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Monday, June 29, 2015

For a Child With Learning Differences, Making Home a Safe Harbor

From The New York Times Parenting Blog "Motherlode"

By Jessica Lahey 
April 29, 2015

Recently, a mother approached me for advice about how to support her daughter, who has learning differences. In a large family of children for whom most of school comes easily, with parents who could say the same about their own pasts, the little girl is often frustrated by comparing herself.

Worse, the mother says, both the siblings and, sometimes, the parents, can (unintentionally) reveal their own frustration when the child can’t solve a problem or perform a task. Those moments threaten to erode her belief in herself and her abilities.

My first email was to Mona Delahooke, a psychologist who specializes in guiding families through the challenges of raising a neurologically atypical child. She replied:

“I get this question a lot from parents of kids who have differences. The key is to help parents shift their mindset from a natural, yet pervasive, notion that their child is being purposefully difficult, or that if the child just tried harder, they could do better. Their child doesn’t choose to have a hard time with homework or learning, it’s just that her learning style is different.”

Dr. Delahooke counsels families to acknowledge the elephant in the room, that a learning difference exists, and the challenges that learning difference creates — both for the child and her family — can be frustrating. Dr. Delahooke helps parents and siblings remember that when they do become frustrated, however, it’s important that everyone communicate from a place of empathy and compassion.

Even young siblings can learn to validate their sister or brother with supportive sentiments such as, “That must be frustrating for you,” or “I get frustrated when I can’t remember a word, too.”

I also spoke with Katie Hurley, child and adolescent psychotherapist and author of “The Happy Kid Handbook.” Ms. Hurley wrote in an email that the best gift this mom can give all of her children is information.

“If the other kids are rolling their eyes and becoming impatient, then that’s an issue of empathy, but knowledge helps,” she said. “If possible, find out what the ‘glitch’ is, and use that language; explain to her siblings what it means. When we are honest with kids, and say, ‘This is how your brain works, and this is how you learn best,’ we put kids back in the driver’s seat. We empower them to take an active role in their learning instead of feeling like a failure and an outcast.”

Ms. Hurley is backed up by the research of the Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck. In her research and in her book Mindset she has shown that when we maintain what she calls a “growth mindset” (the belief that learning and challenge change the brain by forming additional neural pathways, and that we are all in control of this process through our own efforts) we have a stronger belief in the power of our own efforts, exhibit fewer behaviors of helplessness, and make more constructive, positive choices in response to failure.

An entire family can benefit from adopting a growth mindset, and it can help everyone shift their thinking about the challenges one of them faces every day. We all have our own glitches and cognitive differences, after all, and benefit from empathy and compassion when we run up against a task that tests our patience or makes us doubt our abilities. It can be hard to cut ourselves slack when we get caught up in an endless loop of try, fail, repeat.

Our family should be our allies in that struggle. Kids with learning differences are bombarded with subtle and overt messages of difference and shortcomings all day long, so home needs to be a safe harbor from that barrage.

In order to best support one child, the entire family needs to shift its focus away from her failings and toward her potential. Her differences are viewed all too often as negative, something that threatens her normalcy, but she likely possesses unique strengths as a result of those cognitive differences.

As the authors of The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain point out in the book’s opening pages, what some label as disability can also be viewed as advantage, given opportunity and context. We all possess disability and ability, and the difference between the two is often a matter of perspective.


Jessica Lahey is an educator, writer and speaker. She writes about parenting and education for The New York Times, The Atlantic and Vermont Public Radio Her book, “The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed,” will be published by HarperCollins in 2015. Find her at JessicaLahey.com.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Kill the Motor, Dude. Find Out What Your Kids Can Do on Their Own

From Great Schools

By Christina Tynan-Wood
June 14, 2015
Curious how you can raise independent kids without putting them at risk? See what the experts have to say.

My favorite scene in Finding Nemo is when Marlin (Nemo’s dad) encounters the wise, ancient turtles and their adorable offspring. One of those turtles — Crush, age 150 — has lived long enough to know a few things about being a dad. When his son Squirt, playing, gets accidentally shot out of the current they’re riding, Marlin rushes to rescue him. But Crush holds up a fin to stop him.

“Kill the motor, dude. Let us see what Squirt does, flying solo.”

Sure enough, Squirt has fun, finds his way back to safety and revels in his own sense of accomplishment. Crush is proud. And Marlin, watching, learns something: his intentions for Nemo are to protect him but his fear is teaching Nemo that he isn’t capable.

“How do you know when they’re ready?” Marlin asks Crush, contemplating his own parenting skills. “You never really know,” Crush answers, appropriately cryptic. “But when they know, you’ll know. You know?” Because, in this, you have to learn to pay attention and trust your judgment. We all have questions we’d like to ask Crush. But because he’s an animated character in a children’s movie, I asked some of the experts who offered me advice for Is that Love or Fear?

Be an Island

The first step, says Dr. Robert Epstein, senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology and the former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today, “is to fight against this trend.”

Like Marlin, many parents don’t let their kids play outside, walk to school, ride their bikes in their own neighborhood, go the playground alone, or do many things that made most of us adults confident and capable. Not letting kids do anything on their own sends the message that we think they can’t do it, even if we are just trying to protect them. This is dangerous for their mental health.

“There are things you can do,” he says. Create a culture within your own family that sends the message that whatever the rest of the world may say or do, you believe your kids are competent. “Even if you have to think in terms of your family as a desert island, where you live by your own rules.”

Ask the Children

In fact, why not start by letting the kids decide how to get this going? “Let your children tell you one thing they think they are ready to do,” suggests Lenore Skenazy, author of Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry). “Walk to school, ride their bike to the library, or make dinner — something they think they can do. Then, think about whether you might be willing to let them try it just once.”

This is exactly what schools doing the “Free-Range Kids Project” propose to parents, she explains. And the results are fantastic. Skenazy says that parents who filled out pre-project surveys admit they are “very anxious” about doing it. But they overcome their anxiety and let the kids do the project and end up thrilled when their kids — like Squirt — come home happy and proud.

“That’s because when parents see their kids as blossoming young men and women, instead of needy bundles of vulnerability, it changes them. Both generations are thrilled."

Teach Independence

“It makes no sense to say a kid is ready to perform some independence skill by a certain age,” says Mike Lanza, author of Playborhood. It all depends on the kid and if you are teaching them to be independent. Lanza let his son start small — with just a three-block range at age 5 — and work up to being able to ride his bike to local stores, make purchases, meet up with his friends, handle his own transportation to friends’ houses, organize his own play dates, and get himself home in time for dinner by age ten.

