Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Disclosing Differences

We recently had the opportunity to meet with Helen McDonald, the Director of Admissions at the Threshold Program, a post-secondary program for students with learning differences and cognitive limitations at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We also had a chance to speak with Threshold students and take a tour of its compact urban campus.

The Threshold Program was founded in 1982 and serves students from all over the country in its two year curriculum and additional one year Bridge and Transition programs. More than half of the Threshold students have physical or psychological conditions in addition to their learning difficulties and the average student enters with the reading and mathematical skills of a 4th or 5th grader. Clearly, this program is for students with profound learning issues, well beyond the vast majority of students we see at the Yellin Center.

One thing we learned during our visit is that the Threshold faculty has undertaken extensive surveys of its past students, and their research both validates the value of their program for the students it targets, and provides an important lesson for all students -- even for those with relatively minor learning difficulties or other kinds of disabilities. In a 1996 study entitled Beyond Threshold, faculty members Fran Osten and Carole Noveck surveyed employers of workers known to have learning disabilities. They asked how the timing of the workers' disclosures of their learning difficulties related to the employers' assessment of their workers. Not only did employers rate employees who disclosed their disabilties early on higher than those employees who did not disclose, or disclosed later in their employment, but 79% of the employees who disclosed their learning disabilities during the hiring process received raises and/or promotions compared to those who did not disclose early on -- only 25% of who received raises and/or promotions.

We believe this remarkable difference should be considered by all students who struggle with learning as they complete their education and move into the workplace.

Monday, September 28, 2009

New Lecture Series

On Wednesday, September 30th, Dr. Paul Yellin will be opening an exciting new lecture series sponsored by the Resurrection Episcopal Day School in New York. The lectures are free and open to the public.

The series is entitled "Working Together - The Collaboration among Parents, Teachers, Clinicians and Scientists to Support Learning and Development in All Children" and is designed to help create connections among the groups concerned with children's cognitive, emotional, and spiritual development.

Dr. Yellin will begin this series by looking at the emerging field of Mind, Brain, and Education which brings together scientists, educators, and clinicians to collaborate in what has often been a narrow and fragmented world.

Subsequent speakers include Dr. Todd Rose, of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Center for Applied Special Technology (where Dr. Yellin is a member of the Board of Directors); Dr. Joshua Sparrow; Maria Trozzi; and Dr. CeCe McCarton, founder of the McCarton School and Foundation.

The lecture series will be held at the school. Each lecture will begin at 7:30 p.m. and end at 9 p.m.
The schedule of lectures is:
Wednesday, September 30, 2009 - Dr. Paul Yellin - Kick off Presentation

Monday, October 5, 2009 - Dr. Todd Rose - From Neural Networks to the World Wide Web: Meeting the Challenge of Individual Differences in the Digital Age

Monday, November 9, 2009 - Dr. Paul Yellin - The Future of Assessment: What are We Really Trying to Measure and How Does it Translate to the Classroom?

Monday, December 7, 2009 -Dr. Joshua Sparrow - What Parents Want and What Children Need

Tuesday, January 12, 2010 - Maria Trozzi - Promoting Resilience: Words, Strategies, and Wisdom to Help Young Children and Families Face Life's Speed Bumps

Wednesday, March 10, 2010 - Dr. CeCe McCarton - The Importance of Mainstream Schools in Developing Language Skills for All Children, Especially Children with Special Needs

Friday, September 25, 2009

Learning to Teach

A business trip to Cambridge, Massachusetts yesterday allowed me to spend some time with my favorite student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Matt Yellin.

Matt is enrolled in a Masters of Education in Teaching program, with a focus on teaching and curriculum. The goal of this program is to prepare individuals to become middle or secondary school classroom teachers in urban settings.

Matt's decision to become a teacher evolved over several years. He was a tutor for students from disadvantaged backgrounds while he was in college and he worked for two summers for a law firm that did special education advocacy. He considered the Teach for America program, but decided that to be an effective teacher he needed more training than Teach for America would provide. Given his choice of numerous programs, he decided that Harvard would be the best place to learn the pedagogical tools he would need to be effective in the classroom.

