Friday, December 31, 2004

Helping Struggling Readers: Explicit phonics instruction

Helping Struggling Readers - New Horizons
What are the Essential Components of Effective Programs for Struggling Readers?

To answer this question, we analyzed the components of six programs for underachieving readers. The programs included Success For All, Reading Recovery, The Spalding Method, Early Intervention Reading, The Boulder Project, and The Winston-Salem Project. We also interviewed six teachers and four reading specialists about what they believed to be essential when teaching struggling readers. There were significant areas of agreement. According to the educators and the established programs, the necessary components of effective reading programs include 1) phonics instruction, 2) listening comprehension , 3) reading comprehension, 4) tutoring opportunities, and 5) extending reading from the classroom to the home. Each component is described below.

1) Explicit Phonics Instruction
There were three key reading strategies that all six programs and the ten educators cited as essential. The three skills included phonics, listening, and reading comprehension. All ten educators agreed that phonics was the number one skill that struggling readers lacked. Likewise, it was interesting to observe that the majority of instructional time in the six programs is dedicated to word recognition and fluency through explicit phonics instruction. The programs typically use prescribed texts in which stories contain letters and words that children have been introduced to.

I'm no conservative. So it's annoying that I have to align myself with the social conservative dominated phonics-first forces rather than the lefty "whole word" gang. Sadly, the data says the phonics fascists are right, and the commie whole word folks are wrong.

I'm a very strong reader, as is my wife. I probably could have learned to read using any technique. Most kids will teach themselves phonics given a few hints along the way. Children with reading needs need a directed, structured, focused, monitored phonics-driven approach. They need it even though, for the teacher, this is boring, boring stuff. It's boring stuff for natural readers too (it was hard for me to learn to read aloud -- sounding out words just slowed me down).

Boring. Dull. Painful. Necessary.

New Horizons for Learning: Teaching and Learning for Special Needs

Inclusion of Students With Special Needs: Teaching and Learning

A potpouri of articles on special needs education. This site includes Gifted Children as "special needs" (sigh), but the rest of the articles are useful nonetheless. Includes sections on technology and on teaching reading; the Kelly & Campbell article is particularly interesting. They do need to put DATES on their online materials.

The web site is more than a bit confusing, but the organization is serious in supporting teachers and learners. It was started by a group of idealists @1980 and receives funding from Washington state, various foundations, and individual donors.

New Horizons publishes a journal, I think the articles on this page may have first appeared in the journal.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Endocannabinoids, buspirone (Buspar), and behavioral disorders in children with ADHD, PDD, EBD (explosive child)?

Haller J, Varga B, Ledent C, Barna I, Freund TF. Context-dependent effects of CB1 cannabinoid gene disruption on anxiety-like and social behaviour in mice. Eur J Neurosci. 2004 Apr;19(7):1906-12.

This is a mouse study:
CB1 gene disruption promoted aggressive behaviour in the home-cage, whereas it inhibited social behaviour in the unfamiliar cage. Thus, the anxiogenic-like effect was restricted to the more stressful unfamiliar environment. These data suggest that the effects of CB1 gene disruption were context and not behaviour specific. Novelty stress resulted in higher ACTH levels in CB1-KOs than in WTs, which suggests that context dependency occurred in conjunction with an altered HPA axis function. The present data at least partly explain contrasting effects of cannabinoids in different contexts as well as in different species and strains that show differential stress responses and coping strategies.

The endocannabinoids are a relatively recently identified set of neurotransmitters. They affect appetite, diet, social behavior, anxiety, aggression, sleep, memory, and learning. Most of our knowledge comes from the effects of the plant cannabinoids (marijuana, etc).

Naturally there is great therapeutic interest in the endocannabinoids. If we could influence their activity in a safe manner we might have new ways to treat disorders of anxiety, of aggression, and of diet (both anorexia and obesity).

Coincidentally, fairly recently there've been studies of using Buspar, a medication marketed as an anxiolytic (Buspar abolishes REM sleep -- a side-effect that I feel has been rather understudied), for marijuana withdrawal syndrome (aggression, anxiety).

Buspar has also been used in children with anxiety and behavioral disorders, including the group that gets labeled as "Emotional behavioral disorder/EBD", Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD), severe ADHD, and "exposive disorder".

Also, some of the behaviors of these children, including a peculiarly setting specifiic tendency to either anxiety/withdrawal or aggression, resembles marijuana withdrawal syndrome.

Lastly, book I've quite appreciated, written by an adult who'd suffered from severe ADHD/Explosive disorder, emphasized how severe his withdrawal syndrome was from marijuana, and provided anectdotal evidence that for children with ADHD marijuana is a particularly disruptive drug.

Given all of the above, it does not seem to be a great leap to a speculative relationship: Buspirone and endocannabinoids and "Explosive Disorder"/ADHD.

An interesting axis to explore. So I fired up and entered the search terms: endocannabinoid buspirone. Intriguingly that led to the article cited here, a mouse study that makes no mention anywhere (in the abstract) of buspirone). More mysteries of Google! The study does, however, note that Endocannabinoid CB1 disruption did produce a peculiar mouse behavior -- anxiety/withdrawal in unfamiliar settings, aggression/activity in familiar settings. Hmmm. That sounds interesting.

It will be very interesting over the next few years to see how the Buspar, endocannabinoid, CB1, ADHD, PDD, explosive child, EBD, CCBD (complex cognitive behavioral disorder) axis evolves. Look for some interesting work on children with EBD using PET scans and Buspar. We are probably five to ten years from well undestood therapies however -- even if this relationship holds up.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

NYT does an extensive review of autism therapy - esp. behavioral treatments

The New York Times > Health > To Treat Autism, Parents Take a Leap of Faith
.. the science behind behavioral treatments is modest at best. Researchers have published very few rigorously controlled studies of the therapies, and the results of those studies have been mixed. While some children thrive, even joining regular classrooms, the studies have found that most show moderate or little improvement....

The most recent analysis of treatment research, financed by the National Institutes of Health and scheduled to be published next year, concludes that although behavior treatments benefit many children, there is no evidence that any particular treatment leads to recovery. Doctors do not yet know how to predict which children will improve in the treatments, or even how treatable the condition is, the report concludes.

'If so many kids are being cured, then where are they? Who are they? Show me 10 percent,' said Dr. Bryna Siegel, director of the autism clinic at the University of California, San Francisco. 'The reason practitioners can't show you all these kids is because there simply aren't that many of them out there.'

We need better science, and we need to be skeptical. Even if these interventions weren't expensive, they'd still ask a lot of parents and families, and they limit the opportunity to pursue other treatments (though I don't know of any alternatives!).

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

How to talk about funding of public education

Faughnan's Notes - education funding
Of all the sterile discussions I have to endure, among the least valuable are discussions about educational funding. In my experience, no-one presents any useful data.

I'd like each presentation to begin with 4 charts, with an optional 5th chart for discussions of local funding (all inflation adjusted of course):

1. A 15 yr chart of per student funding.
2. A 15 yr chart of spend on infrastructure (buildings, etc).
3. A 15 yr chart of the average salary of a state legislator.
4. A 15 yr chart of the % of students enrolled in public education (vs. private education).
5. Optional: A 15 yr chart of local tax revenue.

Once those charts are up front, one can talk intelligently. I would expect student per student costs to rise faster than inflation because:

1. Knowledge workers are becoming more costly, so there's increasing competition for teachers.
2. We're working harder to educate chidlren with language, cognitive and income disadvantages.
3. Regulations and computerization are impacting infrastructure spend.
4. Migration to private schools or to wealthier districts increases public school educational costs (private schools "cherry pick" children who are less costly to educate).

If one finds that educational spend is barely tracking inflation, then we likely have a serious underspend.

