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Thursday, November 26, 2015

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Role of a Special Education Advocate

From Parents Have the Power
to Make Special Education Work

By Judith Canty Graves and Carson Graves
November 22, 2015

When we entered special education many years ago, we had never heard of a special education advocate. And if we had, we probably wouldn’t have hired one because we felt comfortable with our son’s Team members. Later, however, we realized that we had missed important opportunities by not having an experienced professional explain our son’s rights and the school’s responsibilities to us.

Going It Alone (Our Experience without an Advocate)

In the early days of elementary school, the general education teachers were warm and nurturing. Teachers only had one class of about twenty children all day long, so the demands on them weren’t as great as on teachers in middle school and high school.

The special education teachers also seemed to make an extra effort to get to know us and our son. We were impressed by their sincerity and their efforts. But we discovered that sometimes the school culture and the administrative bureaucracy get in the way of that idealism.

By middle school, we found the nurturing environment and attitude fading away. The entire school culture changed. There were multiple teachers and much larger classes. Getting an appointment to meet with our liaison or the general education teachers was almost impossible. We found fewer opportunities to be involved in school life and to get to know the teachers and the other students.

Now we realized we were in trouble. Our son wasn’t making progress and the teachers didn’t have time to meet with us. By seventh grade we noticed that the goals in our son’s IEP were being changed without our knowledge or a Team meeting to discuss them. A friend suggested a special education advocate who she had used. We contacted that person and made an appointment.

What Does An Advocate Do?

We began by reviewing our son’s educational history with the advocate. Fortunately we had kept all his paperwork. The advocate helped us organize everything in chronological order, then she reviewed our son’s IEPs. Finally she explained to us that the school had committed multiple violations of the special education laws. Our trust in the school district was crumbling with each passing day.

We began to realize how naive we had been in those early years. Although everyone had been very nice, they had ignored opportunities to recommend needed services at a critical time for learning and sometimes even violated explicit special education laws.

While it is possible that some of the school personnel simply did not know the law and what was required of them, it is also possible that they chose to not follow the law in order to save time and money on special education services the school should have provided.

Now we understood the importance of working with an experienced advocate. Had we been working with her in elementary school, she would have noted the violations and advised us on our rights when it could have helped our son the most. She also had a lot of experience working with other families in our town and would have helped us avoid certain situations unique to our school district.

How to Find an Advocate

There are no licensing requirements for special education advocates like there are for most other professionals you will encounter in special education. It is critical to check the training and credentials of anyone you are considering. In many states the federally funded Parent Training and Information Centers (PTI) offer advocate training classes.

The Yellow Pages for Kids, maintained by the Wrightslaw website at www.yellowpagesforkids.com lists PTIs, advocates, and other professionals in every state. Finally, ask other parents with children in special education about advocates they have used.

Once you have one or more names of advocates you can contact, arrange for an interview, either on the phone or in person, and ask questions such as the following:
  • Confirm the advocate’s training and credentials. They should match what you have already discovered through your research.
  • Describe your child’s problems and listen carefully to the advocate’s responses. Try to get a sense of his or her style and personality and whether or not you feel comfortable with that person.
  • Ask if he or she has worked collaboratively with your school district in the past. Someone who knows the people and programs in your district already has a head start.
  • Finally, ask for references and talk to other parents who have used this advocate. Ask if the kind of help you are seeking is similar to what the advocate helped them with.

Although an advocate’s fees can be quite reasonable compared with other special education professionals you may encounter, if finances are an issue, there is a federal program, Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, that can provide free advocacy help. The website: www.parentcenternetwork.org, contains links that will help you locate a group in your area.

How to Work with an Advocate

The role of a special education advocate is to help you understand the laws and advocate for an appropriate education for your child. There are many ways to achieve this goal. The two most common are:
  • You can work with an advocate behind the scenes. This can help maintain your relationship with school personnel if you fear they might feel threatened by the presence of an outside professional.
  • Have the advocate attend Team meetings and negotiate for appropriate services and accommodations. The advocate can help you understand the sometimes hidden dynamics in the room and keep the meeting on track. For more on how this can work, see our earlier post Surviving Team Meetings.

