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Thursday, May 31, 2018

Commentary: What to Consider When Choosing a College If Your Child Learns Differently

From The 74 Million

By MacLean Gander
May 29, 2018

Teen students take a tour of the University of Southern California.

With millions of high school students about to transition to the college experience, graduates are scrambling to figure out which school to attend. With so many factors to consider — cost, location, majors, job placement — the choice isn’t easy.

But for soon-to-be college students with a diagnosed learning difference, the decision is even more complex. Choosing the right school and preparing for the transition can make all the difference between failure and success.

There are three main considerations for someone with a learning difference: how to make sure a college is the right fit, how to prepare for one of the most important transitions that anyone experiences in life, and how to make sure you have a good plan and strategies to support your success.

What to Look For in a College

All colleges have disability support officers, but only a few cater specifically to individuals with learning differences and offer broad support.

It’s important to consider carefully what level of support a student is likely to need and to be realistic about how great the challenge is in transitioning from high school and home to college and the residence hall.

It’s not uncommon for students to want to attend a large university, with all the excitement it can offer, even when they may find a better academic home at a smaller school more focused on teaching to their learning differences. Support for learning differences is a key question, but it’s also important to weigh the usual factors — curriculum and majors, class size, residential life, and the school culture.

Some colleges offer smaller classes, provide strong support for the first-year transition, and have a culture of diversity. Larger universities may offer all kinds of social life, sports programs, the appeal of living in a big college town — and may mainly hold classes in large lecture halls and have levels of bureaucracy that can make finding help a more challenging process.

Perhaps the most important thing is to spend time at every college you are closely considering, meet with key support staff, and get a feel for the campus culture. Deciding what college to attend is a major life decision in so many ways.

There is no way to be certain you have made the right choice, but the more homework you do and the more time you spend on campus interacting with staff, faculty, and students, the more likely it is that you’ll be confident in your decision — and that may be the most important thing of all.

Preparing for College

Once you’ve made a decision, don’t wait until August to prepare. For students, this means really thinking about what it will mean to be living away from home and adjusting to the challenge of a much higher level of academic work in a context where you are expected to be independent.

Perhaps the most important thing is to learn to practice self-advocacy. Once you’re in college, you have to seek out help — it does not come to you.

Ideally, you would talk with Disability Support Services and begin the process of working out accommodations.

It’s also important for families and students to talk about their expectations, which may be different. What preconceptions are there about the balance between social life and academics?

To succeed in college, a student with learning differences should expect to attend every class and work about two hours outside of class for every hour of class time — as much as 40 hours a week.

Because there is so much to do, it’s easy to lose track of how much work is required to do well, especially because the kind of regular monitoring and accountability built into high school is not typical in college. These are discussions families and students should have the summer before college, to try to come to some consensus.

Making the Transition

Choosing a college and making good preparations to attend requires real work and thought. Being realistic about the nature of the transition is essential.

If a student has received a lot of support for self-management and work completion at home, what skills and strategies will he or she have in order to operate independently? What support from home can still be expected? What are the campus supports, and how will the student access them? What are the student’s strategies for reading, studying, taking tests, and completing written work? What academic toolbox is the student bringing?

Each family with a college-bound student will answer these questions in different ways. The important thing is to ask the questions, have open, forthright conversations about them, and come up with some answers.

Students with learning differences aren’t the only ones at risk of failing — a significant percentage of mainstream students fail to graduate from their four-year colleges within six years. But learning differences place a student at particular risk.

With the right research and the right preparation, any student with learning differences can find a good fit and prosper. But it takes work, and the time for that work to start is coming up very quickly.

MacLean Gander is a professor of writing at Landmark College.

Modern Parenting: Moving Beyond the Standards of Screen Time

From NESCA News & Notes

By Jacquelyn Reinert, Psy.D., LMHC
May 21, 2018

Content is king. Not all content is created equal.

Recently I received a sweet, hand-made Mother’s Day gift from my son. On small pieces of paper, he meticulously filled in a series of incomplete sentences, ranging from “My mom can do many things. I think she’s best at making art” to “Did you know that my mom is a sicalligist (psychologist)?” and, “My mom is super smart! She knows that kids should have two hours of screen time.”

“Two hours of screen time” has been successfully drilled into each adult responsible for monitoring a child’s technology use thanks to a successful media push by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Since October of 2013, AAP has held a firm stance on screen time, indicating that children over the age of two should be limited to two hours of screen time.

Over time, the guidelines once again shifted in 2016 to ensure that no child under the age of 18 months should have access to screen time, referencing research that indicated technology could have a profound effect on brain development.

Despite these significant implications, screen use among 0 to 8-year-old children continues to grow. In a large-scale study of screen use in the United States, researchers at CommonSense Media (2017) found that on average, children under two spend approximately 42 minutes per day on “screen media use”.

Of that time, approximately 58 minutes is spent watching television, 17 minutes are spent watching DVDs, 48 minutes are on a mobile device, 10 minutes on a computer, and 6 minutes on a video game player. For kids ages 2 to 4, total screen media use clocks in at 2 hours and 39 minutes; for 5 to eight-year old’s, 2 hours and 56 minutes.

