Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The NVLD Project

We recently learned of the NVLD Project, founded in 2013 by Dr. Laura Lemle, whose daughter was diagnosed with a non-verbal learning disability (NVLD) when she was five years old. Dr. Lemle, now in the real estate business, has a PhD in clinical psychology.

This nonprofit organization offers informational workshops, supports research, and has a blog where an array of writers share their knowledge and experiences with NVLD.  Long term, the NVLD Project seeks to have NVLD included as a specific disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the "bible" of medical diagnostics developed by the American Psychiatric Association. The NVLD Project notes that such recognition "will allow people who have NVLD to be covered for clinical care and it will foster more rigorous empirical research on the causes of and best treatments for NVLD."

So what, exactly, is a non-verbal learning disability? First, it involves a significant discrepancy between verbal and perceptual reasoning abilities, where the individual has strong abilities in such verbal realms as reading, vocabulary, and memory, but struggles with spatial, mathematical, and certain "big picture" tasks. In addition, organization, executive functions, and social skills can be areas of difficulty. An extensive discussion of the components of a non-verbal learning disability is set forth on the Project NVLD website.

The difficulties that characterize NVLD can be present in other learning and social disabilities, and distinguishing among the various labels for disorders may be less important than understanding the strengths and difficulties faced by each individual and developing specific strategies and supports to build on his or her strengths and to bypass or improve challenges. Still, understanding NVLD and researching why and how NVLD arises is an important first step to remediating this constellation of difficulties. Likewise, supports for individuals and families dealing with NVLD can be extremely helpful.

Monday, September 11, 2017

September 11, 2017

Today is September 11th and the horror and bravery of that date in 2001 and the days that followed has not diminished with the passage of 16 years. As we remember where we were on the date our city and our nation was attacked, and in many ways changed forever, we look back with excerpts from a post we wrote back in 2010.

September 11th - A Personal Story

Tomorrow is the ninth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, an event that has become associated with many things since that horrific day -- courage, loss, terror, war, and retribution -- just to name a few. We suspect that you have no trouble remembering where you were when you first heard the terrible news. We were all touched by this event. But for those of us in New York, Washington and  Pennsylvania, and especially for those whose loved ones were lost  in the towers or on the ill-fated planes, there was, and still is, a particularly personal resonance to the events of that day.

Some of you may have seen a hard-hat sitting on a shelf in Dr. Yellin's office. On September 11, 2001 Dr. Yellin was the Chief Medical Officer of  NYU Downtown Hospital, located just three blocks from the World Trade Center. He was attending a meeting in mid-town Manhattan, about three miles north, when his Chief of Nursing called his cell phone to report a fire at the World Trade Center. He promptly left his meeting and took a subway train downtown to the hospital, knowing that the hospital emergency response team would be moving into action, but completely unaware of the scope of the disaster. He emerged from the subway into streets of chaos, and got inside the hospital building just as the first of the towers fell. It was pitch black in the daytime, with a thick cloud covering the glass walled lobby. The hospital staff was geared up to deal with injuries and survivors, but there were only a handful of survivors in those first, awful hours. As the scope of what had happened became clear, teams of doctors, nurses, and support personnel  went to the remains of the towers to see what they could do. Dr. Yellin joined them for a time and was handed a hard-hat by a Con Edison worker; debris was everywhere.

Time became irrelevant. The mission to save survivors became one, instead, of serving the recovery teams and the local residents, who had no electricity or other services in what was, for many months, a disaster zone. Three days later, when Dr. Yellin made it home by train in a pair of dusty scrubs, people kept shaking his hand and thanking him. He knew that there had been far too little for him and his team to do on that fateful day.

Recalling the events of September 11th or seeing the devastation from the recent hurricanes can be unsettling for both children and adults. Our colleagues at the American Academy of Pediatrics' "Healthy Children"  website have helpful information about how parents can speak to their children about disasters of all kinds. 

Photo: SMU University Libraries

Friday, September 8, 2017

Who Says There is No Such Thing as a Free Lunch?

Here at The Yellin Center we love our lunch. Some folks bring interesting things they've cooked at home. Others order from the limitless selection our Manhattan location provides. And for birthdays and other special occasions we all get together for pizza or some other treat.

So it was a particular pleasure to hear that all students in New York City public schools will now be able to get both breakfast and lunch for free. What this means is that the 75 percent of the 1.1 million New York City public school students who qualify for free or reduced price lunch (breakfast has been free for all students) need not identify themselves or have any stigma attached to their "free lunch" status. All families are asked to complete a School Meals Form to enable the school system to get federal funds for this program.