In some states special education advocates specialize in either legal or educational advocacy. A legal advocate, often referred to as a “lay advocate,” is not a lawyer, but has specialized training in legal matters that pertain to special education. Lay advocates can attend Team meetings, write letters, and negotiate with schools to help resolve problems. In some states they can even represent parents in due process hearings.

Educational advocates specialize in making recommendations about accommodations and services based on a student’s disabilities. In general, there can be a lot of overlap between the functions of lay and educational advocates.

Ultimately, if you can only hire one professional, consider hiring a special education advocate.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Be the Parent You Want to Be! A New Way of Understanding and Parenting Kids

From The Ely Center

November 23, 2015

Announcing the 2016 Schedule at The Ely Center

Do you ever feel frustrated with your child? Find yourself shouting often and imposing punishments or rewards in reaction to challenging behavior? Do you wish you had a more effective parenting approach that also helps to build a better relationship between you and your child?

Think:Kids' Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) approach, based in MGH's Department of Psychiatry, provides parents with concrete tools to better understand and parent their kids in the face of day-to-day challenges – e.g., getting to school, homework, screen time, bedtime – and more serious challenges.

It’s based on the understanding that many kids lack the skill, not the will, to behave well – specifically skills related to problem solving, flexibility and frustration tolerance.

Parents who attend the CPS overview learn to:
  • Shift their thinking and approach to foster positive relationships with their child;
  • Reduce their child’s challenging behavior;
  • Solve problems collaboratively and proactively;
  • Help their child develop skills related to self-regulation, communication and problem-solving.

When:    10:00am - 12 noon, 5 Tuesdays,
                    January 12 - February 9, 2016; and,
                    6:30 - 8:30pm, 5 Wednesdays, March 2 - 30, 2016

Where: The Ely Center
                    84 Rowe St, Auburndale, MA 02466
                    (617) 795-1755

For more information and to register for 2016 sessions, please visit: http://www.betheparentyouwanttobe.weebly.com.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The IEP: A Primer for Parents New to the Process

From Smart Kids with LD

By Eve Kessler, Esq.
November 17, 2015

At a Glance
  • Becoming the advocate your child deserves requires that you participate fully in his IEP meetings;
  • Preparing ahead is fundamental to achieving the outcomes that will ensure educational success;
  • Showing up with a collegial attitude will help with problem-solving.

As a parent of a child with LD or ADHD, it is your responsibility to partner with your child’s school in planning his education. In fact, the law empowers you to be a vital part of his special education process, making you an equal member of your child’s Individualized Education Planning (IEP) team. As such, it is important for you to understand the process and come to IEP meetings prepared to advocate for his interests.

The IEP is the document that provides a road map for your child’s education. It is a bridge between his disability and the standards and framework of the general education curriculum.

The IEP determines what he will learn and be able to do, specifies the programs and services he will receive, sets achievement targets, and tells you whether or not he is making progress and mastering skills.

Because the IEP is the basis for your child’s education, the IEP meeting offers you the best opportunity to ensure his academic success.

The IEP meeting should be functional and time-efficient. To prepare, you will need to plan ahead, research, and organize your information and thoughts. Below are guidelines for ensuring that the IEP meeting achieves what it must to further your child’s education.

