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Sunday, September 30, 2012

British Columbia Schools to Promote Student Self-Discipline

From the Ottawa Citizen (Canada)

By Janet Steffenhagen, Vancouver Sun
September 23, 2012

Research suggests self-regulation is the key to learning.

Six British Columbia school districts have embarked on a project that views self-regulation as the key to addressing the mental, physical and psychological diversity in classrooms that sometimes disrupts learning and creates a stressful environment for teachers.

It’s being described as a watershed moment in British Columbia education.

Leaders in those districts have embraced the philosophy of York University professor Stuart Shanker, that teaching children to self-regulate — in other words, to remain calm, focused and alert — is the best way to help them learn. It’s a theory backed by education ministry officials.

"...teaching children to self-regulate — in other words, to remain calm, focused and alert — is the best way to help them learn."

Superintendent Mike McKay, who is leading the B.C. project, says the goal is to apply brain research in designated classrooms while working with Shanker’s research team. The districts — Surrey, West Vancouver, Coquitlam, Victoria, Bulkley Valley and Nanaimo-Ladysmith — are the “first wave” of an effort McKay hopes will spread provincewide.

Former education minister George Abbott echoed that view, and predicted during an interview last month that the project now underway will bring significant change to all 60 districts within two to four years. “This is hugely exciting,” he said. “I think it can reshape the way we manage the challenge of special needs in the 21st century.”

“This is hugely exciting. I think it can reshape the way we manage the challenge of special needs in the 21st century.”

He expects it will move schools away from their emphasis on diagnosing a child’s special need, attaching a label — which may or may not bring additional funding — and developing an individual education plan (IEP). The goal, instead, will be for them to make better use of groundbreaking neuroscience research on self-regulation to benefit all students.

“Let’s not be blowing our resources on trying — at often too early an age — to diagnose precisely what the challenge is,” Abbott told leading school officials at a self-regulation conference earlier this year. Regardless of what the challenge is — whether the child is the next Isaac Newton or has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) — the strategies to help with learning are the same, he said.

Research suggests the better students are able to self-regulate, the better success they have in mastering new skills. But the emphasis today on instant gratification means a growing number of children are coming to school without that ability and teachers need new strategies to help them develop it.

Proponents of self-regulation say it’s easily confused with self-control, but the two are quite different. Self-control refers to the ability to control emotions or impulses in the hope of a reward, or to avoid punishment, while self-regulation is described as channelling emotions, setting goals and maintaining or changing arousal levels as necessary for different tasks or situations.

Shanker, a philosophy and psychology professor, sums it up in the title of his new book: Calm, Alert and Learning: Classroom Strategies for Self-Regulation. He argues self-discipline is far more important than IQ in determining success for children.

The six B.C. school districts have identified classrooms, and in some cases whole schools, where lessons about self-regulation contained in Shanker’s book will be put into practice.

Training for teachers and other school staff began this month with the arrival from Toronto of the York research team.

The work is expected to help educators understand why efforts over many decades to improve the chances of success for some children have not always been successful. In some cases, they will reinforce what is already being practised, McKay said.

It’s being done at minimal cost to B.C. school districts, he said, with most of the funding provided to the university research team by the Milton and Ethel Harris Research Initiative (MEHRI). Similar research is underway in Ontario. The ministry says it is not providing funding.

McKay insisted self-regulation is not just another education fad. “This is something that’s becoming fundamental to the way we do business,” he said in a recent interview. “We’re having to reinvent education.”

Adele Diamond, a University of B.C. professor and a leading researcher on the development of cognitive functions, said teaching children self-regulation will have impacts far beyond the classroom, including improved mental health and lower crime rates.

“It’s major,” she said, adding that some educators have been discussing this for the past decade but for many others who are concerned primarily with academic content, “it’s still not on their radar.”

Dr. Stuart Shanker discusses how new research on brain development is changing ideas about how we learn, teach and parent, at the People for Education Conference, 2010.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Important FAQs about AASC

You've asked about AASC. Some answers:

What is It?

AASC (Anxiety and Attention Skills Coaching) is NESCA's unique, intensive program that addresses the pressing needs of children whose anxiety, executive function deficits, attentional problems and impulsivity subvert their work in school and undermine both peer and familial relationships.

AASC is a 12-week program involving 3 one-hour sessions per week with the primary clinician and 1 one-hour session per week of yoga therapy (four sessions per week, total).

Specific interventions utilized are highly individualized based on the child’s needs and interests.

Intervention strategies utilized include psycho-educational, cognitive behavioral and emotion processing techniques, mindfulness, self-monitoring methods and behavioral rewards systems.

Who Runs It?

AASC is supervised by Angela Currie, Ph.D., who has extensive experience in the evaluation and treatment of anxiety-based disorders. Working closely with her are Jill O'Connell-Nordin, M.S.W. and NESCA Yoga Therapist Hannah Gould, M.Ed., RYT.


Our turn to ask some key questions:

Is your child…
  • So anxious that he or she is having a very hard time learning?
  • Worried much of the time?
  • Struggling unsuccessfully to pay attention or control impulsive behaviors?
  • Falling further behind in school or peer relationships?
Does your child…
  • Need quickly to learn new coping skills before these problems become overwhelming?
If you answered yes...

What is Executive Function?

From NCLD - National Center for Learning Disabilities

By NCLD Editorial Staff
September 27,2 012

Executive function is a set of mental processes that helps connect past experience with present action.

People use it to perform activities such as planning, organizing, strategizing, paying attention to and remembering details, and managing time and space.

If you have trouble with executive function, these things are more difficult to do. You may also show a weakness with working memory, which is like "seeing in your mind's eye." This is an important tool in guiding your actions.

As with other learning disabilities, problems with executive function can run in families. It can be seen at any age, but it tends to become more apparent as children move through the early elementary grades. This is when the demands of completing schoolwork independently can trigger signs of a problem with executive function.

The brain continues to mature and develop connections well into adulthood. A person's executive function abilities are shaped by both physical changes in the brain and by life experiences, in the classroom and in the world at large.

Early attention to developing efficient skills in this area can be very helpful. As a rule, it helps to give direct instruction, frequent reassurance, and explicit feedback.

How Does Executive Function Affect Learning?

In school, at home, or in the workplace, we're called on all day, every day, to self-regulate behavior.

Executive function allows us to:
  • Make plans
  • Keep track of time and finish work on time
  • Keep track of more than one thing at once
  • Meaningfully include past knowledge in discussions
  • Evaluate ideas and reflect on our work
  • Change our minds and make mid-course corrections while thinking, reading, and writing
  • Ask for help or seek information when we need it
  • Engage in group dynamics
  • Wait to speak until we're called on
What Are the Warning Signs of Executive Function Problems?

