Friday, September 13, 2019

Sleep and Memory

We've written countless times about sleep, and the importance of sleep for children of all ages.* Now, a new study paints a clear picture of how academic learning is significantly affected by sleep deprivation - and how this impact continues in effect over a period of several weeks.

A new study in the Journal of Adolescent Healthnoted in AAP Newsexamined the effects of sleep deprivation on 59 teens ages 15-18 at a boarding school in Singapore. The group was divided into two parts; one set of students could sleep for nine hours, which is the generally recommended length of sleep for teens of that age group. The other set of students were permitted only five hours of sleep, an amount not unusual for sleep deprived students.



After a period of four days, designed to replicate a typical school week, both groups of students were taught detailed facts about ants and crabs over the course of a six hour day. The students were tested on what they had learned 30 minutes and then three days after the lesson concluded. Some of the students (from both the sleep deprived and the control groups) were also tested six weeks after the lesson.

The study authors noted, " We found significantly reduced retention of factual knowledge after four nights of restricted sleep, and this deficit was still evident when tested 6 weeks later." The data shows:

  • 30 minutes after the lesson, the sleep deprived students retained 26% less information than the control group, a finding that the researchers note may be attributed to impaired encoding of the material in the first place.
  • After three days, the sleep deprived students retained 34% less than the control group.
  • Six weeks later, among those of the students who returned for follow up (14 sleep restricted and 22 of the control group), the sleep restricted participants retained 65% less of the learned material for certain responses.  

This study should be required reading for all teens who dismiss the importance of a full night's sleep.

*The links to our blog posts on sleep are too numerous to include. You can find them by searching the term "sleep" or selecting "sleep" from our list of blog topics, both of which are located on the right hand side of this post. 

Photo by Tracey Hocking on Unsplash

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Avoiding the October Surprise

Tomorrow is the first day of school for New York City students, but their older siblings and friends at college likely started classes days or weeks ago. College students who are new to campus living need to adjust to a wide array of  "self care" responsibilities. These are things that used to be done with parental support or, at least, parental awareness. They include getting adequate sleep, eating well, avoiding dangerous situations, and staying up-to-date on assignments.

One responsibility in particular can make or break a student's chance of success in college: maintaining his or her medication regime. Students who require medication, whether to treat a health condition, a mental illness, or AD/HD, have likely been taking these medications regularly, perhaps reminded by or assisted by their parents. They have parental help with obtaining prescriptions, including making appointments with their doctors, knowing about their drug plan coverage, and getting refills (in general, controlled substances - which include most medications for attention and psychiatric conditions - require that the patient be seen by the prescribing physician at least every three months), and monitoring side effects. Parents can often tell when their adolescent is not taking prescribed medications just by observing how they feel and behave.

Not infrequently, when a student arrives to begin college, they are eager to assert their independence and might decide they don't really need their medication. Or, they may have the best of intentions to continue their medication regime, but become distracted and don't follow through with taking their meds regularly.


Why do we call this the "October Surprise"? We first heard the term from a colleague who was describing a regular experience in her legal practice, when parents would call her and report that their college student suddenly was failing, or in the infirmary, or decided they couldn't handle college. Why? After some investigation, many of these students had stopped their medications as soon as they got to school. Since most of these medications don't stop working immediately, it took until late September or early October for them to be fully out of the student's system and for the student to feel the full effects of functioning without needed medication. Hence, the surprise in October.

College students may not realize that there is no opportunity for a "do over" in college. If a student fails a course, that "F" is there forever, impacting his or her GPA. I've sat with more than one set of parents who sought guidance in what they could do once their child has failed several courses and have been able to offer little solace.

Families need to begin when a student is in high school to create medical independence, but it is not too late to speak to a college student to make sure he or she has the tools to manage their medication. Students need to understand their medical or psychiatric conditions, know what medications they are taking and why, and how to keep their medication secure from those who would like to try their attention meds to "help" them study. Your student needs to understand that in addition to the legal and ethical issues involved, ADHD stimulants are called “controlled substances” because of their potential for side effects. They can do harm to individuals who are not under the supervision of a physician. Your son or daughter should know how to obtain more medication when they need it -- even if that means letting a parent know rather than making arrangements for a refill themselves.

Speaking with your student about his or her medications, the importance of taking them, and when and how to reach out for additional medication or to report problems is an important part of college readiness and can make a real difference in college success.


Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Monday, August 26, 2019

Starting the School Year with an IEP or 504 Plan

It's not uncommon for parents to tell us about issues with getting their child services or accommodations early in the school year. The stories tend to be similar: there was an IEP or 504 meeting the previous spring, where the team (including the parents) agreed upon the setting, services and/or accommodations the child would be receiving during the upcoming year. These might be the same school setting, services, and accommodations as in the past, or they could be modified based on how the student performed or what updated evaluation showed.

