Friday, November 9, 2018


Earlier this week, we shared information about scholarships available to students with learning and other disabilities. But the number of such scholarships is very limited, and most offer just a small part of the expenses a student and her family will face in college. Of far more importance is the financial aid offered by individual colleges, and the way to obtain such aid is by filing a FAFSA application.

FAFSA - the Free Application for Federal Student Aid -- is used by virtually all colleges and universities to determine whether a student qualifies for financial aid and to calculate the amount of aid each student needs. In addition, the information on the FAFSA is sent to the higher education agency of your home state and those states in which the schools you are applying to are situated. This information is used by the states when they distribute state financial aid money.

Until a couple of years ago, filing a FAFSA form posed a dilemma for most families. The form had been available each January, but it required the tax information from the tax forms that weren't due until that April. In fact, many families not only had not prepared the forms the FAFSA sought, but had not yet received the underlying tax information that they would need to complete those forms.

This dilemma was resolved beginning with the 2016-17 school year. Now, FAFSA forms are available as of October 1st each year, and the tax information required is for the preceding tax year. So, for example, for students planning to begin college in the fall of 2019, the 2019-20 FAFSA became available on October 1, 2018 and is due by by June 30, 2020. Of course, you will want to file as soon as possible (if you have not already done so). In addition to needing to know what you will be receiving before you begin college, funding is always limited and students who file earliest will have access to a bigger piece of the funding pie.

What makes it possible to have this earlier deadline is that the tax information that must be submitted is now from the prior tax year. This means that applicants submitting on or after October 2018 should submit their family tax returns from 2017, which were generally due in April 2018 and should be readily available.

The best place to get all the information you need about the FAFSA is the official FAFSA website. You can also find helpful discussions of specific topics related to your FAFSA application on the U.S. Department of Education blogs.

photo credit: Hloom Templates @

Monday, November 5, 2018

Scholarships for Students with Learning Disabilities

We've written before about college scholarships intended for students with learning and related challenges. These posts have looked at general guidelines for seeking and getting scholarship aid, as well as a few specific scholarship opportunities.

Scholarship opportunities change each year, and it is important to stay up to date about which organizations are offering scholarships and when the deadlines are for applying. Our colleagues at Advocates for Children of New York have shared a list of college scholarship opportunities that are intended for students with disabilities. These are:
  • The National Center for Learning Disabilities offers two Anne Ford and Allegra Ford Thomas Scholarships to students with learning disabilities and/or ADHD. The deadline to apply is November 12, 2018. 
  • Wells Fargo offers scholarships to students with disabilities - not just learning or attention issues. There is a deadline of  December 6, 2018 to submit an application -- or when 700 applications are received, whichever comes first. 
  • The RiSE Scholarship Foundation offers scholarships for students with learning disabilities and/or autism spectrum disorders. The deadline to submit an application is January 31, 2019. 
  • Microsoft offers "disAbility"scholarships to students with disabilities who plan to study engineering, computer science, law, business, or a related field. The deadline to apply is March 15, 2019. 
Another source for potential scholarship funds for students with learning disabilities is available online . Note that this site includes a couple of the programs listed above, as well as a number of scholarships with geographic limitations (just for students who reside in a specific state). Still, it is worth a look. 

It is important to carefully look at any scholarship before applying. In addition to making sure you comply with deadlines and any specific eligibility requirements, you should check out the sponsoring organization to make sure it is legitimate before you share any of your personal information. And consider speaking to your high school guidance counselor to discuss both the programs listed here and to get any other suggestions he or she may have for funding. 

We will look at the most important source of outside college funding -- FAFSA -- in an upcoming post. In the meantime, you should be aware that the FAFSA for aid for the 2019-20 school year is now available and you should be mindful of the several deadlines for submission. 

Photo by Michael Longmire on Unsplash

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Another Place to Look for Information

For a number of years, your blogger has written an "Ask the Experts" column for ADDitude Magazine, a print and online publication that is focused on issues of interest to adults and children who are dealing with attention and related disorders. 

As a new series of Questions and Answers began posting today (with additional posts to be added each Wednesday for the next three weeks), we thought it might be useful to look back at some of the questions we have addressed that might be relevant to the readers of this blog. This new series of Q&A's covers issues faced by older students - transition, SAT accommodations, and managing independently. But other columns have dealt with a broad array of topics, including:

You can search under "Susan Yellin" for the full list of articles, shorter Q&A's and links to webinars, some dating back several years. We hope you will find them helpful.

In the meantime, have a Safe and Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Does Classification Matter?

Students can have an IEP for a wide array of reasons. The IDEA specifies 13 different categories of disability that can be the basis for providing IDEA services to a student. But we know that children can have more than one area of disability. We often suggest that parents think of their child's classification on their IEP as a key that unlocks the right to whatever services their child may require, whether or not those services are directly related to the classification that appears at the top of the IEP document itself.

A student with a specific learning disability can also have an attention problem, which most often falls within the Other Health Impaired (OHI) classification. Or a child with an intellectual disability may also have an orthopedic impairment and require use of a wheelchair. An IEP does not have to list more than one disability for a child to receive services for more than one disability. The only situation where more than one disability might be listed on an IEP is where a student has educational or medical needs that can't be met by a single program. 

Parents sometimes ask if it matters what classification is listed on their child's IEP. It can, but only in very limited circumstances. Non-public schools that are approved by a state to provide educational services will be limited to students that are classified as having one of the disabilities for which that school is approved. So, a child with a classification of "other health impaired" will not be sent by her school district to a school that is approved only for students with a specific learning disability.