While we are on the subject of lunches, a piece earlier this week in  The New York Times looks at how school lunches nationwide may change under the current federal administration. Whether or not changes implemented under the Obama administration designed to make lunches healthier -- more fruits and vegetables, less unhealthy ingredients -- are rolled back, it is clear that local communities are more aware of healthy eating and that school lunches will reflect both this trend and local food preferences.

Getting kids involved in food preparation can only raise their interest in healthy eating and bring families together. We've written before about ChopChop, a terrific resource for teaching kids about healthy cooking. It's worth checking out. Even if your child takes advantage of a free healthy lunch in school, there is always dinner that needs to be prepared!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Private School Admissions: An Early Start

Finally, even the last schools to start the year -- those in New York City -- are opening their doors to students tomorrow. Parents everywhere can take a deep breath and know that their children are settled in to their school and class until late next spring.

Unless, of course, your child is moving to a new school level after this year. Or you are thinking about moving him to different school. Or it is time to consider a private special education setting. For these families, there is no respite come the fall. For many private schools, especially those that are well regarded for their academics or general reputation, or those that do a good job helping students with learning or other challenges to succeed, the early fall is the time to begin the admissions process for the following school year.

Parents who go to a private school's website will see that there are open house dates scheduled for as early as the beginning of September. Application deadlines vary, but tend to align with those for college admissions. Many schools have rolling admissions, filling spots as qualified applicants apply and closing the application process once their classes are filled. Other schools have a fixed deadline and will then look at the body of applicants to make sure their classes are balanced in terms of things like academic abilities, gender, and special needs.

So, parents who are thinking ahead and considering a different school for their child for next year should not delay in launching their investigation. Not sure where to begin? The guidance counselors in your child's current school may be a good starting point. If your current school is not a good fit, or if your child is aging out, they should be able to point you to places to consider and can sometimes help shortcut the admission process. You can also look at some of the local and national websites that list schools and often have features that allow you to search for specific attributes and locations.

Most schools have colorful websites, filled with photos of happy students and statistics about enrollment and achievements. Still, the school website is the best place to begin your investigation. Look at information about curriculum, special learning supports, and important numbers, such as class size and tuition. Sign up for an open house or small group tour, the earlier in the term the better. An open house with presentations and tours of empty classrooms may yield some sense of a school's atmosphere. More helpful is a tour that occurs during the school day and gives parents a glimpse of what goes on in classrooms.

If possible, look at the classroom for your child's current grade.  These students will likely be his or her classmates. Can you see your child fitting in with this group? Is the classroom a calm and welcoming place? Is there individual attention to students' needs, especially important in a special education setting? Then, if possible, visit the classroom for the grade your child will be in when he or she enrolls.This will give a sense of what is being taught, a possible teacher at that level, and what the classroom for that grade looks like. Can you see your child fitting into this setting?

And what about those families who children need to make a school switch at the last minute, or in the middle of the school year? These could be children with newly diagnosed learning challenges or who are just not fitting in to their current school. Or a family may have to relocate mid year for work or other reasons. Are they just out of luck? Fortunately, many good schools, both for typical learners and for students with special learning needs, have last minute or mid-year spots available. Choices may be more limited, but parents should reach out to schools and inquire. And parents should keep in mind that public schools must enroll every child who lives in their district.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

School District Calendars

We've written before about how calendars - high tech and old fashioned paper - can help keep students and families on track. But there is one calendar that every family with school age children should have handy, and which they should review now as the school year begins - the calendar for their school or school district.

Whether this is available online via the school website, or is sent to families in paper format (a vanishing practice in this digital age), the school calendar can be a treasure trove of information. First, the obvious information about when school is in session and when vacations and days off are scheduled should be added to kids' and parents' personal calendars. Also take note of "optional snow days" if you are doing long-term vacation planning for your family. In the event of a snowy winter, school may continue longer into the spring than you anticipate.

Make note of when marking periods begin and end and when mid-term or final exams are scheduled for each semester. This will enable you to work with your child to make sure that he or she is up to date before each marking period comes to a close. Once the marking period ends, it is often too late to make up homework or exams your student may have missed, and this may be reflected in their grades. If your school still sends report cards home with students (another vanishing trend), make sure you know when report cards will be issued.

