Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Getting IDEA Services Takes Time

Josh K
Several parents have asked us recently how long it will take to get their child special education services from their public school district. The law is clear as to the timelines that apply to this process; however, when these timelines are not followed, it can be frustrating for families whose child is about to begin a new school year or is struggling during an ongoing year.

The IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), which sets the federal standards for special education services, links the time frame for providing services to the evaluation of the student and provides a deadline for students who are undergoing an initial evaluation. It states that the evaluation process must be undertaken "within 60 days after receiving parental consent for the evaluation," but allows states to determine their own time limits.

New York law requires that the evaluation of a student be conducted and (if the student is found to be eligible for special education services) that "appropriate special education programs and services ... be provided to the student with a disability within 60 school days of the receipt of consent to evaluate." The same time frame applies to re-evaluation. And what are school days? The New York regulations define them as "any day, including a partial day, that students are in attendance at school for instructional purposes... except that, during the months of July and August, school day means every day except Saturday, Sunday and legal holidays."

New Jersey allows for 90 days between the initial referral for special education and the implementation of services, which is illustrated in this linked chart. Connecticut moves more quickly, requiring that services be implemented within 45 days after receiving a referral form.

Even families who have obtained Independent Educational Evaluations (IEEs) such as those conducted by practices like The Yellin Center need to consent to the evaluation process to get the ball rolling for their child. The school district must consider the IEE but will almost always want to assess the student themselves in specific areas. We generally advise families not to waste time arguing with their school about this. Let them conduct their own assessment if they wish to, but make sure they are aware of the IEE, since some test instruments can only be given at certain intervals or will be invalid. There are numerous test instruments available, so another one can be selected.

We know from experience that the deadlines that states set for evaluation and implementation of services aren't always followed. Especially here in New York City, there can be significant backlogs in school district evaluations and getting anything done in the summer is quite difficult in some districts. However, legal recourse also takes time and parents often have no practical solution but to be persistent in making sure that the process of getting services is moving along according to legally mandated timetables.We wish we had an easy answer, but at this point can only urge parents to move ahead promptly when they are seeking special education services for their child, since the process can be a slow one.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Easing Into a School Sleep Schedule

July is winding down and August is coming up fast -- and for many families that means the start of the school year. Even here in New York City, where school usually starts later than most places, teachers report on September 3rd, although religious holidays push back the start for students until September 9.

Adam Inglis
One important way that parents can help students of all ages get ready for the upcoming school year is to think about sleep We've written before about the importance of sleep and how sufficient, high-quality sleep is crucial for optimal academic performance. When we work with students and parents we inquire about sleep and look at how inadequate sleep, or sleep disruptions, may impact student performance.

During the summer, it's easy for families to put aside strict bedtime rituals and for children to go to bed later than usual, or to sleep well into the morning. Teens who find summer a great time to socialize without the demands of homework may be up later than they would during the school year. And parents, who have enforced bedtimes during the school year, may themselves want a break from arguing about when it is time to go to bed.

Unfortunately, moving from the pace of summer to the more demanding days of school, and the need for a reasonable amount of sleep before leaving home at an early hour, can't happen the night before school starts. Families need to start at least a couple of weeks in advance -- more if possible -- to ease into the schedule they will follow in the fall. It's also important to think about whether your child's regular school year sleep patterns provide sufficient good quality sleep to help make their upcoming year a success.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Your Library in the Age of e-Books

While there is nothing like a printed book -- especially a kids' picture book -- for a dedicated reader to enjoy, electronic devices can make reading more convenient and accessible for readers of all ages. Whether on a commuter train, on vacation, or at summer camp, reading a hefty tome or carrying a large stack of books can pose logistical problems. These are perfect times to take advantage of an e-reader, such as a Kindle or Nook, or to use a tablet, or even a phone, for reading.

