Photo above: The Kredich boys performing at school.

This Week’s Podcast

This week’s podcast features Kim Kredich who has served as a volunteer advocate for hundreds and hundreds of students with disabilities in East Tennessee, working with families to help their children gain rightful, supported inclusion in the general education environment in public schools through the IEP process. She has worked closely with attorneys in Tennessee to promote systemic change and awareness of the rights of people with disabilities.

Kim is a wealth of knowledge about inclusion and the law. She knows IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act)* as this is all she’s done for the last 20 years. Kim is not an attorney and does not give legal advice, but knows about inclusion in the United States public school system.

Kim’s family found DIRFloortime very early on when her son was 2 1/2. She wrote a Floortime song CIRCLES AROUND THE SON over the span of 20 years that was recorded in 2021 when her son, Ben, had come full circle into a life of independent living with supports, having job opportunities, and having attended 4 years of college in the University of Tennessee Future Program, an inclusive, post-secondary opportunity for students with intellectual disabilities and autism.

Sadly last summer Ben, at the age of 24, was killed instantly from behind by an impaired driver while walking on a sidewalk towards downtown Knoxville. If you haven’t already, please view the family’s website dedicated to Ben where you can view the recorded live stream of the Celebration of Life and hear the family’s heartfelt descriptions of their life with Ben, which was so influenced by Floortime–especially Kim’s talk, which described the Floortime journey and introduced her Floortime song, Circles around the Son.

In Canada, education is under provincial jurisdiction. See the Special Education Policies in Ontario, Canada here.

Advocating for rightful inclusion in school

by Affect Autism

What is Inclusion?

Kim says that inclusion is really just about the law, whether it’s The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or IDEA, where IDEA is specific to public schools from age 3 to 22. IDEA has a least-restrictive environment provision which is essentially a student’s right to be educated alongside their typically-developing peers (i.e., those without an IEP) for the school day to the maximum extent possible, with a full range of supports and services, including a one-to-one aid, pull-out to a resource room or push-in by a Special Education teacher, related services such as Occupational Therapy (OT)Physical Therapy (PT)Speech and Language Therapy (SLP), or Music Therapy. She challenges anyone to find anything that couldn’t be included in the general education setting.

While there are many alternative placements, there tends to be a push to segregated classrooms. Perhaps it’s about their funding, or they don’t know, but it is a student’s right to be included in the zone school with a full range of supports and services before considering a more restrictive environment in a different school. I asked Kim what parents do when their school just says, “No“. She said that certainly happened to her and you realize that many teachers and staff just don’t know the law.

Kim had to quit her career to make sure her son was included. Kim had twin boys in 1999 with one being autistic, and a third son in 2001. It was important to her family to have the twins together in the same class so their family wasn’t pulled apart. While it might not be another family’s story, it is her story. When she was told by the school that they didn’t have the resources, she had to educate them. You soon realize it’s a systemic issue and you have to insist that you have to do this, to follow the law. Once staff sees the impact on inclusion not just for her son, but for the rest of the class, hearts and minds were changed, Kim states.

When a student with a pervasive disability is included with their peers, it creates a beautiful learning environment and research shows that the test scores and outcomes including empathy and other measures of typical students improve when they are educated with their peers with disabilities. It is every child’s right to be educated alongside their peers–disabled or not, Kim emphasizes.

Myths about Inclusion

One myth that Kim has heard over and over is that a one-on-one aid is the most restrictive environment. That’s just not true. It can’t be true, because a one-on-one aid is actually part of IDEA as a way to support the least-restrictive environment in a general education setting. If they say that they restrict the student or hover over them, you say that that’s not on the child, Kim insists. That’s aid training.

Another big myth is that your child can’t keep up with the rest of the class. That means that you can modify the content, even to the point where they take an alternate assessment. This applies to about one percent of the population. Kim’s son was on modified content and received a Special Education diploma. Kim felt that he was on the same track as his brothers who do not have disabilities. They all had the right to public schooling and the tenets of IDEA. The three tenets of IDEA are further education, future employment, and independent living.

Ben and his brothers all moved through school in the same way, Kim explains. Modified content is going to look different for every student with an IEP, but that’s the purpose of IDEA,: to move towards those goals, how ever it looks. Ben moved through with a Special Education diploma. He had further education in the University of Tennessee Future Program, put up his hand and answered questions in classes of 400 students, he went to football games, he lived in the dorms (due to Ben’s advocacy in front of the Senate Education Committee).

