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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Heading the Ball Frequently in Soccer May Lead to Brain Injury

From MedicalNewsToday.com

June 14, 2013

Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University have shown that soccer players who frequently head the ball have brain abnormalities resembling those found in patients with concussion(mild traumatic brain injury). The study, which used advanced imaging techniques and cognitive tests that assessed memory, published online in the journal Radiology.


"We studied soccer players because soccer is the world's most popular sport," said Michael L. Lipton, M.D., Ph.D., associate director of Einstein's Gruss Magnetic Resonance Research Center and medical director of MRI services at Montefiore, the University Hospital and academic medical center for Einstein. "Soccer is widely played by people of all ages and there is concern that heading the ball - a key component of the sport - might damage the brain."

Dr. Lipton is also associate professor of radiology, and of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, in the Dominick P. Purpura Department of Neuroscience at Einstein.

On average, soccer players head the ball six to 12 times during games, where balls can travel at speeds of more than 50 miles per hour. During practice drills, players commonly head the ball 30 or more times. The impact from a single heading is unlikely to cause traumatic brain damage such as laceration of nerve fibers.

But scientists have worried that cumulative damage from heading's repeated subconcussive impacts might be clinically significant. "Repetitive heading could set off a cascade of responses that leads to degeneration of brain cells over time," noted Dr. Lipton.

To study possible brain injury from heading, the researchers used diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), an advanced MRI-based imaging technique, on 37 amateur adult soccer players (median age 31 years) who had all played the sport since childhood. Participants reported playing soccer for an average of 22 years and had played an average of 10 months over the previous year.

Researchers ranked the players based on heading frequency and then compared the DTI brain images of the most frequent headers with those of the remaining players. All participants also underwent cognitive testing.

DTI "sees" the movement of water molecules within and along axons, the nerve fibers that constitute the brain's white matter. This imaging technique allows researchers to measure the uniformity of water movement (called fractional anisotropy, or FA) throughout the brain.

Abnormally low FA within white matter indicates axon damage and has previously been associated with cognitive impairment in patients with traumatic brain injury.

"The DTI findings pertaining to the most frequent headers in our study showed white-matter abnormalities similar to what we've seen in patients with concussion," said Dr. Lipton. "Soccer players who headed the ball above a threshold between 885 to 1,550 times a year had significantly lower FA in three areas of the temporal-occipital white matter." Dr. Lipton noted that players with more than 1,800 headings per year were also more likely to demonstrate poorer memory scores compared to participants with fewer yearly headings.

"Our study provides compelling preliminary evidence that brain changes resembling mild traumatic brain injury are associated with frequently heading a soccer ball over many years," said Dr. Lipton. "While further research is clearly needed, our findings suggest that controlling the amount of heading that people do may help prevent brain injury that frequent heading appears to cause."

Friday, June 28, 2013

'Did I Do That?' Positive Behavior Starts With Self-Monitoring

From The Huffington Post Parents Blog

By Jessica Minahan, M.Ed., BCBA
June 4, 2013

Jessica Minahan, M.Ed., BCBA
Often, students struggling with emotional behavioral disabilities are overwhelmed by and over-reactive to daily events that seem mundane to others. They become easily stressed and frustrated, can feel out of control, develop self-doubt, and feel unsure about handling future situations.

Empowering them to monitor their own behavior -- to check in with themselves -- sends students the message that although stressful situations are impossible to avoid, they can learn to cope and eventually remain in control.

Self-monitoring is the ability to recognize and keep track of our own behavior. If you've ever tried to quit smoking or lose weight, you might have been told to keep a log of how many cigarettes you smoke or how much food you consume. These logs, without any other interventions, can be powerful because just being aware of how much you're doing something can enable you to change your behavior.

Self-monitoring and awareness are the first steps to take before we're able to "catch ourselves" acting inappropriately and work to terminate the inappropriate behavior altogether.

Self-monitoring skills help students maintain appropriate behavior. Here are 3 ways to help students develop them:

1. Regular check-ins. To self-monitor, a student must recognize when his behavior is inappropriate or disproportionate. Many students need a teacher to help them reflect on and evaluate their behavior throughout the day. At the end of each period, you can meet briefly with the student and invite him to talk about his behavior. You could use a sheet that rates success with common behaviors--following directions, keeping a safe body, or doing schoolwork.

Emphasize reflection, instead of rewards or consequences. These conversations are opportunities to give feedback and help the student learn to evaluate himself accurately. Developmentally, students will learn to reflect on recent behavior before they learn to catch themselves in the moment.

Many students will need help with the evaluation. Your nonjudgmental conversations are opportunities for you to tell the student exactly how her behavior was inappropriate or disproportionate: "Remember how you growled at Ms. Jensen when you were frustrated?" or "You threw your pencil when you were frustrated."

2. Class check-ins. Throughout the day, use a consistently worded "self-check prompt," to signal students that it's time to recognize and reflect on their behavior in that moment: "Everybody do a self-check and record your behavior." Or, use more specific self-check prompts. "Body safety self-check! Are you keeping your hands to yourself?"

Regular "self-checks" with the entire class normalize the process and help students self-monitor specific behaviors (for example, paying attention to work). With frequent class check-ins, even students accustomed to being called out frequently for inappropriate behavior will have opportunities to notice how often their behavior is appropriate.

Students can record and tally their behavior on paper or with a mobile device. Some helpful apps for recording behavior:
  • Percentally: Automatically converts tallies to percentages. (iPhone, iPad and iPod touch)
  • Streaks: Records each day's progress toward behavior goals. (iPhone and Android)
  • Clicker Tally Counter: Helps track behavior frequency (iPhone, iPad, iPod)

3. Independence. To reduce reliance on adults, prompt students to check themselves at set intervals by using self-monitoring aids like vibrating timers and mobile apps to help make self-monitoring habitual. Two helpful apps:
  • Repeat Timer: Repeating interval timer and reminder for routine activities. (iPhone, iPad,
  • Android)
  • MotivAider: Private vibration prompt calls attention to desired behavior. (Android, iPhone
  • and iPad; separate electronic device also available.)

(Note: Most apps are free or available for a nominal fee. Often you can upgrade to a professional version for an additional expense.)

Developing self-monitoring skills reduces unwanted behaviors and empowers students. It's an important step in helping them learn to cope with challenging moments while being aware of and managing their own behavior.

