Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Happy Holidays to All !

We’ve always done a blog in rhyme as our last post of the year
To thank everyone who's helped us and to wish all much good cheer
This year has been a busy one; we’ve served students of all kinds 
We’ve done trainings, talks, and  webinars to help explain kids’ minds

Dr. Yellin has done traveling to schools both far and near
Where our approach to learning is used throughout the year
Helping students see their strengths to build their self esteem
And offering up strategies to help them reach their dreams

For parents who have questions and are not sure what to do
We've had a free phone hour that might be help to you
Just call our office number, Thursday mornings 8-9
And if Dr. Yellin isn't busy, he'll get right on the line

But more than our activities, we want to share our gratitude
To our amazing Yellin Center staff and their caring attitude
To attorneys, tutors,  therapists who ask us to assist
And the schools who send us scholars when things have gone amiss

But most of all we thank the parents who trust us with their kids
Who've turned to us when children struggle, no matter what they did
You and your dear children are the core of what we do
Why we get up every morning and work the long day through

So as one year is about to end and another set to start
We wish you happy holidays from the bottom of our heart
We wish you health and happiness and that learning is a joy
And that all good things should come to you and to every girl and boy

Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year
                            From The Yellin Center

We will be closed from December 25th, reopening on Thursday, January 2nd

Friday, December 20, 2019

The Challenge of the Blank Page

When professional writers sit in front of their computer or at their desk and are unable to write -- or to write the kind of content that they know they are capable of producing, they often talk about having writer's block. Some authors can go years without producing a new book or a magazine piece, even though they have had years of productivity in the past. 

This kind of difficulty is not just a problem of adult professionals. It can be hard for children to sit in front of a blank page -- on paper or screen -- and come up with a story or report on deadline. Certain kinds of writing may be easier for children. Book reports, for example, have a fairly standard format and the content can refer back to the book and its characters. Similarly, assignments with clear guidelines, such as a research report on an historical figure or event, can be relatively easy for a young writer to begin.

Open ended writing assignments can be more difficult for anyone and children can find it especially hard to get started. There are ways to help, however, and parents and teachers can use some of the following to provide the needed spark:
  • Help them record the story. Many children find it easier to "tell" a story than to write it down. Once they finish, they can play the recording back and serve as their own scribe, or have a parent or teacher help them, writing down what they had said aloud. 
  • Provide word banks. These can be found online or you can create them for a specific purpose. Having words in front of them that relate to the topic they are writing about may be all a child needs to begin to write. They can help create this word list, and then use all of the words in sentences. For example, a paragraph about spiders might include the key words “spider,” “legs,” “eyes,” “poison,” “bite,” “insects,” “web,” etc. 
  • Have the child start with a free-write. This can mean jotting down ideas, making lists, or putting words to paper in any form that feels comfortable. No structure, no grammar issues, and no rules apply. Once this free write is completed, it can help the child to jump start a more organized written product. 
  • Teachers can offer students alternative ways to tell stories. StoryboardThat enables students to create a storyboard, much like a screenwriter will use to create a film plot. Tools like Comic Creator can help children tell their story in a comic book format. Other "out of the box" ways to get children started with writing include having them write a skit or play, and perhaps acting it out, or to have them "report" a fictional event in a newspaper format. Storybird uses over 1,000 professionally created pictures to inspire writers of all ages - and children can read the stories of other children too (all carefully moderated).
Writing leads to more writing, so getting things started should be the goal. While proper spelling, grammar, and other aspects of good writing are important, they can be part of the editing process, once children come up with their ideas and the basic story. 

Monday, December 9, 2019

IEPs and 504 Plans

As we have noted a number of times, questions from families seem to come in groups. Most recently, we have received several inquiries from the families we serve about Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) versus 504 Plans (whose name derives from Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of l973). What most often triggers these questions is the misguided approach of some schools that these two kinds of services and supports are interchangeable in all instances and that, in effect, a 504 Plan is an "IEP lite."

Only by understanding the origins and purposes of these two laws will schools and families be able to best apply each of them in the appropriate circumstances. Let's break these differences and similarities down to compare and contrast.

The IDEA is an educational funding law. It requires that each state that receives federal funds (and that is ALL of them)  provide a free, appropriate public education (universally referred to as FAPE) to all K-12 students who meet the definition of disability in one of 13 areas. Among the most common areas  are Specific Learning Disability, Speech and Language Impairment and Other Health Impaired (a bit of a catch-all, which often includes ADHD). The IDEA applies to all students who have been determined to have one of these disabilities, whether they attend a public or private school, although the funds available to students in private schools come from a different funding stream and can sometimes be more limited than those available to public school students.

Section 504 is a civil rights law. It is often described as a law that seeks to "level the playing field" by providing students with disabilities the same access and opportunities as students who do not have disabilities. It only applies to schools and school systems that receive federal funding, so it does not apply to most private schools (unless they have some sort of federal funding, such as for a lunch or enrichment program). Its definition of what constitutes a disability is far broader than the IDEA, and is defined generally as  a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. There is no limiting definition of what kind of impairment "substantially limits a major life activity," but Section 504 notes that this definition includes (but is not limited to): learning, concentrating, thinking, reading, hearing, communicating, seeing, and working. So, students who have a defined disability under the IDEA will also fit the definition of a disability under Section 504.

Why, then, do we say that these are not interchangeable? A good explanation of the differences between these two laws can be found in a document from the U.S. Department of Education:

First of all, the IDEA provides very specific procedures for how it is to be applied. Details of evaluations, meetings to develop the IEP, and remedies if there are problems with any aspect of the IEP procedure are set out in the IDEA and its regulations with great precision. There can be some differences from state to state in how these work in practice, but every state must provide at least what is set forth in the IDEA. One of many aspects of the IDEA is that parents are a required part of the team that creates the IEP.

