Autism—A Family’s Journey and the Lights Along the Way

Note: April is National Autism Awareness Month.

Carolyn Hayer with son Chris and their family

Carolyn Hayer with son Chris and their family

Carolyn Hayer is the Director of Parent and Professional Development at the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network (SPAN) in New Jersey, a federally funded Parent Training and Information Center.


There was a time when I couldn’t even say the word out loud. It was too painful, too devastating to utter. I wanted to believe that if I didn’t say the word, it didn’t exist. But it does exist; it’s real, and it’s beautiful, and it’s challenging all at the same time. And whether I say the word or not, my son Chris has autism.

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Helping Youth Meet Their PROMISE

PROMISE: Promoting the Readiness of Minors in Supplemental Security Income

What is PROMISE?

Promoting the Readiness of Minors in Supplemental Security Income (PROMISE) is a five-year research project that advances employment and postsecondary education outcomes for 14–16 year old youth who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI). PROMISE began October 1, 2013 and will continue until September 30, 2018. The program is an interagency collaboration of the U.S. Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Labor, and the Social Security Administration. Under this competitive grant program, state agencies have partnered to develop and implement model demonstration projects (MDPs) that provide coordinated services and supports designed to improve the education and career outcomes of children with disabilities receiving SSI, including services and supports to their families.

2017 represents the fourth year of the projects (the first year was primarily dedicated to recruitment and enrollment). Thanks to the ongoing efforts to support families and youth, we look forward to hearing about bright future outcomes for the thousands of youth and families being served by PROMISE.

Further information is available at the PROMISE TA Center:

PROMISE TA Center logo


PROMISE Success Stories

Model Demonstration Project Success Stories

The PROMISE MDPs were created to facilitate a positive impact on long-term employment and educational outcomes by reducing reliance on SSI, providing better outcomes for adults, and improved service delivery by states for youth and families receiving SSI. The six MDPs are comprised of 11 states:

Under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), projects are coordinating with vocational rehabilitation agencies so that youth are receiving pre-employment transition services, to include paid employment. By April 30, 2016, the MDPs recruited a total of 13,444 youth and their families with half of them receiving intervention services targeted around improving outcomes in employment and postsecondary education.

Personal PROMISE Success Stories

Cody—a Youth with Promise

Wisconsin PROMISE

Cody is excelling as a student at Burlington High School and employee at McDonalds. He plays video games, rides bike, and is learning to drive and weld. His goal is to be a welder after college. Cody was born with a brain tumor and has just one hand, but that’s not stopping him.

He’s a youth with Promise, on a journey to achieve his personal, educational, and career goals.

Watch Cody’s story on YouTube.

Xavi’s Story: Youth with Promise

Wisconsin PROMISE

She’s like most #teenagers… she hangs with her cats, dances with her friends, and loves Criminal Minds. She’s also going to have a lung removed. She’s a youth with Wisconsin Promise, on a journey to achieve her personal, educational, and career goals. Xavi shares her dreams, challenges, and the steps she’s taking with Wisconsin Promise to plan for her future.

Watch Xavi’s story on YouTube.

Dorian Shavis—A Firm Foundation

Arkansas PROMISE

As someone who expressed an interest in architecture, one of the Arkansas PROMISE youth participants expressed his desire to work at an architectural firm. Working with the local workforce board, Arkansas PROMISE staff set up an interview with a local architectural firm and secured an internship that resulted in the PROMISE youth and the firm staff learning from one another.

Watch Dorian’s story on YouTube.

More PROMISE Success Stories

You can find many more PROMISE success stories at:

Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP)

Do you have a child in your classroom or at home who has difficulty understanding educational media because he or she is visually impaired, blind, hard of hearing, deaf, or deaf-blind? A solution is the free-loan collection of described and captioned educational media provided by the Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP) through Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) funding by the U.S. Department of Education.

The DCMP is also the go-to center for information about educational media access, including tips for effective use, research reports which support the need, and how-to guidelines for adding descriptions and captions to media. In addition, DCMP answers teachers’ questions about equal access and helps parents advocate for their children’s educational needs.

The best part is that there is no charge for any DCMP membership, products, or services! That is thanks to IDEA, which has a goal of a free and appropriate education for all children with disabilities. DCMP meshes perfectly with the IDEA pledge to ensure that educators and parents have the necessary tools to improve educational results.

The five key reasons why you should utilize this opportunity are detailed below.

Reason No. 1:
A Collection of On-Demand Accessible Educational Media

High-quality educational media with descriptions and captions is available through the DCMP. Registration is free to qualified members, including teachers, parents and other professionals who work with a student with a vision or hearing loss.