Planning and Preparation
  • Take the time to develop a “vision statement,” in which you share with the team an accurate and comprehensive picture of your child.
  • Establish appropriate goals. Goals should be attainable in one year, and be reasonable, measurable, apply to all classes and linked to your child’s present levels of performance.
  • Determine how progress will be evaluated. For example, know what data will be used and who will collect it; have baseline data taken as a source of comparison.
  • Be knowledgeable about research-based services appropriate for your child, so you can give input as to what she needs in order to maximize participation and progress in the general education curriculum.
  • Be clear on who will be providing the services, what their qualifications are, where and how often the services will occur, how progress will be monitored, and when you will be informed of how your child is doing.
  • Discuss your child and his program at pre-IEP conferences. It is essential that all team and family members and any independent therapists working with him are able to share information and converse with each other.
  • Do your homework. Prior to the meeting, write a letter to the team requesting a copy of all evaluations that will be reviewed, and share any reports or test results that you want considered. There should be no surprises at the IEP meeting. Don’t put yourself in a position to be hearing your child’s evaluations or test results for the first time at the table; you must digest the information at home to be able to make informed requests and decisions.
  • Ask for specifics. Understand which evaluation procedures and performance criteria will be used to gauge your child’s progress, and make sure the assessments are standardized.
  • Trust your instincts. If the evaluations, recommendations and/or test results do not sound like your child, you may request an Independent Educational Evaluation at the district’s expense, or you may pay for one yourself. Make sure you ask a lot of questions, focus on recommendations and, if possible, bring the evaluator or an expert to the table to stand behind the report and advocate for your child.
  • Work collaboratively with the team. Try to take any “emotionality” out of your meetings. Presentation is important: begin with a complimentary attitude, and thank the team for their efforts. Remember that without diversity and disagreements, there would be no team. Make sure, however, that nothing you want discussed is left unaddressed.
  • Review final recommendations at the close of the meeting. Document all areas of agreement and disagreement, and clarify areas of concern. All agreements must be put in writing. If you do not agree, make sure to speak up. If you are dissatisfied, know your recourse, your procedural safeguards, and your rights to appeal to a higher authority.

IEP Action Plan
  • Come to meetings prepared;
  • Maintain a quiet confidence and positive mental attitude;
  • Be a problem solver;
  • Maintain a firm, determined demeanor;
  • Avoid rigidity and reaction to offense;
  • Do not assume responsibility for things out of your control.

This article is based on information presented at a Smart Kids community event by Noreen O’Mahoney, CSW, SDA, Director of Collaborative Advocacy Associates, Wilton, CT. Eve Kessler, Esq. is president and co-founder of SPED*NET Wilton (CT), former Chair of the CT Council on Developmental Disabilities and a contributing editor to Smart Kids.

Related Smart Kids Topics

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Mindfulness Meditation May Improve Memory for Teens

From Reuters Health

By Kathryn Doyle
November 17, 2015

Adolescents assigned to a mindfulness meditation program appeared to have improvements in memory in a recent study.

“These results are consistent with a growing body of research in adults that has found mindfulness meditation to be a helpful tool for enhancing working memory capacity,” said Kristen E. Jastrowski Mano of the psychology department at the University of Cincinnati, who coauthored the new study.

The researchers randomly divided 198 public middle school students into three groups: mindfulness meditation, hatha yoga or a waitlist. Most students were female, ages 12 to 15, and from low-income households that qualified for reduced-cost lunch.

Before the study began and after it ended, the students completed computer-based memory assessments and reported their stress and anxiety levels via questionnaires.

The meditation and yoga groups met for 45 minutes twice a week, for four weeks. In addition, students logged their home practice in journals that were collected each week.

Two trained mindfulness instructors led the meditation group in breathing techniques, formal meditation and discussion using written scripts with instructions on sitting posture, breathing and wandering thoughts.

Students were encouraged to take CDs with meditation audio recordings and use them for 15 to 30 minutes daily at home.

The yoga sessions were structured similarly, with trained instructors focusing on breathing, yoga poses and discussion. The kids in this group were also encouraged to practice at home daily using a DVD with yoga lessons.

Memory scores increased in the mindfulness meditation group by the end of the study, while they did not change in the yoga or waitlist groups, the authors reported in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Perceived stress and anxiety decreased in all three groups over time.

“Working memory is often conceptualized as being a 'mental workbench' that allows a person to keep information in mind long enough for reasoning and comprehension to occur,” Jastrowski Mano told Reuters Health. “It is involved in helping the brain shift information from short-term memory to long-term memory.”

Working memory is involved in many aspects of learning, like reasoning ability, mathematical problem solving, and reading comprehension, she said.

