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).