Ahh, but what if tax revenues are declining? Our population is aging and may consider education to be a lower priority. That is the crux of the matter. It is fundamentally the same issue we face with social security "reform". What is the duty owed by society to citizens, and citizens to society?

I'm quoting myself here. Special education will be badly hurt by the funding cuts that are likely to emerge.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Reading Problems at Any Level Books: Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Reading Problems at Any Level


1. Use a ruler to underline text. Read the line first, then have the child read.
2. For special needs children phonics based programs work better.
3. By second grade a child should be reading fluently.
4. Read every day, even if it's quite brief.

Doesn't sound like much, but in 2-3 years of special education reading interventions it's the most concrete advice we've ever received. We've wasted about two years on visual approaches and word lists.

She provides a set of books to start with and advance with, along with tips for each.

We will be studying this book.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

An open source solution for school information systems

MacInTouch Home Page
Centre 1.3 is a web-based, open source, school information system, written in PHP and designed for elementary, middle, and high schools. Features include student and employee information screens, scheduling, grade book, attendance, eligibility, transcripts, and more. This release includes a Student Summary Attendance Report, an improved Daily Summary Attendance Report, searching for users by username, weighting of assignment types, teacher comments for students by semester, and more. Centre is free for Mac OS X, Linux/Unix, and Windows.

A teacher's response to stories of classroom abuse of autistic children

Special Education News and Links: | Local & State
You can have all the training and book knowledge as possible, but after days of not meeting the goals that parents, the school and now the No Child Left Behind Act places on teachers, there is strain and stress that no amount of training can alleviate...

...Training in correct procedures - yes important. But what about support/counseling for how to personally deal with a student that repeatedly bites you or rips your clothes. How do you deal with the every day? Not with the student, but in the teacher's head. You are faced with attacks towards you every day - it isn't personal, but it can feel that way. What about those days when all you can remember is the bad?

Stacy has a much longer comment than usual, triggered by allegations of teacher abuse of autistic children. I understand something about what she describes. A teacher (or parent) in this situation is akin to a spouse in an abusive relationship; save that in this case the "abuser" is fundamentally powerless and vulnerable.

We have a serious social problem with the education of special needs children. It's always been a tough problem, but I think it's going to get worse.

The problem is it costs much more to educate a special needs child than an average child. From a purely market-driven perspective the most efficient way to handle the "unproductives" is to eliminate them. That was, as far as we can judge, often the effective historic approach. I call that "leaving them to the wolves".

From about 1970 to 1995 we moved to another approach -- which as to provide additional resources based on need. I think that peaked with Clinton and the ADA -- though even then the Feds mostly provided unfunded mandates.

Cultures change. I think we're moving back towards the "wolves". It's not a matter of money alone; we're far richer now than we were in 1992. It's a matter of cultural milieu. One of the great divides between Democrats and Republicans in the last twenty years has been attitudes towards the disadvantaged. Republicans espouse "equal opportunity", by which they seem to mean "let the wolves sort it out". Democrats have spoken of, and sometimes acted on, the idea of protecting the weak. I think, whatever labels the parties end up getting, we're moving as a nation to the Republican axis.

In this transition, special needs, and disadvantaged, children are the canaries in the coal mine. Those teaching them will share their fate -- until they decide on another career.

Advocates for the disadvantaged have to adapt to changing conditions, even as we fight to slow the retreat. How to do that is something I'm working on ...

In the meantime, teachers like Stacy may benefit from creating support groups, and should have anonymous counseling as a part of their support system.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Computer technology for special education and rehabilitation

Welcome to Closing The Gap

Looks like this started out as a newsletter ($34/year) and became a companion vendor site. Newsletter may be worth subscribing to.

They are MSP locals and run an annual conference, which, unfortunately, we just missed:
Closing The Gap's annual international conference, Computer Technology in Special Education and Rehabilitation, is held each fall in Minneapolis, MN, exploring the many ways that technology is being used to enhance the lives of people with special needs. The 23rd Annual Conference will be held October 20-22, 2005.

Confusing Words

Confusing Words

This started out as a learning and reading disorders project. Looks like they've repackaged it for a wider audience. Good words for more advanced readers.

Yak-Yak: Scandinavian software for teaching reading

Yak-Yak: General information

You can try the WordFinder, a tool for finding matching words based that may be very poorly misspelled.

Yak-Yak was developed to assist learning english as a second language. It provides synthetic speech generation. It's been repurposed for students with reading disorders. I can't figure out the price, they do provide links to consulting services.

Working Together: Computers and People with Learning Disabilities

Working Together: Computers and People with Learning Disabilities
Reading Systems

An individual who can take in information through listening much better than by reading may benefit from using a reading system. These systems allow text on screen (document, web page or email) to be read aloud through the computer's sound card. A scanner and Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software (e.g., Freedom Scientific's WYNN or Kurzweil 3000) adds the feature of reading printed text. Hard copy text is placed on the scanner where it is converted into a digital image. This image is then converted to a text file, making the characters recognizable by the computer. The computer can then read the words back using a speech synthesizer and simultaneously present the words on screen.

Reading systems include options such as highlighting a word, sentence, or paragraph using contrasting colors. If desired, the reader may elect to have only one word at a time appear on the screen to improve her grasp of the material. Increasing the size of the text displayed on the screen as well as changing text color can increase reading comprehension for some people with specific learning disabilities.

I wonder about using one of these tools to help a child who's far behind in reading participate in some classroom activities.

Spectrum Training Systems (Wisconsin) is doing an "Autism Strategies" conference in Minneapolis - Dec 2nd and 3rd

Spectrum Training Systems, Inc:Autism Strategies for
Home, School & Community.

The conference is at the Hyatt Regency: 1300 Nicollet Mall. There's parking at the hotel.

The Thur Dec 2nd session looks to be of the broadest interest. Cost is $130 for one day -- not bad! ($95 for parents). There are overall sessions and sessions on meds and law enforcement.

I'm going to see if there's a way to sponsor a teacher or two -- it is short notice unfortunately.

Tips for Running a Social Group for autistic teens and young people (Autism Society of Wisconsin)

Tips for Running a Social Group
Tips for Starting a Social Group:

1. Think positive - It’s not as much work as it sounds. All you need is a computer and a sense of fun. Start by doing things you and your family enjoy. The AUsome newsletter invites others to join me and my family in an interesting adventure.
2. Start small. The AUsome Social Group now has almost members, but we started with 4. Our first activities were very conventional – like bowling.
3. You don’t have to do everything at once. This document is a series of tips that has evolved over the past years. Just because AUsome has a formal newsletter and a scrapbook doesn’t mean your group has to do that, especially right away. Do whatever works for you.
4. Maintain a list of group members. I use an Access database for this purpose. I collect name, address, phone numbers (home, work, parents), e-mail address, birth date, parent’s names and a general comments field. I keep this list updated religiously...

There's much more. Quite a nice piece of work!

Autism Society of Wisconsin - Autism Spectrum Disorder Handout

Autism Society of Wisconsin - Autism Spectrum Disorder

This is quite a nice reference. I'd recommend it as a handout for teachers. We'll give it a try ourselves. It suggests the rest of this state autism site is well worth an evaluation.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Reasonable review of the new special education funding bill

Funding for special education improved, but rules are altered

A possibility of more funding, but rather unlikely.

Web site on IDEA reauthorization


Tracks the progress of special education federal legislation. Grim, of course.

The Republican special education bill

The New York Times > Education > Parts of Special-Ed Bill Would Shift More Power to States and School Districts

We've been expecting bad news from the Republican party. Let's see how bad it is:
The New York Times
November 22, 2004
Parts of Special-Ed Bill Would Shift More Power to States and School Districts

WASHINGTON, Nov. 21 - In updating the law governing special education for the nation's 6.5 million disabled students, Congress has given state and school officials more power to shape the terms for providing services to disabled children, paring down rights that advocates for such students had won during the Clinton administration.