In addition, the IDEA provides a rich array of services, including special education and related services. Special education is defined under the IDEA as specially designed instruction, at no cost to parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability and related services (things like speech, occupational, and physical therapy) are defined as supportive services that are required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education.

Under Section 504, school districts are required to develop and implement a system of procedural safeguards to address FAPE concerns specifically, such as the identification, evaluation, and educational placement of students with disabilities. Procedural safeguards include notice; an opportunity for records review by parents or guardians; an impartial due process hearing, with an opportunity for participation by the student’s parents or guardian and representation by counsel; and a review procedure. 

Section 504 does not include parents as part of the team that initially creates the 504 Plan, only after the fact if a hearing is required because of a disagreement. And, while some states follow the procedures in the IDEA and use these as the required system of due process safeguards that Section 504 requires, not all states or districts do this. 

We believe that as implemented by most schools, an IEP affords more support for students and input for parents than a 504 Plan. By setting goals and methods for determining if these educational goals are being met, an IEP focuses not simply on access, but more broadly on educational methodology and improved performance. 

School districts must supply data to their state and states, in turn, must account to the federal government for the number of students who receive IEPs. This is related to the IDEA's status as a funding law and is designed to make sure that districts aren't classifying too many students or too many students of a particular background, as requiring IEPs. There is thus some pressure on some districts to limit the number of students with IEPs. Such data is not required in the same way for 504 Plans, so some districts may be more comfortable offering a 504 Plan in lieu of an IEP. 

When appropriate, such as for a student with a medical condition, or with ADHD and without any concurrent learning difficulties, or for a student who only needs accommodations, such as extended time on exams, Section 504 can be an important and effective law. But for students whose issues are more complex and include substantial learning challenges requiring special educational services and supports, we urge parents to seek an IEP as the best way to obtain what will best serve their child.  

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Thanksgiving Thoughts

In the more than ten years we have been writing this blog, we have written a post before each Thanksgiving, sharing information, expressing gratitude, or both.

Last year we wrote about Thanksgiving books for children, and it's not too late to pop into your local bookstore (if you still have one!) to pick one of these up for the children you will be seeing. An older post, from 2011, also contains book ideas relating to the holiday. We also shared a link to the site from Scholastic that parents can use to help discuss the origins and meaning of the holiday with their school-age children.

Countering all these classic versions of the holiday, is a piece from The New York Times a couple of years ago, "fact checking" many of the aspects of the traditional story of Thanksgiving.

But whether or not your perspective on Thanksgiving is historically accurate, taking a day for gratitude is something we all can do. The things that make each of us grateful may vary, but here are some of the things we are grateful for, especially this year.

First, we're grateful for babies, both in our own family and in our Yellin Center family. Your blogger can attest that while parenthood has its blessings, there is nothing to compare with being a grandparent. And Dr. Yellin would agree.

We are also grateful for our larger family, especially for Aunt Karen, who has hosted our extended clan for an all-day celebration for as long as we can remember, opening her home (and view of the Macy's parade) not just to family and friends, but to friends of friends who come just for the parade. Here's to calm winds and high flying balloons tomorrow!

We're grateful for all our family members who put love over politics, and who manage to stay in the same room with one another even though we do not all share the same viewpoints. And, despite not discussing politics, we never run out of things to talk about. 

We're incredibly grateful for our Yellin Center staff, clinical and administrative. They all make the experience of the families and students who come to The Yellin Center welcoming and professional and our work would not be possible without their skill, dedication, and good nature. Thank you!

We are grateful for the many schools and organizations who seek guidance, training, and information from us and who invite Dr. Yellin to give talks and professional development programs. He always finds these enormously gratifying. 

Finally, we are grateful for the families and students who come to The Yellin Center, who share their struggles and allow us to work with them. We are grateful for your trust and hope that our work has made your lives and the lives of your children better. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 15, 2019

High School Newspapers

A recent walk down memory lane -- a tour of your blogger's high school as part of a reunion weekend -- served as a reminder of how big a role working on my high school newspaper played in my high school experience. It was a great way to build confidence, to learn the inner workings of the school, and (as a senior) to guide younger students in the skills needed for producing the monthly paper on time.

These skills translated to work on my college paper -- where a large sign in the chaotic newsroom proclaimed "This is a Daily, Not a Weekly!" By then there was real news to report -- strife on campus, sit-ins, and an activist student body in a turbulent era. Some of the folks I met during that time went on to careers in journalism, while others became doctors, lawyers, and even a producer of Law and Order.

It was with particular interest, therefore, that I read a recent article in Chalkbeat highlighting a New York City high school teacher, Dennis Mihalsky, who started a journalism class and a school newspaper at the City College Academy of the Arts in Inwood. Part of his motivation, the Chalkbeat piece explains, was to heighten his students' awareness of events going on around them in their school and community. And, not surprisingly, to counter the reliance his students placed on social media as a source of information.

The venture has proven to be a success, with students coming up with ideas for stories that would have an impact on the life of their school. The paper publication was something very tangible for the students and they are learning to realize the importance of this kind of journalism.

