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Think Inclusive

BONUS: A Quick Message from Tim

Season 11

Tim Villegas reflects on the year 2023 and discusses what has gone well and what can be improved upon in the coming year. Tim shares his accomplishments, including finishing "Inclusion Stories" and being part of the Inclusion Today group. He expresses a desire to hear more from listeners and invites them to suggest topics for future episodes. Tim expresses gratitude for the support and feedback from listeners. The episode ends with holiday wishes and a happy New Year's greeting.


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  • 27. The Participation Specialists: How Occupational Therapists Can Facilitate Inclusive Education

    About the Guest(s): Savitha Sundar, an Occupational Therpaist and Ph.D. candidate, specializes in inclusive practices for students with Extensive Support Needs. With over 15 years in public schools, she’s a champion for inclusive education, leveraging her OT expertise to foster access and participation. At Texas Woman’s University, she mentors future OTs and teaches as an adjunct faculty member. Savitha also serves as the Partnerships Officer at Changing Perspectives, promoting social-emotional learning. She also hosts the podcast “Inclusive Occupations,” inspiring the creation of inclusive communities for children and youth with disabilities.Episode Summary: In this episode of Think Inclusive, Savitha and Tim discuss the nuances of including students with extensive support needs in general education. Savitha unpacks her transition from a traditional understanding of educational practices to pioneering inclusive education methodologies. Her commitment to nurturing social contexts that facilitate the engagement and growth of children with disabilities shines through as she retells experiences that reshaped her professional trajectory. Leveraging her background as an occupational therapist, Savitha passionately argues for a system-wide approach, where therapists go beyond addressing motor skills to facilitate comprehensive participation and inclusion within educational settings—making her a vital voice in the call for an educational paradigm shift. Transcript: Takeaways:Occupational therapy can play a significant role in inclusive education, especially when focusing on social contexts.True social inclusion cannot be separated from academic inclusion, as interpersonal relationships entail community participation within an educational environment.Participation specialists, a role occupational therapists can embody, actively work against exclusion and for authentic inclusion in education.Utilizing occupational therapists as supplementary services in schools can open pathways for more effective universal design learning and inclusive practices.Hands-on examples demonstrate the potential impact of occupational therapy beyond traditional applications, enhancing engagement for students with extensive support needs in general education.Resources:Inclusive Occupations: Ways Your School Might Be Doing Inclusion Wrong: you to our sponsor for this episode, the Autism Society:
  • 26. Embracing Radical Acceptance: A Journey of Inclusion and Understanding with Dr. Leah Kelley

    About the Guest(s): Dr. Leah M. Kelley is a storyteller, writer, activist, teacher educator, education consultant, and parent who identifies as neurodivergent and otherwise disabled. She was a K-12 public school teacher for over 25 years and has extensive experience supporting inclusion. Her newly published book, “The Person Who Arrives: Connecting Disability Studies to Educational Practice for Teachers, Parents, and Others,” evolved from her doctoral research, which she completed at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. She is currently working as an adjunct professor in the faculty of education - teacher education program at UBC (University of British Columbia) and guest lecturing colleges and other programs and organizations such as CASE (The Canadian Association for Supported Employment). Dr. Kelley’s work focuses on connecting disability studies in education (DSE) to educational practice, strength-based perspectives for supporting neurodiversity, addressing ableism, inclusive practices and pedagogy, and cultivating advocacy. Episode Summary: In this episode of the Think Inclusive podcast, Leah Kelley joins Tim Villegas for a profound discussion on the intersections of storytelling, education, and disability advocacy. Right from the onset, the conversation delves into Leah's unique approach to writing and her pursuit of inclusivity through narratives. The dialogue transitions into exploring the importance of whose story is being told when discussing disability and how storytelling serves as a potent tool for learning and connection.The episode further delves into Leah’s recently published book, which embodies her dedication to inclusion, her disruptive approach to traditional academic formatting, and her belief in the power of bringing diverse voices to the forefront. Touching on topics ranging from relationships being central to learning to questioning stereotypical notions of disability, Leah challenges conventional thought with her ideas of radical acceptance and the continuous process of arrival in educational and personal contexts.Transcript: Takeaways:Storytelling as an Invitational Tool: Leah emphasizes the power of storytelling in altering perspectives and engaging with complex ideas.Whose Story Is It Anyway: The conversation highlights the critical analysis of whose stories are being told, especially in the context of disability.Radical Acceptance and Arrival: Leah explains how radical acceptance of individuals and the concept of continuous arrival are intertwined in educational environments.Disability as Normal: The episode addresses the stigma and language surrounding disability, advocating for acceptance and understanding of disability as a natural human variation.Relational Approach to Education: The exchange reaffirms that nurturing relationships are at the core of inclusion, learning, and advocacy.Resources:Leah Kelley's Book: Group - Parenting Autistic Children with Love and Acceptance: Days of Autism: to our sponsor, the Autism Society:
  • 25. A Conversation with Sharon Draper on her 'Out of My Mind' Book Series

