Search This Blog


Saturday, November 22, 2014

School Stimulant Use as 'Socioeconomic Advantage'? Study Suggests It Could Be.

From the Education Week Blog
"Inside School Research"

By Sarah D. Sparks
October 20, 2014

Whether your child's drug use is a path to jail or an edge for college may depend in part on your family income.

A new study in the American Sociological Review finds that middle and high school students from wealthier backgrounds are more likely than students in poverty to "selectively use stimulants only during the academic year," and they are most likely to do so in states with the most stringent academic accountability.

The use of prescription stimulants in response to academic pressure may be "a new pathway through which medical interventions may act as a resource for families of higher socioeconomic status to transmit educational advantages to their children, either intentionally or unwittingly," conclude the study's authors, Marissa D. King of the Yale School of Management, Jennifer Jennings of New York University, and Jason M. Fletcher of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

While scientists have found no silver-bullet "smart drug," a wide array of different chemicals can be "nootropic," enhancing cognition by easing stress responses in challenging situations or boosting mental acuity after late-night study sessions.

As I reported back in 2012, the use of stimulants like methylphenidate (the active ingredient in Ritalin) and modafinil (often known by the brand name Provigil) under legal but so-called "off-label" precriptions has been on the rise. Some students may use them to get high, but many others are using them to gain an academic edge—be it real or imagined.

The study authors noted that those stimulants have been found to improve note-taking, quiz and test performance, homework completion, and even social skills among students with attention-deficit disorders—but also noted some evidence that stimulants can improve memory and learning in those without attention deficits.

That's where socioeconomic status and family responses to academic pressures start to play a role.

King, Jennings, and Fletcher analyzed the nearly 4 million patients ages 20 and younger who filled more than 15.7 million stimulant prescriptions from Sept. 1, 2007 to August 31, 2008. They also tracked low- and high-income students who were served by the same doctor, and cross-referenced the patients' home states and the intensity of their academic accountability systems.

The researchers found that while elementary school students typically fill prescriptions for stimulants like Ritalin year round, in middle and high school, students are 30 percent more likely to have a prescription filled during the school year than in summer.

"The mismatch between children's academic and social behaviors and the schooling environment is a strong driver of stimulant prescriptions," they found. The rate at which prescriptions were filled even suggested that students were taking the medicines during the school week but not neccessarily on weekends or holidays.

Moreover, the gap varied by students' family income. Teenagers from higher socioeconomic backgrounds—defined as those who used private insurance—were 36 percent more likely to fill a stimulant prescription in the school year than in the summer, while low-income students— those using public Medicaid or state Children's Health Insurance programs—were only 13 percent more likely to use stimulants in the academic year than in the summer.

While some doctors do allow "drug holidays," some studies have found that parents often move students on and off of medication frequently and without first consulting a doctor. Moreover, the American Academy of Pediatrics notes,

"These breaks may speak to a desire of parents or children to minimize the use of stimulants, but there is no reliable evidence indicating that the breaks are helpful or necessary from a medical point of view."

Those gaps remained even when high- and low-income students were served by the same doctor, and they got worse in states with high academic accountability, as defined by the Education Week Research Center's 2008 Quality Counts report.

Not 'For Fun'

These are prescription drugs, and the long-term impact of their use on children and teenagers, whose brains are still undergoing major changes, is nowhere near known. But doing drugs to do better in school, as opposed to using them for recreational purposes, doesn't get tracked in the same way, and doesn't seem to trigger the same alarm among even groups that generally oppose adolescent drug use.

For example, the most recent survey on adolescent drug use by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University has an entire chapter devoted to academic performance and drugs, but it focuses on statistics on how students who have lower grades in school are more likely to drink alcohol or smoke tobacco or marijuana.

As might be expected, when asked for "the most important problem facing people your age—that is, the thing which concerns you the most," the most common answer, given by a quarter of the respondents, was drug, alcohol or tobacco use—but, when asked for their biggest personal source of stress: 56 percent said "academics/doing well in school," another 3 percent said "balancing school and other activities," and 1 percent said "getting into college."

