Friday, December 23, 2011

Holiday Gifts

It’s become a tradition
Our annual poem
Before we adjourn 
To spend holidays at home 

We’ve gifts to distribute 
To students and schools 
Who we know can be helped 
By these wonderful tools

For youngsters who stumble 
With numbers and math 
The “FunWay” book series 
Can help ease their path 

When attention’s the problem 
And kids struggle to cope 
Can help give them hope

For memory issues 
The smartpen is grand 
It records when you write 
To keep lectures at hand

And kids of all ages 
Can find Inspiration
To help them to organize 
Any creation 

What about teachers 
Who need stuff for their class? 
The site Donors Choose
Can help bring that to pass

For City school parents 
In bureaucracy’s maze 
The site InsideSchools 
Can help brighten your days

At the risk of a claim of self-aggrandizement 
We also must note (in a small advertisement) 
That for struggling students 
The best gift of all 
Might just be to click or to give us a call

The Yellin Center will be closed for our holiday break from December 26, 2011, re-opening on Tuesday, January 3, 2012. We wish you all a very Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, and a Happy New Year!

Photo used under Creative Commons by asenat29

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Least Restrictive Environment

Parents of students with learning challenges who receive special education or related services from the public schools need to be familiar with the term Least Restrictive Environment – LRE.

The use of the term stems from language in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act that requires that students receiving special education services be educated, “to the maximum extent appropriate … with children who are not disabled” and further provides that placing such children in separate classes or separate school settings or otherwise removing them from the regular educational environment occur only when “the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.”  There is an excellent discussion of the issues relating to LRE from the U.S. Department of Education that appears on the Wrightslaw website.

The goal of LRE is to prevent children with any sort of disability (we don’t like that terminology, but it is the language used in the statute) from being removed from the regular classroom unless it is truly necessary. It is the basis for the variety of inclusion settings that schools have implemented to provide support for students with learning challenges while addressing the needs of their classmates. One model is Collaborative Team Teaching classes that use a special education teacher in a regular classroom to provide support needed by students with learning challenges. Other examples of LRE at work are “pull out” supports that keep students in regular classes while providing special education supports in a separate setting for only for part of the school day, or the inclusion of children who require a separate classroom setting for most of the day in non-academic activities (lunch, gym, recess) with their typically learning peers.

What does this mean for a child with learning difficulties who has an IEP – an Individualized Education Program? It means that for all children full time presence in a regular classroom is the “default” setting and that the IEP team (called the CSE -- Committee on Special Education -- in many locales, including here in New York) needs to consider each step away from this default and determine if it is truly necessary, before removing a child from that setting for even part of the day. It doesn’t mean that some children are not placed in separate classrooms or even separate schools, just that such placements must be justified as truly necessary for the child’s education.

Of course, as with many laudable goals, there are complexities and agendas at work when considering LRE. Children with behavioral issues who may be disruptive to their classmates may be placed in a separate setting, even when they could benefit from a regular classroom. Schools have generally found that inclusion classrooms, where children with and without IEPs are educated together, are less expensive than maintaining separate special education classes and may be reluctant to appropriately place a child in a separate class even when that would be the best setting for him or her.

Furthermore, as with much of special education, LRE is applicable only in the public school system. Parents of some students with learning issues are very eager to have them enrolled in private, special education schools whose entire mission is to educate students with learning difficulties, even though such schools are definitely a most restrictive environment.

Photo background used under Creative Commons by Horia Varlan

Monday, December 19, 2011

Monday Miscellany

Writing Opportunity for New Jersey 5th and 6th Graders

Teachers 4 Student Success, a non-profit organization, will be hold a writing camp for 5th and 6th grade students in New Jersey this summer. The camp is designed for students who have either been diagnosed with a learning disability or who simply find writing difficult. Instruction will take place over 10 sessions from July to August, and will be based on research-tested methods for teaching expository writing. Because the program will be subsidized by a grant, the cost for the entire summer is only $20.00, though students must be willing to attend all sessions in Fort Lee, NJ or Ridgefield, NJ. Eligibility restrictions may apply. 
For further information, please contact Pooja Patel at or (201) 310-1348. Space is limited.


A New Post-Secondary Program

Last week we had the chance to visit Giant Step Services, a two year vocational and independent living program for young adults with significant learning challenges. What brought us out to Hauppauge, in Suffolk County, New York, was the fact that this program is run by the same folks who created the Vocational Independence Program (VIP) at the New York Institute of Technology. VIP is a highly regarded post-secondary option for students whose learning difficulties would make college very difficult, but who can benefit from vocational education and life skills and social experiences. VIP students can also take courses at NYIT.

