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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Millions Have Dyslexia, Few Understand It

From nprEd
How learning happens.

By Gabrielle Emanuel
November 28, 2016

Part 1 of the series "Unlocking Dyslexia." 

"It's frustrating that you can't read the simplest word in the world."

Thomas Lester grabs a book and opens to a random page. He points to a word: galloping.

"Goll—. G—. Gaa—. Gaa—. G—. " He keeps trying. It is as if the rest ­­of the word is in him somewhere, but he can't sound it out.

"I don't ... I quit." He tosses the book and it skids along the table.

Despite stumbling over the simplest words, Thomas — a fourth-grader — is a bright kid. In fact, that's an often-misunderstood part of dyslexia: It's not about lacking comprehension, having a low IQ or being deprived of a good education.

It's about having a really hard time reading.

Dyslexia is the most common learning disability in the United States. It touches the lives of millions of people, including me and Thomas. Just like Thomas, I spent much of my childhood sitting in a little chair across from a reading tutor.

Today, Thomas is working with his tutor in an office building in northwest Washington, D.C. The suite they're in is an oasis of white couches and overstuffed pillows. In the waiting area, a kid is curled up sucking her thumb, and a mom reads a magazine quietly.

In the back of the suite — a Lindamood Bell Reading Center — Thomas fidgets with everything in arm's reach.

"All right, I am going to give you some air-writing words," the tutor says to Thomas, speaking rapidly as if daring Thomas to keep pace. She spells the first one out loud: "C-O-R-T."

With his index finger, Thomas writes the letters sloppily in the air.

Then his tutor asks a question: What sound do the two middle letters make? "Eer? Aar?"

Thomas squints at whatever visual memory he can retain from the letters he has just scribbled in the air. Then, with a burst of enthusiasm, he stumbles on the answer: "Or!"

"Good job!" his tutor replies, with what seems like genuine excitement, before moving on to her next question about the letters.

Thomas Lester, 9, draws letters in the air during a tutoring session at the
Lindamood Bell Reading Center in Washington, D.C.Gabrielle Emanuel/NPR

I also have a question for Thomas: What's it like to have dyslexia?

Thomas stops his fidgeting. "It's hard," he pauses. "Like, really hard."

Thomas, 9, has trouble reading, but he likes books. Just give him the audio version, he says, and he'll "listen to the book on Audible like 10,000 times."

"His comprehension is that of a 13-year-old," says Geva Lester, Thomas' mom. "He can understand Harry Potter, but he can't read it."

Before they started coming to this Lindamood Bell Reading Center, Lester says, she'd watch with alarmed confusion as her son struggled with the most basic text: "See Spot run."

She remembers trying to read with him. "On one page he would figure out the word: 'There.' And on the second page, he would see it and he would have no idea what it said."

Sitting there with Thomas and his mom, I remember doing that myself — and in some ways, I still do.

Dyslexia Resources

For more information and help, check out:

As a child, my dyslexia was a closely guarded secret. In kindergarten, I'd leave class to work in a tiny closet, with a space heater and a reading specialist. Walking there, down the locker-lined hallways, I'd avoid eye contact, hoping nobody would notice me.

In middle school, I struggled to read even picture books. In class, I'd pretend. Then, at home, I'd listen to my books on cassette tapes — at double speed. And during the summer, I'd go to Lindamood Bell, just like Thomas. (The reading centers, which offer tutoring and reading programs around the world, also provide financial support for NPR.)

Over the years, I survived by memorizing words. It started with boxes and boxes of index cards. I'd practice each night, looking at a word and saying its sound as quickly as I could. I memorized hundreds and hundreds — maybe a few thousand — words this way.

I've never been able to sound out unfamiliar words. And I still can't.

When I come across a word I don't know, I freeze. It's often a last name or a street name that never made it onto those index cards. It takes a great deal of focus for me to clump the letters into groups, link those groups with sounds and, finally, string those sounds together.

Since dyslexia is not something you outgrow, I have learned to work with it, and work around it. It's always there, but it is rarely the focus of my thoughts. That was true through college and graduate school, but when I became an education reporter, it changed.

As I returned to elementary school classrooms and interviewed parents and teachers, dyslexia kept popping up in places I didn't expect. I saw teachers who were mystified by their students' struggles and parents whose stamina and empathy were tested.

Dyslexia is so widespread that it forces schools and parents to take action. And yet, it is deeply misunderstood.

Even basic questions don't have easy answers.

Exactly how many people around the world have dyslexia? Well, it's complicated. Estimates vary greatly, partly because it depends on what country or language you are talking about (English speakers may be more likely to have it than, say, Italian speakers) and partly because many people who have dyslexia never get a formal diagnosis. However, most estimates in the United States put it at somewhere between 5 and 17 percent of the population.

Many people think that dyslexia is seeing letters in the wrong order, or getting b and d mixed up. Not true. Researchers, experts and people with dyslexia dismiss these as common misconceptions.

So, if dyslexia isn't any of those things people think it is, then what is it?

"It's basically like looking at a foreign word," says Jonathan Gohrband. He's a videographer in Chicago and, at 31, he says dyslexia is still part of his daily life.

When reading, Gohrband says, his eyes often lurch to a stop in front of a word that looks utterly unfamiliar. His best solution, he says, is to turn to his girlfriend, asking a now familiar question: "What's this word?" And as she answers, he almost always has the same response: "Of course that's what it is!"

