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.