The team at Giant Step follows a similar model to VIP, but is not affiliated with a college, although students may take classes at Suffolk County Community College or elsewhere. The program is located in an apartment complex where the participants live together in two- or three-bedroom apartments. They receive significant levels of services and support to work in the community. The Giant Step program is still new, but given the background of the folks who are running it, we are hopeful that it will be an important resource for young people with significant learning challenges. For more information, contact Giant Step at (631) 631-5550.


ARISE Coalition

New York City parents, teachers, and others who are concerned about the state of special education in the city should be aware of the ARISE Coalition (Action for Reform in Special Education), whose membership is a "Who's Who" of nonprofit organizations, educators, unions, and political leaders "seeking to connect and bring meaningful and positive reform to New York's schools. Their email alerts are a good way to keep abreast of NYC Special Education news.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Special Events For Your 2012 Calendar

It’s time to start adding events to our 2012 calendars, and we have some programs that you might want to take note of for the new year.

For the NYC child who has everything -- and a love of adventure -- an amazing holiday gift could be an overnight visit to the Museum of Natural History. Reservations for these sleep-overs for 6 - 13 year olds are limited and sell out quickly. Check out the schedule, details, and available dates by calling 212-769-5200.

Resources for Children with Special Needs will be holding its annual Camp Fair on Saturday, January 28, 2012 from 11 AM to 3 PM at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle, (entrance on Columbus Ave./W. 60th St.) in Manhattan. Admission is free and attendees get a copy of the extensive Camp Directory. The Fair will feature day camp programs in New York City and sleep-away camps throughout the NY, NJ, and CT area. Presenters include travel programs and remedial education programs for children with a broad range of learning and other issues.

Kids Night on Broadway takes place February 5th- 9th, 2012. This annual event offers free tickets to many Broadway and Off-Broadway shows for children from 6-18 when accompanied by a full-paying adult. The event also offers free dining for kids at participating restaurants and includes parallel events in other cities. Early curtain times make these evenings even more kid-friendly.

Subway Sleuths is a program for kids on the autism spectrum (primarily in grades 3-5, but they are flexible) that uses content about the New York City subway to practice and promote social engagement, collaboration, and problem solving. The ten session program begins in February, but there is a required 45-minute observation and orientation tomorrow, December 17th (and another one in January).

The Yellin Center will be presenting a number of special events throughout the year. For starters, Dr. Yellin will give a free presentation sponsored by CHADD of New York on January 9 in Manhattan. Stay tuned to our special events calendar for more information.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Book on Every Bed

This holiday season will be the second in which advice columnist Amy Dickinson and the Family Reading Partnership team up to spread the joy of reading to children. Their campaign, called “A Book on Every Bed,” encourages parents whose families celebrate Christmas to choose a book for their child, wrap it, and leave it on the foot of the child’s bed to be found on Christmas morning. 

The idea came from Pulitzer prize-winning author David McCullough, who remembers waking up to a book at the foot of his bed each Christmas morning as a child. “I think my love of books began on Christmas mornings long ago, and the love has never gone stale,” McCullough says. His children received Christmas books, too, and they have passed the tradition on to their children.

Dickinson observes, “Parents who raise children surrounded by books and stories give their kids a leg up in life. Children who love books grow up to be good and attentive listeners. And kids who read for pleasure have ready access to heroes.”

This great idea can be adapted for any special occasion (Hanukkah, birthdays, or the first day of a new  school year, for example) and can be a great source of inspiration for children as they begin to associate enjoyable holidays and special events with books. What better way to share the love of reading with a child?

Monday, December 12, 2011

AAP Updates Guidelines for Diagnosis and Treatment of ADHD

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released new guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). These are intended to update and integrate two separate sets of guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of attention difficulties which date to 2000 and 2001, respectively.

The new guidelines still rely upon the definition of ADHD that appears in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association. We have not been big fans of relying solely on this approach to diagnosis, which involves counting symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity and then looking to see if these symptoms have been present for a number of months in more than one setting (such as both in school and at home). While this approach can be very helpful, we don't think it goes far enough towards truly understanding how attention impacts behavior and learning.

We have always preferred to look at attention from a different, more functional perspective, which considers three primary areas -- mental energy controls, processing controls, and production controls. Within each functional area, we break down areas of strength and weakness, so that we consider a broad array of skills and competencies.

When we look at mental energy controls, we consider not just attentional consistency, but also alertness, mental work stamina, and sleep/arousal balance. We sometimes discuss these factors in terms of whether an individual has sufficient cognitive "fuel" to power their tasks.

When we look at the processing controls of attention, we examine such areas as saliency determination, processing depth, focus on detail, cognitive activation, focal maintenance, and satisfaction levels. These considerations can be viewed as the camera lens that a student will bring to his or her work. Does it focus at the right depth for the task at hand?

We examine production controls by reviewing an array of skills which include previewing, facilitation, pacing, self-monitoring, and inhibition. These are the "output" skills that impact academic performance and classroom behavior.