But all of the questions related to prescription-drug use clarify to students that they are talking about drugs used without a prescription, specifically to "get high." They were not asked about their or their friends' or peers' use of stimulants to perform better academically.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Artists in Action November 22nd! AANE Artists Collaborative Open House

The Asperger/Autism Network

 November 21, 2014

All members of the AANE Artist Collaborative are adults with AS (and related profiles) and practicing artists!
  • Browse the gallery for unique gifts for your friends and family.
  • See artists in action as they create, work and live.
  • Speak to the artists about the meaning of their work.
You don't want to miss this and neither do your friends! Please RSVP and invite your friends on Facebook.
When:   11:00am - 4:00pm EST, Saturday November 22, 2014
Where: AANE Office
                  51 Water Street, Suite 206
                  Watertown, MA 02472
RSVP (or just drop in!)
"I tend to create and conceive my imagery
through the left brain, focusing on detail, order,
separation and purity of color (very little mixing),
and clearly defined lines. This reflects my general need
for simplicity, clarity and structure in real life."
--Andrew Novis

Donate at NESCA to Horizons for Homeless Children


November 20, 2014

What could possibly be more bleak than for a child to be homeless, cold and hungry over the holidays?

It has become something of a holiday season tradition at NESCA to designate a children's charity as the beneficiary of donations by our staff. This year, we will be supporting Boston-based Horizons for Homeless Children.

And we would like to encourage you to join us!

Horizon's 2014 wish list is below, or you can download it HERE as a PDF. Please note that all items must be new, unwrapped and suitable for children 0-6 years old. Beyond toys, books and arts and crafts supplies, Horizons has a pressing need for staple items such as hats, gloves, cleaning supplies, baby wipes and diapers.

If you're willing and able to help, please bring your contributions with you to NESCA when you come in for your appointments. No appointment? Swing by with your gift and say hello! We'll arrange for delivery. The deadline is Friday, December 12th.

Season's greetings and many thanks for your support!

"One out of every 30 children..."

In an article published November 17th entitled “Child Homelessness in U.S. Reaches Historic High, Report Says,” Newsweek noted that:

“One out of every 30 children in the U.S. experienced homelessness last year. That makes nearly 2.5 million children who, in 2013, lived in shelters, on the streets, in cars, on campgrounds or doubled up with other families in tight quarters, often moving from one temporary solution to another, according to “America’s Youngest Outcasts,” a report published Monday by the National Center on Family Homelessness at the American Institutes for Research.

With an increase of 8 percent in just one year between 2012 and 2013, the number of homeless children in this country has reached a historic high, the report says.”

The Newsweek article continues,

“In the long term, according to the report, homelessness can have a “devastating” effect on children, leading to “changes in brain architecture that can interfere with learning, emotional self-regulation, cognitive skills, and social relationships.” Children who have experienced homelessness and frequently changed schools tend to fall behind, Lesley says, and are more likely to drop out of school before they graduate.”

Thank you!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

17 Great Apps and Sites for Special Education

From's Blog "Common Sense"

By Ellen Holderman
January 10, 2014

It's Top-Pick List day! This week, we are featuring great special ed apps and sites. While most of these weren't designed specifically for kids with special needs or learning differences, they've been recommended by educators and experts who work with these populations. Check them out. You might find them helpful for any student who needs more support.

To see the rating of each, visit the Top-Picks List, Great Special Ed Apps and Sites.

Peek-a-Zoo by Duck Duck Moose
With its easy-to-use format and creative yet simple animal animations, Peek-a-Zoo supports teachers in providing kids with all-important lessons about social and emotional cues, which can be applied in endless situations in and out of the classroom. Read full review.

Montessori Numbers - Math Activities for Kids
Montessori Numbers is a set of five math-related activities that follow the Montessori method. Maria Montessori's hands-on approach ("What the hand does, the mind remembers") is definitely incorporated. The app includes counting, block manipulation, stacking, number cards, and number matching. Read full review.

Numbers League
Playing the game, younger kids practice basic arithmetic and mental math. Older kids can play a more challenging game including negative numbers and multiplication, depending on which level is chosen (1-5). Read full review.

Remember The Milk
As with any task-organizing app, Remember The Milk is only as useful as the person entering and monitoring the progress and completion of tasks. But if used well and often, this app can help teens and teachers stay on top of everything that needs attention. Read full review.

Kid in Story Book Maker
Though many storybook creation apps exist, Kid in Story Book Maker is unique. Even with a relatively hefty price tag, its social story focus makes it a valuable asset for kids, especially those with special needs who require extra help with social or communication skills. Read full review.