It is clear that Matt is enjoying his classes and his work at a Boston area high school under the guidance of a mentor teacher. What he finds frustrating, however, is the numerous questions he gets about why someone like him, a cum-laude graduate of a top college, wants to teach -- not just for a couple of years, but for the forseeable future. It's a good question. But maybe not the right one. Why shouldn't we expect our top students to become teachers, just as readily as they become doctors, lawyers, and wizards of Wall Street? And why doesn't our society hold teachers in the same regard as these other professionals and compensate them accordingly? These are questions for lengthy books, not blogs -- but we are proud of our future teacher and know that he will make a positive difference in the lives of his students in years to come.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Not Just for Pediatricians

A recent email confirming Dr. Yellin's participation in a School Health Conference for health professionals sponsored by the New Jersey Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics got us thinking about how the AAP is not just for pediatricians, but offers information and resources for parents and families as well.

Their website has articles on topics ranging from immunizations to learning difficulties with innumerable subjects in between. Their 60,000 members are "committed to the attainment of optimal physical, mental, and social health and well-being for all infants, children, adolescents". They have long urged their members to take an active role in the development of their patients' IEPs.

Whether you are looking for lists of board certified pediatricians in your area or for information on the latest recommendations about flu vaccines, you may want to check out the information available from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Workplace Diversity

The idea of diversity in the workplace has changed in recent years, and we are excited to see the changes this has brought to how workers see themselves and their colleagues.

Older paradigms looked at gender or race when thinking about how a workplace could be diverse. Later views, especially after the implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, broadened the meaning of diversity to include individuals with physical disabilities -- those who might use a wheelchair or have visual or hearing impairments.

But there is a growing understanding that true diversity also includes understanding and appreciating different learning styles among one's colleagues, and that such a perspective touches on all employees in a workplace, since each one has their own unique learning style. We have seen this diversity in adults in our work here at The Yellin Center, which includes evaluations and consultations with medical students, graduate students and professionals in the workplace. In each instance we have been able to help these adults understand how they learn to help them improve their performance in the tasks that are part of their profession or course of study.

This week Dr. Yellin will be speaking to employees of the U.S. Department of Labor, New York Region, as part of their Diversity Day program. It is encouraging to see that understanding different learning styles is becoming an important part of understanding what makes for a truly diverse workplace.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Individuals with serious disabilities that affect their ability to read should know about a program called Bookshare.

Bookshare is available to schools, libraries, and other organizations as well as individuals -- children and adults -- who are unable to access standard reading materials because of a specific disability. It is funded by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) of the U.S. Department of Education and is free to all who qualify for its services.

The key to this program is the waiver of copyright laws by publishers of books and periodicals to make them available to Bookshare for members to access via adaptive technology -- text to speech readers, computers with enlarged or adapted text formats, or even Braille readers for those who require them.

Qualified individuals include those"with visual impairments that keep them from reading standard print (blind, legally blind, or with other functional vision limitations) ... or with severe learning disabilities that keep them from being able to effectively read standard print." This latter group would include "students with IEPs that call for text accommodation to respond to specific language learning disabilities".

Still another group which would be covered by Bookshare are individuals "with physical disabilities that prevent them from reading print or using a print book. Such a limitation could be the result of a spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, a neurological condition, etc."

All individual users of the site are required to provide proof of their disability, but the kinds of proof required should be easy for qualified individuals to obtain. If you know someone who could benefit from this free program, please let them know.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Life After High School

Life After High School, the fourth annual College Transition Program for students with learning differences sponsored by The Center for Learning Differences, will be held on Sunday morning, October 18th, at C.W. Post College in Brookville, New York. The Conference features a keynote address by Dr. Paul Yellin, breakout sessions for both parents and students, and the opportunity to hear from and meet with representatives from eleven colleges -- both local and national in scope -- that offer strong supports for students with learning issues. A full program with registration information is now available.