Even in that situation, if the school is otherwise a good fit for the child, it is possible to have the student's classification modified by the IEP Team to another classification, so long as the new classification reflects the reality of the student's difficulties. 

No one likes labels, but they are part of the IDEA. Even so, their impact on the day-to-day workings of a student's IEP do not limit the services and supports that a student should receive. Of far greater importance are the special education and related services, modifications, and accommodations that are provided to each student and the goals that are set out for the student to meet.  

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The Importance of Early Hearing and Vision Screening

Almost every student we see here at The Yellin Center is given a vision and hearing screening. These are not meant to take the place of in-depth testing by ophthalmologists, optometrists, or audiologists, but are an important part of checking for anything that could interfere with a student's learning and school success. Children who can't see the blackboard clearly, who find text in books to be blurry, or who have difficulty hearing instructions from their teachers or classroom discussion, are at a disadvantage when it comes to learning. Most of the time, the students pass these screenings with flying colors -- but sometimes we note difficulties that warrant further investigation.

Our colleagues at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) note that screening for hearing loss should begin very early in infancy,  not later than the first month of life. Infants who do not pass this initial screening should have a comprehensive audiological examination not later than at three months of age. And interventions should begin by age six months, from appropriate professionals with expertise in hearing loss and deafness in infants and young children. Even infants who pass the initial screening should have the development of their communication skills evaluated at their well-baby visits starting by two months of age.

The importance of early screening for hearing issues was noted in a recent New York Times article by long-time health writer Jane Brody, who looked at the amazing technological advances in recent years that have enabled most children born with hearing loss to hear, speak, and learn together with children without hearing difficulties, albeit with extensive speech and language training and lots of hard work. The article notes that a new documentary, "The Listening Project"demonstrates the impact of technology, specifically cochlear implants, on the hearing impaired. The trailer for this film is quite compelling to watch.

Vision screening also should begin in infancy. The AAP guidelines note:
  • All babies should have their eyes checked for infections, defects, cataracts, or glaucoma before leaving the hospital. This is especially true for premature babies, babies who were given oxygen for an extended period, and babies with multiple medical problems. Another group warranting special consideration are babies with family histories of vision difficulties.
  • By six months of age - As part of each well-child visit, eye health, vision development, and alignment of the eyes should be checked.
  • Starting at about one year - Photo screening devices can be used to start detecting potential eyes problems.
  • At 3-4 years - Eyes and vision should be checked for any abnormalities that may cause problems with later development.
  • At five years and older - Vision in each eye should be checked separately every year. If a problem is found during routine eye exams, a child should see a pediatric ophthalmologist.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Tools to Inspire the Reluctant Writer

In an excellent recent article in Education Weekelementary school teacher Emily Galle-From discussed the enjoyment she got from teaching young children about writing. By encouraging her students to let their imaginations soar, to exercise their creativity, and to use a variety of ways to convey their stories - prose, poetry, correspondence, and artwork - her  students were able to express heartfelt thoughts and process complex feelings in ways that were meaningful to them.

Here at The Yellin Center, we know that many students find writing difficult. The reasons for this vary. Some students have trouble organizing their thoughts. Others find putting pen or pencil to paper - or keyboarding - problematic due to graphomotor or fine motor difficulties. Other students struggle with word finding or even reading their own work. Not surprisingly, when children find writing difficult, they are reluctant to write. However, the best way to become a better writer is to write.

We often recommend tools to help even the most reluctant writers to create and share their stories. These include:

  • Comic Creator, a website that allows students to create their own comic strips using pre-made images and speech bubbles. This writing format will allow children to express themselves outside the confines of traditional academic writing tasks and greatly reduces the amount of writing required to get their ideas out. It includes a variety of lesson tools for teachers of different grades.

  • Storybird, a free writing platform for creating and writing visual stories. This program is especially valuable for students with strong spatial skills as it includes high quality, artist-created images that young writers can use for inspiration.

  • StoryBoardThat, a storyboard platform that helps students develop visual literacy and presentation skills.

  • StoryJumper , a storybook creation platform where children can create, publish, narrate, and collaborate with friends to create a unique story.

We hope that one or more of these tools can be helpful to a reluctant writer you may know.

Friday, September 28, 2018

More Reasons for Sufficient Sleep, Exercise, and Screen Limits

Parenting is not an easy job. Parents usually know what their children should be doing -- getting plenty of sleep, lots of exercise, and having limited screen time, among other things -- but applying these goals to their children is not always easy.

A recent study reported in the British medical journal Lancet Child and Adolescent Health looked at 4524 children in the U.S., aged 8–11 years, to examine the extent to which these elementary age children met current recommendations set forth in the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth. These recommendations include getting 9-11 hours of sleep each night, at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day, and having less than two hours of recreational screen time daily.

The children in the study were evaluated using the NIH Toolbox for the Assessment of Neurological and Behavioral Function , which  looks at such components of cognitive function as Executive Function, Episodic Memory, Language, Processing Speed, Working Memory, and Attention.

The researchers found that just over one-half of the children met the sleep recommendations. 37% of the children met the limits on screen time, and only 18% met the physical activity recommendations. 71% of the children met at least one of these recommendations but only 5% met all three. Almost 30% of the children in the study met none of the three goals. The more of these goals the children met, the higher they scored on the NIH Toolbox Assessments. Children who met the goals for limited screen time and sufficient sleep (likely connected in their daily lives) scored roughly five percent higher on the NIH Toolbox parameters than did those children who met neither.

Hopefully, seeing the real, positive associations between meeting the recommendations for these behaviors and improved cognition may be enough to reinforce parental efforts to get their children to meet these laudable goals for sleep, exercise, and screen limits.