DCMP selects media that supports academic standards and provides enrichment to curriculum for students in pre-school through grade 12. Before any item is added to the DCMP, it is evaluated based on strict standards for technical and content quality.

Over 7,000 media titles can be viewed online or ordered for shipment to you in DVD format. Online media delivery is available via a fully-accessible media player for the web, including the ability to switch between accessibility options (captioning and description) and language options (English and Spanish). A searchable, interactive transcript feature allows for the location of specific content within a video, and supports re-watching key segments for content reinforcement. Additional viewing methods include the DCMP’s channel for the Roku set-top box, and an iOS app which allows students direct access to media. Student-based viewing is supported by a comprehensive permission system, allowing teachers/parents to grant access to subject areas and/or specific titles to groups or individual students.

Reason No. 2:
Provision of the Highest Quality Descriptions and Captions on All Media

Descriptions and captions are accessibility features added to videos (including those on the Internet) to provide equal access for students who are sensory impaired. Descriptions are additional segments of narration that explain or describe images to students who are blind or visually impaired, and they are inserted into pauses in a video’s original soundtrack. Captions are printed transcriptions of the video’s dialog or narration (along with identifying important sound effects and providing speaker identification). Captions provide access to students who are deaf or hard of hearing,

Ensuring the captions and descriptions are of high quality is of paramount importance, as this guarantees that the thousands of students who will view each DCMP media item during its lifetime will benefit from equal access. Captions and descriptions are created based on DCMP guidelines (see Reason No. 4 below), and a rigorous quality check is performed. One of the goals of the review of descriptions is to determine if the vocabulary used matches the grade level of the production. A review of captions verifies they are error free, synchronized with the audio, and displayed with enough time to be read completely.

Reason No. 3:
Information about Educational Media Access

The DCMP also serves as a clearinghouse of information on the subject of description and captioning for service to consumers, agencies, businesses, schools, and families. Offerings include numerous DCMP print and online informational resources as well as referrals to accessibility information from the websites of DCMP consumer advocacy partners and professional groups.

Site visitors can browse or perform a keyword search for DCMP articles and webpages written by DCMP staff members, educators, advocates, and others. Information about the DCMP accessible media loan program, procedures for applying for and using the media collection, updates concerning the availability of newly available media items, research related to production and effectiveness of accessibility features, and tips for effective use of accessible media are available in the DCMP Learning Center.

The DCMP search engine not only reveals results from the DCMP website, but also from the websites of twenty other national consumer, professional, and advocacy groups. Searchers simply click on a link and are led to information on these collaborators’ sites.

Reason No. 4:
One-of-a-Kind Guidelines for Creating Descriptions and Captions

Anyone wanting to create descriptions and captions for media may utilize the DCMP online guidelines which provide a framework for consistency and quality. These technical and style manuals have been used by providers, government agencies, businesses, school technology departments, teachers, parents, students, and others. They are the only such guidelines for educational media available in the United States, and have been adopted in several other countries.

The Description Key guidelines cover a range of topics from identifying what information needs to be described to determining how to describe it. Preparing educational description requires constant decision making with regard to the content and timing. The “key visual elements” of an educational program which are selected for description should be those that serve to convey a specific learning goal.

The Captioning Key includes information on language mechanics, presentation rate, sound effects, speaker identification, synchronization, and special considerations (music, dialect, slang, play on words, etc.). These guidelines have been translated into other languages, received international distribution, and have been utilized in various settings as a basic reference.

Reason No. 5:
Advocacy Regarding Media Access Issues

There are ongoing examples of lack of understanding, apathy, and prejudice that lead to inaccessibility in technology that dramatically impacts students who have sensory disabilities. Education and advocacy are crucial to overcoming these barriers.

As indicated by questions continually fielded at the DCMP, the majority of people are uninformed as to laws and regulations concerning description and captioning, the process of selecting a provider of these services, the steps necessary to perform description/captioning, and the costs of procuring these services. The DCMP is a comprehensive and trusted source for answers to questions about educational description and captioning.

Said Jason Stark, DCMP Project Director: “Equal access and opportunity for children with disabilities is the hallmark of the IDEA. Through the funding provided by the Department of Education under IDEA, the DCMP is able to respond to parents’ and teachers’ desire to provide learning opportunities that are more interactive, self-paced, inclusive, and engaging.”

Watch a video overview of the features of the DCMP media library at

For more information, visit the DCMP online at, or email

Jo Ann McCann
Posted by
OSERS Project Officer—Captioning and Video Description Projects. Member of Children of Deaf Adults (CODA), International, a non-profit organization for adult, hearing sons and daughters of deaf parent(s).