He played piano at assisted living centers, using public transportation to get him to and from work, so he was independent from his mother driving him. He lived a mile away from his parents. They took him out to get groceries, but he could also order his dinner online. This is an example of the parallel paths of a student with disabilities. He had all three tenets. I responded that we are advocates for our children with disabilities and Kim has laid such groundwork for other parents who don’t have the time or resources that Kim had.

Steps You Can Take

I shared that in the weekly parent support meeting I facilitate for the International Council on Development and Learning (ICDL), there are many parents who are immigrants with English as a Second Language who seem to be getting talked down to by their children’s schools. Kim said it was so hard for her, even as an educated native English speaker. She was treated terribly. It has more to do with the systemic denial of student’s rights, in her opinion. The parent is the expert on their child, Kim says.

With DIRFloortime, while you can’t gear your child’s IEP to a certain methodology, you can create a DIRFloortime IEP through accommodations, Kim explains. You have the right to request an accommodation to follow the child’s interest and to use the child’s interest. They had an accommodation for her son, Ben, to utilize musical and rhythmic strategies. This is on top of your related services that can also help with the individualized plan including OT, PT, SLP, music therapy, art therapy, dance therapy, etc. You can really ensure that the IEP team is listening to you.

Kim would always bring a friend, and for the sake of the record and the school district, get used to recording your IEP meetings. They will do it, too. It’s just a good thing to establish, Kim says, especially if English is your second language. If a relative can’t come to the meeting, they can listen after. A recorded device should not be seen as adversarial. You want to work collaboratively with the school at all times, ideally. If you put it out there that this is to help your understanding and to help you focus on the meeting.

There are wonderful resources in many states, and one of the best is Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) which has resources, knowledge, chat groups, etc. all centered around parent and student’s rights. It’s a very glued-together community of people representing the rights of students with disabilities. It’s such a small membership fee for so much, Kim stresses. It’s hugely discounted if you’re a parent or student. Get yourself a friend and work together with people in your community, Kim says.

Kim has now seen groups of parents attending each other’s IEP meetings in her community now. Then, you get up in front of the school district and talk about the systemic issues and you put forth a collaborative mindset, look at the numbers, and in that way, Kim explains, you’re really reaching out to the greater good. Of course you are always looking out for your own child, but by your child getting what they deserve under the law, you will essentially be pushing for the greater good because more teachers, administrators, and other families will see how it’s supposed to work. You get a larger community advocating for everyone else.

Look at their Inclusive Rights First

I asked Kim about one-on-one aids. I have heard schools saying no to the family’s home aide. Also parents can’t afford attorneys and what do you do if the school just keeps saying, “no“? Kim says it’s very hard to afford an aid. There are now outside service providers who go into the school that are covered by insurance for behavioural support. Kim says you actually want the school system to be providing that person. The way that you communicate how that support is delivered is to talk about that child’s unique needs. That’s where the parent has the power. You can advocate for the child needing that relationship.

You can also show videos of what works at home. When the school system says they will use their own aid, and if it works, great! If the school says that your child won’t do their work, then maybe it’s not being modified appropriately, or the aid is not doing all they could that would support that student’s learning. If you show a filmed DIR session and say that this is how you can do it. When they say, “Can’t… won’t…“, you say “Does… will“. You don’t want to be adversarial. Show support for the teacher and support for the school.

Kim says look at their inclusive rights first because in a segregated setting, this is where things can get chaotic and they don’t have enough support because it’s multi-grade in one setting. It’s not set up for success for anyone. You have to look at whether your child can legally be, under the basics of the law, included in the regular education setting with the appropriate support, with modified content if needed, with breaks, alternative work space, etc. You first need to know what’s available. A lot of it is on the internet.

You can also get in front of the school board and suggest bringing in organizations that partner with school districts to provide best inclusive practices such as Inclusive Schooling in Syracuse, New York, or the Maryland Coalition Inclusive Education (MCIE). Maybe you have to do a Request for Proposal for that, Kim says. You can also file an administrative complaint through COPAA. You do not need an attorney to do that. COPAA provides examples and you can take seminars. Vanderbilt has an advocacy seminar in Tennessee and you can get scholarships to take that. You need a group of people who are comfortable doing different parts of it. Team together.

It is a Process

It’s overwhelming. Kim wants people to understand how hard it was for her. She calls the early days, ‘the dark days’. While Ben ended up being very conversational and independent. He was a joy. He was social. He still had his challenges, but she says in the early days it was so hard. There was a lot of head banging. She can’t emphasize how hard it was facing the realities of autism.