Articulation Station
Articulation Station provides kids with the opportunity to record and listen to their own voices as they pronounce the letters and words in conjunction with a narrator who speaks them. As a result, students can gain self-awareness and identify their own pronunciation strengths and weaknesses. Read full review.

Phonics Genius
Phonics Genius is a customizable flashcard-style app designed to help kids identify letter sounds and their relationship to words. It has over 6,000 words grouped into 225 categories, including single letter and letter combination sounds. Read full review.

Go Go Games
Most of the learning is tacit and supported by classroom teachers helping kids learn to code, a 21st-century skill that's quickly gaining importance. Students can create animations, games, and models that communicate artistry and learning. Read full review.

Toontastic is a digital storytelling tool that teaches kids how to organize and present story ideas through cartoons. It employs a "Story Arc" that contains five sequential scenes to guide story structure (Setup, Conflict, Challenge, Climax, and Resolution). Read full review.

CAST UDL Book Builder
CAST UDL Book Builder is a free online tool that lets kids create, publish, share, and read digital books. The tool is designed around Universal Design for Learning (UDL), an educational framework meant to support diverse learning needs. Read full review.

News 2 You
News-2-You is a fantastic way to bring social studies, current events, and other newsy tidbits to students with special needs as well as beginning readers. The symbols-based and voice-supported articles allow you to adjust to fit a student's unique needs. Read full review.

Playful Minds: Math (5-8 years old)
Playful Minds Math is a fun and educationally sound game that teaches kids grade-appropriate (and Common Core-aligned!) math skills. Set on a colorful tropical island, it also includes progress reports for parents or teachers to stay on top of what kids are working on or struggling with. Read full review.

Time Timer
Time Timer is a productivity app that can help kids (or adults) focus on timed tasks, as well as manage transitions or waiting. Time concepts like these can be challenging for many kids, especially those with special needs. With Time Timer, younger kids can see time as a measurement without the confusion of the numbers on a traditional clock. Read full review.

DragonBox+ Algebra
DragonBox+ teaches kids algebra in a refreshing and unique way. Ten chapters get increasingly complex, and drag-and-drop simplicity teaches kids to solve, balance, and reduce multi-variable equations and overcome fears about learning math. Read full review. does an excellent job of offering clear and intriguing early literacy lessons. Students from a variety of learning backgrounds (ESL, language-delayed, and more) can use to explore literacy concepts at their own pace. Read full review.

Speech with Milo: Sequencing
In the classroom, teachers can use Speech with Milo: Sequencing as a logic and language skills tool in lessons related to sequencing, storytelling, time, left-to-right reading, and developing complex sentences. Read full review.

Proloquo2Go can help kids grow in communication as well as emotional identification. This may reduce frustration in the classroom, improve social interaction between students and with adults, and help many speech-limited students increase social as well as academic skills. Read full review.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Common-Sense, Science-Based Advice on Toddler Screen Time

From Slate

November 13, 2014


It’s a question always sparking hot debate in parenting circles: Do you let your babies and toddlers use screens? For years, the health and child development establishment has been advising parents to avoid exposing their toddlers and babies to screen media. But daily life increasingly includes video, smartphones, and touchscreen tablets.

Questions have been flying: Is staying away really the best approach?

Last month, however, a new message broke through—part of a wave of new pronouncements rooted in science that could make way for new approaches and push “screen time” to be much more than an electronic babysitter.

This is not a crime!

The guide released last month by Zero to Three, a nonprofit organization focused on infants and toddlers, is the latest and most powerful example of a shift in the landscape. The guide, Screen Sense: Setting the Record Straight, is an objective account of the research, summarizing the implications via “both-and” statements such as “children should have lots of time for play in the real, 3-D world,” and parents should “make screen use a shared experience.”

This may sound like common sense, but it’s actually a departure from a particularly controversial piece of advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics: For years, the AAP has told parents to avoid using screens with children younger than 2.

It’s a recommendation based on an understandable concern that parents will substitute screen-watching for the warm, real-world interactions children need. But it doesn’t allow for the possibility that cuddle moments might be possible with a screen on the lap.

Worse, the “no screens” dictates have led to confusion. As a journalist who has spent a decade reviewing research on screentime and young children, I have spoken with families across the country about how they use technology with their children. Parents have told me about exhausting maneuvers they have attempted to keep their baby’s head turned away from screens when their older children are watching.

