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

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Learning Faster vs Learning Better

A discussion in Ed., the magazine of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, looks at the flaws in the assumption that students who are "fast learners" or "quick to get it" perform better than those students who take more time to work their way through course material.

This assumption was challenged by Parisa Rouhani, Ed.D., as part of her doctoral dissertation. Dr. Rouhani noted that the way our educational system looks at those who need more time as somehow "deficient" or "less capable" is reflected in the need for students to be diagnosed with a learning or attention problem in order to be entitled to extended time on exams.
However, Dr. Rouhani's study of a group of ninth graders found that there was "no meaningful relationship between time and performance. Some students who did well in the course took a long time, while others did not." By analyzing the performance of her class of subjects, she found that the most important determinant of whether students did well in the course was whether they had mastered the material. The question that this small study raises is why do we continue to use time as a measure of competence and limit time for high stakes testing and even classroom evaluations? Clearly, this issue needs more study, with a larger group of subjects.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Behaviors That Impact Impulsivity

Research findings published in the September issue of Pediatrics look at the effects of "Movement Behaviors" on impulsivity in more than 4500 children, ages 8-11. These guidelines (The Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth) aren't really all about movement; they are evidence-based recommendations that children 5 to 13 years old:

  • Accumulate a minimum of 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity; and
  • Spend not more than 2 hours a day on recreational screen time; and
  • Get between 9 and 11 hours sleep each night.
The researchers were interested in looking at whether these behaviors would have an impact on impulsivity, which is a core characteristic in attention disorders as well as certain behavior disorders and emotional dysregulation. They began with the hypothesis that children who met all of the recommendations for these parameters would show less impulsivity than those who did not. 


They looked at various combinations of physical activity, sleep, and screen time and determined that 30 percent of the children did not meet any of the recommendations. Less than 5 percent of the children met all the guidelines. The researchers found that the most important factors in whether children demonstrated reduced impulsivity (and its positive counterpart, perseverance) was sufficient sleep and limited screen time. Physical activity seemed to have much less of an impact.

 The researchers note, "Our findings highlight that sleep and [screen time] interact in a fashion that provides unique benefits compared with meeting either movement behavior alone and may be especially clinically relevant to target concurrently in interventions, given a small percentage of children meet these movement behavior guidelines."

They conclude that while physical activity may not impact impulsivity, it has other important benefits. Furthermore, strategies to limit recreational screen time while encouraging early bedtimes and sufficient sleep, can help avoid and treat impulsivity related disorders. 


Photo by Alfred Rowe on Unsplash