About Jessica Minahan, M.Ed., BCBA

Jessica Minahan, M.Ed, BCBA, was a board-certified behavior analyst and special educator in the Newton, MA public school system. She is the co-author of The Behavior Code: A Practical Guide to Understanding and Teaching the Most Challenging Students, written with Nancy Rappaport, M.D.

Minahan will join NESCA in September, 2013 as Director of Behavioral Services.

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Originally published on the Responsive® Blog.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Your Kid's Brain on Exercise

From WebMD.com

By R. Morgan Griffin
Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, M.D.

June 14, 2013

You know exercise is good for kids’ bodies. Did you know that exercise is crucial for kids' developing brains as well?

Even moderate exercise, like walking, could make your kids sharper, healthier, and happier.

"Exercise has tremendous mental benefits," says Joel Brenner, MD, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness. Studies show that kids who exercise get better grades, have better concentration, and get more restful sleep.

Exercise’s Benefits

Physical activity boosts blood flow all over the body, including to the brain. Brain cells get better at connecting with each another. What's the result?

Better thinking skills. Studies show that people who exercise more are sharper mentally. The effects may be almost immediate. One study found that kids scored higher on math and reading comprehension tests after exercising for 20 minutes.

More confidence. Studies have found that kids who do athletics are more confident. In turn, that confidence may improve their academic performance, too. Active kids tend to get better grades. Though there could be a lot of reasons for that, including brain benefits, part of it may be better self-confidence.

Better moods. Many studies have found that kids who exercise feel happier. Physical activity releases brain chemicals that are natural stress fighters. Just about any physical activity seems to help. Physically active kids are better at managing their moods and have fewer mood swings, too.

Sounder sleep. Kids who exercise regularly fall asleep faster than other kids. They also stay asleep longer. The more vigorous the activity, the bigger the sleep benefit. Getting enough sleep lifts moods, improves judgment, and boosts memory.

How Much Exercise Makes a Difference?

Your kid doesn't have to be a track star or medal-winning gymnast to feel the brain-boosting and other benefits of exercise. Even moderate activity -- riding a bike or even walking -- seems to help.

Help Your Kids Benefit from Exercise

Get an hour of exercise a day. That's what the CDC recommends for kids ages 6 to 18. Your kids can split up activity over the course of the day. A few minutes here and there adds up.

Break up the day with physical activity. Have them get active after school before settling in for homework to help their focus. Then, let them take breaks. Just a few minutes of exercise can perk up your kid.

"Kids should take breaks every 30 minutes or so," Brenner says. "They can do jumping jacks or just move around." Going on a walk or stretching will help, too. Short bursts of activity will re-energize them. After a few minutes, your kids should feel refreshed and ready to tackle more.

Later, take an after-after dinner walk as a family instead of settling in on the couch.

Get the whole family involved. If you want your kids to exercise more, you have to exercise more yourself. Practice what you preach. Get in the habit of taking weekend nature walks or bike rides. Make physical activity a part of all of your lives.

Your bodies, and your minds, will be healthier for it.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Special Educators Must Advocate for Children: The CEC Professional Standards

From Special Education Today - A Special Education Law Blog by Attorneys at Kotin, Crabtree & Strong, LLP

By Robert Crabtree, Esq.
June 24, 2013

Special education teachers are ethically obliged to advocate on behalf of their students for appropriate placements and services. 

In 2011, I wrote a pair of articles for the Newsline of the Federation for Children with Special Needs describing the legal framework, and offering some practical guidelines, for public school teachers who wish to advocate for children with disabilities within their districts.

Teachers in that role must wrestle with several sources of resistance and limitation, including their own natural reluctance to engage in potentially adversarial interactions with colleagues and/or administrators; the possibility of subtle or not-so-subtle disciplinary repercussions; and the inevitable extra time and energy it requires to advocate effectively – becoming familiar and comfortable with the applicable rights and procedures, educating oneself about alternative solutions, learning to work with diplomacy amid one’s peers, and so forth – none of which extra time and energy is likely to be compensated in one’s paycheck.

An excellent article has just been published by the Council for Exceptional Children (“CEC”) that describes and expands upon the professional responsibility of special educators to advocate for the students who are their charges: Advocating for Students with Disabilities at the School Level, Peggy J.S. Whitby, et al., Teaching Exceptional Children, Vol. 45, No. 5, pp. 32-39, May-June 2013. (Note that this article is currently available only to CEC members through CEC’s website. We are told that the full text of the article is available without cost to CEC members and for purchase to non-members.)

The professional standards described by CEC for special educators are generally considered as defining “best practices” in the field, whether a teacher is a member of CEC or not. While the ethical standards promulgated by a professional organization like CEC do not have the same authority over the work of a professional as do statutes, regulations or the decisions of licensing agencies or courts, it is expected that professionals will know and abide by those standards.

The CEC standards governing special educational providers include responsibilities proactively to advocate for the children they serve:
  • Continually seek to improve government provision for the education of persons with exceptionalities while ensuring that public statements by professionals as individuals are not construed to represent official policy statements of the agency that employs them.
  • Work cooperatively with and encourage other professionals to improve the provision of special education and related services to persons with exceptionalities.
  • Document and objectively report to one’s supervisors or administrators inadequacies in resources and promote appropriate corrective action.
  • Monitor for inappropriate placements in special education and intervene at appropriate levels to correct the condition when such inappropriate placements exist.
  • Follow local, state/provincial, and federal laws and regulations which mandate a free appropriate public education to exceptional students and the protection of the rights of persons with exceptionalities to equal opportunities in our society.
Council for Exceptional Children, What Every Special Educator Should Know: Ethics, Standards, and Guidelines 296, 304. 6th Ed. Revised 2009.

Advocating for Students with Disabilities at the School Level offers detailed suggestions to help teachers carry out their responsibilities under these standards and should be widely disseminated not only among its target readership – the teachers to whom the advocacy standards apply – but also among parents and advocates.

The very existence of the CEC’s professional requirement to advocate and the standards that apply can itself serve as an advocacy tool: a special educator can, as the article suggests, refer to the standards in defense of her advocacy for a child, keeping copies at hand to show to anyone who questions the teacher’s right to speak up (though saving the moment of delivery hopefully for a private moment with one’s administrator or supervisor to defuse the possible embarrassment of a public confrontation) or even posting a copy on the wall or desk of the educator.

A parent can use the knowledge of these standards to remind a friendly teacher that while private expressions of support and guidance to parents are appreciated, they may not be enough to fulfill their professional obligations to a child and that real support lies in actively – albeit diplomatically – speaking out on that child’s behalf in the halls and meeting rooms of the school.