One mother in Portland, Oregon was visibly upset when she approached me after a public forum on the subject. She and her 1-year-old had been Skyping with her mother in China, and she desperately wanted to keep doing so because they all loved the interactions, but she worried that something emanating from the screen would harm her baby.

In fact, a 2013 study in the research journal Child Development shows the opposite: Webcam-like interactions with loved ones can help young children form bonds and learn new words.

The Zero to Three document, which examined dozens of studies, focuses on adult-child interaction of all kinds—with or without digital media—as the key ingredient for children’s development. It doesn’t say “no screens.”

Two pediatricians known nationally for their research on media—and who once were part of the AAP’s committee on children and media—have also called for a balanced approach. Michael Rich, the director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital, wrote an extensive commentary about rethinking media in the Journal of the American Medical Association this spring. He pressed his colleagues to be guided by research, not personal opinion.

“In our zeal to advocate for children,” he wrote, “we have largely ignored the positive effects of using media, mismanaged the public discourse, and lost the ear of many whom we serve.”

A month later, Dimitri Christakis, director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior, and Development at the University of Washington, wrote a viewpoint article for JAMA Pediatrics calling for a distinction, at very young ages, between TV use and interactive play on touchscreen tablets. Elsewhere, the Harvard Family Research Project published a paper that accentuated the qualities of “effective uses” of technology: those that are “active, hands-on, engaging, and empowering for children.”

And, the National Association for the Education of Young Children just published a guide for child care and early educators: Technology And Digital Media in the Early Years: Tools for Teaching and Learning.

These changes cannot come too soon. Household routines are being fundamentally recalibrated in ways similar to the 1950s and 1960s, when television became ubiquitous and altered the way families spent their evenings and mealtimes. In 1961, Newton Minnow, the chair of the Federal Communications Commission, gave an impassioned speech about the “vast wasteland” of commercial television, bemoaning how the technology was not being used in positive ways.

It wasn’t until 1968 that Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was broadcast to a U.S. audience, and it wasn’t until 1969 that Joan Ganz Cooney and her friends in New York City produced the first Sesame Street.

Both were effective efforts to make something worthwhile for children and their families using the new medium. But by then, many habits had already become ingrained: Kids’ TV had become little more than a tool for keeping children from tearing up the living room.

My quest to understand how screen media affects children started several years ago, when my daughters were toddlers. I had been startled by, and curious about, the AAP’s recommendation. But the findings in scientific research, I discovered, were not as dire as I had been led to believe. The science could even be put into a one-line mantra: Remember the three C’s: the content, the context, and the child.

This means: Be choosy about the content—the apps, games, and TV shows—that you let your children see. (When they are very young, that content should be limited to material that you, the parent, would use to engage in conversation with your baby or toddler, such as electronic picture books, interactive apps, or personal videos of family outings.)

Be aware of the context—it’s good to talk with kids about what they watch, for example—and ensure their media use does not crowd out other activities, such as outdoor play and conversation-filled mealtimes.

And, be alert to the needs of the child as an individual: A child will react in unique ways to what he or she sees and plays with. She may need more limits or increased face-to-face time with you depending on her age and what she is going through at any given moment, or she could have new interests sparked by what she experiences on screen.

This shift in advice does not give parents a pass. Nor is it about making life easier for us. Let’s face it: Raising children turns our hair gray no matter what. But at least it moves us from a “no screen time” recommendation that few parents abide toward “mindful screen time” in today’s media-manic world.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Why Teaching Kindness in Schools Is Essential to Reduce Bullying

From Edutopia

By Lisa Currie
October 17, 2014

"It's become quite clear that modern education must encompass more than just academics, and that matters of the heart must be taken seriously and nurtured as a matter of priority."

Phrases like "random acts of kindness" and "pay it forward" have become popular terms in modern society. Perhaps this could be best explained by those who have identified a deficiency in their lives that can only be fulfilled by altruism.

It seems that we just can't get enough of those addictive, feel-good emotions -- and with good reason. Scientific studies prove that kindness has many physical, emotional, and mental health benefits. And children need a healthy dose of the warm-and-fuzzies to thrive as healthy, happy, well-rounded individuals.