Ipoh Kia

But even avid users of e-reading devices often have a major objection to purchasing books; although they can re-read their purchases or even share them via a linked device, they don't have the ability to share them more generally. If you like an e-book, the methods of sharing it with a friend are very limited; you can't just hand it over and say, "Hey, you have to read this. You'll love it!" That means that even though you pay less for an e-book (sometimes much less) than you would for its printed counterpart, it sometimes seems like you are getting less value.

One solution for the thrifty voracious reader is to use the digital download services of your local public library. All you need is a library card and a computer or tablet to view the digital card catalog. Some libraries, like the New York Public Library, have extensive digital collections of all sorts of media -- including movies, over 700,000 photographs and images, as well as historic archives and online exhibitions and, of course, books. Others, with more modest budgets, band together to provide e-books and other materials to their patrons. In Nassau County, on Long Island, for example, the Nassau Library System offers the Nassau Digital Doorway, which allows patrons to download up to five e-books or audio books at a time, for up to two weeks. Popular books can be reserved, and patrons will be alerted by email when they are ready to download.

So, if you put away your library card the day your iPad was delivered, it may pay to find it again to take advantage of this easy and convenient way to make sure you always have something good to read.

Monday, July 22, 2013

When Children Influence Their Parent's Career Path

Within the last few days, we had several reminders that the difficulties faced by a child can help shape the path of a parent's work.

First, a friend called to report the good progress her son was making in his new program -- the next step for him as a young adult with significant learning and other difficulties. "You know," she said, "now that I have him settled, I'm thinking of a new career as an advocate for other parents. Do you have any ideas as to how I can begin this process?"

Almost the very next day, our colleagues at Wrightslaw sent out their Summer Newsletter, So You Want To Be An Advocate? Summer School 2013: Session 1 . It contains lots of helpful advice about how to begin to learn about special education and special education advocacy. We sent the link along to our friend, along with our suggestion that she also consider becoming a member of COPAA, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, which has helpful listservs for lay advocates as well as attorneys, a website full of information, and which runs a terrific national conference each year (March, 2014 in Baltimore) which is a wonderful way to learn about advocacy and meet other advocates and experts.

A day or two later, we received a copy of Bostonia magazine, which contained the compelling story of Ed Damiano, an associate professor of bio-medical engineering at Boston University who is racing to develop a bionic pancreas to treat his son David's type 1 diabetes. Prototypes of an iPhone assisted device are in clinical trials and he hopes the device will be available for son to use in a few years, when he heads to college. Watch a video about the Damiano's experience below.

Finally, as many of our readers know, a number of years ago Dr. Paul Yellin served as Chief Medical Officer of a New York City hospital (and, before that, Director of Neonatal Clinical Services at a major teaching hospital) before his own child's learning issues led him to his present work and the founding of The Yellin Center.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Recommended Reads: Frindle by Andrew Clements

As the East Coast heatwave continues to bake New York, sitting somewhere cool with a good book seems like the ideal activity. So, we decided  it's a good time to revisit our occasional Friday series, Recommended Reads, where we review books of interest to children and young adults. Today's book is Frindle, by Andrew Clements.

Ages: 8 and up

Plot: Nick Allen, our hero, doesn't fall into any of the usual categories at school. He isn't a bad kid, or a particularly brilliant kid. Instead, he’s known as the kid who has lots of great ideas and isn't afraid to explore them, even if it means shaking things up. When Mrs. Granger, his fifth grade language arts teacher, tells the class that words mean what they mean because people say they do, Nick decides to test this idea by inventing his own word. Before long, all of his friends are using Nick’s word, saying “frindle” instead of “pen.” Soon the whole grade is using Nick’s word. Then it’s all over the school! The word starts an all-out war between Nick and Mrs. Granger, who has the deepest respect for the sanctity of language and bans “frindle” from the school. But the word’s popularity is such that Mrs. Granger, and even Nick himself, loses control of it. Nick’s word is soon in the local news, then on national television! Readers will love this realistic fantasy that shows the power of a simple idea. The end of the book is immensely satisfying and heart-warming.

