Short Bus Project

A Closer Look at the Character's from Mooney's Book.

By Cassie Nicklen and Ben Bormann

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The Short Bus by Jonathon Mooney illustrates the author’s trek and reflection of his life with a disability. In the story, Mooney purchases a short bus, which he ends up using to travel the US to encourage others to share their stories about their life with a disability. The bus becomes a sort of symbol that represents the stereotypes often perceived by others about people with disabilities. Through the book Mooney as he makes his trek across the US he introduces us to several characters including Kent, Robert, Cookie, and Jeff. These characters like Mooney struggled to fit in and had a hard time expressing who they were as individuals.
Voices of Experience: Jonathan Mooney
A quick video where Mooney the author of The Short Bus describes how he was treated and how he over came the label given to him because of his disability.

Mooney and ADHD Plus the STATS

“ADHD affects about 4.1% American adults age 18 years and older in a given year. The disorder affects 9.0% of American children age 13 to 18 years. Boys are four times at risk than girls.” (NIMH)

In the book, Jonathan Mooney explores ADHD as a diagnosis. He explains that modern society has changed its focus in medicine. Society is now focused on the normality of behavior rather than solely on physical health. Science tells us that there is a reason for everything. Labeling kids with disabilities provides that reason.

Mooney and Learning Disabled

Learning disabled is an idea and an interpretation of cognitive differences. “The interpretation of these cognitive differences as disorders has, I believe, drastic personal and sociological consequences. Blaming kids for their academic failures leaves our culture’s definition of intelligence and learning unquestioned.” (pg.47) Just because society categorizes everyone, doesn't mean that a learning disability is a problem. As JFK once said, “Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.”

Theme: Fitting In vs, Individual Freedom

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In today’s society in school, in the workplace, in the neighborhood you live in there is always this precedence idea you need to fit in or be accepted. People want other people to like them so they will go to whatever to be accepted. To repeat an old phrase my grandma use to say everybody wants to keep up with the Jone’s. To start not everyone is this way but there is a core of society that does make you feel like you don’t fit in unless you do this or that. The best example of this is since it is December you have the competition of Christmas lights. Something that should be so simple becomes a contest which others unknowingly evaluate. The sad part is that we as a society have come along way but we still label children with disabilities as being different,. and if my child associates with a child that has disability they might catch something. This whole problem is that we live in a very me society where it is all about me and no one else. Researcher Brene Brown (n.d) explains fitting in at its best on She stated, “There are so many terms we use every day whose meanings are gauzy, if not downright imprecise—which makes it hard to get your head around what's really going on in your life. For example, contrary to what most of us think: Belonging is not fitting in. In fact, fitting in is the greatest barrier to belonging. Fitting in, I've discovered during the past decade of research, is assessing situations and groups of people, then twisting yourself into a human pretzel in order to get them to let you hang out with them. Belonging is something else entirely—it's showing up and letting yourself be seen and known as you really are—love of gourd painting, intense fear of public speaking and all.” This quote explains that it is alright to be one’s self and who you are should be what’s important and not what others want you to be. With that being said an individual with a disability or an individual one might call essentric should be celebrated for being who they are.. Disability has a little word within called ability which is what we as a society need to look at we all have our own abilities and our own areas that we accelerate in and that is what we as society should look at not whether they fit into our preconceived little groove or label. Or as Mooney describes individual freedom as it pertain to Kent, “Maybe it is the society that is wrong and not that kid. Kent is caught, like most of us, between the desire to fit in and the desire for individual freedom. Some people resolve this struggle, or give up, but Kent is still engaged and taken up by it. He is like that moment when water is boiling and it ceases to be water, but isn’t steam yet; it’s something and nothing, its essence shifting and changing, always becoming. Kent, unlike many of us, lives in that state of creation of coming and going.” (p. 88).

On the flip side is the phrase individual freedom which is allowing people to be who they are and celebrate who they are. This thought reflects with the book John Mooney wrote The Short Bus which he described many people and his description of these individuals was a celebration of who they are. Individual freedom doesn’t mean one must always agree with who someone is or that their difference are not your cup of tea but your difference may not be their cup of tea either. A person who has individual freedom is a person who can live within themselves for who they are. The best example I can give is my great grandfather was described by the rest of the family as being eccentric and some members of the family were embarrassed by this. However, I looked upon it as an adventure because you never knew what great grandpa was going to do next. He made life interesting and fun.