    About the Guest(s): Sharon M. Draper is an accomplished author and educator, widely recognized for her contribution to young adult literature. Her career as an English teacher spanned over 30 years, engaging with students from sixth to twelfth grade. Draper's literary portfolio includes books that address diverse and compelling topics, with "Out of My Mind" being among her most notable works. She's won awards, including the prestigious Margaret A. Edwards Award for her significant and lasting contribution to writing for teens. With her lifelong devotion to creating profound connections with young readers through her writing, she has touched numerous lives and inspired countless individuals.Episode Summary: In this episode of the Think Inclusive podcast, we are joined by Sharon Draper, an exceptional voice in middle-grade literature whose books have captivated readers around the globe. Draper takes us behind the scenes of her creative process during the conversation, sharing the inspirations and challenges that shape her memorable characters and their stories. The episode begins with a deep dive into Draper's most beloved character, Melody, from the "Out of My Mind" series. The audience is given a unique window into Melody's world, exploring self-acceptance, belonging, and disability representation. Draper outlines her meticulous approach to research, emphasizing the importance of authenticity in crafting a character like Melody, who has cerebral palsy and navigates a myriad of personal and social challenges.We hear about Melody's growth and journey as she searches for acceptance both within herself and in the society around her. The conversation touches on Melody's experiences in summer camp in "Out of My Heart," her friendships, and her quest for inclusion. The episode concludes with an exciting teaser about the upcoming third book in the series, where Melody's adventures will take her out of the country, and Draper's personal stance on the critical issue of book banning.Transcript: Takeaways:Sharon Draper's long teaching career and journey into writing began with a challenge from a student and led to the publishing of numerous impactful books for young readers.Draper emphasizes the importance of realistic character development, particularly when addressing disabilities in literature.In "Out of My Heart," Melody's character faces new challenges and experiences, such as summer camp, fostering themes of friendship and acceptance.There's an exciting anticipation for the third book in the "Out of My Mind" series, where Melody will continue to break barriers and undertake new adventures.Draper strongly opposes the current trend of book banning and advocates for the freedom to read and access to diverse literature.Sharon M Draper:
  • 24. The Barefoot Autism Challenge: Exploring Neurodiversity Through Running Barefoot

    About the Guest(s): Ken Posner is a passionate advocate for the therapeutic benefits of natural stimulation and mindfulness, particularly through the practice of going barefoot as part of the "Barefoot Autism Challenge." Although not a professional runner, Ken's fervor for barefoot running, stemming from the energy and joy it offers, has led him to adopt it as a lifestyle choice. With an awareness of neurodiversity and its intersections with physical activities, he champions the experience of going barefoot for both neurotypical and neurodiverse individuals, emphasizing the grounding and process-enhancing aspects it offers.Episode Summary: Ken Posner delves into the fascinating world of barefoot living and its unique connection to the autistic community. Ken shares the origins and experiences of the Barefoot Autism Challenge, a movement initiated by Tyler Leach that endeavors to provide sensory stimulation and support for individuals with autism.Discover how Ken's own journey into barefoot hiking and running led him to a deeper understanding of natural stimulation and its effect on processing environmental cues, a phenomenon highly valued among many within the neurodiverse population. The episode illustrates the diverse reactions people have towards going barefoot, ranging from intrigue to disconnect, and highlights the importance of breaking away from conformist behaviors and embracing individuality.Listeners will also be inspired by Ken's running experiences and his comparisons between the discipline of long-distance running and the progression towards more inclusive educational environments. Running is not just an individual sport for Ken, but a powerful metaphor for continuous improvement and the mindfulness required to tackle complex societal issues one step at a time.Transcript: Takeaways:The Barefoot Autism Challenge is a movement that encourages natural stimulation and grounding for autistic individuals, who may process sensations differently from neurotypical people.Responses to going barefoot vary widely, shedding light on societal norms and the value of accepting non-conformist practices.Neurodivergence can offer unique perspectives that benefit society by challenging the status quo and reintroducing lost natural practices like going barefoot.The full mind-body engagement offered by running and being barefoot is a critical aspect of self-management, mindfulness, and achieving a sense of personal accomplishment.Running can serve as an allegory for tackling educational and organizational challenges, emphasizing the importance of taking things one step at a time and embracing the journey toward inclusivity.Resources:Barefoot Autism Challenge: Posner:
  • 23. Breaking the Curve: How Standards-Based Grading is Transforming Education