Building on this success, Mr. Mihalsky has founded a nonprofit organization, Students Disrupting, whose mission is  "to bring student newspapers to every high school in the city through training, advising, and supporting students, teachers, and administrators, helping them find their voice, deepen their thought, and seek the truth." Students Disrupting notes that only 12.5 percent of NYC public schools have student newspapers and a key part of its mission is to support students and teachers who want to increase that number. Does your school (or your child's school) have a newspaper? If not, maybe it's time to start one. If you have 26 minutes, you may enjoy hearing from Dennis Mihalsky about how he started his school's newspaper.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

School Travel Safety

Our last blog looked at issues relating to early school start times and the new California law that prohibits start times for middle school students before 8 a.m. and for high school students before 8:30 a.m. But no matter what time your child begins his or her school day, being safe on the way to and from school is an important issue to everyone to keep in mind.

Safety concerns start on the way out the door in the morning and continue until students arrive at their homes at the end of the day, which for some students with after-school sports or activities can be as late as 6 or 7 pm. Our colleagues at The American Academy of Pediatrics cite research from The National Research Council  Transportation Research Board, Committee on School Transportation Safetthat broke down the ways that students travel to and from school during the regular school day. These modes of travel included passenger vehicle with adult driver, 45%; school buses, 25%, other buses, 2%; passenger vehicle with teen driver, 14%; bicycle, 2%; and walking, 12%. Not included in these figures are transportation after regular school hours or for extracurricular activities. These after hours trips are often done after dark and can involve longer distances (to sporting events or tournaments outside of the home district); they have a disproportionately high occurrence of crashes.

What can parents do to make travel to and from school safer?

  • Make sure young children are accompanied by a parent, caretaker, or responsible older sibling while walking to or from school or the bus stop
  • Remind children that the bus stop is not a playground and that running around, which can often end up in the adjacent road, can be dangerous
  • Dawn and dusk are the most difficult times of day for motorists to see pedestrians. As the days shorten, make sure your child is wearing at least some reflective clothing so he or she is highly visible
  • Work with your PTA or other group to make sure your school has implemented appropriate safety measures -- crossing guards, dismissal and arrival procedures, and safety training as part of the curriculum -- to provide children age-appropriate safe travel
  • Support graduated driving licences for teens. Teenage drivers should pass not just the State road test, but Mom or Dad's road test as well. That may mean that driving privileges are delayed until a teen demonstrates sufficient maturity and judgment to understand that the consequences of distracted driving can be deadly. 
  • Model good driving practices yourself; never text or use your phone or otherwise drive with distractions and always wear seat belts. We've written before about steps to safer teen driving. Speed, having passengers in the car, and failure to wear seat belts are some of the driving practices that pose the most risk to teens.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Dark and Early Mornings

A recent social media post from a relative in Florida lamented his son's early school start time. "Somebody has to get on the bus way too early. Middle school boys were like a pack of zombies lingering around the bus stop staring at their phones," he noted. "It will be nice when we change the clocks and I won't have to turn on the outside lights when he leaves the house in the morning."

But light or dark [and remember that this Saturday night we turn our clocks back one hour, so it will be lighter in the morning -- but will get dark as early as 4:30 pm later in November and even earlier in December], there is nothing to be done about the shorter days that winter brings.

What can be addressed, and what California has decided to do over the next three years, is change the start time of school for students. A new law mandates that most middle and high schools in California begin not earlier than 8 and 8:30 a.m., respectively. The law contains exemptions for some rural schools and its gradual implementation is designed to allow time for new teacher contracts to reflect the change in schedules.

We have written numerous times about the need for adequate sleep for children of all ages; just search "sleep" in the subject box on the right-hand side of this post. Many of our discussions of sleep are based on research referenced by our colleagues at The American Academy of Pediatrics, that 

“ [it is] ... clear that adolescents who get enough sleep have a reduced risk of being overweight or suffering depression, are less likely to be involved in automobile accidents, and have better grades, higher standardized test scores and an overall better quality of life. [In addition] studies have shown that delaying early school start times is one key factor that can help adolescents get the sleep they need to grow and learn.”

Preliminary calculations of the cost-benefit issues associated with later school times indicate that "the benefits of later start times far out-weigh the immediate costs" in just two years.

As California implements its new policy and researchers examine the impact on student health and achievement, they will also be looking at the economic issues involved in this major state-wide shift. We will continue to follow this issue as it evolves over the next several years. 

Friday, October 18, 2019

Getting the Most from an IEP or 504 Plan

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to present a national webinar for ADDitude Magazine on "A Parent’s Guide to Evaluating and Troubleshooting Your Child’s IEP or 504 Plan." 

As with other presentations I have done, I planned out a series of slides (and you can see them and the entire free presentation if you click on the link above) that set out how to tell if there were problems with an IEP or 504 Plan and what parents can do if there are such problems. Some of the remedies I mentioned were:
  • How minor issues with an IEP can be dealt with without needing to hold a meeting of the IEP Team. These include increasing or decreasing the frequency of a service (such as OT or PT) that is already provided in the IEP, or adding a minor accommodation, such as having exams taken in a quiet location in addition to extended time.
  • More extensive changes to an IEP will likely need a meeting of the IEP Team. These might include adding a service or support, changing a class setting, or even changing the school a child is attending. Parents need to keep in mind that they are entitled to request an IEP meeting at any time, not just once a year as is customarily scheduled. That is a right, not a favor being done by the school.
  • Parents are also entitled to a new evaluation once each year. The IDEA requires re-evaluation every three years, but if parents feel that circumstances warrant it, they can have their child re-evaluated more often. As with a new IEP meeting, this isn't something that the school might do as a favor. It is a legal right. 
  • Also, parents who have had a recent evaluation and realize that it was inadequate, can seek a publicly funded Independent Educational Evaluation, an IEE, which can then be the basis for a modified IEP. We have an extensive blog post on this subject.
Almost as interesting to your blogger as preparing and presenting a webinar, are the questions parents have during (and after) the webinar. Some parents wanted to know:
  • What happens to their child's IEP when they move? We were able to point them to a blog post on this too. 
  • Several folks wanted me to explain again the differences between an IEP and a 504 Plan. We were able to tell them that these stem from two different laws, both designed to help individuals with disabilities, but having different procedures and sometimes offering different supports.
In addition to this recent webinar, you can check out and listen to my several other webinars for ADDitude. 