Here's the thing: There's nothing wrong with Jonathan Gohrband's vocabulary. Or 9-year-old Thomas Lester's vocabulary. They know what "galloping" means. And they can use the word in spoken English 20 different ways. They just can't read the word.

That's why dyslexia used to be called "word blindness." People with dyslexia don't naturally process the written word. They don't easily break it into smaller units that can be turned into sounds and stitched together.

This makes reading a laborious — even exhausting — process. Writing, too. Gohrband remembers when his former boss pulled him aside after she'd received emails littered with spelling mistakes.

" 'Hey, I know it's the weekend, but don't email when you're drunk,' " he recalls her saying. He was, of course, perfectly sober — just dyslexic. Now, he can spend hours scouring emails he's drafted, looking for typos. "It's very time-consuming and very exhausting."

Consuming. Exhausting. There's an emotional dimension, too. Gohrband recalls that when he was a child he would fantasize about not "being broken."

He would avoid telling people about it: "If they know that you're dyslexic, they'll think you're dumb."

Yet, he says, there came a turning point when the shame faded. For him, it was when he found videography. There he discovered a "language" that came easily, and suddenly his talents were visible to others.

"I felt so much more confident," he says.

And with time, Gohrband says, he has found benefits hidden inside his struggles. He thinks that being pushed outside his comfort zone by dyslexia has made him more creative and less judgmental.

I've felt that myself, and as I've talked with many others, I heard one thing again and again: When things don't come easy, you learn to try new things and work hard at them.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Jeff Sessions Slammed a Law Protecting Schoolchildren with Disabilities

From The Huffington Post

By Jason Cherkis
November 29, 2016

Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general said it had led to a “decline in civility and discipline in classrooms all over America.”

WASHINGTON ― Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), president-elect Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general, once complained about a law that helped mainstream disabled children into public school systems.

In May 2000, Sessions took to the senate floor to make a lengthy speech on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, arguing that federal protections for students with disabilities was a reason U.S. public schools were failing.

“We have created a complex system of federal regulations and laws that have created lawsuit after lawsuit, special treatment for certain children, and that are a big factor in accelerating the decline in civility and discipline in classrooms all over America. I say that very sincerely,” Sessions said.

Sessions’ full statement, which can still be found on his website, is another in a series of inflammatory takes on widely accepted social policy that could complicate his nomination for the top law enforcement position in the country.

The Alabama Republican once claimed that virtually no one immigrating to the United States from the Dominican Republic added value to society.

Other controversial comments date largely back to 1986, when he was denied a federal judgeship over the allegations that he’d made racist remarks and had referred to the NAACP as “un-American.”

Sessions denies that he’s a racist and several of his current colleagues ― including at least one Democratic Senator ― have said they would support his attorney general bid.

Sessions’ comments about disabled students appear to be drawn from his own experience as Alabama’s attorney general. In the mid 1990s, Sessions fought school equality after a judge ruled on behalf of about 30 of the state’s poor school districts who sought reforms.

The case continued to languish in the courts while disability advocates worried that the poorest school systems didn’t have enough to fund the bare essentials for special needs students, according to a New York Times account. The case ended in 1997 ― after Sessions won a senate seat.

In his speech before Congress, Sessions referenced letters he had received from educators in his home state to argue that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was preventing teachers from being able to properly discipline troubled or disruptive students.

Instead of creating a comforting classroom, he insisted, it was causing disorder and chaos. “We have children we cannot control because of this federal law,” he said. Sessions added that such federal protections “may be the single most irritating problem for teachers throughout America today.”

The law, which passed in 1975, was enacted to protect disabled children from the school administrators that Sessions cited. It required schools to grant students with disabilities an education in a general classroom when possible and encouraged the parents of those children to be more intimately involved in their education.

The legislation, which has been reformed various times since, is credited with providing millions of children with mainstream public school access and support.

Sessions’ floor statement ignored the views of education advocates in his own state and around the country who say they need the protection of federal regulations and the threat of lawsuits to get fair treatment for disabled children. Parents are often forced to seek remedies in court when schools refuse to comply with the law.

Alabama has continued to struggle with adequately teaching all of its students.

Candace Aylor, a veteran parent advocate and appointee to Texas’ health commission’s Behavioral Health Advisory Committee., called Sessions’ comments “heartless and misguided.”

“If he doesn’t recognize the need for schools to be required to provide a free and appropriate public education to all students regardless of disability what kind of society does he intend for us to live in?” she said. “What should we do? Should we put them in asylums again? How far back in history should we go? Are they not worthy? Are they defective in his mind?”

A spokesperson for Trump’s transition team did not return a request for comment. Sessions’ remarks from 2000 may place him far outside the mainstream when it comes to protections for disabled or troubled children. But his nominator notoriously mocked a reporter with physical disabilities while running for office.

Can You Have ADHD and Still Be a Good Student?

From Beyond BookSmart's
Executive Functioning Strategies Blog

November 28, 2016

Editor's Note: This week, we feature guest blogger Sean Potts, a student who graduated from Executive Function coaching support to full independence.

“But look at your grades… There’s no way you have ADHD!”