    About the Guest(s): Thomas R. Guskey, PhD, is Professor Emeritus in the College of Education, University of Kentucky. A University of Chicago graduate and former middle school teacher, he served as an administrator in Chicago Public Schools and was the first Director of the Center for the Improvement of Teaching and Learning, a national educational research center. He is author/editor of twenty-eight books and over three hundred published articles and book chapters. His most recent books include Engaging Parents and Families in Grading Reforms, Implementing Mastery Learning, and Instructional Feedback.Episode Summary: In this insightful episode, Dr. Thomas Guskey delves into the complexities of traditional grading systems and explores the potential of standards-based grading to revolutionize how learners are evaluated. The episode kicks off with Dr. Guskey discussing the gaps between grading knowledge and practices and how the reliance on traditional models has impacted education.The heart of the conversation centers on how existing grading practices, like grading on a curve, do not accurately reflect student learning. Dr. Guskey clarifies this with historical context and emphasizes the need for grading to be based on what students actually learn. He also critiques the reliance on percentage-based grading systems, urging for a shift towards standards-based evaluations that highlight the actual competencies of students across various subjects.Key points discussed include the prerequisites for implementing standards-based grading, the meaning and applications of grade adaptations for exceptional learners, and the necessity for transparency in learning goals. Dr. Guskey also underscores the importance of separating academic achievement from behaviors like class participation and homework completion to provide a clearer picture of student learning.Transcript: Takeaways:Traditional grading systems are often misaligned with the body of research available on effective grading practices.Innovative solutions like standards-based grading can offer transparency and clarity around student competencies.Moving away from grading on a curve can reduce competitiveness while emphasizing true learning outcomes.Clearly defined learning goals and transparent practices can diminish test anxiety and guessing games in assessments.Accommodations and modifications in grading should be tailored to the individual needs of exceptional learners without stigma or value judgments.Resources:Website: to Brookes Publishing for being a sponsor this season: (Win a free book:
  • *FEED DROP* Learn with Dr. Emily

    Hi Friends. Tim Villegas here from the Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Education. This week, we have a feed drop from a fantastic podcast, Learn with Dr. Emily. Dr. Emily King is a child psychologist and former school psychologist specializing in raising and teaching children and teens diagnosed with autism, ADHD, anxiety, learning disabilities, and/or giftedness. Each week, she shares her thoughts on a topic related to psychology, parenting, education, or parent-teacher collaboration. The episode I’m going to share with you today features Dr. Tina Payne Bryson discussing the concept of attachment and its significance in child development, emphasizing the role of parents in providing secure attachment, regulating children's emotional and physiological states, approaching discipline as a teaching process, supporting neurodivergent children, and trusting the non-linear developmental process. While this information was directed toward parents, educators can learn a lot from this conversation. Transcript: with Dr. Emily: episode is sponsored by Bookshare:
  • 22. Beth Leipholtz: Advocate for Inclusion and Accessibility

    About the Guest(s): Beth Leipholtz is a multifaceted professional and mother, known for her transparent sharing of personal life experiences on social media. She is the author of the children's book, "The ABCs of Inclusion," and previously penned "Hello, Holland," aimed at parents navigating their children's hearing loss. Beth's journey through motherhood, managing her son's deafness, cochlear implants, and use of sign language, forms the crux of her advocacy for inclusion and accessibility. With a significant following on social media platforms, including a presence on TikTok, Beth leverages her story to make lesser-known conditions more familiar to the general public. She is also a website designer, owns a photography business, and is a voice for sobriety, having been alcohol-free for a decade.Episode Summary: In this heartening episode of the Think Inclusive podcast, Tim Villegas welcomes guest Beth Leipholtz to a dialogue that navigates the intertwining paths of personal narrative, maternal advocacy, and the pursuit of inclusive environments. Beth provides a window into her world as the mother of a deaf child equipped with cochlear implants, touching on the role of American Sign Language (ASL) in their lives and the decisions that have shaped their journey. The conversation reveals the nuances of parenting a child with a disability and the delicate balance between sharing one's personal story and maintaining respect for privacy. Beth and Tim explore the handling of educational and communicative accommodations, from the implementation of captioning in public settings to school involvement and support systems. The talk delves into the highs and lows of social media advocacy, the considerations around generating content, and the power of accessibility tools like captioned content. Beth's insights are a testament to the expansive nature of inclusive practices, challenging the audience to reflect on the diversity of lived experiences.Transcript: Takeaways:Beth discusses the capabilities and independence afforded by cochlear implants, including the ability to self-regulate hearing.Insights into the differing views within the community regarding cochlear implants and the concept of deafness as an identity or disability.An in-depth look at the transformative role educators and schools play in accommodating and fostering an inclusive environment for children like Cooper.Beth emphasizes the importance of adapting and evolving based on constructive feedback, especially after the release of her children's book.A candid exploration of the challenges and responsibilities involved in sharing personal stories on public platforms for the cause of awareness and inclusion.Resources:Website: Inclusive: you to our sponsor for this episode, Bookshare! Learn more at
  • 21. How PINE is Revolutionizing Professional Learning for Inclusive Education