Like special educators, other school professionals such as speech and hearing providers, occupational therapists, school psychologists, school counselors, social workers, school nurses, and physical therapists all have professional standards defining best practices for their fields.

A list of websites where those standards can be found and a selected description of standards applying to those professions that urge providers to actively protect and advocate for the children they serve is attached here: Professional Standards of Selected Professional Disciplines.

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Robert Crabtree is a partner in the Special Education and Disability Rights practice group at Kotin, Crabtree & Strong, LLP in Boston, Massachusetts.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Is Your Child Ungifted?

From the Scientific American Blog "Beautiful Minds"

By Scott Barry Kaufman
June 20, 2013

When Jay Leno asked Steve Carell how his kids were doing, he didn’t seem too concerned:

“I hate it when people talk about kids on talk shows. I hate it, because every person who talks about their kids, their kids are obviously the most intelligent and the cutest. They’re all very, very gifted children. Ask me about my kids. They’re alright. Are they the cutest? Meh… They’ll get by. I mean, they’re not going to freak anyone out. In terms of intellect— it’s like, Ehhh, you know. They’re not going to be at the back of the class, not going to be at the front of the class– they’ll be in the middle kind of looking out the window. They’ll get by.”

Worried that your own child is ungifted? Take a cue from Carell and relax. Thankfully for you and your child, there are many conceptualizations of giftedness– and therefore many ways to not be ungifted.

Where should we start? How about with the most traditional conceptualization of them all: high IQ. Does your child score above 130 on an IQ test? If so, congratulations! We can probably stop right here. Historically, giftedness has been defined as top 2-3% on an IQ test.

While most gifted and talented programs these days no longer rely solely on this criteria, most programs in the United States do privilege the child’s IQ score above all other potential indicators of giftedness.**

So if your child scores above the arbitrary IQ threshold set by the school district, you should have no trouble convincing your school that your child isn’t ungifted.

What’s that, your child obtained an IQ score of 129 and missed the cut-off by a single point? Ouch! Well, I admit that’s unfortunate, but we’re still far from eliminating the possibility that your child is ungifted. It’s quite possible that you child’s true IQ score is really above the arbitrary IQ threshold set by your school district. There are many reasons why your child may not have reached 130 on the day he or she was tested. One possible cause is measurement error. Perhaps your child temporarily zoned out or became distracted on a few test items.

It’s also entirely possible that the school psychologist forgot to count one of the answers as correct. Administration errors are far more common than people realize. As educational psychologist Kevin McGrew notes, “This level of examiner error is alarming, particularly in the context of important decision-making.”

But the culprit may not have been measurement error. Genuine intellectual brain maturation and growth is possible. Neural connectivity associated with intellectual functioning is particularly receptive to enriching intellectual experiences in childhood and early adolescence, but neural wiring is still receptive to training and experience throughout the lifespan.

With greater intellectual enrichment and motivation, it’s quite possible that your child’s IQ score will reach that arbitrary gifted cut-off if tested again in the future.

Huh? You had your child’s IQ tested every single day for 10 years in a row, and it hasn’t budged an iota? Gulp. Okay, well, your child’s IQ score isn’t all that informative anyway when it comes to targeted, specific interventions. What’s far more helpful in terms of addressing the actual need of your individual child– especially if he or she has a learning disability– is to look at your child’s pattern of strengths and weaknesses. Tell your school psychologist the following:

“Please give my child a comprehensive battery of IQ and achievement tests adopting the cross-battery approach to assess the various specific cognitive abilities that are part of the Cattell-Horn-Carroll (CHC) Theory of Cognitive Abilities”.

Trust me, if your school psychologist is competent in the least, he or she will know what all that means. This will allow you to determine if your child is gifted in one of the following 9 broad domains of human intellectual functioning:


As long as the school psychologist assesses these abilities by adopting the intelligent testing approach– elevating your child above the numbers and seeing his or her test results in context– then the psychologist can use that information to design a specific acceleration program that will address your child’s unique needs.

Still ungifted? OK, time to roll up our sleeves and really broaden our focus. According to the federal definition, gifted and talented children are those who display high achievement and/or potential ability in general intellectual ability, specific academic aptitude, creative or productive thinking, leadership ability, or visual and performing arts, and who require services or activities that are not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop those abilities.

This leaves a lot of latitude. Maybe your child struggles in the mainstream classroom, but writes wildly imaginative fiction novels in his or her spare time. Or maybe your child aces his or her algebra equations, but has difficulty memorizing vocabulary words. Perhaps your child prefers performing, whether it be acting, singing, or playing a musical instrument, but zones out when put in a passive classroom situation. Or your child is president of the student body and has instigated a massive revolt among the students. While unappreciated by the administration, your child’s actions reveal extraordinary leadership skills.

According to the federal definition, any of those behaviors demonstrate giftedness.

Still no good? OK, don’t panic yet. Theorists Howard Gardner and Robert Sternberg further expanded our concept of giftedness. Sure, Gardner proposes academic (verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial) and musical abilities, which are already part of the Federal definition. But he also offers you some extra gifted goodies such as social intelligence (ability interacting with others and/or knowing yourself), bodily-kinesthetic intelligence (facility with bodily movement), and naturalistic intelligence (facility relating to nature).

Or take Sternberg’s theory, in which your child can not only be analytically, creatively, or practically gifted (i.e., exhibiting good common sense), but can also be gifted at wisdom if he or she does a good job balancing personal needs with the interest of others, all the while taking the broader societal context into consideration.

What about all that— is your child finally gifted yet? No? Don’t despair! Maybe your child doesn’t display high ability in any of the areas I just mentioned yet, but exhibits extreme passion and dedication. After researching eminent creators across a variety of fields, Joseph Renzulli concluded that those who achieve greatness in any field tend to not only display high ability in a particular domain and high levels of creative-productive giftedness (as opposed to “schoolhouse giftedness”), but they also tend to have extremely high task commitment.

According to Renzulli’s model of giftedness, a gifted child can compensate for lower levels of ability with higher levels of creative-productive giftedness and task commitment. In other words, passion and task commitment are gifts just as much as cognitive ability and creativity.

Are we there yet? Have I finally assuaged your fears that that your child is totally and utterly ungifted? No? Really? Well then, let’s take a look at The Columbus Group definition of giftedness, in which the central characteristic of giftedness is asynchrony. According to their definition, giftedness occurs when “advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm.”

