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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Upcoming Presentations by NESCA Director of Behavioral Services Jessica Minahan


April 23, 2014

We have been seriously remiss in not updating Jessica Minahan's calendar of speaking engagements. If you've never attended one of her talks or workshops, you are seriously missing out! Here are a couple that you and/or your advocates might want to attend:

April 30, 2014: Marshfield SEPAC, Marshfield, MA. Please click on the link below for complete details.
The Behavior Code: Effective Strategies for Students with Anxiety

May 1, 2014: Full-Day Training - Massachusetts Elementary School Principals’ Association (MESPA). Please click on the link below for complete details.
Rethinking Behavior Support: Effective Interventions for Students with Anxiety-Related and Oppositional Behavior

These talks are free and open to the public. Advance registration may be required.

About Jessica Minahan, M.Ed., BCBA

Jessica Minahan is co-author, with Psychiatrist Nancy Rappaport, of The Behavior Code: A Practical Guide to Understanding and Teaching the Most Challenging Students, published by Harvard Education Press.

She holds a B.S. in Intensive Special Education from Boston University, and a dual master’s degree in Special Education and Elementary Education from Wheelock College. She has a certificate of graduate study (CGS) in teaching children with Autism from University of Albany, and received her BCBA training from Northeastern.

Her additional Massachusetts and other professional certifications include Teacher of Students with Special Needs (Pre-K through 9), Intensive Special Needs (All Levels), Professional Early Childhood (Pre-K through 3), Special Education Administration (All Levels, Initial), Crisis Prevention Intervention Trainer and Wilson Reading Level 1.

Since 2000, she has worked with students who exhibit highly challenging behavior in both their homes and schools. She specializes in creating behavioral intervention plans for students who demonstrate explosive and unsafe behavior. She also works with students with emotional and behavioral disturbances, anxiety disorders, high-functioning autism and Asperger’s Syndrome.

Is This Intervention Right for My Child with Dyslexia?

From Smart Kids with LD

By Sheryl Knapp, A/AOGPE
April 22, 2014

Your child is found eligible for special education services due to difficulties with reading and spelling—but how can you determine whether the interventions offered address her unique needs?

To answer that question, you must evaluate the proposed program as well as key factors that impact how it’s implemented. By following these guidelines, you can ensure that your child’s reading or spelling challenges will be addressed in ways likely to yield measurable improvements.

Program Considerations

An appropriate reading and/or spelling intervention is comprised of four critical instructional elements. It must be:
  • Systematic: Concepts are taught using a pre-established scope and sequence as opposed to following a more reactive, “guided reading” approach where mistakes are corrected as they occur.
  • Multisensory: Research shows that students learn best when information is presented in multiple ways—visually, auditorially and kinesthetically (e.g., via writing).
  • Research-based: Research-based literacy programs typically encompass five key elements: phonemic awareness (the ability to hear/manipulate sounds within words), phonics (associating letters with these sounds), fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.
The term “research-based” implies that the program’s effectiveness has been established through rigorous research that conforms to conventional standards and is verified through an impartial, peer-review process.

This, however, is not always the case, as publishers sometimes use the term without disclosing their financial interests in a program or revealing that the only research supporting their claims is their own.

Individualized: Instruction progresses at a pace consistent with the student’s unique abilities and challenges and is taught in a way that matches her learning style and interests. Whether this intervention needs to be one-on-one depends upon the child’s learning needs as well as the availability of a well-matched group.

Implementation Issues

In addition to ensuring that a program is appropriate, the selected services must be written in the Individualized Education Program (IEP) in a way that ensures adequate progress will be made. This involves the following factors:

The Plan. An IEP should clearly outline a child’s unique needs (Present Level of Performance), the services used to address each need, and the expected outcome as a result of them.

In order to determine whether these outcomes are achieved, it is critical that all goals and objectives be measurable (observable and objectively quantifiable). Objectives such as “Joey will improve his reading skills” or “Susie will increase her vocabulary” are not measurable.

Better choices are “Joey will read 60 words per minute,” or “Susie will define 10 new vocabulary words each week from her school text.”

Each objective should include: What the student will do (the behavior); the condition under which the behavior will occur; the criteria necessary for the performance to be considered acceptable. For example, “Min will solve double-digit addition problems (behavior) using a calculator (condition) with 95% accuracy (criteria).

Staff Qualifications. The greatest indicator of success of any systematic, multi-sensory, research-based program is the training and experience of the individual implementing it. Although numerous pre-packaged programs that encompass the critical elements are readily available, it is essential that the implementer be well-trained in using that specific program and understands the overall structure of language.

Monitoring Progress. Progress should be checked and charted at regular intervals (typically bi-weekly) using a quick, reliable and repeatable monitoring tool. This information can then be used to adjust the nature and intensity of the intervention to ensure that the student continues to make adequate gains.