“Theoretical and experimental research suggests that mindfulness meditation is associated with changes in neural pathways and may be particularly effective in promoting executive functioning,” Jastrowski Mano said.

“The practice of meditation - which requires sustained attention while simultaneously redirecting attention back to the current experience - is closely related to the function of working memory.”

Some of the benefit of the meditation sessions may come from the relationships the teens build with the instructors, said Gina Biegel, a private practice psychotherapist in San Francisco who was not part of the new study.

“These youth are not getting a lot of attention from chaotic home environments,” Biegel told Reuters Health by email. “People in the mindfulness community are compassionate and respectful and create a relationship they don’t get elsewhere.”

Present moment awareness and focus exercises can be helpful too, as teens are often multitasking with homework, mobile devices, music and friends, she said.

Teens may want to consider mindfulness meditation for more than just the potential benefit of improving working memory capacity, Jastrowski Mano said, as there is growing evidence that youth experience many different physical and psychological benefits.

“But more research is definitely needed to figure out which adolescents benefit the most from mindfulness meditation, and in what ways,” she said, and she and her coauthors are cautious about making broad recommendations to schools.

“That said, many schools are very enthusiastic about and open to integrating mindfulness practices into their schools, so it is certainly something worth considering,” she said.

  • bit.ly/1NBO7WF The Journal of Adolescent Health, online November 11, 2015.


Therapeutic Yoga Services at NESCA

Yoga, meditation and other mindfulness practices are rapidly gaining recognition as effective treatments for conditions such as ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, anxiety and depression. At the cutting-edge of this treatment revolution, NESCA has provided therapeutic yoga services to children and adolescents for the past several years, with excellent results. 

The NESCA yoga program is rooted in the belief that self-regulation and self-awareness skills are essential foundations of success and general well-being in all settings. Sessions are designed to work with the learning style of each participant and to be appropriately engaging and fun in order to promote active participation.

NESCA is pleased to offer the following Therapeutic Yoga Services:

The “Yoga Connects” Program

Yoga Connects is a unique yoga program designed to meet the needs of young people with autism and other special challenges. Parents and children typically participate together, although 1-1 sessions may also be available. Yoga Connects utilizes a visual yoga curriculum and specialized teaching approach developed by Hannah Gould. Home practice is encouraged and supported by the take-home visual curriculum.

With Yoga Connects, yoga can become a meaningful shared activity and provide a daily respite from stress for both parent and child.

Therapeutic Yoga

Therapeutic yoga uses movement, breathing, mindfulness exercises and meditation techniques to bring children to an awareness of what is happening in their bodies and minds and to provide them with specific tools they can use to regulate themselves. Many children respond better to the body-based approach used in therapeutic yoga than to traditional talking-based therapies. This approach can be especially powerful for kinesthetic learners and those with language processing difficulties.

Therapeutic yoga sessions are typically done 1-1, but in some cases small groups may be available.

Adaptive Yoga

Adaptive yoga sessions are available for children or adults with physical disabilities or mobility challenges. Sessions are offered in NESCA’s wheelchair-accessible space, and may also be available off-site in your home, school, day program or other setting. Adaptive yoga strengthens the body-mind connection and places emphasis on what the student’s body can do.

Consultation and Training

Hannah Gould is available to provide consultation and training to parents and professionals interested in bringing yoga and mindfulness based activities or the Yoga Connects program into their home, school or clinical settings.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Helping Children Cope With Frightening News

From the Child Mind Insititute

By Harold S. Koplewicz, M.D.
November 17, 2015

What parents can do to aid kids in processing grief and fear in a healthy way.

When tragedy strikes, as parents you find yourself doubly challenged: to process your own feelings of grief and distress, and to help your children do the same.

I wish I could tell you how to spare your children pain, when they've lost friends or family members, and fear, when disturbing events occur, especially when they're close to home. I can't do that, but what I can do is share what I've learned about how to help children process disturbing events in the healthiest way.