What’s that— how do you know if your child has heightened intensity and inner experiences that are qualitatively different from the rest of the children who live on your street? Great question! I’m afraid I don’t have an easy answer to that one. But this much I can say: a large portion of the gifted community equate intensity with “overexcitability,” a term the Polish psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski used to describe an overly sensitive nervous system.

In particular, Dabrowski proposed five domains in which a person can display these overexcitabilities: psychomotor, sensual, imaginational, intellectual, and emotional. To many in the gifted community, these overexcitabilities are the defining characteristics of giftedness.


So go check right now: Is your teenager really sensitive and intense? No? He’s really chill and boring? Oh, alright. I didn’t want to go there, but you’ve forced me. It’s time to pull out the Characteristics of Giftedness Checklist, developed by Linda Silverman, director of the Gifted Development Center. We’ve already covered some of the characteristics on her checklist, such as “reasons well,” “learns rapidly,” “sensitive (feelings hurt easily),” “intense,” and “highly creative.”

But there’s more! Perhaps your child demonstrates some of these additional characteristics Silverman associates with giftedness:
  • Shows compassion
  • Perfectionistic
  • Morally sensitive
  • Has strong curiosity
  • Perseverant in their interests
  • Has high degree of energy
  • Has a great sense of humor
  • Concerned with justice, fairness
  • Tends to question authority
  • Has facility with numbers
  • Good at jigsaw puzzles

No? None? At this point, I’ve got to ask: Are you sure your child is actually human?Perhaps you accidently picked him up from the zoo instead of the nursery? I won’t judge, it happens.

Look, if it’s really true that your child is perfectly average in every single human characteristic represented in all of the definitions of giftedness I presented to you, then I’m afraid there’s only one diagnosis left: your child is truly extraordinary! Just ungifted.

For a more in depth discussion of different conceptualizations of giftedness, and the development of a wide variety of personal characteristics, see my new book Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined.

** While standardized tests of achievement are also privileged measures of giftedness, they are for the most part IQ tests in disguise.

About the Author

Scott Barry Kaufman is adjunct assistant professor of psychology at New York University, where he teaches courses on cognitive psychology and human intelligence. He is author of Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined, editor of The Complexity of Greatness: Beyond Talent or Practice, and co-founder of The Creativity Post. Follow on Twitter@sbkaufman.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Papa, Don't Text: The Perils of Distracted Parenting

From The Atlantic

By Deborah Fallows
June 19, 2013

"You can only do one thing at a time: talk to the baby or talk on the phone."

Last summer, as my baby grandson and I strolled through the same neighborhood his father and I had strolled through 30 years earlier, I saw that something vital had changed. Back then, adults pushing babies in strollers talked with those babies about whatever came across their path. But these days, most adults engage instead in one-sided conversations on their cellphones, or else text in complete silence.

As a linguist, I wondered whether the time adults spend with their mobile devices might be affecting the way children learn language. Since the technology hasn’t been ubiquitous for long, research on this question is scarce.

But other research on the effects of adult-child conversation makes a strong case for putting cellphones away when you’re around children.


For a study published in the journal Pediatrics in 2009, researchers outfitted young children with small digital recorders, which captured the language each child heard and produced. The researchers could then identify and count the two-sided exchanges, or conversational “turns,” between children and adults.

Subjects were also tested on a range of linguistic measures, from the earliest preverbal behaviors, to nascent phonology and grammar skills, to preliteracy and the integration of complex parts of language.

The children exposed to more conversational give-and-take scored higher at every stage of language proficiency. In essence, the children made greater linguistic strides when adults talked with them than when they were simply in the presence of language or even when adults talked to them.

We learned long ago that children’s language abilities and eventual academic success are linked to the sheer volume of words they are exposed to early on. Now we have additional evidence that the quality of linguistic exposure, not just its quantity, matters.

Two other studies, reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2003, looked at the effects of parent-child interactions on very early stages of language production and perception. In one, babbling infants and their mothers were tracked during on-the-floor playtime. Mothers in one group were directed to respond to their babies’ vocalizations with smiles and touches, and by moving closer.

Mothers in the other group were not cued to respond in the same way. The study found that babies whose moms interacted with them in sync with their babbling soon began to vocalize more, with more complex sounds, and articulated more accurately than the other children.

In the other study, 9-month-old babies, who are in the late stages of locking in to the sound system of their native language, were exposed to mini lessons in Mandarin, to see if they could still learn to discern the sounds of a foreign language. One group of babies was taught by real live Chinese speakers. Another group got lessons from electronic versions of the adults, who appeared either on TV or on audiotape. Infants with live teachers learned to discern the sounds of Mandarin, while those in the group with electronic instruction did not.

These studies suggest that social interaction is important to early language learning. Of course, everyone learns to talk. But how ironic is it that, in this era when child-rearing is the focus of unprecedented imagination, invention, sophistication, and expense, something as simple and pleasurable as conversing with our children can be overlooked?

As Dimitri Christakis, one of the authors of the Pediatrics paper, put it to me, “You can only do one thing at a time: talk to the baby or talk on the phone.”

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Many thanks to our friend Ben Jarclay for bringing
this column to our attention.

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And another from The Atlantic

Stop Penalizing Boys for Not Being Able to Sit Still at School 

By Jessica Lahey
June 18, 2013

Instead, help them channel their energy into productive tasks.

This year's end-of-year paper purge in my middle school office revealed a startling pattern in my teaching practices: I discipline boys far more often than I discipline girls. Flipping through the pink and yellow slips--my school's system for communicating errant behavior to students, advisors, and parents--I found that I gave out nearly twice as many of these warnings to boys than I did to girls, and of the slips I handed out to boys, all but one was for disruptive classroom behavior.

The most frustrating moments I have had this year stemmed from battles over--and for--my male students' attention. This spring, as grass greened up on the soccer fields and the New Hampshire air finally rose above freezing, the boys and I engaged in a pitched battle of wills over their intellectual and emotional engagement in my Latin and English classes, a battle we both lost in the end.


Something is rotten in the state of boys' education, and I can't help but suspect that the pattern I have seen in my classroom may have something to do with a collective failure to adequately educate boys. The statistics are grim.

According to the book Reaching Boys, Teaching Boys: Strategies That Work and Why, boys are kept back in schools at twice the rate of girls. Boys get expelled from preschool nearly five times more often than girls. Boys are diagnosed with learning disorders and attention problems at nearly four times the rate of girls. They do less homework and get a greater proportion of the low grades. Boys are more likely to drop out of school, and make up only 43 percent of college students.

