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August 10, 2005
CONTACT: Ron Podell

EMU special education majors help students with cognitive impairments/disabilities transition to independence

YPSILANTI - Ordering lunch, making change at a local convenience store, using public transportation or even crossing the street are ordinary, everyday tasks for most people. But for some, these seemingly mundane functions are often a challenge.

Eastern Michigan University students in John Palladino's "Secondary Special Education and Transitions" course spent part of their summer helping young adult students with cognitive impairments/disabilities in the Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD) succeed at such tasks and help them transition into adulthood and independent living.

"The most important thing I learned is that you have to allow the student to guide the process of transition," said Dean Kowalski, a student in Palladino's class. " You cannot force him to do something that he does not want to do. When you expect the student to say or do something, and that student surprises you with something different, you have to go with that and alter your plan."

Kowalski's comments related to his work with Zack, a 20-year-old autistic student. Zack enjoys walking outdoors, but, for his own safety, had to learn to obey stop signs before crossing the street, Kowalski said.

However, that task proved difficult because Zack did not respond to the females in Kowalski's student group, said Palladino, an EMU assistant professor of special education. So, rather than have the whole group walk across the street with Zack, the group changed its strategy.

"The (male) students walking with him had to stand close by him, so they couldn't reflect on what they were doing," Palladino said. "So, we had the female students observe and document, which provided feedback to the whole group."

John Rose, a teacher for transition services in the WISD, met Palladino at a convention at the end of this past school year. The two began discussing their individual programs and came up with the idea of having EMU's students help WISD's special education students work on real world skills during the summer.

"Our students show the skills they have, how they get from point A to point B," Rose said. "Their (EMU's) students see what our students do well, what we can work on and provide teachable moments. The college students relayed lesson plans to help our students transition into adulthood."

"My students get frustrated with coursework. They don't have a visual concept. They don't have that personal experience," Palladino explained. "By putting them into this setting, it gets them experience with these students. And the experiences they're learning aren't always what they're learning in the classroom. Sometimes, you have to negotiate the process."

Palladino's students, who worked with the WISD students each Wednesday this summer, culminated their work by scheduling outings with their students July 27.  

One WISD student, Jeremy, acted as a deejay at Washtenaw Community College's radio station, picking out the records and doing the voiceovers and introductions for the show, which is broadcast over the college's Web site.

Jeremy has Louis Bar Syndrome and uses a wheelchair.

"He has been going over to WCC for some time now and doing his shows," said Corinne Mack, an EMU student who is a visually impaired elementary education major, who worked with Jeremy. "He did a great job of picking out songs that are in the top 40 right now."

"I never thought that I would consider working in secondary education, but I really enjoyed planning the transition field trips and assignments," Mack said. "The eye opener for me was that not all students with disabilities will have the same goals and, sometimes, the goal is quality of life."

Palladino agreed.  

"When you teach with this population, success with a student looks different than at other grade levels," he said.

Eastern Michigan University is a public, comprehensive university that offers programs in the arts, sciences and professions. EMU prepares students with the intellectual skills and practical experiences to succeed in their careers and lives, and to be better citizens.


Eastern Michigan University is a public, comprehensive university that offers programs in the arts, sciences and professions. EMU prepares students with the intellectual skills and practical experiences to succeed in their career and lives, and to be better citizens.

Editor's Note: Looking for an expert source for a story? Check out EMU's Eastern Experts online at www.emich.edu/univcomm/easternexperts.

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