As a parent, you can't protect you children from grief, but you can help them express their feelings, comfort them, and help them feel safer. By allowing and encouraging them to express their feelings, you can help them build healthy coping skills that will serve them well in the future, and confidence that they can overcome adversity.

Break the news. When something happens that will get wide coverage, my first and most important suggestion is that you don't delay telling your children about what's happened: It's much better for the child if you're the one who tells her. You don't want her to hear from some other child, a television news report, or the headlines on the front page of the New York Post. You want to convey the facts, however painful, and set the emotional tone.

How to Help Kids Cope After a Traumatic Event
  • A guide for parents, teachers, and community leaders that offers simple tips on what to expect, what to do, and what to look out for after a crisis. Get the Guide

Take your cues from your child. Invite her to tell you anything she may have heard about the tragedy, and how she feels. Give her ample opportunity to ask questions. You want to be prepared to answer (but not prompt) questions about upsetting details. Your goal is to avoid encouraging frightening fantasies.

Model calm. It's okay to let your child know if you're sad, but if you talk to your child about a traumatic experience in a highly emotional way, then he will likely absorb your emotion and very little else. If, on the other hand, you remain calm, he is likely to grasp what's important: that tragic events can upset our lives, even deeply, but we can learn from bad experiences and work together to grow stronger.

Be reassuring. Talking about death is always difficult, but a tragic accident or act of violence is especially tough because of how egocentric children are: they're likely to focus on whether something like this could happen to them. So it's important to reassure your child about how unusual this kind of event is, and the safety measures that have been taken to prevent this kind of thing from happening to them. You can also assure him that this kind of tragedy is investigated carefully, to identify causes and help prevent it from happening again. It's confidence-building for kids to know that we learn from negative experiences.

Helping Children Deal with Grief
  • You can't protect your kids from the pain of loss, but you can help them recover in a healthy way, and build coping skills for the future. Read More

Help them express their feelings. In your conversation (and subsequent ones) you can suggest ways your child might remember those she's lost: draw pictures or tell stories about things you did together. If you're religious, going to church or synagogue could be valuable.

Be developmentally appropriate. Don't volunteer too much information, as this may be overwhelming. Instead, try to answer your child's questions. Do your best to answer honestly and clearly. It's okay if you can't answer everything; being available to your child is what matters. Difficult conversations like this aren't over in one session; expect to return to the topic as many times as your child needs to come to terms with this experience.

Be available. If your child is upset, just spending time with him may make him feel safer. Children find great comfort in routines, and doing ordinary things together as a family may be the most effective form of healing.

How to Foster Resilience
  • A community of caring adults—and peers, too—can be critical in helping a child recover from a traumatic experience. Read More

Memorialize those who have been lost. Drawing pictures, planting a tree, sharing stories, or releasing balloons can all be good, positive ways to help provide closure to a child. It's important to assure your child that a person continues to live on in the hearts and minds of others.

Doing something to help others in need can be very therapeutic: it can help children not only feel good about themselves but learn a very healthy way to respond to grief.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

When Must Massachusetts School Districts Provide Copies of Reports? – An Interpretation and a Call for Revision

From Special Education Today
A Special Ed Law Blog from Kotin, Crabtree & Strong

By Robert Crabtree and Eileen Hagerty
November 17, 2015

"Central to... parents’ effective participation... is their ability to fully digest, understand, and appraise all the relevant information that school participants bring to the table."

We often hear from parents who have asked their school districts to give them copies of evaluation reports as soon as the reports are completed, only to be told that they cannot have those reports until two days before the Team meeting at which the reports will be considered. Many districts will take this position even though the reports in question may have been completed weeks before that meeting.

In our opinion, the districts’ position in those cases is flat wrong.

The districts that take that position cite a regulation (603 CMR 28.04(2)(c)) which provides that, if parents request to see a report that will be considered at a Team meeting, the district must provide a copy “at least” two days before the meeting. (“Days” means calendar, rather than school days, in this regulation.)

If the words “at least” are given any meaning, the regulation is only meant to provide a deadline and is not intended to encourage withholding reports to the last minute.

