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. January 15, 2013.
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Dr. Michelle Self believes in the right to equal education for children with disabilities. She believes inclusion — teaching children with and without disabilities in the same classroom — is the best choice whenever possible. Her passion cocerning educational is evident when she acts as an advocate, teaches at Bowling Green State University and speaks at conferences. Recently, she began a support group for parents of children with attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) so they can share what works for their child in the classroom and in other areas of life.
Families with a child who has a dual diagnosis have to learn how to deal with additional problems. Self sees an increasing need for information on living with both disabilities, but there was no group to address this need. So she, along with Kim Steel, a special education specialist, created one so parents can learn successful strategies for changing the classroom environment and where they can also receive support from a community.
It was the desire for her son, who is now 12 years old and needs special educational services, to learn the standard curriculum that lead Self to leave a 20-year career as a materials engineer and become an educational advocate. She started her new career by taking a leadership training course when her son was two years old. Last year, she earned a PhD in education curriculum and development with an emphasis on special education.
“I needed to do something to ensure that he got the education that I envisioned for him,” said Self. “Every parent wants their child to have the same opportunities as everyone else.”
Currently, Self advocates on behalf of as many students and their families as she can. It can be overwhelming for parents helping their child receive intervention, special education and other services protected by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), enacted under a different name in 1975. Under the IDEA, the student, their parents, teachers and representatives of the school district plan an individual course of learning set forth in an Individual Education Plan (IEP).
“I do it because I have to,” she says about her role as advocate. “Parents need me. Sometimes parents don’t know what modifications can be made for each child to keep them in the regular curriculum.”
An accommodation could be giving the student more time to take a test, or allowing him or her to use a computer in class. A modification is using less or different material, typically modified to focus on general concepts instead of details. The goal is to put the right services and supports into place so that the student can be brought up to the same level as their peers.
“We should be teaching that we’re all in this together, so let’s learn together,” Self said. “Since parents know their child’s abilities, parents know what’s best for
their child.”