As a practical matter, we believe that looking at functions is a more helpful approach than just counting symptoms, and the new AAP guidelines do seem to move in that direction. For example, they urge that physicians look at other causes for the symptoms commonly attributed to ADHD, such as learning, emotional, and physical conditions. They also note that special consideration needs to be given to both young children and teens, and they expand the age range in which attention problems should be considered to ages 4-18 (from ages 6-11). The new guidelines also acknowledge advances in medication for attention problems and offer guidelines for physicians as to the best initial approaches for children of varying age groups.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Awards for Smart Kids with Learning Challenges

Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities, a nonprofit organization based in Connecticut, has announced its 2012 Youth Achievement Award Contest, a nationwide program providing an award of $1,000 to a student 19 or younger who demonstrates initiative, talent and determination resulting in a notable accomplishment in any field -- including art, music, science, math, athletics or community service. There will also be Honorable Mention awards. The application for the 2012 Award is due February 28, 2012.

Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities has a helpful website with information for parents about learning and attention difficulties, including the legal aspects of special education and age-specific concerns. The website and their newsletters feature articles by well-regarded names in the fields of learning and advocacy. The current Honorary Chair of Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities is Henry Winkler, the actor, director, and producer, who is also the co-author of the Hank Zipzer book series for children, which is based upon Winkler's own struggles with dyslexia.

Other awards and scholarships specifically for students with learning differences include the Anne Ford Scholarship, which provides $10,000 over four years for students enrolling in a full time four-year college program in the fall of 2012, and the newer Allegra Ford Scholarship, offering a one-time $2,500 award to a student who will be attending a two-year college, a vocational program, or a specialized program for students with learning challenges. Both are organized by the National Center for Learning DisabilitiesThe deadlines for both scholarships are coming up soon -- December 31, 2011. Anne Ford wrote about her daughter Allegra's learning issues in a moving book, Laughing Allegra.

Marion Huber Learning Through Listening awards are presented to members of Learning Ally (formerly Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic) which supplies audio books to qualified students. This award is presented to high school seniors with learning disabilities, in recognition of academic excellence, outstanding leadership, and service to others. the awards are given to six students who are chosen by a selection committee. Learning Ally presents the three top winners $6,000 each and three special honors winners $2,000 each. The application deadline for the next awards is March 15, 2012.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Time to Read

Mark-My-Time is the kind of simple, brilliant product you’ll wish you’d thought of first. A small timer mounted atop a brightly-colored, durable plastic bookmark can be set to count either up or down, helping kids monitor their reading times in a fun way. The timer can record up to 100 hours of reading before it is reset. An additional feature, a 60-second countdown/up clock, is useful for fluency exercises. The current edition of Mark-My-Time also includes small reading lights mounted above the timer for reading on road trips or in bed.

These bookmarks are great tools for readers who need a bit of encouragement to stick with it for a few more minutes. It can be intensely gratifying for students to realize how much time they’ve spent reading over the course of a few days or weeks.

Mark-My-Time is fairly easy to use, but students will likely benefit from a grown-up’s help and direction during their first few uses before they get the hang of it.

Some children may find the timer distracting and limit their focus to the numerical display rather than the page, so Mark-My-Time may not be ideal for everyone. As always, The Yellin Center strongly advocates a highly-individualized and research-supported approach to managing children's learning profiles.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Neuroscience & The Classroom

Dr. Yellin is a featured faculty member in an exciting new initiative from Annenberg Learner, a program "to advance excellent teaching in American schools through the development and distribution of multimedia resources for teaching and learning." Annenberg Learner is one of many projects of the Annenberg Foundation, whose mission is to assist nonprofit organizations throughout the U.S. and the world, with a focus on improved communication and education.

The course in which Dr. Yellin is featured is Neuroscience & the Classroom: Making Connections, designed to help K-12 teachers learn more about the field of Mind, Brain, and Education, and to thereby become better able to understand the continually growing body of scientific information about how brains work and how students learn.

Among the other speakers featured in this series are Kurt Fischer, Director for the Mind, Brain, and Education program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education; Matthew H. Schneps,  director of the Laboratory for Visual Learning at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), who has been previously featured in this blog; Dr. Todd Rose, a faculty member at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he teaches a course on educational neuroscience, as well as a research scientist at CAST (the Center for Applied Special Technology)Dr. Antonio Damasio, who directs the University of Southern California Brain and Creativity Institute, and numerous others.

The course materials are available for free as streaming video, with downloadable written materials. The materials can also be purchased from Annenberg Learner in other formats, along with printed course material.

Watch an interview with Dr. Yellin from the series about creating a common language shared by neuroscientists and educators (depending on your browser, you may need to page down on the linked page to the appropriate link).

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

KidRex Lets Kids Roam The Internet Safely

KidRex is a useful search tool for parents and teachers worried about letting children run loose online.