Moreover, in many cases a different regulation requires delivery far sooner than two days before a Team meeting. The Massachusetts Student Records Regulations require districts to deliver student records to parents “as soon as practicable” after receiving a request, and in any event within ten days (under this regulation too, “days” means calendar days, not school days) following a request. 603 CMR 23.07(2).

The same regulations define a “student record” as including “all information [and materials]… regardless of physical form or characteristics concerning a student that is organized on the basis of the student’s name or in a way that such student may be individually identified, and that is kept by the public schools of the Commonwealth … regardless of where they are located, except for [personal notes, memoranda, etc. kept by a school employee and not made available to others].” 603 CMR 23.02.

Because school evaluation reports identify students by name, they clearly constitute student records. Thus, under the Student Records Regulations, the reports must be provided to parents “as soon as practicable” following a request.

It is obviously “practicable” to copy and deliver an evaluation report, or even a few such reports, within a day or two of receiving a request. Districts often claim, however, that the regulation providing for delivery of evaluation reports two days before a Team meeting (their communications usually omit reference to the words “at least”) somehow trumps the student records requirement and allows them to withhold reports until that two-day deadline is reached. It does not.

Reading the two requirements together, both aim to ensure that parents receive records reasonably quickly after their request. If parents request a student record (evaluation report) less than ten days before a Team meeting, the “practicable” response will always be to deliver that record immediately; in no event, though, should it be delivered less than two days before the Team meeting. The Team-meeting-specific regulation acts, in that case, as a fail-safe provision to ensure that the parents will always have at least two days to review that report.

But, if the parents request a report more than ten days before the Team meeting, and especially if they make the request many days before, they should be given that report immediately (or, if it has not yet been written, as soon as it is available) under the Student Records regulations.

Districts that claim otherwise are pointlessly withholding critical information from parents and undermining what should be a trusting and cooperative relationship, based on a misreading of the applicable legal requirements.

With all that, we think that even if the applicable regulations are accurately interpreted and applied, those regulations beg for revision in keeping with the purposes of IDEA. Team meeting determinations should always be based on informed deliberation and meaningful participation by all parties, including the parents.

Central to the parents’ effective participation in that process is their ability to fully digest, understand, and appraise all the relevant information that school participants bring to the table.

In light of this principle, the regulation providing for delivery to parents of evaluation reports at least two days before their Team meeting, upon request, is deeply flawed in at least two ways.

First, two days prior to a Team meeting is too little time, especially if the parents need to consult with an independent expert to understand and assess the district evaluators’ findings and recommendations. This puts the parents at an unfair disadvantage, particularly in light of the fact that the district has in-house expertise that enables it to interpret its evaluators’ reports and the district has already had plenty of time to review and digest those reports.

When the tables are turned, and it is the district looking for time to review an independent evaluation, the governing regulation (603 CMR 28.04(f)) presents a starkly unjust contrast, giving districts not two, but up to ten school days (not calendar days in this case) to convene the Team after receiving the report.

Districts typically interpret that regulation as license to take a full ten school days to review the report before they convene the Team to discuss it with the parents.

(One unfortunate consequence of that practice, by the way, is that many districts, if they receive a report less than ten school days before the end of the school year, will take the excuse to put off a Team meeting until the fall.)

Second, the current version of the evaluation-specific regulation (603 CMR 28.04(2)(c)) places the burden on parents to make an affirmative request for copies of evaluation reports in order to receive them before the Team meeting. Parents should not have to ask. The regulation should be replaced with a provision requiring districts to deliver copies of any evaluations completed by their evaluators immediately upon completion, without regard to whether the parents request copies. We commend those districts that already make a practice of doing this.

Because evaluations are key to the special education process, timely access to evaluation reports is an important right. Unless and until the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education revises 603 CMR 28.04(2)(c), parents will need to be vigilant and proactive to obtain the information they need.


Robert Crabtree and Eileen Hagerty are partners in the Special Education & Disability Rights practice group at Kotin, Crabtree & Strong, LLP in Boston, Massachusetts.