Information for parents of disabled children

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Involuntary suspensions and Autism

An icon illustrating a parent and childImage via Wikipedia
A little known fact is that any time you are called to your child's school because of behaviors and asked to take them home. It's a suspension. What this means is that it's inappropriate to keep a parent on speed dial waiting for the next blow up. Oh, it happens.

What are the choices for parents? It's tricky. You could refuse to pick them up, but this leaves your child in a situation that is obviously not working. You could go get them. In this case, a parent can ask for documentation that they were asked to get their child. That's key to the next step; fixing the problem.

Warning Signs

When a parent is called for a fever, it's a sign that a kid is ill and needs rest, maybe some soup. When you get a call saying, "we can't handle this kid". That's a sign too. It's a clue in to a bad placement or a need for modification.

The first thing to look at is the data. Behavior charting can offer big clues for parents. If there's a pattern, you can see it. Remember that patterns can be found in the staff present or absent, as well. Behavior charting should already be done each day and ready for the parent at any time. It should be easy to read and understand, and it should be complete.

Looking at our child's environment is important. If they are already in the most restrictive environment, what changes can we make that will get them back in the classroom and learning again?
Look at staffing, are there enough? Too many? Are they trained in your child's disability?

Take Action

Time is precious in the classroom. When we see a pattern of classroom removals (in school suspensions) or involuntary suspensions, it's already time to take some action. It is important to determine the least restrictive solution. In some cases, a new placement is in order. Others would require a one to one staff member, until documentation proved no more need for it.

Missed class time is a tragedy for any child, however, in the world of special education it's a warning sign. When a child isn't fitting into a classroom anymore, something must be done quickly to get them back on the road to success.

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Transition Fair at Rise Learning Center.

This event is a great resource for all parents, but a must for those of us approaching the teenage years. It's run by a dear friend, Joni Atkinson. She's been doing this for 23 years and taught me almost everything I know about transition. Her Facebook explains:
The transition fair has a variety of different booths for parents of students both young and old to gather vital information for their student to be successful when transitioning out of school. There are people from Vocational Rehab, BDDS, SSI, Medicaid, Stress Centers, Supported living, Supported employment and the list goes on and on. This information is so vital to get out to all parents of students with special needs. Anyone that you know that could benefit from additional services should partake in this event. Everyone has a chance to meet people and develop a bridge of communication. Please spread the word to let everyone know that this event can be very beneficial. We will also have a spaghetti dinner that is $5.00 for adults and $3.00 for kids. Please rsvp asap!!!!
The Fair happens Tuesday October  26th at 5 pm.
5391 shelby here in Indy.
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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Schools are crunching the numbers in Perry Township.

Crane Paper Company in Dalton produces the pap...Image via Wikipedia

Here in Perry the outlook is bleak. With the money crunch, there is a temptation to use money as a factor in case conferences. They cannot give in to this temptation though, because it would be wrong. Further, it violates a law. You know the one I mean.

Things to remember in a money crunch:
  • Cost is never a factor-Never.
  • Removing services should require as much data as assigning them.
  • Documentation is king!
  • Determine strategic goals, then discuss staffing.
October is the beginning of the most wonderful time of the year.  Fighting a recession is not a good reason to cause a regression. Write your goals before you write your checks.
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Immunization mandates versus exemptions- no clear winner.

Woman receiving rubella vaccination, School of...Image via Wikipedia
Most of us grew up with the needle and those periodic torture sessions at the local doctor's office. Since the controversy surrounding immunizations grew heated, no one has been unable to escape the hostility surrounding the subject. This year's addition of new vaccine requirements have heated it all up again, particularly in the special ed. community.

Indiana's Exemptions

Indiana has two kinds of exemptions- religious or medical. Parents have to update these exemption letters yearly with their child's school. A medical exemption requires a doctor to sign off on it. That's pretty rare. Even when contraindications are clear on packaging and manufacturers paperwork, a doctor is typically loathe to sign off on an exemption. Of course, there are doctor's who will, occasionally. Religious exemptions do not require proof, however, they do require the parent list each vaccine exempted, state a firmly held belief, and update them yearly with the school.

Herd Immunity
Herein lies the debate. Vaccine-injured families say the risk outweighs the benefit. No one denies the probablity of vaccine injury, even the vaccine creators, but many experts worry about the public risk if many more opt out of the vaccine schedule. Herd immunity is when diseases don't strike individuals who are not immune to them because most in a society are immune, usually through vaccination. Experts frequently worry that an outbreak of any given "eradicated" disease is one international flight away.