The Power of Vulnerability | Brene Brown | TED Talks
The movie clip above is a TED Talk by Research Brene Brown. In the TED talk she discusses people's need for connection, but also the vulnerability in achieving said connections.

Who Are The Character's in The Short Bus? "A Student's Perspective"

More About Kent

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The Cover of the Book Kent Co-Wrote

Kent and School

In Elementary, it was difficult for Kent to stay still. motion was necessary to keep him going throughout the day. Kent described some of his elementary teachers as having a negative influences on his life. Teachers that did not understand him, used him as an example of how not to act in class. Even so, Kent felt conflicted by his desire to fit in and his need to move around.

During Kent’s middle school years, making people laugh was a coping mechanism to be noticed. He yelled out in class “surprise” in the middle of class to make others laugh and himself known. After a pep talk from a friend, he decided to get a 4.0 in school. He became obsessed with scoring a perfect on the SAT test and did just that 1600. In college he almost dropped out.

“My way of fitting in was being the freak. It is not just a way of saying F**k you. It’s saying I want to be known.” (pg. 82)

Kent and Family

“Results from several international studies of twins show that ADHD often runs in families.” (NIMH)

ADHD seems to run in Kent’s family. His family is a collection of eccentrics. Jonathan Mooney states “The medical model would see in Kent’s family tree obvious examples of ADHD.” (p.79)

There are also other factors that may contribute to ADHD. “In addition to genetics, researchers are looking at possible environmental factors, and are studying how brain injuries, nutrition, and the social environment might contribute to ADHD.” (NIMH)

More About Brent

Brent and School

Reading has always been a challenge in school for Brent. Reading out loud in class causes anxiety and makes him sick. Brent’s mother has an ongoing litigation battle with the school for not providing Brent with tutoring on school grounds. Sara (mom) believes that the school is incapable of meeting Brent’s needs and he had a right to an appropriate education. Brent’s mom is so committed to his education that she has hired a private tutor for Brent during the summer and school year. The tutor is an Orton Gillingham instructor.The Orton-Gillingham Approach has been rightfully described as language-based, multisensory, structured, sequential, cumulative, cognitive, and flexible. (The Approach)

Brent is at a turning point in his life. Should he believe that he is broken like everyone tells him or should he refuse to conform to societal norms?

Only time will tell…
Academy of Orton-Gillingham
The movie clip above is an example of Orton-Gillingham instructor. This gives you an idea of the type of instructor Brent might of had.

Brent and Family

Sara, Brent’s mother was a good student. Her view on education is that it is a way to fit in with society. Dad works at a home-furnishing store but is not living in the home. Her primary responsibility is leveling the playing field for Brent to succeed.

More About Cookie Coleman Davis

Cookie and School

He grew up in the 1950s when people labeled you. He could not fit into what was considered the norm. He grew up in a old-fashion small town. His town to me from what Mooney described to be similar to the movie Pleasantville, which mock some of the oh so common stereotypes of the 1950s. Cookie who was developmentally delayed struggled to fit in. Kids in his town and school would make fun of him to the point that it turned into harassment. For example, Mooney describes how the kids would follow him home after school. They would taunt him by calling him names such as “Fag” and “Retard”. Mooney went on to explain there would be days where they would stop and others where the name calling was not enough. They would continue to follow him, which caused Cookie to run from fear.and he became filled with horror. Mooney said one day the kids from his school “pelted him with rocks.” (p. 151-152). However, the ridicule was not just inflicted onto him by the kids that followed him, but by his own teacher. As Cookie stated, “ I called her Nails because she had long fingernails, which look like claws.” Cookie described to Mooney an episode that occurred with this teacher when he was six years old. Cookie said that he could not understand some work a student was doing on the board, so to forget about the situation he looked out the window. This is when Ms. Nails sunk her “claws” into Cookie’s back. She told him he had to get it right and ended up calling him stupid. Ms. Nails ended up drawing blood and Cookie responded back with a quick jab to the jaw. Mooney explain after this story that he was not sure to what extent Cookie was labeled, but that according to someone who went to school with him that he was in some sort of special education classes his whole life. Yet an official label was not given to him until he was 17 when he was told he was “retarded”. Cookie told the doctor’s to “go fuck themselves.” (p.152).

