Friday, December 21, 2018

Our Annual Holiday Poem

For years we’ve written Christmas poems
To finish out the year
To share what we’ve been up to
And to send folks some good cheer

So, continuing tradition
We’re posting a new rhyme
To thank the many families
Who’ve given us their time

They’ve brought us their dear children
Who are struggling in school
And whom we help to see their strengths
And succeed with helpful tools

To the many schools with which we work
From all around our nation
We’re grateful for your trust in us
And send appreciation

To the doctors and the therapists
Who send their patients here
We do our best to help them
All throughout the year

To those who take the time to read
Our blog, newsletter, and tweets
It means so much that you’re out there
Our readers can’t be beat

To those folks who help our office run,
The only thing to say
Is that we couldn’t do the work we do
Without you every day

And so as this old year runs out
And the new is almost here
We wish you Merry Christmas
And a wonderful New Year!

Friday, December 14, 2018

Toys for Young Children

Any parent who has watched their toddler play with a box, or a wooden spoon and saucepan, can attest to the joy to be found in simple items. This feeling contrasts with the concern many parents feel as they watch their school-aged child stare into a screen as they spend far too long playing a game or passively watching a video . It's no surprise, then, that the American Academy of Pediatrics has recently released a reminder of the importance -- and joys -- of simple play in the development of children.

This Clinical Report, Selecting Appropriate Toys for Young Children in the Digital Era, was designed to guide pediatricians in speaking with parents, but contains important research findings and recommendations that parents will find helpful as well. The authors of the Report include Dr. Alan L. Mendelsohn, FAAP, who, like Dr. Yellin, is a member of the Department of Pediatrics, Division of Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics, at New York University School of Medicine.

The report notes the importance of imaginative play, problem solving, and physical activity and especially supports the use of "guided play", where children use toys as part of an interaction with their caregiver. This can build social skills and language in a way that solitary play cannot.

Among other topics covered are the need to limit screen time. The Report notes, "there is presently no evidence to suggest that possible benefits of interactive media match those of active, creative, hands-on, and pretend play with more traditional toys."  The Report also discusses the need for toy safety, what to look for in toys for children with disabilities, and the importance of using books for pretend play. Especially in this season of gift giving, this Report is something parents should read, while incorporating its suggestions into their purchases and play with their children.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Gillen Brewer School

Your blogger had the opportunity to attend a professional open house last week at Gillen Brewer School, a special education school for young children located in Manhattan's Upper East Side. The school serves children from just under three years of age through age 10, in ungraded preschool and elementary classes. The staff and the school itself were most impressive and the education and support offered to the students clearly met each child at his or her own level and worked to make them more independent and to help them learn.

Gillen Brewer was founded to serve children with challenges with speech and language, gross and fine motor skills, learning, and sensory and social-emotional development. As the Head of School, Donna Kennedy explained to our visiting group, the children at Gillen Brewer "need adult support around functional use of skills." In addition, the school believes in the importance of partnering with parents and families and offers workshops and events through its School-Home Partnership Program.

The school provides that support for its students with numerous speech and language pathologists, occupational therapists, and doctoral level psychologists (five of each profession, for a student body of less than 100 children), as well as special subject teachers. Students come to Gillen Brewer (named for the grandmothers of the founders) with a variety of challenges and functional levels and the school offers two class models for its elementary students. Those students with more significant impairments, including those who lack functional communication and who need augmented communication devices, are served in a class of not more than six students, with one head teacher and two assistant teachers. Those students who have functional language and need adult support to communicate not more than around 30 percent of the time are served in a slightly larger class of up to 10 students, with one head teacher and two assistant teachers.

The school takes advantage of its New York City location with athletic activities at Asphalt Green, workshops with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and field trips to numerous city locations.

Among the students Gillen Brewer serves are those with medical issues (the school has three nurses on staff, to enable them to serve students who are nurse dependent) and those with mild to moderate autism, although Ms. Kennedy noted that the school does not utilize the ABA approach with its students with autism and that those students they will serve best will have mostly speech and language deficits. The school cannot serve students who are explosive or whose issues include aggression, wandering, or “running away.”

Such intensive support and remediation does not come cheap and the school is seeking to add a legal parent advocate position to assist its families and their attorneys with obtaining reimbursement from public school districts via Carter funding. In addition, the school will endeavor to offer Connors funding where parents are unable to lay out tuition while they await reimbursement, something they believe is important to their mission to maintain a diverse student body. Gillen Brewer no longer accepts referrals directly from school districts as an approved nonpublic school, although students who were enrolled by their districts are still "grandfathered in" to this status. The issue, one faced by most private approved schools, is that the difference between what New York State will pay them and their actual costs is significant and cannot be sustained by the school long term.