Monday, October 14, 2019

First Stop: Your Pediatrician

Our colleagues at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) just released an extensive report aimed at informing their members of their important role in recognizing and helping to treat many problems that relate to learning and development,. Starting in infancy, long before a child is first enrolled in school, it is the pediatrician who often can spot a problem that can be addressed early to improve a child's chances of success in school. Screening for vision and hearing deficits, lags in motor and language development, and psycho-social family issues can all lead to interventions that can improve a child's chances of succeeding in school and in life.

As children reach school age, even before parents turn to their school system for help with learning or behavior issues, a child's pediatrician can pick up on a wide array of conditions -- genetic, neurological, medical, emotional -- that can have a wide ranging affect on how a child functions in and outside of school. While the AAP article is aimed at pediatricians, to guide them in their role in diagnosing issues that can get in the way of school success, it is also important that parents understand how their child's pediatrician can be an important first stop when things are not going well developmentally or academically.

There is a concept in medicine called "differential diagnosis" that plays an important role in helping to understand what is going on when children struggle. Pediatricians are trained to apply this concept when dealing with their patients and it is at the core of what we do here at The Yellin Center. As Dr. Yellin (a pediatrician and a member of the AAP) explains, you can use the analogy of a child with a cough. Before treating the cough, it is crucial to understand why the child is coughing. Does he have an upper respiratory infection, a bone stuck in his throat, asthma, or pneumonia? Only by looking for the cause of a problem can an effective solution be applied. Many learning or school problems require this same approach; only by looking deeply and ruling out many of the problems pediatricians are trained to consider can families begin to help their child get the help he or she needs.

Pediatricians are also excellent sources of referrals. They will be able to suggest educational evaluators (and many of our families are sent to us by their pediatrician for an evaluation for suspected learning or attention difficulties), or send a child to have their vision or hearing explored in depth, or recommend a therapist or other professional if there are signs of serious emotional or family difficulties. Parents should use their child's pediatrician, and the expertise and experience he or she offers, as an important resource when children are struggling in school.

Photo: Alex Proimos/Flickr Creative Commons

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

The Joys of Comic Books and Graphic Novels

Here at The Yellin Center, we have long recommended comic books and graphic novels as ways for children who struggle with reading and writing to experience success.

There are many reasons why a child might find reading, especially chapter books with complex plots, hard to follow. Reading disorders, such as dyslexia, can make it difficult for a child to decode the words on the page. Sequencing problems may cause a reader to confuse the order of events in a chapter or story. Memory difficulties may make it hard for a child to keep the beginning of a story in his or her head by the time they get to the end. Even attention difficulties may get in the way of concentrating on the material with sufficient depth to retain what was read.

Similarly, there are many reasons why children may struggle with writing. They may have limited expressive (oral) language, which makes it hard for them to find appropriate words to express what they are trying to say. They may have difficulties with organization, which make presenting a story step by step to be a struggle. They may have a reading disorder, such as dyslexia, which makes it hard for them to spell. They may even have an attention issue which makes it hard for them to concentrate on a complex task like writing for the time needed to produce written work.

For all of these children, graphic novels and comic books may provide access to written materials that can help build the skills children need to be successful readers and writers. These mediums are no longer just the sensationalist superhero stories (POW!, BAM!) many of us encountered in our own youth. Today's graphic novels are sophisticated and contain the same kinds of themes, characters, and language that can be found in books. Many comic books are very similar to graphic novels, with somewhat shorter stories. The key to both of these are that they are supported by high quality graphic images that allow students to more readily access the written words that accompany the illustrations.

These forms of storytelling are not just for reading. Creating comics (or even graphic novels, for older, more sophisticated writers) can allow children to tell their story through the medium of pictures, without needing to use the language skills that are so difficult for them. There are a number of good tools available. Take a look at the list from Common Sense Education or at some of the tools we often recommend to students: Storyboard Creator and Comic Creator. And we have written about some terrific graphic novels in prior blog posts:

Finally, there is a great story in today's New York Times about Loot, a comic book store in Brooklyn where children are encouraged to read, borrow, and create their own comic books. It sounds like fun for kids and the parents who accompany them.

Photo: Enokson

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Learning Faster vs Learning Better

A discussion in Ed., the magazine of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, looks at the flaws in the assumption that students who are "fast learners" or "quick to get it" perform better than those students who take more time to work their way through course material.

This assumption was challenged by Parisa Rouhani, Ed.D., as part of her doctoral dissertation. Dr. Rouhani noted that the way our educational system looks at those who need more time as somehow "deficient" or "less capable" is reflected in the need for students to be diagnosed with a learning or attention problem in order to be entitled to extended time on exams.
However, Dr. Rouhani's study of a group of ninth graders found that there was "no meaningful relationship between time and performance. Some students who did well in the course took a long time, while others did not." By analyzing the performance of her class of subjects, she found that the most important determinant of whether students did well in the course was whether they had mastered the material. The question that this small study raises is why do we continue to use time as a measure of competence and limit time for high stakes testing and even classroom evaluations? Clearly, this issue needs more study, with a larger group of subjects.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Behaviors That Impact Impulsivity

Research findings published in the September issue of Pediatrics look at the effects of "Movement Behaviors" on impulsivity in more than 4500 children, ages 8-11. These guidelines (The Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth) aren't really all about movement; they are evidence-based recommendations that children 5 to 13 years old:

  • Accumulate a minimum of 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity; and
  • Spend not more than 2 hours a day on recreational screen time; and
  • Get between 9 and 11 hours sleep each night.
The researchers were interested in looking at whether these behaviors would have an impact on impulsivity, which is a core characteristic in attention disorders as well as certain behavior disorders and emotional dysregulation. They began with the hypothesis that children who met all of the recommendations for these parameters would show less impulsivity than those who did not. 

