SPecial EDition


Volume 3, Issue 2

December, 2015

Message from the Director

Happy 40th Anniversary IDEA!

In honor of this momentous anniversary, the U.S. Department of Education released a

Dear Colleague” letter urging educators to ensure state standard alignment when instructing children with disabilities. I am confident the work being done at the district cohort meetings maintains this focus on the instructional core. In addition to the encouragement for rigorous content, the policy letter highlights multiple resources.

I encourage you to visit the websites below to become familiar with NEW information:

IDEAs That Work: Understanding College and Career Ready Standards connects

teachers and families with instructional support for college and career readiness.

Supporting and Responding to Behavior: Evidence-Based Classroom Strategies for

Teachers these tools can help teachers capitalize on instructional time and decrease

disruptions, which is crucial as schools are held to greater academic and social

accountability measures for all students.

Age of Majority Parent Guide and Tip Sheets assists parents in preparing their young

adult with disabilities make decisions in line with their rights and responsibilities as


Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports: Implementation Blueprint and Self-

Assessment guides leadership teams in the development of action plans to make a

positive change using multi-tiered systems of support.

As we close out this semester, let's reflect on how we have maintained equity and integrity with the instruction we provide for students with disabilities, whether it be through direct services or consultation. I, for one, am honored to be a part of the quality services we continue to provide through special education in Sweetwater and I wish you and your families a restful winter break!




Research has consistently indicated that persons on the autism spectrum have an increased risk of developing psychiatric disorders, when compared to the general population. Studies within the last decade reveal rates between 67% and 70.8% of individuals with Autism would meet criteria for an additional mental health disorder (Http://cardusf.fmhi.usf.edu/docs/resources/CARD_ASDMH_Brochure092109.pdf).

It is important that we don’t just conclude that a student’s behavior is due to their autism, especially when exhibiting depression or self-injurious behavior.

One of the ways that we are proactive with mental health issues is by offering our Social Communication Classes for our higher-level students. Here is an article by Michelle Garcia Winter that explores the connection of social thinking to academics and mental health.

Social Thinking, Executive Functioning and Mental Health: The interplay of the social mind, the academic load and emotions.

Social Thinking challenges routinely prevent individuals from accurately interpreting social information. These challenges can be said to represent a social executive function problem (sometimes called a social multitasking problem). The ability to socially process and respond to information requires more than factual knowledge of obvious social rules and unspoken rules (hidden rules of the situation). It also requires the ability to consider the perspective of the person with whom you are talking.

This means that each social situation requires a complex synchronicity of both social knowledge and related social skills. It requires the following social executive functioning:

Reading the hidden rules of the situation

Perspective taking (along with language processing)

Visual interpretation

Formulation of a related response (verbal or nonverbal) in a very short period of time (milliseconds-3 seconds).

Social thinking challenges also present themselves during academic tasks that require flexible abstract thinking. These include written expression, reading comprehension of literature, organization and planning of assignments and in more abstract math (such as word problems). As a result, persons with significant difficulties relating to others inter-personally often have related academic struggles in the classroom.

This is particularly true starting in about third or fourth grade when the curriculum becomes more abstract; requiring critical thinking related to what happens in other people's minds while also demanding a high level of organized thought.

Some students struggle with classroom participation from the moment they enter school due to deficits in their abilities to work and learn in a social group. Others don't develop obvious classroom and playground challenges until upper elementary school. Some manage to hold it together until middle school, at which time they become overwhelmed by abstract assignments, homework loads and increasingly nuanced social behaviors of their peers, which they struggle to interpret and respond to appropriately.

It is common for these students to develop academic problems only when they get older, even if they have been identified as “quite bright” using IQ tests and other psycho-educational measures. Some students are admitted to four-year universities, only to have their academic performance break down at that point due to being overwhelmed by the all the social thinking required to socially network (social executive functioning) and organize assignments while managing life skills/responsibilities (traditional executive functioning).

Social learning challenges were actually present in these university-bound students when they were younger, but discounted by teachers and parents because the student was so "bright." Parents, doctors, counselors and/or teachers underplayed the critical nature of social thinking in the everyday world, given that this is a critical part of our intelligence most often taken for granted.