One good way to get a sense of how Gillen Brewer advances its mission is to view some of the videos on its YouTube channel. They showcase a school and staff dedicated to improving the life of students with significant challenges.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Impact of Social Media on Teenage Brain and Behavior – And What To Do About It

We are delighted to welcome Hima Reddy, Ph.D., to our team of bloggers. Dr. Reddy is a licensed psychologist and learning specialist at The Yellin Center, who will use her specialized training and experience to inform and engage our readers.

Social media is part of our daily existence. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and LinkedIn are just a few of the popular sites out there. A recent study published in Psychology of Popular Media Culture found that twelfth graders spend nearly six hours per day on digital platforms, which raises the question: what does this mean for the teenage brain?

A recent study reported in Child Development looked at the results of functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) of approximately 61 high school and college students, age 13-21, to examine the impact of peer influence on multiple brain regions. Researchers found that both cohorts showed greater activation in the area of our brain involved in reward and pleasure, the nucleus accumbens, when they were viewing ‘Likes’ of their photographs on Instagram. A popularity effect occurs. Teens watch their photos receive a large amount of ‘Likes’ and are reinforced (rewarded) for putting up such a great picture, which explains why teenagers keep up that steady stream of photographs.

The study also examined age related differences in brain responses to social media. Researchers found that high schoolers experienced a stronger response to social reward than college students. High schoolers were also less likely to use the part of their brain responsible for cognitive control when they viewed pictures of 'risk-taking' behaviors, such as alcohol use, smoking, and partying. Researchers suggest that, “Social media tools offer an opportunity for adolescents and young adults to socialize one another to norms relating to these activities.” It is clear that the teenage brain is sensitive to peer approval and vulnerable to risk-taking. Much like the golden age of TV advertisements, social media platforms provide a visual gateway for public consumption.

The long term impact of social media on the developing brain remains to be studied. Parents and educators need to be aware that social media use becomes a habit that is reinforced 20, 50, or hundreds of times per day. Habits this strong can be hard to break.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Vaping, Cigarettes, and Teens

There has been a good deal of newspaper coverage recently on  the use of e-cigarettes, particularly the JUUL brand, which is shaped like a USB flash drive and is popular among teens. Like other e-cigarettes (also called vaping devices), these are battery powered and heat a liquid containing nicotine to produce an aerosol that is inhaled by the user.

Why the focus on JUUL? As explained by Dr. Howard A. Zucker, the New York State Health Commissioner, in a recent communication to health care providers throughout the state, this brand of e-cigarettes is almost odorless and is small enough to be used discretely almost anywhere. Students have been reported using them in school bathrooms (no surprise there) and even in classrooms and hallways. The liquid in JUUL devices is contained in a small pod, each of which may have the same amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. What makes JUUL especially attractive to teens is the flavoring added to the liquid in the pods. These flavorings -- by some counts as many as 15,000 different ones, including fruit and candy flavors -- are highly appealing to young users.

What these young users don't consider is that no matter what flavor they may choose to use, each pod of liquid also contains nicotine, which is highly addictive. As Dr. Zucker notes, nicotine in any form can impair adolescent and young adult brain development, particularly those functions affecting impulse control, mood disorders, and attention and learning. Furthermore, while the vapor from the e-devices seems to be just harmless water vapor, it actually contains toxic chemicals and ultra-fine particles that enter the lungs.

Some adults have noted that all e-cigarettes can be used to help smokers quit, but evidence has shown that many adults use both regular cigarettes and e-cigarettes in different situations. There can, however, be no question at all that e-cigarettes pose a danger to young people and that parents need to be aware that they are not just a harmless fad or novelty device. They are a gateway to smoking cigarettes and they are a danger on their own.

Current data from the CDC on smoking and its effects on health is something to share with your teen. As the CDC notes, each day, more than 3,200 people younger than 18 years of age smoke their first cigarette and, each day, an estimated 2,100 youth and young adults who have been occasional smokers become daily cigarette smokers. Your pediatrician or family doctor can be a valuable resource on both the dangers of e-cigarettes and smoking and ways to help users quit.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Starting Early to Foster College Readiness and Independence

Today's New York Times has an excellent article on college readiness and what happens to many students who are not prepared for college, noting that almost one-third of students won't continue in college for their sophomore year and that only slightly more than half of students will graduate within six years (No, that's not a typo. Six years is the "new" four years).