LD/ADHD Proud to Be:
Eye to Eye’s Different Thinkers

Eye to Eye's "Different Thinkers" celebrating LS/ADHD Awareness Month

As the month of October and Learning Disabilities / Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (LD / ADHD) Awareness Month draws to a close, I have been thinking a lot about how our teams here at OSERS are strengthened by people who have different skills, different knowledge, and different approaches to problems. We don’t all think alike which brings strength to our work. I’d like to introduce some amazing students with LD / ADHD who think differently and bring strength to our society.

Recently, David Flink, Founder and Chief Empowerment Officer of Eye to Eye, authored a guest blog on the OSERS blog spot. In his post, David emphasized the importance that awareness plays in breaking stigma and building understanding around diverse learning needs. David frames learning disabilities and LD / ADHD awareness in the following terms, “We like to think, ‘It’s not a learning disability, it’s this ability to think differently.’” In his post, David talked about his own 5th grade reading struggles. Over the years, stories from his teachers and others who had LD and ADHD helped him succeed. He knew youth with learning disabilities needed hope, and they needed strategies for success. They needed mentors.

David founded Eye to Eye as a national mentoring organization run by people with LD / ADHD for people with LD / ADHD. The organization recently launched a National Share-Ability Campaign, which highlights the authentic experiences of students with LD / ADHD. If you’ve been in Times Square lately, you might have seen a giant screen “spectacular” sharing a story. Or maybe you know a student who has had a quiet, personal, one-on-one conversation: many have happened in classrooms and homes across the country.

As part of their Share-Ability Campaign, Eye to Eye asked their college-aged mentors across the country, “What would you like to share about your abilities as a different thinker?” OSERS features those kids’ inspirational answers here—positive messages by self-advocates who wanted to help others by telling their own story.

We welcome you to read their experiences and invite you to share your own.



Chelsea Bennett, Knox CollegeChelsea Bennett, Knox College

As a different thinker, I have been able to learn more about myself. Not only have I learned how to navigate my ADHD and explore how I learn best, I have also been able to learn great things about myself. My ADHD may be a challenge, but it has also taught me to enjoy the quirky, hyper, fun-loving person that I am because that is what makes me unique!

Katy Demko, University of PittsburghKaty Demko, University of Pittsburgh

Some people think my ADHD should hold me back, but I think it pushes me even more! It took me a while to figure out how I learn and it was a lot of trial and error. But I have come to realize that it is not a learning disability—I just learn differently.

Josh Dishman, Radford UniversityJosh Dishman, Radford University

My disabilities actually give me strength to work even harder towards a goal. Growing up, I was labeled as the wild, energetic kid who could never pay attention in class, which led many to believe that I was an idiot. As I grew up, I learned that having ADHD didn’t make me stupid, it just meant I had to work a little harder. I may have not been attentive enough to read a book, but if I listened to the book on audio, I was able to lead the class discussion on the novel.

Chris Gorman, Hobart and William Smith CollegesChris Gorman, Hobart and William Smith Colleges

I think that having ADHD allows me to approach problems differently. While most people would look to reach point D by going from A to B to C and then D, I always bounce around the problem. This lets me approach problems from a different angle and look at something in a totally different light than most people would.

Caroline Lee, Boston CollegeCaroline Lee, Boston College

As a different thinker, I can get lost on the way to class, forget where I put my textbook, and mix up my 10 AM class with my 12 PM class. But I still know that I have a valuable mind that can learn and approach things in interesting and meaningful ways.

Luz Madrigal, UC IrvineLuz Madrigal, UC Irvine

My ADHD brain is like a computer with a lot of different windows open all at once, and they are all functioning at the same time. I am a bit slow at learning new things just because I pay attention to too many details, but once I learn the task at hand, I tend to be above average in speed at that same job that took me longer to learn. I make sure I slowly learn everything, and once I do, WAM…I am extra efficient because I am a great multi-tasker! ADHD is pretty cool if you ask me.

Brianna Malin, University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignBrianna Malin, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

I am a different thinker and I am very proud of it. Living with an LD and ADHD has helped me gain confidence and motivation to succeed in anything I do. I have determination, drive, and dedication to always do my best to reach my goals. This has also helped me to be resilient in the face of any obstacle. I am very grateful to be different and to think different because it makes me, me!

Georgia Mavrogeorgis, SUNY BuffaloGeorgia Mavrogeorgis, SUNY Buffalo

My learning disabilities provide me with the gift of being able to understand and see the world from a different perspective.
I’m more open-minded and accepting of individuals and their differences.