This year The Center for Learning Differences is partnering with the Compass Project, which has held a similar program in years past focusing on local college options.

The Center for Learning Differences, a New York based nonprofit, was established by Dr. Paul Yellin, his wife, Susan Yellin, Esq., and other parents and professionals who wanted to make it easier for families, teachers, and physicians dealing with students who learn differently to find information and learn about resources in their communities.

In addition to its informational website, with lists of resources, it also publishes a newsletter and has held training programs for pediatric residents. Susan Yellin has served as the volunteer Executive Director since the organization was founded in 2002.

Monday, September 14, 2009

New York City Public Schools

Although we see students from all over the country -- and from as far away as Japan, Switzerland, Mexico, and England in recent months -- many of the families who come to us are from right here in New York City.

There are two terrific resources for families whose children attend New York City Public Schools, or who are considering such schools for logistical or economic reasons, or who are new to New York City. These organizations are related to one another, but they have different missions and separate websites.

The first of these is Advocates for Children, whose mission is to " promote access to the best education New York can provide for all students, especially students of color and students from low-income backgrounds ... using uniquely integrated strategies to advance systemic reform, empower families and communities, and advocate for the educational rights of individual students." In addition to a telephone helpline, they offer numerous publications explaining the very complicated New York City Department of Education and the services offered to students who learn differently, all in understandable terms in a number of languages.

Growing out of Advocates for Children's work with families is its website This site offers "intimate knowledge, news, school reviews, and information about public education for New York City's diverse populations". Their reviews of public schools are based on actual visits and they offer the kind of information about schools that is of most interest to parents.

Armed with these two resources, New York City parents stand a better chance of finding the right school for their child in what can often feel like a complicated bureaucratic maze.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Brehm School

A subject we have been concerned about for some time is the scarcity of schools for students with complex learning needs and concomitant social and emotional difficulties.

Part of the work we do at the Yellin Center involves helping families to find an appropriate school for their child when their current placement does not provide the kind of support their child requires. Most of the children we see can do fine in a regular class in their current school, when the strategies in our learning plan are put into place. But some children need a more supportive setting, and we then need to assist families in exploring private schools which can meet their child's more extensive needs.

We work directly with a number of these schools and have visited or spoken with many more. But too many of the best private schools for student with significant learning needs specifically limit their programs to students with "language based learning disabilities". That's fine if your child has straightforward reading or language difficulties , but leaves very few settings for the many children whose needs don't fit neatly into this category.

We recently had a terrific conversation with Dr. Richard Collins, Executive Director and Headmaster of the Brehm School, a private boarding school in Carbondale, Illinois, for students in grades 6-12. Brehm works with students with complex needs, who may have difficulties in more than one area of learning and whose learning difficulties are complicated by emotional issues and limited social skills. Their impressive curriculum includes integrated instruction to address all areas of deficit while building academic success.

Brehm also has a comprehensive transitional postgraduate program they call Options, which provides students with independent living with guidance and skills training while they also attend a local community college or complete a two year job training program.

Like so many of the best private school programs, Brehm is expensive and we know that a boarding school is something many families will not consider. But given the strength of their program and the kinds of learning and related issues they address, we think it is a program that parents should know about.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Familiar Echoes in President's Speech

President Obama's back-to-school speech to the nation's students yesterday sounded a number of themes that go to the essence of our work. We believe that creating affinities and using a student's areas of interest to build his skills is an important part of the learning process. President Obama agreed, and noted "Every single one of you has something you're good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is."

We believe that asking for help when you need it and working with supportive adults can be key to a student's success. The President thinks so too, and told his student audience, "Don't be afraid to ask questions. Don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it... Asking for help isn't a sign of weakness, it's a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don't know something, and to learn something new. So find an adult you trust -- a parent, grandparent or teacher; a coach or counselor -- and ask them to help you stay on track to meet your goals."