As the authors note,  "...many teenagers go away to college only to recognize — either because of their grades, their habits, their mental health or all of the above — that they’re not ready for college life." The Times piece cites two primary factors in college failure: the nature of college itself, with poor sleep patterns, lousy diets, and the easy availability of liquor and drugs; and the fact that many students haven't had opportunities to manage their own lives in a way that would prepare them to handle the personal and academic demands of college.

Notably, while the Times piece mentions students with emotional and executive function difficulties, it does not discuss students with previously diagnosed learning and related disabilities. For these students, there are additional complexities involved in arranging and using the accommodations and supports they need.

We've addressed many of these issues before in this blog, and you may want to take a look at some of these past posts once you have read the Times piece. They include:

Choosing the College that Fits

Things to Consider When Heading to College

How to Head Off Academic Trouble in College (in retrospect, perhaps doesn't say enough about fostering student independence)

Other suggestions are set out in your blogger's book, Life After High School -- especially the final chapters dealing with medication and managing the distractions of college life.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Friday, November 16, 2018

Thanksgiving Books -- New and Old

This seems to be a year when seasons and holidays sneak up on us. Just yesterday, we were hit with the first blast of snow here in New York, snarling roads and surprising even the weather forecasters with its intensity. Next week is Thanksgiving, occurring on the earliest possible date, given the federal law that requires it to be on the fourth Thursday of November.

Among the many special things about Thanksgiving are that it has always been notable for its message of  friendship and inclusion and that it is celebrated by all of the cultures that make up the American melting pot. If your family tradition includes sharing books with the children at your Thanksgiving dinner (and if it doesn't, it might be a good year to start), there are a few books you might want to consider.

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga is a new picture book that was written by a member of the Cherokee Nation. It looks at how the Cherokee people express gratitude -  otsaliheliga (oh-jah-LEE-hay-lee-gah) - throughout the year in their celebrations and ceremonies.

If your family likes the Macy's parade, they might especially enjoy reading about how it got started, in  Melissa Sweet's Balloons 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).

Other good choices for the children at your celebration include:

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.

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.

'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 Boyand 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.

We hope you enjoy sharing these books -- and being together with family and friends. Happy Thanksgiving!


Friday, November 9, 2018


Earlier this week, we shared information about scholarships available to students with learning and other disabilities. But the number of such scholarships is very limited, and most offer just a small part of the expenses a student and her family will face in college. Of far more importance is the financial aid offered by individual colleges, and the way to obtain such aid is by filing a FAFSA application.

FAFSA - the Free Application for Federal Student Aid -- is used by virtually all colleges and universities to determine whether a student qualifies for financial aid and to calculate the amount of aid each student needs. In addition, the information on the FAFSA is sent to the higher education agency of your home state and those states in which the schools you are applying to are situated. This information is used by the states when they distribute state financial aid money.

Until a couple of years ago, filing a FAFSA form posed a dilemma for most families. The form had been available each January, but it required the tax information from the tax forms that weren't due until that April. In fact, many families not only had not prepared the forms the FAFSA sought, but had not yet received the underlying tax information that they would need to complete those forms.

This dilemma was resolved beginning with the 2016-17 school year. Now, FAFSA forms are available as of October 1st each year, and the tax information required is for the preceding tax year. So, for example, for students planning to begin college in the fall of 2019, the 2019-20 FAFSA became available on October 1, 2018 and is due by by June 30, 2020. Of course, you will want to file as soon as possible (if you have not already done so). In addition to needing to know what you will be receiving before you begin college, funding is always limited and students who file earliest will have access to a bigger piece of the funding pie.

What makes it possible to have this earlier deadline is that the tax information that must be submitted is now from the prior tax year. This means that applicants submitting on or after October 2018 should submit their family tax returns from 2017, which were generally due in April 2018 and should be readily available.

The best place to get all the information you need about the FAFSA is the official FAFSA website. You can also find helpful discussions of specific topics related to your FAFSA application on the U.S. Department of Education blogs.

photo credit: Hloom Templates @

Monday, November 5, 2018

Scholarships for Students with Learning Disabilities

We've written before about college scholarships intended for students with learning and related challenges. These posts have looked at general guidelines for seeking and getting scholarship aid, as well as a few specific scholarship opportunities.