The amount of times I’ve heard this familiar phrase said in one way or another is astounding. What makes the co-existence of ADHD and academic achievement so difficult for others to fathom?

Well, first, it’s because of the misperceptions people have that every kid with ADHD always displays telltale behaviors: That student who interrupts the class every couple of minutes; that student who can’t focus on work for more than a moment without getting distracted; that individual who can’t listen to much of conversation before losing interest. Is this what you imagine? You’re certainly not alone. For many kids, this is the reality of living with an ADHD diagnosis.

But what lots of people don’t know, is that this is a reality that many of us learn to combat.

I was diagnosed with ADHD when I was twelve years old. At the time, I was precisely that stereotypical example I just described. If you need some help painting the details of that picture, let me guide your brush. My typical day in middle school consisted of being asked to leave the class frequently for being disruptive. I would try to make jokes, talk to my peers, and quite frankly drive the teacher insane. But the struggles didn’t stop when I got home – they just got worse.

I was nearly incapable of doing homework. The thought of trying to sit down for more than fifteen minutes and work on something thoroughly that I didn’t really care about was uncomfortable in theory, and agonizing in my practice. Outside of academics, I was extremely high energy across the board. I talked faster than the speed of light, yet I was virtually unable to participate in the listening side of conversation.

Overall, it’s fair to say that I was a bit of a hyperactive mess.

This all must be very hard to believe now for anyone at my college who knows me. I have been on the Dean’s list each semester thus far, I only speak during class when I am participating, and I am very attentive during conversations (if I do say so myself). This is what’s on the surface, but beneath it lies a hidden story.

It took years of hard work and coaching to train my executive function skills to be, at the very least, equivalent to my peers. Countless refills of my meds. Seemingly endless nights where procrastination catches up to me, forcing me to focus on piles of work with due dates mere hours away.

Yeah, so those are the experiences and efforts that have led me to success despite ADHD. But does that mean I am completely cured from my diagnosis?

Sadly, no. I don’t think that I will ever be “ADHD free”. That’s not really possible. It is a biological and cognitive issue that I have accepted will always be part of my genetic make up. And if the science couldn’t prove that, the daily interferences certainly have. Whether it be studying, time-management, organization, or writing papers, focus is an ongoing challenge. Even writing this piece required me to constantly refocus my attention.

But does that mean I am crippled by my diagnosis? Of course not! Despite all of this, ADHD has undoubtedly taught me the value of hard work and dedication to catalyze effective change. When you are diagnosed with something that seems to reflect poorly on your intellectual capabilities, it can be easy to get discouraged, but this is only because the misinformed societal stigma about ADHD has altered your perceptions.

Instead, it’s important to understand that the diagnosis does not mean that you are forever incapable of learning academic skills. I recommend understanding which aspects of ADHD you struggle with and then set incremental short-term goals that will help build those skills. This is easier said than done - but with help from a good coach, some hard work and, most importantly, full dedication, these skills will develop over time.

The difference between the individuals hindered by ADHD and the individuals succeeding despite it really comes down to the actions they take after their diagnosis.

For those who have the fortune of being free from any kind of learning disability, I invite you to rethink how you perceive ADHD. Instead of doubting someone’s diagnosis on the account of current successes you may see, feel inspired. Chances are, that person has been doing a ton of hard work behind the scenes.

So, if you find yourself asking, "Can you have ADHD and still be a good student?" - I'd say I'm living proof that a learning difference is no barrier to success.

Betsy DeVos and the Wrong Way to Fix Schools

From The New York Times

By Douglas N. Harris
November 25, 2016

"Students who participated in the voucher program had declines in achievement tests scores of eight to 16 percentile points. Since many of these students received vouchers through a lottery, these results are especially telling." 

Students in a classroom in a charter school in Detroit.
Credit: Joshua Lott for The New York Times

NEW ORLEANS — President-elect Donald J. Trump’s selection of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education has sent shock waves through the educational establishment. Understandably so, since this is a clear sign that Mr. Trump intends a major national push to direct public funds to private and charter schools.

But this is more than just a political or financial loss for traditional public schools. It will also most likely be a loss for students.

The choice of Ms. DeVos might not seem surprising. Mr. Trump has, after all, proposed $20 billion to finance “school choice” initiatives and Ms. DeVos supports these ideas. Yet of all the candidates the transition team was apparently considering, Ms. DeVos has easily the worst record.

As one of the architects of Detroit’s charter school system, she is partly responsible for what even charter advocates acknowledge is the biggest school reform disaster in the country. At least some of the other candidates for education secretary, like Michelle Rhee, the former District of Columbia schools chancellor, led reforms that were accompanied by improved student results.

Consider this: Detroit is one of many cities in the country that participates in an objective and rigorous test of student academic skills, called the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The other cities participating in the urban version of this test, including Baltimore, Cleveland and Memphis, are widely considered to be among the lowest-performing school districts in the country.

Detroit is not only the lowest in this group of lowest-performing districts on the math and reading scores, it is the lowest by far. One well-regarded study found that Detroit’s charter schools performed at about the same dismal level as its traditional public schools.

The situation is so bad that national philanthropists interested in school reform refuse to work in Detroit. As someone who has studied the city’s schools and used to work there, I am saddened by all this.

