55 Chapel Street, Suite 202, Newton, Ma 02458

75 Gilcreast Road, Suite 305, Londonderry, NH 03053

Thank you for visiting. NESCA Notes has moved!

For articles after June 4, 2018 please visit nesca-newton.com/nesca-notes/.

Search This Blog

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Parent Advocacy Strategies: Review Your Child’s IEPs

From Smart Kids with LD

By Ann McCarthy
January 28, 2013

As a special education advocate, there are few things I enjoy more than chatting with parents about ways they can protect the rights of their children with disabilities.

One question I’m often asked is, “What can I, as a parent, do to improve my child’s school program?”

There are a number of actions parents can take without the help of an outside advocate or expert, but one of the most basic involves preparing for their child’s IEP meeting in a thorough and intentional way.


Be a Better Advocate
  • Do a basic review of your child’s IEP goals and objectives over several years, to see if you can find evidence of meaningful progress.

I have been there as a mom of a child who received special education services. We’ve all done it. You get home from a difficult IEP meeting. You are exhausted and want to pretend it never happened. The IEP arrives in the mail the following week, and you know you should look at it.

The phone rings. The spaghetti boils over. Your boys are wrestling in the next room. The IEP gets shoved in a drawer, not to be seen again for months.

Dust that baby off! To get a sense of whether or not your child is making progress over time, you need to see if annual goals are being mastered.

Step-by-Step Analysis

Here is how I tackle this task for each of my advocacy clients; any parent can easily do the same for his or her own child:
  • Organize the three most recent IEPs and put them in a pile, in chronological order, with the oldest on top. (If you are just starting your journey in special education, you have it easy! Follow the below steps with the first IEP and then add to your document each year.)
  • List all the academic and functional performance areas that are covered by the oldest IEP. Possible categories might be: social skills, following directions, reading, math, writing.
  • Within each category, list the objectives for the first year, then the second, then the third. Mark each objective with the year of the IEP.
  • A couple of days later—when you’re not bleary-eyed from hours of typing—read your comparative analysis of the goals and objectives you highlighted.
  • Look for repetition. Look for goals that were never mastered, but were dropped. Look for sameness. Where you see likenesses, you might be looking at lack of meaningful progress. And this may mean that some sort of shift in your child’s program should be considered.

Arming Yourself with Information

Sound complicated? Consider the following real-life example from a child’s IEP file review:

Following Directions
  • 2009/2010: Will follow 2 and 3 step directions with no more than 1 clinician cue
  • 2010/2011: Will use strategies to follow multistep directions with 1 clinician reminder
  • 2011/2012: Will use strategies to follow multistep directions with 1 adult reminder
You do not need to be a professional advocate or educator to realize that you are essentially reading the same sentence over and over again. Is it frustrating to see this? Absolutely. But once you realize that you have powerful information in your hands about lack of progress, you can turn that frustration into positive action.

It is easy to argue that something about this child’s program has to change. Perhaps in the type of instruction, the intensity of instruction, or where the instruction takes place. Do we need to reconsider how the goals and objectives are written, and should we be looking at more basic skills, with more specificity?

As a parent and lay person, you don’t necessarily need to know exactly how to make the change. You’ll get there. But knowing that a change is required (and having the data to prove it) is an important first step.

By investing a couple of hours analyzing your child’s goals and objectives over time, you can see the ‘story’ that your child’s file is telling you about his or her program and progress. And then use that story to advocate for your child at the next IEP meeting.


Ann McCarthy is a special education advocate and serves as Managing Director of The Southfield Center for Development in Darien, CT.


Related Smart Kids Links

Announcing NESCA's 2013 Transition Tuesday Workshop Series

To Register, Please Call 617-658-9800

Once again this year, NESCA will host a series of special evening seminars on Transition: the long-term process, beginning with assessment, in which students with special needs and their families should actively engage in preparation for life beyond high school.

All will take place in the lower lobby of our building at 55 Chapel Street in Newton, from 7:00 – 9:00pm. There is ample free, off-street parking in the lot opposite the main entrance, marked with a blue, Chapel Bridge Park banner.

The cost is $15 per individual session or $60 for the full series of five. Seating is limited. To register, please call Amanda Renzi at 617-658-9800 or email nesca@nesca-newton.com.

February 26, 2013

But She’s Only 12! The Importance of Starting Early

Led by Transition Specialist Kelley Challen-Wittmer, Ed.M., C.A.G.S., who will join NESCA full-time early in July, we will discuss how and why families of children with special needs should start thinking about post-secondary transition before the age of 14, when MA schools are mandated to provide assessment, planning and services.

After her opening remarks, we will divide into small discussion groups, each facilitated by an educational advocate and NESCA clinician, before reconvening for Q & A.

March 5, 2013

Using the TPF to Your Child’s Best Advantage

Veteran Educational Advocate Marilyn Weber, a pioneer in transition consultation and planning, will explain the Massachusetts TPF (Transition Planning Form), step-by-step. We will then divide into small discussion groups, each facilitated by an educational advocate familiar with the planning process, and a NESCA neuropsychologist.

April 2, 2013

Transition Assessment – A Comprehensive Approach

NESCA's Dr. Jason McCormick and Dr. Kate DellaPorta, who perform both in-house testing and community-based evaluations, present The Blueprint for Transition Assessment, our modular approach to transition assessment. Where are your kids now, where do they want to go and what’s necessary to help them get there, successfully?

April 9, 2013

Special Education Law as it Applies to Transition

Super Lawyer Magazine’s “Rising Star” Michelle Moor, Esq. formerly of Kotin, Crabtree & Strong and now practicing special education law privately, discusses state and federal laws relating to transition, after which we will again break out into small discussion groups. Q & A follows. Moor’s presentation last year was a highlight of the series.