Most of the time there is a  smooth carryover to the new school year. The student reports to the agreed upon school or class, the teacher is aware that the student has an IEP or a 504 Plan and has had a chance to review it, and the specialists who will be working with the student (providing speech and language services, reading support, or other related services) begin their work with the student within the first week or two of the start of school.

Sometimes, however, the process does not go as well. In the worst cases, a student may be told that they don't have a seat at the school they expected to attend. Other times, related services may not be provided during the first few weeks of school because of lack of staff. Not infrequently, children who expect door-to-door bus service to school find that they don't get a pick up.


So, what are parents to do? Fortunately, you can find specific suggestions from organizations that specialize in supporting students and families.

  • For students in New York City, Advocates for Children of New York has detailed information on a variety of these issues, from failure to receive services, to lack of transportation, to not having a seat in the school your child expected to attend. 
  • Wherever you may live, our colleagues at Understood have an excellent article, "How Do I Get My Child’s IEP Going at the Beginning of the School Year?" , that sets out suggestions for immediate problems and ways to avoid such issues in the future. An important point that the author makes is that tone is important. "Delays in starting up IEP services are frustrating. But parents who escalate tensions with the school may not make as much progress as parents who remain calm and cooperative."
  • Some ideas for monitoring whether your child is getting the services to which he or she is entitled, and possible remedies if services are not delivered after a reasonable period, can be found on the Wrightslaw website. 


Photo Credit: Photo by Yan Berthemy on Unsplash

Friday, August 16, 2019

Where to Find Information

We get lots of questions from families about how they can learn about topics relating to schools, special education, advocacy, and more. Sometimes, we are able to direct them to one of our blog posts (there is a search feature on the right hand side of each post that includes topics covered in our more than 1,000 posts). Other times, our administrative staff has the information at their very able fingertips, and can answer their question.

It's been a while since we shared a list of our favorite resources - websites and organizations that can provide important information that families need as they navigate their child's needs. Some are New York based, but others operate nationally. We've grouped them below by category and include our comments on what they provide. We hope you find them as helpful as we do.

Information on Schools

Great Schools is a national nonprofit that provides information about specific schools throughout the U.S. Parents can search by state or zip code and the data includes specific areas of academic performance as well as diversity and special education services. The site also provides other information for parents, but the school search feature is by far the most valuable tool. Families should use it as a starting point, not a decision-maker, but it can be very useful when exploring an area that is unfamiliar.

InsideSchools is a New York City resource that includes detailed reviews of specific schools as well as information about how to apply to schools in New York City. Also included is information on  things such as deadlines, districts, and decision dates. There are also helpful guides about topics including transferring schools within the City and special education. The quality of the information is excellent and we always recommend this site as the first stop for families looking into New York City public schools. 

Advocacy Resources


COPAA, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, is a membership organization for both parent and attorney advocates. Families who want to engage with their school system to obtain the best services and supports for their child can find information here about how to do this. As we noted in a post about COPAA back in 2011, "COPAA members communicate with one another through two separate listservs -- one for attorneys and one for parents and lay advocates. The listservs allow parents, advocates, and attorneys to seek guidance about specific issues that they are facing and to offer information about best and worst practices they have encountered in their local area. New court decisions impacting education are quickly shared, and COPAA maintains an archives with forms, court cases, and legal briefs that can be accessed by its members." A particularly useful feature for families offered by COPAA is "find an attorney" -- which does not require membership and which allows families to locate a special education attorney in their state or city.

Wrightslaw is a wide-ranging resource on special education. When we first wrote about this site in 2009, we noted, "Wrightslaw.com is a commercial site, written by Peter Wright, an attorney, and his wife, Pam, a clinical social worker. The site is cluttered with announcements about their workshops, books, and other products for sale, but there is real substance behind this site and it is a great place to find an article explaining how the legal end of the special education system works. If there is a new court case that impacts special education, you can be sure that Wrightslaw will have both the text of the case and a discussion of what it means before almost anyone else."

Advocates for Children of New York provides information and advocacy on behalf of children in New York City who are at greatest risk for school-based discrimination and/or academic failure due to poverty, disability, race, ethnicity, immigrant or English Language Learner status, sexual orientation, gender identity, homelessness, or involvement in the foster care or juvenile justice systems.They also have an education "hotline" to answer questions about New York City schools and services. [866-427-6033- Monday to Thursday- 10 am to 4 pm]. They offer guides on a number of topics, such as suspension and discipline, graduation requirements, and special education

General Information on Learning and Special Education


Understood is a consortium of 15 nonprofit organizations that have joined forces to support parents of children with learning and attention issues. Dr. Yellin is one of the experts who provide information for families via webcast "chats" and Understood also contains articles on a wide range of subjects, including academics and social-emotional issues.