The situation is not entirely Ms. DeVos’s fault, of course, but she is widely seen as the main driver of the entire state’s school overhaul. She devised Detroit’s system to run like the Wild West. It’s hardly a surprise that the system, which has almost no oversight, has failed. Schools there can do poorly and still continue to enroll students.

Also, after more than a decade of Ms. DeVos’s getting her way on a host of statewide education policies, Michigan has the dubious distinction of being one of 5 states with declining reading scores.

In contrast, consider the case of New Orleans, where virtually all the schools are charters. Here, the state has taken over about a third of charter schools because of poor results since the system was revamped in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Also, while the system initially had limited oversight and worked poorly, local leaders now take extensive steps to facilitate a fair process of school choice, help prevent schools from cherry-picking students and manage a centralized student expulsion system. In other words, the system provides some oversight to help ensure that families have good schools to choose from.

The New Orleans results have been impressive. In the decade after the reforms, the city’s standardized test scores have increased by eight to 15percentile points and moved the district from the bottom to almost the state average on many measures. High school graduation and college entry rates also seem to have improved significantly, even while suspensions, expulsions and the rate of students switching schools have all dropped.

Detroit and New Orleans represent radically different versions of school choice — and the one that seems to work is the one that uses the state oversight that Ms. DeVos opposes.

New Orleans is also important because it is the only city in the country where we can compare the results for charter schools with the approach Ms. DeVos prefers even more — school vouchers.

In a study my center released this year, researchers found that the statewide Louisiana voucher program had exactly the opposite result as the New Orleans charter reforms. Students who participated in the voucher program had declines in achievement tests scores of eight to 16 percentile points. Since many of these students received vouchers through a lottery, these results are especially telling.

Louisiana is one of two states where statewide voucher programs have been studied. In Ohio, the results were also negative (though less so). These statewide programs provide the best point of comparison for any national program that the new administration might propose.

This evidence should create a real problem for Ms. DeVos in her confirmation hearings. Fortunately, even if she is confirmed, the low level of federal funding devoted to education will limit the new administration’s ability to pursue these policies. Also, any real expansion of unregulated vouchers will require action both by state governments and by Congress.

But you don’t have to be in the educational establishment to be worried about where this is going. The DeVos nomination is a triumph of ideology over evidence that should worry anyone who wants to improve results for children.


Douglas N. Harris, a professor of economics at Tulane University, is the founding director of the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Secretary of Education Calls for End to Corporal Punishment

From Jim Gerl's Special Education Law Blog

By Jim Gerl, Esq.
November 25, 2016

"In nearly all of the states where the practice is permitted, students with disabilities were subjected to corporal punishment at a higher rate than students without disabilities."

On November 22, 2016, Secretary of Education John King sent a letter to Chief State Education Officers and Governors calling for an end to corporal punishment.

The letter states,

"Corporal punishment has been banned in 28 states and D.C., and has been abandoned by individual districts in many others. Despite that progress, more than 110,000 students across the country were subjected to corporal punishments in 2013-14, according to the latest version of the Department’s Civil Rights Data Collection.

What’s more alarming is that the CRDC shows that corporal punishment is used overwhelmingly on male students and is much more commonly administered to African-American students of all genders.

In nearly all of the states where the practice is permitted, students with disabilities were subjected to corporal punishment at a higher rate than students without disabilities."

Read the letter here.

Listen to the audio of the press conference here.

After a Suicide Attempt, the Risk of Another Try

From The N.Y. Times Family Blog "Well"

By Jane E. Brody
November 7, 2016

My family is no stranger to suicide and suicide attempts, and we are not alone. To recount just two instances:

A 20-year-old nephew, after receiving a very caring letter from his sister-in-law explaining why she could not be his lover, went to his room, shot himself in the head and died.

A beloved uncle, who had been plagued for years by bouts of severedepression that alternated with mild mania, was seen at a major hospital psychiatric clinic on a Friday and told to come back on Monday. Instead, he took every pill in the house and lay down on a rock jetty in the ocean waiting to die. Luckily, he was found alive by the police, and after hospitalization, a proper diagnosis and treatment forbipolar disorder, he lived into his 80s.

Suicide surpasses homicide in this country. Every 13 minutes someone in the United States dies by his own hand, making suicide the nation’s 10th leading cause of death over all (42,773 deaths in 2015), but second among those aged 15 to 34.

Among children aged 10 to 14, the suicide rate has caught up to the death rate from traffic accidents.

Many times that number – more than a million adults and 8 percent of high school students — attempt suicide each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet a woeful minority receive the kind of treatment and attention needed to keep them from repeating a suicide attempt.

A common yet highly inaccurate belief is that people who survive a suicide attempt are unlikely to try again. In fact, just the opposite is true. Within the first three months to a year following a suicide attempt, people are at highest risk of a second attempt — and this time perhaps succeeding.

A recent analysis of studies that examined successful suicides among those who made prior attempts found that one person in 25 had a fatal repeat attempt within five years.

Now a new study reveals just how lethal suicide attempts, as a risk factor for completed suicide, are. The study, led by Dr. J. Michael Bostwick, a psychiatrist at the Mayo Clinic, tracked all first suicide attempts in one county in Minnesota that occurred between January 1986 and December 2007 and recorded all the deaths by suicide for up to 25 years thereafter.