Furthermore, boys are nearly three times as likely as girls to be diagnosed with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Considering 11 percent of U.S. children--6.4 million in all--have been diagnosed with a ADHD, that's a lot of boys bouncing around U.S. classrooms.

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Related Story: The War Against Boys

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A study released last year in the Journal of Human Resources confirms my suspicions. It seems that behavior plays a significant role in teachers' grading practices, and consequently, boys receive lower grades from their teachers than testing would have predicted.

The authors of this study conclude that teacher bias regarding behavior, rather than academic performance, penalizes boys as early as kindergarten. On average, boys receive lower behavioral assessment scores from teachers, and those scores affect teachers' overall perceptions of boys' intelligence and achievement.

"On average, boys receive lower behavioral assessment scores from teachers, and those scores affect teachers' overall perceptions of boys' intelligence and achievement."

While I love teaching boys, many of my colleagues do not, particularly during the hormone-soaked, energetic, and distracted middle- and high-school years. Teachers and school administrators lament that boys are too fidgety, too hyperactive, too disruptive, derailing the educational process for everyone while sabotaging their own intellectual development.

Peek into most American classrooms and you will see desks in rows, teachers pleading with students to stay in their seats and refrain from talking to their neighbors. Marks for good behavior are rewarded to the students who are proficient at sitting still for long periods of time. Many boys do not have this skill.

In an attempt to get at what actually works for boys in education, Dr. Michael Reichert and Dr. Richard Hawley, in partnership with the International Boys' School Coalition, launched a study called Teaching Boys: A Global Study of Effective Practices, published in 2009. The study looked at boys in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, in schools of varying size, both private and public, that enroll a wide range of boys of disparate races and income levels.

The authors asked teachers and students to "narrate clearly and objectively an instructional activity that is especially, perhaps unusually, effective in heightening boys' learning." The responses--2,500 in all--revealed eight categories of instruction that succeeded in teaching boys. The most effective lessons included more than one of these elements:
  • Lessons that result in an end product--a booklet, a catapult, a poem, or a comic strip, for example.
  • Lessons that are structured as competitive games.
  • Lessons requiring motor activity.
  • Lessons requiring boys to assume responsibility for the learning of others.
  • Lessons that require boys to address open questions or unsolved problems.
  • Lessons that require a combination of competition and teamwork.
  • Lessons that focus on independent, personal discovery and realization.
  • Lessons that introduce drama in the form of novelty or surprise.

So what might a great lesson for boys look like? Reaching Boys, Teaching Boys is full of examples, but here's one I want to try next time I need to help my students review information, particularly a mass of related ideas. Split the class into groups of four and spread them around the room. Each team will need paper and pencils. At the front of the room, place copies of a document including all of the material that has been taught in some sort of graphical form--a spider diagram, for example.

Then, tell the students that one person from each group may come up to the front of the classroom and look at the document for thirty seconds.

When those thirty seconds are up, they return to their group and write down what they remember in an attempt to re-create the original document in its entirety. The students rotate through the process until the group has pieced the original document back together as a team, from memory. These end products may be "graded" by other teams, and as a final exercise, each student can be required to return to his desk and re-create the document on his own.

Rather than penalize the boys' relatively higher energy and competitive drive, the most effective way to teach boys is to take advantage of that high energy, curiosity, and thirst for competition. While Reichert and Hawley's research was conducted in all-boys schools, these lessons can be used in all classrooms, with both boys and girls.

Teachers have grown accustomed to the traditional classroom model: orderly classrooms made up of ruler-straight rows of compliant students. It's neat and predictable. But unless teachers stop to consider whether these traditional methods are working for both girls and boys, we will continue to give boys the short end of the educational stick.

According to Reichert and Hawley, "Doing better by all children includes doing better by boys," and,

"Whatever dissonance, confusion, and conflict may hover in the air as stakeholders assert new and competing claims about the nature and needs of boys and girls and the essential or trivial differences between them with respect to how they learn and should be taught, few could reasonably argue with the proposition that many boys are not thriving in school. Nor could one possibly argue there is no room to reason or improve."

Educators should strive to teach all children, both girls and boys by acknowledging, rather than dismissing, their particular and distinctive educational needs. As Richard Melvoin, headmaster at Belmont Hill School in Massachusetts, wrote, "To provide rights and opportunities to girls is important; to call for the diminution of males, to decry their 'toxicity' as [Richard Hawley] has put it so poignantly, has not served boys and girls--or men and women--well... May we all find ways of understanding even better this complex 'piece of work' called man."

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Jessica Lahey is an English, Latin, and writing teacher in Lyme, New Hampshire. She writes about education and parenting for The New York Times and on her site, Coming of Age in the Middle.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Three New Faces at NESCA

June 20, 2013

Please welcome three wonderful newcomers--and their formidable skills-- to NESCA:

Marie-Christine Andre, M.A.

A doctoral candidate in Clinical Psychology at Suffolk University, Christine Andre, M.A. graduated from Williams College with honors in Psychology and Spanish. Most recently, she was a practicum student in the Child and Adolescent Treatment Program of Boston University’s Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, where she conducted individual cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) sessions with children and adolescents (4 - 16 years old) with a range of anxiety disorders, and co-led a social anxiety group.

She also completed a practicum at the Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Institute at Harvard Medical School’s McLean Hospital, in Belmont, MA, where she worked with adolescents and adults with obsessive-compulsive disorders and provided exposure and response prevention treatments.

Christine Andre is fluent in English, French, Spanish and Haitian Creole, and competent in Italian.

Joining us as a practicum student this summer, she will be assisting in AASC - NESCA's intensive Anxiety & Attention Skills Coaching Program.

Laura McEvoy, M.Ed., Yoga Specialist

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

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

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

Ann-Noelle McCowan, M.S., Yoga Specialist

Ann-Noelle McCowan has spent the past fourteen years working with students, primarily as a middle school counselor. She is currently in her 10th year as a guidance counselor at a local high-achieving middle school, and prior to that, she worked for the San Francisco School District in both middle and elementary school settings. In San Francisco, she began her study of yoga while earning her Master’s degrees in Marriage, Family and Child Counseling, as well as in School Counseling.

While employed at her current school counselor’s job, Ann-Noelle worked part-time for three years at Academy MetroWest in Natick, MA. There, she ran activity-based therapeutic groups for children in which the focus was on developing social skills, self-esteem and self-regulation. In her school counseling role, she incorporates cognitive-behavioral strategies, relaxation and mindfulness into individual and group sessions, and is actively involved in working with her students' families and outside providers.