Users can type any search criteria into the field on the appealing homepage, and the resulting pages will each be screened by Google SafeSearch for adult content before they are displayed. Sites geared towards children are emphasized in searches; for example, a search for “Africa” turned up several pages by PBS Kids first before listing denser results like Wikipedia farther down.

Set KidRex as your kids’ homepage to allow children to explore their online world in safety.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Brain Structure and Function in ADHD

Recent findings presented at a November meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and reported in the Wall Street Journal revealed that children with diagnosed attention difficulties showed functional differences in a key part of the brain associated with important aspects of mental controls. The study looked at 19 children with attention difficulties, and a control group of 23, and conducted functional MRI scans to look at how their brains functioned when engaged in a memory task.

The fMRI scans revealed that the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, a part of the brain that coordinates mental activity, functioned differently in children with attention difficulties.

Another recent study, from researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center (associated with the NYU School of Medicine, where Dr. Yellin is on the faculty of the Department of Pediatrics), indicated that adults who were diagnosed with attention problems during their childhood have physically different brain structures, including decreased cortical thickness and gray matter volumes.

When considered together along with other studies indicating structural differences in areas such as the caudate nucleus (which plays an important role in memory and learning), a body of knowledge about differences in brain structures and functions in individuals who struggle with attention is beginning to emerge.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Gratitude and Kindness

This week's New York Times Science section surveys research on how expressing gratitude -- by doing such things as keeping a journal of things you have appreciated, or by doing something nice for someone else -- can have a beneficial impact on how people view themselves and others.

It reminds us of an ad we have seen on TV recently in which someone observes a stranger doing a good deed -- from opening a door for someone to helping a neighbor rake leaves. In each instance, the observer goes on to do his or her own good deed, which is observed by someone else, who is then moved to do a kindness, and so on. It's corny, but now we know that this kind of "paying it forward" is actually supported by research.

Christine Carter, Ph.D a sociologist, and director of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Parents program (part of the Greater Good Science Center which "studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being, and teaches skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society") notes that fostering gratitude in teens is particularly difficult, because this age group is moving to separate from their parents, a process that doesn't translate into appreciating their parents -- or anyone else. She suggests that for teens, parents focus on fostering kindness rather than specifically urging gratitude. She also urges parents to allow for sarcasm and humor when teens express themselves, since the concept of gratitude still gets through.

So, as we sit down to celebrate with family and friends tomorrow, we will try to honor the spirit of Thanksgiving and hope that you and your family have a happy and thankful day!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving Children's Book Recommendations

On our list of things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving are some terrific children’s books. They’ll be sure to set the mood for your celebrations this year, as you and your family take time to reflect on all the reasons you have to be grateful.

Yellin Center Recommended Thanksgiving Books

Fancy Nancy: Our Thanksgiving Banquet by Jane O’Connor
(ages 4 and up, and older kids can read this on their own)
Fancy Nancy helps her family prepare for a fantastic Thanksgiving meal, with all her usual flair. Comes with stickers!

Turkey Trouble by Wendi Silvano
(preschool - 3rd grade)
A terrified turkey attempts to disguise himself to avoid becoming Thanksgiving dinner in this silly story, complete with a happy ending.

The Pilgrims' First Thanksgiving by Ann McGovern
(ages 4 and up)
This classic chronicles the struggles of the pilgrims during their first year at Plymouth Colony, their friendship with Native Americans like Squanto, and the first, three-day long Thanksgiving celebration.

'Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving by Dav Pilkey
(ages 4 and up)
 In this zany rewritten version of ’Twas the Night Before Christmas, children on a school field trip to a farm are troubled to learn about the impending fate of the turkeys they meet there. This funny story, full of Pilkey’s trademark humor, is sure to please both kids and parents.

Thanksgiving on Thursday (Magic Tree House #27) by Mary Pope Osborne
(ages 6 and up to read on their own)
Jack and Annie travel back to the first Thanskgiving Day in 1621, where they learn about life in Plymouth.

Little Critter: Just So Thankful by Mercer Mayer
(ages 3 and up)
Although Little Critter is initially jealous of the kid down the street who seems to have everything, he learns that there is much to be thankful for in this charming book

Sarah Morton's Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Girl, Samuel Eaton’s Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Boy, and Tapenum's Day: A Wampanoag Indian Boy In Pilgrim Timesby Kate Waters
(ages 4 and up; students in grades 4 and up can read it on their own)  
Through a series of photographs taken in a recreated colony, Waters teaches about the lives of the Pilgrims and the Native Americans.

The Yellin family's Thanksgiving tradition includes an early start to the day, enjoying breakfast with family overlooking the route of the famed Macy's parade in Manhattan. This year, the younger children in the clan will be able to read a new book by Melissa SweetBalloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade, which tells the story of the parade and the man who began the tradition in the 1920s (ages 4 and up).

