No Limits Academy:
Takes Technology Approach To Educating Students With Disabilities

Some businesses are created out of opportunity. Others are created out of desire or mission. 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 wheel chair. 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.

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.

And therein lies the challenge. Inclusion gives the appearance of equal opportunity in the same classroom, but presents very specific challenges to success. 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.

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.

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.

Students in more advanced cognitive levels can study more typical curricula while learning how to adapt to specific physical constraints. 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.