AAP has once again shifted their policy regarding media, permitting use of video-chat, such as FaceTime and video conferencing to facilitate social communication with family members living far away. They encourage adults to provide the social context for little ones. Further, an emphasis on type of content has been further reinforced; Sesame Street is different than Power Rangers,

Finding a balance is key; you should feel comfortable putting on a 20-minute show while you prepare dinner, whereas allowing kids to binge before bedtime is heavily frowned upon by pediatricians.

According to parents surveyed in the research conducted by CommonSense Media, nearly half of all children 8 and under often watch television or play video games during the hour leading up to bedtime. While outcomes vary, researchers have found that using any device at bedtime is associated with a statistically significant increased use of technology in the middle of the night, compromising sleep quantity and quality (Fuller, Lehman, Hicks, & Novick, 2017).

Further, research also suggests that excessive television viewing in early childhood has negative implications on cognitive, language, and social/emotional development (Conners-Burrow, McKelvey, & Fussell, 2011).

So how do we provide the structure and balance for kids, particularly for our youngest viewers? One of the best ways is to track current usage to better inform decision-making.

One easy-to-use application is the “Media Time Calculator” (see below) developed by This application allows adults (in English and in Spanish) to calculate the amount of time your child spends on various activities, such as school, reading, homework time, unstructured time, chores, etc. to better inform how much “extra time” is permitted in a child’s day for media  time. 

Most importantly, decide what is most appropriate for your family and stick with your plan. Avoid using technology as a bartering tool for compliance or tacking on “extra time” for good behavior.

Another easy way to determine what content should be emphasized first is to have discussions with kids about what should “count” towards screen time. In our household, playing a movement-based game on the Wii, such as Wii Sports, doesn’t count towards the daily “two hours,” neither is playing a chess app on the iPad or solving math problems on

Armed with this information, you can then develop a Family Media Plan for both adults, teens, and children in the home:

About the Author

Dr. Jacki Reinert is a Pediatric Neuropsychology Postdoctoral Fellow at NESCA who assists with neuropsychological and psychological (projective) assessments. Dr. Reinert also co-facilitates parent child groups and provides clinical consultation.

Before joining NESCA, Dr. Reinert worked in a variety of clinical settings, including therapeutic schools, residential treatment programs and in community mental health providing individual and group therapy. She has comprehensive training in psychological assessment, conducting testing with children, adolescents, and transitional-aged adults with complex trauma.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Imaging Approaches Expand View into Brain’s Complexity

From Spectrum News

By Marissa Fessenden
May 25, 2018

Four new imaging techniques published over the past few months enable researchers to easily visualize cells and other features in tissue slices and living brains.

One team of researchers built a 3-D brain atlas at single-cell resolution using a chemical cocktail that expands mouse brain tissue and renders it transparent.

The team evaluated more than 1,500 chemicals before choosing two — imidazole and antipyrine — that together expand brain tissue and make it transparent without distorting the samples. They applied this chemical mix to whole mouse brains. The mice ranged in age from 1 week to 6 months.

The researchers then labeled the nucleus of every cell with a dye that makes DNA glow red in the brains of mice. They created an image of each brain using a fluorescent microscope.

An algorithm identified and counted every cell in the images to create a 3-D digital brain. The program mapped cells to coordinates in the Allen Institute for Brain Science’s Mouse Brain Atlas. The result is an ensemble of points representing cells in the mouse brain.

Existing brain atlases typically contain a lot of data because of their detailed images, making them difficult to edit. Constructing a digital brain cell by cell decreased its size to less than 3 gigabytes. The atlas also uses open-source code, making it easy to update with information about cell types, gene expression and neuronal connections.

The researchers unveiled the so-called CUBIC-Atlas 5 March in Nature Neuroscience (1).

Cleared Cranium

A different chemical cocktail also renders human brain tissue transparent. The mixture has three principal ingredients: one chemical that partly unravels proteins and two others that minimize scattering as light moves through structures of varying density.

Various fluorescent tags enable imaging of different cell types in brain-tissue slices. The mixture works on both fresh tissue and tissue that was preserved 50 years ago. The researchers described their method in March in Nature Communications (2).

Yet another set of chemicals makes bone transparent, enabling researchers to see into the brains of living mice.

Current approaches require researchers to either cut a window into the skull or shave bone until the skull is thin enough to see through. But both methods can trigger inflammation.

For mice younger than 20 days, an enzyme called collagenase can dissolve collagen in the developing skull. For older mice, a chemical called EDTA disodium can remove calcium from bone.

Researchers applied the appropriate chemical after cutting away a portion of the scalp; 15 minutes later, the skull was clear.

Using a microscopy technique called two-photon imaging, the researchers saw protrusions on the branching arms of neurons up to 250 microns below the brain’s surface. These protrusions allow neurons to receive input from one another. The team also could see immune cells called microglia.

The mice showed no signs of inflammation, the researchers reported in Light: Science & Applications (3). The treated tissue regrows, and the method can be repeated.

Seeing Spaces

A fourth new method makes brain fluid fluoresce to reveal the fluid-filled spaces surrounding cells.

