Making the Grade: SHNIC Helps Teachers Learn About Special Needs

Making the GradeBryan's teachers were at a loss for how to help him when he hid under his desk or back in the cubby area and cried. They knew he had been diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder; dysgraphia, a learning disability that affects writing abilities; and Asperger syndrome, but they didn't know how to deal with those diagnoses or what the best ways to teach him were.

Things at home weren't much better. Kevin, Bryan's father, remembers the struggles his family faced.

"My wife and I started arguing. Bryan's homework, which would take a normal child half an hour, was taking three to five hours a night and lots of battling," he recalls. "Things seemed hopeless, and we were quickly hitting rock bottom."

That's when Bryan's family turned to the Specialized Health Needs Interagency Collaboration (SHNIC) at Kennedy Krieger Institute. SHNIC, a partnership between the Institute and the Maryland State Department of Education, provides on-site training and technical assistance-at no cost. It focuses on teaching the skills to safely and effectively manage the needs of children with specialized health needs and helping those children integrate into their schools and communities.

"It is sometimes difficult for the medical and education systems to communicate. The SHNIC program brings medical information right into the school so that staff can adapt their services to meet the needs of students with medical conditions," says Joan Carney, Kennedy Krieger's director of Hospital-based Education Programs and project coordinator for SHNIC.

Barbara Obst, a nurse educator with the SHNIC team, came into Bryan's school and explained the symptoms of Asperger syndrome and dysgraphia and made suggestions for managing Bryan's health needs and promoting his education. She also taught Bryan's parents different ways they could help their son.

Kevin says that a little bit of education went a long way for his family.

"Thanks to this training, Bryan is on the honor role, and he even won the National Geographic Spelling Bee for his middle school," says Kevin. "His self-confidence has soared, as have his social skills. The SHNIC program has turned our life around."