April 30, 2013

Schools and Agencies with Strong Transition Programs

A panel discussion with representatives from at least six schools and agencies (TBD) with strong transition programs. Learn about the population each serves, their programs, facilities and admissions criteria. NESCA Founder/Director Ann Helmus, Ph.D. moderates.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Concussions in Youth Sports and in Play: Presentation at Weston High School 7:00pm Thursday, February 28

Sponsored by the Weston PTO

Dr. William Meehan will discuss Concussions in Youth Sports and in Play at the Weston High School Media Center, at 7:00pm on Thursday, Feburary 28.

Meehan will speak about concussive brain injury, its symptoms, potential long term effects and what parents and athletes can do to facilitate recovery. He is Director of the Sports Concussion Clinic in the Division of Sports Medicine at Children's Hospital Boston, and an instructor of pediatrics and orthopedics at Harvard Medical School.

A panel, including parents and Weston athletic administrators, will join Dr. Meehan for discussion/Q&A following his presentation. Please contact Deb Sullivan (sullyweston@comcast.net) or Ali Farquhar (alison@been-farquhar.com) for additional information.

"The Behavior Code" Authors Speaking in Boston February 6th

Sponsored by FCSN.org - The Federation for Children with Special Needs

Jessica Minahan, M.Ed., BCBA and Nancy Rappaport, M.D., are co-authors of The Behavior Code - A Practical Guide to Understanding and Teaching the Most Challenging Students.

They will discuss working with challenging students to understand key concepts about behavior, that their actions are purposeful attempts to solve a problem, and why it is the educator's responsibility to reach these students and to help them learn and achieve.

When:    6:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m., Wednesday, February 6

Where:  Federation for Children with Special Needs,
                The Schrafft Center, 529 Main Street, Suite 1102,
                Boston, MA 02129
                Phone: (617) 236-7210 

For more information about this event, call 800-331-0688 or visit www.fcsn.org.

About Jessica Minahan, M.Ed., BCBA

Jessica Minahan is currently employed in the Newton, Massachusetts, public school system as a district-wide behavior analyst.

She provides direct consulting for administrators, teachers, parents, and support staff. She also consults to an in-house, 45-day stabilization program for Newton K–12 public school students who are in crisis and require an alternative educational placement.

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

Dr. Nancy Rappaport of Harvard Medical School, co-author of 'The Behavior Code' with Jessica Minahan, discusses strategies for helping kids with disruptive behavior problems learn in the classroom.

This Just in...

Effective Strategies for Reducing Anxiety in Children

From 7:30 - 9:00pm on Wednesday, February 13, Jessica Minahan will be speaking on "Effective Strategies for Reducing Anxiety in Children." Her presentation, sponsored by the Newton SEPAC, will take place in Room 210 of the Newton Education Center, at 100 Walnut Street.

It is free and open to the public, but seating is limited.

Chapel Street Cafe Now Open!

Grand Opening Set for Wednesday, January 30

The construction many of you observed--and overheard--in our lower lobby over the past several months has finally been completed, and what a handsome, comfortable space has been created! Just off that lobby and clearly visible is the gleaming new Chapel Street Cafe.

The cafe, operated by Corporate Chefs, Inc., is open to the public on weekdays from 7:30am - 2:30pm, serving a varied menu of breakfast items, snack foods, soups, fresh sushi, deli sandwiches and daily luncheon specials, including "Healthy Balance" low-fat, low-cal entrees, vegetarian and even vegan dishes. Table seating and service is available, as well as take-out and catering.

You can view and download this week's menu HERE.

It's noteworthy that Corporate Chefs employs a dietitian to plan its menus and supervise its "Healthy Balance" program, and practices sustainability, sourcing from local growers and vendors, emphasizing waste managment, reusable packaging and recycling, controlling energy consumption and using LEED-certified green cleaning agents.    

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Yoga May Have Positive Effects on Major Psychiatric Disorders, including Depression, Schizophrenia, ADHD And Sleep Complaints

From MNT - MedicalNewsToday.com

January 29, 2013

Yoga has positive effects on mild depression and sleep complaints, even in the absence of drug treatments, and improves symptoms associated with schizophrenia and ADHD in patients on medication, according to a systematic review of the exercise on major clinical psychiatric disorders.

Published in the open-access journal, Frontiers in Psychiatry, the review of more than one hundred studies focusing on 16 high-quality controlled studies looked at the effects of yoga on depression, schizophrenia, ADHD, sleep complaints, eating disorders and cognition problems.

Yoga in Popular Culture

Yoga is a popular exercise and is practiced by 15.8 million adults in the United States alone, according to a survey by the Harris Interactive Service Bureau, and its holistic goal of promoting psychical and mental health is widely held in popular belief.

"However, yoga has become such a cultural phenomenon that it has become difficult for physicians and patients to differentiate legitimate claims from hype," wrote the authors in their study. "Our goal was to examine whether the evidence matched the promise."

Benefits of the exercise were found for all mental health illnesses included in the review, except for eating disorders and cognition problems as the evidence for these was conflicting or lacking.

Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy
Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, a professor of psychiatry and medicine at Duke University Medical Center and author of the study, explained that the emerging scientific evidence in support of the 5,000 year old Indian practice on psychiatric disorders is "highly promising" and showed that yoga may not only help to improve symptoms, but also may have an ancillary role in the prevention of stress-related mental illnesses.

The review found evidence from biomarker studies showing that yoga influences key elements of the human body thought to play a role in mental health in similar ways to that of antidepressants and psychotherapy. One study found that the exercise affects neurotransmitters, inflammation, oxidative stress, lipids, growth factors and second messengers.