Eighty-one of the 1,490 people who attempted suicide, or 5.4 percent, died by suicide, 48 of them in their first attempt. The findings were reported in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

When all who succeeded in killing themselves were counted, including those who died in their first attempt, the fatality rate among suicide attempters was nearly 59 percent higher than had been previously reported.

“No one had included people who died on their first recorded attempt, so it’s not in the medical literature,” Dr. Bostwick explained in an interview. “That almost two-thirds end up at the medical coroner after a first attempt is astounding. We need to rethink how we look at the data and the phenomenon of suicide. We need to know more and do more for those who will complete suicide before they get to us for any kind of help.”

The study also showed that the odds of successfully committing suicide are 140 times greater when a gun is used than for any other method. Dr. Bostwick said that most suicide attempts are “impulsive acts, and it’s critical to prevent access to tools that make impulsive attempts more deadly.

“Suicide attempters often have second thoughts, but when a method like a gun works so effectively, there’s no opportunity to reconsider,” he said.

In an accompanying editorial entitled You seldom get a second chance with a gunshot,” Dr. Merete Nordentoft, a mental health specialist in Copenhagen, and her co-authors wrote that “a suicidal act is the result of a temporary state of the mind.”

Given “the high lethality of guns,” they urged that availability should be restricted through such measures as “legal restrictions regarding permission to purchase firearms, waiting periods, safe storage, background checks and registration guidelines.” Such measures have been linked to decreased rates of firearm suicides.

“Most people who attempt suicide change their mind,” they wrote, adding that “most often, firearms do not allow for a change of mind or medical attention to arrive in time. It is, thus, alarming that 21,175 (51 percent) persons who died by suicide in the U.S. in 2013 used firearms.”

In the Minnesota study, men were more than five times as likely to die by suicide as women; they were also more likely to use a gun. However, women who used guns were as likely to die as a result as were the men.

Equally if not more important to preventing successful suicide is paying attention to premonitory signs of suicidal intent and taking appropriate action to diffuse it. People who are depressed, who abuse substances like alcohol or illegal drugs or are having serious relationship difficulties should be considered high risk, Dr. Bostwick said.

In urging practicing physicians to pay more attention to the mental health of their patients, Dr. Catherine Goertemiller Carrigan and Denis J. Lynch wrote in the Primary Care Companion Journal of Clinical Psychiatry that “over 90 percent of persons who commit suicide have diagnosable psychiatric illness at the time of death.”

Psychiatrists, too, need to pay more attention to physical ills, they wrote. “Up to 50 percent of patients with psychiatric complaints have been found to harbor unrecognized medical illnesses that may have contributed to their mental deterioration,” yet fewer than one in five psychiatrists routinely perform physical examinations.

But more often than not, family members and friends are in the best position to spot a potential suicide and take steps to head it off. In addition to depression and substance abuse, signs include making statements (verbal or written) of being better off dead; withdrawing from family and friends; feeling helpless, hopeless, enraged, trapped, excessively guilty or ashamed; losing interest in most activities; acting impulsively or recklessly; and giving away prized possessions.

Most important is to take the person or your suspicions seriously and get immediate professional help even if the person resists. Unless you are a mental health professional, don’t assume you can talk the person out of suicidal intent.

For those who attempt suicide, the chances of a subsequent suicidal death are greatly reduced if one or more follow-up appointments are scheduled, and even further reduced if the person keeps the appointments, Dr. Bostwick said.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

People Do Well If They Can

From The Huffington Post

By Janine Francolini
Founder of the Flawless Foundation

October 12, 2016

As parents, teachers, or anyone who interacts with children on a regular basis, we often find ourselves in situations where we are trying to motivate a child to go along with the group, follow the rules, or behave appropriately for the circumstances. How do we typically do this?

The conventional methods usually involve positive incentives, such as the promise of a reward, or negative incentives, such as the promise of punishment for noncompliance.

But what happens when these approaches just aren’t working and the challenging behaviors — the temper outbursts or defiance— spiral out of control at home or in the classroom?

Many of us face this difficult situation, where it seems we’ve exhausted all the possibilities, but nothing has worked. In response to seeing thousands of parents and children, teachers and students and therapists arrive at this challenging behavior impasse, Dr. Stuart Ablon , the director of Think:Kids at Massachusetts General Hospital has questioned the foundational assumptions behind how we approach behavior modification, and developed a very effective evidence based approach that is an alternate solution..

Although we may not realize it, the underlying assumption behind rewards and incentives or timeouts and other punishments is that kids have control over how they behave. And this is not always true. We assume that children make a choice each time they misbehave — in effect, that “kids do well if they want to” — when for many kids, it’s simply not a matter of choice.

For certain children, no matter how much they want to behave well, they lack the cognitive or adaptive skills to be able to do so. Whether it’s impulse control, frustration tolerance, flexibility, or problem solving, if one of these skills is underdeveloped, that child may not be capable of positive behavior, no matter how motivated he or she is.

Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) comes at challenging behavior from a different point of view with the very powerful philosophy of “kids do well if they can.” Assume for a moment every child already, naturally, has all the motivation they will ever need to behave well. The desire is there, but, due to skill deficits, some children aren’t able to meet whatever behavioral expectations or criteria are set out.

Can you imagine anything more frustrating?

Despite putting forth his or her best effort, rewards remain out of reach, punishment follows punishment, and the child’s motivation to behave gradually dwindles, self esteem is affected and most importantly the relationship between the child and the adult is compromised.