...would make it harder for dissatisfied parents to sue to obtain services for their disabled children. For one thing, they will have to submit to mediation or other meetings to give school officials a last chance to resolve disputes before the courts may intervene.

And if the courts deem a suit frivolous, or aimed at harassing a school system, the bill allows school districts to recover legal costs from parents or their lawyers. Though courts have in the past meted out such penalties on a case-by-case basis, the threat of huge legal fees will now be written into the federal law, a victory for school districts that some advocates for children fear will be used to intimidate parents.

...The law also gives schools greater latitude to remove disabled children who misbehave, shifting to parents the burden of proving that a disability caused disruptive behavior. Previously, it was up to the schools to demonstrate that the misbehavior was unrelated to the student's medical condition and to show they had done everything in their power to help the child.

parents and advocates expressed relief that the final bill abandoned what they saw as the most troubling proposals in an earlier version approved by the House in April 2003.

That version, which was widely supported by school and state officials, would have permitted schools to oust disabled children who violated behavior codes, without considering whether the misbehavior was caused by their disability. It would also have allowed states to limit reimbursements to lawyers who win suits for disabled children against school systems.

... There are some features in the new law that please advocates for the disabled. One, aimed at reducing the over-identification of African-Americans for special education, requires the federal government to better monitor special-education enrollment and investigate racial disparities. Another creates new demands for states to publicly report on the academic progress of disabled students.

Elaine Roberts, a lawyer based in Houston who represents disabled children, said that with the growing importance of standardized exams in rating school performance, schools had tended to exclude disabled students from accountability systems, instead opting to give them alternative exams that can be more open to manipulation...

... The strengthened federal role the new law details, which permits Washington to withhold money from districts that come up short, has infuriated some state officials. They say Congress, since it first passed the law in 1975, has consistently failed to sufficiently finance special education.

David Shreve, the education lobbyist for the National Conference of State Legislators, said that when schools or states failed to fulfill their obligations to educate a disabled child, "you've got to back all the way up the system and figure out why is the promise broken.''

"Many promises are broken because the resources aren't there to follow through on the promise," Mr. Shreve said.
Basically, it's not as bad as it could have been -- mostly because of when it was legislated. The House bill of 4/03 sounds like a real nightmare, but nowadays it would probably become law.

A longterm outcome study from intensive early childhood intervention

The New York Times > Magazine > Idea Lab: Life Way After Head Start

This NYT Magazine article reports on the longterm outcomes from a fairly intensive 1962 preschool program. By the modern standards of well funded clinical research this is a seriously crummy study. It's too small, they measure too many things, there's too much obvious bias, the interventions are probably not balanced. By the standards of underfunded social science research in education it may be a landmark work.

Unfortunately I can't make much sense of the way Krip reports things. Sometimes he reports percentages and sometimes he reports numbers. There's no way to tell if any of the numbers are statistically significant, though the high school graduation and incarceration rates may have been altered. The experimental group had higher identified earnings, but they will still very low ($20,000 a year) -- and the rate of incarceration (1/2 in the control vs. 1/4 in the experimental group) may have accounted for the entire income difference. You don't earn much in jail. (I would hope real incomes were higher than stated incomes, since at least 1/4 to 1/2 of the group seem to have had non-legal non-taxable incomes.)

Assuming there's some real validity (can't tell from the NYT magazine article) the main surprise is that there was any effect at all. The consensus has been that early childhood interventions have little longterm effect.

Overall we don't know what made the difference in graduation and incarceration. Was it the cognitive effect, or the effect of being part of an obvious longterm intervention (the "Hawthorne effect"? It may well have been the latter -- a sense of being special and of being important. This is an important and long identified effect in non-blinded randomized trials such as this one.

Few questions are as important as this one. It's pathetic that we don't have billions of dollars invested in researching these questions. The dedication of these researchers is astounding. The failure of America to care for its young is also astounding.
The New York Times
November 21, 2004
Life Way After Head Start

The power of education to level the playing field has long been an American article of faith. Education is the ''balance wheel of the social machinery,'' argued Horace Mann, the first great advocate of public schooling. ''It prevents being poor.'' But that belief has been undermined by research findings -- seized on ever since by skeptics -- that federal programs like Head Start, designed to benefit poor children, actually have little long-term impact.

Now evidence from an experiment that has lasted nearly four decades may revive Horace Mann's faith. ''Lifetime Effects: The High/Scope Perry Preschool Study Through Age 40,'' was released earlier this week. It shows that an innovative early education program can make a marked difference in the lives of poor minority youngsters -- not just while they are in school but for decades afterward. The 123 participants in this experiment, says David Ellwood, dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and an architect of the Clinton administration's original welfare reform plan, ''may be the most powerfully influential group in the recent history of social science.''

The life stories of the Perry students have been tracked since they left preschool in the 1960's. Like so much in education research, the findings have been known mainly in professional circles. But this latest dispatch from the field, confirming the remarkable and enduring impact of a long-ago experience, should alter the way we understand preschool and, maybe, the way society invests in the future.

The study began without fanfare in the fall of 1962, several years before Head Start was conceived. In the mostly blue-collar town Ypsilanti, Mich., 21 3- and 4-year-old children started preschool. All of them, as well as 37 more youngsters who enrolled over the next three years, were black. They came from poor families, and the South Side neighborhood, with its rundown public housing and high crime rates, was a rough place to grow up.

Based on past experience, it was a near certainty that most of these kids would fail in school. During the previous decade, not a single class in the Perry elementary school had ever scored above the 10th percentile on national achievement tests, while across town, in the school that served the children of well-off professionals, no class had ever scored below the 90th percentile.

The reformers who developed the High/Scope Perry model hoped that exposure at an early age to a program emphasizing cognitive development could rewrite this script. Most children attended Perry for two years, three hours a day, five days a week. The curriculum emphasized problem-solving rather than unstructured play or ''repeat after me'' drills. The children were viewed as active learners, not sponges; a major part of their daily routine involved planning, carrying out and reviewing what they were learning. Teachers were well trained and decently paid, and there was a teacher for every five youngsters. They made weekly home visits to parents, helping them teach their own children....

... From a group of 123 South Side neighborhood children, 58 were randomly assigned to the Perry program, while the rest, identical in virtually all respects, didn't attend preschool...

Early results were discouraging. In reading and arithmetic, the preschoolers' achievement scores at 7 and 8 weren't much better than the control group's, and while the preschoolers' IQ scores spiked, that difference soon disappeared. Those results were consistent with the dispiriting conclusion of a 1969 nationwide evaluation of Head Start. That study's key finding -- that the boost in test scores recorded by Head Start children faded by second grade -- was widely interpreted to mean that Head Start and, by implication, most other early childhood education programs for poor kids, were a waste of time.

But in Ypsilanti the researchers didn't give up. They collected data every year from age 3 through 11, then at ages 14, 15, 19, 27 and now 40 -- an astonishingly long time span in the research annals. Just as astonishingly, they have kept track of 97 percent of the surviving group...

...As they progressed through school, the Perry children were less likely to be assigned to a special education class for the mentally retarded. Their attitude toward school was also better, and their parents were more enthusiastic about their youngsters' schooling. Their high-school grade point average was higher. By age 19, two-thirds had graduated from high school, compared with 45 percent of those who didn't attend preschool.