A student may have problems with executive function when he or she has trouble:
  • Planning projects
  • Comprehending how much time a project will take to complete
  • Telling stories (verbally or in writing), struggling to communicate details in an organized, sequential manner
  • Memorizing and retrieving information from memory
  • Initiating activities or tasks, or generating ideas independently
  • Retaining information while doing something with it, for example, remembering a phone number while dialing
How Are Problems with Executive Function Identified?

There is no single test or even battery of tests that identifies all of the different features of executive function. Educators, psychologists, speech-language pathologists, and others use a variety of tests to identify problems. Careful observation and trial teaching are invaluable in identifying and understanding weaknesses in this area.

What Are Some Strategies to Help?

There are many effective strategies to help with executive function challenges. Here are some methods to try:

General Strategies
  • Take step-by-step approaches to work; rely on visual organizational aids.
  • Use tools like time organizers, computers or watches with alarms.
  • Prepare visual schedules and review them several times a day.
  • Ask for written directions with oral instructions whenever possible.
  • Plan and structure transition times and shifts in activities.
Managing Time
  • Create checklists and "to do" lists, estimating how long tasks will take.
  • Break long assignments into chunks and assign time frames for completing each chunk.
  • Use visual calendars at to keep track of long term assignments, due dates, chores, and activities.
  • Use management software such as the Franklin Day Planner, Palm Pilot, or Lotus Organizer.
  • Be sure to write the due date on top of each assignment.
Managing Space and Materials
  • Organize work space.
  • Minimize clutter.
  • Consider having separate work areas with complete sets of supplies for different activities.
  • Schedule a weekly time to clean and organize the work space.
Managing Work
  • Make a checklist for getting through assignments. For example, a student's checklist could include such items as: get out pencil and paper; put name on paper; put due date on paper; read directions; etc.
  • Meet with a teacher or supervisor on a regular basis to review work; troubleshoot problems.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Teachers' Expectations Can Influence How Students Perform

From NPR's Morning Edition Health Blog - Shots

September 17, 2012

In my Morning Edition story today, I look at expectations — specifically, how teacher expectations can affect the performance of the children they teach.

The first psychologist to systematically study this was a Harvard professor named Robert Rosenthal, who in 1964 did a wonderful experiment at an elementary school south of San Francisco.
Listen to the story (8:31) HERE.
The idea was to figure out what would happen if teachers were told that certain kids in their class were destined to succeed, so Rosenthal took a normal IQ test and dressed it up as a different test.

"It was a standardized IQ test, Flanagan's Test of General Ability," he says. "But the cover we put on it, we had printed on every test booklet, said 'Harvard Test of Inflected Acquisition.' "

Rosenthal told the teachers that this very special test from Harvard had the very special ability to predict which kids were about to be very special — that is, which kids were about to experience a dramatic growth in their IQ.

After the kids took the test, he then chose from every class several children totally at random. There was nothing at all to distinguish these kids from the other kids, but he told their teachers that the test predicted the kids were on the verge of an intense intellectual bloom.

As he followed the children over the next two years, Rosenthal discovered that the teachers' expectations of these kids really did affect the students. "If teachers had been led to expect greater gains in IQ, then increasingly, those kids gained more IQ," he says.

But just how do expectations influence IQ?

As Rosenthal did more research, he found that expectations affect teachers' moment-to-moment interactions with the children they teach in a thousand almost invisible ways.

Teachers give the students that they expect to succeed more time to answer questions, more specific feedback, and more approval: They consistently touch, nod and smile at those kids more.

"It's not magic, it's not mental telepathy," Rosenthal says. "It's very likely these thousands of different ways of treating people in small ways every day."

So since expectations can change the performance of kids, how do we get teachers to have the right expectations? Is it possible to change bad expectations? That was the question that brought me to the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, where I met Robert Pianta.

Pianta, dean of the Curry School, has studied teachers for years, and one of the first things he told me when we sat down together was that it is truly hard for teachers to control their expectations. "It's really tough for anybody to police their own beliefs," he said. "But think about being in a classroom with 25 kids. The demands on their thinking are so great."

Still, people have tried. The traditional way, Pianta says, has been to sit teachers down and try to change their expectations through talking to them. "For the most part, we've tried to convince them that the beliefs they have are wrong," he says. "And we've done most of that convincing using information."

But Pianta has a different idea of how to go about changing teachers' expectations. He says it's not effective to try to change their thoughts; the key is to train teachers in an entirely new set of behaviors.

For years, Pianta and his colleagues at the Curry School have been collecting videotapes of teachers teaching. By analyzing these videos in minute ways, they've developed a good idea of which teaching behaviors are most effective. They can also see, Pianta tells me, how teacher expectations affect both their behaviors and classroom dynamics.

Pianta gives one very specific example: the belief that boys are disruptive and need to be managed." Say I'm a teacher and I ask a question in class, and a boy jumps up, sort of vociferously ... 'I know the answer! I know the answer! I know the answer!' " Pianta says.

"If I believe boys are disruptive and my job is control the classroom, then I'm going to respond with, 'Johnny! You're out of line here! We need you to sit down right now.' This will likely make the boy frustrated and emotionally disengaged."

This, Pianta says, will likely make the boy frustrated and emotionally disengaged. He will then be likely to escalate his behavior, which will simply confirm the teacher's beliefs about him, and the teacher and kid are stuck in an unproductive loop.

But if the teacher doesn't carry those beliefs into the classroom, then the teacher is unlikely to see that behavior as threatening. Instead it's: " 'Johnny, tell me more about what you think is going on ... But also, I want you to sit down quietly now as you tell that to me,' " Pianta says.

"Those two responses," he says, "are dictated almost entirely by two different interpretations of the same behavior that are driven by two different sets of beliefs."

To see if teachers' beliefs would be changed by giving them a new set of teaching behaviors, Pianta and his colleagues recently did a study.

They took a group of teachers, assessed their beliefs about children, then gave a portion of them a standard pedagogy course, which included information about appropriate beliefs and expectations. Another portion got intense behavioral training, which taught them a whole new set of skills based on those appropriate beliefs and expectations.

For this training, the teachers videotaped their classes over a period of months and worked with personal coaches who watched those videos, then gave them recommendations about different behaviors to try.

After that intensive training, Pianta and his colleagues analyzed the beliefs of the teachers again. What he found was that the beliefs of the trained teachers had shifted way more than the beliefs of teachers given a standard informational course.