They looked at various combinations of physical activity, sleep, and screen time and determined that 30 percent of the children did not meet any of the recommendations. Less than 5 percent of the children met all the guidelines. The researchers found that the most important factors in whether children demonstrated reduced impulsivity (and its positive counterpart, perseverance) was sufficient sleep and limited screen time. Physical activity seemed to have much less of an impact.

 The researchers note, "Our findings highlight that sleep and [screen time] interact in a fashion that provides unique benefits compared with meeting either movement behavior alone and may be especially clinically relevant to target concurrently in interventions, given a small percentage of children meet these movement behavior guidelines."

They conclude that while physical activity may not impact impulsivity, it has other important benefits. Furthermore, strategies to limit recreational screen time while encouraging early bedtimes and sufficient sleep, can help avoid and treat impulsivity related disorders. 

Photo by Alfred Rowe on Unsplash

Friday, September 13, 2019

Sleep and Memory

We've written countless times about sleep, and the importance of sleep for children of all ages.* Now, a new study paints a clear picture of how academic learning is significantly affected by sleep deprivation - and how this impact continues in effect over a period of several weeks.

A new study in the Journal of Adolescent Healthnoted in AAP Newsexamined the effects of sleep deprivation on 59 teens ages 15-18 at a boarding school in Singapore. The group was divided into two parts; one set of students could sleep for nine hours, which is the generally recommended length of sleep for teens of that age group. The other set of students were permitted only five hours of sleep, an amount not unusual for sleep deprived students.

After a period of four days, designed to replicate a typical school week, both groups of students were taught detailed facts about ants and crabs over the course of a six hour day. The students were tested on what they had learned 30 minutes and then three days after the lesson concluded. Some of the students (from both the sleep deprived and the control groups) were also tested six weeks after the lesson.

The study authors noted, " We found significantly reduced retention of factual knowledge after four nights of restricted sleep, and this deficit was still evident when tested 6 weeks later." The data shows:

  • 30 minutes after the lesson, the sleep deprived students retained 26% less information than the control group, a finding that the researchers note may be attributed to impaired encoding of the material in the first place.
  • After three days, the sleep deprived students retained 34% less than the control group.
  • Six weeks later, among those of the students who returned for follow up (14 sleep restricted and 22 of the control group), the sleep restricted participants retained 65% less of the learned material for certain responses.  

This study should be required reading for all teens who dismiss the importance of a full night's sleep.

*The links to our blog posts on sleep are too numerous to include. You can find them by searching the term "sleep" or selecting "sleep" from our list of blog topics, both of which are located on the right hand side of this post. 

Photo by Tracey Hocking on Unsplash

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Avoiding the October Surprise

Tomorrow is the first day of school for New York City students, but their older siblings and friends at college likely started classes days or weeks ago. College students who are new to campus living need to adjust to a wide array of  "self care" responsibilities. These are things that used to be done with parental support or, at least, parental awareness. They include getting adequate sleep, eating well, avoiding dangerous situations, and staying up-to-date on assignments.

One responsibility in particular can make or break a student's chance of success in college: maintaining his or her medication regime. Students who require medication, whether to treat a health condition, a mental illness, or AD/HD, have likely been taking these medications regularly, perhaps reminded by or assisted by their parents. They have parental help with obtaining prescriptions, including making appointments with their doctors, knowing about their drug plan coverage, and getting refills (in general, controlled substances - which include most medications for attention and psychiatric conditions - require that the patient be seen by the prescribing physician at least every three months), and monitoring side effects. Parents can often tell when their adolescent is not taking prescribed medications just by observing how they feel and behave.

Not infrequently, when a student arrives to begin college, they are eager to assert their independence and might decide they don't really need their medication. Or, they may have the best of intentions to continue their medication regime, but become distracted and don't follow through with taking their meds regularly.

Why do we call this the "October Surprise"? We first heard the term from a colleague who was describing a regular experience in her legal practice, when parents would call her and report that their college student suddenly was failing, or in the infirmary, or decided they couldn't handle college. Why? After some investigation, many of these students had stopped their medications as soon as they got to school. Since most of these medications don't stop working immediately, it took until late September or early October for them to be fully out of the student's system and for the student to feel the full effects of functioning without needed medication. Hence, the surprise in October.

College students may not realize that there is no opportunity for a "do over" in college. If a student fails a course, that "F" is there forever, impacting his or her GPA. I've sat with more than one set of parents who sought guidance in what they could do once their child has failed several courses and have been able to offer little solace.

Families need to begin when a student is in high school to create medical independence, but it is not too late to speak to a college student to make sure he or she has the tools to manage their medication. Students need to understand their medical or psychiatric conditions, know what medications they are taking and why, and how to keep their medication secure from those who would like to try their attention meds to "help" them study. Your student needs to understand that in addition to the legal and ethical issues involved, ADHD stimulants are called “controlled substances” because of their potential for side effects. They can do harm to individuals who are not under the supervision of a physician. Your son or daughter should know how to obtain more medication when they need it -- even if that means letting a parent know rather than making arrangements for a refill themselves.