Although Cookie might not of had an official label till he was 17 he did have an unofficial one placed on him by both students and educators. With that being said, one must remember that everyone has some sort of disability, but not all of them have a label. The key is we can’t continue to label students with a learning disability, and attach a label leading to a stereotype for life. However, we can still help all students without labeling them. Or as Raymond (2012 p. 5) explains it is important to focus on the needs of all students because many benefit from adjustments because there are a lot of students who struggle, but have gone unidentified. As educators we can provide all with the services they need, but remove the label that could block them from truly advancing. Let the student jump from one file drawer to the next without barriers that restrict their personal growth. Students excel in different areas at different times. We need to allow that light to go on without leaving students in the dark because they have been labeled and coded. Instead, allow a child to have an IEP that serves their individual needs in a least restrictive environment. Raymond (2012 p. 14) explains this idea about IEPs by stating we need to focus on the education plan that is important for the child’s learning needs rather than a label or outside influences. In other words, let all students’ lights turn on because one size doesn’t fit all.

One of the major problems with the labels society puts on individuals with disabilities is that overtime and with new research the definition of the labels change. In Cookies cae for instance he was labeled at the age of 17 as being mentally retarded but now according to Mooney it is labeled as a developmental disability. However, even looking further back the label for mental retardation was feeble mindedness. All three of these labels have possible different interpretations, plus they also have different reactions and understandings with teachers, family, doctors and so forth. With all that said by labeling students we are doing a disservice to them because of what society as whole reads into labels. In other words we aren’t focusing on what the individual is able to do we are making the individual live up to the label we have given them.

Overall Cookie’s educational experience, which was full of harassment and ridicule cause severe long term effects on Cookie both emotionally and psychologically. The long term effects demonstrates that Cookie did not have the necessary supports to help him find and maintain friends. He did not have someone to be there for support. Cookie like Turnbull and Turnbull et. al (2015) in the book Families, Professionals, and Exceptionality Positive Outcomes Through Partnerships and Trust explained, “ Students with learning disabilities have reported more loneliness, greater isolation, and lower peer acceptance that their peers whose school achievement is in the average range.” The labels we put on people unfortunately force them to live in their own world and hoping that someone somewhere will unlock the door and let them live with their abilities not their disabilities.

Cookie and Family

Although more commonly now known as Cookie. Cookie was originally named Coleman Davis. He was born in 1951. No one really knows how he acquired the name Cookie, but it was really just one of many names for him. Cookie at the time of his interview with Mooney was considering on changing his name to Dominque. Mooney explained that Cookie had a list of about five middle names for himself. The many names of Cookie are not to be considered odd, but more of who Cookie really was. For example, according to Mooney, Cookie’s cat had several names. He was called, “Wolfgang Amadeus Gauguin London.”

Cookie lived in the same town and house that he grew up in. It was located in Cape Porpoise Maine. Mooney was introduced to Cookie by friend named Miriam who he had met while doing a presentation. Miriam had described Cookie as the town eccentric. Although not revealed in the book, Miriam appeared to be like family to Cookie. Miriam like many in the community became his family after the death of his mother from breast cancer. When Mooney had asked how the town made sense of Cookie? She said, “We just think of him as Cookie.”

According to Mooney Cookie’s father passed away when he was a kid. He was raised by his mother Viola who upon her death in 1998 of breast cancer. Upon her death she left her son the deed to her home that he grew up in and continued to live. Mooney throughout his time with Cookie got glimpses of his life and its moments, but many of them are only quick snapshots with limited amounts of detail. Cookie as it appeared was not one to divulge a wealth of information. In fact, when asked to many questions he’d change topics or stories. For instance, Cookie who went to college, but never mentioned if he finished came home after school to work at the Chum Shack. Mooney said that meant cleaning out fish intestines and turning it into lobster bait. While at the Chum Shack Cookie met his wife Lisa who was know in town as beautiful women.