This is why Pianta thinks that to change beliefs, the best thing to do is change behaviors. "It's far more powerful to work from the outside in than the inside out if you want to change expectations," he says.

In other words, if you want to change a mind, simply talking to it might not be enough.

7 Ways Teachers Can Change Their Expectations

Robert Pianta offered these suggestions for teachers who want to change their behavior toward problem students:
  1. Watch how each student interacts. How do they prefer to engage? What do they seem to like to do? Observe so you can understand all they are capable of.
  2. Listen. Try to understand what motivates them, what their goals are and how they view you, their classmates and the activities you assign them.
  3. Engage. Talk with students about their individual interests. Don't offer advice or opinions – just listen.
  4. Experiment: Change how you react to challenging behaviors. Rather than responding quickly in the moment, take a breath. Realize that their behavior might just be a way of reaching out to you.
  5. Meet: Each week, spend time with students outside of your role as "teacher." Let the students choose a game or other nonacademic activity they'd like to do with you. Your job is to NOT teach but watch, listen and narrate what you see, focusing on students' interests and what they do well. This type of activity is really important for students with whom you often feel in conflict or who you avoid.
  6. Reach out: Know what your students like to do outside of school. Make it a project for them to tell you about it using some medium in which they feel comfortable: music, video, writing, etc. Find both individual and group time for them to share this with you. Watch and listen to how skilled, motivated and interested they can be. Now think about school through their eyes.
  7. Reflect: Think back on your own best and worst teachers, bosses or supervisors. List five words for each that describe how you felt in your interactions with them. How did the best and the worst make you feel? What specifically did they do or say that made you feel that way? Now think about how your students would describe you. Jot down how they might describe you and why. How do your expectations or beliefs shape how they look at you? Are there parallels in your beliefs and their responses to you?

Steep Cuts To Special Education, Disability Programs Loom

From DisabilityScoop.com

"The cuts would be deeply destructive and reductions to education spending would mean that children with disabilities would suffer.”

By Michelle Diament
September 17, 2012

The White House is warning that special education will face more than $1 billion in cuts and millions more will be trimmed from other federal programs for people with disabilities next year unless lawmakers act.

In a report sent to Congress, the Obama administration painted a stark picture of what’s to come, detailing the impact of more than $100 billion in automatic spending cuts that are scheduled to take effect January 2, 2013.

The funding reductions were triggered after lawmakers failed to reach a budget deal last year. As a result, most federal programs will be slashed by at least 8.2 percent.

That means that more than $1 billion will be chopped from special education, the White House said. Meanwhile, housing for people with disabilities will be reduced by $14 million and the U.S. Department of Labor’s office focusing on disability employment will be cut by $3 million.

Research into developmental disabilities could also be impacted, with the National Institutes of Health facing a $2.5 billion loss.

Social Security and Medicaid, however, are expected to remain largely unaffected.

The 394-page White House report said the cuts would be “deeply destructive” and indicated that the reductions to education spending would mean that “children with disabilities would suffer.”

While concern about the scheduled spending reductions is widespread, it’s not likely that Congress will take any action until after the November election.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

BPA Linked with Obesity in Kids and Teens

From Time Magazine's Healthland Blog

By Alice Park (@aliceparkny)
September 18, 2012

Researchers say unhealthy diets and lack of exercise aren’t the only culprits in obesity. BPA may share some of the blame.

In the latest study involving the plastic additive Bisphenol A, or BPA, scientists found that children harboring higher levels of the endocrine-disrupting chemical in their bodies were more likely to be obese compared to youngsters with lower levels of BPA.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s theme issue on obesity, was led by Dr. Leonardo Trasande, an associate professor of pediatrics and environmental medicine at New York University School of Medicine.

Trasande and his colleagues reviewed data on body mass index (BMI) and BPA exposure (determined by measuring the chemical in urine) in 2,838 children aged 6 - 19, who participated in the government’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys between 2003 and 2008. About 34% of the children were overweight and 18% were obese.

(MORE: BPA Exposure in Pregnant Women May Affect Daughters’ Behavior)

Those in the highest quartile of BPA exposure also had the highest rate of obesity, at 22.3%, while those with the lowest levels of the chemical in their urine were least likely to be obese, at 10%. That’s more than a doubling of obesity risk among those with the highest BPA exposure.

“It’s a very strong association, surprisingly strong, and it cuts across all socioeconomic strata." 

“It’s a very strong association, surprisingly strong,” says Trasande, “and it cuts across all socioeconomic strata. Unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity are major contributors to childhood obesity in the U.S., but this study shows that we need to consider environmental factors as a third major factor contributing to the epidemic.”

BPA is ubiquitous in our environment, found primarily in plastics used in food packaging and the liners of aluminum cans; it’s also found in dental fillings and sealants and coating thermal receipts used in stores. A government study found that 93% of Americans over age 6 have some detectable amount of BPA in their urine, and according to a comprehensive 2007 study among preschool children in North Carolina and Ohio, about 99% of children’s exposure to BPA comes from the diet.

That’s why concerns over BPA leaching from plastics in baby bottles and sippy cups led the Food and Drug Administration to ban the chemical from these products in earlier this year. The agency stopped short of removing BPA from cans and other food packaging, however, citing the lack of definitive evidence of its health harms. (In 2010, Canada not only banned BPA from baby bottles, but also took the additional step of declaring the chemical toxic for human health, which make sit easier to remove the chemical from other food-contact products.)

(MORE: Mom’s Exposure to Air Pollution May Boost Kids’ Risk of Obesity)

Trasande says the current findings question that decision, since it establishes a potential metabolic link between exposure to the chemical and obesity, which can lead to a host of chronic conditions, from heart disease to diabetes and asthma. But while the study establishes a link between the two, it doesn’t make clear in which direction the relationship operates.

It’s possible, for example, that rather than BPA exposure contributing to obesity, it may be that obese children are simply consuming more foods high in BPA, such as canned sodas or microwavable products.

But Trasande says this scenario is less likely, since he and his colleagues saw the strong correlation between BPA and obesity among children who consumed either more than the average number of calories each day or less. The connection also remained strong after the researchers adjusted for the amount of TV the youngsters watched.

The other explanation might be that exposure to the chemical, which has been shown to disrupt hormone levels, somehow interferes the young body’s still-developing ability to offset calories coming in with those being burned off, leading to an imbalance that favors weight gain.

“Either way,” says Trasande, “this association raises further concerns for child health consequences associated with BPA exposure. [In addition to the risk of obesity], we know at least one study in which BPA is associated with impacts on brain development. And BPA may also affect a child’s lung development.”

(MORE: Should Parents Lose Custody of Their Extremely Obese Kids?)

