Educating Children With Multiple Disabilities: A Collaborative Approach (4th ed.), by Fred P. Orelove, Dick Sobsey, and Roseanne K. Silbberman. Baltimore: Brookes, 2004.
As the editors of this volume note, “What a difference 17 years makes!” (p. xv). When the first edition of this book was published, students with disabilities were rarely included in regular classrooms. Yet the first edition of this book ignited some fairly profound thinking in the field. The authors and editors of the first edition dared to suggest that students with significant and multiple disabilities receive a quality education from a teaching force that was well-prepared. I remember reading the first edition and thinking through the various supports that needed to be in place—communication systems, behavioral supports, and self-care instruction, for example. At that time, I worked in a residential institution for people with disabilities and had not really considered alternatives to this “living and learning” environment.
Of course, the world has changed in dramatic ways since the first edition was published. Students with significant disabilities have paved the way for all students who challenge the system in order to be educated in respectful, inclusive ways. I am pleased to report that this book has kept pace and will, once again, push our thinking about the service delivery system for children and youth with multiple disabilities.
The authors and editors of this volume set out to describe the “broad sense of the characteristics and needs of learners with severe and multiple disabilities and their families” (p. xvii) and begin the book with a discussion of the ways in which we can design collaborative educational services. This focus, from the very first chapter, is evident throughout the book. Entire chapters are devoted to addressing the characteristics and need, including attention to sensorimotor development, physical management, health care needs, communication, mealtimes, and self-care.
This book, however, is so much more than a summary of the supports that students with multiple disabilities need to be successful. These chapters come alive with case examples and practical solutions. For example, in the chapter on communication skills, Downing describes the components of communication and discusses the need to attend to the form, function, content, and social components of language. In doing so, readers meet Natasha and explore how these components impact her life. The chapter continues with attention to assessing communication and developing communication interventions. The chapter provides a host of ideas for families and teachers to use in helping children and youth make their needs, wants, and desires known.
In addition to these chapters, the editors have included chapters on participation in alternative assessments, curriculum adaptations, and family support. I can not imagine that there is a person in our field who has not been touched in some way by the No Child Left Behind Act. Most of us are worried about the participation of students with disabilities in state-wide assessments, especially when increasing numbers of schools are labeled as “failing” because of the population of students with disabilities. Two of the chapters in this book provide expert guidance on this topic.
In their chapter on alternative assessments, Kleinert and Farmer Kearns provide a thoughtful discussion of the importance of participation in assessments. They also describe ways in which students with significant and multiple disabilities can, and do, participate in these types of assessments. Through case studies, readers get to know specific students and how they each participated in assessments systems that respected their strengths yet provided them with an opportunity to demonstrate learning. We have a lot to learn in the area of alternative assessments, and Kleinert and Farmer Kearns are leaders from whom we can discover what works.
Similarly, in the chapter entitled “Developing Adaptations to Promote Participation in Inclusive Environments,” Udvari-Solner, Causton-Theoharis, and York-Barr provide insight into the ways that students with significant and multiple disabilities can access core curriculum. These authors artfully describe a process for developing individualized adaptations, and their chapter is chock full of examples. I especially appreciated the list of questions that can be used to determine the reasons that performance discrepancies may exist. Not only are we taught the right questions to ask, but this book provides the answers.
A common criticism of edited books is the changing voice between the chapters and the potential for redundancy among chapters. This is not the case for this book. The editors have skillfully organized the chapters such that topics are introduced and reinforced but are not redundant. In addition, the editors successfully ensured that there is a common voice across the book, which also has is a golden thread that ties it together. This golden thread is introduced in the very first sentence in the book, “Putting the student with severe and/or multiple disabilities at the core of all planning is key to truly making a difference in that student's life” (Cloninger, p. 1) and is a major feature of every chapter in the book. I was pleased to see that the fourth edition of this classic was published and thrilled to learn about the contribution it makes to educating students with significant disabilities in regular classrooms and schools.