With the CPS approach, the focus shifts from “How can I motivate this child to behave well?” to “How can we work together to train and accommodate for the skills that this child lacks right now?” Not only that, CPS provides a framework, a step-by-step process that can be applied to any situation.

So, while it’s a radical paradigm shift from how we traditionally think about behavior management, it also takes us back to basics. It’s a tool that helps facilitate communication and rethinking the problem together with solutions often generated from the child. And the beauty of it is that it’s a method that everyone can learn, practice and apply.

Our mission at the Flawless Foundation is to revolutionize the way the world perceives, prevents, and treats brain-based behavioral challenges.

We believe that begins at the grassroots level, when each of us starts changing the conversation about behavior that doesn’t fit into the box of “normal.” If we can go from the question, “How can I stop this child from misbehaving?” to “How can I improve my relationship with this child and collaborate with them?” it opens the door to increased understanding and trust.

When we ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, “How can we empower kids to do the best they can?” and make use of innovative and effective tools like CPS, we can make real strides toward building relationships, families, schools, and a world where everyone is understood and embraced as flawless.

Hear more about the power of CPS in this video.

Erik Kola, R.N., C.M.H.P., speaks about the value of the
Collaborative Problem Solving approach for parents and educators.

Cities Warned on Restricting Group Homes

From DisabilityScoop

By Michelle Diament
November 18, 2016

Homes where people with disabilities live should not face requirements or conditions different from those where typically-developing individuals reside, according to new federal guidance. 

In a 20-page question-and-answer document issued jointly this month, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Housing and Urban Development are clarifying state and local government responsibilities under the Fair Housing Act when it comes to zoning and land use laws.

The guidance is an update to a similar document first released in 1999. While it touches on housing discrimination broadly, more than half of the questions addressed focus specifically on the rights of people with disabilities.

The Fair Housing Act bars discrimination based on disability, and that applies whether or not such individuals live in group home situations, the agencies said.

Local ordinances prohibiting group homes in single-family neighborhoods or limiting group homes for those with particular disabilities violate the law.

Likewise, excluding people “based upon fear, speculation or stereotype about a particular disability or persons with disabilities in general” is not allowed, the guidance indicates.

States and municipalities may violate the law if they do not provide reasonable accommodations so that people with disabilities “have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling,” the agencies said. This may mean bending rules on how many unrelated people may live together in a home, for example.

Nonetheless, the guidance acknowledges that there are legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons that communities might question the location of a group home such as increased demand for on-street parking in a neighborhood where parking is limited.

In these situations, local officials must allow the group home to address the concerns and weigh whether other types of dwellings would be denied accommodations in similar circumstances.

“The Fair Housing Act helps protect open, free and integrated communities,” said Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Government officials, housing providers and the general public need to understand how land use and zoning decisions can create barriers to equal housing opportunity. We hope this guidance will help communities make these decisions free from discrimination.”

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Child Psychiatrists: If Kids are Feeling Anxious After Election, How to Help

From WBUR 90.9 FM's Blog "CommonHealth"

By Carey Goldberg
November 10, 2016

Elections are, above all, political moments, but each one offers parenting moments as well. That's certainly the case with this one. One Boston-area mother told me Wednesday morning: "My son has been very worried about Donald Trump, who he calls 'the bully.' I've been telling him not to worry. The bully wouldn't win."

What could she tell him now? For about half the country, Trump's victory was cause for celebration, but for many in the other half, it was a source of shock and trepidation — including for many young people, to the point that Boston school administrators offered post-election counseling and support.

Dr. Gene Beresin, director of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Mass. General Hospital, says a colleague texted him that her 5-year-old daughter "woke up petrified" Wednesday because she was convinced — apparently by kids at school — that Trump would make her leave the country because she has brown skin.

How to respond?

Beresin and Dr. Steve Schlozman, the Clay Center's associate director, begin with reassurance: "This is not the 'Hunger Games,' " Schlozman has been telling his teen patients in recent weeks, in sessions that he says sometimes sounded a bit like civics class. Dystopian apocalyptic stories are fun to read and watch, he's been telling them, but they're not helpful in the real world.

"So I help kids remember the sun will come up," he says (and he was using that phrase even before President Obama did.) "People will go to school, there will be jobs," he says. He has also been talking about checks and balances, and the limits to presidential power.

For younger children, the message may be as simple as "reminding them that things are going to be OK," Schlozman says. "Often, that's all younger kids need to know."

He adds:

"Remember that kids get more from the furrows in your brow than they do from the words that come out of your mouth. That means that you reassure them, but don't feel that you can't show them your emotions around this election. If you're bummed out, you can tell them that. And, if you're not disappointed, by all means let them know that you're glad about the results.

The great thing about our system -- and you can tell kids this because they'll understand, is that in an election -- someone wins and someone loses, and it's that decision that allows us to get things done. We can be happy or sad about who wins or loses, but we don't do our kids any favors if we act like their world is going to change overnight.

Remember: Their world already does change overnight — every night. They have enough change to deal with just by growing up.

If they see that you look worried, and if they look concerned, you can say something like "You're right. I am a little worried, but these are adult worries. We're fine and I promise to tell you if that changes." Then, always remember to follow that up with, "Do you have any questions you want to ask me?" This is a chance to model civility and empathy and connectedness. That's as good a lesson for life as any."