Luckily, they found DIR/Floortime, but it doesn’t change overnight. It takes years and years. You see the results bit-by-bit, then in totality. So, doing that while having to go up against a school system can be devastating. On the five year anniversary of Ben’s diagnosis day in 2006, Kim and her husband talked about which was harder–autism or the school system? The school system, of course, her husband said. It was so hard. The battle took so much of her energy and her soul, she says.

Kim says she fell short everyday. Many days she could barely fit in one 20-minute Floortime session. But then she realized that her son’s play with his siblings and schoolmates counted as Floortime. I shared that we tend to, as parents, hold ourselves to such high standards when it comes to Floortime. Doing something at least as often as you can is better than nothing.

Many of us have neurodivergences–diagnosed or otherwise–so we feel overwhelmed and sometimes don’t know where to start. Taking little steps help. First step, look up COPAA. Maybe that’s all you do in the next week! Take one more step the next week, such as contacting one other parent. In one year, each little steps add up and you’ll be surprised about the things that can progress. Kim says that in her specific case, she had to fight for inclusion to get the natural Floortime opportunities that schooling had for Ben all day long.

Meaningful Progress

Kim continued that if your child is nonspeaking, being in an inclusive setting is a good way to have a lot of good and reliable eyes on your child. Other parents and especially the other kids can be the best advocates for your child. The general education and special education teachers see the benefits and can be advocates. The team members become believers in the right thing.

Due to your child’s individual differences, you can add in the Floortime breaks, including sensory breaks. You can make them meaningful, such as walking to the office to deliver an faux envelope, which allows you to get in that motor movement. Get to know your zone school where your legal rights are the strongest, Kim says. There are only two requirements to being satisfactorily educated as a student with a disability, Kim says: to be educated with their peers, and to make meaningful progress on the IEP goals.

You can always change the goals, Kim says, and they’re supposed to be calculated for the child in order to make meaningful progress. This needs to be first and foremost in an inclusive setting, and only if there’s data to show that you cannot make meaningful progress in IEP goals and get access to the general curriculum do you even consider moving them, Kim asserts. Resource room is a supplementary service. Technically, the resource room is only for students with IEPs, but here’s a different rung for a ‘special class’.

The rungs for alterative placements include ‘regular class’ with a full range of supplementary supports and services, to include one-on-one aid, pull out to resource room, and push-in, called itinerant instruction. These are examples of supplementary service. The rung of the ‘special class’ is only if the former doesn’t work. There’s been slippery language to say they’re both special education settings, so the school can do either.

They start the child in resource, then the next year they are in a special class that the school says is just a ‘special education setting’. It is not resource. It’s a multi-age class using an alternative curriculum. You have to be weary. Go with the language of the law and question it. Take a look at your zone school and research the possibilities for your child. Ask around, Kim says.

Your child doesn’t need to be at grade level. They can have modified content and have extra support brought in. This supports all students. You can go out to the playground to do math through hopscotch. This is a different environment. Utilize the child’s interests. This is all available under IDEA, Kim said.

She also gave an example of the lesson on irregular verbs such as hide/hid, fly/flew, and how a child with Downs Syndrome, on modified content, was able to put on a cape and fly and then talk about how the child flew, and how he went to hide under a desk and talk about how he hid under a desk. He had pictures to look at. He could listen to School House Rock on the topic of verbs, for instance. It gets things ‘cooking’ in the classroom, as Dr. Stanley Greenspan would say, and is engaging.

The Rights of Students Without Disabilities

Kim says that the students without disabilities also have the right to be educated with the students with disabilities for a more inclusive society. Who usually goes on to have kids with disabilities? People without disabilities! What’s so important to learn in school is an inclusive environment. School lays the foundation for an inclusive society where everyone can contribute and is benefitting from that basic right from the time they get early intervention, then through their education from age three to twenty-two, unless they get their diploma before that. This includes all children.

The Use of Alternative Communication

I asked Kim about a parent who said their school district refused to use the device that the child was most comfortable with at home. Kim says this falls under an ADA law. Students have a right to their preferred communication. Kim warns not to embarrass anyone by saying you know the law and they don’t. You can just point out that under ADA it says that the student with a disability is entitled to their preferred method of communication. Often, this will go up through the school district. You want to give them an ‘out’ and do the right thing.

