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Case StudySSPADHDAutismLearning & Development

SSP supports social-emotional learning goals for special education students, ages 6 to 12

🕑 5 minutes read
Posted April 17, 2023

About the Provider

Name: Sharon Stultz
Special education (SPED) teacher, child and family therapist, MEd, EdSp, MA intern, AAC
Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR); Tension, Stress and Trauma Release (TRE®); Integrated Family Systems; Gestalt; cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

Sharon has been delivering the Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) since spring 2018 and has worked with over 300 SSP clients.

Client Background

Name: 10 students from a SPED SEL group, kindergarten to grades 5
Age and Gender: Ages six to 12; three girls and seven boys
Program Delivered:
Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) Core and Balance (hours 1-5)

This group of students includes:

  • Two girls and two boys with Autism 
  • Three boys with developmental delays
  • Two boys with ADHD
  • One boy who is twice-exceptional, highly impulsive and easily triggered into dysregulation

The students all have social-emotional learning (SEL) goals on their IEPs. The treatment goal is to improve state regulation in the school setting to increase learning and promote adaptive behaviors, contributing to the group’s social-emotional learning goals. 

The SSP was delivered through an elementary-school-based program by Sharon Stultz, the SPED teacher who is a certified SSP provider. The delivery model included three 10-minute SSP listening sessions spread throughout the school week, resulting in 30 minutes each week for 10 weeks. The sessions began at the start of the school year in September and ended just before winter break in December. 

Implementation of the SSP

The group was split into two: kindergarten through second grade, and third through fifth grades. Each week, the first two 10-minute sessions were delivered individually or in small groups of two to three using headphones and an audio splitter during silent work. 

The third 10-minute session of the week was delivered to the group on Fridays with the school’s occupational therapist. The room was set up with activities between two speakers and after listening for 10 minutes, during silent co-regulated play, an SEL lesson was presented. The presentation was followed by a discussion or activity, and the group session concluded with 10 minutes of movement-based therapy led by the OT.

All specially designed instruction (SDI) students use a token-reward system, where they can earn blue tickets from general education teachers for on-task behaviors. When a child earns five tickets, they earn a 10-minute break in the resource room. This sets up SSP listening time as a positive reward, rather than a consequence for maladaptive behaviors, which is often the normal model. 

All SPED students have a “911” — a non-verbal token they can show the teacher if they need a break. This allowed Sharon to use SSP Balance with students who were struggling, in addition to Core. Parents were offered access to SSP Balance to use in the car before and after school and at home, as needed.


Six-year-old Boy with Very Aggressive Impulsivity

“We were able to down regulate him within a minute using SSP Balance, preventing restraint, injury to others, and repeated destruction of property and school materials.” 

Six-year-old Boy with Autism

He was unable to use an unfamiliar restroom, eat with his peers and was rigid in group play. Post-SSP, Sharon reports he “became able to eat in proximity [to] peers and use [an] unfamiliar restroom with shaping.” He started reading joke books for fun while eating lunch, and improved his peer-to-peer play with negotiation. 

Seven-year-old Boy Largely Unable to Be in a General Education Setting

He was completely unwilling to engage in any kind of academic task and has undiagnosed dyslexia. Post-SSP, he became trusting and caring with his SPED teacher, coming to her when upset rather than running away. Sharon reports he became “open to carefully scaffolded instruction at his level.” 

Nine-year-old Boy with Autism and One-on-One Behavior Tech

Unable to function in a group setting, his initial assessment of writing skills was met with complete refusal, and it was reported that he would never be able to come to a SPED writing group. Now, “his capacity to compose written text is improving steadily.” By the end of the year, with support from his SPED teacher, he was able to write for three full minutes and was regularly volunteering to lead the SPED writing group, taking turns with other peers. Sharon reported that “he would come into the resource room during recess to help come up with the writing prompt for the day.”

Eleven-year-old Girl with Autism Who Would Freeze During Any School Assignment

Before the SSP, she had a very flat affect and was rigid. It was reported that her math skills were at a first-grade level and that she could not learn math facts. Post-SSP, she learned all her math facts using the Times Tales technique. Sharon reported that the student “wanted to know what I did to her brain to make it work.” She became very comfortable seeking support and was much less rigid and resistant to instruction. She began to joke, use sarcasm and smile a lot toward the end of the year.

Eight-year-old Boy with Developmental Delay

It was reported that during the previous school year, this student destroyed classrooms on a regular basis, struggled to learn the alphabet and how to read, and was completing less than 10 percent of classroom work. Now, he’s completing close to 50 percent, reading leveled text, and making connections! Sharon reported, “No more destroyed classrooms or related aggression.” 

Six-year-old Boy with Selective Mutism and Possible Autism Diagnosis

This student did not talk in class and rarely completed classroom assignments. His classroom is extremely chaotic, causing little improvement in that environment, but in the resource room, Sharon reports that “he began talking to the teacher and playing with the kids” with “lots of smiles.”


Sharon reported that some parents were “shocked by the changes” and newfound abilities that their children were beginning to develop. One parent who regularly used SSP Balance at home shared that “her son came to ask for his ‘music’ when he got upset.” Teachers managing chaotic classrooms “appreciated having the chaos these children often insert into a classroom environment diminish” and said it created space and capacity for more learning to take place. 

Sharon shared that nothing like the SSP had ever been tried with these kids in the past. “I completed the SCAN-3 with all the participants and all showed impairment of their auditory processing abilities. The one with the most explosive aggression was left ear dominant and got angry as soon as right ear stimulus were presented. Very interesting limbic connection.” 

Discover the Safe and Sound Protocol

Developed by Dr. Stephen Porges, the SSP is a non-invasive acoustic vagus nerve stimulator that helps clients connect with themselves, others, and the world from a foundation of physiological safety.

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