Monday, September 27, 2010

Following Up on Special Education in NYC

Back in April we wrote about proposed changes to the special education system in New York City. Now that the school year has begun, these changes are being put into place in 265 "Phase One" schools throughout the city. Parents in these schools have already received communications advising that their school will be implementing changes. The Arise Coalition, a group of public interest organizations and nonprofits which focus their work on special education issues in New York City, spearheaded by the terrific organization Advocates for Children , has been carefully monitoring these changes to determine how they may impact the children who are affected by them.

So, what do these changes include? They do not include any changes to the rights of students entitled to special education services to receive a free, appropriate public education as they are entitled to by law. You can see the document which outlines the philosophy which New York City is using as the basis for this new approach. These changes are in keeping with a statements by Congress in the preface to the 2004 revisions to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that "special education [should] become a service for such children rather than a place where such children are sent." and that schools should provide special education, services and supports in the regular classroom "whenever appropriate."

The key question is whether the changes being made in New York City will benefit the children they are intended to serve. Now that they are being put into place, we will continue to monitor the impact on the students of New York.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Learning to Play

A new event, billed as the  Ultimate Block Party, is scheduled for Sunday, October 3rd in New York City's Central Park. Sponsored by universities and organizations that include renowned leaders in learning and the science of education, it is designed to give children of all ages an opportunity to participate in activities that build skills through creative play, physical movement, and language based games.

Why would organizations such as the International Mind, Brain, and Education Society and the Harvard Graduate School of Education link up with companies like Lego and Crayola for an event? They are all responding to the loss of something kids of earlier generations took for granted -- opportunities for creative, unstructured play, that got them moving, helped build social and communication skills, and kept them healthy. Sure, the rough and tumble of the playground was not always a happy place and the realities of our present day world  have prompted many parents to limit where and how their children play. But the lack of play time is taking a real toll on children. According to a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics, authored by Dr. Kenneth Ginsberg,  "Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth... Despite the benefits derived from play for both children and parents, time for free play has been markedly reduced for some children." 

So check out this event, or look on the website for opportunities to hold a similar event in your own town. And do what you can to get your kids off of the sofa and off to the park or playground.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Learning Strategies for High Achieving Students

The Master Scholars Career Advising Program at the New York University School of Medicine and Dr. Lynn Buckvar-Keltz, the school's Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, hosted the annual presentation of Dr. Paul Yellin to the medical school student body last evening. Dr. Yellin's presentation, Strategies for Success in Medical School: The Impact of Normal Variations in Learning Profiles on Academic Performance in Medical Students, is part of his ongoing work with the the Dean of Academic Affairs and with individual medical students from NYU and other medical schools. Dr. Yellin also works with physicians who have completed medical school as well as young professionals in law and other fields.

Why would these students or recent graduates in highly demanding fields, who have been able to be admitted to competitive training programs, need the services of a physician who focuses his work on learning and school success? And why would a large number of first year students at the NYU Medical School take time away from their studies or leisure to attend Dr. Yellin's talk last night?

The answer, according to Dr. Yellin, is that it is not unusual for anyone to hit "bumps in the road" when entering a new phase of one's education or career. Some academically successful students first have difficulty late in their academic careers, when they find that the strategies they used in college are inadequate to permit them to succeed in professional programs, such as medical school. Tragically, some people who experience these setbacks prematurely abandon their chosen path because they assume that their struggles mean that they are "not cut out" for the path that they have chosen.

Dr. Yellin notes that once these struggling students or young professionals understand how they learn and how to use their cognitive and personal strengths to get past their areas of relative weakness, it is usually possible for them to bounce back and succeed. He adds that he has been consulting with NYU Medical School for almost ten years and that it has been enormously satisfying to see how the students with whom he has worked have been able to improve their performance and move ahead in their careers.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Cool Tools: Connecting Written Text to Recorded Audio

The New York Times recently picked up on an inspired piece of educational gadgetry which we have been recommending to many students and young professionals in our practice for quite some time.  The “smartpen,” manufactured and marketed by Livescribe in a couple of iterations, with varying features and price points, is a spectacularly handy device for note-taking in a lecture situation. It also has myriad additional uses, such as quick translation and mathematical-calculation applications built-in, and would be a useful tool in the arsenal of any business person or student who could benefit from a little support of their memory and materials-organization skills.