Scholarship opportunities change each year, and it is important to stay up to date about which organizations are offering scholarships and when the deadlines are for applying. Our colleagues at Advocates for Children of New York have shared a list of college scholarship opportunities that are intended for students with disabilities. These are:
  • The National Center for Learning Disabilities offers two Anne Ford and Allegra Ford Thomas Scholarships to students with learning disabilities and/or ADHD. The deadline to apply is November 12, 2018. 
  • Wells Fargo offers scholarships to students with disabilities - not just learning or attention issues. There is a deadline of  December 6, 2018 to submit an application -- or when 700 applications are received, whichever comes first. 
  • The RiSE Scholarship Foundation offers scholarships for students with learning disabilities and/or autism spectrum disorders. The deadline to submit an application is January 31, 2019. 
  • Microsoft offers "disAbility"scholarships to students with disabilities who plan to study engineering, computer science, law, business, or a related field. The deadline to apply is March 15, 2019. 
Another source for potential scholarship funds for students with learning disabilities is available online . Note that this site includes a couple of the programs listed above, as well as a number of scholarships with geographic limitations (just for students who reside in a specific state). Still, it is worth a look. 

It is important to carefully look at any scholarship before applying. In addition to making sure you comply with deadlines and any specific eligibility requirements, you should check out the sponsoring organization to make sure it is legitimate before you share any of your personal information. And consider speaking to your high school guidance counselor to discuss both the programs listed here and to get any other suggestions he or she may have for funding. 

We will look at the most important source of outside college funding -- FAFSA -- in an upcoming post. In the meantime, you should be aware that the FAFSA for aid for the 2019-20 school year is now available and you should be mindful of the several deadlines for submission. 

Photo by Michael Longmire on Unsplash

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Another Place to Look for Information

For a number of years, your blogger has written an "Ask the Experts" column for ADDitude Magazine, a print and online publication that is focused on issues of interest to adults and children who are dealing with attention and related disorders. 

As a new series of Questions and Answers began posting today (with additional posts to be added each Wednesday for the next three weeks), we thought it might be useful to look back at some of the questions we have addressed that might be relevant to the readers of this blog. This new series of Q&A's covers issues faced by older students - transition, SAT accommodations, and managing independently. But other columns have dealt with a broad array of topics, including:

You can search under "Susan Yellin" for the full list of articles, shorter Q&A's and links to webinars, some dating back several years. We hope you will find them helpful.

In the meantime, have a Safe and Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Does Classification Matter?

Students can have an IEP for a wide array of reasons. The IDEA specifies 13 different categories of disability that can be the basis for providing IDEA services to a student. But we know that children can have more than one area of disability. We often suggest that parents think of their child's classification on their IEP as a key that unlocks the right to whatever services their child may require, whether or not those services are directly related to the classification that appears at the top of the IEP document itself.

A student with a specific learning disability can also have an attention problem, which most often falls within the Other Health Impaired (OHI) classification. Or a child with an intellectual disability may also have an orthopedic impairment and require use of a wheelchair. An IEP does not have to list more than one disability for a child to receive services for more than one disability. The only situation where more than one disability might be listed on an IEP is where a student has educational or medical needs that can't be met by a single program. 

Parents sometimes ask if it matters what classification is listed on their child's IEP. It can, but only in very limited circumstances. Non-public schools that are approved by a state to provide educational services will be limited to students that are classified as having one of the disabilities for which that school is approved. So, a child with a classification of "other health impaired" will not be sent by her school district to a school that is approved only for students with a specific learning disability.

Even in that situation, if the school is otherwise a good fit for the child, it is possible to have the student's classification modified by the IEP Team to another classification, so long as the new classification reflects the reality of the student's difficulties. 

No one likes labels, but they are part of the IDEA. Even so, their impact on the day-to-day workings of a student's IEP do not limit the services and supports that a student should receive. Of far greater importance are the special education and related services, modifications, and accommodations that are provided to each student and the goals that are set out for the student to meet.  

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The Importance of Early Hearing and Vision Screening

Almost every student we see here at The Yellin Center is given a vision and hearing screening. These are not meant to take the place of in-depth testing by ophthalmologists, optometrists, or audiologists, but are an important part of checking for anything that could interfere with a student's learning and school success. Children who can't see the blackboard clearly, who find text in books to be blurry, or who have difficulty hearing instructions from their teachers or classroom discussion, are at a disadvantage when it comes to learning. Most of the time, the students pass these screenings with flying colors -- but sometimes we note difficulties that warrant further investigation.