Our Take: As lovers of vocabulary and language, we are impressed by this simple story’s ability to make big questions about linguistics accessible to youngsters. We’re also fans of the book’s main characters. Nick is realistic and likable, and Mrs. Granger is the kind of English teacher some adult readers will remember fondly and others will wish they’d had. Her mastery of English is deep and passionate, and she’s sharp as a tack and tough as nails. At the same time, she demonstrates that she truly understands and cares about young people and occasionally betrays a delightful sense of humor. The path of Nick’s word, which is soon used all over town, gets him on talk shows, becomes an international sensation, begets a line of products, and is eventually adopted into the dictionary, seems far-fetched, but the spread of “frindle” mirrors the way new language is adopted in the real world.

Author Andrew Clements, through Mrs. Granger, shares with his readers the widely accepted anecdote of the creation of the word “quiz,” allegedly invented by Irishman Richard Daly in response to a bet that he couldn't spread a nonsense word of his own invention through Dublin in 48 hours. Nick unconsciously follows in Daly’s footsteps. The success of Nick’s word leads him to be a bit humbled by the power of his ideas, but he’s not cowed for long and soon puts his knack for thinking up and implementing his thoughts to work in other ways. (After learning about supply and demand in his history class, for example, he uses the principle to rally his classmates and ends up improving the quality of food in the school cafeteria.) We were pleased, by the way, to note that while Nick is certainly an out-of-the-box thinker, he is always careful to follow established rules and to be respectful to the adults in his life. Parents and teachers will love this book because it is an introduction to sophisticated themes. Students will love it because it is a great story. But be warned: It just might start young readers hatching some revolutionary ideas of their own.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Importance of Spatial Skills Supported by Research

Researchers from the Department of Psychology and Human Development at Vanderbilt University have found that students who have strong spatial skills as young teens grow up to be particularly successful adults, to an extent not predicted by just looking at scores on SAT exams.

The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, looked at 563 students who, as 13 year olds in the 1970's,  had taken SAT exams earlier than is typical and had scored within the top one-half of one percent of test takers. These students had also taken a separate test that measures spatial skills. The researchers found, not surprisingly, that the extremely high scores on the SAT exams of these young teens were good predictors of their future academic success (measured by patents and scholarly publications). However, a much greater correlation could be seen when the results of the test measuring their spatial skills were factored into the equation.

The researchers note that their findings demonstrate the unique role of spatial ability in developing creativity, a role that goes beyond skills and aptitudes traditionally measured by standardized tests. They urge that the role of spatial ability should be examined further and such abilities should be included in standardized tests, such as the SATs and ACTs.

Here at The Yellin Center we have always looked at what we call "spatial ordering" as a distinct and important skill that includes such sub-tasks as spatial perception, spatial memory, and spatial output, and we have recognized the role of such spatial abilities, particularly in math, science, engineering, and the arts. We hope that this further validation of earlier research noting the importance of spatial ordering will bring renewed focus to this important area of strength for many students.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Fun with Math and Baseball

Tuesday, July 16th, is the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, to be held this year at Citi Field, the home of the New York Mets.

Baseball has always been a game of numbers, even if keeping score with paper and pencil is no longer a popular activity at games. Batting averages and calculations, such as how often a player gets a hit with someone in scoring position, are just some of the numerical information posted on stadium scoreboards. The film Moneyball, based on true events, was an entertaining look at just how important numbers and statistics are in evaluating the effectiveness of individual baseball players - and in the resulting success of their team.

Baseball can also be a fun and easy way to engage children in numbers and math calculations. If you are at a game (or watching at home) with a child, use a scorecard. Older children can manage their own scoring and younger children can help you with your card. Don't know how to keep score? You can find basic instructions on the website of Major League Baseball, but we found more detailed instructions easier to follow.

There are also a number of good baseball themed apps that offer math instruction, such as Everyday Math, available through iTunes. And the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has developed a series of classroom lessons for grades 6-8 that utilize baseball statistics to teach skills with decimals, fractions, and percentages.