I gave a theoretical response of the school saying that is the parent’s preferred method and not the child’s. What do you do? Kim said you can show a video of your child using their preferred method in the community. Often the child can say their preferred method, too, Kim says. Show them what works. In January of 2024, there is new incredibly detailed guidance about AAC devices that just got published from Office of Special Education Populations (OSEP). It will put everyone on the right path. It includes questions like whether training is required under IDEA. Yes, it is.

Take advantage of this information, Kim says, and bring it nicely to your district. And I added that self-advocates are advocating for preferred methods of communication and inclusive education, as well. Kim adds that when someone is able to advocate for themselves, as many new spellers now are–those who used to be considered incompetent–we have to listen to them. Parents should try everything out to see what your child gravitates towards in terms of alternative methods of communication.

Kim shares that it was the scariest thing when her son regressed at around 18 months and, although he could label things, he could no longer say juice purposefully to request juice. Floortime helped them so much, and it was right for their family. Kim read The Child with Special Needs and she followed the example of putting Ben’s toy car in the pocket of her cardigan. Ben slapped her hand. The second time she did it, she saw the gleam in his eye. DIR/Floortime insists that you go outside of yourself to follow your child’s lead, and it works.

Modified Content

I shared how I assumed that my child couldn’t be in public school because he is so far behind his same-age peers, academically. A segregated program has worked for my child, for my family’s specific circumstances. I encouraged people to find a way for your own child. You need to find that for yourself, with the support of others. Kim is merely giving an example of what worked for their family.

I asked Kim what modified content means. It’s crucial, Kim shares. She says that it has to be prepared. Maybe there’s a consult support district and if there’s not, make one. Maybe there’s a curriculum bank. Many states will have examples and exemplars of what that can look like. Kim says that when you think of algebra. You use things that you know to find the things you don’t know in algebra to find x. You might be in eighth grade and you can draw a rainbow with the colours red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. Beside it you have red, orange, clear, green, blue, and purple. You put x in where yellow should be then try to find x.

You can use construction paper and cut with scissors to work on these other skills, too. Don’t use the fact that the child can’t add or subtract as an excuse to not teach algebra. Everything can be modified to an individualized level so they can gain access to that. With Kim’s son, Ben, they used music. He was so good at music and rhythm, so they’d put a 1/4 note + a 1/4 note + a 1/8 note + x = a whole note.

I shared the example of my son’s modified content during Covid when they gave us a grid and tried to teach addition and subtraction. My son was not interested. So, I grabbed his Super Mario Hotwheels cars and put them on the grid, which I called a ‘parking lot’. Then 3 cars drove away. How many cars are left? My son was able to add and subtract. You need to follow their interest.

Kim spoke on the parent panel at the 2003 ICDL DIR/Floortime conference when Temple Grandin was the keynote speaker. She loved horses. Make everything about horses! Temple said use what the child loves to help them learn. This is how you reach them and teach them, Kim says. You can get a neighbour to play with your child around their interest.

In 2nd grade, Kim said that Ben liked dinosaurs, so Ben would play with dinosaurs. As the other children finished their worksheets, they would get to go play dinosaurs with Ben and this was working on his goal of turn-taking. This teacher was wonderful, Kim said. It’s Floortime. It’s bringing the students into Ben’s world in their interactions–their circles of communication. Kim says that Ben’s siblings were the ones who had the best ideas for Floortime.

The Beautiful Floortime Life

Kids are natural Floortimers if you encourage it, rather than allowing them to look at your child as weird and decide to bully them. That’s why you have to have the birthday parties and reach out to your community. Go out of your comfort zone to engage and showcase everyone’s individual differences. Kim said that her family did that, and it lead to a beautiful life for Ben, and for their community.

Kim never intended to find herself in her shoes, but she doesn’t regret a second of it. She looks back on Ben’s life and it was a beautiful life that extends beyond the physical life. It’s the impact and the philosophy: the impact of the events that occurred that will go on to change more hearts and minds. Public education can be that beautiful Floortime life.

This week’s PRACTICE TIP:

This week let’s think about taking a step towards including our child in their community or school if you are at that stage with your child’s education.

For example: Do you have contact with other parents in your community who have children with disabilities? Did you check the links that Kim provided and take notes about the steps she suggested, modified to your child’s situation? Can you find out who to contact in your zone school district to get the conversation started on inclusive education? 

Thank you to Kim Kredich for sharing her incredible experiences and resources that can help your child be included in a school setting. Please feel free to share this podcast and blog, and other helpful related resources on social media.

Until next time, here’s to choosing play and experiencing joy everyday!

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