Our colleagues at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) note that screening for hearing loss should begin very early in infancy,  not later than the first month of life. Infants who do not pass this initial screening should have a comprehensive audiological examination not later than at three months of age. And interventions should begin by age six months, from appropriate professionals with expertise in hearing loss and deafness in infants and young children. Even infants who pass the initial screening should have the development of their communication skills evaluated at their well-baby visits starting by two months of age.

The importance of early screening for hearing issues was noted in a recent New York Times article by long-time health writer Jane Brody, who looked at the amazing technological advances in recent years that have enabled most children born with hearing loss to hear, speak, and learn together with children without hearing difficulties, albeit with extensive speech and language training and lots of hard work. The article notes that a new documentary, "The Listening Project"demonstrates the impact of technology, specifically cochlear implants, on the hearing impaired. The trailer for this film is quite compelling to watch.

Vision screening also should begin in infancy. The AAP guidelines note:
  • All babies should have their eyes checked for infections, defects, cataracts, or glaucoma before leaving the hospital. This is especially true for premature babies, babies who were given oxygen for an extended period, and babies with multiple medical problems. Another group warranting special consideration are babies with family histories of vision difficulties.
  • By six months of age - As part of each well-child visit, eye health, vision development, and alignment of the eyes should be checked.
  • Starting at about one year - Photo screening devices can be used to start detecting potential eyes problems.
  • At 3-4 years - Eyes and vision should be checked for any abnormalities that may cause problems with later development.
  • At five years and older - Vision in each eye should be checked separately every year. If a problem is found during routine eye exams, a child should see a pediatric ophthalmologist.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Tools to Inspire the Reluctant Writer

In an excellent recent article in Education Weekelementary school teacher Emily Galle-From discussed the enjoyment she got from teaching young children about writing. By encouraging her students to let their imaginations soar, to exercise their creativity, and to use a variety of ways to convey their stories - prose, poetry, correspondence, and artwork - her  students were able to express heartfelt thoughts and process complex feelings in ways that were meaningful to them.

Here at The Yellin Center, we know that many students find writing difficult. The reasons for this vary. Some students have trouble organizing their thoughts. Others find putting pen or pencil to paper - or keyboarding - problematic due to graphomotor or fine motor difficulties. Other students struggle with word finding or even reading their own work. Not surprisingly, when children find writing difficult, they are reluctant to write. However, the best way to become a better writer is to write.

We often recommend tools to help even the most reluctant writers to create and share their stories. These include:

  • Comic Creator, a website that allows students to create their own comic strips using pre-made images and speech bubbles. This writing format will allow children to express themselves outside the confines of traditional academic writing tasks and greatly reduces the amount of writing required to get their ideas out. It includes a variety of lesson tools for teachers of different grades.

  • Storybird, a free writing platform for creating and writing visual stories. This program is especially valuable for students with strong spatial skills as it includes high quality, artist-created images that young writers can use for inspiration.

  • StoryBoardThat, a storyboard platform that helps students develop visual literacy and presentation skills.

  • StoryJumper , a storybook creation platform where children can create, publish, narrate, and collaborate with friends to create a unique story.

We hope that one or more of these tools can be helpful to a reluctant writer you may know.

Friday, September 28, 2018

More Reasons for Sufficient Sleep, Exercise, and Screen Limits

Parenting is not an easy job. Parents usually know what their children should be doing -- getting plenty of sleep, lots of exercise, and having limited screen time, among other things -- but applying these goals to their children is not always easy.

A recent study reported in the British medical journal Lancet Child and Adolescent Health looked at 4524 children in the U.S., aged 8–11 years, to examine the extent to which these elementary age children met current recommendations set forth in the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth. These recommendations include getting 9-11 hours of sleep each night, at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day, and having less than two hours of recreational screen time daily.

The children in the study were evaluated using the NIH Toolbox for the Assessment of Neurological and Behavioral Function , which  looks at such components of cognitive function as Executive Function, Episodic Memory, Language, Processing Speed, Working Memory, and Attention.

The researchers found that just over one-half of the children met the sleep recommendations. 37% of the children met the limits on screen time, and only 18% met the physical activity recommendations. 71% of the children met at least one of these recommendations but only 5% met all three. Almost 30% of the children in the study met none of the three goals. The more of these goals the children met, the higher they scored on the NIH Toolbox Assessments. Children who met the goals for limited screen time and sufficient sleep (likely connected in their daily lives) scored roughly five percent higher on the NIH Toolbox parameters than did those children who met neither.

Hopefully, seeing the real, positive associations between meeting the recommendations for these behaviors and improved cognition may be enough to reinforce parental efforts to get their children to meet these laudable goals for sleep, exercise, and screen limits.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Choosing a College - Where to Start?