“Parents should be teaching kids independence skills all along, not just wait for some magic age before they can walk across the street or walk to school alone.”

Change the World

But the decision is not just up to you, points out Peter Gray, Ph.D., developmental psychologist and research professor at Boston College and the author of Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life. The world you live in affects your options and will react to your choices. And telling kids to go outside and play is not as simple as it once was. “There are no children out there to play with,” he says. “It was a child’s world in the ’50s.” But that has changed since.

When our parents said to go out and play, there was likely a child’s world to play in. “That’s because there were playground supervisors and other services. So kids could go to the park alone. They could get equipment from that adult, ask questions. But towns don’t do that anymore.”

You can change that though. Make an effort to create a neighborhood that encourages independence. Get together with other parents to pool funds to pay a retired person to supervise the playground after school, or open the school up for free play. “You could just have one teacher and a couple of teenagers after school,” says Gray. “It would solve a lot of problems.”

Want more? Read Is that Love or Fear?


Christina Tynan-Wood writes the Family Tech column in Family Circle magazine, the Family Tech blog at FamilyCircle.com, the Spark! Blog at ITworld.com and has written about technology for dozens of national magazines.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Praise for Acupuncturist Dan Chace - Now Practicing Exclusively at NESCA


June 22, 2015 

Dan Chace, L.Ac., Dipl.Ac.
Today we received the following testimonial for NESCA Acupuncturist Dan Chace (who prefers to be known simply as "Chace"). It was originally emailed to the Newton SEPAC (Special Education Parent Advisory Committee) listserv, and then forwarded to us by the author, a Newton resident.

Chace is uniquely--and extensively--experienced in working with children, even toddlers, whom he treats for anxiety, depression, attentional issues and some of the symptoms associated with developmental, digestive and other disorders.

He practices a minimally or even non-invasive form of Japanese acupuncture, using very fine-gauge needles or in many cases, no needles at all, instead relying upon various other special tools applied externally. He also addresses nutritional and other lifestyle factors that influence child development.

"I would strongly recommend Daniel Chace, who is now the acupuncturist at NESCA! Dr. Ann Helmus interviewed Chace, and he is now working with their clients. Chace’s expertise is working with children who have ADHD, anxiety, autism, etc.

I have also been his patient for the last 4 years, and I can’t say enough about how wonderful he is at what he does. I had severe back issues and, as many of you know, I am a walker. Thanks to Chace, I have been pain free for the last 4 years.

Chace is a former Fessenden teacher (15 years) and also teaches at the New England School of Acupuncture. He can be reached at NESCA at 617-658-9800."
-- Educational Advocate and Newton Resident

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

For Students with Disabilities, Transition from High School Requires Self-Advocacy

From Education Week

By Sarah Sparks
May 29, 2015 
Blake Yee, center, watches his MY VOICE presentation with his father,
Steven Yee, and mother, Rolyn Yee, at the Supported Training
Experiences Post Secondary (STEPS) building in Naperville, Ill.,
along with Kate Bruno, far left, a case manager and support
teacher in the program. As part of the program, youths with
disabilities prepare a multimedia presentation to showcase
their post-graduation plans. --Alyssa Schukar for Education Week

The first few years after high school are a huge period of change and growth, when many students fumble through the process of learning to be independent.

For students with disabilities, who are now graduating from high school and entering higher education in greater numbers than ever before, the transition can be even more jarring, and the need to develop self-reliance more critical.

"Many students with disabilities ... experience educational programs which stress compliance and teach them to second-guess their instincts and defer to others," said Julia Bascom, the director of programs for the Washington-based nonprofit Autistic Self Advocacy Network. "When you couple that with the bullying our students face, we tend to find a significant need for explicit, supportive instruction in self-advocacy skills."

Changing Supports

To a large degree, students with disabilities must do the same college- and career-planning that any high schooler undertakes: understanding what courses are needed to qualify for a college or degree program, working through financial aid, and so on.

But there's also a lot that most students on track to college don't have to think about. For example, accommodations and services for students with disabilities after high school are no longer provided through the individualized education programs required under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. They are provided instead through the legal framework of two other federal laws, the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which do not require the same level of supports.

"We send them off to college where everything they are used to in high school—repetition, structure, assignments broken down—is gone, and we fail to provide them with an understanding of themselves as learners and how to work using their strengths and around their areas of weakness," said Elizabeth C. Hamblet, a learning specialist at Columbia University and the author of the 2011 book, Seven Steps for Success: High School to College Transition Strategies for Students with Disabilities.

Teaching Advocacy

In college, students are expected to manage their own paperwork and time. While a student's high school IEP might include extra time for assignments, a student in college would be expected to just take fewer classes per semester. And all students are expected to seek out support services on their own.

Under federal law, schools must draft a transition plan with a student with disabilities, no later than age 16, focused on his or her strengths, preferences, and interests.

While self-advocacy is supposed to be part of that planning, there is no specific reporting on it. A 2004 federal longitudinal study found only 3 percent of students with disabilities in general education classrooms were specifically trained to speak and plan for themselves.

A forthcoming study in the journal Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals found transition programs stressing self-determination are more strongly associated with students with disabilities showing better higher education, employment, and independent-living outcomes.

Specifically, those programs included goal setting, such as students establishing their own IEP targets, and autonomy, such as students making their own post-high-school plans and taking ownership for learning while they were in school, according to the study's authors, Valerie L. Mazzotti and Dawn A. Rowe, both special education assistant research professors at the National Post-School Outcomes Center at the University of Oregon, in Eugene. But, Ms. Mazzotti warned, "We don't have any data on where these skills are being taught or how often."

A separate report in the federal longitudinal study found that while nearly seven in 10 students with disabilities said they understood what services they would need to deal with their disability, less than a third said they often gave their opinions on services to professionals they interacted with.

Sometimes, school supports can be "more harmful than helpful" in a student's transition to the adult world, said Daniel Kish, the founder and president of the Long Beach, Calif.-based nonprofit World Access for the Blind, which teaches blind children self-advocacy and mobility skills. When blind students, or other students with disabilities, are restricted in physical education or extracurricular activities because of concerns for their physical or emotional safety, Mr. Kish said, it does more than make a student's college résumé less competitive.

"This has devastating consequences to social development, which, of course, affects career readiness. … [Students] are guided around everywhere with the idea that this is safer and more efficient, but all this does is cause all capacity for freedom of movement to atrophy."

