Any parent, teacher or professional who works to support a child with a disability knows that their educational services take on many dimensions. Blindness isn’t just about sight. Mobility disorders aren’t just about walking. Professionals in special education work to serve the whole child, rather than discrete components of a child’s needs.
Thanks to a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs, the University of Utah will be able to train 20 graduate-level professionals: 10 in adapted physical education and 10 in speech-language pathology. The U’s Departments of Special Education and Communication Sciences and Disorders will train these scholars alongside one another giving them the vital experience they will need to work together to serve students who experience disability.
Project ISAACC (Interdisciplinary Scholarship for Advancing Adapted Physical Education and Communication Sciences and Disorders Collaboration) is directed by Wesley J. Wilson, assistant professor of special education in the College of Education, and Robert J. Kraemer, associate professor of communication sciences and disorders in the College of Health.
“The goal,” Wilson says, “is for professionals to become familiar with each other’s skillset to better serve the whole child rather than mere components of a child’s needs.”
About the disciplines
Both adapted physical education and speech-language pathology are key services for children with special educational needs and are guaranteed for students under the Individuals with Disabilities Improvement Act of 2004.
Adapted physical education is, as the name suggests, physical education services specially designed for students’ individual needs and interests.
Speech-language pathology is more than speech therapy. It includes social, cognitive and physical dimensions of communication and can benefit students with a range of needs.
Both professions, Wilson says, face significant workforce shortages.
As members of a child’s individualized education program team, adapted physical education and speech-language pathology providers work closely together. “However, if professional preparation does not train preservice adapted physical education teachers and speech-language pathologists with the skills and strategies to work collaboratively,” Kraemer says, “then these individuals may not understand the strong connection between physical and communication needs of many children with disabilities.”
Training together and expanding the field
Thanks to the Department of Education’s funding, Project ISAACC will operate as a two-year interdisciplinary program. Students studying adapted physical education and speech-language pathology will take classes together and participate in joint field experiences.
The population of children who can benefit from adapted physical education and speech-language pathology services is diverse, and the project directors realize that the same diversity is not yet reflected in the professional workforce. The project, then, will aim to recruit graduate students from underrepresented backgrounds.
“Beyond being one of the only APE/SLP interdisciplinary programs to receive federal funding to prepare professionals,” Wilson says, “we also boast a collective faculty of leaders in special education and communication sciences and disorders, from whom our scholars will learn. Scholars will not only receive a world-class education but will also receive tuition benefits and a competitive stipend as an investment in their future careers.”