Interestingly, the association between BPA and obesity was strongest in whites than in any other racial or ethnic group. Since the NHANES data did not indicate any significant differences in the way participants ate, the researchers believe there may be some gene-based difference that makes Caucasian populations more vulnerable to the chemical.

Although BPA has a half-life of anywhere from 4 to 43 hours — meaning that half of any ingested amount is cleared from the body within that time — recent studies are starting to show that if the chemical is pulled into fat tissue, it may not be removed as quickly. People who have fasted for longer than this time continue to harbor high levels of BPA.

Taken together, the data suggest that exposure to BPA may be an important contributor to obesity in children, and potentially put them at higher risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart problems and liver failure. Studies in adults have linked higher urinary concentrations of BPA with these conditions.

“This study suggests that we need to reconsider the choice not to ban BPA in cans, especially since there are alternatives for making cans safer."

MORE: Obesity in Kids: Three Lifestyle Changes that Help

Alice Park is a writer at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @aliceparkny. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

But on the Other Hand... Link Between BPA And Childhood Obesity Is Unclear

From NPR's Health Blog - Shots

By John Hamilton
September 18, 2012
Listen to this story on NPR's All Things Considered HERE.

BPA could be making kids fat. Or not.

That's the unsatisfying takeaway from the latest study on Bisphenol A — the plastic additive that environmental groups have blamed for everything from ADHD to prostate disease.

Unfortunately, the science behind those allegations isn't so clear. And the new study on obesity in children and teens is no exception.

Researchers from New York University looked at BPA levels in the urine of more than 2,800 people aged 6 through 19. The team wanted to know whether those with relatively high levels of BPA were more likely to be obese.

But the results, published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, didn't offer a simple answer to that question.

Among white kids and teens, higher BPA levels were associated with more than twice the risk of obesity. With black and Hispanic youth, though, BPA levels didn't make a difference.

"When we find an association like this, it can often raise more questions than it answers," says the study's lead author, Leonardo Trasande, an associate professor of pediatrics at New York University. There's no obvious reason why one group of kids would be affected by BPA while another group wouldn't, he says.

Also, there's no way in this study to know whether BPA is actually causing kids to put on weight, says Frederica Perera, who directs the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health. "Obese children may be simply eating and drinking foods that have higher BPA levels," she says.

And even if BPA is playing a role in weight gain, it may be just one of many chemicals involved, Perera says.

"Our center has recently published a study showing that exposure to another group of endocrine disruptors, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or PAH, was associated with obesity in the children," Perera says. Those hydrocarbons are typically a part of air pollution in cities.

Some of the uncertainty about BPA may come because the researchers had no way of knowing how much exposure kids in the study may have had in the womb — the time many scientists believe chemical exposure is most likely to have a lifelong effect.

"Clearly we need a longer term study that examines exposure in the earliest parts of life," Trasande says. Even so, he says, it may be time to rethink childhood obesity.

"Diet and physical activity are still the leading factors driving the obesity epidemic in the United States," Trasande says. "Yet this study suggests that we need to also consider a third key component: environmental factors that may also contribute."

The study clearly does not answer the question many parents have, says Mike Dedekian, who runs the pediatric obesity clinic at the Barbara Bush Children's Hospital in Portland, Maine.

"Does BPA cause obesity? We don't know yet," he says. "Does this study raise our level of concern? Yes it does, and it means we need to go further in science to establish whether there is more to this than just an association."

Dedekian says in the meantime, he hopes parents will stay focused on how much exercise kids are getting, and what they're eating.

Regulatory agencies seem to agree that the science on BPA is far from definitive.

The FDA banned BPA from sippy cups and baby bottles this summer, but only after the plastics industry requested the action as part of an effort to reassure consumers.

A few weeks earlier, the agency rejected a call by environmental groups to remove BPA from all products that come in contact with food, saying the evidence of harm just wasn't there.

Canned and other packaged foods are a leading source of BPA.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Diagnosis, Assessment and Treatment of Anxiety in Children in the School Setting

By SPaN, Inc.  - The Special Needs Advocacy Network

Not surprisingly, children with learning disabilities tend to experience anxiety in school which, in turn, can complicate the identification and treatment of many learning issues.

At times this anxiety can become so severe that the child may engage in avoidance activities, up to and including refusing to go to school.

This special presentation, by NESCA Doctors Stephanie Monaghan-Blout and Angela Currie, will provide an overview of how anxiety is manifest in the classroom and how it can be identified in formal testing.

Specific accommodations and modifications for IEPs will be discussed. Finally, different theoretical and practical applications for working with these children both within and outside of school will be presented.

When:   9:30am - 12:30pm, Friday October 12, 2012

Where: The Westin Waltham Hotel,
               70 Third Avenue, Waltham, MA 02451

Schedule: Networking   9:30 - 10:00am 
                    Presentation 10:00am - 12:30pm

Cost:     Early registration for Members - $30.00
               Early registration for Non-Members - $40.00
               Registration after October 9, 2012 and at the door
               (if space is available) - $50.00

For additional information or to register, please call Warna Reynders at SPaN, Inc. (Special Needs Advocacy Network) at 508-655-7999, or email info@spanmass.org.

How to Prepare for an IEP Meeting (Updated)

From SpecialEducationAdvisor.com

By Doug Goldberg
September 7, 2012

We live in an unprecedented era where schools are dealing with shrinking budgets and fewer resources, but still must figure out how to educate an increasingly large number of students.

This is compounded by the fact that class sizes are increasing, and the number of credentialed teachers is decreasing due to layoffs. Just like every other area of education, school districts are trying to figure out ways to cut special education costs as well.

Even though cost cannot be a factor when determining services in an Individualized Education Program (IEP), the children receiving the appropriate services are the ones whose parents are educated and prepared when attending their child’s IEP. This makes it even more important to be prepared for your next meeting. This article will help you truly prepare for the next IEP meeting.

90 Days Prior to Your Next Annual IEP Meeting

Reread last year’s IEP, paying close attention to needs, present levels of performance, accommodations, modifications, goals and services. If you think your child has a new suspected area of disability, or you need an update on skill levels from a prior disability, this is the time to request a new special education assessment.

The school district will usually only update formal assessments once every three years for the triennial IEP, unless requested by the parent to be done annually. Make sure the request for assessment is made in a letter that you hand to the school personally. Remember that all written and verbal communication should be professional in tone and content. Ask a friend to read the letter to make sure it is not emotional or hostile.

Go on your state’s Dept. of Education website and download the grade-level standards for each subject. Familiarize yourself with the grade level standards your child will be expected to know in the current grade. Create a list of standards for each subject that your child needs help in.