Monday, August 5, 2019

Paying for IEEs - Revisited

Parents frequently ask us about having their school district pay for an independent educational evaluation - an IEE - such as those we provide here at The Yellin Center. We wrote about this subject at length in a post from November 2013, but it has become clear to us that it is time to share this discussion again. We have added some additional information, (see the boldface text below) and hope this post helps answer questions that you may have.


 
When Must School Districts Pay for Evaluations?
Parents sometimes ask us if they can have their school district pay for their child's evaluation at The Yellin Center. The simple answer is "maybe, under certain circumstances," and we thought it might be helpful to explain the laws and regulations that govern this area.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) recognizes that an evaluation of a student in all suspected areas of disability is a crucial first step to determining whether that student is eligible for IDEA services and what kind of services will help that student to succeed in school. In fact, the "clock begins to run" with respect to the time limits set forth in the IDEA only once the parent consents to an evaluation of the student. The law anticipates that the school will then conduct an evaluation of the child and share the results with the parents and the IEP team, the committee that creates the student's Individualized Education Program. 

In many situations, this works out well for all concerned. The school district conducts an evaluation at no cost to the family; the findings make sense to the parents; the findings are incorporated into the student's IEP; and nothing more needs to be done. 

However, sometimes families do not agree with the findings of the school district evaluators and feel there may be something more going on with their child. Sometimes parents have had a long history of difficulties with the school and simply do not trust them to do an evaluation. Some parents of children enrolled in a private school do not want to have to work with the local public school district (especially in New York City). And, quite often, parents want the kind of in-depth, multi-disciplinary evaluation done here at The Yellin Center, rather than a more "cookie-cutter" series of tests given by their school's evaluators. In each of these situations, the parents seek an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) such as the ones we conduct here at The Yellin Center.

Before we look at specific rules and scenarios, we need to emphasize one important point. Parents have the absolute right to have their child independently evaluated and federal law requires that the public school district must consider the results of such evaluation. Dr. Yellin and his team frequently attend IEP meetings (via phone or other technology) to discuss the results of our evaluations and have been universally well-received by schools. However, the law does not require that districts follow the recommendations of our reports (or any outside evaluator).

So, when can a parent have a district pay for an IEE? 

  1. The parent must disagree with the evaluation conducted by the district or consider it inadequate and notify the district of their intention to obtain an IEE.
  2. The district must then either file for a due process hearing with a State Hearing Officer or agree to pay for the IEE.
  3. The district can set criteria for the IEE's they will fund -- how much they cost, the geographic location of the evaluator(s), and the specific qualifications of the evaluator(s). However, the U.S. Department of Education notes that, "the district must allow parents the opportunity to demonstrate that unique circumstances justify an IEE that does not fall within the district's criteria. If an IEE that falls outside the district's criteria is justified by the child's unique circumstances, that IEE must be publicly funded." So, even if your district tells you that you are restricted to using the private evaluators on a list they provide, that is not strictly correct and you can and should push back to obtain the services of the evaluator you choose. 
  4. An IEE can also be ordered by a State Hearing Officer as part of a due process hearing when aspects of an IEP are in dispute. 

We also encounter situations where a district paid evaluation at The Yellin Center is part of an ongoing discussion between a family and a school district, especially when the district has not been successful in addressing a child's educational needs. And families need to keep in mind that The Yellin Center has always had a sliding scale for families who need assistance in paying for our services. 

There are countless resources available to explain this process to parents and school administrators, but some you might find useful are:
One subject not addressed in our original post on this topic is the rights of parents when a district refuses to evaluate, either because they do not believe that the child has a disability, or without even providing a reason. The IDEA only addresses the situation where a family disagrees with an evaluation that has been already conducted. To the frustration of many families, if the school district declines to evaluate a student, the only remedy of the family is to file a complaint with a State Hearing Officer to challenge this decision. In addition, as noted above, parents always have the right to go ahead on their own to seek an IEE. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Legal and Medical Checklist for College



A family member recently reached out for help; her 18-year-old daughter is leaving for college at the end of August and she wanted to know if there were any documents she should have her daughter sign that would make both day-to-day and emergency situations easier for them both. In addition, the family lives in one state and the college is located in another. She wasn't sure if that made any difference. I've always know that this mom was a smart woman, and her excellent questions and concerns just confirmed that. This is what I advised:

HIPAA
The federal law governing privacy of medical records applies in all states and would mean that the medical records of this college freshman would not be accessible to her parents. In addition, the student's doctors could not discuss her medical condition with her parents, even in an emergency. I suggested that the parents speak to the young woman and that they should discuss the benefits (and privacy concerns) of having her execute a general HIPAA Release Form allowing her doctors to speak with her parents. In addition, many student health services have their own forms and, if the student agrees, she should execute that form as well.