She enjoys combining her counseling experience and knowledge of brain-based learning with the positive effects that yoga, meditation and mindfulness can have on student anxiety, depression and attention-related issues.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

From TEDMED 2013

June 20, 2013

“People … don't want to be cured or changed or eliminated. They want to be whoever it is that they've come to be.”

What is it like to raise a child who's different from you in some fundamental way (like a prodigy, or a differently abled kid, or a criminal)? In this quietly moving talk, writer Andrew Solomon shares what he learned from talking to dozens of parents -- asking them: What's the line between unconditional love and unconditional acceptance?


 Andrew Solomon is a writer on politics, culture and psychology. Why you should listen to him:

Andrew Solomon's book Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, tells the stories of parents who not only learn to deal with their exceptional children, but also find profound meaning in doing so.

Solomon’s startling proposition is that diversity is what unites us. He writes about families coping with deafness, dwarfism, Down Syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, multiple severe disabilities, with child prodigies, who were conceived in rape, who become criminals, who are transgender.

While each of these characteristics is potentially isolating, the experience of difference within families is universal, as are the struggles toward compassion and the triumphs of love Solomon documents in every chapter. Woven into these courageous and affirming stories is Solomon’s journey to accepting his own identity, which culminated in his midlife decision, influenced by this research, to become a parent.

Solomon’s last book, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, won the 2001 National Book Award for Nonfiction, was a finalist for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize, and won fourteen other national awards.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Exploring the Adolescent Brain

From The Dana Foundation Blog

By Nicky Penttila
June 13, 2013

Neuroscientists say adolescence is “a wonderful time.” Beleaguered parents may disagree.

“The adolescent brain isn’t broken or defective,” Dr. Jay Giedd told an audience at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) on Wednesday. “It’s different from the child’s brain, and it’s different from the adult’s brain, but those differences have many upsides.”

In our digital age, for example, adolescents have a great advantage: “They’re old enough to master the technology, and young enough to embrace change,” Dr. Giedd said. Part of the difference is the teen brain’s extreme plasticity: New connections are being formed and others pruned at an astounding rate. This helps teens adapt quickly to any change in the environment (moving to the Arctic; learning a new computer operating system). [Watch video of the brain’s development based on fMRI images.]

Yet, this process also puts them in danger of “over-adapting,” which could potentially lead to serious illness. Psychoses, such as schizophrenia, for example, seem to appear more during adolescence than at other stages of life, said Dr. Giedd, chief of the Unit on Brain Imaging in the Child Psychiatry Branch at the National Institute for Mental Health.

Last spring, we wrote about Dr. Giedd’s work on the how the teen brain changes, and he wrote a great explanatory piece for us in Cerebrum describing the double-edged sword that is this plasticity. New to me in this talk was the idea of comparing brain development to language. The basic senses (like sight, hearing), which develop at one of the earliest “sensitive periods” in life, might be considered the “letters” of cognition. Next, association areas come online, tying together the senses as we tie letters into words.

“By age 8 months, the letters are all there,” Dr. Giedd said, and as we grow, “the letters become words; the words become sentences. So the idea is, in schizophrenia, it’s not the words but the sentences” that go awry.

Fellow speaker Elaine Walker of Emory built on that idea. “We’re starting to describe [psychoses] as a brain degenerative process that’s occurring—a kind of ‘brain overshoot’ of the rapid-growth process Dr. Giedd described. It’s like a normal adolescent developmental trajectory that has been amplified over time.”

Her research also suggests that there may be signs as early as the “word” level that a child might be at risk for later psychoses. Examining home movies, researchers saw differences in movement and affect between children who later developed symptoms and their brothers and sisters who did not. “Long before the onset of the first psychotic symptoms, there were subtle abnormalities,” she said.

Showing us one video, she pointed out oddities in posture and in gait, how they held their hands when walking, and specific errors in coordination. She also noted a rather flat affect, describing it as “a lack of emotional connectedness with his environment.” During the ‘sensitive period’ of adolescence, these children showed “a gradual onset of symptoms, and a decline in social and cognitive function,” she said.

The good news is that what we once considered a genetically determined disease may have a strong epigenetic component: The environment may trigger—or dampen—a psychotic illness, Walker said. Instead of a congenital illness, we might think of psychoses as a congenital vulnerability, she suggested.

For example, “young adulthood is characterized by greater biological sensitivity to stress,” which increases levels of cortisol in the body, which “can affect the architecture of the brain, especially at vulnerable developmental stages” like adolescence, she said.

Dr. Walker’s lab is part of a consortium called NAPLS that is tracking a large group of people age 12 to 30 to find better ways to identify those who are at risk of developing a serious disorder and to discover ways to prevent it or stop it. Research is still in early stages, but she described some general findings.

For one, at-risk kids are experiencing much more daily stress, and life stress (serious change that may have happened far earlier in life). “Stressful life events in the past seem to set the stage for super-sensitivity to daily stress,” she said.

“We see much higher levels of cortisol in at-risk children, and even higher levels among those soon seen to develop schizophrenia. We see a change in gray matter,” as Dr. Giedd’s research also showed, but in the opposite direction. “Those who convert to a psychotic disorder show much more pronounced decline in gray matter than those who do not.” In addition, individuals at risk who show more gray matter decline also show higher cortisol levels.

This all sounded dire to me, but really these findings “are making us more optimistic,” said Dr. Walker, who is also a member of the Dana Allliance for Brain Initiatives. “We have a lot more leverage for intervening to prevent the onset of psychosis than we ever had before. They do not have an unchangeable risk genotype, and now we’re seeing there are many potential avenues for intervention.”

Taking another angle on intervention, speaker Elizabeth Albro spoke of the challenges of translating cognitive neuroscience into something teachers could use to help students learn. Albro, a commissioner at the Institute of Education Sciences at the US Department of Education, described in-school studies trying to bridge the gap between what scientists have gleaned about learning from the quiet of their labs and what might actually work in the maelstrom that is classroom learning and lifelong learning.

They’ve seen promising early results using biofeedback to improve attention when doing schoolwork and “interleaving” math problems (combining the new type of problem with types learned earlier) to improve retention.

“We’ve been using them to redesign curricula,” she said, keeping in mind that any one discrete action happens in an environment where many things are happening simultaneously. “The learning brain is working on these things all the time.”