Patty O'Grady, Ph.D., an expert in neuroscience, emotional learning, and positive psychology, specializes in education. She reports:

"Kindness changes the brain by the experience of kindness. Children and adolescents do not learn kindness by only thinking about it and talking about it. Kindness is best learned by feeling it so that they can reproduce it."

A great number of benefits have been reported to support teaching kindness in schools, best summed up by the following.

Happy, Caring Children

The good feelings that we experience when being kind are produced by endorphins. They activate areas of the brain that are associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust. These feelings of joyfulness are proven to be contagious and encourage more kind behavior (also known as altruism) by the giver and recipient.

Increased Peer Acceptance

Research on the subject has determined that kindness increases our ability to form meaningful connections with others. Kind, happy children enjoy greater peer acceptance because they are well liked. Better-than-average mental health is reported in classrooms that practice more inclusive behavior due to an even distribution of popularity.

Greater Sense of Belonging and Improved Self-Esteem

Studies show that people experience a "helper's high" when they do a good deed. This rush of endorphins creates a lasting sense of pride, wellbeing, and an enriched sense of belonging. It's reported that even small acts of kindness heighten our sense of wellbeing, increase energy, and give a wonderful feeling of optimism and self worth.

Improved Health and Less Stress

Being kind can trigger a release of the hormone oxytocin, which has a number of physical and mental health benefits. Oxytocin can significantly increase a person's level of happiness and reduce stress levels. It also protects the heart by lowering blood pressure and reducing free radicals and inflammation, which incidentally speed up the aging process.

Increased Feelings of Gratitude

When children are part of projects that help others less fortunate than themselves, it provides them with a real sense of perspective. Helping someone else makes them appreciate the good things in their own lives.

Better Concentration and Improved Results

Kindness is a key ingredient that helps children feel good about themselves as it increases serotonin levels. This important chemical affects learning, memory, mood, sleep, health, and digestion. Having a positive outlook enables greater attention spans and more creative thinking to produce better results at school.

Reduced Depression

Dr. Wayne Dyer, an internationally-renowned author and speaker, says that an act of kindness triggers an increase in serotonin, a natural chemical responsible for improving mood. This boost in happiness occurs not only in both the giver and receiver of kindness, but also in anyone who witnesses it. This makes kindness a powerful, natural antidepressant. (PDF, 14KB)

Less Bullying

Shanetia Clark and Barbara Marinak are Penn State Harrisburg faculty researchers. They say, "Unlike previous generations, today's adolescents are victimizing each other at alarming rates." They argue that adolescent bullying and violence can be confronted with in-school programs that integrate, "kindness -- the antithesis of victimization."

Many traditional anti-bullying programs focus on the negative actions that cause anxiety in children. When kindness and compassion are taught instead, it fosters the positive behavior that's expected. Promoting its psychological opposite is key in reducing bullying to create warm and inclusive school environments.

Maurice Elias, Professor at Rutgers University Psychology Department, is also an advocate for kindness. He says:

"As a citizen, grandparent, father, and professional, it is clear to me that the mission of schools must include teaching kindness. Without it, communities, families, schools, and classrooms become places of incivility where lasting learning is unlikely to take place . . .

[W]e need to be prepared to teach kindness, because it can be delayed due to maltreatment early in life. It can be smothered under the weight of poverty, and it can be derailed by victimization later in life . . . Kindness can be taught, and it is a defining aspect of civilized human life. It belongs in every home, school, neighborhood, and society."

It's become quite clear that modern education must encompass more than just academics, and that matters of the heart must be taken seriously and nurtured as a matter of priority.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Reminder! Talk November 18th - Therapeutic Yoga: Practical Self-Regulation Strategies You Can Use and Enjoy at Home


November 17, 2014

Parents: please join us at NESCA from 7:00 - 9:00pm on Tuesday, November 18th for a presentation on therapeutic yoga by Instructors Hannah Gould and Ann-Noelle McCowan.

They will teach practical strategies you can take home to use and enjoy with your children, and more generally, discuss yoga as a proven approach to helping kids develop self-regulation skills.

When:   7:00 - 9:00pm Tuesday, November 18

Where: NESCA, Lower Lobby Meeting Room
                 55 Chapel Street, Newton, MA 02458

There is ample, free, off-street parking in the lot directly opposite the main entrance to our building.

This program is free and open to the public, but advance registration is requested; RSVP by calling 617-658-9800, or by email to