Friday, November 18, 2011

Study: Fast-Paced Cartoons May Slow Children’s Executive Functioning

Few parents would argue that watching television is a beneficial activity for their kids, but many assume it is a harmless way to keep children engaged for relatively brief periods of time.

A recent study led by Professor Angeline Lillard and Jennifer Peterson of the University of Virginia, and reported in the journal Pediatrics, found that certain kinds of television viewing by young children may not be so benign and may, in fact, have a significant negative impact on children.

The study examined 60 four year olds, mostly white and middle or upper-middle class in background, and found that their executive functioning – their ability to maintain attention, control behavior, and solve problems – was severely compromised after just nine minutes of watching a fast-paced cartoon (in this case, the popular Sponge-Bob Squarepants). Other groups of children spent nine minutes watching Caillou, a realistic cartoon that moves at a slower pace, or drawing without watching television at all.

Psychologists administered assessments immediately after the nine-minute interval, testing to see how well the children solved problems, followed rules, remembered what they had been told, and were able to delay gratification. The drawing and Caillou groups performed similarly, while the Sponge-Bob group lagged far behind.

The authors note that their study raises important implications about the learning and behavior of young children. They caution parents that what children watch may affect their life-long executive functioning. However, it should be noted that the study investigated only the immediate effects of fast-paced television shows and did not probe long-term results, although the authors did reference the findings of earlier studies which indicate that the impact of television watching may have some longer-term impact.

Professor Lillard has created a Q & A site that offers guidance for parents based upon the findings of her study.

Photo used under Creative Commons by Phil Campbell

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Another Look at SAT and ACT Issues

We've been getting a new wave of questions about the relative merits of the SAT versus ACT exams and about what to do when a student has difficulties with both of these tests. A quick review of our blog history (which can be accessed on the right side of this page) reveals that we haven't written in depth about these subjects for over two years. So, at the risk of repeating ourselves, we want to summarize the key issues that students and their families need to know.

First, there are differences between these two standardized college admissions tests. As we have noted, each was designed to measure somewhat different kinds of college readiness. The SAT exam was designed to measure "aptitude," that elusive, inherent quality that was once -- but no longer -- thought to correlate with college performance. The ACT is more focused on the body of knowledge that a student would generally need to have accumulated during high school to be successful in college. We have looked at these differences in more depth before and still stick by our recommendation that for students who are undecided about which test to take, trying a few practice exams from both testing companies may be the best way to decide.

Second, we want to remind students and parents that testing accommodations -- extended time, use of a computer for essays, and other accommodations that are designed to mirror the kinds of support that students with learning or attention issues may have been receiving in high school and which are necessary for such students to properly demonstrate their abilities -- require lots of time to arrange. The testing organizations need documentation, sometimes more than one round of documents, to make their determinations, and families want to leave time to appeal from a denial of accommodations. Students who need accommodations for these tests should apply at least several months in advance to allow time for this process to work.

We always urge students to check out the sections of the websites for the SAT and ACT that outline the procedures and generally available accommodations for students with learning and other challenges for the most up to date information, but to make sure that they allow plenty of time to complete the accommodations application. Students planning to take the PSAT or PLAN, the early versions of the two tests, should keep in mind that taking such pre-tests without accommodations may have a negative impact on the decision of the testing organizations to provide accommodations. Once you have shown that you can take the tests without accommodations, even if you could do much better when using the accommodations you are used to getting in high school, you have weakened your argument that such accommodations are truly necessary.

Finally, students who decide that neither of these tests will work for them, or who have taken one or both of these tests and have done poorly, need not lose heart. As we have recommended in the past, the nonprofit organization FairTest lists numerous colleges, many of them nationally recognized, that do not require standardized tests for admission.

Monday, November 14, 2011

I Love to Write Day

November 15th is the tenth annual I Love to Write Day!  Founder John Riddle, author and founder of the event, urges everyone to take time to write, be it a letter, a poem, or a story.  “Just write something that’s meaningful to you,” he urges.

Many literary centers hold competitions, host workshops, or invite authors to speak.  Contact your child’s school or library to ask about special events.   For additional information and ideas, visit the project website at

Write on!

Photo used under Creative Commons by Erin Kohlenberg

Friday, November 11, 2011

How Disabilities Impact Military Enlistment

Today is Veterans Day, when we stop for a moment and give thanks to those who have served -- and who continue to serve  -- our country.

We thought it would also be a good time to look at how the armed forces deal with students with learning and related challenges. We've written before about efforts to address the special education needs of children whose parents are in the military, but not about how the military deals with learning or attention difficulties in individuals who seek to enlist.

The key to understanding this subject is that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not apply to the military services; they are not required to accept any applicant who does not meet their standards or to offer any accommodations to individuals. Although each branch of the military sets its own standards, all of the standards for enlistment have their foundation in the same provision of the Selective Service Act that permits each arm of the military to declare someone unacceptable for service. This exemption from the ADA does not apply to civilian employees of the military and the various branches have actively sought to include individuals with specific disabilities in their civilian workforce.