FERPA
While we are on the subject of federal laws, FERPA, which protects the privacy of student records, gives students over 18 and those in college the sole right to their educational records. As we noted in a post back in 2010  (it's sometimes hard to believe we have been blogging for ten years and have posted almost 1100 blog posts!) FERPA has numerous exceptions, but we advised that our family member should have her daughter execute a FERPA release form (often available at the office that generates student grades/records) to allow her parents to access her educational records. In addition, students who are registered with their campus Office of Disability Services should check to see if there is a separate form that is used by that office.

HEALTH CARE PROXY 
This form, which can have different names in different jurisdictions, would allow the student's parents (or anyone else she designates) to make medical decisions when she is not able to do so. This is different than just medical information (covered by the HIPAA release) but is used for such serious situations as where someone is unconscious or so ill or injured that issues of life support come into play. I urged that the parents and student have a serous conversation about this form and that all involved understand its purpose and the wishes of the student executing it. Sometimes, this form is prepared in connection with a document called a Living Will, which is a written expression of how the party executing it feels about issues like artificial respiration and tube feeding. Note that this latter document is advisory, while the Health Care Proxy is a binding authority. Different states have different forms for this document, so I suggested to my relative that she search online for forms from reputable sources in each relevant state and make sure that the form they use covers the requirements for both state of residence and the state where the college is located. In general, these forms need to be witnessed. A form from the New York State Department of Health, fillable  and with a lengthy Q and A section, is available online.

This forms above will be sufficient for most situations, but some families also may choose to have their student execute a Durable Power of Attorney, a form that allows the person who signs it (here, the student) to give someone authority during the signer's lifetime to handle financial, business, banking, and other matters. The form can be useful if the student has assets or an interest in property. Different states use different forms and these forms can be a bit confusing to create. You may want to speak to an attorney if your family circumstances warrant creating this document. Likewise, most students this age neither need nor have a Last Will and Testament, but special situations may make this document important and now would be a good time to have one prepared by an attorney.

With all the paperwork completed, students and their families can concentrate on much more enjoyable issues, like decorating their dorm room, meeting new roommates, and hitting the college store for their stock of mugs, banners, and t-shirts. Here's to a great start to college!


Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Getting Back to Work and School

While it is still July and summer has weeks more to run, in many parts of the country, school begins by mid to late August. Your blogger has just returned from a couple of weeks of castles, cobblestones, and cake and, like many other adults going back to work after vacation, returning to the office took some determination.


For kids of all ages, returning to school after summer vacation requires some adjustment. By beginning a few weeks before the first day of school, parents can help smooth the transition from vacation mode to the early rising and more structured days once school starts. There are important ways to make the first day back to school less stressful for everyone.
  • Clearing Out Last Year's Backpack
Way too often, kids toss their backpack in the corner of their rooms as they come home from the last day of school, often leaving them untouched all summer. If you haven't done so yet, now is a good time to work with your child to locate and unpack this bag. Much of the contents can be tossed -- into the trash or the washer -- but there may be important papers that should be retained as well as information about summer assignments that will be due in the fall. And you may want to check out this guide from our colleagues at The American Academy of Pediatrics to selecting a new backpack.
  •  Summer Assignments
Most children have some kind of assignment to complete over the summer: a list of books to read, perhaps a book report to prepare, or even a longer report to hand in when school begins. The due date for these assignments seems far away in June, but leaving them to the days before school begins inevitably results in crisis mode. By locating these assignments (see the first item above) and getting started on them reasonably in advance, they can be completed slowly and carefully over the course of several weeks and families can avoid havoc the night before classes begin.

  • Sleep
We've written before on the importance of easing into a school-year sleep schedule and how it needs to be done gradually. This is especially important when students have had few, if any, limits on their schedule during the summer months or when they are moving to a new school where their start time will be significantly earlier than it has been in past years. Teens, in particular, need far more sleep than most regularly get, and lack of sleep can have an impact on school performance.

  • For Children with IEPs
Parents of children with IEPs or 504 Plans should take time over the summer to review these documents, making sure that they (and their older children) know what services, modifications, and accommodations they provide. Sometimes, these can fall by the wayside with new teachers or new schools. It's reasonable to give schools a week or two to put services in place, but not much longer. As we have written before, if your summer includes a move to a new school, school district, or even a new state, you should be aware of your rights with respect to your child's IEP. 

  • Time to Get Comfortable
Summer is also the time to make sure your child is familiar with the route to school, or the bus stop. If he or she will be attending a new school, they may have had a tour before the last school year ended. If not, try to visit the school at least a few days before it opens. Going to a new place can be scary for anyone, especially children. The more comfortable they are with the school and the routine, the easier things will be when classes begin. 

Keep in mind, that there still are a number of weeks of summer fun ahead, and these tips aren't meant to cut them short. But, by doing some planning while summer is still in full swing, the end of the season will be a bit easier for children and parents alike.