://aetonline.org/conference-home-2021.

2e News - November 10, 2021