Lisa and Mooney who married in the early 90s moved to Australia. Mooney explained that Lisa had come from a wealthy. Cookie said she was an artist that loved to drink. Although, Cookie said they were still friends when ask more questions by Mooney he became tight lipped. However, he did briefly state they divorced and it was at this time that his mom Viola was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was at this time according to Mooney that Cookie said he had started to paint. Mooney stated,”Cookie loved his mom deeply and by 1998 her body was ravaged by an aggressive cancer that metastasized pretty much everything it could. Cookie’s mom was his life; he had never lived for long with anyone else.” Cookie never made the connection for Mooney if his paintings were connected to what happened to his mom, but Mooney said he wondered if it was a way of celebrating his mom. Speece, Case, and Molloy (2003) state the source of a developmentally delayed could be a combination of things including within the child, within the environment, or perhaps both. This holds true for Cookie he had a learning difficulty, but it stems from his environment and having a social problem with adjusting to new settings constantly through his life without having time to process. The one stable factor in his life had been his mom, but her death and his divorce brought out a desire within him to paint. Painting became a way for Cookie to express himself. His paintings were of his town through his eyes. His work was bought up by local galleries.. Cookie’s artwork was a way for him to express himself to others. In other words, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Upon his mom’s death the town kept a caring and watchful eye on Cookie. However as times change the town of Kennepunkport became a popular area for people from the city to build lavish homes and have made the area into kind of a me town and unfortunately with that said you loose the small town care for your neighbor and that hometown feeling.

More About Jeff

Mooney's Thoughts On Jeff

“What I can tell you is what I learned from Jeff, and that is this: If you watch the strange, the other, the bizarre long enough, if you really see these people, you will find familiar pieces of yourself in their experiences. Empathy may be our only hope,” (p. 256).

Jeff liked to keep notebooks full of collections, poetry, and lists. Posted above a look at an excerpt from one of his notebooks.
Glenn Gould BWV903 Bach Chromatic Fantasy
Mooney compared Jeff voice to a performance by Glenn Gould. Here is an example of Glenn Gould performing.

Jeff and School

Since Jeff did not disclose much about his childhood there is not much know in the book about him and school. However, one could speculate that since Jeff currently struggles with maintaining employment due to his robot like personality that he was never taught basic social skills.

Although, Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) was not around when Jeff was in school. I think he could of benefited from some of the rules outlined in FAPE. There are many services available under FAPE. The purpose of these services is to provide children with disabilities additional support in areas of need including speaking, movement, or assistance in building fine or gross motor skills. One related service under FAPE is Social Work. Social Workers provide many different services to help students emotional, behavioral, and social needs. They do this through counseling both individual and group sessions, assessing a student's’ need to develop modifications, and assisting families and promoting their involvement among other things. Specially in the school setting in addition to pull-out counseling a Social Worker will support in the classroom setting through interventions to help the student find success. School Social Workers also act as a liaison to the community resources available to parents and students. They can help connect families with services they might need outside the school setting. Basically, Social Workers help students overcome social and emotional obstacles, so they can succeed not only in the classroom, but society, (Hillsborough County Public Schools, n.d.)

Jeff and Family

Early Childhood

Jeff disclosed very little to Mooney regarding his childhood. One thing he did not hide about his childhood though was that it was a “living hell”. Jeff who was born in Oakland California in 1957 had a physically and verbally abusive father that worked as a real estate appraiser. His mom was a housewife that loved music. Jeff said his mom taught him by singing musicals that “music matters and helps a person feel better.” He also stated that he had a trombone he loved, but quit when he got good at playing “When The Saints Go Marching In.” Jeff said his mom left his dad when he was 13 and he suspected his dad had some sort of mental disorder. As Jeff puts it, “His childhood wasn’t the best, but wasn’t the worst. Problems are like gifts.” (p. 243).

When considering Jeff’s early childhood one must wonder if their son’s disability, which went undiagnosed caused problems within their marriage. Also if Jeff’s dad became abusive because he felt guilty for Jeff’s disability. When Jeff was growing up little was known about Asperger's. As Autism Speaks states, “Dr. Asperger’s observations, published in German remained little known until 1981 . In that year, the English physician Lorna Wing published a series of case studies of children with similar symptoms. In 1994, Asperger syndrome was added to the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.” Keeping that in mind, little was known when Jeff was growing up about his disability, so it was often overlooked so he was not given the necessary help. From Jeff actions in the story it looks like some in the community especially when he was younger was more apt to fix him versus providing him with the necessary supports and skills needed to function in society.