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The session was part of the Neuroscience and Society series, a partnership between the Dana Foundation and AAAS. Previous sessions are available via video: Neuroscience and the Law, and The Aging Brain: What’s New in Brain Research, Treatment, and Policy.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Childhood Concussion Studies Butt Heads

From Scientific American

By Tara Haelle
June 10, 2013

Second and third concussions take more recovery time, new research shows, but many concussions are not adequately identified in the first place.

A long overdue and growing body of research on concussions is providing today’s young athletes, parents and coaches with more information about identifying and treating head injuries—but not all of that is reliable.

For instance, one new study on concussions offers valuable information about recovery time, whereas potentially flawed conclusions in a second new study illustrate one of the biggest challenges in studying youth concussions—missed diagnoses.

An estimated 170,000 children go to the emergency room for concussions annually, but this number does not capture the millions treated outside of hospitals by athletic trainers, family doctors or specialists. The sports with the most reported concussions are boys’ football and girls’ soccer, but bicycling, basketball and playground activities are also among the most common ways children sustain these head injuries.

Symptoms can include dizziness, fatigue, nausea, headache and memory or concentration problems. After a concussion is identified, the primary treatment is physical and cognitive rest, although the amount of rest needed is not always medically clear.

The first study, published June 10 in Pediatrics, found that recovery takes up to two or three times longer if a child has sustained one or more concussions within the past year, further supporting reasons “to be cautious about returning young athletes to sports after a concussion,” says lead author Matthew A. Eisenberg of Boston Children’s Hospital.

Yet, ensuring a child has more time to rest after sustaining an additional concussion is harder to do if the injury is not properly identified. In fact, an estimated 70 to 90 percent of concussions in sports are never diagnosed, say Robert Cantu and Chris Nowinski, co-directors of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University.

Flaws in the methodology of the second study (pdf), published June 6 in the Journal of Pediatrics, inadvertently elucidate one way that happens.

The study, led by Anthony P. Kontos at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, claims to find that fewer concussions occur during preteen football practices than occur during games, but Cantu and Nowinski say it really just shows how many concussions are missed during practices due to a lack of trained eyes on those fields.

Second and Third Hits Worsen the Prognosis

In Eisenberg’s study, 280 patients, aged 11 to 22, were examined for up to 12 weeks after ER treatment for concussion, defined as a head injury that alters mental status or is followed by any new symptoms within the subsequent four hours. About 64 percent of the concussions resulted from sports, primarily hockey, soccer, football and basketball.

Youths with no previously diagnosed concussions took a median 12 days for all their symptoms to resolve, whereas those with a history of any concussions took a median 22 days. It took about three times longer (median 35 days) for the patients to recover if their concussion had been within the past year. Recovery time more than doubled (median 28 days) if they had more than one past concussion.

Eisenberg’s findings confirm prior research on concussions in animals. Longer recovery times for second concussions could be explained by cumulative structural damage to the brain’s white matter. It is possible that injured brain cells “have not fully recovered, which may indicate that the window of recovery for the initial concussion is much longer than previously thought,” Nowinski says.

A more useful analysis would also have taken into account the severity of subjects’ previous concussions and the time interval between multiple concussions, Cantu says.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Anxious? Activate Your Anterior Cingulate Cortex with a Little Meditation

From Mom Psych - Bringing the Latest Research Home

June 3, 2013

Scientists, like Buddhist monks and Zen masters, have known for years that meditation can reduce anxiety, but not how. Scientists at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, however, have succeeded in identifying the brain functions involved.

“Although we’ve known that meditation can reduce anxiety, we hadn’t identified the specific brain mechanisms involved in relieving anxiety in healthy individuals,” said Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., postdoctoral research fellow in neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest Baptist, and lead author of the study. “In this study, we were able to see which areas of the brain were activated and which were deactivated during meditation-related anxiety relief.” 

The study is published in the current edition of the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.


For the study, 15 healthy volunteers with normal levels of everyday anxiety were recruited for the study. These individuals had no previous meditation experience or anxiety disorders. All subjects participated in four 20-minute classes to learn a technique known as mindfulness meditation. In this form of meditation, people focus on breath and body sensations, and non-judgmentally evaluate distracting thoughts and emotions.

Both before and after meditation training, the study participants’ brain activity was examined using a special type of imaging—arterial spin labeling magnetic resonance imaging—that is very effective at imaging brain processes, such as meditation. In addition, anxiety reports were measured before and after brain scanning.

The majority of study participants reported decreases in anxiety. Researchers found that meditation reduced anxiety ratings by as much as 39 percent.

“This showed that just a few minutes of mindfulness meditation can help reduce normal everyday anxiety,” Zeidan said.

The study revealed that meditation-related anxiety relief is associated with activation of the anterior cingulate cortex and ventromedial prefrontal cortex, areas of the brain involved with executive-level function.

During meditation, there was more activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that controls worrying. In addition, when activity increased in the anterior cingulate cortex—the area that governs thinking and emotion—anxiety decreased.

“Mindfulness is premised on sustaining attention in the present moment and controlling the way we react to daily thoughts and feelings,” Zeidan said. “Interestingly, the present findings reveal that the brain regions associated with meditation-related anxiety relief are remarkably consistent with the principles of being mindful.”

Research at other institutions has shown that meditation can significantly reduce anxiety in patients with generalized anxiety and depression disorders.

The results of this neuroimaging experiment complement that body of knowledge, by showing the brain mechanisms associated with meditation-related anxiety relief in healthy people, he said.

MAC Call to Action: SPED Circuit Breaker Funding



We Need Your Help!

On Thursday June 6, the FY'14 Conference Committee members were named and negotiations began on the $34 billion state budget, with a number of key issues to be resolved before the start of the state's new fiscal year July 1.

One of those issues is the allocation for the states' special education circuit breaker account. The House funded the account at $235 million while the Senate funded it at $252.8 million.

We are asking that all our supporters email the conferees to ask them to support the Senate's number of $252.8 million for the special education circuit breaker account.


In addition, we also suggest that you contact your representative and senator and ask them to seek the support of their respective conferees for the Senate version of the Circuit Breaker.

SEE LIST OF LEGISLATORS HERE

For your convenience, we have listed the conferees and their respective email addresses below. There is also a sample email for you to consider to use as well:

Sample Email 

Subject: SPED Circuit Breaker Funding 7061-0012

Dear (Representative or Senator),

I am writing to ask that you support the proposed Senate appropriation of $252.8 million for the special education circuit breaker account (7061-0012).

