July 14, 2017

Class of 2025: Small districts look for creative special education solutions

ENGLEWOOD, CO – When Misty Leflar sent her son Ethan to schoolfor the first time, she was nervous.

“Ethan has autism spectrum disorder,” Leflar said. “He was diagnosed at three.”

Ethan attends 1st grade at Cherrelyn Elementary School in Englewood. He is part of a class that 9News is following all year for a project entitled “Class of 2025”.

“I was very anxious actually because here’s our little boy who’s having struggles socially,” Leflar said. “My husband and I were very worried how he was going to do at school, how would he be able to focus, how would he be able to communicate.”

Leflar met with Ethan’s teacher Cerri Norris and the school’s speech language pathologist Tandis Taj. She says they came up with a plan tailored to Ethan’s specific needs.

“So, what I implemented in there is what’s called a daily visual schedule,” Taj said.

Teachers show Ethan visual cues or pictures to let him know where he needs to go or what type of behavior is expected of him at any given time in the classroom.

“For Ethan, verbal information can often be overwhelming and over stimulating,” Norris said. “So, giving him a visual cue is much more effective.”

Taj says it was important to establish the system quickly at the beginning of the school year.

“He’s in a new classroom. He’s with a new teacher. He’s with some new students, new routine,” Taj said. “A lot of visuals in place for him to so knew how to operate at school; interact with other kids on a daily basis.”

Leflar says she likes the plan. Even more so, she likes that she had a lot of input on putting it together.

“The way I would describe Ethan’s world at school is a team effort with me, with teachers, the psychologist,” Leflar said.

She says with small school districts like Englewood have fewer resources than surrounding districts with larger enrollments. Englewood’s total operating budget for the 2013-14 school year is about $25 million. Out of that total, $3.1 million is allocated for special education. The district only received about $767,000 in state funding to pay for special education.

“It’s true. Everybody is stretched pretty thin,” Norris said.

But, Taj says it allows teachers and specialists to be more nimble and creative.

“Because there is less of us, we can communicate easier,” Taj said. “We can communicate faster and collaborate better.”

Norris says the process can be more dynamic.

“To bounce ideas around, discuss what’s working, what we need to change,” Norris said. “We’ve made a lot of adjustments along the way. So, I think that’s key.”

Leflar says it puts a lot of responsibility on parents to advocate for themselves and for the needs of their kids.

“Every child on the spectrum is different,” Leflar said. “Don’t be afraid to question. Don’t be afraid to ask questions for your child.”

She says parents can use groups like the Colorado Autism Society to get help in understanding what to ask for and expect from your school to address your child’s issues.

Leflar says a creative and cooperative approach is making a huge difference for Ethan.

“He’s doing tremendous,” Leflar said. I’ve just learned that he’s passed his level one math quiz which is excellent.”

(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)