And what about children who may feel particular fear because they belong to categories targeted by Trump's campaign rhetoric — Muslims, Mexicans?

Beresin suggests explaining that many people, even prominent people like Trump, are afraid of people who are different from them. They do not understand that when you're afraid of someone who's different, he says, "It really means that you need to get to know them, and to understand that we are all different."

Jennifer Tsappis, a psychiatric social worker on Boston's North Shore who specializes in kids, agrees that this may be a moment to emphasize empathy and explain why some may lack it.

  • Explain that it can help to focus on good thoughts and get more people involved in things that have a positive effect.
  • Talk about ways to help, take action or advocate for issues that are important to them. Encourage volunteering, advocacy and standing up for yourself and others who are hurt.

Postscript: I asked parents on the school Facebook page in my heavily Democratic town what they were telling their kids today. One shared an educator's blog post, titled "What Should We Tell The Children?"

Another, Miranda Daniloff Mancusi, wrote in part:

"The fact that we can change government in a relatively peaceful way is still part of why we love this country. There are going to be a lot of anxious adults and a lot of anxiety because we don't know how this will play out. So we all have to decide, each one of us, how we will respond to our worries. Some people need to talk. Some people will want to take action. Think about the actions, even if they are small ones, that express your values — whether it is saying hello to the shy kid in the lunch room or helping at the food pantry.

Many Trump supporters are good people who want change and things to get better, and those are the ones we need to work with and find common ground with. If you need extra hugs or need to talk, Daddy and I are always here."

What School Segregation Has to Do with the Rise of Donald Trump

From The Huffington Post

By Rebecca Klein, Education Editor
November 15, 2016

Donald Trump’s personal life ― in all likelihood ― has not been directly impacted by the patterns of public school segregation. Trump attended a private school in Queens as a child, before transferring to a private military boarding school as a teen. His four older kids attended private high schools, and his youngest is also currently enrolled at a private school in Manhattan. 

But his rise to power ― as the nation’s newest president-elect ― is likely related to the dismantling of school desegregation policies, according to several researchers and academics who study school diversity.

In recent years, integration of schools has largely been abandoned as a national priority ― an indicator that various racial groups are spending less time interacting. This lack of familiarity makes it easy for students, parents and stakeholders to demonize groups who don’t look like them ― a staple of Trump’s campaign, said Gary Orfield, distinguished professor and co-director of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA.

“The American dream is very, very similar across racial and ethnic lines. People who actually experience interracial contact, especially under appropriate conditions, develop more positive attitudes,” said Orfield, who has been studying this issue for decades.

“Racial segregation fosters prejudice and false understandings.”

Trump’s strategy to embolden racists with hate rhetoric ― speaking of Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and proposing a ban on Muslims entering the country ― did not become a winning one in a vacuum.

In part, the dismantling of school desegregation efforts ― coupled with demographic changes that have resulted in the country being more diverse ― may have created the landscape that allowed Trump’s racially-charged agenda to thrive.

However, when people from different groups spend time together ― whether it be at a school soccer game or PTA meeting ― prejudices typically fade. Latinos ― who bore the brunt of much of Trump’s rhetoric ― are especially segregated in schools. Because of this isolation and a sustained population surge, it makes sense that Latinos have been targeted by Trump and his supporters, says Orfield.

The average Latino student attends a school that is 57 percent Latino, while the average white student attends a school that is 73 percent white ― suggesting that these two populations are not often in situations where they are raising families together.

Decades of evidence on racial integration suggest that racially integrated school environments reduce racial prejudice and bias, according to Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a public policy research group.

“That’s been a major setback in this country where we’ve seen resegregation by race and class in the public schools,” Kahlenberg said. This can open the door to “scapegoat minorities.”

Trump’s election has emboldened racists so much so that in the days since November 8, a rash of racial and religiously-based hate crimes have broken out around the country. Research shows that GOP voters who feel most warmly about Trump seem to have the most negative attitudes about immigrants, Islam and living in a majority-minority nation.

In schools’ demographics we see how these negative attitudes may have been borne. Between 1968 and 2011, there was a 28 percent decline in white public school enrollment, and a 495 percent increase in levels of Latino students, according to Orfield’s research.

Nationwide, school populations now have a majority of minority children. Black students in regions like the south and west are now more segregated than they were in the late 80s and 90s; schools in the northeast are more segregated than they were before 1968.

This is partly because Brown v. Board of Education ― the supreme court case that made state-sanctioned segregation unconstitutional in 1954 ― only dealt with the question of white and black students, making Latinos largely invisible in subsequent school desegregation policies.

“We just assumed we could go through this very dramatic demographic change without really working on it, from either side really,” Orfield said. “Its been a change so dramatic and so fast, I think many whites are stunned. Especially older whites, they think their society is going away. And it is. We’re creating a different society.”

But it’s not just in schools where populations can be exposed to diversity. In previous decades, the military brought together groups from different racial and economic backgrounds, Kahlenberg said. Once the draft ended in 1973, the military no longer served such a function.

Religious institutions, too, could make a difference in promoting racial tolerance, although there is little indication that this is happening, said Matthew Delmont, a professor of history at Arizona State University.