The brain’s extracellular space makes up 15 to 30 percent of its volume. The space holds ions, nutrients and signaling molecules, but its function is not well understood due to a lack of techniques to study it.

Researchers injected a fluorescent molecule into brain slices from mice. The molecule diffuses throughout the extracellular space but does not pass through cell membranes. The extracellular space glows when the molecules are excited by a laser beam.

The researchers used a technique called STED microscopy, which produces sharp, white images of extracellular space and dark, crisp shadows where cells and their connections exist. Reversing the exposure highlights the cells instead of the space.

Time-lapse imaging enabled the researchers to watch microglial cells wend their way to an injury site. They also observed previously unseen volume changes in the extracellular space after they provoked seizure-like activity in brain slices.

The technique might one day work in living mice, the researchers wrote in Cell (4).

  1. Murakami T.C. et al. Nat. Neurosci. 21, 625-637 (2018) PubMed
  2. Lai H.M. et al. Nat. Commun. 9, 1066 (2018) PubMed
  3. Zhao Y. et al. Light: Science & Applications 7, 17153 (2018) Full text
  4. Tønnesen J. et al. Cell 172, 1108-1121 (2018) PubMed

School Discipline Without Racial Equity is Discrimination

From The Century Foundation

By Kimberly Quick
May 21, 2018

Before her morning class began, Connsuela Bautista headed straight to the principal’s office.

The day before, the Southeastern Randolph Middle School girl had gotten into an altercation with another student. Though the school allowed Connsuela to go home and return to campus the next day, determining that the conflict was not likely to escalate, she was met at the principal’s office by sheriff’s deputies the next morning.

Acting with teenage frustration, Connsuela began to curse at the cops, and pulled out her cell phone to call her brother. The deputies arrested her, and in the process, left two garish contusions on the thirteen-year-old’s face. According to Connsuela, who is black, the officers—angered by her attitude and defiance—pressed her against a wall, struck her, and forced her to the ground, as one pressed a knee into her back.

Connsuela’s experience, though brutal, is part of a trend in her school district. In the Randolph County School System, black students represent just 3.8 percent of the student population but 26.8 percent of filed juvenile complaints.

And nationally, both Connsuela and Randolph County are far from alone.

Recently reported data from the Department of Education’s Civil Rights Database found a significant increase in racial disparities in arrests and referrals to police for black students, and notes that students with disabilities remain vastly overrepresented among students involved in police interactions.

During the 2016–17 school year, the most recent year for which data is available, schools suspended 2.7 million students. This number was about 100,000 students lower than when federal data was last collected, in 2013–14.

But black boys still made up 25 percent of all students suspended out of school, and black girls made up another 14 percent—even though each group only accounted for about 8 percent of all students.

At the same time, black children, about 15 percent of all students during 2015–16, were 31 percent of those arrested or referred to police for in-school behavior.

Black children, about 15% of all students during 2015–16, were 31% of those arrested or referred to police for in-school behavior.

This racial disparity in student suspensions and arrests is both a disruption of justice and a threat to educational efficacy.

A 2015 study led by Dan Losen of UCLA’s Civil Rights Project estimated that public school children lost an estimated 18 million days of instruction in the 2011–12 school year due to exclusionary discipline policies, impeding their ability to grasp complicated material, keep up with school work, and have a safe place to stay during the school day.

These missed instructional days fuel lasting and harmful academic and social effects on young people. Multiple studies indicate that suspensions and expulsions correlate with high drop-out rates, a higher incidence of having to repeat a grade level, and a higher likelihood of interacting with the juvenile justice system.

Even students who are not targeted for discipline appear to bear the negative consequences of this heavy-handedness: in schools with the highest levels of suspensions and expulsions, the academic performance of students who have not been suspended suffered.

In 2014, Barack Obama’s Department of Education and Department of Justice issued guidance through a Dear Colleague letter that encouraged schools to both reduce interactions with law enforcement and examine if their discipline policies have an unfair effect, or disparate impact, on students according to race, color, or national origin.

Emphasizing that schools that implement policies that disparately impact students of a particular race, color, or nationality violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the “Dear Colleague” letter recognized that school safety had to include—rather than come at the expense of—the dignity of black and brown children.
Source: GAO analysis of Department of Education, Civil Rights Data Collection

Regardless of the intentions of teachers and schools, students of color continue to shoulder the burden of draconian discipline practices within schools in the name of safety and school climate.

A new study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) confirms what black and brown families, and many teachers and counselors, have known for so long: that students of color, regardless of their economic background, suffer harsher discipline for equal or lesser offenses than do their white peers.

For years, federal civil rights investigations have revealed that many school districts consistently invoke more severe punishments against minority students when compared to non-minority students, even when their behaviors were identical, and their past disciplinary history was similar.

Research also indicates that black students are most often disciplined for more subjective offenses, such as disrespect, loitering, or making excessive noise, whereas their white schoolmates are likelier to be suspended for offenses that are more concrete, including smoking, skipping school, or vandalism.