"The biggest problem here," Mr. Kish added, "is [when] extra time and modifications are being allotted liberally without regard to the fact that the real world won't make such allowances."

When possible, Ms. Hamblet recommends that schools begin to taper off accommodations that would not be available in college or work for 11th and 12th graders. "Anything that involves adults doing things for students are things that need to be closely examined," she said.

Finding a Voice

Self-advocacy training should go beyond simply teaching students to replace old supports with new ones and instead help them start to find their own voices.

A former high school special education teacher, Toni R. Van Laarhoven, said often students in IEP meetings with parents and teachers "just sit silently, or people would ask them yes-or-no questions."

In response, Ms. Van Laarhoven, an associate professor of special and early education at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, launched Multimedia for Youth to Voice Outcomes Individually Created for Empowerment, or MY VOICE.

Preservice special education teachers work with high school students with disabilities planning for life after high school. Together, each pair discusses the student's interests, strengths, and weaknesses. The student also learns PowerPoint, video editing, and other skills needed to put together a multimedia presentation on his or her postgraduation plans.

At the end of the program, students give presentations to their IEP teams, including parents. At one meeting, Ms. Van Laarhoven recalled, "The young man's parents kind of had in their minds that the student would live in a group home and work in a structured environment, but the kid said, 'No, I want to go to college and live with some friends,' " she said. "The presentation was life-changing for him."


NESCA Transition Services

Transition is the process, ideally beginning at age 14 if not sooner and extending through high school graduation and beyond, by which an adolescent or young adult masters the life skills necessary to function independently in post-secondary school or the workplace. NESCA offers complete transition assessment (including testing and community-based observation), planning and consultation services, coordinated by Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Upcoming Free Workshops at NESCA: Learn How Tech Can Help Students


June 22, 2015

Assistive Technologies can be more fun, efficient and organized than older tools for learning and organizing information. We live in a world full of technology, and it can be both to our advantage and disadvantage.

Come learn how to maximize some of the technological offerings out there to improve educational experiences. The goal of these sessions is to provide information about tools that can be used to maximize independence and efficiency in a school setting.

Program Schedule

July 15: Executive Functioning, Time Management & Organization — Learn about apps and web-based programs to help in these areas.

July 22: LiveScribe Smart Pens — Learn about this new format of note taking, where recordings and notes are synced.

July 29: Kurzweil 3000 Firefly — This is more than a screen reader; it can help your child organize their notes and makes finding specific passages easier.

August 5: Evernote — An innovative way to organize materials, it can create compilations of notes, images recordings and more.

Each sessions will include a seminar, relevant demonstrations and a Q&A period.

The use of these technologies would be most beneficial for high school and college aged students, but parents of younger students could also benefit from the knowledge.

When:   9:30 - 10:30am; four successive Wednesdays
                    starting July 15th

Where: NESCA (Lower Lobby Meeting Space)
                   55 Chapel Street Suite 202, Newton, MA

Who:     Students, and parents or guardians of students with
                   language-based learning disabilities, attentional
                   and/or executive function issues.

Cost:      FREE!

To register, please email info@nesca-newton.com, and include the student’s age or grade. Registration is preferred, but walk-ins are welcome.

About the Speaker

Courtney Rose Dykeman-Bermingham is a rising senior majoring in Neuroscience at Mount Holyoke College & completing an internship at NESCA. She is training to become a clinical Neuropsychologist herself. Currently she volunteers at her college’s AccessAbility Services (AAS) office. Through that position, she works with students as they transition into college life, and work to overcome difficulties related to their disabilities or transition.

She has presented workshops and done tutorials on the use of assistive technologies at her college and is looking forward to teaching you about them as well.

Monday, June 22, 2015

What Should Define Autism: Deficits or Abilities?

From SFARI.org
The Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative

By Jessica Wright 
May 11, 2015

“We’re very good at cataloging — sometimes in minute detail — all the things you can’t do,” he says. “We’ve not been very good about asking what you can do, or even want to do.” 

Consider two boys with autism. One, let’s call him John, can speak, announcing when he’s hungry or wants to play video games. But his brother, whom we’ll call Charles, is better at communicating even though he doesn’t talk: He adeptly engages others and conveys his feelings through facial expressions and eye contact.

Traditional autism assessments would peg John as the more able of the two because Charles is nonverbal. But in this case, it misrepresents the boys’ real abilities, says Peter Rosenbaum, professor of pediatrics at McMaster University in Canada.

Rosenbaum says focusing on Charles’ lack of language ability is akin to describing Rosenbaum himself, a white male, as a non-Asian non-woman. “We’re very good at cataloging — in minute detail — all the things you can’t do,” he says. “We’ve not been very good about asking what you can do, or even want to do.”

Two years ago, researchers studying intellectual disability officially shifted their focus in the direction Rosenbaum advocates. The current edition of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” the DSM-5, gauges the severity of intellectual disability by how well a person functions in daily life rather than on his intelligence quotient (IQ).

This change provides a template for a similar ‘ability framework’ in autism. Recognizing what those with autism can do turns people’s attention to encouraging and fostering these abilities, advocates say.

“Autism therapies are all about ridding the child of behaviors,” says Maureen Durkin, professor of population health sciences and pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “The disability perspective focuses just as much, or more, on what supports an individual needs.”

Charles eventually learned to type, for example, but he might never have been taught this skill if people had equated his nonverbal status with an inability to communicate.

Can-do Approach

Rosenbaum pioneered this can-do approach for cerebral palsy. In 1995, he developed a motor abilities scale that focuses on what actions children can perform rather than how they perform them (1, 2).

“If you can get around well, the fact that you do it awkwardly doesn’t interest me,” says Rosenbaum, whose scale is now used worldwide. “‘Normal’ is an increasingly stupid idea.”

The measurement method benefits children. If a child with cerebral palsy can only walk on a flat surface, then fixing the floor may be a better approach than ‘fixing’ the child, Rosenbaum says. “We can change the environment. Sometimes the simple things we do can make a huge difference functionally.”


Related Content

In the case of intellectual disability, a low IQ is still required for a diagnosis, but the severity of the disorder is based on ‘adaptive behavior’ — a measure of a person’s ability to function in daily life. IQ tests may fail to accurately reflect people’s abilities in the real world, says Walter Kaufmann, director of the Rett Syndrome Program at Boston Children’s Hospital and a member of the DSM-5 committee that helped draft diagnostic criteria for neurodevelopmental disorders.