Based on a presentation for Smart Kids with LD by Sheryl Knapp, A/AOGPE and Kathy Whitbread, Ph.D. Knapp is the founder and President of Literacy Advocates, providing literacy-related consulting services for students with learning disabilities. She has Associate Level certification with the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators.

Whitbread is an Associate Professor of Education at St. Joseph College, and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Connecticut Health Center.

Related Smart Kids Links

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Autism Twitter Chat Thursday, April 24th

From CDC
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

April 23, 2014

Join us in a Twitter Chat on Thursday, April 24th!

Thanks to everyone who attended CDC’s first ever Public Health Grand Rounds on autism spectrum disorder this past Tuesday.

To keep this important conversation going, please join us in a Twitter Chat on the public health approach to autism, hosted by NCBDDD Director, Dr. Coleen Boyle (@DrBoyleCDC), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (@AmerAcadPeds).

Join these leaders and other partners in a follow-up discussion on the important topics covered through Grand Rounds: autism research, surveillance, and early identification and screening.

The chat will take place on Thursday, April 24, from 1:00-2:00pm EST. Participate using hashtag #AutismPHGR.

When Parents Aren't Enough: External Advocacy in Special Education

From The Yale Law Journal

By Erin Phillips
Volume 117, No. 8 (June, 2008)

"Parents often lack the necessary knowledge about disability and educational options, and often have difficulty interfacing with school officials in special education proceedings. These gaps in knowledge and ability make it difficult for parents to advocate effectively for their children without external help..."

ABSTRACT: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has been celebrated for providing millions of disabled children with broader educational and life opportunities.

This Note seeks to improve the implementation of the IDEA by questioning one of its key assumptions: that parents possess the tools to advocate for their children in special education matters.

This Note argues that many parents need assistance to achieve optimal outcomes for their children because of the complexity of the disabilities involved and the formal rules of the system itself. Policy options are considered in the hope that local educational agencies will implement pilot programs to further explore the issue of external advocacy in special education.

Read the entire article (52-Page PDF) HERE.

What to Expect From an Evaluation

From Emotions to Advocacy
The Special Ed Survival Guide by Pam & Pete Wright

By Marianne S. Meyer, M.A.
Updated May 14, 2012


Want appropriate services and a good placement for your child?
  1. Before you can get appropriate services for your child, you must have an appropriate IEP;
  2. Before you can get an appropriate IEP, the Present Levels required by IDEA must be accurate, current and comprehensive;
  3. Before you can state your child's needs clearly in the Present Levels and know what the school should provide - you must have objective test data from evaluations.

A good evaluation for a learning disability is not as simple as "having your child tested". First, it requires preparation on your part.

You must choose an appropriate professional, provide a clear statement of your (or a teacher's) concerns, and produce records for review. You should be prepared to give a thorough and accurate prenatal, birth, motor, and medical background as well as details about speech/language development, social development, and family history.

Finally, you or one or more of the child's teachers may be asked to complete checklists that will profile your child's attentional style (and executive functioning).

This information will determine the nature and scope of the evaluation. The process is methodical, and cannot be rushed!

So plan ahead, allowing time to collect the necessary information and schedule appointments.

Choose a Professional Evaluator

A good evaluation will gain enough information to get a picture of the "whole" child. Choose a professional, usually a psychologist, with appropriate training and experience to make a skilled clinical judgment. It is essential that the evaluator have up-to-date knowledge of the LD field. This person should be able to explain the range of available services, from a short screening that suggests whether further testing is warranted, to a full educational evaluation that:

1.) determines your child's strengths and weaknesses;

2.) clearly interprets findings to you, and;

3.) makes specific recommendations that can be communicated to teachers and tutors.

[Note: IDA publishes a "Fact Sheet' on this topic, "Testing and Evaluation" that is available at]

School Information is Examined to Understand the Learning Context

Because learning occurs in a context, examining school records (report cards, group achievement test results, teacher comments, interventions tried, and work samples) is important.

Knowing which instructional approaches and materials are used in the curriculum can help sort out whether problems are due to lack of instruction or a poor match between your child and the curriculum.

In some cases classroom observations are also recommended.

Referral Question is Refined and "Targeted" Tests Administered

Based on background and school information, the reasons for the evaluation referral are clarified and refined. With age and grade appropriate test measures chosen, targeted testing begins. (There are a multitude of tests, but remember, more is not necessarily better!) If the question is probably dyslexia, for example, reading skills should be targeted along with frequently associated spelling and written composition skills.

The value of IQ testing in a LD determination has been controversial. However, based on converging research findings, it appears unlikely that federal legislation will continue to support the ability-achievement discrepancy criterion.

If there is a specific question (such as ruling out a significant mental handicap or significant "peaks and valleys" in a child's intellectual profile) or when a program or school entrance requires it, a complete intellectual assessment is desirable.