The current models, called “Echo” or “Pulse,” are affordably priced gadgets which essentially combine two age-old note-taking devices – the simple pen and the voice recorder – into one compact tool with intertwined functionality. The pen records lectures while you take notes as you would with an ordinary pen. It uses a proprietary notebook (a small one is included, additional books are sold separately, and the Times article implies that a “DIY” solution to creating your own coordinating paper is possible) to link the playback of your recordings with the written text you have entered while listening. Later, when studying your notes, a tap of the pen (it has a built-in sensor/stylus) can transport you back into the lecture hall by accessing the specific moment of the lecture that was being recorded while you jotted down your notes. Software (no additional charge) for your desktop or laptop computer can help you organize, access, and share your recordings. The pen and notebook system can even recognize drawings or mathematical equations that you sketch while listening.

For students with weak memory, attention, and organizational skills, the Livescribe pens can be a huge help and yield important benefits in the studying process. We have seen high-school students, college and post-graduate students, and even resident-level doctors praise the effectiveness of these sleek devices. The pens hold battery charge for a long time and are ergonomically designed, appearing no larger than a permanent marker. The bulkier size of the pen (when compared to a traditional pen) may even be a plus to some students who struggle with fine-motor issues. It charges simply via USB connection to your computer, and holds a large amount of audio recordings (variable by model and price); of course, you can upload your recordings to your computer via the supplied software, effectively allowing for infinite storage capacity of your recordings.

As with any new technology, there are certainly kinks to be worked out; for one, the pen doesn’t always trigger playback as instantaneously as you would like – sometimes you’ll have to peck intently to initiate playback. Another potential hazard is one that is not unique to the smartpen device but certainly symptomatic of much of the gadgetry of our time – the ubiquity of recording devices everywhere you turn. Whether you are a high-school student using the smartpen in class or a businessperson using the device to backup your notes on an important meeting, you will want to ensure that audio recording is acceptable in the specific situation in which you wish to use the device. Some schools and professors may not allow audio recording in their classrooms, so be certain to check with administrators prior to investing in this or any similar recording device (for example, any Mac computer or iPhone comes equipped with audio recording technology – although these devices lack the sensational cross-functionality that is built into the Livescribe pens). Also, looking into the future, it’s easy to imagine how the addition of speech-recognition software (such as the much more expensive but equally useful Dragon software from Nuance – to be discussed in a future post) to the mix would enhance the functionality of the device.

All things considered, we’ve found the Livescribe smartpens to be incredibly useful tools to help create important linkages between the spoken word and written text. Starting at just above $125 and available both online and in big-box electronic retailers, the smartpens should be fairly easy to obtain for many families.

-Jeremy Koren

Friday, September 17, 2010

Writer's Roundup

One of our favorite writers, Dr. Perry Klass, had an interesting piece in this week's New York Times Science News section, on school avoidance issues. Dr. Klass, a Professor of both Pediatrics and Journalism at New York University, discussed the various reasons that children may seek to avoid school.  She noted how parents, educators, mental health professionals, and pediatricians need to understand this complex issue and take steps to help these students, before their frequent absences make them even more uncomfortable with attending classes. We love everything Dr. Klass writes, from books about knitting, to the terrific Quirky Kids, to books about being a woman, a daughter, and a physician. Read this piece and other other pieces for the New York Times and check out her books. We think you will be glad you did.
Another of our favorites, our own Susan Yellin, Esq. was featured on the blog of Jessica Kingsley Publishers, along with her co-author of Life After High School: A Guide for Students with Disabilities and Their Families, Christina Cacioppo Bertsch. The occasion was the launch party for their new book which was held right here at the Yellin Center this past Tuesday evening.
The book has also received still another glowing review, this time from ForeWard Magazine, which noted that:

"Perhaps most valuable is the book’s overall approach: it addresses the whole person, and not just the disability. The chapters discussing competency are particularly helpful; they discuss not only how to get special accommodations in class, but address issues like money management, personal hygiene, and sex. Every parent hopes that his or her child will grow up to have a full and fulfilling life. The information and advice presented in Life After High School will be a key resource in making this happen for the disabled child." 