Of course, these patterns of racialized behavior enforcement extend outside of the schoolhouse door, and beyond childhood. Within the past three weeks, video evidence has captured young black people and young people of color being arrested or detained for simply existing in ways and spaces that made white people uncomfortable.

We’ve witnessed two young black men arrested for sitting in a Starbucks; a graduate student questioned for napping in her Yale dormitory; two native kids detained while taking a college tour; black sorority sisters reported while performing community service; a black family harassed for having a cookout; a former Obama staffer confronted while moving into his new apartment; young black women detained while moving out of an AirBnB; and a Latino man staring down the barrel of a gun while paying for Mentos at a convenience store; and these barely scratch the surface of the many daily indignities faced by people of color, most of which are never captured on tape.

Data and common sense both indicate that our school systems aren’t immune to this type of bias. Arguments that racial disparities in school discipline are not rooted in the reality of racism in America neither account for the longstanding testimony of people of color nor peer-reviewed research.

Arguments that racial disparities in school discipline are not rooted in the reality of racism in America neither account for the longstanding testimony of people of color nor peer-reviewed research.

That research has shown us just how deep, and subtle, the effects of those biases are. For instance, a key 2014 study found that, starting at age ten, people view black boys as older and less innocent. A statement from the author, Phillip Goff, explained, “our research found that black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent.”

A related study released last year exposed that Americans view black girls in the same light. Survey respondents were more likely to say that black girls, compared to white girls, were less innocent, require less nurturing, less support, and less protection, and know more about so-called “adult topics.”

This belief, which the authors called the “adultification” of black girls, allows us to rationalize uses of force against black children—from force as violent as that which caused the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice, to more subtle manifestations of force, such as seeing a black girl as loud and disruptive while viewing her white classmate as inquisitive.

The Obama-era guidance that attempts to lessen the harmful impacts of this bias is now under review by the current administration, which claims that the guidance has made schools less safe. Part of their argument looks to the horrifying and deadly slew of school shootings, such as the one at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Both President Trump and Marco Rubio, senator from Florida, blamed the Dear Colleague letter for tying the hands of teachers and administrators to the point where a potential school shooter slipped through the cracks.

But Nikolas Cruz, the perpetrator of the massacre, had been expelled from the school prior to the shooting and was well-known to law enforcement, which never found cause to arrest him. That the shooter—a white male who carved swastikas into rifles—is being used as a justification to protect policies that disadvantage students of color reveals the depth of America’s impaired vision when it comes to viewing black and brown bodies as dangerous, rather than in danger.

And, once we acknowledge the data that most school mass shootings are committed by white students, the insistence that anti-discrimination provisions precipitated this tragedy smacks of blaming children of color for the actions of white people.

Another criticism of the Obama guidance posits that efforts at reduced exclusionary discipline put teachers and students in danger and make them feel less safe.

But history shows that districts that implement well-chosen, well-resourced programs that use alternatives to suspensions experience higher student achievement, less student misconduct, and safer schools.

Strategies such as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support (PBIS), a behavioral psychology-based strategy used across a school campus that explicitly teaches desired behavior and uses more intensive teaching strategies for more challenging children, led to the suspension rate of students being cut in half in fully PBIS schools compared to the control group, and saw higher graduation rates and test scores.

The My Teaching Partner (MTP) program relies on a web-mediated coaching cycle that allows teachers to reflect on interactions with students and meet one-on-one with coaches to discuss successes and strategies for improvement. A study that involved over 2,200 teachers showed that improved student-teacher interactions associated with MTP moved up achievement test scores, and showed that when teachers did suspend students, there was no racial disparity.

Those who claim that addressing racial disparities in arrests, expulsions, and suspensions harms school culture should ask themselves why equity seems to present such a threat, and to whom or what that threat is directed.

These changes aren’t always accomplished in a straightforward process, and teachers and school leaders must have substantial levels of support, resources, and training. However, the prevailing systems that currently exist are neither fair nor effective, and all our children deserve better. Too often, school disciplinary practices introduce discrimination through discretion, suffering from bias in the identification of troubling behaviors and the evaluation of how to handle them.

Those who claim that addressing racial disparities in arrests, expulsions, and suspensions harms school culture should ask themselves why equity seems to present such a threat, and to whom or what that threat is directed.

To admit that racial and cultural bias often permeates decisions inside and outside of schools threatens the ways in which teachers, parents, and citizens think about ourselves and our actions, forcing us to consider changing habits and procedures.

It’s about time. And for too many black and brown children caught up in a system that sees their danger rather than their potential, it’s way past due.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

When Trauma Underlies Challenging Behaviors: New Answers for Vulnerable Children

From Mona's Blog

By Mona Delahooke, Ph.D.
March 8, 2018

After years of struggling with infertility, Julia and Samuel finally decided to adopt. They were thrilled when a social worker called with news of a pair of brothers who needed a home. It took a few months of paperwork, but then they were elated to welcome home “Matt”, 3 and “Rett”, 2.

Their new family life was exciting and tumultuous. Rett, the younger child, made the adjustment easily. But Matt had a more difficulty, waking multiple times each night crying, and struggling to pay attention in preschool. When he was in kindergarten, a teacher noted that he isolated himself from peers, often sitting alone, reading books. And though the adoptive parents showered him with love, Matt wasn’t connecting to them, lashing out in angry fits and often attacking them verbally.