Unmet Needs Among Mental Health Patients

Depression alone affects more than 350 million people globally and is the leading cause of disability worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). On World Mental Health Day last year, the WHO called for improved access to treatments.

While there has been an increase in the number of medications available for mental health disorders, many of which can be life saving for patients, there remains "a considerable unmet need," according to Dr. Meera Balasubramaniam, lead author of the study, who is also based at Duke University.

Poor compliance and relapse as well as treatment resistance are growing problems, and medications are expensive and can leave patients with significant side effects.

The Primary Care study, carried out by WHO, found that 60% of patients were still depressed after a year of being treated with an anti-depressant and NIMH-funded research showed remission in only one-third of patients.

"The search for improved treatments, including non-drug based, to meet the holistic needs of patients is of paramount importance and we call for more research into yoga as a global priority," said Doraiswamy. "If the promise of yoga on mental health was found in a drug, it would be the best selling medication world-wide," he added.

There are many benefits associated with practicing yoga for improving mental health, including, fewer side effects, relatively low cost, generally good access and the improvement of physical fitness, added the authors.

The authors also note that while the results are promising, the findings should be viewed as preliminary because all studies of yoga to date have consisted of small samples, and more rigorous research will be needed before the exercise can be applied to help patients with mental health disorders.


Yoga on our Minds: A Systematic Review of Yoga for Neuropsychiatric Disorders. Authors: Meera Balasubramaniam, Shirley Telles and P. Murali Doraiswamy.
Front. Psychiatry DOI=10.3389/fpsyt.2012.00117

February 8: SPaN’s 3rd Annual Special Education School Fair

Presented by the MA Special Needs Advocacy Network

More than 50 special education schools (click HERE for a complete list) will be exhibiting at the Fair. Representatives from each will be present to describe and discuss how their programs can, or cannot, address various student profiles.

You'll learn about their programs' capacities to meet different levels of student need in academic, cognitive, social, emotional, behavioral, clinical, therapeutic, physical, sensory, medical, adaptive living and vocational domains.

You can also learn about: 
  • Academic and Therapuetic Staffing 
  • Unique Program Services 
  • Academic Methodologies 
  • Physical Plant and Facilities 
  • Admissions Requirements 
  • Placement Options
There will be a complimentary networking luncheon for all full-day participants!
When:    8:00am - 3:00pm, Friday, February 8, 2013
Where:  The Westin Waltham Hotel,
                70 Third Avenue, Waltham, MA  (directions)
1.) Morning program: School Fair 8:00am - 12:00 noon ( includes 1 catalog) - Non-Member $40; Member $30 (Price at the door will be $65, checks only).
2.) Afternoon program: "Implementing the New Social-Emotional Guidelines" - Non-Member $60; Member $50 Please note: Morning Attendees staying for the afternoon program are invited to a complimentary buffet lunch. (Price at the door if available: $70, without lunch). Checks only.
3.) Cancellation/Weather Policy: No refunds will be offered if a program is held. Written cancellation requests received at least a week prior to the Fair may transfer payment to an upcoming program in the 2012-2013 program calendar. In case of severe weather, please check www.spanmass.org for information, or call 508-655-7999 for a recorded message.
Afternoon Workshop
Following the School Fair and buffet lunch, MA Commissioner of Education Mitchell Chester, Scott McCloud, Executive Director of MGH Aspire, Madeline Levine of the DESE Office of Special Education Planning and Policy and a school-based team of educators will present information and insights about implementation of the new Massachusetts social-emotional guidelines.
NESCA is proud once again to be a sponsor of this special event, along with Kotin, Crabtree & Strong, LLP, Easter Seals of Massachusetts, UMass Medical School/E.K. Shriver Center and Berkshire Hills Music Academy.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Navigating School With a Dyslexic Child: One Mom's Story

From The Huffington Post's Parents Blog

By Kyle Redford
November 5, 2012

"Dyslexia is a mechanical disability, not a thinking disability. Teachers need to communicate this, parents need to understand this, and most of all, dyslexic students need to know this."

It is often said that behind every successful dyslexic is an invested and persistent mother (or parent). Not only do I fit the description, but I taught at my son's school until he was in eighth grade. Yet despite these and other unique advantages, my son's educational journey was still extraordinarily difficult.

Moving from one's notion of the ideal child to the real one is a common challenge for many parents, but parents of dyslexic children are hit early and hard with the reality that almost everything to do with learning in the early grades is particularly difficult for their children.

I wish I could say that being a teacher allowed me to be more clear-eyed and gracious about my son's challenges, but that was not the case. In fact, I clung to the ideal version of my son as long as "experts" would indulge it -- even though a part of me knew better.

My son, Dylan, like many other dyslexic children, went to great lengths to disguise his challenges. He employed his excellent oral vocabulary, sophisticated humor and emotional intelligence to keep us all distracted from the thing that privately shamed and haunted him: Dylan thought he was stupid.

Perhaps the most defining characteristic of dyslexia is the confusion that surrounds the condition. When Dylan could not learn to read in first grade, even with the help of my tortuous nighttime supplementary reading lessons, we had him tested. When we asked the evaluator if Dylan was dyslexic, she dismissed us by explaining that he was much too young for such a diagnosis and that we would have to wait until third grade.

Dylan came of age during an educational renaissance. Over the last two decades, educators have learned that there are effective interventions for learning problems like dyslexia that used to merely carry scary names. We have also learned that dyslexia can be identified early, and there are effective evidence-based reading methods to ensure that children with dyslexia CAN learn to read.

Apparently, Dylan's evaluator hadn't received that memo. Dylan had to wait until fourth grade to learn to read.

