Academy Takes Technology Approach to Educating Students With Handicaps
Some businesses are created out of opportunity. Others are created out of desire or mission. Some institutions are created out of need or an overarching vision that won’t fade from the mind of the founder.
No Limits Academy in Melbourne was created out of sheer will and an unrelenting belief that things needed to be done a different way.
Laura Joslin is the source of that sheer will. When her oldest son, Cheyne, was an infant, she was told by a leading neurologist in the area that there was no hope for any meaningful development into a normal life for him. He had Cerebral Palsy and would never walk, the doctor said. He’d never speak or communicate with any clarity or meaning. He’d never get out of a wheelchair. Laura was told to just love him as much as she could and that was the best she could hope for.
Just a few weeks ago, Cheyne Joslin, the other force of sheer will behind No Limits Academy, walked the stage to accept his master’s degree in philosophy and bioethics from the University of Sussex in England. Clearly, his doctor was mistaken.
Laura’s experience with Cheyne was the inspiration for No Limits Academy, the not-for-profit, educational arm of Ability Plus Therapy, a center dedicated to serving an underserved and sometimes unserved population of young people with complex disabilities.
Laura literally traveled the world after Cheyne’s diagnosis in search of the best, most effective methods of physical therapy, educational therapy, cognitive stimulation and more. Her personal mission was to give Cheyne a chance to develop as much and as normally as he could to achieve his best possible life, but also to create a place where other children and young people with these complex issues could do the same.
The prevailing concept in mainstream education for children with disabilities is “inclusion,” or including them in the standard curriculum to expose them socially to children their same age.
The Challenges of Inclusion
“They believe the social portion of a child with a disability on their grade level is more important than actually educating them,” Laura says. “So inclusion would be putting a 13-year-old in with other 13-year-olds on a regular track education, yet trying to lower those expectations for a child with a disability in a class of 30.”
And therein lies the challenge. Inclusion gives the appearance of equal opportunity in the same classroom, but presents very specific challenges to success.
Instead of warehousing these students, Cheyne says, schools like No Limits are providing specialized education and care enabling them to advance to higher cognitive and communicative levels than they could have otherwise achieved.
At the core of the No Limits mission is that traditional mainstreaming, or what’s known in educational circles as “inclusion,” is not the right approach for most of these children nor most mainstream public and even private schools.
Teachers in these “inclusive” environments, no matter how well-intentioned or well trained, Cheyne says, have no hope of being able to concentrate on all the “normal” students and tend to the specific, special needs of the disabled students at the same time.
“The social model of disability emphasized the need for disabled students to become social with their peers,” Cheyne said. “But society isn’t adapted to these people yet.”
Communication is Key
Rather than advancing disabled children to a grade level based mainly on age, as they do in the mainstream school system, the No Limits concept is to enable these children to advance based on developmental psychologist Piaget’s cognitive levels. The challenge comes in assessing these levels as one student may be at a very high cognitive level, but be unable to communicate it due to physical limitations.
Laura Joslin is the founder and leader of a dedicated staff who combines scientific discovery, technology and a list of time-tested therapies to help children advance into new cognitive levels they and often their parents never thought possible.
The school utilizes a scientific, technological approach that enables these kids to explore their world and communicate using devices like iPads and SmartScreen technology. Among those students in the lower cognitive levels, where they previously may not have been able to physically explore and communicate things most children learn as infants, the technology allows them to explore the colors of the rainbow, for example. They can identify and point to “blue” or “blonde” or begin to recognize letters and numbers and do the simple math exercises parents of able bodied children take for granted.
Advancement Through Technology
Combined with the necessary physical therapies, these children’s brains begin to build the neural pathways required to communicate and be understood in the way our contemporary world is constructed.
Students in more advanced cognitive levels can study more typical curricula while learning how to adapt to specific physical constraints. Speech software helps these students “write” their assignments and papers. Computer hardware and software solutions enable them to complete required assignments in a way they would not be able to without it.
In fact, some students discover additional layers of their issues while progressing through cognitive and physical challenges. Cheyne’s brother, Matthew, for example, discovered that while he is an excellent and inspirational speaker, he had difficulty sometimes with written concepts. They discovered that his dysgraphia likely stemmed from difficulty with fine motor skills. This issue is one that would likely never have been identified had Matthew not been working through the No Limits program. Despite being confined to a wheelchair with quadriplegic spastic cerebral palsy, he is currently working through his college application strategy.
Students in No Limits can attend the school through their 22nd birthday, compared to a typical high school education that ends at age 17 or 18. Students advance at their own pace into the highest cognitive levels they can achieve.
No Limits Academy / Ability Plus
4450 W Eau Gallie Blvd #180 | Melbourne
(321) 255-6645 | NoLimitsAcademy.com