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Nurturing Dreams: A Journey of Teaching Functional Skills, Promoting Advocacy, and a Story of Triumph

Greetings, fellow advocates for inclusive education! 

Today, I am delighted to share a heartwarming story that embodies the essence of our collective mission to empower students with diverse abilities. Join me in celebrating the remarkable journey of Leigh Laird, a dedicated mother whose unwavering commitment to her son, Michael, sheds a light on the transformative power of functional life skills and thoughtful post-secondary planning.

The Foundation: Early Years and Collaborative IEPs 🌱🤝

Leigh Laird’s story begins in the heart of a special education classroom, where her son, Michael, embarked on a journey that would shape his future. Collaborating closely with dedicated educators, including myself and another cherished colleague, we crafted Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) that focused not only on academic growth but also on foundational life skills. Michael’s IEP became a roadmap, guiding him towards independence and success beyond the classroom.

A Symphony of Collaboration and Positivity 👨‍👩‍👦‍👦

Leigh and her husband demonstrated an extraordinary partnership in Michael’s educational journey. Every interaction was infused with positivity and a shared commitment to finding effective solutions. The focus was clear: equip Michael with the skills he needed for life beyond high school. We delved into crucial areas such as time management, communication strategies, and fostering social connections. Michael’s quiet demeanor and the challenges posed by autism made developing functional skills, including reading, math, and writing, especially significant.

From Classroom to College: The RISE Program at Judson University 🎓🌟

It was never a surprise to me to run into Michael’s parents at Post-School Transition Resource Fairs in our community, and as the years unfolded, Leigh and her husband continued their unwavering support for Michael’s dreams. Today, Michael stands on the threshold of a remarkable opportunity. Thanks to the collaborative efforts and strategic planning, he has been accepted into Judson University’s RISE program. This initiative provides tailored support for college students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, opening doors to a future brimming with possibilities.

The Crucial Role of Functional Life Skills 🧩📚

Leigh Laird’s story underscores the paramount importance of building functional life skills from the early years through high school. Beyond academic prowess, cultivating skills in self-advocacy and self-determination is pivotal. The ability to navigate the complexities of life, communicate effectively, and forge meaningful connections is at the core of inclusive education.

Empowering Resources: ThinkCollege and Specially Designed Education Services (SDES) 🌐💡

In navigating the terrain of post-secondary planning, resources like ThinkCollege play a pivotal role. ThinkCollege provides invaluable insights, tools, and support for individuals with intellectual disabilities seeking higher education opportunities. Additionally, sites like SDES, with its Functional Academics curriculum, offer comprehensive resources to educators, ensuring students receive the tailored support they need to thrive.

A Call to Action: Nurturing Dreams Through Inclusive Education 🌈💪

Leigh Laird’s journey with Michael serves as an inspiration for us all. It highlights the profound impact of collaborative IEPs, the importance of developing functional life skills, and the transformative possibilities that post-secondary planning can unlock. As advocates for inclusive education, let’s continue championing the cause, fostering environments where every student, regardless of ability, can dream, grow, and triumph.

In the spirit of Leigh and Michael’s journey, let’s build a future where every student’s potential is recognized, nurtured, and celebrated. 🚀🏫

Championing Futures Together, 

Barbara Beck

Creative Content Director, SDES

©2023 Specially Designed Education Services

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SDES has teamed up with Mundo Pato, Inc., our cloud publishing partner, to create a simple and affordable solution for special educators to use during this critical time.

The Virtual Teaching Materials are a separate supplemental purchase that will greatly enhance the Styer-Fitzgerald Program for Functional Academics ​or can be used on its own.

Virtual Teaching Materials Pricing 1st year: $1000 non-recurring configuration fee plus 12 x monthly charge.

Per Month
Per Year*


































Monthly subscription charge is based on a minimum of 100 students ​and increases by $125 per group of 25 additional students.

Scheduling Tip

Find a student in your classroom who can read and understand your master schedule. Assign them a job in the morning to help set up individual student schedules. See the video of Megan setting up the schedule.
Play Video
Suzanne’s student Megan was her Teacher’s Assistant first period during her junior and senior year. One of her jobs, among other clerical tasks, was to set up individual student schedules. It saved Suzanne prep time in the morning and was a great vocational experience for Megan.

SDES has teamed up with Mundo Pato, Inc., our cloud publishing partner, to create the full Styer-Fitzgerald Program for Functional Academics in the cloud. *The Styer-Fitzgerald Program in the Cloud Start-Up Fee: a $6000 non-recurring start-up fee will be added to the first year subscription only.

Cloud Pricing

Per Month
Per Year*
Monthly subscription charge is based on a minimum of 100 students ​and increases by $125 per group of 25 additional students.