Growing up with a younger sister who has an intellectual disability influenced doctoral grad Kathy Becht’s passion and pedagogical path in Exceptional Education.
Becht received a bachelor’s degree in special education from Indiana University Bloomington and a master’s degree in interrelated studies in exceptional education from Syracuse University.
After college, Becht taught students with autism and intellectual disabilities in a varying exceptionalities class at Magnolia School in Orlando and students with learning disabilities at Wilson Elementary School in Sanford during the 1980s. Becht then began a supported employment program for high school students with intellectual disabilities in Seminole County Public Schools. Recognized as a model program, Becht helped train 47 Florida school districts to develop their own supported employment programs. An advocate for children with disabilities for the past 20 years, Becht’s mission is to ensure children with disabilities have the opportunity to learn alongside their peers and succeed in the general curriculum.
“Thirty years ago, schools didn’t teach kids like my sister Lori how to read because they didn’t think kids with intellectual disabilities could learn to read,” explained Becht. “Lori learned to read sight words and write her siblings’ names and short sentences such as I love mom by the age of 10. Those skills she learned at home though, not at school.”
Becht and her husband Sheridan have three adopted children. Becht had always wanted to adopt a child with a disability since she was a teenager and her dream came true after adopting a 1-year-old boy with Down syndrome more than 20 years ago. The couple decided to expand their family by adopting another boy and girl, but didn’t know they had learning disabilities until they were older.
The Bechts have encouraged their children to learn with technology, have a sense of purpose, be responsible and independent and work hard. Becht’s teaching background has helped enrich her children’s knowledge, education and expectations of others. Both parents have continued to help their kids grow as adults and are proud of their accomplishments.
Achievements have included both sons becoming Eagle Scouts, the highest ranking in the Boy Scouts. Their daughter loves working with children and has received a certification in childcare from Orlando Tech. These benchmarks were possible with tough love.
When encouraging other parents, Becht tells them, “Don’t give up. Teach your child how to problem solve and provide them with as much independence as possible. There are lots of struggles, but don’t feel sorry for them because that will be one of the biggest mistakes that you’ll ever make.”
Becht has both the teacher and parent perspective when working with children with disabilities, but felt she could still make a bigger difference by teaching educators. She wishes to work with general education and exceptional student education teachers by helping them differentiate instruction and methods that will assist students with intellectual disabilities thrive in the general education classroom.
Through her research, Becht has learned that teachers who are providing differentiated instruction, for instance, using PowerPoint slides with bullets or main points, keywords, graphics and links and using the text-to-speech feature will create interactive learning. These tools will make a difference on a larger scale outside of the classroom as well.
“Children with intellectual disabilities don’t have the skills that they should,” said Becht. “Teaching these children how to use interactive technology like cell-phone texting and the Internet can increase their literacy and help them in all facets of their life.”
Becht is graduating on Saturday, Aug. 8 with her Ph.D. in Exceptional Education from the UCF College of Education and Human Performance. She appreciates the support and research opportunities she received throughout her doctoral studies.
“It’s [Exceptional Education Ph.D. program] a very tight, short and intensive three-year program. Our track has a very powerful and strong mentorship program that allows us to write and publish. The professors really shepherd us and are part of the journey.”