If you are in a state that has adopted the Common Core Standard, you can download an app for free on your cell phone and always have the standards at your finger tips:

To download the Common Core app from the iTunes store, click HERE; to download it from the Google's Droid market, click HERE.

Next, go on your School District’s website and download your School District’s policies and procedures on Special Education. If it is not online, write a letter requesting the document. Review the document since some School District personnel don’t understand their own policies or worse, deliberately give you misleading information.

Start reviewing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and your state’s special education laws. Some states have tighter special education regulations than the federal law and it is important to know the differences. The state law can’t give less protections then the federal law but it is allowed to give more protections.

You may want to purchase the Wrightslaw Special Education Law Book.

If you don’t already have your child’s educational records, send a letter requesting they be provided to you. In California, they have 5 days in which to provide these to you after you request them. Federal law allows up to 45 days, but most states have a tighter timeline, so check the regulations in your State.

Make sure you request everything, including any emails and teacher-to-teacher notes that might be available.

75 Days prior to Your Next Annual IEP Meeting

By now you should have received an assessment plan from your school, in response to the assessment request letter you sent. If you have not, send a friendly follow up letter asking when you will receive the assessment plan. Most states have timelines to follow regarding how long the School District has to provide you an assessment plan, so check your state law. California requires the assessment plan to be sent home within 15 days of the request.

If you have received the assessment plan, review it and make sure you agree with all of the assessments to be administered. If you agree, sign and return the assessment plan giving your informed consent for assessment.

Attach a letter to the assessment plan requesting copies of all assessments 4 or 5 days prior to the IEP meeting, so you have time to review them before the meeting and be an effective member of the IEP team.

If you have not already done this organize all of your IEP’s, assessments, report cards, State achievement tests, communication, and complaints in one large three ring notebook. Make sure you bring this IEP notebook with you to every IEP meeting.

If you want to include private assessments to be considered by the School at the next IEP meeting, schedule them at this time. Make sure your private assessor knows when they need to get the assessment done by.

60 Days Prior to Your Next Annual IEP Meeting

Make sure you have signed and returned the assessment plan since the School is allowed 60 days to perform the assessment. Some states might have slightly shorter or longer timelines so once again please check your state law.

Review all of the materials you have now put together in the IEP notebook. Start writing down all of your parental concerns, ongoing needs and strengths of your child (both academic and non-academic), and whether you feel the current IEP goals have been meet.

Send a letter requesting therapy providers' service logs to confirm they have provided all of the time you were owed. If they have missed hours, you can ask for both make up hours and compensatory hours be added to next year’s IEP.

Decide who you want to bring with you to the IEP meeting. Don’t go alone. If you don’t have an Advocate, bring your spouse, a friend or other private special education expert. Discuss the upcoming IEP with this person, and make sure they are available to attend.

30 Days Prior to Your Next Annual IEP Meeting

You should have received an IEP meeting notice by this point. The school is obligated to come up with a mutually agreeable time and place for the IEP meeting, so don’t worry if the first date doesn’t fit your schedule. Figure out acceptable dates, conferring with whomever you are bringing with you to the meeting. Send a letter to the school offering 3-4 alternative dates that fit your schedule.

Review who is attending from the District, and figure out if the right people will be in the room. If you think additional team members are needed, invite them at this time. Include on the IEP team meeting notice the names of everyone you will be bringing to the meeting. Also, if you want to tape record the meeting this is a good time to give the school notice. You will need to check you state law regarding audio recording IEPs. For instance, the State of California requires 24 hours notice to audio record.

Create a letter at this time listing all of your parental concerns. Ask to have a pre-conference call with your case manager to discuss your concerns, and to hear what the School might be thinking. These calls save a lot of time and energy at the IEP meeting, since neither side feels like they got blind-sided.

Often emotions flare up because the other side did not expect what occurred at the meeting. This can be tempered by having off-the-record conversations before the meeting.

15 days Prior to Your Next Annual IEP Meeting

Deliver the private assessments to the School to be considered at the IEP meeting, and remind them you have requested copies of their assessments prior to the meeting.

By now you should have all of your child’s service logs. If hours have been missed send a letter requesting adding the missed hours to the IEP meeting agenda.

Talk with your child’s teachers and therapists and get a sense of what they are thinking. What has been working and what hasn’t. Information is the key to being prepared, so the more information you can get the better prepared you will be. Also, start reviewing whether all of your child’s accommodations or modifications have been followed.

Start putting together a list of requests you want to ask for at the meeting. Always formally request all actions in writing. Technically, the school district would owe you prior written notice whether the request was verbal or in writing, but you know the old saying, “If it’s not in writing, it never existed.”

48 hours Prior to Your Next Annual IEP Meeting

You should have copies of the School’s assessments by this point. If not, call and ask when you will receive them. If they will not provide them, send a follow up letter stating that since your request to receive assessments prior to the meeting was denied, it is impeding your parental rights to be a full member of the IEP team.

If you have the school’s assessments, review them. Finish your list of formal requests for services, goals, needs and placements. Send a letter with your list of requests, and remember--if they say no to any request, then ask for Prior Written Notice. If you feel the assessments are not accurate or complete, be prepared to ask for an Independent Educational Evaluation at public expense.

At IEP meeting

Make sure you bring your child’s IEP notebook you have created, and audio recorder if you are taping. Remember to stay professional and try and keep emotions to a minimum. Tell the person you brought with you to reign you in if they feel you are getting to emotional.

Bring a copy of your formal requests and parental concerns to the meeting, and hand them another copy in the meeting. Remind them you would like to add your requests and parental concerns to the meeting agenda.

Try to listen to the school personnel. Sometimes what you think you want is different from what your child really needs. Ask the person you brought for their unbiased opinion based on the discussion that took place.

Have some of your opinions changed based on the conversation? That’s okay, sometimes they should. Make sure you feel comfortable that everything on your agenda has been covered in the meeting.

Do not sign the IEP at the meeting. Take it home to review.

At Home after the IEP Meeting

Review the IEP again making sure needs, present level of performance, goals, services and placement have all been covered appropriately. If they have, great! Sign the IEP and return it. If not, decide what is missing and create a follow up letter to attach to the IEP.

If the school is trying to reduce services or change placement and you disagree and file for due process, your child will be under a Stay Put until the disagreement is worked out. This means the School District must maintain the current educational placement with no reduction in services pending any proceedings such as due process of formal mediation.

If the disagreement is about eligibility, new services or time and frequency of services, you should request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE), at public expense. Many times, this is not an option outlined on the School District’s IEP form.