Individuals who have a physical condition that limits mobility or stamina or who have a history of behavior disorders will automatically be disqualified from all branches of the service. The unifying principle behind the list of disqualifying disorders is that they may interfere with an individual's ability to function as part of a group, to operate anywhere in the world, to deal with stress, and to make effective decisions under pressure.

So, individuals with learning challenges may be able to enlist if they can pass a battery of cognitive and functional tests. Young people with a history of attention difficulties who have not required medication for that condition for three or more years will generally be granted a medical waiver and be permitted to serve in at least some branches of the service. Students who want to enroll in their campus ROTC programs will find that these programs will not admit individuals who would not meet the requirements of the branch of the military with which they are affiliated. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Study Shows No Link Between ADHD Medications and Cardiac Problems

A report in the November 1 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine included the results of a large study designed to clarify whether ADHD medications are associated with an increased risk of serious cardiac problems (the study was not designed to monitor minor side effects -- only significant heart complications). The authors sought to quantify the risks which these medications may pose for the 2.7 million children for whom they are prescribed each year. In particular, they wanted to determine if previous anecdotal reports of negative cardiac events were supported by a review of the data from a large number of patients.

The study did not find any association between ADHD medications and serious cardiac problems.

The researchers reviewed data compiled over the course of at least three years from four geographically diverse health plans (Tennessee Medicaid, Washington State Medicaid, Kaiser Permanente California, and OptumInsight Epidemiology) with more than 1.2 million members between 2 and 24 years of age.

While this is only one study, it is reassuring and is consistent with other studies and clinical experience indicating that these medications are safe and effective when clinically indicated, provided in appropriate dosages, and monitored for possible side effects. It is also important to bear in mind that medication decisions need to be individualized, must involve ongoing communication between parent, patient, and physician, and are only one part of a comprehensive treatment plan.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Estimation Skills and Dyscalculia

Just about everyone is familiar with dyslexia, a learning disability that can make reading a difficult process because of an inherent difficulty in connecting sounds to symbols like letters. Fewer people, however, have heard of dyscalculia, a learning disability specific to mathematics. Like dyslexia, true dyscalculia affects only a small portion of the population (estimates range from 5-8%), yet it poses a tremendous difficulty to those affected by it.

Studies indicate that children who demonstrate difficulty differentiating between different sounds during their early years of life are at risk for dyslexia. Similarly, preschool-aged children who demonstrate difficulty with estimation tasks may be showing early signs of dyscalculia. Several recent studies have found that young children’s innate estimation capabilities are predictive of their later performance in math. Kennedy Krieger Institute research scientist Michele Mazzocco, Ph.D. says that children with dyscalculia lack “number sense,” an instinct for quantity that cannot be simply memorized.

Emerging research in this field was considered as we redesigned some of the assessment tools we use at The Yellin Center to evaluate children’s math capabilities. For students who demonstrate difficulty in math, we now administer a brief, proprietary dot estimation task in which children are given brief exposures to cards with varying numbers of dots, then directed to complete different estimation tasks. The results are often illuminating, and we appreciate the increased insight we can gain by better assessing our young students' estimation skills.

Image used under Creative Commons by Shawn Campbell

Friday, November 4, 2011

Study: Intensive Training Trumps Traditional Instruction

A recent study from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden found that intensive, daily instruction offered for a short time was more effective in helping struggling readers than the remedial reading programs typically offered by Swedish schools. 

Over the course of three years, the Reading and Fluency Training Based on Phonemic Awareness (RAFT) study worked with a group of 100 nine-year-olds. Half of the children were given 40 minutes of daily, intensive reading instruction for a 12-week period. Instruction included structured exercises in linking letters to sounds, phonetic awareness, and fluency. The control group was given their school’s traditional reading remediation offering, such as tutoring or a special reading class.

The results of the study showed that the children in the experimental group made significantly more gains in all areas tested – word decoding, spelling, reading speed, and reading comprehension – than the children who received standard school services.

Read Science Daily’s coverage of the study here.  

-Beth Guadagni, M.A.

Image used under Creative Commons by Elizabeth Albert

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Visuwords: Word Webs to Help Build Vocabulary

Word webs can be a great way to teach students new vocabulary. Rather than simply examining the definition of a word, students have to arrange many words according to their meanings and thus consider finer points of their definitions as they determine how best to connect them. Visuwords, an innovative “online graphical dictionary” takes the idea of word webs to a completely different level.

