IEP: STUDENT PERFORMANCE PROFILE
S. is an extremely bright ten-year-old with a nonverbal learning disability (NLD). Among his most significant characteristics are:
Hyper-verbosity and hyper-literalism. S. understands best when spoken to, learns best by speaking, and takes what is said very literally. He frequently misunderstands or misses nonverbal cues such as tone of voice, gesture, or other body language. He often "thinks out loud" and depends on language to help his processing.
Focus on details, difficulty seeing the big picture. S. has an excellent ability to recall details, but limited ability to sift through them. In particular, he often has difficulty generalizing -- identifying main points or themes -- and becomes overwhelmed by the enormity of the organizational task that they impose. This manifests in social situations (e.g., he may focus on a detail rather than the overall context) as well as in reading comprehension (remembering details rather than main ideas) and in writing assignments (whole stories in his head, too many details to write).
Tendency towards anxiety, limited frustration tolerance. S. imposes high standards on himself, often causing him to become overwhelmed by a task before he has even begun it. In addition, his focus on details and inability to step back and assess the situation limits his ability to self-calm, sometimes resulting in a cycle of increasing frustration and defensiveness. Once he has become so agitated, S. finds it extremely difficult to focus or to mitigate the source of his anxiety.
Extreme openness. S. trusts relatively easily when presented with caring and concern. He relies heavily on a few individuals in whom he will place his trust utterly. His best successes in the classroom rely on significant personal relationships with a teacher. Unfortunately, S.'s literalism and social naivete also leave him open to persecution by peers.
Preference for mathematics and science over less "black-and-white" subjects such as open-ended writing assignments. S. is a bright child who needs to be challenged. He has strong higher level thinking abilities, which he is just beginning to explore. At the same time, he has areas of weakness that need to be supported. Writing, drawing as it does on "big picture" thinking as well as complex motor skills, creates special anxiety for him.
Verbal/auditory rather than visual thinking. S. remembers what he hears. He has a superb rote memory. He does not substantially appreciate nor make use of visuospatial organization in learning.
A need for "flexible structure". S. needs rules and limits, clearly defined, but within these boundaries he appreciates and benefits from flexibility and accommodation. Overly rigid and inflexible structuring can be counterproductive and unnecessarily constricting for him.
S. was identified in third grade as in need of psychological support due to continued social and emotional difficulties that interfered with his school functioning. In fourth grade, he was referred for a core evaluation by his parents and teachers who were concerned about his ability to work independently on written tasks.
According to that evaluation, "Much like other children with [NLD], S. demonstrates a strength in his ability to recall facts but has significant difficulties when asked to create written material that is self generated. Additionally, S. has a history of social problems, anxiety, and depression that are often a part of a nonverbal learning disability. In each case, it is as if S. has limited or impaired access to his enormous fund of knowledge such that he has difficulties organizing a paragraph, making sense of his feelings, interpreting social interactions or expressing his needs in a timely and age appropriate fashion. Additionally, it may be that S., with his many sophisticated skills, has blinded those around him to some of his underlying needs for guidance. People may assume that because he is very bright he should be able to do things on his own that he is not yet equipped to handle. Finally, S.'s cognitive testing indicates several areas of memory weakness. As memory can be significantly affected by anxiety and depression, it is not clear to what extent his areas of weakness reflect his underlying emotional state and to what extent a cognitive weakness is present. However, his areas of memory weakness are consistent with his overall pattern of difficulties including recall of complex material in which the relationship between the whole and its parts is not made readily apparent or unassisted recall of multifaceted verbal material.
S. presents himself, then, as a child with significant social and emotional problems complicated by and probably due in part to uneven development of cognitive skills. Similarly, S. demonstrates academic difficulties that point to trouble with organization and expression of complex self generated material, as is common in children with nonverbal learning disabilities. His academic problems may be further complicated by his difficulties in managing his emotions, his immature style of seeking help and his style of confronting and expressing frustration. As noted throughout testing, S. can rise above his difficulties when given regular and constant guidance, support and delineation of behavioral expectations. In the academic realm this might mean providing a scaffold onto which S. can arrange his thoughts and offering multiple choice questions rather than essays when possible.