Feel free to write this in, and state that you do not feel it is appropriate to proceed to any dispute resolution methodology until after the IEE is performed.

Make sure you sign the IEP form noting your disagreements with a comment to see the attached follow up letter. Attach the follow up letter with all of your remaining concerns, a reminder that you’re waiting for Prior Written Notice on all of your formal requests they rejected, and the request for the IEE.

If the District denies your IEE request, they must take you to Due Process and explain to the hearing officer why their assessments were accurate. If the District approves your request, make sure whoever you get to do the assessment is qualified and will give recommendations that include time and frequency of services.

The IEE results are not binding, but will either validate your concerns or show you that the School District’s offer was appropriate. Between your requests for an IEE and Prior Written Notice, your case will most likely be handed to a new case manager at the District that has more authority to negotiate.

While all case managers are supposed to have authority to approve whatever is necessary for the child, in practicality that is not the case.

If the IEE validates your concerns, often times everything will be worked out at the IEP meeting to discuss the results, especially if there is a new case manager. If the School still won’t budge, the IEE results are admissible in a Due Process complaint.

At this point, I would discuss filing a complaint with a Special Education attorney. Based on the United States Department of Education statistics, a high percentage of due process complaints are worked out in a resolution session or formal mediation and never get in front of a hearing officer.

My opinion is parents should not file for due process on their own, but should have an experienced special education attorney represent them. I am a special education advocate, but even I hire an attorney when I file for due process for my own son.


As you can see it is not easy to prepare for an IEP meeting. If you do not feel comfortable going through this process, talk with an experienced advocate or attorney to help you. Otherwise, if you do your research and use the information you collect to your advantage, a proper resolution can normally be worked out.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

College Preparatory Boarding Schools Supporting Bright Students with Learning Challenges - Special Saturday, 11/3 Seminar

Register Now!

From 10:00am – Noon on Saturday, November 3, 2012, in conjunction with Educational Consultants Howland, Spence & McMillan, NESCA will host a presentation by Directors of Admission from five fine college preparatory boarding schools with integral learning skills programs and supports.

When:   10am - Noon, Saturday, November 3, 2012

Where:  The Westin Hotel Waltham's Emerson Room,
                   70 Third Avenue, Waltham, MA 02451

Special guest speakers will include the Directors of Admission from:
Simply click on a school's name for additional information.

Faith Howland
At these schools, students with learning differences – ADHD, executive function deficits or language-based learning disabilities, for example – have effective, structured supports built right into their regular academic programs, not offered only as add-ons or pull-outs.

Using representative case studies, our panelists will describe how their schools would meet the needs of bright students who benefit from support. A question and answer period will follow the presentation.

Carol Kinlan
The discussion will be moderated by NESCA Director Dr. Ann Helmus along with Educational Consultants Carol Kinlan and Faith Howland of Howland, Spence & McMillan.

We hope this program will interest and assist parents of  7th and 8th graders, their friends and families, along with heads of school, learning specialists and their colleagues.

Admission is $20 per person, payable by credit card in advance by phone or, space permitting, by exact change at the door. Light refreshments will be served. There is ample, free garage parking. For additional information, please call 617-658-9800, or email nesca@nesca-newton.com.

Little Evidence Supports Medical Treatment Options for Adolescents With Autism, Researchers Say

From ScienceDaily.com

September 24, 2012

Vanderbilt University researchers are reporting today that there is insufficient evidence to support the use of medical interventions in adolescents and young adults with autism.

Despite studies that show that many adolescents and young adults with autism spectrum disorders are being prescribed medications, there is almost no evidence to show whether these medications are helpful in this population, the researchers said.

These findings are featured in the September 24, 2012 issue of the journal Pediatrics.

"We need more research to be able to understand how to treat core symptoms of autism in this population, as well as common associated symptoms such as anxiety, compulsive behaviors and agitation," said Jeremy Veenstra-VanderWeele, M.D., assistant professor of Psychiatry, Pediatrics and Pharmacology and Vanderbilt Kennedy Center investigator.

"Individuals, families and clinicians currently have to make decisions together, often in a state of desperation, without clear guidance on what might make things better and what might make things worse, and too often, people with autism end up on one or more medications without a clear sense of whether the medicine is helping."

This research is part of a larger report on interventions for adolescents and young adults with autism that found there is little evidence to support findings, good or bad, for all therapies currently used.

The researchers systematically screened more than 4,500 studies and reviewed the 32 studies published from January, 1980 to December, 2011 on therapies for people ages 13 to 30 with autism spectrum disorders. They focused on outcomes, including harms and adverse effects, of interventions, including medical, behavioral, educational and vocational.

Key Findings:
  • Some evidence revealed that treatments could improve social skills and educational outcomes such as vocabulary or reading, but the studies were generally small and had limited follow-up.
  • Limited evidence supports the use of medical interventions in adolescents and young adults with autism. The most consistent findings were identified for the effects of antipsychotic medications on reducing problem behaviors that tend to occur with autism, such as irritability and aggression. Harms associated with medications included sedation and weight gain.
  • Only five articles tested vocational interventions, all of which suggested that certain vocational interventions may be effective for certain individuals, but each study had significant flaws that limited the researchers' confidence in their conclusions.
The findings on vocational interventions were featured in the August 27 issue of Pediatrics.

Although the prevalence of autism is on the rise, much remains to be discovered when it comes to interventions for this population, the researchers concluded.

As recently as the 1970s, autism was believed to affect just one in 2,000 children, but newly-released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one in 88 children has an autism spectrum disorder.

Boys with autism outnumber girls 5-to-1, which estimates that one in 54 boys in the United States has autism.


Additional investigators on this report include Melissa McPheeters, Ph.D., MPH, director of Vanderbilt's Evidence-Based Practice Center and senior author; Zachary Warren, Ph.D., director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center's Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders; Julie Lounds Taylor, Ph.D., assistant professor of Pediatrics and Special Education and lead author; Dwayne Dove, M.D., Ph.D., fellow in Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics; Nila Sathe, M.S., M.L.I.S., program manager, Institute for Medicine and Public Health; and Rebecca Jerome, M.L.I.S., MPH, assistant director, Eskind Biomedical Library.


Their research, Interventions for Adolescents and Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders, was funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's Effective Health Care Program and conducted through Vanderbilt's Evidence-Based Practice Center.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Dyslexic Brain Hears Fuzzy Sounds

From LiveScience - The Fox News Health Blog

By Charles Choi
September 20, 2012

Dyslexia may be rooted in a problem the brain has in teasing out distinct sounds from incoming garble, researchers say.