Your blogger recently spoke with the mother of a high school sophomore. Her daughter was starting to think about college and both she and her parents were concerned about how she would manage in college with her long-standing learning challenges.

"What's the best college for students with learning disabilities?" this mom asked, clearly hoping that I would give her the names of a couple of schools on which they could focus. Instead, I gently pointed out that she was asking the wrong question. Certainly, there are colleges whose primary mission is to work with students with learning and related challenges. These schools, such as Landmark College in Vermont, may be a good fit for a student whose learning issues are significant and who have needed extensive support in high school.

There are also schools and programs for students who cannot manage a traditional college curriculum -- or cannot manage it without additional preparation -- and who may be best served by a "transition to college" or vocational and life skills program. These include places like VIP at New York Institute of Technology, Threshold at Lesley University, or Thames Academy at Mitchell College;  each of them can provide important benefits to certain students.

But while the young woman in question has needed and received supports and accommodations in school, her grades and standardized test scores are solid and she has several interests that could be the basis of a future course of study and possibly a career. I suggested that this family start by identifying colleges that offered strong programs in their daughter's areas of interest. Did she want a program where she could pursue her interest in environmental science? Did she want a school with excellent music and theater departments where she could build on her skills with the cello or follow up on her starring role in her high school's musical? Is she an athlete? Or did she want a school that encouraged study abroad experiences for its students? Or maybe she just wanted a strong liberal arts curriculum where she could explore across disciplines and decide her direction later.

Only after considering what kind of school she wanted, using these criteria, as well as such things as location, size, cost, and admission requirements, would it make sense for this student to carefully consider whether the schools on the lists she had created offered meaningful accommodations and options for academic support. There are more than 4,000 two and four year colleges in the U.S. By working with her guidance counselor, using online tools, and visiting some of those schools that seem of interest, this family can develop a list to serve as a starting point. Then it would make sense to look intently at the commitment of each potential school to serving students with disabilities. All colleges must comply with the ADA - the Americans with Disabilities Act - but many go well beyond their legal obligations. What can a student expect from a college, and how can a student and her family determine what a college offers?

It's been a number of years since your blogger co-wrote Life After High School,  but the guidance offered on how to select a college that can meet a student's needs is still timely. Another resource is the K&W Guide to Colleges for Students with Learning Differences.

Hopefully, this family will find that they can help their daughter make choices that both celebrate her strengths and support her challenges. I've asked them to keep me posted.

Friday, September 14, 2018

The Importance of Waiting

We often suggest that the teachers of students with whom we work take a moment to pause after asking a question in the classroom. This gives all students -- not just those who may struggle with retrieving information from their long-term memory -- a chance to process the question, consider the answer, and come up with the right words to respond. Even just a few seconds can make a big difference to a student with memory issues or expressive language difficulties or even just a student who is a bit shy.

Sometimes, the silence that ensues can be uncomfortable for students and instructors alike. However, according to Professor Bob Kegan of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, it's important for teachers to resist filling the silence by repeating the question or even providing the answer. Professor Kegan explains, in an excellent video that can be accessed on the Instructional Moves website, that making waiting time part of the class discussion and explaining to students why you are doing it, helps avoid confusion and emphasizes the value of time to think before responding.

It's worth trying this in your classroom.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Resources to Prevent Suicide

September is National Suicide Prevention Month and a number of organizations are working to get the word out about resources available to those struggling with depression and other mental illnesses. Suicide is a serious health issue for young people. The national organization Active Minds, which has chapters at more than 600 colleges and high schools, notes that suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students. It is important to keep in mind that a majority of mental illnesses start between ages 14 and 24, so reaching out to young people is of critical importance. Active Minds works to raise awareness of mental illness and to remove the stigma from seeking help. An excellent report from NBC News highlights their impact.

Active Minds isn't the only organization working in this important space. The National Institute of Mental Health has issued a booklet, available in multiple formats, with frequently asked questions about depression, geared for college-age students.

In addition, NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, provides awareness events, works on public policy issues like insurance parity for mental health and funding for mental health research, and helps to educate patients and their families. NAMI also has a national help line. Parents may want to look at a chart NAMI has created that depicts the impact of mental illness on the 20 percent of young people who live with a mental health condition and lists warning signals that require intervention and/or referral to a mental health specialist.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Back to School Tips for Families

The late August heat wave has made it hard to be outdoors, so we've had extra time to catch up on our reading. We've encountered lots of back to school information that we want to share with our readers.