School calendars can be very basic, such as the one for New York City public schools, or serve as a handbook for families, with information about every aspect of school or district operations - from the tax code for your district to the names and contact information for every building and district administrator. Some districts also include contact information for PTA officers and -- particularly useful for parents of students with IEPs and 504 Plans -- the officers or liaisons to the Special Education PTA, if your district or school has one. For New York City parents whose children have IEPs or 504 Plans, you may also find helpful information geared to the beginning of the school year from the folks at Advocates for Children, with a list of Q & A for families of students with disabilities.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Congressional App Challenge for Student Coders

The news out of the federal government hasn't been too good this summer, but we have finally found something positive and promising to report. Registration is now open for the 2017 Congressional App Challenge, an effort to encourage kids to learn how to code, through annual district-wide competitions hosted by Members of Congress for their districts.

The Challenge began in 2014 with a pilot program in which more than 80 members of Congress participated. By 2015, the House appointed the Internet Education Foundation to be the program's non-governmental sponsor and numerous companies -- tech and otherwise -- are now involved. In its first two years, the program included nearly 4,000 students from 33 states. Over 1,150 apps were created -- over 30 percent of which were created by girls. The 2017 competition launched on July 26th and runs thorough November 1, 2017. This year more than 165 Members of Congress are participating. Each Congressional District selects a local winner; winners will be announced during Computer Science Education Week in early December. The competition has no age restrictions, except that students may not have yet graduated from high school. Entrants (or at least some of the members if entrants are part of a team) must be from the Congressional District to which they apply.

The App Challenge isn't just aimed at experienced coders. The website for the program offers resources that can help students who are new to coding to learn the necessary skills.   All District winners will have their apps displayed in the U.S. Capitol. Find out if your Representative is participating in the App Challenge.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Back to School with an IEP

As summer comes to an end and the new school year begins, there are steps that parents of students with IEPs should be taking to ensure that their children receive the maximum benefit from the services and supports to which they are entitled.

You may have just recently had your annual IEP meeting, or maybe it was held many months ago. In either event, this is the time to review the IEP and make sure you are familiar with the services, supports, and accommodations it provides for your child. Is she due to receive speech and language therapy? Reading support? Extended time on exams? You can't count on your child to accurately report on what goes on during his or her school day. Some children are too young for this task. Others lack the organizational abilities to notice what services they receive or when. And adolescents are often ambivalent about needing and receiving special education services and won't always share with you whether they were getting (and attending) the extra support or accommodations to which they are entitled.

One way to keep abreast of what is going on in school is to set up teacher meetings early in the year and then at some regular interval thereafter. How often this needs to be done depends upon your child's age and school situation. It may be simple to learn what is going on with an elementary child. He or she probably has only one or two teachers, maybe in a co-taught class with both special education and typically learning students. It is more difficult to track the services being provided to a middle school student, one who may have several teachers and half a dozen classes. Even for these students, there may be a single "point person" - perhaps a resource room teacher - who can help you make sure your son or daughter is getting the support to which he or she is entitled.  While high school students may be more aware of what they should be getting and more likely to let you know if there is a problem, they can also "blow off" extra supports. Getting them to advocate for themselves and take responsibility for their own learning, while making sure they get the support they need, can be a delicate balancing act.

Make sure that your child's teachers are aware of the fact that he or she has an IEP and that they have a copy of it and have reviewed it. It happens less often than it used to, but sometimes schools still don't distribute copies of the IEP to each teacher, usually over concerns about student privacy. This misplaced effort to protect students' rights can be a serious problem if teachers don't know what a student needs and is entitled to receive.

One question that parents often ask is how long is too long for services to begin at the start of the new school year. It's rare for services to begin the very first week of school -- but they certainly should be in place by the second or third week of school. Anything later than that is unacceptable and should trigger at call to the head of your child's IEP team. Even if the school offers a reasonable basis for the delay (staff turnover, difficulty hiring new specialists, scheduling issues), the fact remains that your child needs these services and is losing time he or she cannot make up. Keep on top of this issue. And track this issue during the year as well. Turnover or absences may mean your child is not getting services for an extended period, even if things started out fine.

Parents of older students need to make sure their children know is that, more than ever, accommodations on standardized tests like the SAT and ACT depend upon students getting and using accommodations on a regular basis in school. Students who don't use their extended time, for example, may risk not getting extended time on one of these crucial exams, since it may appear that they don't really require this accommodation.

Think about your child's IEP as an obligation of the school to provide your child with "FAPE" - a free, appropriate, public education. Getting the school year off to a good start, with services and accommodations in place and a plan for monitoring these during the year, is the best way to help your child to be successful in his or her new grade.