Your support will provide full funding for circuit breaker and public school districts. We cannot afford to shortchange any of our students in education, especially the states most vulnerable children.

Sincerely,

Name & 
Address

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Defining My Dyslexia

From The New York Times Opinion Pages

By Blake Charlton
May 22, 2013

I started cataloging insults in the second grade. Notable put-downs heard outside my special-ed classroom included “dimwinky,” “retardochuckles” and “the meat in the sandwich of stupid.” The last of which, if you think about it, is a seriously impressive use of metaphor for a 7-year-old.

I learned all the jokes about dyslexia, and told them to better effect than anyone else. Making fun of myself was my best defense. The other choices — hiding from my diagnosis or accepting myself as limited — didn’t appeal.

Fortunately, humor and hard work proved a good strategy. Also helpful were my crafty parents. They often read out loud to me and, noticing my passion for fantasy novels, would stop at the most exciting point in a chapter — then leave the book in case I wanted to read by myself. It wasn’t long before I was sneaking paperbacks into study hall.

Though slow out of the gate — I couldn’t read fluently until 13 — I went to Yale, then medical school at Stanford, and I published two fantasy novels with disabled heroes (think Harry Potter and the Special-Ed Classroom). At every step, I used my diagnosis to my advantage, arguing that I had succeeded despite being dyslexic. It helped me stand out.

Now, a growing body of research suggests that I was unintentionally lying.

Last month, at the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation Conference on Dyslexia and Talent, I watched several neurobiologists present evidence that the dyslexic brain, which processes information in a unique way, may impart particular strengths. Studies using cognitive testing and functional M.R.I.’s have demonstrated exceptional three-dimensional and spatial reasoning among dyslexic individuals, which may account for the many successful dyslexic engineers.

Similar studies have shown increased creativity and big-picture thinking (or “gist-detection”) in dyslexics, which correlates with the surprising number of dyslexic entrepreneurs, novelists and filmmakers.

The conference’s organizers made a strong case that the successes of the attending dyslexic luminaries — who ranged from a Pulitzer-winning poet to a MacArthur grant-winning paleontologist to an entrepreneur who pays a dozen times my student loans in taxes every year — had been achieved “not despite, but because of dyslexia.”

It was an exciting idea. However, I worried that the argument might be taken too far. Some of the attendees opposed the idea that dyslexia is a diagnosis at all, arguing that to label it as such is to pathologize a normal variation of human intellect. One presenter asked the audience to repeat “Dyslexia is not a disability.”

Not a disability? My years of functional illiteracy suggest otherwise. Today’s educational environment exacerbates dyslexic weaknesses. Schools misidentify poor spelling and slow reading as a lack of intelligence; typically diagnose the condition only after students have fallen behind; and too often fail to provide dyslexic students with the audio and video materials that would help them learn. Until these disadvantages are removed, “disability” most accurately describes what young dyslexics confront.

At the heart of the conference was the assumption that a group of advocates could alter the definition of dyslexia and what it means to be dyslexic. That’s a bigger idea than it might seem. Ask yourself, “What role should those affected by a diagnosis have in defining that diagnosis?”

Recently, I posed this question to several doctors and therapists. With minor qualifications, each answered “none.” I wasn’t surprised. 

Traditionally, a diagnosis is something devised by distant experts and imposed on the patient. But I believe we must change our understanding of what role we should play in defining our own diagnoses.

Before I went to medical school, I thought a diagnosis was synonymous with a fact; criteria were met, or not. Sometimes this is so. Diabetes, for example, can be determined with a few laboratory tests. But other diagnoses, particularly those involving the mind, are more nebulous. Symptoms are contradictory, test results equivocal. Moreover, the definition of almost any diagnosis changes as science and society evolve.

Diagnostics might have more in common with law than science. Legislatures of disease exist in expert panels, practice guidelines and consensus papers. Some laws are unimpeachable, while others may be inaccurate or prejudiced. The same is true in medicine; consider the antiquated diagnosis of hysteria in women. Those affected by unjust diagnoses — like those affected by unjust laws — should protest and help redefine them.

The past 50 years provide several examples of such redefinitions. In 1978, Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor demonstrated how the contemporary understanding and description of cancer unfairly blamed patients. In the next decade, activists began their struggle to enlighten the medical profession and society about H.I.V. More recently, the neurodiversity movement has changed how we understand autism.

I believe that scientific evidence and social observation will continue to show that defining dyslexia based solely on its weaknesses is inaccurate and unjust, and places too grim a burden on young people receiving the diagnosis. A more precise definition of dyslexia would clearly identify the disabilities that go along with it, while recognizing the associated abilities as well.

If the dyslexic community could popularize such a definition, then newly-diagnosed dyslexics would realize that they, like everyone else, will face their futures with a range of strengths and weaknesses.

Of course, if they would also like to confront their difficulties with wry humor and jokes about spelling, I’d be O.K. with that too, even if their jokes are funnier than mine.

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Blake Charlton, the author of the novels “Spellwright” and “Spellbound,” will be a resident physician in internal medicine at the University of California, San Francisco’s School of Medicine starting in June.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Jessica Minahan, M.Ed., BCBA Will Join NESCA As Director of Behavioral Services

An Exciting Announcement!

June 9, 2013

Jessica Minahan, M.Ed., BCBA will join NESCA as Director of Behavioral Services in September, 2013.

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

Of The Behavior Code, Geoffrey Canada, President and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone, wrote, “Teaching is an art, but it’s one that can be improved with science. Based on what we have learned in the field of psychology, The Behavior Code gives teachers the tools to transform the behavior patterns of some of their most challenging students. By using this essential book, instead of punishing or writing off troubled students, we can get them onto a path for success.”

A speaker in demand nationally, Minahan also blogs on educational issues in The Huffington Post (you can follow her and receive updates by email here).

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

Her particular interest is to serve these students by combining behavioral interventions with a comprehensive knowledge of educational best practices for those with both complex mental health profiles and learning needs.

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

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

Minahan is currently employed by the Newton, MA, public school system as a district-wide behavior analyst. She provides direct consultation and training for administrators, teachers, parents and support staff. She also consults to an in-house, 45-day stabilization program for Newton K–12 school students in crisis, who require an alternative educational placement.

She will continue to consult independently to school districts nationally.

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Visit Jessica Minahan's website, read her Huffington Post blogs and follow her on Twitter @jessica_minahan.