Becca O’Hea, ECUBecca O’Hea, East Carolina University

Having dyslexia has given me immense patience in having to spend extra hours completing reading assignments, and taught me to be a strong listener to compensate for being a slow reader and writer. I make it a point to tell others about my difference and how it has help me in furthering my career as a student and as a future school psychologist.

Brandon Odenheimer, University of DenverBrandon Odenheimer, University of Denver

I have been classified as LD and ADHD since 1st grade. Now I’m in my senior year of college, and I have been able to use my way of learning to succeed in my studies all the way. The ability to share my experiences with others is very rewarding.

Arthi Selvan, Temple UniversityArthi Selvan, Temple University

I’ve struggled a lot with being a different thinker, especially as a science major. To me, being a STEM major means you must be the type A personality: organized, efficient, a linear thinker, competitive. However, my learning difference benefits me. I have the ability to see and approach problems differently than most STEM majors do. I sometimes feel like I have a secret super power because of my ability to think differently.

Sam Solomon, University of WyomingSam Solomon, University of Wyoming

Nobody ever told me bluntly, that I was doing it “wrong.” But after a lifetime of little corrections and criticisms about how you think and live, you start to hear it. It takes a lot of courage, a lot of self-love to truthfully tell yourself that your habits and flaws and quirks are wonderful. It isn’t about fixing yourself. You have to form an alliance with your learning style.


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Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

A Look at the Past and a Vision of the Future—IDEA at 40

Guest Author: Jim StovallCo-Founder and President, Narrative Television Network 

As we celebrate and contemplate the impact of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) over the last 40 years, we must consider not only where we are but where we’ve been and, more importantly, where we’re going. The technological breakthroughs and marvels that we experience here in the 21st Century have changed our world and changed the way we all live. Among the innovations that would most shock and bewilder our ancestors would be the proliferation of visual images that we experience. A few generations ago, a black-and-white snapshot was a prized and treasured family possession. Today, we routinely carry with us smart phones and other devices that put digital photography and videos at our fingertips.

At its best, technology is the wondrous tide that lifts all boats, but at its worst, it can create an ever-widening gulf between the mainstream population and those individuals dealing with disabilities. If a picture is, indeed, worth a thousand words, a video is certainly worth a million words. The following brief example will allow you to experience the opening of a movie just as a blind person does, but it won’t leave you in the dark as then you will see a second sample video that will provide the solution that is being experienced by millions of people around the world.

Nowhere is the need for this life-changing accessibility greater than in the classroom. Description is simply the process of making the visual world verbal. When done well, it is the key to unlocking the door to educational opportunities for countless blind and visually-impaired students across the country.

The U.S. Department of Education, through description grant projects, has linked the creators of the best educational videos available anywhere with production organizations that create description and made it possible for this dynamic partnership to impact visually-impaired students.

As the founder and president of a company dedicated for over a quarter of a century to creating accessible educational programming, I am obviously committed to description, but my true dedication stems from the fact that I’m a blind person myself. I’ve experienced the educational process as a fully-sighted person through my elementary years, as a visually-impaired/partially-sighted person during my middle and high school years, and as a totally-blind person through much of my college experience. It remains almost impossible for me to fully describe to sighted people the impact of description.

In a survey conducted in conjunction with the American Council of the Blind, it was revealed that fully 99% of the blind and visually impaired individuals supported description and wanted more of it. I realize it’s almost impossible to imagine 99% of any group agreeing on anything, but if you will consider what the response might be to a survey of fully-sighted people if they were asked whether they were in favor of having the availability of television, movies, and streamed video programming, you can begin to understand what description means to the visually-impaired population in the educational process and in the world beyond.

In a study conducted in cooperation with National Geographic Television involving visually-impaired students, their parents, and teachers, it was revealed that the comprehension for blind and visually-impaired students approximately doubled when the educational programming had description. In an educational landscape where dedicated professionals struggle to get a one or two percent improvement, these results are overwhelming.

The impact of description extends beyond accessibility for visually-impaired students and includes students with learning disabilities, those learning English as a second language, and the general school population. An elementary teacher, Gail Patterson, whose class participated in the National Geographic study, may have put it best when she said, “The students and I were very excited about viewing the documentaries with description. Truthfully, I think added description would be helpful to not only visually impaired students but to other students as well.” But as is often the case, if you want to know what’s best for students or most compelling to them, you need to simply ask the kids. Brian, a visually-impaired middle school student, said, “I think described movies are a miracle for kids who can’t see the television screen!”