Things got worse. When Matt was in second grade, he set a small fire in the family’s basement.

A school psychologist diagnosed him with attention deficit disorder, conduct disorder, and difficulties socializing with others. The school offered counseling as well as a behavioral treatment plan to support him at school. The therapist instructed his teachers and parents to provide structure and plenty of positive reinforcement when he acted appropriately, and swift consequences when he didn’t.

Over time, though, the support plan proved ineffective, and Matt gained a reputation as a loner who had no friends and spent long hours playing video games. At 13, he threw a kitchen pot at his mother and threatened to kill her. Desperate, his parents alerted police.

Where did his challenging behavior come from?

When the family came to my psychology practice, the parents told me Matt’s behaviors had concerned them from Day One. They knew that he had been abused and neglected as a toddler, yet hoped that the security and love from them would help him thrive. But nothing they could say or do seemed to get through.

Matt’s behaviors — social disengagement, setting fires, threatening his parents — all reflected a brain and body on constant defense. His social Isolation revealed that he lacked a healthy brain/body connection. His aggressive behaviors were an early signal that he felt danger or threat in his environment — even when it was safe.

Unfortunately, the supports offered by the school, his doctors, and previous therapists overlooked this foundational challenge. Instead, he was prescribed medication for his behaviors and attention deficits, and an intervention plan focusing on rewarding certain behaviors and punishing others.

To make matters worse, the three systems that should have been helping Matt — the education system, the medical system and the mental-health system — were all operating independently of each other when they should have been in concert.

The biggest problem was that the adults in Matt’s life focused on his behaviors without first building the bridges of relational safety. They overlooked the hidden reason for why he acted the way he did: automatic and subconscious responses left over from his earliest years, when he sensed life threat from the very people on whom he depended.

Nobody in Matt’s life saw the value of examining what these early behaviors revealed about the effect of trauma. They failed to recognize that Matt’s behaviors were signs of vulnerability in the basic foundation of emotional development.

In short, he lacked the ability to make himself feel calm in mind and body. But instead of confronting and overcoming that reality, Matt came to think of himself as a bad person — and others as even worse. He developed a narrative: others are out to get me and must be punished.

Subconsciously, his behavior was a preemptive strike coming from a traumatized brain.

Unfortunately, many of our treatment strategies for such traumatized, vulnerable children involve punitive measures which only serve to reinforce a child’s sense of isolation and hopelessness.

Matt’s struggles vividly illustrate why we need to incorporate the insights of neuroscience to help us understand the true underpinnings of mental health conditions. Instead of blaming these children, we need to help their parents, teachers and therapists understand the roots of their challenges. Until we do, young people like Matt will continue to suffer unnecessarily, harming themselves and others in the process.

Mona Delahooke, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist with more than 25 years of experience caring for young children and their families. With a special focus on early childhood development, she is a senior faculty member and Mental Health Working Group Co-Chair of the Profectum Foundation, an organization dedicated to advancing the development of neurodiverse children, adolescents and adults.

She is also a faculty member of the Early Intervention Training Institute of the Los Angeles Child Guidance Clinic and trains clinicians in the Los Angeles Department of Mental Health (DMH) as an independent contractor.

Dr. Delahooke holds the highest level of endorsement in the field of infant and toddler mental health in California, as a Reflective Practice Mentor (RPM).

Parents Around the State Get Lost Without Translation

From WGBH 89.7FM

By Bianca Vázquez Toness
May 7, 2018

Aracely Jerez says her childen's schools rarely give her documents
translated in Spanish or provide an appropriate interpreter.

Imagine you’re not happy with your child’s teacher and you call for a meeting with the principal and the teacher in question. But there’s a problem: You don’t speak English. So the teacher translates. It’s a conflict of interest that's also against federal guidelines.

But that's exactly what happened to Aracely Jerez, a mother from the Dominican Republic with three children in Lawrence Public Schools.

“She is one of those people who translates whatever she wants, not what’s being said,” Jerez said of the teacher, speaking in Spanish. “I don’t speak English, but I’m not stupid.”

At other times, Jerez says the principal’s secretary has translated. And afterwards Jerez recalled the secretary expressing some unwanted opinions.

“We were in the hallway next to the school’s security checkpoint, and she said to me in this very normal tone of voice, ‘Why don’t you return to your country?’” Jerez said.

Parents can’t fully participate in their children’s education if they don’t know what’s going on. This could be one reason why Latino and immigrant students in the state lag behind in test scores and graduation rates.

The practice could also break federal law.

The U.S. Department of Justice has been investigating whether Lawrence public school officials are discriminating against some parents with children in special education because they don’t speak English well, according to their lawyer. And the state faces a federal lawsuit alleging it has allowed Holyoke to not translate for Puerto Rican and other parents there.

“When you hear that someone cannot speak the language well and you deny them that access, you are discriminating against them for their origin, just as much as you are discriminating against them for the color of their skin,” said Tere Ramos, a lawyer who represents Jerez and other parents in Lawrence.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlaws discrimination based on race, religion, sex, color and national origin. The Supreme Court has said that language is the closest proxy to national origin.