Rosenbaum and his colleagues are developing an ability scale for measuring how well children with autism communicate in social situations. A child with a low score on their scale might speak only when spoken to and never initiate a conversation. By contrast, children with the highest ability may seem eccentric, but are fully engaged when interacting with others.

Charles’ mother was always convinced he was better at communicating than his brother. Traditional assessments never supported her instincts, but Rosenbaum’s scale does.

Rosenbaum says he intends the scale as a way of assessing the abilities of children already diagnosed with autism. But this assessment might be tough to sell as an official part of the diagnosis.

The DSM-5 rates autism severity by the level of support an individual needs, not by ability. This emphasis is practical: Many people with autism function well because of the help they receive. But if these individuals were classified as ‘mild,’ because of the skills they possess, they could lose the very services that allow them to function, says Catherine Lord, director of the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain in New York City and also a member of the DSM-5 committee.

For this reason among others, “translating the ability framework that we have in intellectual disability to autism is a little premature,” Kaufmann says.


1: Boyce W.F. et al. Phys. Ther. 75, 603-613 (1995) PubMed

2: Wood E. and P. Rosenbaum Dev. Med. Child Neurol. 42, 292-296 (2000) PubMed

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Reading, Writing, Required Silence: How Meditation is Changing Schools and Students

From the HuffPost Impact Blog
What's working.

By Jaweed Kaleem
June 12, 2015

"In a city where silence is elusive, these students begin and end the day with it.”

On a Wednesday afternoon in early May, after a full day of studying the Byzantine Empire and sitting through lessons on annotation and critical reading, the sixth-graders in Zsazita Walker’s social studies and language arts class were, expectedly, acting like sixth-graders.

School was almost over and the classroom, scattered with posters, worksheets and lesson plans, was buzzing with chatty, curious 10-, 11- and 12-year-olds who knew they'd soon be free from class.

But before dismissal, one exercise remained. The kids shuffled from grouped tables to neat, forward-facing rows of desks. Walker counted down from five, telling her students to make sure the table tops were cleared. A boy walked to the front of the classroom, sat in a chair to face his classmates, and rang a bell.

Nearly in unison, the 25 students in class 601 at New York City's Brooklyn Urban Garden School closed their eyes. Some put their hands over their faces, creating little bubbles of darkness. Others put their heads down, as if to fall asleep.

It was Quiet Time, which is exactly what it sounds like. In a city where silence is elusive, these students begin and end the day with it. If they choose to, they can meditate.

The students sat for 15 minutes without making a sound. From the outside, it looked like nothing was happening. But nearly three-quarters of the students later said they spent the time meditating, reaching the inner depths of their consciousness in deep relaxation.

After Quiet Time that day, a handful of students opened up about it. “I get into a lot more arguments with people when I do not meditate. I think it makes you feel less stressed,” one boy said.

“Your mind goes to rest, and we need that,” a girl added.

“It’s resting your mind, but I also think it’s about school,” another boy chimed in. “When I meditate, my grades go higher.”

BUGS, as the charter school is called, adopted Quiet Time when it opened in 2013. The school focuses on sustainability and holistic education and has three full-time staffers who teach kids about the practice of and science behind meditation. Located in Brooklyn’s Windsor Terrace neighborhood, BUGS serves New York City’s District 15, which includes some of the richest and poorest neighborhoods in the city. The school has about 200 students, nearly half of whom qualify for free or reduced lunch, and nearly one-quarter of whom have disabilities.

Students take part in Quiet Time twice a day at BUGS, for
15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the afternoon.

Quiet Time was developed in the 1990s by a Washington, D.C., school principal. It was initially intended to be a one-off effort, but it took off: In the last seven years especially, it has expanded, and now appears in 18 schools across the country.

It's one of a handful of meditation programs funded by the New York-based David Lynch Foundation; others target veterans, survivors of sexual assault and domestic abuse, prisoners and people who are HIV-positive. The organization focuses on Transcendental Meditation, a method made famous by the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The technique’s best-known American practitioner may be the foundation’s namesake, director and TV producer David Lynch.

Lynch, a longtime TM proponent who studied under Maharishi, established the foundation in 2005 to fund meditation instruction in schools in the U.S. and abroad. In the last decade, it's garnered $30 million to spread meditation across the world, and boasts of having taught 500,000 students in more than a dozen countries, including Peru, South Africa and Israel.

Ultimately, the organization's goal is to raise enough money to allow any school system in the world interested in Quiet Time to institute the program, said Bob Roth, the foundation's executive director.

"Long term," Roth said, "we think meditation should be offered just like P.E."

TM consists of repeating a personalized mantra -- it can’t be a word or a sound that has actual meaning, as those are deemed distracting -- silently for 20 minutes. Kids, like those at BUGS, do it for shorter periods. Compared to other methods of meditation, TM requires “no concentration, no control of the mind, no contemplation, no monitoring of thoughts,” according to official TM materials.

Meditation teachers often use an analogy of the sea to describe the process.

“You’re in a small boat in the middle of the ocean and all of a sudden, you get these huge swells. You think the whole ocean is in upheaval. Well, if you take a cross-section of the ocean, you’ll see the surface is active but the depth is naturally silent,” said Roth, who has meditated for more than 40 years.

“The surface of our mind is the active, thinking mind. I call it the ‘gotta gotta gotta gotta mind.’ But deep within us is a level of the mind that's already calm, already wide awake. It’s part us, but we’ve just lost access to it.”

Through twice-a-day meditation, practitioners believe everyone can access an intensely deep rest that allows the body to repair itself and “release deeply rooted stress and tension that sleep never gets rid of,” Roth said.

And that kind of deep rest, he and others believe, can be incredibly beneficial. Among adults, scientific studies have shown that people who meditate have lower stress levels and a decreased risk of high blood pressure. They also report greater levels of happiness and confidence.

Sarah Rose Belok, left, and Laura Noel, right, are two of
the three Quiet Time teachers at BUGS. In their office, they
plan Quiet Time lessons and hold appointments with
students who want to learn more about meditation.

Because the Quiet Time program is relatively new, data on its impact on kids is limited, but early studies point to better grades, fewer suspensions and reports of better mental health among student meditators.

“When you meditate, you produce alpha waves, your body calms down, your pulse drops, you go out of the fight-or-flight mode. Your cortisol levels drop. Your body gets a break. It feels pleasant,” said Joshua Aronson, an associate professor of applied psychology at New York University who has studied the impact of Quiet Time on students.