With Visuwords (recommended for students in grade 5 and above), students can type just about any word (“rhythm” or “Jefferson”) or combination of words in common expressions (“blow up”) into the field at the top of the page, and moments later a word web will appear below. Using the key along the left edge of the screen, students can interpret the different colors and styles of connective lines to determine how the linked words are related to each other; options include “opposes” (e.g. “blow up” opposes “scale down”), “derivation" (e.g. “communicate” is a derivation of “communication”), “is a part of” (e.g. “photosynthesis” is a part of “light reaction”) and many, many more. The colored dot behind each word on the web indicates its part of speech. Best of all, a student can view definitions for any of the terms on the web by moving the mouse over a word, an ingenious way to provide lots of information without making the web too cluttered. Students can drag words around to make the web easier to view, or group similar concepts for deeper processing.

Visuwords can be a fantastic way to learn the shades of meaning inherent in complex words, and it can function as a thesaurus as well.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Importance of Science Education in the U.S.

Few of us would question that science helps us understand the world around us. But in a recent blog for National Public Radio ("Why the U.S. Needs To Learn More Science," October, 19, 2011), Marcelo Gleiser argues that the importance of learning science goes far beyond that: it helps shape our culture and our philosophy. Gleiser cites the shift away from superstition and toward reason, and the changes in the way we view our world and communicate with each other, all thanks to science.

“Science is more than a collection of explanations about the natural world: science is a means to freedom, offering people a way to control their destiny, to choose wisely in what to believe.” Gleiser quotes Gallileo, who insisted, “Think for yourself! Don’t take what people tell you at face value. Do not bow blindly to dogma!”

Gleiser looks to the future as well as nodding to the past, raising issues like genetics in medicine and global warming. “Only a well-informed population is able to make well-informed choices about science and the environment that will shape our future,” he points out. Gleiser recommends a list of scientists who, like himself, view science writing for the purpose of educating the public as part of their mission.  The U.S., he concludes, needs to learn more science.

Photo used under Creative Commons by Liz

Friday, October 28, 2011

Test-Taking Tips From The Experts

Because of the nature of memory, we often tell students that the best way to study for a test is to take practice tests. Research indicates that rereading study material, the method preferred by most people, is less effective than taking practice tests for two reasons: First, our brains have difficulty distinguishing between material with which we are familiar and material which we truly understand. Students may stop studying too early because they recall seeing information before, only to realize during the test that they didn’t actually understand it. Second, answering practice questions gives the brain practice at retrieving information from long-term memory, the process a student undergoes during actual testing. Students who have the opportunity to rehearse “finding” answers are more prepared to do this quickly and easily on test day.

An article in The Wall Street Journal from earlier this week covers this principle and offers other testing tips derived from a number of studies on learning. For example, nearly everybody knows that eating a nutritious breakfast on test day is important, but a recent experiment demonstrated that consumption of a nutritious diet should start a week before the test date for optimum results. The article also discusses how to balance sleeping and studying, and offers tips to help combat test anxiety. 

Students gearing up for the first round of mid-terms can access the full article here.

Photo used under Creative Commons by Steven S.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Find Events for Kids with New York Magazine

In New York City, finding great options to entertain and educate your kids is generally not a problem; rather, parents may find themselves struggling to choose between too many choices. An art class at the Met? A live band performance? Bouldering in the park?

New York Magazine provides a useful tool to help parents navigate the plethora of options. Check out their Kids Agenda (near the bottom right of their main kids page) for a list of all upcoming events in the city. Alternately, you can use the “Find Events for Kids” function to help narrow your search for great options for your little and not-so-little ones. For example, we used the drop-down menus to search for “workshops/classes” in the next 7 days and found 9 results, including a fire-safety tour and simulation, a chance to create nature crafts from natural materials in Prospect Park, and a pizza cooking class. Check-marks appear next to events critics have selected as being particularly promising.

Also on the site are reviews of family-friendly movies, a directory of recommended stores and restaurants to visit with your kids, and more.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Quack! for SAT Vocabulary

When your child can’t bear to even look at another flashcard as s/he prepares for the SAT, it’s time to seek alternative measures. Quack! Media’s SAT Vocabulary Success DVD's will not only come as a huge relief to a frustrated teenager, they may be entertaining as well.

The two DVDs in Quack!: Vocab Success for the New SAT painlessly teach 100 words that frequently appear on the SAT. These are no standard vocabulary lessons, however; words are taught with sketches and hilarious, Mystery Science Theater 3000-style dubs that will keep students riveted. Not only will kids be highly engaged, they’ll be provided with images to associate with each vocabulary word, helping them to hold onto its meaning when test time rolls around. Of course, Quack! is a great resource for younger children too, and would be a welcome addition to any middle school student’s classroom or homework session. Creative teachers can even task students with writing and performing their own vocabulary skits for classmates. The package comes with pre- and post-tests and interactive quizzes as well.

Parents and teachers should not be surprised to find themselves just as amused, and enlightened, by Quack! as the teenagers in their lives.

Order the product online here.

