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Social Media: What Special Education Teachers Need to Know


Randy Ziegenfuss, Ed.D., Superintendent at Salisbury Township School District in Allentown Pennsylvania, wanted to contribute his thoughts from the perspective of a school district (below). If you would like to add your voice to this ever-expansive and important topic contribute your comment below. 

“The four guidelines recommended in the article are worthy of every parent’s attention, regardless of exceptionality. What is important to understand, I think, is that any rules or guidelines for online (or even offline) behavior should be personalized and customized to every child’s unique needs. This is particularly important for special needs students. Honoring the individually of every child (cognitive, social, emotional) is the direction we want and need to move in education, and any guidelines for online behavior should not be exempt from that vision.

With special needs children, however,  the guidelines may have a different application because of cognitive, social and emotional differences (such as communication and impulsivity). “Getting this right” can mean the difference between isolation and opening up a new world that provides special needs children with opportunities to succeed in ways they may not readily have in the face-to-face world. Like any parent, parents of special education children will experience “bumps in the road” – children will “mess up” and do things online that we don’t consider appropriate.

It is important that parents and teachers approach the situation with empathy, seeking first to understand and responding to any violations of guidelines as an opportunity for growth in the important online space. When having the conversation, it’s best for parents to connect, then correct, preserving the relationship while providing the needed support for making better choices in the future.”

You can follow Ziegenfuss and continue the conversation here.

What Special Ed Teachers and Parents Need To Know About Social Media

by Byrd Pinkerton | nprEd

“Discuss, monitor, and educate.”

That’s Kortney Peagram’s advice to parents and teachers who want to help special needs teens lead an online life. She wrote up some of her experiences as a psychologist working to reduce cyberbullying in Chicago for our friends at NPR’s All Tech Considered.

Students can definitely benefit from social media, Peagram says. For kids who can’t be touched, or who can’t look people in the eye, digital networks are a chance to share pictures and interests, and an opportunity to have a social life.

But the internet can be a dangerous place, especially for kids who may struggle with communication.

Here are some guidelines Peagram recommends for parents and teachers to help kids stay safe online:

  • Create a list of clear and concise rules.

    Teachers can make a “classroom contract” for kids regarding social media use. It should be five rules or less — anything more is overwhelming. Each rule should have one clear, short sentence, followed by a description that fleshes things out with images and examples.

    One key rule? Keep private things private. Peagram walks her students through different settings in the real world: their bedroom, the bus stop, the classroom. Even if they are sitting in their bedroom, she tells them, they shouldn’t do things online that they wouldn’t do at the bus stop.

    Peagram also tries to help them recognize potentially dangerous situations, like sexting.

    “They’re embarrassed, but they don’t know why they should be embarrassed,” she explains. To help them understand, she draws on the recent Pixar film, Inside Out, using the emotion characters to explain the sadness and disgust feelings that might come from posting nude pictures. She uses the analogy of a photocopier to explain how those pictures might spread.

Read the rest of Pinkerton’s piece in nprED



Special Education Administrator

[dropcap]J[/dropcap]ohn McLaughlin, Ph.D. – “As a special education administrator, I had a conference with one of my student’s mothers. My student was 17 years old but perhaps 11 or 12 in his social judgment. I told the mom that I felt she had many additional years of “hands-on parenting” ahead. Her son, an 11th grader, was nowhere ready to enter college at 18 or 19 and begin to leave home and stand on his own two feet, but with further years of love and care he had a reasonable chance of self-sufficiency. She appreciated my assessment.

The next day that mom returned to my office with the news that her husband, my student’s step-father, had left her when she told him my assessment that there were still years of parenting ahead of them. He literally packed his bags, exited, and left all future parenting to her. To my surprise, the mom hugged me and thanked me for my frankness. She said it was just the ingredient needed to chase a man out of her home, a man who lacked the love and fortitude it takes to raise a child with a serious disability. Whether its monitoring online social interaction for children with exceptionalities or sitting down night after night to dinner with the family, the best thing parents can do for all children is to provide, love, consistency, and a presence.”

John McLaughlinMcLaughlin directs the Research & Analytics unit of ChanceLight Behavioral Health and Education (client of MindRocket Media Group). Dr. McLaughlin holds a BA, MA and Ph.D. from Peabody College of Vanderbilt University, the University of Chicago and the University of Minnesota respectively.

He was a certified geography teacher and secondary school administrator in Tennessee where he served as a teacher. He then spent the last ten years of his work in that state as principal in an alternative high school.In 1977, he founded Benton Hall Academy, a school in the Nashville area for students in need of a small and caring environment.From 1993 to 2000 he published The Education Industry Report, a monthly summary of investment activity in the education arena.

He has been interviewed by virtually every major newspaper, magazine and broadcast media in the U.S. for his insights on the interface of public education and free enterprise. He has been published several times throughout his career. His most recent writing includes an article, Alternative Education’s Impact on Office Disciplinary Referrals (with Eva Gillham) in The Clearing House, September 2012; a book of fiction, The Last Year of the Season, 2014, North Star Press; and We’re In This Together: Public-Private Partnerships in Special and At-Risk Education (with Mark K. Claypool), 2015, Rowman & Littlefield Education.

Education Safety & Security Perspective

[dropcap]M[/dropcap]ichel Richez – “Privacy is a concern among parents, students and school officials. However, social media by its nature takes place largely in a public domain. Social media posts are like standing on a corner and yelling to someone across the street where everyone can hear you. In terms of social media, the “street” is the entire Internet. It is clear that privacy protections must be put in place. For schools and communities, strict rules and policies must be established to ensure that this technology is used properly and for its intended purpose of protecting students, schools and communities. Individuals must also recognize that social media by its nature and design is not private. Once an individual steps into the social media world they are stepping out in public for all to see.” 

Michel RichezRichez is the VP of Business Development for OSC World. As former Director of Technology and Information Services at Long Beach Public Schools from 1999-2011, Michel Richez’s responsibilities included overseeing instructional and administrative technology, telecommunications, security systems, and NYS and Federal assessment reports. Between July, 2011 through August, 2013, Michel was Director of Business Operations & Development for A+ Technology & Security Solutions Inc., responsible for daily operation oversight and support, as well as customer issues, employee productivity, and developing business partnerships. As Executive Vice President of Business Development at OSC, Michel is responsible for our core business, market research sales and relationships, as well as our developing our education division.

Cyber Safety Expert & Student Perspective 

[dropcap]P[/dropcap]arry Aftab -“The internet is more crucial to special needs students than anyone else. I created my first NGO in 1995 called roads without ramps, to help kids in wheelchairs get connected. It should be noted that HOH/Deaf students have the highest rate of risk-preference online of all special needs students.”

Aftab is a US lawyer, child advocate and expert in all aspects of cyberlaw, best practices, cyberbullying and cyberharassment, cybercrime and privacy and founder of WiredSafety. She is also a risk-management and best practices consultant and advisor to the leaders of the Internet and digital technology industries. The US Congress formally honored her work in cybersafety in 2005; the help group she formed received the President’s Service Award from the Clinton White House and in 1999 UNESCO appointed her to head up its online child protection project for the United States. Parry was named to the Harvard Berkman Center-administered Internet Safety Technical Task Force (the ISTTF) in 2008 created to advise the Attorneys General from 49 states on cybersafety issues. 

Check out this video, from students on the Autism spectrum, discussing social media from Aftab’s WiredSafety:

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