Sac State Magazine is a publication produced by the Office of Advancement Communications and Stewardship at Cal State University, Sacramento highlighting alumni, students, faculty and staff.
Issue link: http://sacstatemagazine.uberflip.com/i/579961
c sus .e du /s a c s t ate ma ga z in e | Fa l l 2 015 19 Special doesn't mean separate, says Jean Gonsier-Gerdin. So why, the education professor asks, do we have a separate system for educating children with special needs? Especially one where many children diagnosed with autism, cerebral palsy, epilepsy or intellectual disabilities still aren't being served. "We don't need students to receive segregated services," Gonsier-Gerdin says. "Even students with moderate to severe challenges can meaningfully participate in academic curriculum in the classroom. This dual system has just been a barrier. "For kids with special needs, there's a culture of disability and lowered expectations," she adds. "Adults don't mean to treat students differently, but it still happens. If we segregate some kids, we aren't letting them be a part of an inclusive community. Each classroom has its own culture, so if everyone is expected to participate, then students with disabilities are participating, too." Here is where Gonsier-Gerdin gets to play detective. "Students need to learn skills in the context of how they'll be using them," she says. To help engage students with significant disabilities, Gonsier-Gerdin investigates the most effective methods for removing barriers that exclude students from accessing the curriculum. "A student may require listening to an audiobook to access what their class is reading," says Gonsier-Gerdin. "A peer may read a passage to them, or a chapter may be simplified by the special education teacher so the student can read independently." Hired in 2003 to help revise Sac State's moderate to severe special education credential with colleague Kathy Gee, she is a strong believer in inclusive education. "The reality is, we're looking at the whole child," she says. "All professionals who work with students—general educators, special education teachers, speech pathologists, occupational therapists—should collaborate on assessments together, working toward individualized goals for their students." In what could be considered a research roadshow, psychology professor Caio Miguel has been sharing the results his Sac State graduate students have had treating children on the autism spectrum with colleagues around the country, and around the world. In the past year, Miguel has relayed the findings made in his applied behavior analysis lab to audiences in California, New Mexico, Texas, Romania and Brazil, where he also helped open a school for children with autism. "Our job is to teach a new, better, easier, undamaging, more appropriate, and socially accepted form of behavior that would improve an individual's quality of life," Miguel says. "We operate like a state-of-the-art research laboratory, on par with a research institution," he says. Miguel serves as director overseeing the work of senior graduate students who serve as project managers and both junior graduate students and undergraduates who work as research assistants. And that research had an impact in the field. "We have been investigating different procedures to reduce repetitive behavior in collaboration with an agency in Sacramento where my graduate students complete their internships. We have also shown the importance of a skill called "generalized bi-directional naming," he says, a way of developing name- object/object-name relationships. "Bi-directional naming is an important building block not only for children to learn to categorize their environment, but also for them to learn to read, spell, solve complex tasks and understand analogies. It shows how we talk to ourselves in the process of solving complex problems." In addition, the team is also researching methods of skills delivery and acquisition that teach children with autism to complete a variety of lessons, including geography, schedule- following, money skills—and most recently, piano playing. "The desire to understand how to better teach kids with special needs keeps us going," he says. For more information on Caio's lab, visit verbalbehaviorlab.com. n Sharing new approaches to treatment n A classroom for all KING OF THE ROAD—Caio Miguel shares the results of his research on verbal behavior with colleagues all over the world. SPECIAL, NOT SEPARATE—Jean Gonsier- Gerdin argues for more inclusive education for children with disabilities.