Or, you can sit down with your kids, turn on the game, and just spend some quality time together. No matter who wins, you can't lose!

photo credit:eviltomthai

Friday, July 12, 2013

NIMH Notes Limits of DSM

We recently came across an excellent explanation of the limits of the American Psychiatric Association's DSM, the newly revised Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. We have not been fans of the DSM approach to attention difficulties, and have written before about how the DSM does not go far enough in understanding how attention impacts learning and behavior.

The more recent criticism of the DSM was prompted by the release of a complete revision of this Manual, after much consideration, this past May. It comes from Thomas R. Insel, M.D., Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), who discussed the limitations of the DSM in a blog post in which he described the DSM as, "at best, a dictionary, creating a set of labels and defining each."

Dr. Insel notes that the DSM diagnoses "are based on a consensus about clusters of clinical symptoms," not on laboratory measures or scientific studies. He goes on to explain that the NIMH has been engaged in a project to move beyond such diagnoses by focusing on research into areas such as imaging, genetics, and cognitive science.

This project, Research Domain Criteria (RDoC), will form the basis of how the NIMH, and presumably the extensive network it influences, looks at diagnosis, moving beyond the limits of the DSM. As the NIMH notes, "Rather than starting with an illness definition and seeking its neurobiological underpinnings, RDoC begins with current understandings of behavior-brain relationships and links them to clinical phenomena." This approach is very much in keeping with the approach we apply at The Yellin Center, and we look forward to the day when this project results in a universal understanding of the need for looking at the science behind labels.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

College Tour: Iona, Manhattanville, and Marist

A day trip to picturesque Rhinebeck, New York took your blogger past several area colleges that would be good places to consider for families looking for colleges with strong support for students with learning differences.

Iona College, located in New Rochelle, NY was founded by Christian Brothers in 1940, and has grown to student body of well over 3,000, offering more than 45 majors as well as Division I athletics. For students with learning and related issues, Iona offers the College Assistance Program (CAP). Students apply separately to CAP, which provides professional tutors and counseling services, as well as coaching for students with attention and organizational difficulties. In addition, students enrolled in CAP are required to meet at least three times a week with their CAP counselor. For students who need less significant supports, or who decide not to enroll in CAP, the Samuel Rudin Academic Resource Center offers a wide array of accommodations and supports to students with documented disabilities.

A bit further north is Manhattanville College, which was founded in 1841 and presently has approximately 1,700 undergraduates and 1,000 graduate students, enrolled in 90 areas of study on a 100 acre campus. We have long been familiar with Manhattanville and its supportive H.E.L.P. (Higher Education Learning Program) services. This program is available to students with documented learning or related disabilities who are registered with the Office of Disability Services and who desire comprehensive support. There is a separate fee for H.E.L.P. In addition, all students can use the tutoring services of the Academic Resource Center, which provides both professional and peer tutors in a wide array of subjects.

We have previously had the pleasure of speaking with Carin Horowitz, LMSW, who directs the Office of Disability Services and H.E.L.P. at Manhattanville and she welcomes inquiries from students and families interested in Manhattanville's programs and services.

Finally, our drive north took us past Marist College, whose expansive campus along the Hudson River covers over 200 acres. Marist has over 6,000 students and offers 44 undergraduate majors, as well as graduate and certificate programs. As with the other two colleges on our mini-tour, Marist offers a separate support program for students with learning and related difficulties, which requires a separate application and a separate fee. Students meet one-on-one with their learning specialist to work on such skills as organization, test-taking strategies, and writing skills.

Construction delays and downpours aside, we were pleased to be reminded of these excellent resources for college bound students who need learning supports.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Getting Comfortable with Uncomfortable Terminology

Christopher Webb
Families of children who struggle with learning and related issues, especially those who receive services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), encounter a great deal of unfamiliar vocabulary and acronyms. We've looked at some of those acronyms before, and will spend some time in a future blog on some vocabulary that may be unfamiliar to many parents and students.