Most remarkably, the impact of those preschool years still persists. By almost any measure we might care about -- education, income, crime, family stability -- the contrast with those who didn't attend Perry is striking. When they were 27, the preschool group scored higher on tests of literacy. Now they are in their 40's, many with children and even grandchildren of their own. Nearly twice as many have earned college degrees (one has a Ph.D.). More of them have jobs: 76 percent versus 62 percent. They are more likely to own their home, own a car and have a savings account. They are less likely to have been on welfare. They earn considerably more -- $20,800 versus $15,300 -- and that difference pushes them well above the poverty line.

The crime statistics reveal similarly significant differences. Compared with the control group, fewer preschoolers have gone on to be arrested for violent crimes, drug-related crimes or property crimes. Only about half as many (28 percent versus 52 percent) have been sentenced to prison or jail. Preschool also seems to have affected their decisions about family life. More of the males in the Perry contingent have been married (68 percent versus 51 percent, though they are also more likely than those who didn't attend Perry to have been married more than once) and almost twice as many have raised their own children (57 percent versus 30 percent). These men report fewer serious complaints about their health and are less likely to use drugs.

The newest report attaches a dollar-and-cents figure to this good news. Economists estimate that the return to society is more than $250,000 (calculated in 2000 dollars) on an investment of just $15,166 -- that's 17 dollars for every dollar invested.

... The strategy first developed at Perry is now packaged as the High/Scope curriculum and is widely used across the nation. Other well-conceived preschool initiatives have also generated impressive long-term results, including the Chicago school district's Child-Parent Center Program, which brings mothers and relatives into the schools, and the Carolina Abecedarian Project, in which intervention begins during the very first weeks of an infant's life and carries on until kindergarten...

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Lovaas autism treatment and Canadian government funded healthcare

News | network
The Supreme Court of Canada refused to elevate health funding to a constitutional right in a ruling that was a stunning setback for families of autistic children asking the state to pay for expensive treatment...

...The 7-0 ruling was the culmination of a six-year legal battle begun by four B.C. families after the government refused to fund what is known as Lovaas autism treatment, saying it was 'novel, controversial, experimental and not a medically necessary service.'

The treatment, which has shown dramatic results in some cases, was pioneered in the United States by psychologist Ivar Lovaas in the late 1980s. Autistic children undergo 20 to 40 hours a week of intensive one-on-one therapy that is most effective when a child is young.

Some provinces, including Alberta, Ontario and Prince Edward Island, cover the therapy costs to some degree, but many expenses are left to parents.

The families say government refusal to pay for the treatment is short-sighted, given that about 90% of autistic children are eventually institutionalized at an enormous cost to taxpayers.

A plague strikes Atlantica. Ten thousand children will die -- unless they receive a radical new treatment. The therapy costs a billion dollars, and it will save half the children. Is the state obligated to pay?

I don't know what the Canadian supreme court was voting on, but I suspect, in one form or another, that it came down to the billion dollar question. Their answer may have been that the state might choose to pay, but it would not be obliged to pay.

So what about Lovaas treatment? Should an insurer, state or private, pay for it? Kaiser has worked these questions for years, most famously with bone marrow transplant for breast cancer chemotherapy. In that case they more or less decided to pay, but then we discovered the treatment didn't really work (or rather, we couldn't predict who it would help and who it would kill).

If Lovaas therapy changed outcomes from institutionalization to semi-independent living for half the treated children, then I suspect it makes lots of sense to pay for it. It's a lot of money ($60K/year for several years), but that cost would fall quickly over time. I bet we'd get it down to a treatment cost of $150K/course of therapy. That's well in the range of surgical and oncologic interventions for a comparable benefit. Since institutionalization is lifelong and very expensive, the economic benefit of treatment would be very strong, almost trivial to state. (Death, in comparison, is cheap. So the economic arguments for treating merely life threatening diseases are far weaker.)

If I were given the harsh task of deciding whether to try to help these children (note I do have a child who might have qualified for a variant of this intervention) I'd try to get numbers on effectiveness. How many children get the best benefits? Does it turn out that only 1 in 10 avoid institutionalization? That's of enormous benefit to that child, but now we're talking $1.5 million for each child helped. Or, most likely of all, will it turn out that there's no real data? Given the cost of this research, and the appalling lack of research funding, I suspect we just don't know.

I must add though, that if these were children dying of leukemia, that there'd probably be more willingness to treat even without good data. Humans are famously illogical.

I'm interested in what Kaiser will decide. I tried searching to see if they'd published anything, but I came up with nothing.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

PowerSchool from Apple

Apple - PowerSchool from Apple
PowerSchool, a web-based student information system (SIS) from Apple, simplifies data-driven decision making by providing real-time information to all stakeholders — over the Internet. Administrators get the most accurate information to make more effective decisions. Teachers gain timesaving administrative tools, parents gain immediate access to their children’s grades, and students can track their own progress.

PowerSchool is built for the web and your budget. With the ability to centrally locate your server at the district office, you don’t need to buy a server for every school. And because PowerSchool is platform independent, it can be accessed from any Windows or Mac computer with a web browser and supports Windows and Mac server platforms.

Sounds like some of the hospital software systems I work with in my real job.

This kind of monitoring capability may be most important for at-risk children. I wonder if this software solution could be extended to provide a comprehensive view of the progress of an at-risk child for all the "stakeholders" -- not only parents but also tutors, therapists, etc.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Children with EDCD: is it bad parenting or bad luck?

AP Wire | 11/06/2004 | Advocates try to keep special ed kids out of child welfare system
Janet Stotland worries that parents of special-education students can sometimes face having their parenting skills put on trial - literally - by school districts frustrated by their children's emotional and behavioral problems.

As co-director of the Education Law Center, a nonprofit legal advocacy group in Philadelphia, Stotland is on the lookout for situations in which she believes districts are inappropriately referring special-education students to the child welfare system.

A child misbehaves in school, fails to perform adequately, is absent and disruptive. Is this due to bad parenting? Should child protective services be involved?

Ahh. There are no easy answers here. Yeah, it could be bad parenting, or it could be "EBCD" (emotional, behavioral and cognitive disorders) arising from disease, bad genes, bad luck ... Or it could be both; a parent will often be affected by the same neurocognitive disorder that afflicts their child -- a disorder that is unlikely to promote omniscient parenting.

Of course the last thing one needs, when struggling to be the best possible parent for a child who's ill-suited to our modern world, is to also get stuck with a court date. Talk about adding injury to injury!

PS. Got this one from the special ed blog in my blogroll (see sidebar).

Friday, October 29, 2004

Articles on managing children with emotional and behavioral disorders

Meet Dr. Bruce Perry

This web site focuses on traumatized children, primarily abused and neglected children. One might think it's not relevant to most children with cognitive and behavioral disorders (autism, ADHD, CDD, etc), but the articles outline a series of techniques that may be considered for all fragile kids. The target group is teachers.

For example, here are the suggested techniques for supporting "self-regulation"
* Model self-control and self-regulation in your words and actions when you are frustrated with a classroom situation.

* Provide structure and predictability. Children with self-regulation problems are internally "unstructured." The more freedom and flexibility they have, the more likely they are to demonstrate uncontrolled behaviors.

* Anticipate transitions and announce changes in classroom schedules.
* Reward children with good self-regulation capabilities with freedom and flexibility that will offer them opportunities for spontaneous, creative play and learning.
* Try to identify the most "reactive" and impulsive children and keep them apart from each other. Pairing children who face these challenges can escalate the problem.
* Remember that impulsive and aggressive children can create an atmosphere of chaos and fear that inhibit the capacity of other children to learn. Don't be afraid to immediately re-direct inappropriate words and actions. Your actions will make the rest of the children feel safer.
* Seek help. Don't be afraid to point out a child's self-regulation problems with parents or other school personnel. Early identification and intervention can save the child and family years of failure and pain.
The author speaks with more confidence than science supports, but that's fairly typical of this genre. As usual one must review the suggestions and figure out which make sense for an individual child. Some may be counter-productive. In some circumstances and settings it may be helpful to pair impulsive children, for example.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Special Education News and Links: Principals: Mandates hurt special-education students

Stacy Weiss summarizes: "Local principals concerned about pushing special-education students too hard to meet federal No Child Left Behind mandates were rebuffed yesterday by a senior federal education official."

The official goes on to say: "We had lost confidence in our own kids," said Simon, a former Arkansas education official. "All kids can be at grade level - should be at grade level - in reading and math."

If he wasn't misguoted, he's a flaming idiot. Heck, all kids should be concert pianists and I should speak five languages. Arghh.

There has to be some kind of rational compromise between setting impossible goals and setting no goals at all. I think that used to be thought of as good teaching.

I used to be in favor of "standards". The problem isn't the idea -- it's the execution. It's the kind of policy that only works with a balanced, rational and funded implementation with constant monitoring and feedback. In retrospect it's a policy far beyond the capabilities of our government.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Techniques: managing transitions TO a behavior or action with a countdown timer

I think some of the autism-family/CDD disorders are characterized by a primary dysfunction of time estimation. We've used timers to countdown to the END of an activity, but this has limited success. Meltdowns are still very common.

On the other hand we've had very good success with countdowns to the START of an activity -- where failure to meet the countdown will result in LOSS of the activity. Of course this only works where:

1. The activity itself is desired OR
2. There is a reward associated with completion of the activity.


1. 3 minute countdown to bathtime (rewards is kookaid at bedtime -- so long teethies)
2. 3 minute countdown to getting out of house so can get siblings ready without fights/trauma (rewards is a swim outing).

In order to make this work, of course, one has to be quite ready to cancel the activity on failure to initiate it prior to the alarm. We've cancelled twice but succeeded more than 90% of the time.

When the setup can be well staged, and the subject knows the threat is not idle, this has been a proven technique. (Of course in this world one NEVER makes an idle threat.)

NYT: An overview of the family experience of autism

The New York Times > Health > For Families of Autistic, the Fight for Ordinary

Emphases mine.
October 22, 2004

... Ms. Krieger's planning made possible what most parents take for granted: a child's participation in family activities and community events like a meal in a restaurant, a trip to Disney World or a movie. None of these come naturally to children with autism, a mysterious brain disorder that affects the ability to communicate, form relationships, tolerate change and otherwise respond appropriately to the outside world.

Exposing Gina to these experiences would have been unthinkable a decade ago, but more and more families with autistic children are finding that techniques that have proved successful in the classroom - behavioral methods that evolved from the psychologist B. F. Skinner, visual instruction and adaptations of the environment - can be tried at home not only to maximize learning for an autistic child but also to improve the quality of life for the rest of the family.

If the skills and behavior of the autistic child improve, experts say, parents and siblings have more choices of leisure and other activities, and less sense of stigma and isolation.

"It doesn't matter if a kid can read and write and do algebra if he can't go out to dinner with his family," said Bridget Taylor, co-founder of the Alpine Learning Group in Paramus, N.J., a school for autistic children that was the model for the neighboring EPIC school, which Gina attends. "To me, half the battle of autism is getting these kids to be active, functional members of their families - and getting the families themselves active and functional."

... Except for guidance from educators, organized resources for these families are scarce. In New York, there is a support group for siblings on the Upper West Side and religious instruction for autistic children at a few Westchester synagogues. There is also a new Web site from the Autism Society of America and home visits by therapists from special schools.

Parents with fortitude, time and money have an edge. Ilene Lainer, for instance, had the luxury of leaving her job as a labor lawyer when autism was diagnosed in her second son, Ari, 8. Now she is a fulltime autism mom, prepared to spend as long as it takes to teach her son, who cannot speak, how to live in the world. Take haircuts. First Ms. Lainer took Ari to the barber, as she had her 10-year-old son, Max. The result was a "hysterical, screaming child," she said, and rude comments - "Can't you control your kid?" - from other customers who could not see that the boy was disabled, as they would have if he had been in a wheelchair.

So, with guidance from Ari's teachers at EPIC, or Educational Partnership for Instructing Children, Ms. Lainer tried a step-by-step approach. She trimmed the boy's bangs, one snip at a time, until he could tolerate that sensation. Then she moved on to a daily spritz of water on Ari's face. Finally, she let small bits of hair land on his skin. Eventually, he was back in the barber's chair, even if sometimes in the lap of his mother or father, Steven Kantor.

... Any excursion away from their Upper West Side home causes Ms. Lainer to "hold my breath that something doesn't go wrong." Dinner at a friend's house is usually fine if Ari can watch a favorite video.

... Meltdowns are routine to these families. Marjorie Madfis of White Plains, for one, knows how easily a plan can veer off course. Wanting her 8-year-old daughter, Isabelle, exposed to Judaism, she enrolled her in special classes and also joined a synagogue. Isabelle did well at a family Shabbos dinner, so Ms. Madfis confidently brought her to a short children's service on Yom Kippur.

Isabelle brought her favorite American Girl doll, and somewhere between the house and the synagogue one shoe fell off. Ms. Madfis and her husband assured Isabelle that they would find it or buy a new one. "But she couldn't let go of it and bounce back," Ms. Madfis said. "We had to take her home."

Autism symptoms vary widely, and the disorder is sometimes coupled with retardation, which makes most teaching techniques ineffective. So Isabelle is considered lucky. In the past year, Ms. Madfis, a marketing manager at I.B.M., enrolled her in a mainstream ballet class and soccer program, sending along a description of Isabelle's strengths and weaknesses and 10 suggestions for avoiding disruptive or ritualistic behavior, which generally occurs when a child cannot follow what is going on.

Ballet was successful; soccer was a disaster. Isabelle could not tolerate the noise and bustle at a game. First she retreated, picking flowers and looking up at the sky while the game swirled around her. Finally, hands over her ears, she walked off the field.

Isabelle's soccer coach, Angel Tinnirello, said her behavior was not that unusual among second-graders on a team that is recreational, rather than highly competitive. The other children readily accepted Ms. Tinnirello's explanation that "it got too noisy" for Isabelle, so "she went over there where it's a little quieter." The referees, she said, required more education. They asked, "Why isn't that kid listening?" when Isabelle took off down the field in the wrong direction. "Just remind her to run with the purple shirts," Ms. Tinnirello said.

Sometimes the very rewards that prevent a tantrum one day can cause one the next if they are withdrawn. One Westchester mother survived a 90-minute drive to her mother-in-law's home with her autistic son by promising him a swim in the local pool and then French fries at McDonald's when they arrived. But, the pool she had been told would open at 10 was closed until noon, and McDonald's would not serve fries until 11.

The child, 7 years old and capable of speaking only a few words, tried to climb the fence at the pool in his fury. At the fast food restaurant, at 20 minutes to 11, he threw himself on the counter when no amount of pleading, or a $10 bribe, would get anyone to serve French fries ahead of schedule.

... A year ago, her goal was to teach Jami to take a shower, a requirement for her to spend three weeks at a sleepaway camp for children with special needs. Jami's speech is largely unintelligible, but she can read. So Ms. Saril posted a laminated instruction sheet in the shower, body part by body part, and Jami mastered it. Still, friends and relatives worried that Jami was too impaired to be away from home for so long.

Ms. Saril batted away their criticism. She had a hunch. And in snapshot after snapshot from Camp Ramapo in Rhinebeck, Jami is smiling. Ms. Saril, more inclined to irony than pathos, cannot look at the pictures without crying.

"It was mostly for Jami, and she had an amazing time," Ms. Saril said. "She swam in a lake, did the color war thing. She dressed herself, even if her socks were inside out. She ate new food.

"But there was a second reason I sent her. I did it for the rest of us. I'm on duty 24-7. I have a husband. I have another child. I have a business. I needed some time for all that. For three weeks, we got to be a normal family. We got to pretend."

This is a really remarkable article. I've excerpted a fair bit of it. In a relatively small amount of space the journalist managed to convey:

- men are mostly lazy scum sunny day fathers (I don't dare ask if I'm in any way an exception)
- the meltdowns, the extraordinary rigidity, the tiresome training, the ubiquitous routines
- the stress and social isolation, the complexity of disabilities that are emotional, behavioral, cognitive and invisible
- the odd range of ability -- a child with unintelligible speech who can nonetheless read
- the primacy of educators in the management of autism (vs. health care professionals)
- the history of operant conditioning and desensitization interventions (frankly, to me, the most effective interventions remind me a great deal of how we trained our doggie)
- the extraordinary resources required to apply these methods (so what happens to autistic children in families that lack those resources? Our ignorance is as vast as our research and funding are modest)

This is an article worth printing out and distributing to family and teachers. I think it's appropriate for all children who have difficulties with flexibility, environmental stimulation and variety, transitions, forming and maintaining friendships and explosive meltdowns -- whether or not they carry the ill-defined (and probably transitional pending functional PET scans) label of "autism".

The Autism Coalition and expertFind

The Autism Coalition

This looks like a monster site for finding autism resources and support. It is, unfortunately, very IE specific. The animated GIFs on the search page slowed my iBook to a crawl -- I don't know how they affect Firefox. I've asked them to rethink their site policies.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Kurzweil 3000 - Assistive Technology Software for learning disabilities (including reading disorders)

Kurzweil 3000 for Macintosh Overview - Assistive Technology Software for learning disabilities
Kurzweil 3000 is the premier reading, writing and learning software for struggling students. Because it is also content-independent, teachers in elementary, middle and secondary schools alike use it to help students succeed in the classroom regardless of their curriculum. Kurzweil 3000 is widely recognized as the most comprehensive and integrated solution for addressing language and literacy difficulties. The simple, streamlined Kurzweil 3000 for Macintosh product design appeals to a wide and flexible population of users.

The software presents printed or electronic text on the computer screen with added visual and audible accessibilities. Kurzweil 3000 incorporates powerful features including decoding, study skills, writing and test taking tools designed to adapt to each individual’s learning style and to expand independence for both the learner and educator. All of the features of Kurzweil 3000 for Macintosh described below are designed to extend the essential learning process.

There's a PC version as well. This caught my eye -- Kurzweil the person made his first fortune on screen readers and voice recognition. This is a complex product intended for use by schools with older children. There is, however, a $400 personal version which is suited to a single workstation. It's hard to figure out what this is and how to use from the web site descriptions. I think one would need to see it in use.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Amazon Books for Children: Grades 4-6 Action/Adventure (Boys) Books Search Results: Children: Grades 4-6 Action/Adventure

Amazon allows one to combine grade levels with themes. This search returns 2819 books. Surely some are of interest to boys!

Books for Boys - A Theme to Come

Google Search: reading boys

This Google search is remarkable for the crummy resulst. I'm sure I'll find something sooner or later, but at the moment pickings are slim. One web site that sounded potentially interesting uses a bizarre Flash interface. Another site uses the Columbine massacre as a reason why one should not resort to action oriented books for boys disinterested in relationship oriented texts.



Many boys, and some girls, just aren't interested in books about animals, or profound relationships, or natural wisdom. They want what I wanted, books about action, adventure, challenges, struggle, conquest, passion. Books about trucks and sports and scuba gear and how to put handle a bow.

These boys and girls want comic books with the Fantastic Four battling furiously against Dr. Doom. They want Tom Swift conquering the stars. They want to read about Achilles and Hector, Zeus and Hercules, Potter and the Enemy, Aragorn and Sauron, Doc Savage and Tarzan (the original). Not every boy will read through full translations of mythic battles, but they may read a reading-age appropriate adaptation.

Most special education student are boys, and most have great difficulty learning to read. For many it's tiring, discouraging, depressing labor to try to read -- an endless reminder of personal inadequacy. The rewards most be commensurate to the struggle; and even then success is not guaranteed. For many of these children, books about how friends form just doesn't cut it.

Forty years ago we had more choices. Now, when I go to a bookstore, I struggle to find anything I'd enjoy reading as a boy. (There's lots of stuff for grown-up boys, but not for early readers.) I know the material is out there, but it takes work to locate it. I'll be posting on what I find on this blog.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Helping children respond to the (unfortunately) human world - adoptism, racism and bullying in schools

This essay was sent to an email list. The topic is "adoptism" -- but fundamentally it's about the cruel things people do to people and children do to children.

In this case the "assailant" child treated the "victims" adoptive status as a stigma. In another instance it might be obesity or mental illness or physical disability or low IQ or a learning disability or a scarred face or a stutter or a lisp or dark skin or being Jewish or being "other" ....

In all of these instances an "assailant" child may be reflecting what they hear at home or sense in their cultural milieu. It is worth remembering that in some cultures adoption is considered a fate worse than death, and that it is a common practice in all cultures to treat "victims" as though they were in part the "perpetrator". I cannot say if this is "guilt by association" or a visceral response to the presence of a living manifestation of an unwanted truth. Perhaps both. I think it is the same response that causes some people to be disgusted by physical deformity or injury, and to shun the "non-normal" as though they were both sinful and contagious. (Indeed in some fundamentalist "Christian" faiths disfigurement or deformation is a sign of God's displeasure -- and thus an indication that the person should be shunned.)

The hard part of being a parent is teaching a child that there is a great deal of cruelty in the human world, and that it often starts in 2nd grade. I wish we were a better species, but we are what we are. (Barring upgrades.)

Overall the recommendations of this letter are good -- but as always every child is somewhat unique. Adjust according to your child. Note also that many teachers will also suffer from adoptism, racism, etc. They are human too. I think that's why the author emphasizes that one may need to push this higher and harder as needed.
From: Jane Brown To: Sent: Wednesday, October 13, 2004 12:41 PM Subject: Re: [raising-adopted-boys] simular situation anyone?

At 5:02 AM -0700 10/13/04, kidbest wrote:
>My son and daughter, both adopted are now school age 5 and 6.While
>playing at recess, a little boy said "I am not playing with you two
>because you are Adopted."

>Needless to say both kids came home down in the mouth. I tried to
>tell them to be proud of their heritage but I think I failed. Any

Hi Kimber and All,

We can be SO hard on ourselves, as adoptive parents! When we attempt to listen to our children and help them with a problem they are having, but don't quite make the difference we had hoped to, we tend to feel as though we have failed. Instead, I would encourage you to see this as a learning opportunity that will serve you and your children well for the future.

When our children are teased or singled out as being different from their peers in some way, they often feel hurt, embarrassed, put-down, ashamed, self-conscious, and devalued. They want, at every age, to be able to fit in and to be perceived as having equal worth in every way. They learn all too quickly that Society does not perceive adoption as an equally authentic way to be part of a family, and that there is some stigma attached to having had one's first parents make the decision not to raise you-- and this is usually delivered by their peers. Most started school full of the glowing views their adoptive parents have about being part of an adoptive family and that being adopted and from another country/culture is "special," so running headlong into totally opposite views is shocking and undermining-- to say the least.

We, as parents, have to take stock of what we having been telling our youngsters and whether that is going to continue to be adequate and appropriate. We have to evolve in our thinking about what our children are encountering and what they need from us. That doesn't mean that we were "wrong" to have filled them with positive ideas about what it means to have been adopted or what they can proudly claim about their original heritage or how worthwhile ALL people are no matter what their racial and cultural differences are. It is just that we have to face squarely that not everyone thinks this way and our children need to be armed to defend themselves when someone suggests that the way that they came to be part of their family is second-best and inferior. Or that they are not really American" (US brand of American). Or that it is better to be white.

What we have to do, I think-- and this is based on what I have learned in working directly with adopted youngsters-- is to figure out how to listen to what they ARE encountering, how to validate what they feel when they do, and how to help them stand up to others wrongful and hurtful words and attitudes. The first step, though, MUST be pitching the glossed-over views we've expressed in favor of real discussion of societal myths, negative attitudes, racism, and adoptism.

Its helpful to remember that as we evolve ourselves as adoptive parents, making mistakes and omissions, failing to convey exactly what we think and feel, moments when we freeze and don't have a clue as to how to respond are all in the range of normal! We can always go back and raise whatever we said or did, whatever we failed to notice or say with our children. "You know, I've been thinking about the conversation we had the other day, and I am thinking that I missed something (or I wish I had said some things differently; or I wish I had listened to you more carefully-- I am not sure I really "got it" at first") are ways to rehash the issue and try again when we think we blew it. The double benefit of this is that A) we get to refine or change what we said/did and B) we get to demonstrate to our children that it is normal and OK to make a mistake/ommission or fine-tune something that we have already done.

One possibility to consider is that our children need for us to demonstrate that we are capable of listening to and understanding their feelings, since being adopted is not something we know from the inside-out (unless we are adoptees-- and even then, if our child was internationally and/or transracially adopted there will be major difference in experiences/feelings). Try to picture yourself as a mirror who can reflect back to your child what you think he/she is feeling-- and say so in a tentative way. (tentative because you might be wrong or your child may not feel comfortable imagining that you can see into his Feelings Compartment. Mind reader-parents are not appreciated!)

Only after children have been able to discharge some of their strong feelings and feel that someone is trying to understand, are they willing, usually to do some problem solving. So, stay with discussions about feelings till you sense that your child's feelings are all out on the table.

Children like to give their opinions (don't we all). Asking them for THEIR ideas first, is a good start. "I'm thinking that you probably have some good ideas about what you can do if this happens again or about what you want to do now since that boy said that to you. I'm hoping you can give me some of your ideas." Consider writing them down and helping your child decide which are really those he would be interested in trying out. Ask what grown-ups could do to help (including you). If your child is adament that he doesn't want you or any other grown-up involved, try to explore why. What could be the worst thing that might happen if grown-ups got involved?

Emphasize that THE most important thing is that your child, himself, understands that what was said was unfair and wrong. However, that he has every right to stop that child from saying the same thing again. He may want to try out some of the possible solutions you worked out together to try TO get him to stop. And you want him to come and talk over how that worked out or didn't, because its lonely and hard to feel that you can't stop meanie things from happening.

If your child does try out some of the solutions (and telling him to ignore it most likely WON'T work-- doesn't feel like an acceptable solution to most), then it is time for the grown-ups TO get involved. Make a plan for what you are going to say, how you are going to ask the adults at school to help stop this, be willing to be part of the fix-it team, make sure you have discharged some of your own feelings so that you do not approach a teacher/administrator in an angry confrontational way, and then go for it! Do NOT leave your child to take this without intervening, no matter how much he begs you not to get involved. You can and should, though, assure him that he will know, in advance, how things are going to be handled and that steps will be taken so that the other child doesn't retaliate because he reported what is going on. We MUST hold schools accountable for making the learning environment an emotionally-safe one for ALL children. Just telling kids to walk away and ignore too-many-nosy questions or bullying/teasing is NOT acceptable.

You may find that you will have to find just the right grown-up at school to help-- that the first one may not be as helpful as you would hope. That you may need to go so far as to state that since the learning environment, as it stands with other youngsters able to bully and undermine your child's psychological health, you will be bringing him back ONLY when there is a workable plan in place-- and not a moment before. That you will be holding the school accountable for living up to their mission-- to educate every child and allow for no discrimination.

All of us as adoptive parents need to learn how to do this (so do parents of the non-adopted). We usually find, however, that the incidents involving adoptism and racism mean that we have to be in the schools more often and that we have to learn to be assertive if this is an area of difficulty for us. Our kids will learn valuable lessons for conflict resolution from watching us as their models for that.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Special Education News and Links: The News-Press: Education - Basic schools all but empty

Special Education News and Links: The News-Press: Education - Basic schools all but empty

Stacy Weiss reports on yet another experiment with attempts to manage children who aren't succeeding in the no-child left behind world. The "basic schools" sound like someone's nostalgic recreation of a mythic 19th century environment.

American education is a bazillion dollar enterprise run on very little data. Knowledge-based decision making is hard enough in healthcare, but in education it seems to be almost unknown.

Friday, October 08, 2004

The Google Ads on this page

Welcome to AdWords

I've added Google AdWords to this site. I get some pittance each time someone clicks on them, but I don't expect that to be worth much. The reason I added them is that I'm hoping they'll be interesting and will highlight local services. Oddly enough Google forbids me to click on them! (You'd think they'd simply not count my clicks in their payment schemes.)

If you're a local service provider (legal services, tutoring, education, counseling, etc) you might consider following the above link and signing up for Google AdWords. You only pay when people visit your site, and given the topic it's likely that anyone visiting will be very interested. I don't think you get to choose where your ads show up, but chances are if they're related to special needs and special education services in the twin cities they'd show up here as well as many other places.

Update 5/23/06: The Ads I was getting were mostly for fraudulent therapies. I removed the AdWords feature.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Special Education Inclusion: an extensive NYT Magazine article

The New York Times Magazine > The Lessons of Classroom 506 Sept 2004
"Inclusion'' is the latest in a series of evolving strategies for special-needs education. Though the definition of the word varies, inclusion, as used by educators, generally means making a child with a disability a full part of the class. Instead of merely placing that child in a standard classroom for part or even most of the day and expecting him to keep up (a strategy often known as ''mainstreaming''), inclusion involves rearranging the class -- both the physical space and the curriculum -- to include him. Ideally, once an inclusive classroom is rethought and reconfigured, it will serve clusters of children with special needs, not just one, so that impaired and nonimpaired children can come to see one another as peers. Proponents of inclusion say that it is the best way to prepare all children for the real world; skeptics contend that it too often gives teachers responsibility for impaired students without giving them sufficient training and resources, resulting in children with special needs getting improper attention and children without special needs not getting enough attention -- a poor-quality education for everyone in the class...

...Thomas did not belong in District 75, the city's classification for programs serving students who are severely disabled, because, they reasoned, he might get lost in a system that included so many children who were cognitively as well as physically impaired. Thomas might be a better fit in a school designed just for children with an array of physical problems, but they feared that that experience would not prepare him to interact in the real world. And while they could mainstream him into a standard public- or private-school classroom, that would present the opposite problem: he would not interact with anyone else like him.

A VERY long article. I've barely started it.

It's amazing what wealthy, brilliant, tireless and well connected people can achieve. The story exposes a fault line in special education -- between the cognitively and physically impaired. In this world, the cognitively impaired are a lower caste.

I think they're on the right track. I think our son would be happiest and most successful with children who are more like him, in a setting where he could learn without being confronted with how much further behind he's falling. This can only be cost effective if a number of similar children can be taught together ...

Special Education News and Links

Special Education News and Links

Another blog on special education topics, also created using Blogger (but hosted on a personal server). I'll add this one to my template. Books: Teach Them All to Read: Catching the Kids Who Fall Through the Cracks

ATeach Them All to Read: Catching the Kids Who Fall Through the Cracks by Elaine K. McEwan

Pretty good Amazon review. I've ordered it. The book is searchable and it does mention use of earobics.

Earobics -- free online game version

GameGoo - Learning that Sticks!

Earobics sells software and training materials for teaching reading. Some of our local special education reading programs are using the earobics material. I can't speak for the research behind it; there's very little funding for research in this area and well designed intervention trials are very, very expensive.

Here they're offering free "Flash" based phonetic and reading oriented games. Because they use Macromedia Flash they run very well on both Mac and PC. They don't demand a lot of processor power. Quite impressive!

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Center for Education Law: Legal Tips for Effective Education Advocacy

Updated 3/2010

Back in 2004 the center for education law wrote ...
Put everything in writing and keep a copy for your records. Write a letter to school personnel when they deny you or your child some educational opportunity. Always think that this letter may one day be read by a neutral third party so make sure you are very clear about the facts and be very polite. Also make sure the letter has the name and address of the person you are sending the letter to, the date you are sending the letter, your name and address, and your signature. Make sure to make a copy of the letter for your records
Now they're the "School Law Center" but I don't see any advice on their current web site.

Google local search: Special Education Attorney (lawyer) for Saint Paul

Google Search: lawyer special education near 1661 Grand Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105

Google's local search is impressive. Saint Paul area educational lawyers.

Special education law: New Jersey


This firm owns the domain "", and probably a few variants thereof. They specialize in special-ed law in New Jersey because a senior partner's child was disabled. I suspect that's not an atypical story.

The links they provide on this page are (largely) not specific to New Jersey.

It's probably not a great idea to start IEP discussions with a lawyer at one's side. On the other hand, periodic consultations may be valuable. Just remember to use your own judgment!

Friday, October 01, 2004

Web forum posting on Earobics and Fast For Words

15 yr old with expressive language disorder and auditory processing problems

FFW, Earobics and "Rosetta Stone" turn up in web discussions. Of these FFW seems to be favored by therapists, but it's quite expensive. Earobics comes in a "home version" for $60.

LD OnLine - How to Have a Good Relationship with Your Child's Teacher

LD OnLine - How to Have a Good Relationship with Your Child's Teacher

Reasonably practical advice. Unlike the same site's homework advice, which was written by someone who's never fought over homework.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Learning Disabilities Online: Math Skills

LD In-Depth: Math Skills

Earobics home software: for when your child doesn't spend enough time online

They don't sound like "fun" games -- I'd need a tutor to apply them!

Update: I take back the above comments. I've purchased and installed the software. I tested under Mac (Mac Classic running inside Mac OS X 10.3.5) and Windows (98 in this case). The software is impressive overall, but it has some rough spots. For example, the software does not automatically set the screen resolution to 640x480. Almost all game software sold in the past 3-4 years has done this, so it's an odd omission.

I installed and tested on both Mac and PC. Worked well on both. Note that it requires Mac Classic, Apple doesn't sell that any more (Mac Classic does come hidden away on the install disks for the new G5 iMac).

That said, the kids really loved the Level One product. I was amazed. It appealed to them more than all of our Clifford Reading and other whizzier educational software. I think they found the exercises intellectually interesting. Things got a bit tense around the computer.

The home version is simply a limited version of the commercial product. It can track two separate users and a "guest".

Curiously I got a number of the sounds wrong myself. I would not be shocked to learn that I had some cognitive deficits in phoneme recognition -- I was miserable at understanding sounds in spoken French.

It's early going, but I think these may be well worth the limited cost.

Cognitive Concepts Earobics - Products & Services

Cognitive Concepts - Products & Services

I've been impressed with their materials.

Go Phonics Multi-Sensory Phonics Program

Go Phonics Multi-Sensory Phonics Program
Go Phonics is an Orton Gillingham based phonics instructional program. It's teacher developed to provide a strong phonics foundation, and includes K-2 reading, handwriting, spelling, grammar,
punctuation, comprehension, fluency, and more. Go Phonics instruction includes a high percentage of the skills needed to meet the K-2 language arts curriculum requirements.

CHADD: hyperactivity and ADD/ADHD

CHADD, Minnesota chapter

ADHD, CDD, and Related Conditions

ADHD, CDD, and Related Conditions

A page I put together.

Parents and Teachers of Explosive Kids

Parents and Teachers of Explosive Kids

This is a parent and child companion to the academic CPS site.

Center For Collaborative Problem Solving

Center For Collaborative Problem Solving A center focusing on the (very) difficult child.

Arc Hennepin-Carver

Arc Hennepin-Carver :: General Info :: Affiliations

One of many ARC sites. It's a bit hard to sort them out locally. ARC was once an acronym, now it's word:
In 1990, seven metro ARC chapters, led by a strong group of self-advocates and families, agreed to do away with the name "Association for Retarded Citizens" and its acronym and change their names to Arc. The name change arose out of concern with the label "retarded," and the reference to disability before the reference to personhood. The acronym no longer represented any words, but kept the identity associated with this historic, national movement. The national organization adopted this concept and changed its name to "The Arc" one year later.
At one time ARC was the association of retarded children, then retarded citizens.

Psychometric Evaluation Process - Calvin academy

Psychometric Evaluation Process - 12 hours of tests? Hmm. Be interesting to see if they publish in the peer reviewed literature.

Updated 3/2/2010: Calvin Academy is gone and the domain has been redirected - so I've removed the link.

Calvin Academy

Calvin Academy Special Education School in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota

Fabulously expensive, about $40K/year -- one instructor per student. For wealthy children, or, intriguingly, children placed out of district. Only 50 children. Affiliated clinic. Grand claims:
Every student who enters our program learns to read and to master basic skills. Parents who have watched in dismay as their child falls farther and farther behind every year are truly amazed when they see the accelerated successful academic achievement of their students.
Updated 3/2/2010: Calvin Academy is gone and the domain has been redirected - so I've removed the link.

Groves Academy: Special education - private - St. Louis Park

Groves Academy : Teaching to overcome. Learning to succeed.

About $15K range a year. Focus is on "higher functioning" children who are performing "below potential". No significant behavioral disorders. Interesting social skills training programs, including summer programs. Tutorial programs available.

Saint Louis Park, Minnesota.

Autism/PDD Resources Network

Autism/PDD Resources Network: Main Page

One of many, many web sites for autism. My personal sense is that many of the techniques used with autistic children can be valuable in non-autistic children as well.

Directory of 678 special education reference sites

Special Education - 678 of the best sites selected by humans is an odd site. The main page looks like an odd front end on Google. Still, this page looks useful.

Bridge View School

Bridge View School

Special education public school, Saint Paul public schools.

Autism services directory launched

Autism Society of America

This is supposed to be a directory for autism services, but it's not working at the moment. Perhaps having startup pains. Here's the announcement:
ASA Launches New Comprehensive Online Directory Of Programs and Services for the Autism Community

The Autism Society of America today launched a one-of-a-kind, nationwide online directory to help the 1.5 million American families affected by autism find the vital services they need in their own communities. The directory -- AutismSource -- offers, for the first time in one convenient place, the gamut of resources families require to help their children, such as physicians, psychologists, speech, occupational and behavioral therapists, schools, camps, training programs, government agencies, and much more.

"Every day, 50 families in America find out that their child has some form of autism, and they urgently need to know where they can go for help. AutismSource provides these families with a state-of-the-art directory that is easy to use and full of valuable resources that will help them get the services their child needs," ASA Board Chair Lee Grossman said.

"As the prevalence of autism continues to grow, so too does the demand for professionals and services specializing in autism. ASA, which has been the #1 resource for the autism community for almost 40 years, developed AutismSource to answer this urgent need," ASA President and CEO Rob Beck said.

AutismSource features more than 3,000 resources with listings in all 50 states and the capability to continuously expand. ASA continues to add programs and users can recommend resources to be added by following the prompts on the site.

ASA resources are of great value for many special needs children -- with our without autism.