S. has many important strengths working for him including an eagerness to please and a willingness to trust adults who demonstrate care and concern. Additionally, with assistance, S. can use his strong verbal skills to explain his concerns and explore his complex emotions. He demonstrated a thoughtful style and mature insight about non personal matters that might be harnessed to generate improved coping skills, more mature social skills, and tolerance for frustration when faced with relatively challenging academic tasks."
S. began fifth grade with significant motivation and has demonstrated significant successes. When stress is minimized, he is able to handle academic challenges in a way that is consistent with his potential. Success has built on success, so that S. is growing increasingly confident and able to take on greater challenges as the year progresses.
Importantly, he developed a strong bond with and great trust in his classroom teacher and aide early in the year. During subsequent months, these adults were able to build on S.'s trust and gradually to shift greater responsibility for meeting academic and organizational challenges onto S.'s shoulders. At the same time, a supporting framework was maintained. For example, early in the year, S.'s aide wrote down the homework assignments. Later in the year, S. took this responsibility upon himself but still brought the assignment sheet to an adult for double-checking. As the teacher has raised expectations for S., S. has responded positively. This has given him the courage to try more, which has built up his skill base. Seeing himself as successful, S. has blossomed. Within this established support framework, S. is becoming an increasingly independent learner who takes pride in his accomplishments.
S. continues to benefit from and require external organization. In fifth grade, he has received the full week's assignments at the beginning of the week. This has worked very well for him. With this clear-cut structure, he is able to better organize his time, further dimishing self-imposed stress.
S. continues to experience anxiety around certain kinds of work. Early in the year, he was fearful about many of his assignments, including tests and writing. He continues to react emotionally to writing assignments. However, as he has experienced success, he is able to build on it. Each successful experience helps S. to recognize for himself what he is capable of doing.
S. began fifth grade with access to a second adult in his classroom. The presence of an aide allowed S. to talk through, mediate, and prioritize his work load. As he has met with academic success, S. has pushed away (resisted) this support. S. clearly wants to be more self sufficient.
S. also wants social acceptance. He responds particularly well to logic and clear thinking about social situations in which he is involved. Importantly, he learns best by explicit instruction rather than by nonverbal observation of others' behavior. He is still overly trusting, extremely literal, and somewhat dependent on the adults in his environment. When placed in a complex social situation, he will often turn to an adult rather than independently resolving the issue within his peer group.
STUDENT INSTRUCTIONAL PROFILE
In sixth grade, S.ís core team (and parents) will meet early in the school year. The first full week of school would be preferable. The goal of this meeting would be for all to become acquainted with one another and to establish means of communication for members of the team. Planning Team meetings with S.ís parents and Core Team should be held on an as needed basis, preferably at least one time per quarter.
Initially, the Resource Teacher will communicate with S.ís parents on at least a weekly basis to keep them informed about S.ís progress and adjustment to Diamond. The frequency of this communication will be reduced when his parents and Resource Teacher feel it is appropriate. At times, it may be helpful to have this communication take place when S. is in the Resource Room or Counselorís Room.
All classroom teachers in academic subjects, and specialists and aides as necessary, should be made cognizant that S. has a nonverbal learning disability (NLD). Accommodations for his NLD will be made as necessary in all areas of school, including specialists (especially PE and art).. Teachers must be willing to learn about his needs and to make adjustments.
The following compensations, accommodations, modifications, and strategies should be used:
Appropriate seating: Near the front of the classroom, with a clear view of the board, in a location free from distractions. Provide S. with adequate space to work and to organize himself.
At times it may be helpful for S. to move around his classroom in nondisruptive ways. He should also have a prearranged strategy to exit the classroom (e.g., to get a drink of water or perform other calming activities) and a designated "safe haven" within the school should he need to remove himself entirely.
Behavioral expectations should be clearly spelled out. Team should determine and implement a consistent strategy to use when S. can no longer cope due to overstimulation, frustration, or confusion.
Ideally, S. should have a peer partner to help him navigate between classes and/or to check homework assignments.
Whenever possible, S. should receive assignments in advance, e.g. at the beginning of the week or even the Friday prior. Extended assignments -- such as papers or projects -- should be given in writing as S. often has difficulty communicating these assignments home. Additional time for previewing (by parents or SPED staff) should be provided.