Today, however, we are looking at three of the most difficult words that families encounter, words that tend to make both parents and students uncomfortable. By understanding these words and why they are used, we hope to make them less powerful and to enable parents to better understand what they do -- and do not -- mean when used to discuss their child.

One of these terms is co-morbid, which can sound downright, well, morbid. But this term has nothing to do with things that are scary or creepy. In fact, it is an often used medical term to describe conditions that occur together, whether or not they are caused by the same process. So, a middle-aged person who is overweight might have co-morbid high blood pressure and diabetes. The two conditions both impact the health of the individual, but each needs to be considered and treated separately, although weight loss might positively impact both conditions. Children with learning difficulties may have such co-morbid conditions as attention deficit disorder (ADD) or anxiety. If learning difficulties are addressed, the anxiety may subside. Individuals may also have other co-morbid conditions that have no particular impact on their learning -- medical conditions that need treatment but are not related to their learning and/or attention issues.

Another term families can encounter is classified, as in "we will have to have your child classified in order to provide her with services." This term comes from the way that services are provided under the IDEA; students are not eligible to receive special education and related services, supplementary aids and services, and program modifications under an IEP (Individualized Education Program) unless they fall into one of ten categories, which include things like specific learning disabilities, speech or language impairments, or hearing impairments. We often tell parents to think of a classification as a key; it is simply a way to access services and it usually doesn't matter what classification is used (and classification categories can be changed), since the services provided to a classified student are supposed to be unique to that student's individual needs.

Finally, the one term that makes parents most uncomfortable is disability. We don't like it either, but many parents need to deal with it since it is used throughout every law that provides the basis of services to children of all ages who are experiencing challenges with learning or related issues, and that allows older students and adults access to accommodations (such as extended time on the SATs, text-to-speech software provided by their college, or job modifications in the workplace) throughout their lifetime. While the IDEA looks to its classifications to decide what is a disability, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) takes a more functional approach, looking at the impact of "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities" and then very broadly explaining that "major life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working." No matter how you or your student encounter the word "disability" it's important to keep in mind that this term is just Congress's way of setting up a plan to decide who is eligible for services and accommodations. Don't let it define how you or your child view his unique combination of strengths and challenges.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Celebrating Independence Day with Family in NYC

As the long holiday weekend begins, and travelers leave New York City for the beach and country, there are still plenty of meaningful ways for you and your children to celebrate the 237th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence right here in New York.

You probably won't make the last day of the New York Public Library's brief exhibition of a copy of the Declaration of Independence, written in Thomas Jefferson's own hand, and one of the remaining original copies of the Bill of Rights, which closes today at 4 pm., but you can visit The New York Historical Society to see their exhibit  "From Colony to Nation: 200 Years of American Painting", which is open (and free for those 18 and under) on Thursday, July 4th.

Photo: Tom Check
The Statue of Liberty re-opens to the public on July 4th after post-Hurricane Sandy repairs (Ellis Island suffered more serious damage and remains closed) but tickets to Liberty Island from Manhattan are sold out until later in the month. As an alternative, consider a free ride on the Staten Island Ferry, which offers views of the statue and lower Manhattan and is always a treat for kids of all ages. The Ferry operates on a holiday schedule on July 4th. While you are on Staten Island -- and since you have to get off of the ferry for the return ride -- you might want to hop a bus to join the celebration in Historic Richmond Town. 

The Children's Museum of Manhattan is open on the 4th and is celebrating by encouraging kids of all ages to construct a Lady Liberty sculpture. 

For those who like to spend the holiday at home, you can always set your DVR for the annual showing of the musical film 1776, which is being broadcast on Turner Classic Movies at 1:30 am on July 4th, as well as being available through other movie services. There is plenty of interesting history set out between the entertaining musical numbers and something
the entire family will enjoy.