Vaccine Injury
Vaccine mandate opponents are not one simple group, but rather a large coalescence of different types of groups who believe, or know, that vaccine played a part in the injury of someone they loved. The most notable of these involved the Mumps, Measles, Rubella shot, commonly called MMR. It contained a mercury-based preservative called thimerasol that many believed unnecessary. The makers of vaccines did finally give in to the public outcry and remove the ingredient from most vaccines, leaving only influenza containing thimerasol. Recently, the Center for Disease Control sponsored a study finding thimerasol was not the cause of autism in children. Autism isn't the only potential injury, parents say.

Severe fevers, seizures, and rash, among many other possible symptoms, can result from vaccines. While immunizations are tested like any other drug, there are many reports of injury reported each year. This is done through the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System or VAERS.

So what's more important? Doctors typically answer, "the greater good", while parents have another more personal answer. They want to protect their child. Society's difficulty isn't deciding who's right or wrong in the debate. What we have to determine is who is most right? Even when that's done, someone may still lose.
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Medical systems, education and juvenile courts; filling the doughnut hole

school friendsImage by woodleywonderworks via Flickr
A common occurance in Indianapolis, perhaps around the country, for special needs kids is slipping through the cracks. Usually when we hear that phrase, we think of kids in schools getting failed forward, moved on to the next grade without the performance to back it up. However, there is a much bigger crack in the pathway special needs kids are walking these days, and it begins with behavior.
As any parent can attest, behavior is a challenging aspect of developmental disorder. Quirky, jerky movements are the commonplace assumption for those outside the circle of a family dealing with disability, but this is the mildest kind of behavior. Aggressive behaviors happen in households all the time; hitting, pinching, biting, kicking. These behaviors can start a kid climbing the ladder of more and more restrictive educational environments. What happens when the ladder ends?
Professionals call it the doughnut hole. Just like Alice, a kid can disappear in that hole.
Let's Suppose . . .
A kid has severely aggressive behaviors. He's moved from general education to a special education inclusion classroom. He can't make it there, so he's off to a separate facility like RISE Learning Center or Damar, a live-in facility on the southwest side. He eventually lands in a six week program to work on his behaviors and tweak the medication. Medicaid or Insurance pays for it because a doctor sent him.
This child returns to the classroom after some improvement where he gets into a fight, and there have been a lot of fights because he has an emotional disability. Here's the trap; remember that medicaid or insurance already paid for a six week program that didn't work, so the school is left to make the call. However, if they do, the school district pays. This makes schools hesitate to make the call.
What will inevitably happen is a round of suspensions and placement changes while parents and teachers alike pull their hair out by the roots. This will go on until someone pulls the plug. That someone is usually a juvenile court judge. The child will then be placed in an extended treatment program using department of correction funds.
What's the solution?
Easy answers are hard to come by. Our medical system could change the way they do business and pay for unlimited hospitalizations, but that isn't likely, nor is it guaranteed to work. Our juvenile justice system actually has no choice by the time they are involved. Some action is required. That leaves the school, and funding just doesn't grow on trees.
We have to find the solutions and methods that work if we hope to close the doughnut hole. General education inclusion has to become far more successful than it generally is by utilizing peer training and behavior interventions that work in practice, not just in theory. Schools systems will have to become more aggressive in their inclusion programming, perhaps even better staffed.
Schools will have to recognize the importance of social training, especially for children on the autism spectrum. Right now, in Indiana schools the typical IEP reads that social skills training happens twice a week for fifteen minutes. It's important to realize that social skills training can happen all through the day wherever the opportunity presents itself, and educators have to take those opportunities.
It is inevitable that tax dollars will be spent on the children who slip through the cracks, but schools can intervene early in a child's education to stop that spiral into the justice system through comprehensive intervention. Until society finds a cure for every developmental and neurological disorder, there has to be a plan. Education is the best shot at early identification of need and delivery of service. The money Americans save by early investment in special education is unlimited. Diagnosis isn't a get-out-of-jail-free card, and adults with disabilities who commit crimes or pose a danger to others will be housed somewhere in our system. Educational intervention may be the only chance they have to avoid the revolving door of the justice system.
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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A word on inclusion from Wisconsin

