Monday, February 28, 2011


COPAA, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, is having its annual conference in San Antonio, Texas this weekend. This national nonprofit offers extensive resources for parents and others who are trying to help their own or other children obtain special educational services from their public school system. Its stated mission "is premised on the belief that the key to effective educational programs for children with disabilities is collaboration -as equals- by parents and educators."

We've written a bit about COPAA before, but it is such a helpful resource that we want to spread the word about the information and supports it offers. The scope of issues COPAA deals with range far beyond the learning issues faced by the families with whom we work. They include children with physical and emotional difficulties, as well as those on the autism spectrum. But the laws that govern all of these students are the same -- the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

COPAA members communicate with one another through two separate listservs -- one for attorneys and one for parents and lay advocates. The listservs allow parents, advocates, and attorneys to seek guidance about specific issues that they are facing and to offer information about best and worst practices they have encountered in their local area. New court decisons impacting education are quickly shared, and COPAA maintains an archives with forms, court cases, and legal briefs that can be accessed by its members. This is not an organization for school attorneys or school employees; COPAA specifically excludes such individuals from membership.

One feature we often utilize when working with families from far flung parts of the country is the "find an attorney" feature, which lists attorneys throughout the country who focus on special education law. Take a look at the COPAA website and bookmark it for future reference. And if you will be anywhere near Texas this coming weekend, you might find the COPAA Conference a good way to spend your time.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Thursday Links: Paying Kids to Study, Bullying Students with Disabilities, and more

Should We Pay Kids to Study? (NPR)
Hyper One Day, Calm the Next (Scientific American)
Students With Disabilities Often Targeted by Bullies (On Special Education)
Where Digital Natives Roam, Paper and Pencil Have Place, Too (Gotham Schools)
Study Warns Against Energy Drinks for Kids, Teens (Washington Post)

Photo used under Creative Commons from striatic

Monday, February 21, 2011

Overflow Movements: A Low-Tech Diagnostic Tool for ADHD and Impulsivity

Our practice is often approached by companies touting the latest in high-tech “neuroscience-based” machines designed to help diagnose ADHD and impulsivity. Some of these devices have shown promise in limited studies, but most are relatively untested and lack sufficient clinical evidence to support their widespread adoption. While we certainly maintain hope that research will yield better and better assistive technology for the clinical diagnosis and treatment of learning-related issues, it is refreshing to read about new research which supports the efficacy of a low-tech procedure we have always used in our assessment.

An article last week in the journal Neurology about new research from the highly respected Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, MD demonstrates the immense diagnostic value of “overflow movements.” Overflow movements (sometimes called mirror movements) refer to a phenomenon where a child is asked to perform a complex series of finger movements using one hand, and they seem to perform the same movements on their other hand automatically. According to this new research, the presence of overflow movements strongly correlates with general impulsivity. Understanding hand movement symptoms can offer insights on symptom severity, and can aid in the planning of treatments. This is further evidence that one must look at ADHD, or any academic problem, in a comprehensive manner.

Read more about the study here and here.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Parents of Children with ADHD Report Multiple Conditions

While we have long-known that children who have been diagnosed with ADHD frequently suffer from other conditions which can impact their behavior, school performance and overall well-being, recent research sheds important light on the scope and impact of co-morbidities. An article published in the February 2011 volume of Pediatrics reviews information from the National Survey of Children’s Health that included 62,000 children, more than 5,000 of whom had been diagnosed with ADHD. Two out of every three children with ADHD also had other significant problems, according to parents. Of these co-morbidities, learning disabilities were by far the most common.

This research underscores the importance of providing coordinated care that creates linkages between educational, health, behavioral and other services for children. The authors conclude that “management of ADHD should be tailored to each child’s neurodevelopmental profile.” These findings are consistent with our longstanding belief that treatment and support of children who struggle with attention issues must be based on each child’s unique profile of strengths and challenges (i.e., their neurodevelopmental profile), must be coordinated and ongoing, and should not rely solely on ADHD medications.

Read more about the research here.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What Is the Best Approach to Early Reading Instruction in Schools?

Should your three-year old be reading Steinbeck? Will your child's I.Q. score be adversely affected if their school takes a deliberate approach to teaching reading skills?

The New York Times’ recent article on approaches to early literacy instruction in New York City private schools (“Reading at Some Private Schools is Delayed,” February 14, 2011) has touched off much conversation about different schools’ approaches. Parents often seek our guidance in determining which schools would make the best fit for their child, as well as assistance in understanding what kinds of outside support would be most beneficial, so we are deeply interested in the different teaching approaches to reading – and also to ensuring the development of well-rounded children with an awareness and appreciation of how their individual minds work.

Dr. Yellin, the Director of The Yellin Center and an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine, believes that there is not a simple right-or-wrong answer to the question of which approach works best. “The take home lesson here is that there is no one-size that fits every child.  Different schools have different philosophies, approaches, cultures, and environments. Each child has his or her own needs – needs which will likely change over time. As parents and clinicians, we must continuously assess each child’s needs and use available information to make choices that, in our best judgment, best meet that child’s needs at that particular point in time. The key is to begin from the perspective of understanding the child — and then finding the best fit.”

Friday, February 11, 2011

Study: Taking Breaks May Improve Attention

New research is providing increasing evidence to support the proverbial wisdom behind “work smarter, not harder.” Taking breaks, it seems, may actually enhance task performance.

A new study by Alejandro Lleras and Atsunori Ariga at the University of Illinois found that when given the same task, subjects who took brief breaks performed better than subjects who did not take breaks. This is consistent with the notion that change signals a heightened alertness in the brain. “We propose that deactivating and reactivating your goals allows you to stay focused,” Lleras said.