Unfortunately, many persons with social thinking challenges who have near average to way above average intelligence often experience coexisting (co-morbid) mental health challenges. Anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD) may emerge in early adolescence, or even in early childhood. Feeling as though they are not "swimming in the same pond" socially as others take a toll on one's emotional state and mental health. Social problems routinely become emotional problems.

It is also not uncommon for us to meet bright students who are overwhelmed by socially loaded curricula (language arts) or school events (peer-based work groups, lack of social contact during classroom breaks). These individuals may be so overcome by the complexity that he or she may experience major mental health problems such as psychotic breaks or talk of suicide. Others deal with emotional side effects by lashing out with aggressive actions. Challenges in social thinking are to be taken seriously, as they affect not only one’s ability to participate fully in activities and lessons, but also how they view themselves and others. The social world isn't just about chatting and making friend, it is fraught with social-academic, social -executive functioning and social-emotional challenges. It's up to us as parents/caregivers and professionals to be aware and engage our teams in supporting individuals with social learning challenges across the home, school, and work day.


Be A Super Hero

Join Sweetwater Schools district's team in the Race for Autism on March 19, 2016 at Balboa Park.

Contact Lorna McMurray at lorna.mcmurray@sweetwaterschools.org for more information. You can also join the team at NFAR.org



This fundraiser goes to support our autism team in purchasing materials to support students behavior and learning in the classroom

Please contact Colleen Finn at colleen.finn@sweetwaterschools.org for more information


Autism Dates To Remember

January 14th Brain Based Learning 6:30 - 8:00 Special Services

March 3rd - Part I Executive Functioning 6:30 - 8:00 Special Services

March 10th - Part II Executive Functioning 6:30 - 8:00 Special Services

To register please email Joyce Winterhalder at joyce.winterhalder@sweetwaterschools.org

We are also available to provide customized training to meet the specific needs of a student, staff member or school


Speech Therapy

Submitted by Sarah Maleki


I Have Tourette’s But Tourette’s Doesn’t Have Me

Angel Leal has come a long way from his younger days when he struggled with making friends and getting through school. Now he is a senior high school student and the ASB president at East Hills Academy. He is very well liked by his peers and teachers and has become somewhat of a spokesman for Tourette’s syndrome (TS). He is diagnosed with both TS and ADHD but has worked hard to overcome some of the obstacles in his way. He has shared a power point presentation along with a video produced by HBO entitled I Have Tourette’s But Tourette’s Doesn’t Have Me with each of the classes at East Hills Academy as well as a few classes on Olympian High School’s campus. These presentations have helped grow his confidence and ability to advocate for himself and others. He is eager to spread the word and educate people on Tourette’s. There is no doubt that this rising star will go on to great things in his future!

In Angel’s words: “Let me tell you a little story about myself. My name is Angel Galvan Leal. I am the son of two wonderful, supportive parents. When I was about 5 years old I was diagnosed with TS which stands for Tourette's syndrome. When I was in kindergarten I can remember so much of my conflicts with my teachers because of vocal and body tics. None of us knew I had TS. My Tourette's made me shout, muscle tensions, eye blinking and twitching. For the longest time I remember people asking me ‘can’t you just control it?’ I would say ‘well it’s easy for you to say that but no I cannot control it’s like an itch on your back.’

It’s been difficult for me to make friends during my life. The way I made friends was to be involved in sports. I did almost every sports you can think of from football, soccer, boxing, wrestling, swimming, baseball and many more. By playing sports it has also help me to get good grades in school and to keep me from thinking about my struggles with TS. Now that I’m older I can control my Tourette’s and the help from reversal therapy has taught me a counter move for my tics. These tools and medication have helped me with TS. So my main idea is to inform you about myself and about TS. By sharing this information it will help educate you so you can understand someone who has TS and not judge them. You never know if one of your family members will be diagnosed with TS and learning about it can give you tools to help them.

I believe anybody can achieve anything. I attend school, play sports, and work at the same time. Tourette’s hasn’t stopped me from achieving these things so don’t let obstacles stop you either!”

**Speech therapists typically don’t provide direct services for students with TS. SLPs can support staff to ensure that appropriate accommodations are in place for students with TS and share strategies to encourage self-advocacy skills.