One particularly damaging misunderstanding of the condition is the belief that students who suffer with dyslexia possess diminished academic potential. Many people -- teachers included -- think that students who require adaptations and adjusted expectations related to reading speed, spelling accuracy and their mode of written expression (laptop vs. handwriting) must also necessitate adjusted intellectual expectations. This is a big error.

Dyslexia is a mechanical disability, not a thinking disability. Teachers need to communicate this, parents need to understand this, and -- most of all -- dyslexic students need to know this. With specialized reading instruction and basic accommodations, dyslexic learners at any school can become engaged, high-performing students. Our son required specialized instruction and accommodations throughout school, but because of those supports, he was able to not only survive, but thrive academically.

School got easier every year as the emphasis shifted from learning mechanics to cultivating higher order thinking skills like understanding concepts, making connections and problem-solving. Dylan might have had trouble spelling a country's name, but he had no trouble understanding how a country's geographical location impacted its culture and economy.

My son will say that one of the most important decisions he made as a dyslexic student was to embrace the diagnosis. I remember when he first heard the name. He actually loved the label. He felt it contained the condition. He reveled in the realization that dyslexia didn't make him stupid. It was a specific learning glitch, but it didn't impact his entire brain.

His new intellectual confidence was also boosted as everyone he knew rushed him with stories of successful inventors, entrepreneurs, writers, filmmakers, doctors, lawyers, politicians, scientists, etc... who were members of his new club. Naming dyslexia de-shamed and demystified the condition for him.

Tragically, with all we know about dyslexia today, too many educators still whisper the word, too few students get identified early, and many don't get identified at all. One in five students has dyslexia. Why isn't there more urgency about the issue?

My son's story may demonstrate that dyslexia doesn't have to be an academic death sentence, but students shouldn't require a teacher mom to navigate the system for them, either.

About Kyle Redford

Kyle Redford has been an educator for twenty-six years. She currently teaches at Marin Country Day School and is the Education Editor for the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity. Her son Dylan is a junior at Middlebury College and is featured in the HBO documentary, "The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia."

Conn Jackson interviews James Redford and
takes us behind the scenes of his new documentary
on dyslexia. Footage has been provided by HBO
for the exclusive use during this interview. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Care Maps: Special Needs Mom Inspires Others to Illustrate Their Own Support Networks

From The Huffington Post Parents Blog

By Lisa Belkin
January 26, 2013

When Katherine Kowalski read the story about Gabe's Care Map here on HuffPost Parents last week, she recognized her own life. Like Gabe Lind, whose mother, Cristin, drew a complex web to reflect all it took to care for the medically impaired ten-year-old, Katherine, too, was having a difficult time explaining her life to those outside it.


MUST SEE VIDEO (27:19) on Huff Post Live: A conversation with Katherine Kowalski, Cristin Lind and Lisa Belkin.


Her two-year-old son, who she calls Orange on her blog to protect his privacy, does not yet have a diagnosis for his cluster of symptoms, delays and disabilities.

"Poring over (Cristin's) map and nodding in recognition," Katherine writes, "I started to think about how I might communicate what life is like caring for Orange, using images as well as words." The result is a work of art, as well as a graphic representation of the emotional journey Orange's family takes every day.

Both Katherine and Cristin appeared on HuffPost Live where they agreed that making their maps -- seeing their challenges and support systems in black, white and multicolor before them -- was reaffirming. It allows anyone, whatever the details of their life, to take stock, and appreciate their village.

Katherine Kowalski's's care map is below. Hufffington Post invites you to draw your own and send it to them at parents@huffingtonpost.com. They will collect them as a tribute to parents, and all that they do.

Patti Durovchic's Care Map

Patti writes: I have sort of a different perspective, as my daughter, Katera, is now 16-years-old. We only just recently, at long last, got an actual diagnosis of a rare genetic micro deletion syndrome. She has multiple medical and developmental issues that are quite involved and complicated, so we've had many, many people involved with her over the years. This care map is more personalized to our particular child, at this moment. it certainly doesn't include everyone who's worked with her over the years. That would require a wall-sized mural.

My care map is bright, colorful and curvy because I'm an artist and that's how I think. When I created it, I wanted to do it intuitively, not trying too hard to make it "pretty" or organized in straight rows, but attempted to more-or-less represent what I *feel* all the time.

Christi Johnstone's Care Map

Christi writes: Here is a copy of the care map I created for our almost three-year-old daughter Grace who suffers from severe apraxia of speech. I've shared in greater detail on my website what it's like to live with apraxia. We are only 18 months into our journey as a special needs family, and the lists of doctors, specialists, therapies, interventions and needs continues to grow.

Cristin Lind's Care Map

Read more about Cristin Lind's experience HERE.

About Lisa Belkin

Lisa Belkin is the Huffington Post’s Senior Columnist on Life/Work/Family. She joins HuffPost Parents after a multi-decade stint at The New York Times, where she was variously a national correspondent (based in Houston), a medical reporter, a Contributing Writer for The New York Times Magazine, and the creator of the Life’s Work column and the Motherlode blog.

The author of several books (including Life’s Work - Confessions of an Unbalanced Mom), Belkin was also the host of Life’s Work with Lisa Belkin on XM Radio, as well as a regular contributor on parenting topics to Public Radio’s The Takeaway and NBC’s Today Show.

Her own personal life/work balance includes her husband, Bruce, her two sons (who are highly amused that anyone thinks she is a parenting “expert”) and her Wheaten terrier.

Video: Dr. Martha Herbert says "Diet is Big" for Autism

From Fox News' Fox & Friends

April 2, 2012

Dr. Martha Herbert is a pediatric neurologist at Harvard and co-author, with Science Writer Karen Weintraub, of The Autism Revolution: Whole-Body Strategies for Making Life All It Can Be. Here, she argues that autism is "not a life sentence" and that, "The brain is not malformed, it is irritated, and diet is big."