As Helen FeatherStone (1980) in Turnbull (2015) stated, “A child’s handicap attacks the fabric of a marriage in four ways. It excites powerful emotions in both parents. It acts as a dispiriting symbol of a shared failure. It reshapes the organization of a family. It creates fertile ground for conflict,” (p. 33). I think Featherstone’s quote explains what might of happened in Jeff’s family. I think his parents struggled with Jeff although it was never mentioned directly by Jeff. I infer this because he starts by saying his child was a living hell, but ends with it was not all bad. My guess is his childhood was like a roller coaster as dad and mom came to terms with not only Jeff’s disability, but the possibility that his dad had one which abruptly came to a stop when he was 13. Yet during this roller coaster his mom taught him to cope with music.


Andrea is Jeff's girlfriend who he has know for 22 years. According to both Jeff and Andrea they met at a halfway house for people with mental disabilities. Andrea explained to Mooney that she was at the halfway house because she had experienced a break down. She said Jeff was the one pursuing her. They both admitted to cheating on each other, but forgive each other. Or as Jeff put it, “That is OK, though, because I know how to forgive. I expect my friends to be who they are, not who I expect them to be.” (p. 235).

The Mathematicians Group

Jeff with the help a University of California Davis math professor formed a lunch group that meets to discuss math.

Unlike, Jeff’s early life Andrea and The Math Professors provided a family that was caring and nurtured his self-worth.They let Jeff see value in who he was as a person. I think this is best seen in Jeff’s Poetry. I have included an example below:

My Growing Intellect

At Age 46, I’m Glad

To Be Able To Do My

Creative Work And To
Do Some Longer Projects

As I Wish To

It is Great To Be Growing

I Love MY HP Machines

I AM Proud to Be Brilliant

I’m Grateful For MY

UCD Math Professor Friends

This poem demonstrates Jeff’s love for his friends and in a sense explains the confidence they have giving him.

Louis Armstrong - When The Saints Go Marching In
When The Saints Go Marching In was a song that Jeff learned to play when he was younger. It was one of the few pieces of information he disclosed about his childhood.

Jeff and Cookie

Bringing It All Together

When considering student, family, and the system perceptions one must consider community. In the stories of Jeff, and Cookie community became important part of who they are because it shaped who they are from their happiness to health.

For example, Jeff who Mooney described as having Asperger's Syndrome. Individuals with Asperger’s often struggle in social situations, which was evident by the fact that he could not hold a job and his only meaningful relationship was with his girlfriend Andrea and the math professors he meets for lunch from the University of California Davis. Both Andrea and the math professors were individuals in the community that shaped a positive outlook for Jeff. They gave him a sense of belonging. As Dunn and Burcaw (2012) explain, “A community-based form of identity integration is like “coming home” for many people with disabilities.” In other words, when the community was accepting to Jeff he opened up.

Another example is Cookie who was a crossdresser with mental disability. Cookie like Jeff was tight lipped except for those he trusted. Just like the math professors in Jeff’s community made him feel welcome, so did the residents of Cookie’s town in Cape Porpoise. The community would support him by buying what he sells such as his paintings. They also do not charge him property tax. However, his town was changing from an influx of a newer population that was not as tolerarent of Cookie. Needless to say, Cookie’s identity in a sense became his town. As Dunn and Burcaw explained, “Our identities define use because they contain personality traits and highlight social roles, and they can be focused on our past, present, and future selves.” Cookie who spent his whole life in his community during both positive and negative times shaped who he was.

Jeff is similar to Cookie in the fact that their mothers had positive influences on them. Their mothers seems to be one part of their childhood that was good and stable. Newspaper Columnist Lori Borgman puts it best when she said, “ You’ve developed the strength of a draft horse while holding onto the delicacy of a daffodil… you are the mother, advocate, and protector of a child with a disability.” Although both Jeff and Cookie’s moms did not necessarily always have a answer or explanation for their son’s differences they both showed them love. Jeff mom did this through her love of music. While Cookie’s mom did this through leaving her son her home. Cookie’s mom wanted him to be cared for when she was gone. I would not be surprise if the town did not look out for Cookie because his mother had advocated for this.

