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.