NOTE: Please also visit Dr. Herbert's excellent, clear and extremely informative website AutismWhyandHow.org.

Ann Helmus to Speak at EDCO Collaborative’s 18th Annual Legislative Forum

Agenda: Moving Forward in 2013 - The Ever-Changing World of Special Education

NESCA Director Dr. Ann Helmus will be one of two featured speakers at the EDCO Collaborative's upcoming Legislative Forum in Weston, MA.

Her talk  is entitled, "Preparing Today’s Students with Disabilities for a Successful Post-Secondary Transition."

Also speaking, on "The Changing Population of Students with Disabilities," will be Dr. David Urion of Children’s Hospital Boston, where he is Director of Behavioral Neurology Clinics and Programs, and Director of Education and Residency Training Programs in Child Neurology and Neurodevelopmental Disabilities.

In the past, the forum has been attended by a significant number of State Legislators and other leading educational policy-makers, and is expected to be equally successful this year. It is not open to the public.

About EDCO Collaborative

EDCO’s mission is to:
  • Improve education through interdistrict and interagency collaboration;
  • Provide high quality education and related services to students-at-risk;
  • Enhance equity, intercultural understanding and equal opportunity in education.
The EDCO Collaborative has had a long, rich history of providing services to school districts in Greater Boston, and to at-risk students and adults across Massachusetts. Since 1969, EDCO has been offering high quality student programs, outstanding educator training, and other cost-effective services to school communities.

The group continues to provide innovative and responsive programming for its members and to support the needs of students and adults who remain at-risk, through a variety of state- and federally-funded programs.

How to Boost Your Child’s IQ

From PsychCentral.com

By Janice Wood
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

January 26, 2013

"...supplementing the diets of pregnant women and newborns with long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as foods rich in omega-3, was found to boost children’s IQ by more than 3.5 points. Interventions focused on interactive reading — teaching parents how to engage their children while reading with them — raised children’s IQ by more than 6 points. Preschools that included a language development component boosted IQ by more than 7 points."

Supplementing children’s diets with fish oil, enrolling them in quality preschool, and engaging them in interactive reading are all effective ways to raise a young child’s intelligence level, according to a new report.

Using a technique known as meta-analysis, a research team led by John Protzko, a doctoral student at New York University, combined the findings from existing studies to evaluate the effectiveness of each type of intervention.

“Our aim in [this research] is to learn what works and what doesn’t work to raise people’s intelligence,” said Protzko.

“For too long, findings have been disconnected and scattered throughout a wide variety of journals. The broad consensus about what works is founded on only two or three very high-profile studies.”

Results of the meta-analyses indicated that certain dietary and environmental interventions can be effective in raising children’s IQ, according to the researchers.

The analysis found that supplementing the diets of pregnant women and newborns with long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as foods rich in omega-3, was found to boost children’s IQ by more than 3.5 points. These essential fatty acids — also found naturally by eating fish — may help raise intelligence by providing the building blocks for nerve cell development that the body cannot produce on its own, the researchers postulate.

There is insufficient research, however, to determine whether other types of supplements — including iron, B-complex vitamins, riboflavin, thiamine, niacin, and zinc — have beneficial effects on intelligence, they noted.

Interventions focused on interactive reading — teaching parents how to engage their children while reading with them — were found to raise children’s IQ by more than 6 points. This tactic did not seem to have an effect for children over 4 years old, suggesting that it may accelerate language development, which, in turn, boosts IQ, the researchers speculate.

Sending a child to preschool was found to raise his or her IQ by more than 4 points, and preschools that include a language development component were found to boost IQ by more than 7 points. The link between preschool and intelligence could be a function of increased exposure to language or the result of the overall cognitive complexity of the preschool environment.

All of the studies in the database relied on a normal population (participants without clinical diagnoses of intellectual disabilities), focused on interventions sustained over time, used widely accepted measures of intelligence, and were randomly controlled trials (participants were selected at random to receive one of the interventions).

“The larger goal here is to understand the nature of intelligence, and if and how it can be nurtured at every stage of development,” said Aronson, Protzko’s advisor.

“This is just a first step in a long process of understanding. It is by no means the last word. In fact, one of the main conclusions is how little high quality research exists in the field and how much more needs to be done.”

The collaboration on the new paper was done with NYU psychology professors Drs. Joshua Aronson and Clancy Blair. The researchers analyzed the best available studies involving samples of children from birth and kindergarten from NYU’s new Database of Raising Intelligence.

The report was published in Perspectives on Psychological Science.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

March 15 Conference: Asperger's Syndrome and Technology: Pitfalls and Potentials

Asperger's Association of New England 
in Partnership with MGH Aspire 

Asperger's Syndrome and Technology:
Pitfalls and Potentials

March 15, 2013
Hebrew College ~ Newton Centre, MA
8:30 AM to 5:30 PM

Hebrew College
160 Herrick Road
Newton Centre, MA 02459

Keynote Speakers

Christopher Mulligan, LCSW
President and Clinical Director,
The Cyber Addiction Recovery Center

Karen Waddill, MA, CCC-SLP ATP
Director of Cotting Consulting
Cotting School, Lexington, MA

The use of technology has had a major impact in the lives of those with Asperger's Syndrome (AS) and related conditions.

This conference will explore both the potential difficulties that the use of technology can present as well as the positive social and educational benefits. Specific interventions for assisting those who over-use technology and specific applications in technology that have benefitted others will be discussed. You will hear from experts in the field as well as from consumers.