Teachers may wish to consider these findings when designing their daily agendas, scheduling breaks along the way for prolonged tasks. Similarly, students should try to schedule short breaks into their study time regularly.

Photo Credit: robstephaustralia via Flickr Creative Commons

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Free Education Apps from Google's New Chrome Web Store

The Chrome Web Store is a new browser-based software application distribution platform from Google. Taking a cue from the skyrocketing popularity of apps on smartphones and tablet computers, both Google and Apple (with their Mac App Store) have recently sought to bring the ease of installation and highly simplified user-interfaces that apps are known for to the personal computer, while also incorporating the power and flexibility of cloud computing. There is an extraordinary wealth of extremely useful free software to be found on both sites, and typically, apps that are not free are priced fairly (most of the apps listed below are free, but some charge a small fee to download and others to use full features). These online app stores represent the beginning of the end of the era of installation CD’s for new software. Cloud based computing means that the resources required to make the software tick are primarily hosted on the web, as opposed to on your computer (we’ll talk more about cloud computing and implications for education support, along with a profile of the Mac App Store in future posts). Many of these applications also make use of HTML5, a new iteration of web programming code that will bring even greater flexibility and power to the internet.

3D Tin
In the case of the Chrome Web Store, the main requirement needed to get started is that you use Google’s Chrome web browser to access the store. While many users would find a shift from their current browser of choice (i.e., Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari) to be a traumatic event, I believe that you will find Chrome to be fast, sleek and easy to adapt to, in addition to completely free. If you just can’t stomach the transition, many of these apps are also available as traditional downloads via their respective websites.

So, about those apps. Here is just a handful that our readers may find of interest:
  • Planetarium –an interactive star map for kids (or adults!) interested in astronomy
  • Google Books – millions of free e-books in a plethora of subjects
  • 3DTin – A realistic 3D model-maker
  • MathBoard – a math learning tool appropriate for elementary and kindergarten students
  • MeeGenuis! Children’s Books – personalized, “enhanced” web books for younger students
  • LucidChart – a collaborative diagramming tool, not unlike Inspiration or MindManager
  • Picnik Photo Editor – web-based photo manipulation a la Photoshop
  • 20 Things I Learned about Browsers & the Web – a great introduction to how the internet works
  • Springpad – note-taking tool that can incorporate assignments, photos, to-do lists, etc.
  • Bomomo – an innovative illustration and drawing tool
  • A variety of flashcard-based apps which can aid memory, vocabulary, math skills and more

There are literally thousands of apps available on the different platforms, with new ones being developed every day. While this list is by no means exhaustive, we hope it will send you on an exploration of the rapidly-changing world of free web-based software.  If you discover a great app that would be of interest to the education-minded, please let us know in the comments. 

Friday, February 4, 2011

Diet and Attention

A small, but interesting study in the latest issue of The Lancet looks at the impact of diet on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in children. Working on the hypothesis that diet might be a contributing factor in attention difficulties, researchers looked at children from 4-8 years of age who were placed on a limited diet of rice, meat, vegetables, potatoes, fruits, and wheat products. After 5 weeks more than 60 percent of the children showed improvement in their ADHD scores of at least 40%.

What is also interesting about this study is what it did not demonstrate: that restricting diets based on individual antibody testing (IGg tests) was of any use in reducing attention symptoms. There are some alternative medicine practitioners who do extensive IgG testing and then make recommendations based upon the results of such tests. In this study there was no evidence that the antibody testing correlated with symptoms.

It is important to keep in mind that this study of only 100 children is so small that it lacks what is called "statistical power". Also, the change in attention parameters was limited. Still, I expect that given the public interest in matters relating to attention this may be noted in the mainstream media. Although I view it with interest, I would not change practice based upon this article.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Tax Tips

If you haven't looked at the calendar lately, just a glance at your mailbox and the envelopes from your bank, your employer, and others with your 2010 income statements should have clued you in to the fact that tax preparation season is upon us.

Families of children with learning challenges should be aware of some tax deducations available for special education and related services. A good starting point is IRS Publication 502, Medical and Dental Expenses for 2010 Returns. This publication outlines the key principal behind deducting these expenses -- they need to be considered as medical expenses. As the IRS notes,

"You can include in medical expenses fees you pay on a doctor’s recommendation for a child’s tutoring by a teacher who is specially trained and qualified to work with children who have learning disabilities caused by mental or physical impairments, including nervous system disorders.

You can include in medical expenses the cost (tuition, meals, and lodging) of attending a school that furnishes special education to help a child to overcome learning disabilities. A doctor must recommend that the child attend the school. Overcoming the learning disabilities must be a principal reason for attending the school, and any ordinary education received must be incidental to the special education provided. Special education includes:
• Teaching Braille to a visually impaired person,
• Teaching lip reading to a hearing-impaired person, or
• Giving remedial language training to correct a condition caused by a birth defect.

You cannot include in medical expenses the cost of sending a problem child to a school where the course of study and the disciplinary methods have a beneficial effect on the child’s attitude if the availability of medical care in the school is not a principal reason for sending the student there."

While the IRS Publication can serve as a starting point for exploring this issue, much of the nuance in what is deductible and what is not can be found in IRS Rulings. One terrific resource for understanding both the tax law and understanding how it might -- or might not -- benefit your family can be found in a lengthy article on the helpful website LDonline. Note that this was prepared in 2009, but little has changed in this area of the law since then. Of course, deductions for special education services are subject to the same limits as other medical expenses and may not be fully deductible for that reason.

It is important to remember that only your accountant can give you tax advice applicable to your personal situation, and that none of us here are tax experts. But whether you do your own taxes with pencil and calculator, or use tax preparation software, or hand over your year's information to your accountant, remember to keep in mind that there may be tax benefits from some of the expenses your family has encountered as you have dealt with your child's learning difficulties.