Mudd Hall, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore...Image via Wikipedia

There are no comparative data available on special education students' academic gains, graduation rates, preparation for post-secondary schooling, work, or involvement in community living based on their placement in inclusive vs. non-inclusive settings. Therefore, an accurate comparison between separate programming and inclusive programming cannot be done.
The following is a brief review of a number of studies of various inclusive strategies. There are a number of reviews and meta-analyses that consistently report little or no benefit for students when they are placed in special education settings (Kavale, K.A., Glass, G.V., 1982; Madden and Slavin, 1983). However, in 50 studies comparing the academic performance of mainstreamed and segregated students with mild handicapping conditions, the mean academic performance of the integrated group was in the 80th percentile, while the segregated students score was in the 50th percentile (Weiner R., 1985).
Using this evidence, inclusion proponents claim that segregated programs are detrimental to students and do not meet the original goals for special education. Recent meta-analyses confirm a small to moderate beneficial effect of inclusion education on the academic and social outcome of special needs students. (Carlberg, C. and Kavale, K. 1980; Baker, E.T., and Wang, M.C., and Walberg, H.J., 1994-95).
Another study assessing the effectiveness of inclusion was done at Johns Hopkins University. In a school-wide restructuring program called Success For All, student achievement was measured. The program itself is a comprehensive effort that involves family support teams, professional development for teachers, reading, tutoring, special reading programs, eight-week reading assessments, and expanded opportunities for pre-school and kindergarten children.
In assessing effectiveness, a control group was compared with the students in Success For All programs. Comparative measures included:
  • Woodcock Language Proficiency Battery (1984)
  • Durrell Analysis of Reading Difficulty (1980)
  • Student retention and attendance.
Comparisons were made at first, second, and third grades. Students identified with exceptional education needs were included in all comparisons. While assessments showed improved reading performance for all students, the most dramatic improvements occurred among the lowest achievers. In spite of the fact that these inner city schools have normally high retention problems, only 4% of the fourth graders in the experimental group had ever been held back one or more grades, while the five control schools had 31% who had failed at least one year.
There was a similar finding in the comparison of attendance rates. The research also found the best results occurred in schools with the highest level of funding. They concluded that when resources are available to provide supplementary aids, all children do better.
The primary importance of research on Success For All is that it demonstrates that with early and continuing intervention nearly all children can be successful in reading. Common practice in compensatory and special education is to identify children who have already fallen behind and provide remediation services that last for years (Allington and McGill-Frazen, 1990). Research on Success For All and other intensive early intervention programs such as Reading Recovery (Pinnell, 1991) and Prevention of Learning Disabilities (Silver and Hagen, 1989) suggests that there are effective alternatives to remedial approaches.
While researchers are cautious in their conclusions, there are some positive signs. In particular, students in special education and regular education showed several positive changes, including:
  • A reduced fear of human differences accompanied by increased comfort and awareness (Peck et al., 1992);
  • Growth in social cognition (Murray-Seegert,1989);
  • Improvement in self-concept of non-disabled students (Peck et. al., 1992);
  • Development of personal principles and ability to assume an advocacy role toward their peers and friends with disabilities;
  • Warm and caring friendships (Bogdan and Taylor, 1989).
The final issue shared by proponents of inclusion relates to cost-effectiveness. A 1989 study found that over a fifteen year period, the employment rate for high school graduates with special needs who had been in segregated programs was 53%. But for special needs graduates from integrated programs the employment rate was 73%. Furthermore, the cost of educating students in segregated programs was double that for educating them in integrated programs (Piuma, 1989).
A similar study by Affleck, Madge, Adams, and Lowenbraun (1988) demonstrated that the integrated classroom for students with special needs was more cost-effective than the resource program, even though achievement in reading, math and language remained basically the same in the two service delivery models.
It is normally not my practice to cut and paste, but this information is hard to come by for parents. It's especially hard to find unbiased resources like the Wisconsin Educational Association Council who report just what is. 
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Finding the evidence in evidence-based instruction for Indy natives - Indianapolis special education |

Finding the evidence in evidence-based instruction for Indy natives - Indianapolis special education |

Rise Special Services moves toward interlocal amid teacher and parent concerns - Indianapolis special education |

Rise Special Services moves toward interlocal amid teacher and parent concerns - Indianapolis special education |

One of my articles on