For New York City Families

New York City public schools don't begin classes until after Labor Day and we know that every year there are students who don't have a school assignment as the first day of classes approaches. The folks at have a helpful guide with tips on what to do if your middle schooler still needs a place at this late date. They also offer information on how to contact the NYC Department of Education and its various offices for other school related issues that can arise at the beginning of the school year or later in the term.

Navigating the Start of School
Our colleagues at the American Academy of Pediatrics have an excellent set of suggestions on their website for making the first days of school go more smoothly, especially for younger children. They cover topics ranging from travel to and from school -- on foot, by bus, and even by bicycle. They have tips for how to handle bullying and the best ways to develop good sleep and study habits. And they link to more detailed articles on many of these subjects. It's worth reading.

School Supplies
We've always liked the suggestions from Wirecutter, and they have an extensive list of suggestions for back to school items for all ages, including backpacks, writing instruments, organization tools, electronics, and art supplies. They also have recommendations for laptops for college students. 

Dressing for School Success
Scholastic has some practical suggestions for what young children can wear to school that will enable them to be both comfortable and independent. For older students, parents might want to check out whether their child's school has a dress code, and work together with their child to make sure that they can express their personal style in acceptable ways. And both students and parents should keep in mind that the saying "dress for success" has a real basis in scientific research.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Sex Differences in Soccer Related Brain Injuries

More than four years ago, prompted by the World Cup Games of 2014, we wrote about new pediatric concussion guidelines.  Now, the  NFL season is about to get underway, and lots of the football fans we know are dismayed at the frightening statistics about head injuries to players, both professionals and those who play in school. Moviegoers who saw the 2015 film Concussion saw this issue dramatized in a compelling way. Because no women play in the NFL and only a handful play football at college and high school levels nationally, there have been no comparisons between how blows to the head might affect male and female football players differently.

Such is not the case with soccer. Both boys and girls play in schools, in leagues, and informally and it is possible to look at differences in how blows to the head -- from "heading" the ball or otherwise -- might differ between male and female players.

Research findings reported last month in the journal Radiology that looked at the results of  sophisticated neuroimaging of approximately 100 soccer players in their twenties, evenly divided between men and women, suggest that "women may be more sensitive than men to the effects of heading at the level of tissue microstructure". The researchers noted that their findings "add to a growing body of evidence that men and women express distinct biologic responses to brain injury."  The research team noted that they had controlled for sex-based differences in frequency of heading among players.

It is clear that football isn't the only sport in which repeated head injuries can have a significant impact over time. And it isn't only boys who are at risk. Parents and coaches of female athletes, especially soccer players, need to be aware not just that girls can suffer from repeated blows to the head when they play, but that girls appear to be even more vulnerable to the effects of such impacts than are boys. The researchers in this study express the hope that, "A focus on sex-based vulnerability to brain injury may inform care of injured athletes and enhance guidelines for safe play." We hope so too.

Photo by Jeffrey Lin on Unsplash

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Building a Better IEP or 504 Plan

Yesterday, Dr. and Mrs. Yellin were the featured speakers in a webinar from ADDitude Magazine, where Mrs. Yellin is a regular columnist, writing on "Your Legal Rights." For this event, they jointly presented information on how parents can make sure that their child's IEP or Section 504 Plan will properly provide what is needed for their child to succeed in school.

As they explained to their live audience of close to 2,000 listeners, the first step in creating an effective IEP or 504 Plan is to fully understand the issues with which your child is dealing by having a thorough evaluation, one that looks beyond labels or diagnoses. They noted that it's important to keep in mind that these plans need to be individualized, and that administering a standard battery of tests may not be sufficient to get to the source of your child's problems.

The assessment that begins the IEP or 504 process needs to delve deeply into the specific areas of breakdown. It needs to look not just at a child's challenges, but also look at strengths, since these can be leveraged to help to bypass challenges. Likewise, areas of interest or affinities should be identified, since these can help your child become involved in their academics. Presenting a sports obsessed struggling reader a book about baseball or football is more likely to keep his or her interest than having that same student read about travel or music.

Another key point of the webinar was the importance of goals. Having appropriate goals is critical to a successful plan. Goals set out in an IEP or 504 Plan should be:

  • Specific, objective, and quantifiable
  • Should include standardized measures
  • Must contain a clear understanding of:
    • Who is responsible for implementation
    • The frequency of assessment
    • The mechanism for reporting to parents
    • A clear understanding, upfront, of what constitutes sufficient progress. 
You can listen to the webinar in its entirety on the ADDitude website, or watch it on YouTube, below. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Next Generation Science Standards

Research is clear that students who are exposed to STEM fields -- Science, Technology, Engineering, and higher level Math - in their elementary school years are more likely to select careers in STEM fields than those who don't get significant science or technology instruction until high school. That's not surprising. But one barrier to meaningful science instruction in elementary school is that most teachers at that level have little or no background in science.