-Beth Guadagni, M.A.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Dr. Yellin Speaks at Council of Exceptional Children Convention

Dr. Yellin is in Rochester, NY today, speaking to the 58th Annual Convention of  The New York State Council of Exceptional Children, which describes itself as "The Voice and the Vision of Special Education in New York State."

He is joining with Diana Bowers and Peggy O'Connor, Superintendent and Director of Special Education, respectively, of the Hamilton Central School District in upstate New York, to discuss "The Partnership Between Educators and Clinicians." Their talk builds upon an on-site professional development program Dr. Yellin provided for the staff of the district to help them create a meaningful program of Response to Intervention (RTI). RTI is an approach to identifying students with learning challenges by analyzing their response to increasing levels of academic interventions and teaching methods to determine whether and to what extent students may need special education services or settings.

Since Dr. Yellin's visit to Hamilton in July, 2010, the Hamilton professionals -- Principals, Learning Specialists, Reading Specialists, Classroom Teachers, and the District Psychologist, Occupational Therapist, and Superintendent of Schools -- have been applying their new approach and have seen measurable improvement in student performance. It is this exciting result of the collaboration between educators and clinicians that is the focus of today's presentation, which includes a discussion of the training, and success stories of children who have benefited from the implementation of this thoughtful, researched-based RTI program. Dr. Yellin, Dr. Bowers, and Ms. O'Connor previously presented information on their collaboration and the approach used by The Yellin Center team to attendees of the New York State School Boards Association Annual Convention in New York City.

Photo used under Creative Commons by Patrick Ashley

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Keeping Kids in Motion

Most New Yorkers recognize the New York Road Runners as the organizers of the ING New York City Marathon, one of the largest marathons in the world. But did you know that NYRR is dedicated to providing running programs for kids, too? On October 23rd, NYRR will host their semi-annual Youth Jamboree at the New Balance Track and Field Center at the Armory in upper Manhattan. These Jamborees, which feature track and field events for children from kindergarten through 8th grade, are open to any child who registers. Against the backdrop of the running, jumping, and throwing events, NYRR will offer a family health fair. For more information or to register your child, visit NYRR’s website.

NYRR’s other youth programs are worth investigating as well. Mighty Milers promotes fitness by encouraging kids to integrate exercise into their daily lives. Participants can track their progress online and work toward incentives provided by NYRR. Young Runners is a free program for kids in elementary school up through high school. Kids can join a running team and enjoy regular coaching sessions, entry into races, and more. Young Runners is available to schools, churches, or other organizations. Visit NYRR’s homepage for even more opportunities to help kids get moving.

Image derived from photo used under Creative Commons by Nam Nguyen

Monday, October 17, 2011

Assessing Kindergarten Readiness

New York's Board of Regents, the governing body for the state education system, is considering a proposal at its meeting today that would include assessing all children entering kindergarten to determine their readiness for school. This would move beyond the basic assessments that are now done to look at whether a child may have a disability or limited English language.

We think this is a fine idea, so long as the more extensive assessments are used as a starting point to guide interventions with appropriate follow-up. We already know that all children learn differently, and that young children, in particular, have a wide range of abilities. By identifying early readiness skills schools can provide teachers with helpful data. According to the proposal before the Regents, this assessment would look at language and literacy development, cognition and general knowledge (including early mathematics and early scientific development), approaches to learning, physical well-being and motor development (including adaptive skills) and emotional development. It would not be used to postpone entrance into kindergarten. According to Newsday, this new extended assessment process would affect about 190,000 entering kindergarten students each year and the funding would be provided as part of a package of federal grants designed to broadly benefit early childhood education.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Homework Help from Your Local Library

Homework can pose a challenge not only for students, but for parents as well. There is a fine line between helping your child understand their homework and actually helping them to do it, and this balancing act can be complicated by a number of other issues that parents face -- rusty academic skills; concerns about fostering independence; competition for their child's attention from computers, games, and other activities; and parental exhaustion after their own long day at work.

One place to turn for free help with homework (and, in some instances, for preparation for college admissions exams or advanced placement exams) can be your public library. In Suffolk County, on Long Island, students with a library card (which they can sign up for online) can receive help in a wide array of subjects from tutors who have been trained and cleared with background and reference checks. The service is available every day from 2 until 11 pm. Students can create an account that will allow them to view past sessions and submit questions.

Students in adjacent Nassau County can access a free service that provides online help from tutors who have been vetted by an independent tutoring service.

New York City is served by several independent library systems. Students can access free, in-person homework help through their local branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. Queens Public Library and New York Public Library patrons have access to numerous online tools to help with homework. Still another resource is provided by the UFT -- the NYC teachers' union -- which provides telephone help from teachers speaking 12 languages.

These support services won't make homework disappear -- but may help make homework a more effective and less stressful tool for learning.

Photo used under Creative Commons by CCAC North Library