In Lawrence, the majority of students are Latino and speak Spanish as their first language. Lawrence officials say they’re taking steps to improve communication with non-English-speaking parents of special education students. They hired two full-time interpreters last winter, trained 18 staff members to interpret and contracted an outside agency to translate special education documents.

“I am yet to meet someone in a school district that has neglected to provide language access to parents out of malice,” Ramos said. “However, what I have found is that we have a lot of ignorance.”

Ultimately, Ramos blames state education officials. She pointed to state audits that show the state has found more than 100 schools and school districts that are inconsistently translating documents for parents who don’t speak English well.

“There hasn't ever been any kind of hard or swift response by the department that has made any of these districts change,” Ramos said. "And I think that's the biggest reason why things have not changed because the reality is that they have nothing to lose by not doing anything.”

Officials from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said they do take action. That includes directing districts to translate documents and provide interpreters for parent meetings.

“When we find that districts have not met their obligations to translate [Individual Education Plan] documents, we work with and continue to monitor the district until it’s in compliance,” department spokeswoman Jacqueline Reis wrote in an email.

Ramos sued the state last year on behalf of parents in Holyoke Public Schools. The federal lawsuit argues that the commonwealth has “failed and continues to fail despite repeated investigations to hold Holyoke Public Schools accountable.” The education department declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Monday, May 28, 2018

FDA Grants Fast-Track Status to Possible Autism Drug

From DisabilityScoop

By Shaun Heasley
May 17, 2018

For at least the second time this year, the Food and Drug Administration is moving to accelerate the approval process for a drug designed to address the core symptoms of autism.

The FDA has given its fast-track designation to a medication
called L1-79, which may address core symptoms of autism,
according to drugmaker Yamo Pharmaceuticals.

Drugmaker Yamo Pharmaceuticals said this week that it received the FDA’s fast-track designation for a medication it’s developing called L1-79.

The decision comes after results from a small clinical trial found that the drug showed significant promise.

“Preliminary data shows that within days of starting L1-79 therapy, there was a reduction in some patients’ irritability, lethargy, hyperactivity and anxiety, and improvements in speech, communication, socialization and awareness of themselves and others, resulting in improved behavior and better manageability of the patients,” according to the pharmaceutical company.

Currently, the FDA has approved two medications — risperidone and aripripazole — to address irritability associated with autism, but no drugs are approved to address the developmental disability’s core symptoms.

The fast-track designation is used to expedite the review of medications that “treat serious conditions and fill an unmet medical need,” according to the FDA. With the designation, drugmakers are assured more frequent communication with the regulatory agency and granted eligibility for a faster review process.

Earlier this year, the FDA granted a similar status — known as the breakthrough therapy designation — to another medication, balovaptan, developed by Roche that’s shown potential for improving “core social interaction and communication” in those with autism.

Yamo Pharmaceuticals said that additional clinical trials of L1-79 involving kids, adolescents and adults with autism are planned.

“This is an important and exciting step toward developing a much-needed treatment for the (core) symptoms of ASD,” said J. Thomas Megerian, Yamo Pharmaceutical’s chief medical officer and senior vice president of clinical development.

“We look forward to working closely with the FDA and our advisors as we advance L1-79 through additional clinical studies.”

New Research on Public Schools' Singular Role in Intergroup Contact

From the Education Law Prof Blog

By Derek Black
May 25, 2018

The National Coalition for School Diversity has released a new research brief by Linda R. Tropp and Suchi Saxena. So much of today's education research focuses on standardized scores, but his brief goes back to one of Brown v. Board's key premises: the need for intergroup contact and the harm of not getting it.

And as Anda Adams, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction of Cambridge Public Schools, explains, integrated schools alone won't ensure intergroup contact:

“It is clear to me that racially integrated schools are necessary but not sufficient. We must ensure that our classrooms are integrated, and even beyond that, activities are intentionally designed to bring students from different racial or ethnic groups, socio-economic groups, and special education status together into regular, meaningful contact that can lead to the ultimate outcomes of empathy and caring for others to achieve social change.”

The new research brief offers this summary:

"Schools remain one of the few social institutions that have the potential to bring youth together across racial and ethnic lines. New social science research demonstrates the importance of fostering sustained interracial contact between youth in order to prepare them to thrive in a multiracial society.

This brief aims to summarize much of this new evidence, with special attention to its practical implications for the social relations and contexts within schools.

Key Takeaways

In order to prepare youth to thrive in a multiracial society, social science demonstrates the importance and value of increasing opportunities for youth from different racial and ethnic backgrounds to have sustained contact with one another.

Fostering cross-racial friendships, implementing cooperative learning strategies, and promoting supportive norms in schools and among peers are some of the factors that are likely to enhance the positive effects of contact.

Providing youth with opportunities to experience meaningful intergroup contact is especially important because children’s early life experiences can have long-term consequences for their developing intergroup attitudes and beliefs.

It also helps to reduce anxiety about difference, builds capacity for empathy and caring about others, develops leadership competencies and plants seeds for social change.