While most elementary school teachers have had some science courses in college, these tend not to be in fields like physics, engineering, and chemistry. Studies have shown that most teachers at this level do not feel confident in their ability to teach these subject areas to their students. It's hard to teach what you don't know well.

Many teacher training programs have responded to this situation by ramping up the coursework and training required of future teachers. And schools across the country have sought ways to expand their STEM education in early grades.

One tool that both teacher training programs and elementary and middle schools are using effectively is the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). These standards have been adopted in 19 states and the District of Columbia and another 19 states have adopted similar new science standards, according to the National Science Teachers Association.  There is an extensive website dedicated to the NGSS, as well as several long videos. But, for a short but helpful video that explains the NGSS and how they work, you might want to check out the link below:

Friday, July 27, 2018

Therapy Dogs and ADHD

We've written numerous times about the benefits of dogs as pets. We've shared research that found that children with dogs at home had fewer respiratory or ear infections and needed fewer courses of antibiotics than children who had no exposure to dogs.

We've looked at how using dogs as reading companions can help struggling readers gain skills and confidence. And we've shared how psychotherapists are using dogs in their therapy practices to help their young patients.

Now, a new randomized controlled study (the "gold standard" of how research is conducted) has found that children with ADHD who received Canine-Assisted Interventions (CAI) with a certified therapy dog significantly improved attention and social skills and exhibited fewer behavior problems after only eight weeks. Of note, hyperactivity and impulsivity were not affected. The study, from researchers at the University of California, Irvine, involved 88 children ages 7-9, none of whom had taken medication to treat their attention difficulties. Both the CAI group and the control group received standard behavioral interventions for their ADHD and the control group did improve with these (as did the CAI group), but the children in the CAI group did better and improved more quickly (eight weeks vs. 12 weeks) than those without canine support.

While it is not a cure-all, families whose children have ADHD might consider a certified therapy dog in conjunction with more standard behavioral interventions for their children.

Photo by Andy Omvik on Unsplash

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Simple Summer Play

It's a lovely day in New York and your desk-sitting blogger is thinking thoughts of picnics, parks, and all sorts of outdoor activities.

Being outdoors, moving about, and engaging in play is even more important for kids, so a list of 30 Classic Outdoor Games for Kids, appearing a few years ago on the website, makes for an appealing read, especially since these games require little or no equipment (well, Marco Polo does require a swimming pool). This list will read like a journey through most adults' childhoods, whether you played on a city street, a suburban lawn or driveway, or a country field. It's a worthwhile read.

We've got some additional suggestions, tested on kids we know well. Not all are fully outdoor activities, but all can keep kids busy, active, and having fun for hours.

  • Give your kids a box -- the bigger the better. Appliance boxes make clubhouses, cars, rocket ships and more -- sometimes all on the same day. Parents can create windows or doors. A box of markers can add details. Smaller boxes can be sealed up and stacked, making walls, forts, or roadways. The only limitation for this activity is their imagination and it works for kids of all ages, even babies. 

  • Set up a tire swing. Admittedly, this isn't for everyone, since an old tire and a very sturdy tree branch aren't easy to find. But if you are blessed with both and can come by a sturdy rope and a handy adult to set it up, this can add a new dimension to an outdoor area. Adult supervision is recommended. 
  • Get a box of sidewalk chalk. This colorful, sturdy chalk can bring out the artist in many children and will wash away the next time it rains or with a hose. 
  • Have a water fight. This can involve water balloons, water guns, and even spray hoses for older kids. The rules should require kids to opt in, since not every child likes getting wet this way. And participants should be roughly the same age, so things don't overwhelm younger kids. 
  • Put on a talent show. This is a multi-day activity that can include children of all ages, with the older ones doing the planning and the younger ones participating in a age appropriate ways. Older kids love to be the boss and little ones love to be included. We're not talking about a Broadway production here, but something kids can enjoy and parents can applaud. 
  • Fingerpaint. Outdoors. Easy clean up. Nothing else to say. 
Whatever games or activities you or your children invent, the important things are to be active, to be outdoors where possible, and to have fun. After all, it's summer...