Hanna, a visually-impaired high school student, said, “I am blind, so it is a real benefit to have description. I wish that audio description was as popular as captioning.” P. Killius, an accessibility advocate in New York, said, “My friend is writing for me. I am blind. I am employed teaching self-advocacy to the physically challenged. Never in my career have I been so pleased about anything as I am about Narrative Television Network. Your dialogue allows the unsighted to really understand every little nuance that until now could only be enjoyed by those with sight. A whole new world has been opened to us.”

As an author myself, I have felt the satisfaction of having six of the novels I have dictated produced as major motion pictures and enjoyed by millions of people around the world. This feeling of satisfaction pales in comparison to the experience of turning existing movies, television shows, educational programming, and other visual media into accessible described programming in which the narrated words we insert come to life in the theatre of the mind within blind and visually-impaired people.

Through grant funding from the U.S. Department of Education, we are not only able to give blind and visually-impaired students access to visual material, but it gives them access to a real education and, therefore, the whole world.

Jim Stovall, Co-Founder and President, Narrative Television Network
Posted by
Co-Founder and President, Narrative Television Network

Better Hearing & Speech Month 2015:
Early Intervention Counts

2015 May is Better Hearing & Speech Month: Early Intervention Counts

Each May, The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) highlights Better Hearing & Speech Month (BHSM) to raise awareness about communication disorders. The 2015 theme is “Early Intervention Counts.” The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) supports states in providing early intervention services for infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families (Part C) and special education and related services for preschool children with disabilities (Part B, Section 619). Results of a recent survey of ASHA’s membership revealed that 45% of expert respondents reported a lack of awareness as the number one barrier to early detection of communication disorders. Research has shown that early detection is critical to addressing communication disorders. Delayed intervention can result in delayed development, as well as poor academic or career performance.

The importance of human communication—talking, reading, listening and interacting—is paramount to children’s overall development, including their academic and social success. The importance of human interaction is all the more true in this age of technology, in which “smart” devices occupy an ever-increasing amount of time, attention and prominence in the lives of infants to teens. For more information and resources about early detection of communication disorders, visit ASHA’s Web site ( and its Identify the Signs campaign (, which includes some interesting articles below:

Download the 2015 Better Hearing & Speech Month poster:

Download the 2015 Better Hearing & Speech Month poster


The ASHA materials contained herein are not an endorsement by the U.S. Department of Education and herein do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the United States Department of Education.

OSERS Avatar -- OSERS: Inclusion, Equity and Opportunity
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Dawn Ellis is an Education Program Specialist in the Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education.

IDEA Changes Lives — Look Who’s Going to College!

Think College! College Options for People with Intellectual Disabilities.

Students who receive special education services, including those with cognitive and intellectual disabilities, are attending college in record numbers, an achievement that few people would have thought possible before the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1975. As we approach the 40th anniversary of IDEA, we can reflect not only on the impact that it has had on individual lives but the benefits to society that come from having a workforce of students who are college and career ready. IDEA provides supports to students who now attend elementary through high school with their siblings and same age peers with the expectation that they will continue to do so in post-secondary settings. Four-year colleges, community colleges, and career and technical education centers have risen to the challenge by providing supports and accommodations so that students can not only attend, but thrive in post-secondary settings. Learn what attending college means to these students and watch the four minute trailer, below, for Think College’s full 27-minute movie, Rethinking College.

For more information about college and post-secondary opportunities for students with disabilities visit The Association on Higher Education and Disability and Think College.

OSERS Avatar -- OSERS: Inclusion, Equity and Opportunity
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Marsha Goldberg is an Education Program Specialist in the Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education.

Results Driven Accountability: IDEA Part C Results Data in Determinations

OSEP is committed to implementing a results-driven accountability framework that leads to increased state and local capacity to improve results and functional outcomes for children with disabilities. As part of this effort, OSEP asked the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center (ECTA ( to provide input on Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Part C results measures that could be used to review states’ performance results of their infants and toddlers with disabilities who receive early intervention services. An explanation of ECTA’s recommendations is contained in a presentation entitled Using Child Outcomes Data for Determinations, A Proposal. In addition, a more detailed account of the proposed approach is contained in ECTA’s report entitled Documentation of the Recommended Analysis for Using Child Outcomes Data for IDEA Part C Determinations.


Comment period now closed.

We would like your feedback on the proposed approach. What are the pros and cons of the proposed approach?  Are there other data sources that should be considered as we move forward in including results data in the Part C determinations process? Please include any additional information related to the use of results data in Part C determinations. Submit comments below by Friday, December 12, 2014. Submitting comments is voluntary and subject to ED blog comment policies.

RDA Home Page

Also, please also visit the RDA Home page for all the latest information and resources.

Posted by
Information Technology Specialist, U.S. Department of Education