Considered a learning disability, dyslexia makes it difficult to read and spell for the estimated 15 percent of Americans who have it. Although dyslexia causes reading problems, the disorder is often linked to subtle difficulties with spoken language, such as trouble distinguishing rhyming syllables such as "ba" and "pa."

"Those deficits are seen even in infants who are at high risk for dyslexia," said researcher Iris Berent, a cognitive scientist at Northeastern University in Boston.

The perception of speech involves at least two linguistic systems in the brain. The phonetic system extracts distinct units of sound from speech, such as vowels and consonants. The phonological system combines these units to form specific words.

Scientists often thought that dyslexia was caused by an impaired phonological system.

"It has become commonplace to assume that dyslexia results from a phonological deficit," Berent said. "But when one looks at the facts more closely, there is really no firm evidence that such a deficit exists, and some suggestions that the deficit might actually result from lower-level impairments."

For instance, past research suggested dyslexics had problems perceiving not just speech, but musical tones.

Now, research suggests the phonetic system may be to blame in dyslexia.

Language Rules

Researchers analyzed 21 Hebrew-speaking college students with dyslexia. The researchers chose the Hebrew language because of its rules — it bans repeated consonants depending on where they might occur within the base of a word (a word without prefixes or suffixes added onto it).

Identical consonants are permitted to repeat at the right edge of a word's base: for instance, "simum" has a repeated "m" on its right side.

However, identical consonants are not allowed on the left edge of a word's base: for instance, Hebrew does not have the word "sisum," because it would repeat "s" on its left side. As such, the results would tease out the phonetic from the phonological systems.

The scientists found these volunteers had problems telling apart similar speech sounds. However, they had no difficulty tracking patterns in how these sounds were strung together, even when it came to novel words — that is, they knew how Hebrew places consonants within words.

"I was astonished to find out that the dyslexic individuals in this study showed no hint of a phonological deficit," Berent told LiveScience. "This was unexpected in light of the existing literature."

These findings suggest the phonological system is intact, but the phonetic system is compromised.

"A closer analysis of the language system can radically alter our understanding of the disorder, and ultimately, its treatment," Berent said.

Teaching Someone to Read

Berent cautioned these findings do not address how reading should be taught and what methods might best help people with dyslexia.

"Certainly, these results should not be taken as a challenge to the demonstrable significance of teaching phonics to beginning readers," Berent said. (Phonics is a teaching method that underscores the links between letters and their associated sounds.)

One limitation of these results "is that we assess the phonological abilities of dyslexics on the basis of a single phonological rule in a single language, so findings that these dyslexic individuals have an intact sensitivity to this rule does not mean that their ability to encode all phonological rules in all languages is intact, and that this is the case for every dyslexic individual," Berent said.

Even so, Berent added, "the type of phonological restriction we studied here — a restriction on the repetition of phonological elements — is likely to play a role in many languages, so as such, this phenomenon is likely to speak to the core of the phonological grammar, rather than to some esoteric property of this single language."

Future research will analyze other linguistic rules and languages in relation to dyslexia. "We would also like to understand the brain mechanisms that support this dissociation — to find out why the dyslexic brain has developed in a manner that is different from those of typical readers, and what is the genetic basis of those differences," Berent said.

The scientists detailed their findings online Sept. 19 in the journal PLoS ONE.

What Is Special Ed? A Cool Infographic for Special Education Month

From the Parents.com Blog - To the Max

September 21, 2012

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Changing Our Brains, Changing Ourselves

From the APA Monitor (American Psychological Association)

Neuroscientist Dr. Richard Davidson believes that understanding the neurobiology of emotion can help all of us develop the right ‘emotional style' to improve our lives.

By Lea Winerman
September, 2012 - Vol 43, No. 8

Richard Davidson, Ph.D. begins every day with 45 minutes of meditation, just as he has since he first visited India and Sri Lanka as a graduate student in the mid-1970s. The practice calms him, he says, allowing him to succeed in a high-stress, high-profile research career.

Now, in his new book The Emotional Life of Your Brain, Davidson lays out his explanation for why meditation and other "neurally inspired behavioral interventions" can help people tweak their own emotions in search of happier, more productive lives.

Davidson, a psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, has spent nearly four decades studying the brain circuitry that underlies emotion. In his book, he lays out six empirically based "emotional styles" that define our emotional makeup.

Davidson spoke to the Monitor about emotional style, and how new research on brain plasticity suggests that interventions like meditation and cognitive behavioral therapy can allow people to change their emotional styles by changing the very brain circuits that govern them.

How has psychologists' understanding of emotion changed over the nearly four decades you've been doing this research?

In the mid-1970s, there was hardly any research on emotion — it was hardly considered a field. What little work there was used very coarse self-report measures. The cognitive psychologists who were beginning to hold sway at that time regarded emotion as just something that interrupts cognition. The idea that emotions are adaptive — that they can play an important role in decision-making and influence behavior — emerged considerably later.

Closer to my own work, the idea that the cortex was involved in emotion was really heresy, because the focus in neuroscience — the little that there was — was exclusively on limbic and brainstem contributions to emotion. Emotion was very much regarded as a primitive kind of psychological process. I think that regarding it in that way kept it in the "basement of the brain," so to speak.

What made you think at the time that emotion might not just be relegated to the brain's basement?

There were really two strands of evidence. One was a series of studies that were beginning to be published on brain-damaged patients, which clearly indicated that cortical damage does lead to disruption of emotion.

The other was simply my own observations. Being a student of behavior, it seemed very clear to me that when we engage in making complex decisions — such as "Should I have this person as my partner?," "Should I go to this graduate school?," "Should I make this major purchase?" — we are not making them on the basis of a cold cognitive calculus. And an honest systematic observation will, I think, convince anyone that those kinds of complex decisions require that we consult our emotions.

In your book, you lay out six "emotional styles" — spectra along which we all fall. What are these six styles, and how did you develop them?

The six emotional styles emerged over the course of 30 years of neuroscientific research. They're not obvious dimensions of emotion: They don't conform to specific discrete emotions, and they don't conform to traditional models of valence and arousal that have figured prominently in research on emotion.

One style I call resilience. It refers to how slowly or quickly you recover from adversity. Some people take a long time to come back to baseline — they're thrown off kilter by some adverse event — while other people are able to recover very, very quickly.

The second emotional style I call outlook. This refers to how long positive emotion persists. It's associated with your propensity to see the world through rosy-colored glasses — or not.

The third style I call social intuition. This refers to how accurate you are at decoding others' nonverbal signals of emotion.