Pitfalls will be discussed in the morning and potentials will be discussed in the afternoon. This conference is appropriate for professionals, parents, and adults with AS/related conditions.

Conference Fees, Per Person
$85 Non-Professional ~ $100 Professional

Advance registration with payment is required by March 7th or until seats sell out! 

High Sell-Out Risk!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

College-Bound: What Every Student with Learning Differences Needs to Know

From SpecialEducationAdvisor.com

By Samantha Feinman
January 1, 2012

During this time of year, high school juniors and seniors are hard at work preparing for college entrance exams, writing the perfect admissions essay, touring colleges, and eagerly awaiting decision letters from their institutions of choice.

While this can be an exciting, yet stressful time for all students, students with learning differences have another level of factors that they need to take into consideration when choosing the right college. It is important for these students to not only consider the skills necessary to set themselves up for success, but to also be aware of the supports available to them at the colleges where they are considering attending.

There are several different factors that differentiate the postsecondary environment from the high school setting that students with learning differences are typically accustomed to.

First and foremost, college is not a right, but a privilege. Colleges have the right to choose which applicants they wish to accept, as well as have the right to dismiss students that do not meet the institution’s specific academic and/or behavioral code of conduct.

Second, supports for students with disabilities at the postsecondary level fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), rather than the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). While IDEA requires that high schools identify and provide appropriate services to students with disabilities, ADA requires that colleges make reasonable accommodations available to students, such as extra time on exams or a note taker.

One of the biggest differences between these two laws is that, while it is the high school’s responsibility to identify and provide appropriate services under IDEA, it is the student’s responsibility at the college level under ADA to seek out supports, as well as provide justification for the need to access such supports.

Finally, students typically turn 18 during their transition from high school to college. According to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), parents do not have direct access to the students’ educational records as they did when students were in high school.

In order for parents to receive information from universities regarding student records, students need to give written permission to the institutions allowing them communicate with parents.

Differences in students’ rights and the law can be overwhelming during the college transition process; however, there are several skill areas that students can develop to increase their chances of success, specifically in the areas of general executive functioning skills, self-monitoring and self-advocacy, and social engagement.

Further, there are several factors students with disabilities can consider and several questions they can ask when choosing the right college for their needs.

Executive functioning includes skills such as time management, scheduling, organization, prioritizing, and multitasking. Prior to leaving for college, students should be able to get themselves up in the morning by using an alarm clock. They should learn how to leave themselves enough time to get to appointments, taking into account responsibilities such as showering, eating, and the amount of time it takes to travel to the appointment.

Students should learn to use a planner to organize responsibilities, as well as follow and refer back to the planner on a daily basis to keep up with appointments, coursework deadlines, and other responsibilities.

In terms of self-monitoring and self-advocacy, students should have a plan in place to inquire about being approved for testing accommodations, as well as have access to the paperwork needed by the college to be approved for such supports. Once approved for accommodations, students need to learn the protocol in how to access the supports, which can be different from school to school.

In terms of academic responsibilities, students need to understand that professors may not seek them out when their assignments are late or when they have missed an exam; therefore, students need to proactively check in with their professors to make sure that they are on track with their work and in good standing in each of their courses.

Regarding social engagement and communication, students can practice identifying social cues, as well as how to respond appropriately in a variety of social situations with professors and peers. For those students living on campus, they should also investigate the different housing options, as well as be prepared for the pros and cons that come along with living with a roommate.

When students are investigating colleges, most take into account the type of campus (e.g., rural vs. urban, size of campus, etc.), the types of degrees and academic programs offered, and living arrangements (e.g., living in housing vs. commuting) when making their final decision. Students with learning differences need to consider these types of factors but also may have additional concerns in terms of access to academic, social engagement, and/or career development supports. Some questions to consider reviewing with the colleges during this decision making process are:
  • What is the process for obtaining accommodations?
  • Do they offer priority registration to students with disabilities?
  • What types of tutoring are available on campus and for what subjects? How often can students access tutoring and what is the process to receive such services?
  • What kinds of counseling services are available? How does a student access the services?
  • What are the housing options offered (e.g., themed floors, quiet floors, medical single, etc.)?
  • What clubs, events, and activities are offered?
  • What kinds of career services are available?

Finally, sometimes the services that the college has available may not be enough to help assist the student in the transition from high school to college. It is important to also identify outside programs, agencies, and other resources that may be helpful in supporting the students on the road to college success.

With the right balance of support students with learning differences can make strides towards success at the postsecondary level and beyond.


About Samantha Feinman

Samantha Feinman is the Director of New Frontiers in Learning (www.nfil.net), a high school and college support program for students with learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, and related learning differences. New Frontiers brings services directly to students in high schools and colleges in the Westchester and New York City areas, allowing students to apply for and attend colleges based on their plan of study or personal campus preferences. For more information, please contact Samantha at (646)558-0085, or sfeinman@nfil.net.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Is Your Child Gifted?

From GreatSchools.org

By Gail Robinson
October 12, 2012

Unfortunately, it may depend on who you ask – and where you live. From IQ to behaviors, learn the many signs – both promising and troubling – of giftedness.

For a while, neither Stacia Taylor nor her husband Mike found it surprising that their 4-year-old Kristin was drawn to her father's old textbooks — or that Kristin liked talking to adults more than children.

"We were thinking, 'Oh look how cute it is that she likes picking up these big books that Daddy used in college’," Taylor recalls. "It never really occurred to us that what she was doing was just completely out-of-the-box unusual."

It wasn’t until three years later, when her daughter was in second grade, that Taylor got the message. The teacher pulled Taylor aside and said her daughter clearly didn’t belong in the class. Still in the dark, Taylor asked, "Oh no, what's wrong with her?"