Overall, Jeff and Cookie had their quirks or things that made them individuals. For Jeff it was his notebooks full of lists and for Cookie it was art and cross dressing. Yet within those quirks they found ways to fit in. But they would never of been able to fit in if it was not for their communities positive supports that help them gain a sense of belonging. This is not to say that this same community did not impact them negatively either. It is to say that throughout their lives they seen the positives and the negatives to fitting in and being an individual within a community.

Services For Cookie and Jeff

Youth Services

There are several services that could have of been provided for both Jeff and Cookie while younger. But of all the services the biggest service would of been that of a social worker. A social worker could create behavior modifications, which would increase both Jeff’s and Cookie’s peer interactions and help them utilize coping mechanisms to deal with some of the rough things that occurred from being bullied or having an abusive father. Within the classroom their teachers could of made the following modifications to help them be successful in school:

Classroom Environment

  • Seat the student closer to the teacher or front of the room

  • Seat students away from doors and windows to prevent distractions

  • Controlling classroom noise level to help with focusing

  • Keep workspaces clean

  • Design the room for space to move and space to cool down


Use a co-taught model where they will have both a special education and general education teacher.. This model includes the planning and implementation of instruction by both the general education teacher and a special education teacher. They will meet frequently to ensure that both Jeff and Cookie were gaining academically and their disabilities weren’t holding them back.


  • Provide extra time for tasks

  • Provide sensory breaks before transitioning to a new learning activity.

  • Warn students several minutes before the end of a task (especially during a preferred activity)


  • Read tests aloud

  • Allow extra time

  • Build in breaks

Adult Services

As adults I would still recommend the help of a social worker, but more importantly I would suggest they received additional help through Vocational Rehabilitation, which is a federally funded program provided by each state. The goal of the program is to help individuals with disabilities to obtain and maintain employment. (


The people in Jonathan Mooney’s book, The Short Bus were individuals that wanted to fit into society, to school, in the neighborhood and so forth. However because of all types of disabilities they weren’t accepted or felt belittled by teachers and peers. The sad part is know one should have to feel that way if we as a society embraced disabilities, The next step would be to focus on the abilities an individual has instead of the disabilities. My analogy of the individuals in Mooney’s book is Charles Schultz’s character Charlie Brown. I think of the movie Charlie Brown’s Christmas, when Charlie Brown goes to get a tree for the Christmas pageant because he was the director and he wasn’t meeting Lucy’s expectations so she sent him to get a Christmas tree.. Charlie Brown brings back a tree that wasn’t full or even very big, instead it was a stick with a branch or two. Everyone made fun of the tree except for one good friend, Linus who stood up for Charlie Brown. Finally all of the Peanut’s gang decorate the tree and make it beautiful with love and support. A valuable lesson for all of us to learn is friend standing up for a friend. Linus was that friend who encouraged others to look outside the box and believe in Charlie Brown no matter what.


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"The Approach - Academy of Orton-Gillingham." 2009. 19 Nov. 2015 <>

Brown, B. (n.d.). Brene Brown's Top 4 Life Lessons. Retrieved December 6, 2015, from

Brown, B. (n.d.). Transcript of "The power of vulnerability" Retrieved December 6, 2015, from

Dunn, D., & Burcaw, S. (2013, November 1). Thinking about disability identity. Retrieved December 7, 2015, from

HCPS: School Social Work Services. (n.d.). HCPS: School Social Work Services. Retrieved June 8, 2014, from

Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services. (n.d.). Retrieved December 7, 2015, from

Mooney, J. (2007). The Short Bus: A Journey Beyond Normal. Henry Holt and Company.

(NIMH) Mental Health Information." 2015. 19 Nov. 2015

Raymond, E. B. (2012). Learners with mild disabilities: a characteristics approach (4th ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Speece, D. L., Case, L. P. and Molloy, D. E. (2003), Responsiveness to General Education Instruction as the First Gate to Learning Disabilities Identification. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 18: 147–156. doi: 10.1111/1540-5826.00071

Turnbull, A. (2015). Families, professionals, and exceptionality: Positive outcomes through partnerships and trust (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson.