Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Thanksgiving Thoughts

In the more than ten years we have been writing this blog, we have written a post before each Thanksgiving, sharing information, expressing gratitude, or both.

Last year we wrote about Thanksgiving books for children, and it's not too late to pop into your local bookstore (if you still have one!) to pick one of these up for the children you will be seeing. An older post, from 2011, also contains book ideas relating to the holiday. We also shared a link to the site from Scholastic that parents can use to help discuss the origins and meaning of the holiday with their school-age children.

Countering all these classic versions of the holiday, is a piece from The New York Times a couple of years ago, "fact checking" many of the aspects of the traditional story of Thanksgiving.

But whether or not your perspective on Thanksgiving is historically accurate, taking a day for gratitude is something we all can do. The things that make each of us grateful may vary, but here are some of the things we are grateful for, especially this year.

First, we're grateful for babies, both in our own family and in our Yellin Center family. Your blogger can attest that while parenthood has its blessings, there is nothing to compare with being a grandparent. And Dr. Yellin would agree.


We are also grateful for our larger family, especially for Aunt Karen, who has hosted our extended clan for an all-day celebration for as long as we can remember, opening her home (and view of the Macy's parade) not just to family and friends, but to friends of friends who come just for the parade. Here's to calm winds and high flying balloons tomorrow!

We're grateful for all our family members who put love over politics, and who manage to stay in the same room with one another even though we do not all share the same viewpoints. And, despite not discussing politics, we never run out of things to talk about. 

We're incredibly grateful for our Yellin Center staff, clinical and administrative. They all make the experience of the families and students who come to The Yellin Center welcoming and professional and our work would not be possible without their skill, dedication, and good nature. Thank you!

We are grateful for the many schools and organizations who seek guidance, training, and information from us and who invite Dr. Yellin to give talks and professional development programs. He always finds these enormously gratifying. 

Finally, we are grateful for the families and students who come to The Yellin Center, who share their struggles and allow us to work with them. We are grateful for your trust and hope that our work has made your lives and the lives of your children better. 

Happy Thanksgiving!


Friday, November 15, 2019

High School Newspapers

A recent walk down memory lane -- a tour of your blogger's high school as part of a reunion weekend -- served as a reminder of how big a role working on my high school newspaper played in my high school experience. It was a great way to build confidence, to learn the inner workings of the school, and (as a senior) to guide younger students in the skills needed for producing the monthly paper on time.

These skills translated to work on my college paper -- where a large sign in the chaotic newsroom proclaimed "This is a Daily, Not a Weekly!" By then there was real news to report -- strife on campus, sit-ins, and an activist student body in a turbulent era. Some of the folks I met during that time went on to careers in journalism, while others became doctors, lawyers, and even a producer of Law and Order.


It was with particular interest, therefore, that I read a recent article in Chalkbeat highlighting a New York City high school teacher, Dennis Mihalsky, who started a journalism class and a school newspaper at the City College Academy of the Arts in Inwood. Part of his motivation, the Chalkbeat piece explains, was to heighten his students' awareness of events going on around them in their school and community. And, not surprisingly, to counter the reliance his students placed on social media as a source of information.

The venture has proven to be a success, with students coming up with ideas for stories that would have an impact on the life of their school. The paper publication was something very tangible for the students and they are learning to realize the importance of this kind of journalism.

Building on this success, Mr. Mihalsky has founded a nonprofit organization, Students Disrupting, whose mission is  "to bring student newspapers to every high school in the city through training, advising, and supporting students, teachers, and administrators, helping them find their voice, deepen their thought, and seek the truth." Students Disrupting notes that only 12.5 percent of NYC public schools have student newspapers and a key part of its mission is to support students and teachers who want to increase that number. Does your school (or your child's school) have a newspaper? If not, maybe it's time to start one. If you have 26 minutes, you may enjoy hearing from Dennis Mihalsky about how he started his school's newspaper.




Wednesday, November 6, 2019

School Travel Safety

Our last blog looked at issues relating to early school start times and the new California law that prohibits start times for middle school students before 8 a.m. and for high school students before 8:30 a.m. But no matter what time your child begins his or her school day, being safe on the way to and from school is an important issue to everyone to keep in mind.

Safety concerns start on the way out the door in the morning and continue until students arrive at their homes at the end of the day, which for some students with after-school sports or activities can be as late as 6 or 7 pm. Our colleagues at The American Academy of Pediatrics cite research from The National Research Council  Transportation Research Board, Committee on School Transportation Safetthat broke down the ways that students travel to and from school during the regular school day. These modes of travel included passenger vehicle with adult driver, 45%; school buses, 25%, other buses, 2%; passenger vehicle with teen driver, 14%; bicycle, 2%; and walking, 12%. Not included in these figures are transportation after regular school hours or for extracurricular activities. These after hours trips are often done after dark and can involve longer distances (to sporting events or tournaments outside of the home district); they have a disproportionately high occurrence of crashes.

 
What can parents do to make travel to and from school safer?

  • Make sure young children are accompanied by a parent, caretaker, or responsible older sibling while walking to or from school or the bus stop
  • Remind children that the bus stop is not a playground and that running around, which can often end up in the adjacent road, can be dangerous
  • Dawn and dusk are the most difficult times of day for motorists to see pedestrians. As the days shorten, make sure your child is wearing at least some reflective clothing so he or she is highly visible
  • Work with your PTA or other group to make sure your school has implemented appropriate safety measures -- crossing guards, dismissal and arrival procedures, and safety training as part of the curriculum -- to provide children age-appropriate safe travel
  • Support graduated driving licences for teens. Teenage drivers should pass not just the State road test, but Mom or Dad's road test as well. That may mean that driving privileges are delayed until a teen demonstrates sufficient maturity and judgment to understand that the consequences of distracted driving can be deadly. 
  • Model good driving practices yourself; never text or use your phone or otherwise drive with distractions and always wear seat belts. We've written before about steps to safer teen driving. Speed, having passengers in the car, and failure to wear seat belts are some of the driving practices that pose the most risk to teens.





Friday, November 1, 2019

Dark and Early Mornings

A recent social media post from a relative in Florida lamented his son's early school start time. "Somebody has to get on the bus way too early. Middle school boys were like a pack of zombies lingering around the bus stop staring at their phones," he noted. "It will be nice when we change the clocks and I won't have to turn on the outside lights when he leaves the house in the morning."


But light or dark [and remember that this Saturday night we turn our clocks back one hour, so it will be lighter in the morning -- but will get dark as early as 4:30 pm later in November and even earlier in December], there is nothing to be done about the shorter days that winter brings.

What can be addressed, and what California has decided to do over the next three years, is change the start time of school for students. A new law mandates that most middle and high schools in California begin not earlier than 8 and 8:30 a.m., respectively. The law contains exemptions for some rural schools and its gradual implementation is designed to allow time for new teacher contracts to reflect the change in schedules.

We have written numerous times about the need for adequate sleep for children of all ages; just search "sleep" in the subject box on the right-hand side of this post. Many of our discussions of sleep are based on research referenced by our colleagues at The American Academy of Pediatrics, that 

“ [it is] ... clear that adolescents who get enough sleep have a reduced risk of being overweight or suffering depression, are less likely to be involved in automobile accidents, and have better grades, higher standardized test scores and an overall better quality of life. [In addition] studies have shown that delaying early school start times is one key factor that can help adolescents get the sleep they need to grow and learn.”

Preliminary calculations of the cost-benefit issues associated with later school times indicate that "the benefits of later start times far out-weigh the immediate costs" in just two years.

As California implements its new policy and researchers examine the impact on student health and achievement, they will also be looking at the economic issues involved in this major state-wide shift. We will continue to follow this issue as it evolves over the next several years. 


Friday, October 18, 2019

Getting the Most from an IEP or 504 Plan

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to present a national webinar for ADDitude Magazine on "A Parent’s Guide to Evaluating and Troubleshooting Your Child’s IEP or 504 Plan." 

As with other presentations I have done, I planned out a series of slides (and you can see them and the entire free presentation if you click on the link above) that set out how to tell if there were problems with an IEP or 504 Plan and what parents can do if there are such problems. Some of the remedies I mentioned were:
  • How minor issues with an IEP can be dealt with without needing to hold a meeting of the IEP Team. These include increasing or decreasing the frequency of a service (such as OT or PT) that is already provided in the IEP, or adding a minor accommodation, such as having exams taken in a quiet location in addition to extended time.
  • More extensive changes to an IEP will likely need a meeting of the IEP Team. These might include adding a service or support, changing a class setting, or even changing the school a child is attending. Parents need to keep in mind that they are entitled to request an IEP meeting at any time, not just once a year as is customarily scheduled. That is a right, not a favor being done by the school.
  • Parents are also entitled to a new evaluation once each year. The IDEA requires re-evaluation every three years, but if parents feel that circumstances warrant it, they can have their child re-evaluated more often. As with a new IEP meeting, this isn't something that the school might do as a favor. It is a legal right. 
  • Also, parents who have had a recent evaluation and realize that it was inadequate, can seek a publicly funded Independent Educational Evaluation, an IEE, which can then be the basis for a modified IEP. We have an extensive blog post on this subject.
Almost as interesting to your blogger as preparing and presenting a webinar, are the questions parents have during (and after) the webinar. Some parents wanted to know:
  • What happens to their child's IEP when they move? We were able to point them to a blog post on this too. 
  • Several folks wanted me to explain again the differences between an IEP and a 504 Plan. We were able to tell them that these stem from two different laws, both designed to help individuals with disabilities, but having different procedures and sometimes offering different supports.
In addition to this recent webinar, you can check out and listen to my several other webinars for ADDitude. 
 

Monday, October 14, 2019

First Stop: Your Pediatrician

Our colleagues at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) just released an extensive report aimed at informing their members of their important role in recognizing and helping to treat many problems that relate to learning and development,. Starting in infancy, long before a child is first enrolled in school, it is the pediatrician who often can spot a problem that can be addressed early to improve a child's chances of success in school. Screening for vision and hearing deficits, lags in motor and language development, and psycho-social family issues can all lead to interventions that can improve a child's chances of succeeding in school and in life.

As children reach school age, even before parents turn to their school system for help with learning or behavior issues, a child's pediatrician can pick up on a wide array of conditions -- genetic, neurological, medical, emotional -- that can have a wide ranging affect on how a child functions in and outside of school. While the AAP article is aimed at pediatricians, to guide them in their role in diagnosing issues that can get in the way of school success, it is also important that parents understand how their child's pediatrician can be an important first stop when things are not going well developmentally or academically.


There is a concept in medicine called "differential diagnosis" that plays an important role in helping to understand what is going on when children struggle. Pediatricians are trained to apply this concept when dealing with their patients and it is at the core of what we do here at The Yellin Center. As Dr. Yellin (a pediatrician and a member of the AAP) explains, you can use the analogy of a child with a cough. Before treating the cough, it is crucial to understand why the child is coughing. Does he have an upper respiratory infection, a bone stuck in his throat, asthma, or pneumonia? Only by looking for the cause of a problem can an effective solution be applied. Many learning or school problems require this same approach; only by looking deeply and ruling out many of the problems pediatricians are trained to consider can families begin to help their child get the help he or she needs.

Pediatricians are also excellent sources of referrals. They will be able to suggest educational evaluators (and many of our families are sent to us by their pediatrician for an evaluation for suspected learning or attention difficulties), or send a child to have their vision or hearing explored in depth, or recommend a therapist or other professional if there are signs of serious emotional or family difficulties. Parents should use their child's pediatrician, and the expertise and experience he or she offers, as an important resource when children are struggling in school.

Photo: Alex Proimos/Flickr Creative Commons


Wednesday, October 2, 2019

The Joys of Comic Books and Graphic Novels

Here at The Yellin Center, we have long recommended comic books and graphic novels as ways for children who struggle with reading and writing to experience success.


There are many reasons why a child might find reading, especially chapter books with complex plots, hard to follow. Reading disorders, such as dyslexia, can make it difficult for a child to decode the words on the page. Sequencing problems may cause a reader to confuse the order of events in a chapter or story. Memory difficulties may make it hard for a child to keep the beginning of a story in his or her head by the time they get to the end. Even attention difficulties may get in the way of concentrating on the material with sufficient depth to retain what was read.

Similarly, there are many reasons why children may struggle with writing. They may have limited expressive (oral) language, which makes it hard for them to find appropriate words to express what they are trying to say. They may have difficulties with organization, which make presenting a story step by step to be a struggle. They may have a reading disorder, such as dyslexia, which makes it hard for them to spell. They may even have an attention issue which makes it hard for them to concentrate on a complex task like writing for the time needed to produce written work.

For all of these children, graphic novels and comic books may provide access to written materials that can help build the skills children need to be successful readers and writers. These mediums are no longer just the sensationalist superhero stories (POW!, BAM!) many of us encountered in our own youth. Today's graphic novels are sophisticated and contain the same kinds of themes, characters, and language that can be found in books. Many comic books are very similar to graphic novels, with somewhat shorter stories. The key to both of these are that they are supported by high quality graphic images that allow students to more readily access the written words that accompany the illustrations.

These forms of storytelling are not just for reading. Creating comics (or even graphic novels, for older, more sophisticated writers) can allow children to tell their story through the medium of pictures, without needing to use the language skills that are so difficult for them. There are a number of good tools available. Take a look at the list from Common Sense Education or at some of the tools we often recommend to students: Storyboard Creator and Comic Creator. And we have written about some terrific graphic novels in prior blog posts:

Finally, there is a great story in today's New York Times about Loot, a comic book store in Brooklyn where children are encouraged to read, borrow, and create their own comic books. It sounds like fun for kids and the parents who accompany them.

Photo: Enokson