Monday, September 13, 2010

Pet Therapy

We've written before about how having pets can teach children responsibility and we've looked at how some schools are using dogs to work with struggling readers. Now we have learned about a psychotherapy practice, Animal Assisted Therapy Programs of Colorado, that uses dogs and cats to help patients talk about the issues that have brought them into treatment. First reported in the Denver Post,  Linda Chassman, Ph.D., a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and her team of human therapists, dogs, cats, and even a horse, use the connection that patients form with animals to reach them in a way that traditional "talk therapy" cannot. 

Recognizing that using animals to reach people, especially children, is an area of growing interest, the American Humane Society has put together an Animal Assisted Therapy Program to train professionals who want to incorporate pet therapy into their practices and is working with the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work Institute for Human - Animal Connection where ongoing research includes examining the impact of pet therapy on the psychotherapeutic process.

Of course, just having a dog or cat in a therapist's office is not necessarily beneficial to patients. The credentials of the therapist, whether he or she has had training from a reputable source in incorporating animals into the therapy process, and how the patient feels about animals are all key considerations before working with a therapist who includes pets in his or her practice. But this kind of treatment may be something to consider for particular patients in particular circumstances. 

photo credit:  susieq3c at flickr

Friday, September 10, 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. Whatever your thoughts may be about the words and deeds that have followed in the years since the attack, we suspect 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 3 blocks from the World Trade Center. He was attending a meeting in mid-town Manhattan, about 3 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.

Whatever your experiences or thoughts about the events of September 11th, you may want to explore how we can all help our children to live in our complex era. A series of talks at the Resurrection Episcopal Day School in Manhattan, to be kicked off by Dr. Yellin in early October, and entitled, "Educating Our Children To Be Responsible and Respectful Global Citizens: Celebrating Diverse Learners, Educators, and Families" is aimed at helping parents help their children with these issues. We'll let you know when the final dates and speakers are set. We think it will provide some thoughtful insights into our complex world.

Photo: SMU University Libraries

Thursday, September 9, 2010

On Science and Good Study Habits

Benedict Carey’s September 6 New York Times article, “Forget What You Know about Good Study Habits,” discusses one of our favorite topics – the practical application of the latest scientific findings about how the mind works to educational strategies. Carey examines recent research in the emerging field of Mind, Brain, and Education and highlights some important and useful conclusions. 

As we learn more about how we store and access information in our minds, we are identifying more and more effective strategies for learning and studying. Recently, a parent told us their son takes a “Drill and Kill” approach to studying. What he meant was that his son repeatedly re-read and re-wrote the same material over and over again. As the Times’ article points out, rather than relying on rote memory, learning is most effective when we use active study strategies, such as those identified in this article: studying in more than one place, studying a range of related material at once, spacing study sessions, and including self-testing as a study strategy. Rather than treating our minds like a suitcase, into which we stuff as much material as we can, we need to be strategic in how and what we store, so we can find it when we need it. 

(Photo by Sue Clark)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Do You Hear What I Hear?

A new study appearing in JAMA - The Journal of the American Medical Association confirms the importance of checking the hearing of all young people.

Josef Shargorodsky, MD, MPH and his colleagues at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston compared two sets of data on hearing loss from different periods of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, from the periods 1988-1994 and 2005-2006. Although much of the hearing loss they identified was mild, the level of increase was significant. In the earlier study some 14.9% of the target age group had some hearing loss. In the later study, this increased to 19.5%. Another finding of concern was that hearing loss was greater in young people whose families lived below the poverty level.  The authors concluded "The prevalence of hearing loss among a sample of U.S. adolescents aged 12 to 19 years was greater in 2005-2006 compared with 1988-1994. Further studies are needed to determine reasons for this increase and to identify potential modifiable risk factors to prevent the development of hearing loss." 

Screening for vision and hearing problems has always been a part of our comprehensive educational assessments here at the Yellin Center. Students need to be able to see and hear clearly to fully participate in the learning experience in their classrooms. When our screening suggests there may be a problem in either of these areas we suggest that the student be seen by an appropriate professional who can determine whether there is, indeed, a problem and offer appropriate remediation if necessary. 

So what can parents do? There is a good discussion of how to prevent hearing loss in children Noise-Induced Hearing Loss in Children: What Educators Need to Know on the commercial site You may find the link in the article to particularly helpful.