The David Lynch Foundation focuses its efforts on middle schools and high schools with higher-than-average rates of absenteeism, teacher turnover, and gaps in grades and graduation rates. In a survey released last month, the Council of Chief State School Officers and Scholastic Inc. found that the nation's highest-ranked teachers named family stress, poverty, and learning and psychological problems as the top barriers to academic success.

“Your body chemistry and brain activity is set up to keep you alive,” Aronson said. “These kids in the inner city, they are in this fight-or-flight mode that has their body focused on that, and in that situation they are chronically hyperalert. They can't care at a deep level about algebra because the brain doesn’t care about high-level abstract reasoning when the switch has flipped and it’s trying to keep you alive. That constitutes to a severe bar on the readiness to learn.”

Meditation is one tool that can help students clear that bar, he said.

Quiet Time is part of a broader movement among education districts and individual schools experimenting with programs that include mandatory yoga and optional lessons in mindfulness.

In the first semester of Quiet Time at Visitacion Valley Middle School in San Francisco, which introduced the program in 2007 and is in a district that has become the one of its strongest supporters, administrators reported that suspensions dropped by 45 percent among students who participated in Quiet Time compared to those who didn’t.

Over three years, Visitacion Valley, which is located in one of the most violent neighborhoods in the city, saw a 75 percent overall drop in suspensions. About 20 percent of students now are accepted to Lowell High School, the top public high school in the city. Before the launch of Quiet Time, only a few made the cut each year.

“A lot of schools are trying mindfulness and meditation, but some of the ones I’ve studied make the mistake of just teaching it to the kids and telling them to do it at home. They see very little results,” Aronson said. “The genius of Quiet Time is that it makes this a ritual during the school day.”

“When I first got there, there was a fight or two every day,” said James Dierke, who was the principal of Visitacion Valley for 13 years and is currently the executive vice president of the American Federation of School Administrators. “Students were always on guard, and so were teachers. ... But, it was also kind of a taboo subject to talk about meditation and PTSD in children.”

A directive to improve test scores forced administrators to get creative. The school pushed counseling services and peer mediation, after-school tutoring, sports and music lessons and better ties to community groups. Then, it introduced kids to Quiet Time. Although it took several years, Dierke says meditation did the most to turn the school around.

“I look at meditation as being an umbrella that we were able to put over the top of the school and keep the rain off,” he said.

Many of his fellow educators agree. Currently, five schools in San Francisco have Quiet Time, and Superintendent Richard Carranza has said that he wants to see it expand.

With Quiet Time schools in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Detroit, New Haven, Connecticut, and Washington, D.C., Roth and his David Lynch Foundation colleagues are currently looking to bring Quiet Time into Chicago schools.

At BUGS, a scoreboard in the hallway keeps weekly track of
the classes with the highest-scoring Quiet Time performances.

Walker, the BUGS teacher in Brooklyn, occasionally joins her students in meditation or does it on her own before the school day begins.

“For myself, when I don’t meditate, I am a little more of a scatterbrain,” she said. “I’ve noticed in my students that if they miss the morning Quiet Time if they are late to class, they are the same way.” She said one of her students who has “issues with anger” occasionally leaves the classroom to meditate to avoid an outburst.

“I don’t think it’s a magic bullet,” said BUGS co-founder Miriam Nunberg, who previously was a special education teacher and attorney at the Department of Education. “Do we still see kids acting out? Of course we do. But we give them a tool to cope with stress and anxiety and help them focus.”

Quiet Time isn’t without its detractors. When it was first launched in California, some parents, as well as a nonprofit called Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, protested, saying the practice was rooted in Hinduism and violated the First Amendment. Meanwhile, the Hindu American Foundation ran a campaign about the importance of honoring the Hindu roots of yoga and meditation, and called out TM for its secular approach.

But Roth and others who promote TM say the practice doesn't require any specific beliefs.

These days, the complaints are less frequent. However, kids do need parental permission to participate in meditation.

The ritual, like nearly everything else in school, is also graded. At BUGS, each student is scored by the teacher on a zero-to-two scale every time he or she meditates. A two means a student sits up with his or her eyes closed for most of Quiet Time. A one means a student’s eyes are open or his or her head is down for most of the session. Students who cause a disturbance get a zero. Each trimester, students’ average scores are converted to grades that go on their report cards.

In the hallway, a scoreboard keeps track of the classes with the highest weekly Quiet Time scores, while a display case has two trophies from the past year’s winning sixth- and seventh-grade classes.

“Some [students] took it as a joke at the beginning, like they didn’t really get what it was,” said Walker, who is in her first year as a BUGS teacher. “But now they are learning about the brain in class, and they are talking about neurons -- how you can wake them up and put them to sleep, and how meditation can help heal your brain and body. I really see it making a difference.”

Friday, June 19, 2015

Free 4-Part Workshop Series on Assistive Technology Starts at NESCA in Newton on July 15th - Please Sign Up Now!


June 19, 2015

Sessions will take place at NESCA, at 55 Chapel Street in Newton, from 9:30 - 10:30am on July 15, July 22, July 29 and August 5 (all Wednesdays). Students with language-based learning disabilities, attentional or executive function issues are encouraged to attend, along with their parents or guardians!

Space is limited. Please register now by email to info@nesca-newton.com

About the Speaker

Courtney Rose Dykeman-Bermingham is a rising senior majoring in Neuroscience at Mount Holyoke College and completing an internship at NESCA. She is training to become a clinical neuropsychologist herself. Currently, she volunteers at her college’s AccessAbility Services (AAS) office. Through that position, she works with students as they transition into college life, helping them to overcome difficulties related to their disabilities or transition.

She has presented workshops and done tutorials on the use of assistive technologies at her college, and is looking forward to teaching you about them as well.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Will ADHD Medication Change My Child's Brain?

From the Child Mind Institute

By Caroline Miller
June 9, 2015

What we know about the long-term effects of stimulants taken for ADHD.

If you have a child who's been diagnosed with ADHD, you may be facing a decision whether or not to try medication. Stimulant medications have been shown repeatedly to be the most effective treatment for the symptoms of ADHD, helping kids pay attention, concentrate, manage their impulses, and avoid risky behaviors.

About 80 percent of kids who try stimulant medications for ADHD find that they have a positive effect on symptoms. To put that in perspective, there is no other medication for a psychiatric condition that has such a high response rate.

But you may have concerns about medication that affects the way your child's brain works. And if the medication is taken for a period of years, does it have any long-term effect on the brain?

How Stimulants Work

When a child is taking stimulant medication for ADHD, the medication changes the level of a chemical in the brain called dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that plays a critical role in attention and focus.