Speaking with your student about his or her medications, the importance of taking them, and when and how to reach out for additional medication or to report problems is an important part of college readiness and can make a real difference in college success.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Monday, August 26, 2019

Starting the School Year with an IEP or 504 Plan

It's not uncommon for parents to tell us about issues with getting their child services or accommodations early in the school year. The stories tend to be similar: there was an IEP or 504 meeting the previous spring, where the team (including the parents) agreed upon the setting, services and/or accommodations the child would be receiving during the upcoming year. These might be the same school setting, services, and accommodations as in the past, or they could be modified based on how the student performed or what updated evaluation showed.

Most of the time there is a  smooth carryover to the new school year. The student reports to the agreed upon school or class, the teacher is aware that the student has an IEP or a 504 Plan and has had a chance to review it, and the specialists who will be working with the student (providing speech and language services, reading support, or other related services) begin their work with the student within the first week or two of the start of school.

Sometimes, however, the process does not go as well. In the worst cases, a student may be told that they don't have a seat at the school they expected to attend. Other times, related services may not be provided during the first few weeks of school because of lack of staff. Not infrequently, children who expect door-to-door bus service to school find that they don't get a pick up.

So, what are parents to do? Fortunately, you can find specific suggestions from organizations that specialize in supporting students and families.

  • For students in New York City, Advocates for Children of New York has detailed information on a variety of these issues, from failure to receive services, to lack of transportation, to not having a seat in the school your child expected to attend. 
  • Wherever you may live, our colleagues at Understood have an excellent article, "How Do I Get My Child’s IEP Going at the Beginning of the School Year?" , that sets out suggestions for immediate problems and ways to avoid such issues in the future. An important point that the author makes is that tone is important. "Delays in starting up IEP services are frustrating. But parents who escalate tensions with the school may not make as much progress as parents who remain calm and cooperative."
  • Some ideas for monitoring whether your child is getting the services to which he or she is entitled, and possible remedies if services are not delivered after a reasonable period, can be found on the Wrightslaw website. 

Photo Credit: Photo by Yan Berthemy on Unsplash

Friday, August 16, 2019

Where to Find Information

We get lots of questions from families about how they can learn about topics relating to schools, special education, advocacy, and more. Sometimes, we are able to direct them to one of our blog posts (there is a search feature on the right hand side of each post that includes topics covered in our more than 1,000 posts). Other times, our administrative staff has the information at their very able fingertips, and can answer their question.

It's been a while since we shared a list of our favorite resources - websites and organizations that can provide important information that families need as they navigate their child's needs. Some are New York based, but others operate nationally. We've grouped them below by category and include our comments on what they provide. We hope you find them as helpful as we do.

Information on Schools

Great Schools is a national nonprofit that provides information about specific schools throughout the U.S. Parents can search by state or zip code and the data includes specific areas of academic performance as well as diversity and special education services. The site also provides other information for parents, but the school search feature is by far the most valuable tool. Families should use it as a starting point, not a decision-maker, but it can be very useful when exploring an area that is unfamiliar.

InsideSchools is a New York City resource that includes detailed reviews of specific schools as well as information about how to apply to schools in New York City. Also included is information on  things such as deadlines, districts, and decision dates. There are also helpful guides about topics including transferring schools within the City and special education. The quality of the information is excellent and we always recommend this site as the first stop for families looking into New York City public schools. 

Advocacy Resources

COPAA, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, is a membership organization for both parent and attorney advocates. Families who want to engage with their school system to obtain the best services and supports for their child can find information here about how to do this. As we noted in a post about COPAA back in 2011, "COPAA members communicate with one another through two separate listservs -- one for attorneys and one for parents and lay advocates. The listservs allow parents, advocates, and attorneys to seek guidance about specific issues that they are facing and to offer information about best and worst practices they have encountered in their local area. New court decisions impacting education are quickly shared, and COPAA maintains an archives with forms, court cases, and legal briefs that can be accessed by its members." A particularly useful feature for families offered by COPAA is "find an attorney" -- which does not require membership and which allows families to locate a special education attorney in their state or city.

Wrightslaw is a wide-ranging resource on special education. When we first wrote about this site in 2009, we noted, "Wrightslaw.com is a commercial site, written by Peter Wright, an attorney, and his wife, Pam, a clinical social worker. The site is cluttered with announcements about their workshops, books, and other products for sale, but there is real substance behind this site and it is a great place to find an article explaining how the legal end of the special education system works. If there is a new court case that impacts special education, you can be sure that Wrightslaw will have both the text of the case and a discussion of what it means before almost anyone else."

Advocates for Children of New York provides information and advocacy on behalf of children in New York City who are at greatest risk for school-based discrimination and/or academic failure due to poverty, disability, race, ethnicity, immigrant or English Language Learner status, sexual orientation, gender identity, homelessness, or involvement in the foster care or juvenile justice systems.They also have an education "hotline" to answer questions about New York City schools and services. [866-427-6033- Monday to Thursday- 10 am to 4 pm]. They offer guides on a number of topics, such as suspension and discipline, graduation requirements, and special education

General Information on Learning and Special Education

Understood is a consortium of 15 nonprofit organizations that have joined forces to support parents of children with learning and attention issues. Dr. Yellin is one of the experts who provide information for families via webcast "chats" and Understood also contains articles on a wide range of subjects, including academics and social-emotional issues.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Paying for IEEs - Revisited

Parents frequently ask us about having their school district pay for an independent educational evaluation - an IEE - such as those we provide here at The Yellin Center. We wrote about this subject at length in a post from November 2013, but it has become clear to us that it is time to share this discussion again. We have added some additional information, (see the boldface text below) and hope this post helps answer questions that you may have.