The teacher said that nothing was wrong, but didn’t it strike Taylor as odd that her daughter was working her way through Harry Potter while her classmates were just starting to tackle chapter books? No, Taylor replied, it didn't seem at all strange. "In our world, this was normal, and we had adjusted accordingly," she says.

As a first-time parent, it can be a challenge to know whether your child’s behavior is typical, a little different, or exceptional. If your 2-year-old whips through puzzles designed for children three times her age, or your 10-year-old asks brain strainers about theoretical physics, you may feel a mixture of pride and panic.

Is your child a regular Matilda, a certified savant? And if so, how will you possibly manage to meet your gifted child's needs?

Gifted: yes or no? It may depend where you live.

While we like to think everyone is special, some people have extraordinary abilities — intellectual, artistic, social, or athletic. Many experts believe only 3 to 5 percent of the population is gifted, though some estimates reach 20 percent. A far smaller percentage — maybe one tenth of 1 percent — are what experts call profoundly gifted: they are the rare prodigies who devour complex texts before kindergarten or play a violin sonata that would make Itzhak Perlman proud.

Alas, there's no universal standard to define giftedness. There is, however, a national standard used in the Javits Act (a federal law passed in 1988 but defunded in 2011) and adopted by NCLB. However, parents hoping to find clarity by this definition will be sorely disappointed.

To wit, our murky federal definition says a gifted student is anyone who shows "evidence of high achievement capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who need services and activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop those capabilities."


Related Articles

Faced with such vagueness, 41 states have penned their own definitions. In 2006, about 6.7 percent of U.S. public school students were in gifted or talented programs, according to the U.S. Department of Education, but depending on where you live, the percentage varied widely, swinging from 16.1 percent in Maryland to a mere 0.7 percent in Massachusetts. While much of that difference hinges on whether schools offer such programs — not all do — the numbers also reflect the disparate ways school districts define giftedness.

Some focus purely on academic prowess, while others put a high premium on other traits. Florida, for example, mentions only intellectual skills, but Iowa also considers abilities in leadership and visual or performing arts. (Read the definition of gifted for 16 states, including Florida and Iowa.)

But it’s not just the states and school districts muddying the gifted waters, says Dona Matthews, author of Being Smart About Gifted Education. "No two experts in the field will agree entirely on what giftedness means or what one ought to do about it," Matthews says. For years, it meant that once you aced an IQ test, you assumed the gifted crown.

But such left-brain favoritism is starting to change as educators increasingly see giftedness as encompassing other types of intelligence.

There's also debate whether giftedness is a result of nature or nurture, or an amalgam of the two. Some spurn labeling anyone as gifted — preferring to identify a certain behavior or traits as gifted ("She is a gifted leader" versus "She is gifted.")

Signs of Being Gifted: What to Look For

"I'm always in awe of these parents who know really early that their kids are gifted, Stacia Taylor says. “We were the most clueless parents."

But that was then. With her first daughter, Taylor had to learn how to spot her child’s talents — and associated needs — from scratch. Now the mother of three gifted girls, Taylor can point to a number of signs beyond Kristin’s early penchant for advanced reading. All of her daughters — Kristin, Olivia, and Emma — have what she describes as an "incredible" ability to pull information from their surroundings. Her daughters mention things that astound her. "I'd say, 'How do you even know that?'" she says.

Experts cite a number of signs that may indicate your child is gifted, including (but, given the range of definitions and possibilities, certainly not limited to):
  • Exhibiting unusual curiosity and asking questions
  • Being good at solving problems
  • Reasoning well and understanding and adapting ideas
  • Having many interests
  • Reading avidly
  • Learning quickly and remembering what's learned
  • Communicating well
  • Enjoying intellectual challenges

But what if you see the signs and others — like your child’s teachers — do not? This is particularly likely to happen if your child is both gifted and has a learning disability — a combination known as "twice exceptional".

Rich Weinfeld, a special education expert and author of Smart Kids with Learning Difficulties, who advocates for "twice exceptional" kids, says schools may see only the deficiency, leaving you to press the argument that your child is gifted, too.

Early Signs of Giftedness

You may see indications even earlier than Taylor did — when your child is still a toddler. Joan Franklin Smutny, founder and director of the Center for the Gifted in Glenview, IL, offers a number of tipoffs that a preschooler may be gifted, including if he:
  • sits through the reading of a long book and asks to hear it again
  • shows an early interest in the alphabet
  • remembers complex events
  • organizes or sorts things

There are even those who suggest you can see signs of early giftedness in infants. Take, for example, this article, "Is my baby gifted?" from the What to Expect website, that sees everything from being "particularly perceptive" to having “trouble sleeping" as clues that your infant is well on her way to toddling towards Harvard.

Whether or not your baby will grow up to be preternaturally precocious may not be clear for several years. While it’s fine to encourage your young child, there are limits, particularly for preschoolers. Researchers have found little to no benefit in so-called educational DVDs and games marketed to parents of gifted children, and most experts question the value of academically oriented preschool.

Is It Giftedness or Just Challenging Behavior?

Here’s one of the toughest pieces of the gifted puzzle: problematic behavior can also indicate giftedness. Obsessive interest in a particular subject — a fascination with how washing machines work, for example — may prompt a parent to worry if her child has Asperger's — but it could also be a sign of giftedness. Or both.

Or say your child is hypersensitive and has chronic intolerance to tags on her shirt. Is it Sensory Integration Disorder or giftedness… or both? Polish psychiatrist and psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski theorizes that the same sensitivity that lets gifted people pull information from the world around them can make them extremely sensitive in other ways (physically and emotionally), too.

Of course, not all sensitive or obsessive children are gifted. Neither, contrary to popular myth, are all children who do well in school or who love books.