To foster effective interracial contact in schools, ensure that policies and practices make integrated classrooms and high-quality intergroup contact easy to achieve, and prioritize racially integrated classrooms and high-quality intergroup contact within the processes of teaching and learning."

Sunday, May 27, 2018

How Sensory Processing Issues Affect Kids in School

From the Child Mind Institute

May 22, 2018

And what parents and teachers can do to help children in the classroom.

Your son’s second grade teacher calls to say she’s concerned about some of his behaviors in school:
  • He can’t sit still through a half-hour lesson and disrupts the class.
  • He often seems distracted and doesn’t pay attention to what she’s saying.
  • He bumps into kids in the lunch line, making them angry.
  • He can’t hold a pencil correctly, so he struggles with handwriting.
  • He gets upset when asked to switch from one activity to another.
  • He melts down during assemblies and has to leave the gym.

You had started noticing this type of behavior when your child was a toddler, but now it’s hurting his progress in school. You’ve been wondering if he might have ADHD. But his teacher tells you she thinks he may have sensory processing issues.

What are sensory processing issues?

Some kids seem to have trouble handling the information their senses take in—things like sound, touch, taste, sight, and smell. There are also two other less well-known senses that can be affected—the first is a sense of body awareness, while the second involves movement, balance, and coordination. Also, kids with sensory issues can be oversensitive to input, undersensitive to input, or both.

Overly sensitive kids respond easily to sensory stimulation and can find it overwhelming.

While sensory processing issues are not a learning disorder or official diagnosis, they can make it hard for children to succeed at school. For instance, overly sensitive kids respond easily to sensory stimulation and can find it overwhelming.

They may:
  • Be unable to tolerate bright lights and loud noises like ambulance sirens;
  • Refuse to wear clothing because it feels scratchy or irritating-even after cutting out all the tags and labels-or shoes because they feel “too tight.”
  • Be distracted by background noises that others don’t seem to hear;
  • Be fearful of surprise touch, and avoid hugs and cuddling even with familiar adults;
  • Be overly fearful of swings and playground equipment;
  • Often have trouble knowing where their body is in relation to other objects or people;
  • Bump into people and things and appear clumsy;
  • Have trouble sensing the amount of force they’re applying; for example, they may rip the paper when erasing, pinch too hard or slam down objects.
  • Run off, or bolt, when they’re overwhelmed to get away from whatever is distressing them;
  • Have extreme meltdowns when overwhelmed.

Meanwhile, under-sensitive kids want to seek out more sensory stimulation.

They may:
  • Have a constant need to touch people or textures, even when it’s not socially acceptable;
  • Not understand personal space even when kids the same age are old enough to understand it;
  • Have an extremely high tolerance for pain;
  • Not understand their own strength;
  • Be very fidgety and unable to sit still;
  • Love jumping, bumping and crashing activities;
  • Enjoy deep pressure like tight bear hugs;
  • Crave fast, spinning and/or intense movement;
  • Love being tossed in the air and jumping on furniture and trampolines.

You can see that these behaviors could be confused with the grade-schoolers who are undersensitive may display “negative behaviors” including what looks like hyperactivity, when in fact they’re seeking input.

And, in fact, many of the behaviors of kids with sensory problems overlap with symptoms of ADHD, from trouble sitting still or concentrating to melting down when they are expected to make a transition from one activity (especially one they are enjoying) to another.

This is one reason it’s important that kids not be diagnosed with ADHD after a cursory visit to the pediatrician’s office, without careful use of interviews and rating scales to get a detailed picture of his behavior. Some kids with ADHD also have sensory issues.

A 2009 study found that 1 in every 6 children has sensory issues that make it hard to learn and function in school. While sensory processing issues are often seen in autistic children, they can also be found in those with ADHD, OCD and other developmental delays—or with no other diagnosis at all.


How can you help your child with sensory processing issues do better in school?

There is no medication to treat sensory processing issues, but there are therapies, as well as practical changes you can make at school and home to help your child feel and do better.

Occupational therapists (or OTs) are the specialists who work with kids who have sensory issues. The majority of OTs work in schools, though you can also find them in private practice. They engage kids in physical activities that are designed to regulate their sensory input.

You and your child’s teacher can discuss changes you can make to help him be more comfortable, secure and able to focus in the classroom.

For instance:
  • Make sure his chair is a good fit for him. When he’s sitting at his desk, he should be able to put his feet flat on the floor and rest his elbows on the desk.
  • For the child who needs to move a bit, you might try an inflated seated cushion or a pillow from home so he can both squirm and stay in his seat.
  • Some kids are better off if they sit close to the teacher. However, if your child is easily distracted by noise, he may end up turning around often to where the noise is coming from.
  • If possible, eliminate buzzing and flickering fluorescent lighting.
  • Make sure he’s not sitting next to distracting sources of noise.
  • Have the OT work with him on knowing where his body is in relation to other people and things and the idea of personal space.
  • Provide sensory breaks such as walking in circles, jumping on a mini-trampoline and sucking on sour candy so he gets the input he craves and doesn’t bump into others.
  • Allow for fidgets and chewable items, available in OT catalogues, to provide input.
  • Have the OT work with him on both gross and fine motor skills so he’s more confident, whether he’s in gym class or taking notes.
  • To avoid meltdowns or bolting, allow him to skip school assemblies, or sit near a door so that he can take breaks in the hallway with a teacher when he starts to feel himself getting overwhelmed.
  • If the cafeteria is too stimulating, see about having him and one or more lunch buddies eat in a quieter room with a teacher or aide.
  • Have a clear visual schedule posted with plenty of preparation for transitions.