When you take Ritalin, Adderall, or any other stimulant medication for ADHD, it helps increase the dopamine in your brain to an optimal level—a level comparable to that in the brain of a person who doesn't have ADHD. It does that by blocking the action of something called a dopamine transporter, a molecule that removes dopamine from the neural pathway.

So changing the level of dopamine in the brain definitely changes the way it functions while you're taking the medication, which is the whole point. At the level they are prescribed for ADHD, these medications do not raise the dopamine level high enough to produce euphoria, and they are not considered addictive.

Do they change a child's personality?

ADHD medications should not change a child's personality. If a child taking a stimulant seems sedated or zombie-like, or tearful and irritable, it usually means that the dose is too high and the clinician needs to adjust the prescription to find the right dose.

If a child is taking the lowest possible dose that's effective for him, and still gets moody or irritable, some other kind of treatment should be tried. There is a small subset of children who react this way, and it usually happens right away, as soon as they start taking the medication, and goes away immediately when they stop taking it.

Short-Acting Medication

The effects of stimulant medications start and stop quickly because these medications are metabolized quickly. They do not stay in the body for an extended period of time. There are several different formulations of ADHD medications, designed to last from about 4 hours (immediate release) to 12 hours (delayed release). But all of them are essentially out of the child's system when he wakes up in the morning.

Any possible side effects, like loss of appetite or trouble sleeping, also stop when the child stops taking the medication.

Are there long term effects?

In over 50 years of using stimulant medications to counteract the symptoms of ADHD, and hundreds of studies, no negative effects of taking the medication over a period of years have been observed.

In recent years Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and her colleagues have done a number of imaging studies to better understand how ADHD, and the medication used to treat it, affect the brain.

In 2013 they compared the brains of kids with ADHD before and after a year of treatment with stimulant medications. The studies showed an increase in the density of dopamine transporters—those molecules that take dopamine out of action—in the brain after treatment.

This suggests that the increase of dopamine stimulated by the medication may have prompted the brain to develop more dopamine transmitters to clear it away. How long that change might last is not clear, as the level of transporters in the brain fluctuates. But it could result, researchers note in their conclusion, in the medication not working as well as it had to reduce symptoms over the long run.

Does medication become less effective over time?

This is a subject of disagreement among clinicians and researchers. For many children the same dose (adjusted for growth) continues to work for many years. But in other kids the medication doesn't work as well after the first few months, and they need an increase in dosage to continue getting the same results.

While the dose increases are modest, they are not just a result of children growing. In the largest long-term study of ADHD treatments called the MTA study (Multimodal Treatment Study of Children with ADHD, the first month of the study was devoted to titration—adjusting the dose until they had arrived at the optimal dose for each child. But over the 13 following months, many of the children had their dosage modified to continue to get the full benefit of the medication.

A 2001 analysis of the data found that of the 198 children who were taking methylphenidate at the end of the titration period, 81 (41%) had their dose increased to maintain effectiveness. The average increase per unit of body weight was 12.4%.

But another 36 (18%) had their dosage reduced to avoid negative side effects, and (29%) were still taking the same dosage. Kids who started at a low dose were most likely (61%) to need an increase, while those who started high dose were most likely to stay at the same dose (33%) or reduce the dose (37%).

The remaining 24 children (12%) were switched to either another medication or another treatment.

These findings are interpreted differently by different researchers, some seeing evidence that kids developed tolerance for the medication, other not. The author of the 2001 study, Benedetto Vitiello, MD, wrote "These data do not suggest tolerance to the therapeutic effects of MPH." He added that the fact that medication changes occurred throughout the 13-month period indicates "a need for long-term continuous monitoring."

This reflects the experience of many clinicians. Dr. Roy Boorady, a Child Mind Institute child and adolescent psychiatrist who's been treating kids with ADHD for more than 15 years, says he often increases the dosage within the first several years of treating a child. "When I treat a child from, say, age seven, I find I have to increase dose, maybe 20%, to recapture the benefit. But after 15 or 16, I find that kids end up needing less, not more."

Dr.Boorady notes that this may be the result of ADHD symptoms waning, as they often do, in late adolescence, and it's also the case that as the teenagers' livers mature, they may be able to metabolize the medication more efficiently.

But not all clinicians report the same effect, and some note that there could be other reasons for increases in dosage over the years that don't imply tolerance: As a child gets older he faces increased expectations in school, higher demand for concentration. The child gets more aware of what the medication does and might want more of that feeling.

"It's certainly plausible that there is tolerance developing very slowly over time," says Dr. Stephen Hinshaw, one of the authors of the MTA study: "We just don't know. "

Dr. Hinshaw, professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, notes that sometimes after years of effective treatment, a patient with ADHD needs to switch to a medication based on a different stimulant, say from Concerta to Adderall, to maintain the effect.

Does ADHD medication lead to addiction?

A big concern about ADHD medication is the worry that kids who take them will be at higher risk for substance abuse when they are older. But several studies have shown no correlation.

The most recent research showed that while teens and young adults with ADHD are at higher risk for substance abuse than other kids, treating them with stimulant medications neither increases nor reduces the risk. What the new study shows is that the risk is linked to the disorder, not to the treatment.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that addiction is a risk when these stimulants are abused, that is, taken in doses and via routes other than those prescribed (ie they are crushed and snorted or injected). Then they produce euphoria and, as a result, increasing the risk of addiction.

Hence, a history of substance abuse would be an important factor when considering whether a teenager is a good candidate for ADHD medication.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

‘Inside Out’: A Look at How Emotions Work Together in Adolescents

From NPR Station KQED's Blog "Mind/Shift"
How we will learn.

By NPR Staff
June 11, 2015

Why do songs get stuck in your head? Where did that weird dream come from last night? The new Disney Pixar film "Inside Out" takes an animated peek into the inner workings of our minds.

Sadness, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Joy

The film follows 11-year-old Riley, who is uprooted from her home in Minnesota when her father starts a new company in San Francisco. This normally joyful girl becomes sad and angry when she’s forced to leave the house, the friends and the hockey team she loves.

Much of the film takes place inside her head, where there’s a control room operated by five characters who personify her primary emotions: Joy is voiced by Amy Poehler, Anger by Louis Black, Fear by Bill Hader, Disgust by Mindy Kaling and Sadness by Phyllis Smith.

Director Pete Docter says he was intrigued by the idea of taking familiar cognitive experiences and visualizing them. “This was our chance to bring all of that stuff to life and explore it in a fun way,” he tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross.