The fourth dimension I call self-awareness, which refers to the accuracy with which one decodes the internal bodily cues in oneself that are associated with emotion, such as heart rate, sweating and muscle tension. Some people are acutely sensitive to what's going on inside themselves, while others are quite opaque about that.

The fifth dimension I call context. What I mean here is sensitivity to context. Some people modulate their emotional responses in context-appropriate ways, so that how they, for example, talk to their spouse would be very different than how they talk to their boss. Other people make less of a distinction among contexts.

The last emotional style is attention, which is not typically thought of as an emotional constituent. But attention and emotion are so intimately linked. Emotional stimuli are stimuli toward which we are naturally pulled. Someone who's scattered is pulled by emotional stimuli in the environment, and someone who's more focused is able to resist those attractions and focus his or her attention voluntarily.

In the book I describe the underlying brain circuits that support these styles and I also highlight some key experiments that led to the formulation of each of them.

Can you give an example?

Sure. Take resilience — all of us will at one point or another in our life be subjected to adversity. And resilience is very important in influencing vulnerability to psychopathology, particularly mood and anxiety disorders.

Being able to recover quickly is an essential element in resilience. The experiments that led us to the conceptualization of this style were experiments that started early in my career. They began with studies in which we confirmed that people differ in the extent to which the left versus the right hemisphere is differentially more activated at baseline, and those differences are relatively stable over time.

It turned out that people with greater left-side activation recovered more quickly from negative affective stimuli in the laboratory. We were able to probe the rapidity of recovery using physiological measures to track on a moment-by-moment basis the pattern of activation in response, for example, to a negative picture. And then we could track after the picture went off how long it took a person to recover. And it turns out that people with more left-side activation at baseline recover more quickly.

We've gone on and done neuroimaging studies, and have found that the prefrontal cortex exhibits strong connectivity with the amygdala. So what likely is happening is that increased levels of prefrontal activation are modulating the activity in the amygdala and facilitating turning off the amygdala once it's turned on.

Do you think that you've identified all the emotional styles, or might you find others?

I don't regard these six as the final statement on this by any means. It's really important to underscore that this is a best guess, based on the research we have. But one of the wonderful things about science is that it's never static and our models are always changing. I'm confident that 10 years from now we'll think about this differently, at least to some extent.

Let me add one other point here, and that is that there's no one pattern among these styles that is best. It will vary for each person based on her or his unique environment.

Some people, for example, who may be very low on the social intuition style and may not be very good at decoding nonverbal signals of emotion, are the kind of people who interact a lot with machines. They may be a computer programmer, they may have a very successful and happy life, and in fact they prefer to spend not very much time around others. And that's great, and we need people like that in our society.

But it seems like there are some styles that will make your life harder — if your resilience is very low and it's tough for you to recover from adversity, for example, that seems like a difficult way to live.

So how do people know when their emotional style is the right one for them, and when it's something that they need to change?

That's a very good question, and not an easy one to answer simply. I think that in the extreme, a person will know. So if people are unable to cope with the expectations and demands of everyday life, then they will likely know that whatever emotional style they're expressing is not optimal.

There's probably a large range in the middle where people may not be as cognizant as they could be. And that is a major purpose in writing the book: helping people become more aware of their emotional styles, because awareness is really the first ingredient in making changes.

On that point, you emphasize that these emotional styles are not set in stone — we can change where we fall on the continuum. How does that work?

One of my key messages is that the styles are indeed based upon specific brain circuits. And since we know that the brain exhibits plasticity, our styles in fact can be changed through a concept I call neurally inspired behavioral interventions. There are actually interventions around that were developed thousands of years ago that turn out to be very good candidates for this, and they come from the meditative traditions.

I have been very influenced by these. I tell the story in the book of my first meeting with the Dalai Lama in 1992, which played a seminal role in my career, both professionally and personally. His inspiration for me is the possibility that very simple methods that can be taught in a completely secular way can be used to transform the mind and change the brain in ways which actually can affect these emotional styles.

So just to give a couple of examples: Sticking with resilience again, there is a method of meditation that is very popular called mindfulness meditation. And what mindfulness meditation does is teach people to pay attention on purpose, non-judgmentally. The non-judgmental piece is very important, because what happens with emotional interactions — particularly negative ones — is rather than paying attention to them non-judgmentally, we judge, and the judgments lead to rumination and perseveration of the emotion way beyond the point where the elicitor is present.

So, for example, if we have an argument with someone close to us in the morning, some of us keep replaying it all day. And it has a deleterious effect on our mood and behavior for many hours after the original argument.

If we can learn to pay attention non-judgmentally, it offers the possibility of having a quicker recovery. Recent research is bearing that out. We've done studies, and there are other studies in the literature, showing that simple forms of mindfulness meditation actually do facilitate recovery from adversity and thus promote a greater resilience style, and change the brain circuits that are associated with resilience in ways that we would predict.

How has your own meditation practice influenced your work and your emotional style?

I used to be a much more volatile person. Not that I was ever really volatile, but I definitely had more episodes of getting visibly angry. And I would say that the frequency of that kind of behavior has dramatically changed over the last 10 years in particular. So that's one very concrete behavior.

From an external observer's perspective, I lead what would be a very stressful life. I travel a lot, I work extremely long hours, I'm involved in competitive science: getting grants, publishing all the time, running a large laboratory, meeting ceaseless deadlines. And I think for the most part I do it pretty calmly — by no means perfectly, and there are always huge areas in need of improvement. But I do not think I could do what I do, in the way that I do it, were it not for my daily mediation practice.

I should also say one of the roots of the word "meditation" in Sanskrit comes from the word "familiarization." And according to that definition, meditation is actually familiarizing yourself with your own mind. I would go so far as to say that I believe that for anyone who is a student of the mind, a student of psychology, doing meditation would be very useful, because it is a practice in which they can become more familiar with their own mind, and I think that it can help them become better psychologists.

Learn more about your own emotional style on Davidson's website.

Transform Your Mind, Change Your Brain

In this Google Tech Talk, Richard J. Davidson will explore recent scientific research on the neuroscience of positive human qualities and how they can be cultivated through contemplative practice. Distinctions among different forms of contemplative practices will be introduced and they will be shown to have different neural and behavioral consequences, as well as important consequences for physical health in both long-term and novice practitioners. New research also shows that meditation-based interventions delivered online can produce behavioral and neural changes. Collectively, this body of research indicates that we can cultivate adaptive neural changes and strengthen positive human qualities through systematic mental practice.

Davidson on Contemplative Neuroscience

Excerpts from Dr. Richard Davidson's keynote address on contemplative neuroscience at the Center for Mindfulness 7th International Conference in Worcester, MA in March, 2009.