We know that students who struggle in school may have learning issues that make school a particular challenge. Providing strategies for these students to help them to overcome their areas of weakness and to build upon their areas of strength is key to what we do. President Obama's words of encouragement to students reflect something we deeply believe, " can't let your failures define you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time."

We've seen the amazing progress that students can make when they build on their strengths and use effective strategies to remediate their areas of weakness. We're glad to see that President Obama's speech addressed this important subject.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Testing Young Children

A fascinating and important new book, Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children, by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, explores common assumptions about children and the science that shows that many of these assumptions lack validity.

Hopefully, their work will raise everyone’s awareness about the limitations of standardized cognitive and academic “testing” particularly with regard to young children. In fact, for decades, the limitations of these instruments in identifying short-term educational needs and predicting long-term outcomes have been well-documented.

As we learn more about neuroplasticity, resiliency, and brain development throughout childhood and life, the assessment landscape will undoubtedly change. While this knowledge may not offer immediate comfort to parents frustrated by their children’s rejection from a selective school or competitive program, it is my hope that it will help them temper their disappointment with a broader, long-term perspective of their children’s futures. Having worked with many parents who are devastated by disappointing results on early testing, like the ubiquitous ERB’s, it is my hope that this book and the conversations it generates will offer reassurance that all is not lost.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Why a Duck?

In the latest issue of the Yellin Center Newsletter, Dr. Yellin writes about signs children may be struggling in school. One sign he mentions is when children are working harder than their teachers may realize -- in the same way a duck's smooth movement across a pond doesn't reflect the effort of his feet paddling away beneath the surface.

This got us thinking about the effort of parents to help keep these student "ducks" afloat. There is no one measure of how much support a parent should provide with homework, projects, or organization. The age of the student, the school environment, whether or not she has significant learning challenges, and the preference of parents will all contribute to how much and what kind of support parents provide at home.

One thing all parents should keep in mind when helping their child is that the ultimate goal of all support should be independence. We all want our children to succeed. But we need to resist the impulse to improve our child's homework. Teachers need to see where students struggle and parents need to find the right balance between providing answers and teaching their child to figure out the answers on his own. It's hard to remember this when it's a half-hour after bedtime and there is still homework left to finish!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Getting Kids to Read

This past Sunday's New York Times had two interesting pieces on the same general topic -- how teachers can encourage students to read on their own.

An essay by Susan Straight in the New York Times Book Review laments the impact of Accelerated Reading, a software program that assigns point values to books based upon length and difficulty. Schools using this program require that students read books totalling a specific point value. The problem, Straight says, is that the way in which points are assigned undervalues many of the books that have opened the eyes of generations of children to the joys of reading.

Meanwhile, the main section of Sunday's Times had a lengthy article by Motoko Rich on an approach called reading workshop, which replaces the traditional classroom practice of every student reading the same book at the same time. Instead, students select their own reading material with some guidance from the classroom teacher, with the goal of having children read more because they have a say in what they are reading.

Both articles used Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird to help make their point. Susan Straight points out that when her daughter was assigned this book as part of a class reading project she told her mother that it was one of the best books she'd ever read. Straight notes that the point value for this book under the Accelerated Reading program was only 14 points; Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was 44 points. Hamlet was valued at 7 points.

In the article on the reading workshop program, one teacher favoring the "kids' choice" approach noted that when she assigned To Kill a Mockingbird she found that some kids "just don't get into it."

The debate will go on, and parents and schools will continue to struggle with how to turn a generation of tech savvy kids into real readers, the kind who want to curl up with a book-- or a Kindle -- and get lost in a world of imagination.

Meanwhile, whatever reading approach your child's school takes, we suggest a few ideas every family can implement. Read to your children, even those who are old enough to read to themselves. Visit the library together and help guide your child to books that captured your imagination as a child. Talk to your child about what he is reading. Borrow his book and read it yourself, so you can see what appeals to him about it. Let your child see you curled up with a book and hear you talking about what you are reading. In short, create a home where reading and books are valued and discussed and where the love of reading thrives.