How, then, is a parent to know? Try your best to separate objectivity from subjectivity: if you think your son is gifted, but people look at you a little oddly when you make the claim, consider the possibility that love could be clouding your judgment.

That said, experts advise that, in the absence of any clear guidelines, parents should trust their gut. Pay close attention to your child. Listen when friends and family point out your child’s special talents, and always trust your instincts as a parent.

Next: Your child is gifted… now what?


Gail Robinson is a Brooklyn, NY-based freelance writer specializing in education and other public policy issues. Her work appears in many publications, including Inside Schools and the Huffington Post. She has two children who went through the New York City school system.

Cool Kids from 19 Countries, and Counting!

In light of some exciting recent referrals, today we took stock of the countries from which we have had clients and their families come for evaluation.

Here's the current list, in no particular order:

Bermuda, India, China (inc. Hong Kong), Taiwan, Korea, Malaysia, Monaco, Bangladesh, Turkey, Dubai, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Norway, Nigeria, the Philippines, Indonesia, Great Britain and Colombia.

Whew! That's some really conscientious parenting! Greatest distance? Beijing. Greatest number? Kuwait. Greatest interest? All of the above. Ditto most fun.

We are very grateful for the trust in us that this list reflects.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Should I Get A Diagnosis For My Child With Developmental Delays?

From The Friendship Circle Blog

By Karen Wang
January 17, 2013

Do you know someone who isn’t sure whether or not to pursue a medical diagnosis for a developmentally delayed son or daughter?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, most children with autism are diagnosed after age 4. Certain other developmental and learning disabilities are usually not diagnosed until a child enters elementary school. These facts are puzzling, since it is well-established that early intervention leads to better outcomes for children with special needs.

But there are many reasons why parents and physicians choose to delay diagnosis, even when a young child is delayed and has difficulty adapting to everyday life.

Six reasons why parents will wait to have a child diagnosed:

1.) Normal range of behavior.
  • The reported symptoms may fit within the normal range of behavior and skills for that age.
2.) “Wait and see.”
  • I often heard this from my son’s pediatrician – he kept advising us to come back in 3 to 6 months to see if my son had made any progress. It was not a helpful approach in my older son’s case. However, my younger son was a late talker who began speaking in full sentences spontaneously at age 31 months.
3.) Insurance won’t cover the diagnosis or therapy.
  • In many states, insurance companies are not required to cover therapy for any type of developmental delay. A diagnosis like autism may actually prevent certain services from being covered. But in some states, a diagnosis will open the door to coverage of more services or home therapy programs.
4.) The child’s behavior may make an accurate diagnosis impossible.
  • This was the problem I had with my older son. It was clear from infancy that he had special needs, but he had panic attacks whenever we entered anything that looked like a doctor’s office. He also had a panic attack at his first evaluation for services in the public school system. It’s not possible to diagnose or evaluate a screaming child.
5.) “A diagnosis won’t change anything.”
  • It’s true that a diagnosis does not change who the person is. In cases of mild developmental delays, a child may not even be eligible for special services.
6.) “I don’t want her to be labeled.”
  • What most parents mean by this is that they do not want a child to be subject to the prejudices that are often held against people with special needs. But the fact is that a person doesn’t need a label to be subject to those prejudices – unexplained behaviors may have the same effect.

So when is the right time to identify a child’s disability?

1.) You’ve waited long enough.
  • You’ve already waited for a year, made some modifications at home, and haven’t seen a significant improvement in the areas that are of concern to you.
2.) You’re not sure what your child’s special needs are.
  • There are many different symptoms that don’t add up. In this situation, it is usually a good idea to see a developmental pediatrician, who can connect the dots between physical symptoms and behavioral patterns. Different disabilities require different treatments – for example, an anxiety disorder will not be treated the same as cerebral palsy, even though there is some overlap in the symptoms.
3.) You may be unaware of an underlying problem.
  • Some parents take a child to a developmental pediatrician for behavioral issues, and learn that the child has a nutritional deficiency or mild muscle weakness on one side of the body. Sometimes a child is unable to verbalize pain, which leads to unusual behaviors or an inability to participate in activities.
4.) Your child may become eligible for an intensive early intervention program.
  • My husband and I were wary of having our son diagnosed with autism, because we knew that his therapy would not be covered by insurance with that diagnosis. However, as soon as we brought his medical diagnostic report to the school district’s attention, our son was admitted to a specialized autism program. In that first year after his diagnosis, the school district provided over $100,000 worth of services to him, at no cost to us. Our son immediately began to make developmental progress.
5.) Your child’s special needs are affecting family relationships and friendships.
  • Caregiving is a stressful occupation. One thing that I appreciated greatly after my son’s diagnosis was the moral support of his team of teachers and therapists – they were always there for me when I had questions or needed guidance in my son’s day-to-day care.
  • An undiagnosed or untreated disability may also make it more difficult for a child to form friendships. A diagnosis makes it possible for a child’s peers to be educated about special needs and thus widen the family’s circle of support.
6.) Decisions must be made based on the child’s needs, not on the parent’s fears.
  • I’m not going to lie: the process of diagnosis is frightening. I vividly recall walking back to my car after one of my son’s appointments, feeling like I’d been punched hard in the gut. I could barely maintain my composure in front of my son that day. What kept me standing that day was the thought that I was the key to unlocking my son’s potential. I needed more information to help him – I needed an accurate medical diagnosis. I faced my own fears so that we could grow strong together.

About Karen Wang

Karen Wang is a Friendship Circle parent. She is a contributing author to the anthology My Baby Rides the Short Bus: The Unabashedly Human Experience of Raising Kids With Disabilities.