With support and accommodations from an understanding teacher, and perhaps work with an OT, your child with sensory processing issues can be primed for success in class, on the playground and with friends.

Parent Perceptions May Contribute to Placebo Problem in Autism

From Spectrum News

By Nicholette Zeliadt
May 1, 2017

Parents of children with autism report substantial improvement in their children’s behaviors when they participate in a study, even when the children are not receiving a treatment, a new study suggests (1). By contrast, clinician ratings of the children’s autism features do not vary.

Wishful thinking: Parents of children with autism may report improvements
even when their child is in the placebo group of a trial.

It’s unclear why the parents’ and clinicians’ ratings do not agree.

“We don’t know if the kids changed a little or if the parents just thought they changed,” says lead investigator Catherine Lord, director of the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City.

In either case, the findings suggest that just participating in research can influence parent responses. These gradual shifts in parents’ perception of their children’s difficulties may contribute to the large placebo effect seen in autism trials. The study was published 12 April in Autism Research.

The findings were unexpected: Lord and her colleagues set out to test sensors worn on a child’s body to record language use, movements and other behaviors. They wanted to see how feasible it is for parents to keep these sensors on their children for eight weeks — the typical length of a clinical trial.

They also planned to compare the sensor data with parent reports of the children’s behavior. The children in the study continued with any existing treatments, but received no additional therapy.

To their surprise, the researchers found that some parents reported improvements in their children’s behaviors.

“We didn’t expect that anything would change,” says Rebecca Jones, assistant professor of neuroscience in psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York. “Coming to our clinic and participating in a study and all that goes along with it — that somehow potentially impacted how parents viewed their child’s behavior.”

Non-Treatment Response

Parents of 20 children with autism visited Lord’s clinic in New York to complete five questionnaires about their children’s social difficulties, repetitive behaviors and mood. The researchers recorded 12-minute videos of each child playing with a research assistant.

They also trained the parents to operate two wearable devices: the LENA system, which records the child’s language use, and a wristband that monitors movements, heart rate and sweat levels.

Once a day for the following eight weeks, parents rated their child’s irritability, stress levels and disruptive behavior from home, using a smartphone app. At the end of the eight weeks, the families returned to the clinic to repeat the questionnaires and videos. Clinicians who were unaware of the purpose of the study viewed the videos and rated each child’s autism features.

At least 80 percent of parents reported improvements in their children on two of the questionnaires at the second clinic visit. Total scores improved by 29 percent on the Aberrant Behavior Checklist, particularly in the areas of hyperactivity, irritability and inappropriate speech; scores also improved by 7 percent on the Social Responsiveness Scale, which measures social and communication difficulties.

“Significant change in two caregiver ratings suggests that improvements may be seen over time in a research study regardless of whether any treatment is provided,” says Jeremy Veenstra-VanderWeele, associate professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, who was not involved in the study. “It’s useful to know that this non-specific change can be substantial, even in the absence of treatment.”

Placebo Problem

Parent responses did not change significantly on the other three questionnaires, which measure mood, repetitive and other behaviors. Their responses also did not change significantly on the smartphone questions.

Clinicians did not detect any significant changes over time in the children’s autism features.

That could either mean that their ratings of the children’s behaviors are more accurate than parent ratings, or that they do not detect subtle changes that parents pick up, Veenstra-VanderWeele says.

In either case, this result is at odds with previous findings from clinical trials.

“I find that surprising, because that is contrary to what is usually the case,” says John Jay Gargus, director of the Center for Autism Research and Translation at the University of California, Irvine, who was not involved in the study. “In real clinical trials, where you set up a placebo group, the clinical assessments also show the placebo effect.”

Lord says one explanation is that the clinicians in her study were not expecting the children to change, whereas in a clinical trial there may be an implicit expectation of improvement because some children receive treatment.

Autism trials may be especially vulnerable to the placebo effect because the condition is diagnosed behaviorally and lacks biological markers.

Children’s behaviors also naturally fluctuate, further compounding this problem. “Behavior can really truly change without treatment sometimes,” says Bryan King, vice chair of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, who was not involved in the study.

The placebo effect in parents may arise from their expectation of improvement, which is reinforced by repeated interactions with researchers, increasing familiarity with questionnaires, or the training and education gained by participating in research.

The new study cannot be interpreted as detecting a true placebo effect, however, because it lacked a control group of children whose parents completed questionnaires but did not visit the clinic.

Lord and her team are still analyzing the data captured by the sensors, and plan to publish those results.

  1. Jones R.M. et al. Autism Res. Epub ahead of print (2017) PubMed