But Docter, who also directed Monsters, Inc. and Up, says it wasn’t all imagination: “I really wanted to make sure that the science was as correct as it could be, because you just don’t want to make a film that scientists go to and roll their eyes at.”

The filmmakers did extensive consultations with researchers and psychologists to get the “science” of their animated emotions just right.

Interview Highlights

On why he wanted to make a film about emotions:

The idea kind of started with me just thinking about what would be fun to see in animation: What have I not seen? … I got thinking about the human body, and realizing I’ve seen traveling through the bloodstream [depicted] and into the stomach and things, well, what if we did this in the mind as opposed to the brain?

So instead of blood vessels and dendrites, what if it was consciousness and dream production and that would allow us to have characters that represent emotions and that felt like — man, that’s exactly what animation does best: strong, opinionated, caricatured personalities — and that just got me excited.

On casting the emotions in the film:

At the very beginning of this process we realized, “Man, we really don’t know very much about this subject, so we better do some research.” We started looking around online. We found some scientists who said that there are basically three emotions; others went up to 27; others had 16, somewhere in the middle, so we were kind of left with no definitive answer to our basic question, “How many are there?”

Dr. Paul Ekman — who worked in San Francisco, still does, which is where Pixar Animation Studios is — he had early in his career identified six. That felt like a nice, manageable number of guys to design and write for. It was anger, fear, sadness, disgust, joy and surprise. As I was sort of doodling I was thinking, “Surprise and fear — probably fairly similar.” So let’s just lose surprise and that left us with five.

On depicting Joy (played by Amy Poehler):

Joy we thought of as kind of an explosion or a spark. She’s like an outwardly directed person who is just always moving and she’s full of energy. Even the way she looks, if you look at her up close, and this is true of all of the emotions in the film, we wanted them to look not like little people — so they’re not made of skin or flesh — they’re made out of energy. They have these tiny little particles that sort of roil and move and that we felt was a good way of representing that.

On an emotional moment with Mindy Kaling (who plays Disgust):

She was actually pretty key to decoding some elements of the story. We were really wrestling with these two different themes of growing up and then embracing sadness, which we felt were kind of separate but I had an intuition that they could somehow be connected. I pitched her this story and as I turned around, because I was pitching kind of some visuals on the computer, and she’s crying and I thought, “Oh no, did she get like a bad text or something?”

She really responded emotionally and she said, “Sorry, I just think it’s really beautiful that you guys are making a story that tells kids that it’s difficult to grow up and it’s OK to be sad about it.” We were like, “Quick! Write that down.” Because that was really what we were trying to say.

On the importance of Sadness:

One of the other experts we consulted was this guy named Dacher Keltner. He was big on sadness as a community bonding, I think is the word he uses. Like if you’re sad, it’s a way of connecting with other people and a lot of times, we sort of feel embarrassed about being sad and we go off by ourselves to hide and cry by ourselves, but really it’s a way of re-establishing relationship.

On the breakthrough he had with the film:

We had spent almost three years working on the film and I knew that there was an upcoming screening where not only were we going to show it to everybody else at the studio. … There was this really heavy pressure that whatever we were going to show had to be perfect or at least good enough to move into actual production. And yet, I was sitting there in editorial going, “This is not working.”

I was walking around that weekend … going, “I’m a failure. These other films were flukes. I don’t know what I’m doing. I should just quit. What would I miss? I would miss my house and I’d miss going to work.” But I think the thing that I realized I would miss most is probably similar to everybody, which is your friends.

I thought about it and I realized that the friends that I feel the deepest connection with are the friends that yeah, I’ve had good times with, but they’re also people I’ve been angry with, that I’ve had sadness alongside them, I’ve been scared for them, and it sort of hit me that the very subject matter of the film that I’m dealing with is the key to the most important thing in our lives — and that’s our relationships.

We had done all this research showing the job of each individual emotion — fear keeps you safe, it deals with uncertainty; anger is about fairness, if it feels that you’re getting ripped off or taken advantage of, that’s when anger comes up; sadness deals with loss — and suddenly I had this new revelation, it felt like to me, that those are all true but the real deeper reason we have emotions is to connect us together and that felt big to me.

I suddenly had an idea that we had to get Fear out of there and Sadness connected with Joy, and I ran back, I called producer Jonas Rivera and Ronnie del Carmen, who is our co-director, and we met that Sunday night and I went through this whole spiel with them and I was kind of expecting them to sink into their chairs and bury their hands in their faces because the pressure was pretty great. Instead they totally lit up.

So, the three of us went to … the other [Pixar] filmmakers and we said, “Well, we were supposed to show you a screening today, but instead I’m going to tell you what we are planning to do.” So the cool thing was they very quickly understood why and were totally on board, why this new thing was an improvement and so they got on board and we moved on. It was a scary moment but it was the right call in the long run.

On watching audience reactions:

That’s one of the real joys for me is going out and watching — and usually I’m not watching the screen, I’m kind of sitting and looking off to the side, spying on people to see what they react to. As [screenwriter] Joe Ranft used to say, “Animation is like telling a joke and waiting for three years to see if anyone laughs.” … This film seems like it really brings out a lot of discussion. There’s a lot of layers to it.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

College Special-Needs Students Face Choice: Seek Help or Go It Alone?

From Education Week

By Holly Yettick
May 29, 2015

On paper, it looks simple. But Stefanie Smith's individualized education program can't really capture what it feels like to spend an entire school day on a college-admissions test that is only supposed to take four hours.

It doesn't convey the anxiety that her dyslexia might trip her up on the driving test, so she would have to continue to rely on her mother for rides. Or the joy of discovering that German is a phonetic language and that she could read an entire novel—Homo Faber by Max Frisch—in a language other than the one that has been making her head ache since she first figured out she was the only one in kindergarten who could not yet spell her own name.

Mostly, the IEP contains statements: brief, declarative, and stark.

"Stefanie," reads the document, "will attend a four-year college or university and study finance or business."

"I helped [my sister] move into her dorm when I was a sophomore," said the subject of the IEP, who is now an 18-year-old senior at Grandview High School in the 54,500-student Cherry Creek district near Denver.

"I said, I really want to go to college."