When Must School Districts Pay for Evaluations?
Parents sometimes ask us if they can have their school district pay for their child's evaluation at The Yellin Center. The simple answer is "maybe, under certain circumstances," and we thought it might be helpful to explain the laws and regulations that govern this area.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) recognizes that an evaluation of a student in all suspected areas of disability is a crucial first step to determining whether that student is eligible for IDEA services and what kind of services will help that student to succeed in school. In fact, the "clock begins to run" with respect to the time limits set forth in the IDEA only once the parent consents to an evaluation of the student. The law anticipates that the school will then conduct an evaluation of the child and share the results with the parents and the IEP team, the committee that creates the student's Individualized Education Program. 

In many situations, this works out well for all concerned. The school district conducts an evaluation at no cost to the family; the findings make sense to the parents; the findings are incorporated into the student's IEP; and nothing more needs to be done. 

However, sometimes families do not agree with the findings of the school district evaluators and feel there may be something more going on with their child. Sometimes parents have had a long history of difficulties with the school and simply do not trust them to do an evaluation. Some parents of children enrolled in a private school do not want to have to work with the local public school district (especially in New York City). And, quite often, parents want the kind of in-depth, multi-disciplinary evaluation done here at The Yellin Center, rather than a more "cookie-cutter" series of tests given by their school's evaluators. In each of these situations, the parents seek an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) such as the ones we conduct here at The Yellin Center.

Before we look at specific rules and scenarios, we need to emphasize one important point. Parents have the absolute right to have their child independently evaluated and federal law requires that the public school district must consider the results of such evaluation. Dr. Yellin and his team frequently attend IEP meetings (via phone or other technology) to discuss the results of our evaluations and have been universally well-received by schools. However, the law does not require that districts follow the recommendations of our reports (or any outside evaluator).

So, when can a parent have a district pay for an IEE? 

  1. The parent must disagree with the evaluation conducted by the district or consider it inadequate and notify the district of their intention to obtain an IEE.
  2. The district must then either file for a due process hearing with a State Hearing Officer or agree to pay for the IEE.
  3. The district can set criteria for the IEE's they will fund -- how much they cost, the geographic location of the evaluator(s), and the specific qualifications of the evaluator(s). However, the U.S. Department of Education notes that, "the district must allow parents the opportunity to demonstrate that unique circumstances justify an IEE that does not fall within the district's criteria. If an IEE that falls outside the district's criteria is justified by the child's unique circumstances, that IEE must be publicly funded." So, even if your district tells you that you are restricted to using the private evaluators on a list they provide, that is not strictly correct and you can and should push back to obtain the services of the evaluator you choose. 
  4. An IEE can also be ordered by a State Hearing Officer as part of a due process hearing when aspects of an IEP are in dispute. 

We also encounter situations where a district paid evaluation at The Yellin Center is part of an ongoing discussion between a family and a school district, especially when the district has not been successful in addressing a child's educational needs. And families need to keep in mind that The Yellin Center has always had a sliding scale for families who need assistance in paying for our services. 

There are countless resources available to explain this process to parents and school administrators, but some you might find useful are:
One subject not addressed in our original post on this topic is the rights of parents when a district refuses to evaluate, either because they do not believe that the child has a disability, or without even providing a reason. The IDEA only addresses the situation where a family disagrees with an evaluation that has been already conducted. To the frustration of many families, if the school district declines to evaluate a student, the only remedy of the family is to file a complaint with a State Hearing Officer to challenge this decision. In addition, as noted above, parents always have the right to go ahead on their own to seek an IEE. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Legal and Medical Checklist for College

A family member recently reached out for help; her 18-year-old daughter is leaving for college at the end of August and she wanted to know if there were any documents she should have her daughter sign that would make both day-to-day and emergency situations easier for them both. In addition, the family lives in one state and the college is located in another. She wasn't sure if that made any difference. I've always know that this mom was a smart woman, and her excellent questions and concerns just confirmed that. This is what I advised:

The federal law governing privacy of medical records applies in all states and would mean that the medical records of this college freshman would not be accessible to her parents. In addition, the student's doctors could not discuss her medical condition with her parents, even in an emergency. I suggested that the parents speak to the young woman and that they should discuss the benefits (and privacy concerns) of having her execute a general HIPAA Release Form allowing her doctors to speak with her parents. In addition, many student health services have their own forms and, if the student agrees, she should execute that form as well.

While we are on the subject of federal laws, FERPA, which protects the privacy of student records, gives students over 18 and those in college the sole right to their educational records. As we noted in a post back in 2010  (it's sometimes hard to believe we have been blogging for ten years and have posted almost 1100 blog posts!) FERPA has numerous exceptions, but we advised that our family member should have her daughter execute a FERPA release form (often available at the office that generates student grades/records) to allow her parents to access her educational records. In addition, students who are registered with their campus Office of Disability Services should check to see if there is a separate form that is used by that office.

This form, which can have different names in different jurisdictions, would allow the student's parents (or anyone else she designates) to make medical decisions when she is not able to do so. This is different than just medical information (covered by the HIPAA release) but is used for such serious situations as where someone is unconscious or so ill or injured that issues of life support come into play. I urged that the parents and student have a serous conversation about this form and that all involved understand its purpose and the wishes of the student executing it. Sometimes, this form is prepared in connection with a document called a Living Will, which is a written expression of how the party executing it feels about issues like artificial respiration and tube feeding. Note that this latter document is advisory, while the Health Care Proxy is a binding authority. Different states have different forms for this document, so I suggested to my relative that she search online for forms from reputable sources in each relevant state and make sure that the form they use covers the requirements for both state of residence and the state where the college is located. In general, these forms need to be witnessed. A form from the New York State Department of Health, fillable  and with a lengthy Q and A section, is available online.

