Special Education Teacher

For almost 20 years I poured my heart and soul into my career as a Certified Special Education teacher in public schools in Houston, Texas, and Midvale, Utah. The students I worked with had varying degrees of developmental disorders and difficult behaviors. I was passionate about making a difference in each of my student’s lives and was compelled to do whatever it took to reach the goals their parents and I set for them. As a teacher, I accepted the challenge of doing whatever I needed to do to help my students reach their full potential.   

Dave Mills Circle

I began my teaching career in an elementary school in Houston, teaching students with severe disabilities between the ages of 3 to 5. Since then, I have taught students with severe disabilities in elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, and an alternative school.

All of my students had some degree of developmental disorders that created issues with eating, toileting, mobility, and other basic life functions. Having raised 5 children through the normal stages of development, I was able to apply what I had learned from my own experiences to the situations I encountered in my classroom.  

As I observed specific situations where my students were unable or unwilling to eat nutritious foods, to stand up without support, or even to walk, I could see that my children had been at that same development stage at one time in their early lives. When I identified a problem one of my students was having in a particular stage of development, I would conceptualize strategies that could possibly change the problem they were having.

One of the important concepts that I learned early in my parenting career was that blaming child for something that was beyond their control is a form of verbal and emotional abuse. It is also a very inappropriate and non-productive way for a parent to communicate with a child. There are much better and more productive ways to tell a child they have done something wrong that will promote a healthy relationship with a parent.  

I saw this type of behavior constantly in my classroom and in the home. In most cases, a child with developmental disorders or difficult behaviors has not learned to control their bodies or behaviors. It is my experience that it is not because a child doesn’t want to, it is because they have not been taught how to. In some cases, they can learn to control certain actions or behaviors. And in other cases, they cannot. However, blaming and punishing a child with developmental disorders or difficult behaviors in most cases will not help with their problem and in some cases will make the problem or behavior worse.

Here’s an example of what I mean. I had a student that was about 12 years of age that would only eat pureed food. Because he would not touch a spoon, so he needed assistance eating his meals. We had breakfast and lunch in my classroom.

When I was a child, I refused to eat my vegetables. The most common parental strategy to deal with this problem at the time was to make the child sit at the table after everyone was finished eating until they finished their vegetables. That is what my parents did to me. Of course, it wasn’t very effective in my case, because all I had to was wait them out.

As a responsible young parent, I wanted my kids to eat nutritious vegetable. So, I began at a young age to chop their broccoli, cauliflower, onions, or whatever into small chunks and put them in a food that they liked. I started that when they were about 2 years old, and as I did that the taste and smell of vegetables became normal to them. I never had a problem with my kids eating their vegetables.

I used this same technique with this 12 year-old boy with cognitive disorders. I had the aides in the kitchen at the school chop up the protein foods in the school lunch for that day. After they pureed his lunch, I asked them to add some of the chopped food into his pureed food. Over time, they chopped the food into bigger and bigger chunks. We did this for several years. Eventually, we went from pureed food to a regular lunch chopped up to a regular lunch cut up into small pieces.  Now, he eats a regular school lunch.

I was fortunate to have taught 4 of my students how to walk. Again, I looked at how I taught my children how to walk and used the same techniques to teach my students.

Some of my students displayed behaviors that were very difficult to deal with in a typical special education classroom environment. When any of my students were struggling to conform to the expectations of the classroom, I developed intervention techniques that were positive and affirming to that student.  

As a teacher, I quickly learned that I could not make a student with severe cognitive disabilities do anything. They were either very resistant to change, or their cognitive disability prevented them from changing. But, I learned that I could make them want to change. By implementing this strategy, I didn’t have to force a change in their difficult behavior. All I had to do was provide a stimulus that was so motivating to them that they wanted to make the change I was after.

Once I learned how to motivate a student to want to change their difficult behavior in the classroom, I would work with the parents of that student in their home to teach the parents how to intervene with their child in the same positive and affirming manner that I was successful within the classroom.  

The parents of my students were often unprepared for the task of parenting children with specific learning, behavior and social difficulties. They had not learned the specific skills they need for this type of parenting. Many have participated in general parenting programs and found that those programs did not address the temperament, learning, behavior and social difficulties of their child and, as a result, they had lost hope. In some cases, they isolated their child from social interaction because of their child’s poor social skills.

As a result of learning and implementing many types of strategies and techniques in the classroom over the years, I became very effective at monitoring and solving developmental disorders and difficult behaviors in my classrooms. I worked with the parents of my students in their homes as much as possible to help them connect more positively with their child. I hope to be able to do that on this blog. I am happy to answer any questions you have about your child or one of your students.