Jacquelyn Smith, right, a senior at Metropolitan State University of Denver,
helps her younger sister, Stefanie Smith, get ready for her high school prom
in Aurora, Colo. Both sisters have dyslexia and made plans for college after
high school. But only Stefanie is choosing to request study accommodations
for her disability. -Ellen Jaskol for Education Week

At one time, a wish like that might have remained unfulfilled. As recently as 1995, just over a quarter of students with disabilities had enrolled in postsecondary education within four years of graduating from high school. But between 1990 and 2005, college-enrollment rates for students with disabilities increased by 19 percentage points, according to data from two federally funded studies that tracked post-school outcomes for youths with disabilities.

By contrast, during that same period, overall college-enrollment rates increased just 9 percentage points. The federal data show 67 percent of all youths and 60 percent of those with disabilities enroll in college within eight years of leaving high school.

Off the Radar

Who are those students and what happens once they leave school?

It's not always easy to say. When children are younger, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act places the onus on the elementary or secondary school to identify, evaluate, and serve students with special needs.

But in post-secondary education, the onus is on the student to identify him- or herself as having special needs and to seek assistance.

The problem is, once students reach college, most (63 percent) no longer consider themselves disabled, according to the longitudinal study data. The nondisclosure rate is even higher for students with learning disabilities like Stefanie's.

Those students make up the single biggest category of secondary and post-secondary students with disabilities and 69 percent no longer consider themselves disabled once they reach college.

Although Jacquelyn Smith is quick to say her dyslexia is less severe than that of her younger sister Stefanie, she also had an IEP in high school. But when she graduated from Grandview, in spring 2012, Jacquelyn left it behind.

"I rebelled against it," said the older sister, who is now 21. "I didn't want it to hold me back. I think I wanted to see if I could do it on my own."

Metropolitan State University of Denver, known for its inclusivity, has a "modified open enrollment" policy and Jacquelyn had been accepted, with a 2.7 high school GPA and an ACT score of 17 out of 36. Although she had qualified for extended time, she said she had filled in the bubbles randomly and finished early, rushing to go hang out with friends.

The acceptance letter did come with a caveat: Jacquelyn had been admitted on the condition that she successfully complete the university's Summer Scholars Program, which targets those on the cusp of meeting university-entrance requirements, regardless of whether they have a disability.

Study Strategies

In a paper presented this spring at the American Educational Research Association's annual conference, researchers used the longitudinal data to contrast the college-completion rates of two groups of students with learning disabilities and two groups of students who were deaf or hard of hearing.

For each disability category, both groups were similar but for one exception: One group obtained disability-specific assistance, which students can receive only if they tell their college of their disability. The other did not.

The researchers found no significant difference between the assisted group and those who were on their own for students with learning disabilities, although they did find one for students who were deaf or hard of hearing.

But what did make a difference for students with learning disabilities were the types of supports available to them and nondisabled students alike—supports such as tutoring, the writing center, or a study or math center. Seventy-four percent of students with learning disabilities who received such supports completed their two- or four-year college programs compared with 35 percent of a statistically equivalent group that did not.

"It was amazing," said Lynn Newman, the paper's lead author and a senior education researcher at SRI, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based research organization. "So many of us have had blinders on, only thinking about disability-specific help. It's impressive that generally available help makes a difference to completion rates, because you don't need to disclose a disability to get that type of help, and very few students with disabilities choose to disclose their disability to their college."

Getting Help

Back in Cherry Creek, Jacquelyn said she was initially "bummed" at having to take part in Summer Scholars. "Everybody else was having the summer of their life after high school, and I had to go to school," she said.

But the program turned out to be a godsend. By the time the summer ended, Jacquelyn had memorized the campus, planned out the courses she needed for her major, and found a friend who persuaded her to live in student housing rather than commute from her mother's suburban home. There, in that tiny apartment, Jacquelyn found the best individualized education program of all, a new BFF.

"She helped me with my homework," said Jacquelyn. "She was like my mom. She would turn off my TV so I would study."

In December, Jacquelyn expects to graduate six months ahead of schedule, with a major in criminal justice and a minor in business management. "I wanted to get it done and over with," said Jacquelyn, who has loaded her schedule with up to six courses at a time. "Because of my dyslexia, I've never been much of a school person."

When it comes to enrolling in and succeeding in college, how can high schools increase the odds of outcomes like Jacquelyn's?

Success Factors

College-preparatory coursework and strong high school GPAs are associated with higher levels of post-secondary enrollment, said Ms. Newman, the author of the AERA paper.

Stefanie had both, maintaining a 3.48 GPA and earning nine college credits in business and advanced German at Grandview.

Behavior matters, too: Students with emotional disabilities, for instance, earn some of the highest scores on achievement tests, but their high rates of suspension, expulsion, and criminal-justice-system involvement may make it difficult for them to function in school, leading to lower rates of college enrollment, added Ms. Newman.

Parental involvement and expectations of college attendance also make a huge difference, almost to the point of dwarfing the educational Goliath of socioeconomic status, analyses of the longitudinal data show.

It didn't hurt that Stefanie and Jacquelyn's mother is a college graduate who expected her daughters would follow suit.

Nor did it hurt that Grandview is, itself, a school where post-secondary enrollment is the norm—nearly 80 percent of graduating seniors went on to college or vocational schools last year. Stefanie's best friend, whom she met on a playground in 3rd grade, is a top student headed to an elite East Coast university.

Finally, transition planning makes a difference: It helps when students are involved with the plans, when IEPs spell out accommodations needed in college, when high school advisers contact colleges on students' behalf, and when college representatives participate in the process, Ms. Newman said.

Early one April morning during spring break, Stefanie leaves the gray house in a neighborhood full of sidewalk chalk drawings and driveway basketball hoops, the kind of neighborhood where people move "for the kids."

With her in the car is her IEP, her IQ test results, and other forms. The packet, assembled with help from her caseworker at Grandview, represents a momentous decision, the decision to seek accommodations in college. Stefanie is driving 60 miles to hand deliver it to the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, the school that will be the next step on her transition plan.

"I didn't want to mail it," she said. "I don't want this getting lost."


NESCA Comprehensive Transition Services

Transition is the process, ideally beginning at age 14 if not sooner and extending through high school graduation and beyond, by which an adolescent or young adult masters the life skills necessary to function independently in post-secondary school or the workplace.

NESCA can provide complete transition assessment (including testing, community-based observation and coaching), consultation, planning, college selection and other support services, coordinated by Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS. Other members of our transition team include Neuropsychologist Jason McCormick, Psy.D.Sandy Storer, MSW and Transition Pioneer Marilyn Weber.

We are unique--and unmatched in this region--in the wealth of experience provided by our veteran staff, the breadth of their offerings, the in-depth approach that these embody and the positive outcomes they help to achieve.

Learn more HERE!