Math 180: A Common Core Aligned Intervention Program

Written by Carla Jacobs, Special Services Math Resource Teacher

The beginning of this 2015-16 school year marked a shift toward a mathematical focus for our students with significant learning disabilities in our middle schools. For the first time, seventh (and in some cases, eighth) graders taking math fundamentals courses are enrolled in an additional math intervention course. The course utilizes new Math 180 curriculum which focuses on three principles:

1. Growth Mindset: Understanding that many struggling students have given up on math, we must begin by working on fostering a growth mindset in students from Day One. Math 180 does so by using resources from “Mindset Works”, (a company that helps transform school culture into one of a growth mindset), spending the first two weeks with Math 180 building confidence about learning math and helping to establish a growth mindset class culture, and by infusing mindset activities within lessons by focusing on effort and practice, having a positive attitude, learning from mistakes, and goal setting.

2. Core Within Core: For students in 7th grade who are behind in math, it isn’t possible to reteach every missed skill and concept. Instead, Math 180 focuses on targeted skills and concepts that are necessary to be algebra-ready.

3. Force Multiplier for Teaching: Research shows that teachers are essential to delivering effective instruction. With this in mind, this year’s Sweetwater Math 180 teachers are receiving multiple days of training, as well as in-class observations and coaching, on at least five different occasions. In addition, the online support and resources guide the teacher step-by-step through lessons, assist with differentiation and grouping, and provide timely and useful reports for progress monitoring.

Excitement can be felt throughout the Math 180 classrooms as students work on real life math that builds on what they already know and motivates them to work through their struggles! This is the kind of course that supports our Special Services motto “Education for All”.



Congratulations to Blakeslee Detisch

Special Education Teacher from Montgomery Middle School

At the 25th annual Cox Presents: A Salute to Teachers sponsored by the San Diego County Credit Union our very own Blakeslee Detisch was one of five who were named the 2015 - 2016 San Diego Teacher of the Year.

Blakeslee has been teaching fundamental classes for 17 years and is currently teaching at Montgomery Middle School. She has received recognition for her dedication to special education from The Office of the President, the United States Attorney Genera's Office as well as Dr. Ramon de la Fuente. She is the current teacher of the year at Montgomery Middle School.

As a child, Blakeslee was diagnosed with an auditory processing disability, dyslexia along with ADHD, which further fuels her passion for helping all children realize their full potential.

Below is her acceptance speech:

Thank you all for attending this evenings award ceremony and thank you so much for selecting me as the district teacher of the year. This is a true honor, an honor I am proud to accept.

Being a great teacher is not a one person job. It takes a village of great teachers to make a school run as a well oiled machine. This year above all, was no exception. Although you may have selected me as your District teacher of the year, I can not accept this honor alone. It simply must be shared with everyone who I had the honor of working side-byside with this year. We may have been individuals in our own right, but it was our coming together as a team that made this year successful. These people worked tirelessly, gave of themselves willingly and without expectations of anything

other than a job well done. They were not afraid to take on new challenges, try new things, to look at education in a new light, all for the sake of our amazing students, supportive parents, confident staff, and the strong community.

It seems like just yesterday, when I told my mom that I wanted to be a special education teacher. I told her that I didn't want students with special needs to go through what I had as a student with a learning disability. I was diagnosed having dyslexia and a visual- auditory processing disability in the 3rd Grade. There wasn't support for students with

special needs. In high school, I had my marine biology teacher ask me to draw five pictures of whales rather than complete a five paragraph essay. I remember the students belittling me because I was treated differently. This feeling has lingered on and is what inspired me to become a special educator.

After sharing my dream with my mom, I enrolled in a credential program and six months later, I was offered a job teaching special education. I remember the first day of teaching, walking into the classroom with limited tools and high expectations. 17 years later, I have a bag of tricks and have kept my expectations high. I see the excitement in my students' eyes when I bring in creative and innovative lessons. My students have been my motivation and inspiration to become a better educator and a voice for them.

Throughout this process, I have been able to share my story with a greater venue. I am the voice for the ones who are silent because they don't want to be chastised and made fun of. I am the voice for students with special needs, students that have been bullied, and a voice for special educators that aren't always recognized for their hard work and

dedication to our student population. I have given students hope and the tools to realize their potential.

Finally, I want to thank Sweetwater Union high school district