“We’re really left with public schools as the place where people of different backgrounds can come together and learn from one another,” Kahlenberg said.

The most recent election cycle has brought explicit hate back into the national discourse, Delmont said. Schools could provide a long-term solution to this by providing “more daily interactions across racial and ethnic lines,” he said. There’s opportunity for more nuanced and informed conversations to take place.

“Watching how the debates unfolded in this last presidential cycle, white Americans and people of color are talking past each other and fundamentally understand issues of race and prejudice in very different terms,” said Delmont, who wrote a book about resistance to school desegregation in the north. He said he couldn’t guarantee that racially integrated schools would change the political outlook, but it does encourage people to talk to each other.

“When you have conditions of segregation as we do in this country,” he said, “It’s easy for people to let their fears dominate how they view the world.”


Friday, November 25, 2016

Shared Epigenetic Changes Underlie Different Types of Autism

From Cell Press
via ScienceDaily

November 17, 2016

Individuals with both rare and common types of autism spectrum disorder share a similar set of epigenetic modifications in the brain, according to a study published November 17 in Cell.

More than 68% of ASD cases shared a common histone acetylation pattern
at 5,000 gene loci, despite the wide range of genetic and environmental
causes of ASD. Credit: © thinglass / Fotolia

More than 68% of individuals with different types of autism spectrum disorder show evidence of the same pattern of histone acetylation -- a chemical modification of the protein scaffold around which DNA wraps.

The findings suggest that a single global epigenetic pattern affecting shared molecular pathways in the brain could underlie diverse manifestations of this psychiatric disease.

"We find epigenetic changes that are present in most patients with autism spectrum disorder, or ASD," says co-senior study author Shyam Prabhakar of the Genome Institute of Singapore.

"This suggests that, despite tremendous heterogeneity in the primary causes of autism, such as DNA mutations and environmental perturbations during development, ASD has molecular features that are commonly shared. It is encouraging that ASD has common molecular changes, because this opens up the possibility of designing drugs to correct these changes."

Various genetic and environmental factors are known to contribute to ASD. Many studies have focused on structural changes to the genome or DNA sequence variants in protein-coding genes, but these mutations are rare and account for only a small fraction of cases. As a result, scientists have proposed that epigenetic modifications -- changes in gene activity that do not affect the DNA sequence -- play an important role in ASD.

However, many epigenetic studies have focused on a chemical modification of DNA known as methylation, ignoring other important changes that could affect the activity of genes implicated in psychiatric disease.

In the new study, Prabhakar and co-senior study author Daniel Geschwind of the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, explored the potential role of histone acetylation in ASD. The researchers focused their analysis on an acetylation mark called H3K27ac because it is implicated in gene activation.

They performed an epigenome-wide search for H3K27ac in post-mortem brain tissue samples from the prefrontal cortex, temporal cortex, and cerebellar cortex of individuals with ASD, along with control subjects, aged 10 years and above.

The findings showed that more than 68% of ASD cases shared a common histone acetylation pattern at 5,000 gene loci, despite the wide range of genetic and environmental causes of ASD.

By analyzing BrainSpan, an atlas of the developing human brain, they found that gene activation at or near 12 months after birth, which corresponds to the stage of synapse formation and neuronal maturation, was particularly strongly associated with increased acetylation in the ASD brain.

"This is the first large-scale study of how histone acetylation in the brain differs between disease and control samples, and part of a wave of new studies examining how the epigenome is perturbed in various diseases," Geschwind says. "Epigenome profiling has allowed us to see shared, unifying themes in what is often considered to be an amalgam of many different diseases rather than one single disease."

To achieve this milestone, the researchers had to overcome several hurdles. For one, it has only been in recent years that sequencing technology has become affordable enough for this kind of analysis. They also surmounted major challenges to build a robust experimental and computational pipeline and assemble a team with the right combination of expertise.

This study is part of the larger collection of International Human Epigenetics Consortium papers, which demonstrate the value of epigenome profiling and reveal insights into disease origins and mechanisms and also potential treatments.

While this tour-de-force study provided an understanding of the molecular changes shared across autism, it stopped short of providing an understanding whether these modifications play a causal role in ASD or are associated with other disease processes and how exactly they contribute to various symptoms. The authors are planning follow-up experiments to test these questions.

Because these epigenomic abnormalities point to specific genes and pathways that are altered in the ASD brain, some of them could turn out to be novel drug targets. Moreover, the study suggests that epigenetic drugs, which are increasingly entering the market as a result of discoveries in the cancer field, could potentially be re-purposed for the treatment of ASD.

"Currently there are no approved drug treatments specifically for ASD, but we do hope that studies such as ours, as well as the downstream work that is surely needed, will eventually lead to new treatments," Prabhakar says.

Journal Reference
  • Wenjie Sun, Jeremie Poschmann, Ricardo Cruz-Herrera del Rosario, Neelroop N. Parikshak, Hajira Shreen Hajan, Vibhor Kumar, Ramalakshmi Ramasamy, T. Grant Belgard, Bavani Elanggovan, Chloe Chung Yi Wong, Jonathan Mill, Daniel H. Geschwind, Shyam Prabhakar. Histone Acetylome-wide Association Study of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Cell, 2016; 167 (5): 1385 DOI:10.1016/j.cell.2016.10.031