Answers the Question "Why is the difficulty occurring?"

Unfortunately, the "why" question is not routinely addressed, despite the increased availability of reliable, research-based measures. Knowing "why" sets the stage for appropriate, specific recommendations.

If your child is struggling with reading, for example, assessing skills that support reading acquisition, such as:

1.) phonological and phonemic awareness (hearing how sounds and sound patterns work in our language system and associating sounds with letters);

2.) fluency and automaticity (rapidly and easily recognizing letters, words and phrases);

3.) short term rote memory (remembering sequences of sounds heard) and;

4.) orthographic skills (representing the language sounds of language by written symbols)

-- allows the evaluator to determine where the reading process is breaking down.

Sometimes neuropsychological measures assessing memory, attention and visual-spatial-motor abilities are also helpful.

Results are Synthesized and a Clear Diagnosis Given

A good evaluation synthesizes the findings and gives a clear diagnosis with supporting evidence. It should state the extent of the problem as well as highlight competencies, and give a reasonable estimate of the outcome. Any emotional or social factors (either adverse or positive) also need to be addressed.

Focused, Prioritized Recommendations Made

The best recommendations for interventions are those that are focused, specific, and prioritized. While a child may have a variety of needs, yielding to the temptation to address everything at once results in "laundry lists" of recommendations. Student and teacher alike will experience greater success if two or three critical issues are successfully addressed first.

Recommended interventions should be those that are scientifically based and research validated. Be cautious of "quick-fixes" and trendy solutions.

In contrast to the emphasis on a few priority interventions, more numerous classroom/testing accommodation recommendations can be given.

Intervention Options Thoroughly Discussed

The evaluator should be familiar with local, regional, and national resources, including the names of trained, experienced tutors, and LD organizations, such as IDA.

If school services are an appropriate option, multiple considerations - the class size, type, and composition, curriculum, and services offered, qualifications and experience of teachers - need to be discussed.

Conclusion Provides Support and Hope

This discussion not complete without stressing the emotional component.

Having a child evaluated can be anxiety-provoking and exhausting - but often a relief as well - to both parents and child. A good evaluation should make parents feel "heard" and supported (especially when the diagnosis is more severe than expected), and should make the child feel his or her uniqueness is cherished.

Most of all, a good evaluation should provide hope - hope that there are resources to address the issue, that our knowledge about specific learning disabilities is improving daily, and that there is a community of parents and professionals ready and willing to provide support.

About the Author

Marianne S. Meyer, M.A., NCSP, is an instructor in the Section of Neuropsychology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in North Carolina. A former school psychologist, she conducts clinical evaluations and is involved in the NICHD sponsored research on adult literacy as well as genetic and heritability factors, cross-linguistic comparisons and long-term outcome in dyslexia. She has contributed articles to Annals of Dyslexia and Perspectives and is a frequent speaker at IDA conferences.


Reprinted from the International Dyslexia Association quarterly newsletter Perspectives, Fall, 2003/Meyer.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Ignite Your Light - A Yoga Workshop for Teen Girls

At NESCA Friday, April 25th, 12:00 Noon - 2:00pm
Please note the new date. This workshop takes place this week!

Taught by Laura McEvoy, M.Ed.

Laura McEvoy earned her Masters of Education in School Counseling from Cambridge College, and has been a guidance counselor in both a middle school and high school. More recently, she is proud of having participated in the planning and development of the fourth recovery high school in MA, where she has had the opportunity to share the gift of yoga.

Ms. McEvoy is hoping her philosophy of healing and strengthening through spirit, mind, and body will resonate with each student she works with. Laura's fitness teaching methodology involves creating space and compassion for each yoga student, and exploring the “whole person."

She started practicing yoga about ten years ago, focusing on Bikram and heated power yoga. A few years ago, Laura became more interested in gentle yoga and meditation, and began her 200-hour training with Fitness Resource Association. Laura uses alignment principles, breathing techniques, and Vinyasa flow to guide students in a fun practice.

Presentation at AANE May 10: Parents Have the Power to Make Special Education Work!

The Asperger's Association of New England

April 22, 2014

Authors Judith Canty Graves and Carson Graves will give a presentation at the Asperger's Assoc. of N. E. on Saturday, May 10, from 2:00 to 4:00pm.

They will discuss the insights into special education that they wrote about in their new book, Parents Have the Power to Make Special Education Work, published by Jessica Kingsley. It is written from a parent's point of view to give other parents a better understanding of how to help their children receive the services they need.

A question and answer period and a book signing will follow the presentation. Refreshments will be served.

Register on the AANE website for this event at AANE recommends early registration before May 3. The cost is $5.00 per family for AANE members and $10.00 per family for non-members. The Asperger's Association of New England is at 51 Water Street in Watertown, Massachusetts.