This forms above will be sufficient for most situations, but some families also may choose to have their student execute a Durable Power of Attorney, a form that allows the person who signs it (here, the student) to give someone authority during the signer's lifetime to handle financial, business, banking, and other matters. The form can be useful if the student has assets or an interest in property. Different states use different forms and these forms can be a bit confusing to create. You may want to speak to an attorney if your family circumstances warrant creating this document. Likewise, most students this age neither need nor have a Last Will and Testament, but special situations may make this document important and now would be a good time to have one prepared by an attorney.

With all the paperwork completed, students and their families can concentrate on much more enjoyable issues, like decorating their dorm room, meeting new roommates, and hitting the college store for their stock of mugs, banners, and t-shirts. Here's to a great start to college!

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Getting Back to Work and School

While it is still July and summer has weeks more to run, in many parts of the country, school begins by mid to late August. Your blogger has just returned from a couple of weeks of castles, cobblestones, and cake and, like many other adults going back to work after vacation, returning to the office took some determination.

For kids of all ages, returning to school after summer vacation requires some adjustment. By beginning a few weeks before the first day of school, parents can help smooth the transition from vacation mode to the early rising and more structured days once school starts. There are important ways to make the first day back to school less stressful for everyone.
  • Clearing Out Last Year's Backpack
Way too often, kids toss their backpack in the corner of their rooms as they come home from the last day of school, often leaving them untouched all summer. If you haven't done so yet, now is a good time to work with your child to locate and unpack this bag. Much of the contents can be tossed -- into the trash or the washer -- but there may be important papers that should be retained as well as information about summer assignments that will be due in the fall. And you may want to check out this guide from our colleagues at The American Academy of Pediatrics to selecting a new backpack.
  •  Summer Assignments
Most children have some kind of assignment to complete over the summer: a list of books to read, perhaps a book report to prepare, or even a longer report to hand in when school begins. The due date for these assignments seems far away in June, but leaving them to the days before school begins inevitably results in crisis mode. By locating these assignments (see the first item above) and getting started on them reasonably in advance, they can be completed slowly and carefully over the course of several weeks and families can avoid havoc the night before classes begin.

  • Sleep
We've written before on the importance of easing into a school-year sleep schedule and how it needs to be done gradually. This is especially important when students have had few, if any, limits on their schedule during the summer months or when they are moving to a new school where their start time will be significantly earlier than it has been in past years. Teens, in particular, need far more sleep than most regularly get, and lack of sleep can have an impact on school performance.

  • For Children with IEPs
Parents of children with IEPs or 504 Plans should take time over the summer to review these documents, making sure that they (and their older children) know what services, modifications, and accommodations they provide. Sometimes, these can fall by the wayside with new teachers or new schools. It's reasonable to give schools a week or two to put services in place, but not much longer. As we have written before, if your summer includes a move to a new school, school district, or even a new state, you should be aware of your rights with respect to your child's IEP. 

  • Time to Get Comfortable
Summer is also the time to make sure your child is familiar with the route to school, or the bus stop. If he or she will be attending a new school, they may have had a tour before the last school year ended. If not, try to visit the school at least a few days before it opens. Going to a new place can be scary for anyone, especially children. The more comfortable they are with the school and the routine, the easier things will be when classes begin. 

Keep in mind, that there still are a number of weeks of summer fun ahead, and these tips aren't meant to cut them short. But, by doing some planning while summer is still in full swing, the end of the season will be a bit easier for children and parents alike.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Summer Subjects

We've noted before that the questions that families ask us tend to come in bunches. Many of them are seasonal, and lately we have been asked lots of questions that relate to changes that families may make over the summer and to summer activities. We thought these might be of general interest, so are sharing them with our readers.

For many families, summer is the ideal time to move. There will be less disruption in school and by the time the new school year begins, everyone will be unpacked and ready to roll. But what about families where children have IEPs? These have been worked out with the student's current school. But how does a child get an IEP by the time classes start in her new school?

Fortunately, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) sets out very specific rules for all kinds of moves -- to a new school within the same district, to a new district, or even to a different state. You can read one of our prior blogs- What Happens to My Child's IEP When We Move? to learn the details that may apply to your family. 

College Road Trip
Back in 2010, we wrote about a summer activity for many families whose children are approaching college age -- the College Road Trip. Take a look at our timeless suggestions for ways to get the most out of your travels to college campuses. And remember, even if your trip isn't focused on visiting colleges, any road trip can include a stop at a local campus, even if it is not somewhere your student plans to apply. Seeing a variety of campuses helps give context to what different schools look and feel like. 

Summer Vacation
We also have suggestions for Making the Most of Summer Vacation, tips like how to get ready for a new school, ways to keep skills fresh, and how to handle summer assignments. [Hint: don't wait for the last minute!]

Summer Skills Building
We've also got tips for ways to use the summer break to build vocabulary skills, phonics, and to improve math skills with a tool called Dreambox. 

Sun Safety
Finally, we have suggestions on keeping kids safe in the summer sun. It's not always easy to get children to use sunscreen or to cover up, but the evidence is overwhelming about the dangers of too much sun exposure over time. 

So, enjoy your summer, which is flying along way too quickly!