S.ís resource teacher should regularly check to see that S. has accurately recorded his homework assignment(s). If S. has difficulty in this area, other strategies should be considered.
S. will have access to a second set of books, which will be kept at home for the year. In addition, S. should be provided with consumable resources when appropriate.
S. should receive organizational support and assistance in implementing organizational strategies to ensure that assignments are completed and returned on time. When S. has not lived up to expectations, either his own or the teacherís (e.g., leaving a completed homework assignment at home), his anxiety level increases to the point where penalties for such failures have proven in the past more detrimental than constructive. Teachers will work to help S. become more organized, especially in the areas of late or missing assignments as well as tardiness to class. Consider allowing S. to e-mail homework.
Homework assignments should be modified as appropriate to maximize pedagogic effect and minimize those aspects with lesser pedagogic benefit but greater stress for S. Quality rather than quantity should be the goal. On a regular basis, homework should not exceed one and a half hours of concerted effort in total. Team should work with parents to prioritize homework goals.
Assessments should be designed to measure S.'s knowledge and skills. Where appropriate, this may include oral evaluation vs. written, short answer/multiple choice vs. long open responses.
Minimize copying activities (from textbook, from blackboard). Rote repetition does not significantly enhance S.'s memory, while the copying activity itself causes stress. E.g., he should be provided with (a sheet or book of) consumable math problems rather than copying them from a textbook (where feasible). Note taking should be minimized; S. should be provided with notes from another student or from the teacher.
S. will have access to the use of an Alpha Smart for writing assignments. Accommodations for extended tests will be discussed by the team. S. has successfully used dictation for extended written tests. Additional time may be needed for writing assignments. Oral reports or dictation (including the use of a tape recorder) may be acceptable alternatives.
Directions are to be broken down step by step and provided a few at a time. Bear in mind that S. will take directions literally. For example, to S. the phrase "half a page" may mean "ten lines on a twenty-line sheet of paper, no more and no less." Areas of flexibility should be noted.
Additional support is required for writing assignments. Visually noisy organizers should be avoided. Academic assistance should include detailed yet simple guidelines for all written material. S. should confer with staff at predetermined stages throughout his work on writing assignments. Such conferencing can be used to positively reinforce his effort while at the same time provide S. with some necessary external structure and control over the assignments.
S. will need support in developing appropriate frienships. Typically, individuals with nonverbal learning disabilities benefit from explicit language based interventions including clearly defined, finely tuned steps for success in dealing with social and emotional challenges that might be assumed to "come naturally" to other children.
S. will benefit from frequently rehearsed strategies for coping with disappointment, practice in articulating his needs, and perhaps most importantly, guidelines for and practice with understanding his feelings before they overwhelm him. Cues for implementing such strategies can be provided by caring adults in his school and home environment, all of whom come to understand the steps necessary to help S. help himself.
S. should participate in a supervised social skills group ("lunch bunch") in school (Diamond) at least once a week. He is likely to need additional assistance in forming friendship groups, especially during unstructured time.
S. should see the Guidance Counselor at Diamond weekly or more often "as deemed appropriate by his Team".
The following are additional aspects of S.ís educational plan:
S. should continue in therapy. Therapy that includes the family and nanny might be particularly useful as S. requires consistent well articulated structure to organize his inner state, understand his emotions and to express his needs effectively and appropriately. LPS will support therapy at no cost when contracting with LPS or @$35/hr. if parents choose a therapist.
Consultation among the outside therapist, school guidance counselor, classroom teachers, resource teacher, and parents will be essential. There will be regular communication among S.ís parents, regular ed teachers and SPED staff. Contact will be made via e-mail, phone contact, and meetings, as needed.
Any time there is an incident in school. S.ís parents will be informed as soon as possible, and likewise the school staff will be informed by his parents should an incident occur at home.
Avoid the use of confrontational techniques. Provide S. with explicitly articulated alternatives. Avoid power struggles. Avoid criticizing S. in front of his peers. Monitor his frustration level. Use praise generously.
S. understands best when told explicitly and in detail what is needed and appropriate. He does not always appreciate nonverbal cues such as tone of voice or gesture.