    About the Guest(s): Lauren Hough Williams is the Executive Director of the Program for Inclusion and Neurodiversity Education, better known as PINE, an online platform that offers training and support to schools committed to building more neuro-inclusive schools. Lauren is an autism and inclusion specialist and began her career as a special educator for the NYC Department of Education before working for over a decade to define, refine, and expand the NYU ASD Nest Support Project. She partners with the neurodivergent community to shift the special education paradigm from deficits to strengths. Lauren is committed to helping school systems build inclusive learning environments for neurodivergent students. Episode Summary: In this episode of Think Inclusive, Lauren delves into her origin story and how a research-focused professional found her calling in New York City's public schools, ultimately leading her to champion an education model embracing inclusion and neurodiversity. We talk about PINE's structured professional development solutions and how the organization's systemic approach enables educators across entire school systems to support neurodiverse students effectively. The conversation underscores the transformative potential of inclusive education when professional development becomes a shared language and responsibility.Transcript: Takeaways:Inclusion is more than just a program or a place; it's a shared school-wide mindset and communal responsibility for all educators.Scaling inclusive practices require empowering every school staff member to contribute to an inclusive culture, beyond special education classrooms.Professional development in neurodiversity and inclusive practices has not caught up with the diversity of student needs in today's classrooms.Educators, including neurodivergent staff, are valuable assets in fostering inclusive environments when provided with ongoing professional support.The school environment, including sensory stimuli, should be designed with an understanding of neurodivergent experiences for the benefit of all students.Resources:PINE (Program for Inclusion and Neurodiversity Education): Lauren Hough Williams: lauren@pineprogram.orgPINE Virtual Summitt (May 1-3) (registration opens in March)MCIE: https://www.mcie.orgThank you to our sponsor for this episode, Bookshare! Learn more at
  • 20. Principals Show Disability Discrimination in School Access, Study Finds

    About the Guest(s):Lauren Rivera is an esteemed scholar with a focus on discrimination, specifically hiring discrimination, and the complex interplay between social class, gender, and race in social structures. Specializing in sociology, Rivera's professional expertise extends to studying how various forms of discrimination manifest within societal institutions. In a rare blend of personal experience and academic rigor, she has delved into the topic of disability discrimination in educational access through her recent research article published in the American Sociological Review titled "Not in My Schoolyard: Disability Discrimination in Education Access." As a parent of a child with disabilities, Rivera brings a deeply personal perspective to her work, illuminating the substantial barriers faced by families seeking equitable education for their children.Episode Summary:Lauren Rivera shares groundbreaking findings from her study on principals' discriminatory behavior towards families with children with disabilities. The episode opens up with Rivera recounting her groundbreaking research, where over 20,000 school principals in four states were contacted through a field experiment aimed at uncovering discrimination at the very beginning of educational access – the school tour request process.Rivera's study examined the response rate to emails requesting school tours, varying the presence of an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for the child and the perceived race of the parents. The results were eye-opening, revealing a pervasive pattern of discrimination against children with IEPs, which was significantly more pronounced if the child was also perceived to be from a Black family. The research sheds light not only on the discriminatory challenges encountered before enrollment but also on the stressors such experiences impose on families searching for fitting educational settings for their children.Transcript: Takeaways:School officials are less likely to respond to tour requests for children with IEPs, especially if the parents are perceived as Black.Discrimination in educational access occurs before enrollment, influenced by disability status and race.The experiment suggests principals perceive children with IEPs as resource burdens and Black parents as less involved school community members.Rivera's personal experience as a parent of a child with disabilities adds a poignant layer to the discussion and research findings.Resources:For Students with Disabilities, Discrimination Starts Before They Even Enter School: you to our sponsor, Brookes Publishing: to win a free book from Brookes here: