Search This Blog


Monday, December 5, 2016

Autism Plus Wandering

From the Child Mind Institute

By Beth Arky
December 1, 2016

The tendency of children on the spectrum to wander off impulsively is a huge safety issue for parents.

When Liane Kupferberg Carter’s son Mickey began “escaping,” as she calls it, around age 2, “he was greased lightning,” she says. “I couldn’t take my eyes off him for an instant or he’d disappear — in malls, supermarkets, or in any public space.”

As her son got older, things weren’t any better at home. “He figured out how to unlock the front door and take off, so we had to install an extra deadbolt lock,” says Carter, a Westchester County-based journalist and advocate. “We put it out of reach—or what we thought was out of reach — all the way up at the top of the door. Then he figured out he could stand on a chair to reach the lock, so we also installed a loud chime to alert us any time the door opened.”

Back then, Carter had no idea that Mickey, now 19 and diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), was demonstrating a behavior common among those on the spectrum, who have an impaired sense of danger. Called wandering or elopement — aka bolting — it is terrifying to parents and other caregivers at best, tragic at worst.

Spurred by the increasingly frequent stories of lost children being found dead, often drowned in ponds and creeks close to their homes, the autism community has made wandering an urgent priority.

But up until recently, there was only anecdotal evidence of the behavior. Now, preliminary results from the first major study on wandering, conducted online by the Interactive Autism Network (IAN), provide advocates the hard data they’ve needed to take action.

Data on Wandering

According to the responses from more than 800 parents, roughly 50 percent of children between the ages of 4 and 10 with an ASD wander at some point, four times more than their unaffected siblings. The behavior peaks at 4, but almost 30 percent of kids with an ASD between the ages of 7 and 10 are still eloping, eight times more than their unaffected brothers and sisters.

Nearly half of the respondents said a child had been missing long enough to cause significant safety concerns, with 32 percent calling the police. Two out of three reported their wandering child had a “close call” with a traffic injury, while almost a third said their child had a “close call” with drowning.

Another alarming statistic: 35 percent of families with wanderers reported their child is “never” or “rarely” able to communicate his name, address or phone number, verbally or by writing or typing.

But extremely verbal “high functioning” children are a flight risk, too, because they may also have accompanying diagnoses such as language processing issues or anxiety, which can make it difficult for them to convey personal information in an understandable, appropriate way to first responders and others who might help them. Or they may just be so fixated on whatever’s interesting them, they don’t answer to their name.

Highly Stressful for Parents

Consider the case of Nadia Bloom, an 11-year-old with Asperger’s who disappeared while riding her bike, only to be found waist-deep in an alligator-infested Florida swampland. Incredibly, she suffered only from bug bites and dehydration. Jeff Bloom, Nadia’s father, told reporters, “Our daughter is a nature lover. She went on a bike ride and stopped and went off to take some pictures.”

It’s no wonder that more than half of parents reported that wandering is the most (or among the most) stressful ASD behavior, ahead of self-injury, rigidity, aggression, and meltdowns. Meanwhile, 62 percent said fear of their child eloping stopped them from attending or enjoying activities outside the home, increasing their social isolation; not surprisingly, 40 percent of these already exhausted parents said they lost sleep while worrying about a potential “escape” during the night.

So why do ASD children wander?

While researchers still aren’t sure, parents ranked these as their child’s top five possible motivations:

1.) He/she simply enjoys running and exploring (54 percent)

2.) He/she is heading to a favorite place he enjoys such as a park (36 percent)

3.) He/she is trying to escape an anxious situation like demands at school (33 percent)

4.) He/she is pursuing a special topic of interest, i.e. when a child fascinated by trains heads for the train tracks (31 percent)

5.) He/she is trying to escape uncomfortable sensory stimuli such as loud noise (27 percent)

Running to Something or Away from Something

Experts divide wandering into goal- and non-goal types. While the desire to find an alluring pond is goal-directed, running to escape a stressor is non-goal-related. “Our fight-or-flight kids will bolt” when anxious, says Lori McIlwain, chairwoman of the National Autism Association and a key player in the fight against wandering and elopement, adding that these are the children who get struck by vehicles. “We might see a snake and run away. Our kids may see something we wouldn’t be afraid of. But they are, and the adrenaline misfires.”

Still, the majority of parents surveyed reported that their child is playful or happy and focused while wandering; far fewer said their child is sad, anxious or “in a fog” when they take off.

Last week, autism advocates scored their first major victory in their campaign to better respond to wandering when the Centers for Disease Control’s safety subcommittee overseeing autism announced a new medical diagnostic code for wandering. This sub-classification, which will go into effect October 1, will allow clinicians to add a wandering code to an ASD diagnosis, akin to a diagnosis of autism with epilepsy. The code is not exclusive to autism; it covers other conditions where the child or adult wanders, including a range of cognitive disabilities.

Enabling Pediatricians to Help

“We really went for a medical code so pediatricians would be a central source of information” for parents of wanderers, McIlwain says, while creating a better understanding of the behavior as a medical condition. Given that only 14 percent of study respondents said they got any guidance on the issue from their pediatrician or any other doctor, “the hope is the code will open the door for awareness, education, understanding, training and critical dialogue between doctors and caregivers.”

McIlwain says the American Academy of Pediatrics is preparing a fact sheet on wandering so that physicians have ample information about the code and resources to share with parents.

“The best overall strategy,” McIlwain adds, “is a multi-tiered approach, which includes educating the child about safety and dangers using whatever means of communication works, including social stories, language and/or visual prompts. It’s also important that caregivers—and schools—work to understand what is causing, or contributing to, the wandering or bolting behaviors so that any triggers may be addressed or eliminated.”

Training for Police Officers

Alison Singer, president of the Autism Science Foundation, one of the advocacy groups behind the IAN survey, says advocates hope the code will also allow for more funding for research and proper training for police officers, firefighters and other first responders. These rescuers need to better understand those on the autism spectrum, including their behaviors. Otherwise, Singer says, they may not know how to locate a nonverbal or unresponsive wanderer.

There’s also the danger that they might feel menaced if, for instance, an impulsive teen tries to reach for a shiny object like a badge or gun or a wanderer “invades their space,” as many on the spectrum often do; if that were to happen, the responder might mistakenly think the wanderer is high on drugs.

Advocates also hope the code can be used to establish that preventative measures such as tracking devices, locks, and door and window alarms are a medical necessity covered by insurance. Wandering has already led some parents to fit their children with tracking devices, which are registered with local law enforcement officials. However, unless they’re waterproof, they often fail to save lives.

This is what happened to 10-year-old Kristina Vlassenko, whose body was discovered in a water-filled hole at a construction site in Colorado. Her Care Trak tracking system, a watch-sized device, does not emit signals under water. By the time she was found, it was too late.

Concerns over Medicalizing Wandering

However, the code has not received universal support from the autism community. Adults with autism have voiced strong concerns that by categorizing wandering as a medical condition rather than a behavioral one, parents, schools and others will no longer ask why a person might be wandering.

In his video Autism and Wandering: An Important Message,” Landon Bryce, who runs the site thAutcast, asks, “If you couldn’t talk, and the only way you could communicate that something was bad was to move away from it, how would you feel about people making a law that that should be ignored?”

He notes that a child might bolt because of sensory discomfort—perhaps a teacher’s perfume is making him sick, so he flees the classroom—or, in the worst-case scenario, abuse in the home. In the first example, a child might be placed in a more restrictive school setting, thus impeding his educational opportunities; in the second, it could result in him being returned to an unsafe environment.

After the code was approved, Bryce wondered how long it would take before other advocates start “calling for insurance companies to pay for parents to get their kids implanted with microchips, like pets?”

But McIlwain says the code is aimed at protecting, not harming, children with the highest risk of wandering-related injury or death.

An Attraction to Water

Given the high number of wandering-related drownings, some in the community have come to speculate as to why those on the spectrum are drawn to water; one theory is that it has an alluring, calming effect due to the repetitive pattern of reflections, or the way it puts even pressure on the body, which sensory-seeking children may enjoy. However, Singer says there’s no data from the wandering survey to support those theories: “We just don’t know why.”

McIlwain says the wandering code could have helped in myriad ways had it been in effect when her son, Connor, had his most dangerous wandering incident. The boy, now 11, began wandering at school when he was 3. But at 7, he was able to leave the playground of his suburban Raleigh, N.C., school, despite McIlwain’s notes alerting the staff to “not let him out of your sight.” Motivated by his fascination with exit signs, the boy, who has autism, took off through the woods and was headed for the highway when a Good Samaritan picked him up and started driving him around, hoping to find his school.

When staff at the first school the man stopped at didn’t recognize Connor, they called the police. The officers took over the search without knowing who the boy was. (While Connor is verbal, McIlwain explains, his language was much more limited at the time. He was unresponsive to his rescuer’s questions, though “he did convey to the police that he was going on an adventure to find his favorite exit sign.”)

An Appropriate Response Plan

Meanwhile, no one at Connor’s school had called his mother — or the police. “He could have been struck by a car, raped, abducted,” McIlwain says. When the police saw people at Connor’s school searching for him, they realized he belonged there. Only then did someone at the school notify her. The advocate notes that had the school had a proper emergency response plan — or if Connor had been wearing an ID — the situation could have been resolved quickly. Instead, “he was still in the cop car when they called me,” she says.

“I got him out of that school as fast as I could,” McIlwain says. She then enlisted a lawyer to help add a 1:1 aide to his Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to escort him during transitions, such as when he leaves the classroom to go to a therapy. With the added support, Connor is able to attend a school for typically developing children. McIlwain feels the code will help keep the aide should her son continue to need one, so in October she’ll have his pediatrician provide an updated letter noting the diagnosis for the school and his IEP.

While some adults with autism worry that a medical code could be used to justify the restraint or seclusion of a student, or place him in a more restrictive school environment, McIlwain says her experience with Connor demonstrates how the exact opposite could result. If more parents can use the code to get their wandering child the supports he or she needs, the child could enter a less, not more, restrictive setting.

Relieving Stress on Parents

Along with reducing wandering incidents and deaths, the code is aimed at relieving the incredible stress the behavior places on caregivers. Wandering children “are impulsive,” McIlwain adds, so their parents are “constantly in prevention mode for fleeing, bolting, unpredictability, biting. We need support. Instead, we get constant scrutiny and judgment from other parents. But these are the same folks who would say ‘Why weren’t you more protective?’ if something were to happen.”

At a time when parents who “hover” are often chastised, “the pressure from other parents and family members who say we’re too overprotective and overbearing may make parents think they’re doing something wrong,” she adds. “They may adjust their parenting to meet others’ expectations. It’s the wrong way to go. Parents need to stand their ground and focus on the child, not on how other people think they should be parenting.”

“Other parents don’t know our reality,” she adds, “and they never will.”


For more information on waterproof tracking devices, ways to secure the home, and others measures to guard against wandering, see the Autism Wandering Awareness Alerts Response and Education (AWAARE) Collaboration site.

See Betsy DeVos' Donations to Senators Who Will Oversee Her Confirmation

From Education Week

By Andrew Ujifusa
December 1, 2016

President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, is best known in the education policy world as a school choice advocate. But on the national political stage, she and her husband, Dick DeVos Jr., the son of the founder of Amway, are perhaps best known as big-time donors to Republican candidates and groups.

In the 2016 election year, for example, the two gave $2.7 million to Republican candidates and nothing to Democrats, as we reported earlier.

But their campaign-donation record goes back much further. And it includes contributions to several senators who may vote on Betsy DeVos' confirmation in the Senate education committee and subsequently on the Senate floor—more on that below. We haven't seen any campaign finance records, however, showing they donated to Trump's presidential campaign.

A Michigan resident who's been a major player in state politics for over two decades, Betsy DeVos is not the first individual for whom issues of campaign donations and Cabinet appointments have mixed. For example, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny S. Pritzker has given money to Democratic Party candidates and causes for many years and was a campaign-donation "bundler" for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012; she became President Obama's commerce secretary in 2013.

We took a look at various candidates and causes DeVos and her husband have given to over the years to those at different levels of government who are connected to education in some way. We relied on information from the National Institute on Money in State Politics, the Federal Election Commission, and the Center for Responsive Politics.

It's important to remember that several other members of the DeVos family have given to candidates and groups over the years. We've tried to focus on recent donations by Betsy DeVos, along with some by her husband, although the donations listed here may not represent a complete picture of their political contributions made directly to candidates.

That's in part because, in at least a few cases, campaign finance records provided to the Federal Election Commission do not clearly distinguish between Dick DeVos Sr., Dick DeVos Jr., and Dick DeVos III. We have tried to single out only those donation records in which Dick DeVos Jr., Betsy DeVos' husband, is specifically named. That may not capture all of his donations.

We also focused mostly, but not exclusively, on the couple's individual contributions made directly to candidates, not to political action committees or parties. And we highlighted donations dating from the mid-2000s onward, which does not capture the full breadth of the DeVoses' political giving.

Big Edge to the GOP

Betsy DeVos herself has given nearly $2.7 million in political donations to 370 individuals and causes over the past 20 years through 819 total contributions, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Just over $2 million of that has gone to Republican candidates or causes, while a very, very small amount went to Democratic candidates or groups.

The National Institute on Money in State Politics has a rundown of campaign donations Betsy DeVos has made as an individual.

In 1997, Betsy DeVos wrote an op-ed for the newspaper Roll Call in which she defended "soft money" (campaign contributions to political parties that avoid legal limits on contributions to individual candidates).

DeVos, who was chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party at the time, wrote that her family was the biggest contributor of soft money to the national Republican Party, and that,

"... occasionally a wayward reporter will try to make the charge that we are giving this money to get something in return, or that we must be purchasing influence in some way. I have decided, however, to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect some things in return," DeVos wrote in Roll Call.

"We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment; we expect a good and honest government. Furthermore, we expect the Republican Party to use the money to promote these policies, and yes, to win elections."

One thing you should remember is that $130,000 of her donations went to her husband's unsuccessful campaign to be Michigan's governor in 2006—Dick DeVos Jr. ran as a Republican against incumbent Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Betsy DeVos also has given $805,000 to the Michigan Republican Party and $193,000 to the Republican National Committee over two decades.

Many of Betsy DeVos' "not designated" campaign contributions, which total $577,500, went to candidates seeking state supreme court and appellate court seats in Michigan, to cite a couple of examples in that category.

As for Democrats? Betsy DeVos gave donations to 16 Democratic politicians in Colorado, Florida, and Wisconsin—none, interestingly, who ran for office in Michigan—totaling nearly $8,000.

Dick DeVos Jr. has given out a lot more money than Betsy DeVos in the political arena—as an individual contributor, he's donated $48.8 million to 514 different candidates and causes over 21 years, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. However, $35.4 million of that went to his 2006 gubernatorial campaign. Of the remaining $13.4 million in donations, $10.4 million went to Republican candidates and causes.

Congressional and White House Runs

Several GOP members of the Senate education committee who will be among the first eligible to officially consider and vote on DeVos' nomination also have received donations from Betsy and Dick DeVos Jr. over the years. These lawmakers include:
  • Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina: Betsy DeVos gave Burr $5,400 for the 2016 election, according to Federal Election Commission records. (That represents the maximum allowable contribution from an individual directly to a candidate for federal office, given both a primary and a general election.) Dick DeVos Jr. also gave Burr $5,400 for 2016.
  • Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana: Betsy DeVos gave Cassidy $7,800 for the 2014 election. Dick DeVos Jr. also gave $7,800 for 2014. (In addition to primary and general elections, Cassidy participated in a run-off election against former Sen. Mary Landrieu that year.)
  • Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska: Betsy DeVos gave Murkowski $5,400 for the 2016 election. Dick DeVos Jr. also gave Murkowski $5,400 for 2016.
  • Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina: Betsy DeVos gave Scott $2,000 for the 2014 election, and $5,400 for the 2016 election. Dick DeVos Jr. also gave Scott $5,400 for 2016.

The 2016 results for the four senators above are from January 1, 2015 through October 19 of this year, according to the FEC.

In addition, Betsy DeVos gave Senate education committee member Mark Kirk of Illinois, another Republican, $5,400 for the 2016 election. Dick DeVos Jr. also gave Kirk $5,400 for 2016. Kirk lost his Senate re-election bid to Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth, however, and will therefore not vote on Betsy DeVos' nomination next year.

Other GOP senators to receive Betsy DeVos' campaign donations include Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate majority leader, as well as Iowa Sens. Joni Ernst and Charles Grassley, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, and Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.

In the House of Representatives, which does not vote on Cabinet appointments, GOP lawmakers on the education committee who received donations from the couple include:
  • Rep. Mike Bishop of Michigan: Betsy DeVos gave Bishop $2,600 for the 2014 election and $5,400 for the 2016 election. For 2014, Dick DeVos Jr. gave Bishop $5,200, and for 2016, he gave Bishop $5,400.
  • Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida: Betsy DeVos gave Curbelo $1,000 for the 2014 election.
  • Rep. Luke Messer of Indiana: In the 2012 election, Betsy DeVos gave $2,500 to Messer. A prominent school choice advocate in Congress, Messer has pushed unsuccessfully to make federal Title I funds for disadvantaged students "portable" to the public and private schools of families' choice. That is a roughly similar idea to Trump's $20 billion school choice plan.
  • Rep. Tim Walberg of Michigan: Over the 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2016 elections, Betsy DeVos gave Walberg a total of $15,500. Dick DeVos Jr. gave Walberg $13,000 over those same election periods.

Betsy DeVos gave Nevada Rep. Joe Heck $5,400 for his Senate run in 2016. Dick DeVos Jr. gave Heck $3,700 over the 2012 and 2016 elections. Heck gave up his House seat this year to run for Nevada's open Senate seat, but lost.

And Alabama Rep. Martha Roby, a critic of the Common Core State Standards who's not on the education committee, got $1,000 from Betsy DeVos in her 2010 campaign. (After Trump nominated her, DeVos said she is opposed to the common core.)

Betsy DeVos also donated $5,000 to the 2012 presidential campaign of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and his running mate, current Speaker of the House Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Dick DeVos Jr. also donated to 2012 presidential candidates Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, and formerPennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. Gingrich and Santorum got $2,500 each. In 2016, Betsy DeVos and her husband both donated to several other GOP presidential campaigns:
  • Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush: Betsy DeVos gave Bush $2,700. Dick DeVos Jr. gave Bush $5,400.
  • Former business executive Carly Fiorina: Betsy DeVos gave Fiorina $2,700. Dick DeVos Jr. gave Fiorina $5,400.
  • Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal: Betsy DeVos gave Jindal $2,700. Dick DeVos Jr. gave Jindal $2,700.
  • Ohio Gov. John Kasich: Betsy DeVos gave Kasich $2,700. Dick DeVos Jr. gave Kasich $5,400.
  • Florida Sen. Marco Rubio: Betsy DeVos gave Rubio $2,700. Dick DeVos Jr. gave Rubio $5,400.
  • Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker: Betsy DeVos gave Walker $2,700. Dick DeVos Jr. gave Walker $5,400.

Giving to Governors

Betsy DeVos also donated to Jindal's campaigns for Louisiana governor in 2003, when he lost, and 2007, when he won. And Kasich and Walker also got donations from her during their runs for governor.

Other current or incoming GOP governors whose campaigns received donations from Betsy DeVos and Dick DeVos Jr. in various election years include:
  • Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey: Betsy DeVos gave Ducey $1,000. Dick DeVos Jr. gave Ducey $2,000.
  • Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam: Each of them gave Haslam $5,000.
  • Indiana Gov.-elect Eric Holcomb: Betsy DeVos gave Holcomb $5,000. Dick DeVos Jr. gave Holcomb $10,000.
  • New Mexico Gov. Susanna Martinez: Betsy DeVos gave Martinez $1,000. Dick DeVos Jr. gave Martinez $4,000.
  • North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory: Betsy DeVos gave McCrory $4,000. Dick DeVos Jr. gave McCrory $9,100.
  • Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner: Betsy DeVos gave Rauner $1,000. Dick DeVos Jr. gave Rauner $6,000.
  • Florida Gov. Rick Scott: Betsy DeVos gave Scott $500. Dick DeVos Jr. gave Scott $1,000.
  • Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder: Betsy DeVos gave Snyder $6,800. Dick DeVos Jr. gave Snyder $17,000.

And there's at least one well-known former GOP state education chief on the list: Ex-Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett got $5,000 from Betsy DeVos and $10,000 from Dick DeVos Jr. for his 2012 re-election bid, which Bennett lost to Democrat Glenda Ritz.

And Jeanne Allen, founder of the Center for Education Reform, got campaign donations totaling $2,000 from Betsy DeVos and Dick DeVos. Jr. in 2010 when she ran unsuccessfully for the Maryland House of Delegates as a Republican.

Donations to PACs

The Center for Responsive Politics, which lists the husband and wife together in campaign contributions, listed Betsy and Dick DeVos Jr. as the 72nd-largest contributors to "outside spending groups" (think political action committees) in the 2016 campaign cycle. Together, they had donated nearly $1.6 million to such groups. And they're listed as the 65th-largest "overall top contributor" to political campaigns in the 2016 cycle.

Betsy DeVos gave a contribution of $100,000 to American Crossroads, a political-strategy group founded by Karl Rove, the former deputy chief of staff and senior adviser to President George W. Bush, in the 2016 cycle.

And Dick DeVos Jr. gave $25,000 in 2015 to Right to Rise, a "super PAC" aligned with Jeb Bush's unsuccessful bid for the presidency this year.

Ballot Measures

Both Betsy and Dick DeVos Jr. gave major backing to Protecting Michigan Taxpayers, an unsuccessful push to repeal the state's "prevailing wage" law requiring union-scale wages and benefits to workers on state-funded projects, according to Crain's Detroit Business.

The proposed initiative did not make it onto the 2016 ballot. Betsy DeVos gave $125,000 to the proposed initiative, while Dick DeVos Jr. gave $625,000.

Dick DeVos Jr. also gave $100,000 to a successful 2008 ballot measure in Florida that defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

And, he funded Citizens Protecting Michigan's Kids, which opposed a successful 2008 Michigan ballot measure to legalize medical marijuana for seriously ill patients.

All Children Matter

Betsy and Dick DeVos Jr. have also financed the All Children Matter PAC, which has financed campaigns related to education and other issues since 2003. (See this 2006 story about the group from former Politics K-12 blogger Michele McNeil.)

Over nine years since it was founded, the group gave $1.8 million to 581 candidates and party committees, the National Institute on Money in State Politics reported. In 2008, the state of Ohio fined All Children Matter $5.2 million for skirting campaign finance rules—the state found that the PAC improperly funneled the donations through Virginia, which had no campaign-contribution limits. All Children Matter has declined to pay that fine, the Columbus Dispatch reported recently.

Other elected officials who have received money from the PAC in recent years include:
  • Indiana state Rep. Robert Behning ($4,500), a Republican and the chairman of the Indiana House education committee;
  • Former GOP Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels ($35,000), who worked closely with former Indiana schools chief Tony Bennett;
  • Former Democratic Georgia state Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan ($1,750), who received money from All Children Matter in 2010 in her campaign for state representative. Morgan ran for state schools chief in 2014 and also received campaign donations from StudentsFirst, the advocacy group founded by former District of Columbia schools chief Michelle Rhee, who like DeVos met with Trump after his election victory to discuss education policy;

Ethics and Rules

So what could Betsy DeVos do or not do in terms of campaign donations if she becomes education secretary?

As education secretary, DeVos would be allowed to donate money to candidates, but she would be prohibited from soliciting or discouraging donations to candidates, said Meredith McGehee, a strategic adviser at the Campaign Legal Center.

Then there are questions about her finances. Betsy DeVos is chair of the Windquest Group, a private investment-management firm she runs with Dick DeVos Jr. On its website, the group lists the West Michigan Aviation Academy, a public charter school, as part of its "portfolio." No other education-related assets are listed on the group's website.

DeVos would likely sit down with counsel at the Education Department to determine if she would need to divest herself of any personal financial holdings in the education field, or if she would need to build some kind of firewall between herself and education-related assets or institutions her husband controls, McGehee said.

(In a Wednesday radio interview, Dick DeVos Jr. said his wife had stepped away from virtually all her other interests in order to focus on the secretary position, should she be confirmed.)

As for the senators who may vote on her confirmation who have received donations from DeVos and her husband? There's nothing legally preventing them from voting on DeVos' nomination. That may not be an unusual situation, McGehee said, but it reveals something important about the current situation.

"It looks awful. Obviously they have a conflict. You might hope for some senators to recuse themselves," McGehee said. "Dollars to doughnuts that's not going to happen. In an ideal world, that would be how it would work. I have very low expectations for that."


Education Week Librarian Holly Peele contributed to this post.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Angry Kids: Dealing with Explosive Behavior

From the Child Mind Institute

November 26, 2016

How to respond when a child lashes out.

When a child—even a small child—melts down and becomes aggressive, he can pose a serious risk to himself and others, including parents and siblings.

It’s not uncommon for kids who have trouble handling their emotions to lose control and direct their distress at a caregiver, screaming and cursing, throwing dangerous objects, or hitting and biting. It can be a scary, stressful experience for you and your child, too. Children often feel sorry after they’ve worn themselves out and calmed down.

So what are you to do?

It’s helpful to first understand that behavior is communication. A child who is so overwhelmed that he is lashing out is a distressed child. He doesn’t have the skill to manage his feelings and express them in a more mature way. He may lack language, or impulse control, or problem-solving abilities.

Sometimes parents see this kind of behavior as manipulative. But kids who lash out are usually unable to handle frustration or anger in a more effective way—say, by talking and figuring out how to achieve what they want.


Nonetheless, how you react when a child lashes out has an effect on whether he will continue to respond to distress in the same way, or learn better ways to handle feelings so they don’t become overwhelming. Some pointers:
  • Stay calm. Faced with a raging child, it’s easy to feel out of control and find yourself yelling at him. But when you shout, you have less chance of reaching him. Instead, you will only be making him more aggressive and defiant. As hard as it may be, if you can stay calm and in control of your own emotions, you can be a model for your child and teach him to do the same thing.
  • Don’t give in. Don’t encourage him to continue this behavior by agreeing to what he wants in order to make it stop.
  • Praise appropriate behavior. When he has calmed down, praise him for pulling himself together. And when he does try to express his feelings verbally, calmly, or try to find a compromise on an area of disagreement, praise him for those efforts.
  • Help him practice problem-solving skills. When your child is not upset is the time to help him try out communicating his feelings and coming up with solutions to conflicts before they escalate into aggressive outbursts. You can ask him how he feels, and how he thinks you might solve a problem.
  • Time outs and reward systems. Time outs for nonviolent misbehavior can work well with children younger than 7 or 8 years old.If a child is too old for time outs, you want to move to a system of positive reinforcement for appropriate behavior—points or tokens toward something he wants.
  • Avoid triggers. Dr. Vasco Lopes, a clinical psychologist, says most kids who have frequent meltdowns do it at very predictable times, like homework time, bedtime, or when it’s time to stop playing, whether it’s Legos or the Xbox. The trigger is usually being asked to do something they don’t like, or to stop doing something they do like. Time warnings (“we’re going in 10 minutes”), breaking tasks down into one-step directions (“first, put on your shoes”), and preparing your child for situations (“please ask to be excused before you leave Grandma’s table”) can all help avoid meltdowns.

What kind of tantrum is it?

How you respond to a tantrum also depends on its severity. The first rule in handling nonviolent tantrums is to ignore them as often as possible, since even negative attention, like telling the child to stop, can be encouraging.

But when a child is getting physical, ignoring is not recommended since it can result in harm to others as well as your child. In this situation, Dr. Lopes advises putting the child in a safe environment that does not give her access to you or any other potential rewards.

If the child is young (usually 7 or younger), try placing her in a time out chair. If she won’t stay in the chair, take her to a backup area where she can calm down on her own without anyone else in the room. Again, for this approach to work there shouldn’t be any toys or games in the area that might make it rewarding.

Your daughter should stay in that room for one minute, and must be calm before she is allowed out. Then she should come back to the chair for time out. “What this does is gives your child an immediate and consistent consequence for her aggression and it removes all access to reinforcing things in her environment,” explains Dr. Lopes.

If you have an older child who is being aggressive and you aren’t able to carry her into an isolated area to calm down, Dr. Lopes advises removing yourself from her vicinity. This ensures that she is not getting any attention or reinforcement from you and keeps you safe. In extreme instances, it may be necessary to call 911 to ensure your and your child’s safety.

Help with Behavioral Techniques

If your child is doing a lot of lashing out—enough that it is frequently frightening you and disrupting your family—it’s important to get some professional help. There are good behavioral therapies that can help you and your child get past the aggression, relieve your stress and improve your relationship.

You can learn techniques for managing his behavior more effectively, and he can learn to rein in disruptive behavior and enjoy a much more positive relationship with you.
  • Parent-child interaction therapy. PCIT has been shown to be very helpful for children between the ages of 2 and 7. The parent and child work together through a set of exercises while a therapist coaches parents through an ear bud. You learn how to pay more attention to your child’s positive behavior, ignore minor misbehaviors, and provide consistent consequences for negative and aggressive behavior, all while remaining calm.
  • Parent Management Training. PMT teaches similar techniques as PCIT, though the therapist usually works with parents, not the child.
  • Collaborative and Proactive Solutions. CPS is a program based on the idea that explosive or disruptive behavior is the result of lagging skills rather than, say, an attempt to get attention or test limits. The idea is to teach children the skills they lack to respond to a situation in a more effective way than throwing a tantrum.

Figuring Out Explosive Behavior

Tantrums and meltdowns are especially concerning when they occur more often, more intensely, or past the age in which they’re developmentally expected—those terrible twos up through preschool. As a child gets older, aggression becomes more and more dangerous to you, and the child. And it can become a big problem for him at school and with friends, too.


If your child has a pattern of lashing out it may be because of an underlying problem that needs treatment. Some possible reasons for aggressive behavior include:
  • ADHD: Kids with ADHD are frustrated easily, especially in certain situations, such as when they’re supposed to do homework or go to bed.
  • Anxiety: An anxious child may keep his worries secret, then lash out when the demands at school or at home put pressure on him that he can’t handle. Often, a child who “keeps it together” at school loses it with one or both parents.
  • Undiagnosed learning disability: When your child acts out repeatedly in school or during homework time, it could be because the work is very hard for him.
  • Sensory processing issues: Some children have trouble processing the information they are taking in through their senses. Things like too much noise, crowds and even “scratchy” clothes can make them anxious, uncomfortable, or overwhelmed. That can lead to actions that leave you mystified, including aggression.
  • Autism: Children on all points of the spectrum are often prone to major meltdowns when they are frustrated or faced with unexpected change. They also often have sensory issues that make them anxious and agitated.

Given that there are so many possible causes for emotional outbursts and aggression, an accurate diagnosis is key to getting the help you need. You may want to start with your pediatrician. She can rule out medical causes and then refer you to a specialist. A trained, experienced child psychologist or psychiatrist can help determine what, if any, underlying issues are present.

When Behavioral Plans Aren’t Enough

Professionals agree, the younger you can treat a child, the better. But what about older children and even younger kids who are so dangerous to themselves and others, behavioral techniques aren’t enough to keep them, and others around them, safe?
  • Medication. Medication for underlying conditions such as ADHD and anxiety may make your child more reachable and teachable. Kids with extreme behavior problems are often treated with antipsychotic medications like Risperdal or Abilify. But these medications should be partnered with behavioral techniques.
  • Holds. Parent training may, in fact, include learning how to use safe holds on your child, so that you can keep both him and yourself out of harm’s way.
  • Residential settings. Children with extreme behaviors may need to spend time in a residential treatment facility, sometimes, but not always, in a hospital setting. There, they receive behavioral and, most likely, pharmaceutical treatment. Therapeutic boarding schools provide consistency and structure round the clock, seven days a week. The goal is for the child to internalize self-control so he can come back home with more appropriate behavior with you and the world at large.
  • Day treatment. With day treatment, a child with extreme behavioral problems lives at home but attends a school with a strict behavioral plan. Such schools should have trained staff prepared to safely handle crisis situations.

Explosive Children Need Calm, Confident Parents

It can be challenging work for parents to learn how to handle an aggressive child with behavioral approaches, but for many kids it can make a big difference. Parents who are confident, calm, and consistent can be very successful in helping children develop the skills they need to regulate their own behavior.

This may require more patience and willingness to try different techniques than you might with a typically developing child, but when the result is a better relationship and happier home, it’s well worth the effort.

Choice Without Accountability Puts Children at Risk

From Real Clear Education

By Shavar Jeffries and Peter Cunningham
November 30, 2016

Can the bipartisan alliance on public school choice hang together in the age of President Donald Trump? That’s a pressing question following last week’s nomination of Michigan school choice advocate Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education.

School choice has a proud progressive history. At various times, union leaders like Albert Shanker and Randi Weingarten, iconic progressives like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, Chicago Mayors Richard Daley and Rahm Emanuel, Governors Jerry Brown (D-CA) and Andrew Cuomo (D-NY), and countless other Democrats at the federal, state and local level, have embraced school choice in one form or another.

Public school choice has an even more robust conservative history, based on conservative principles of free markets and competition. Public school choice has enjoyed strong support from Republican presidents since Ronald Reagan, as well as the vast majority of Republican elected officials at all levels of government.

With close to 7,000 public charter schools in 43 states and voucher or tax credit programs in about 30 states -- allowing low-income children to use public dollars to attend private schools -- school choice is thriving. But there are signs of trouble for the bipartisan alliance that has brought public school choice to millions of low-income parents.

The grand bargain at the heart of the school choice movement is accountability for autonomy. In exchange for performance goals linking a charter school’s survival to academic results and other student outcomes, they are freed up from bureaucracy and red tape that limits innovation and flexibility.

Education Secretary–designate DeVos has fought efforts to rein in Michigan’s charter schools. Today, her state has 40 separate entities authorized to approve public charter schools and 80% of charters are run by for-profits compared to 13 percent nationally. Michigan also has numerous virtual charter schools showing mixed results.

Massachusetts, by contrast, with some of the best charter schools in the country, has just one authorizer, and no for-profit charters.

Overall, Michigan charter schools marginally out-perform traditional public schools, but that’s only in comparison to some of the lowest-performing schools in the entire country, especially in Detroit.

Michigan is one of only five states to see a decline in reading scores since 2003 and many charter advocates, both inside and outside the state, believe more oversight is needed.

President-elect Trump has said nothing about accountability but he has promised to spend $20 billion on school choice programs. It’s unclear if Trump will try to fund this with new dollars or with existing dollars currently dedicated to poor children and students with disabilities. Either way it will trigger a firestorm on the left and the right.

Meanwhile, the new federal law governing K-12 education weakens federal oversight and pushes back to states responsibility for protecting “at-risk” populations of students, low-income students, students of color, English language learners and students with disabilities.

In 2017, 33 of those states will have Republican governors and 25 of them will also have Republicans in control of both houses of the legislatures: the so-called political “trifecta.” Just six states will be under complete Democratic control, with the rest divided. Most schools, of course, are governed by elected school boards who swear by local control.

This combination of free-marketers in Washington and local control zealots at the state and local level could launch an era of low accountability that undermines the grand bargain for charters (increased autonomy and flexibility in exchange for increased accountability).

And no such bargain exists with school vouchers, which face little to no oversight, which is one reason that progressives are split on the voucher issue.

Another issue for progressives is that nearly 90 percent of charter schools employ non-union teachers. Many progressives support collective bargaining rights, but many also believe parents have a greater right to choose their child’s school, even if it puts us at odds with our traditional union allies. However, when the choice movement devolves into an anti-union movement, it loses support on the left.

Finally, the school choice movement includes small-government ideologues who seem more focused on defunding education rather than improving it. More than half of all states fund education at pre-2008 levels, placing added financial pressure on local taxpayers and exacerbating inequity.

Today, the United States is one of the few developed countries that spends less money educating poor kids than educating middle or upper-income kids.

In a country increasingly governed by Republicans, we need conservatives in the school choice movement. But in a school system increasingly populated by lower-income children of color, we also need progressives in the tent because, without the mostly minority, urban students exercising choice, there is no tent.

President-elect Trump and Secretary-designate DeVos need to understand that expanding school choice while weakening accountability and under-funding schools serving low-income students will not keep the bipartisan school choice coalition together.


Shavar Jeffries is a civil rights attorney and President of Democrats for Education Reform. Peter Cunningham is the Executive Director of Education Post and served in the Obama Administration.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Download: Sample Letters for (Special Education) Dispute Resolution


By Andrew M.I. Lee
November 29, 2016

Writing letters to the school is an important part of advocating for the services your child needs. When you put a request into a letter, you create a record of your concerns and suggestions. You also document what the school has or hasn’t done for your child.

To protect your child’s rights, be sure to put any formal requests into a written letter, especially during dispute resolution.

You can use these sample letters for communicating with your school and other agencies. Keep in mind that states have their own rules. It’s important to review your procedural safeguards handbook. It describes your and your child’s rights and the process that you and the school must follow, including to whom letters should be addressed and when.

Also, every school and every child is different. Make sure to customize the sample letters for your needs.

Sample Letters for Dispute Resolution
  • Letter: Ask to Discuss a Problem With the School (View / Download)
  • Letter: Request a Copy of Your Child’s Records (View / Download)
  • Letter: Request an Independent Evaluation at Public Expense (View /Download)
  • Letter: Tell the School You’re Enrolling Your Child in Private School at Public Expense (View / Download)
  • Letter: Request an Explanation of Denial of Services (View / Download)
  • Letter: Request a Due Process Hearing/File a Due Process Complaint (View/ Download)
  • Letter: Create a Record of Successful Services (View / Download)

Andrew M.I. Lee, J.D. is an editor and former attorney who strives to help people understand complex legal, education and parenting issues. More by this author