Category Archives: Special Education

Disabilities and online education

Tamar Lewin:

Advocates for the deaf on Thursday filed federal lawsuits against Harvard and M.I.T., saying both universities violated antidiscrimination laws by failing to provide closed captioning in their online lectures, courses, podcasts and other educational materials.

“Much of Harvard’s online content is either not captioned or is inaccurately or unintelligibly captioned, making it inaccessible for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing,” the complaint said, echoing language used in the M.I.T. complaint. “Just as buildings without ramps bar people who use wheelchairs, online content without captions excludes individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.”

Jeff Neal, a spokesman for Harvard, said that while he could not comment on the litigation, Harvard expected the Justice Department to propose rules this year “to provide much-needed guidance in this area,” and that the university would follow whatever rules were adopted.

The Myth of Charter-School ‘Cherry Picking’

Eva Moskovitz:

There is a concept called the big lie, which holds that if you repeat a falsehood long enough and loudly enough, people will begin to believe it. Sadly, fearing the success of charter schools in New York City, the United Federation of Teachers and other education-reform opponents have been telling a big lie for years.

The UFT and its backers have kept up a steady drumbeat of false claims against charter schools in New York City: Charters cherry-pick their students, push out those who need extra support, and generally falsify their impressive results. Well, a recent report from New York City’s Independent Budget Office, a publicly funded, nonpartisan agency, proves that these accusations are false. Unfortunately, New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña is among those city officials who believe the big lie.

When Children With Autism Grow Up

Bob Plantenberg:

The heat that afternoon was intense. Weather maps across Iowa were deep red, and warnings flashed across the screen. A high school football player on the other side of the state had died from heat exhaustion the week before. Cornfields wilted and shrank into hills of despondent brown.

I was running late as I parked and shuffled to a dilapidated satellite classroom building. I introduced myself to a teacher sitting at a desk and told him that I was there to meet a 21-year-old man named “Scooter” — a childhood nickname, I’d later learn, that had stuck. (I’ve changed all names and some details to protect him and to comply with privacy laws.) I needed a summer job after my first year of grad school, and he needed staff.

My experience with autism had been limited to movies and anecdotes from friends who worked in “the field” — care industry shorthand for post-institutional residential and community-living nonprofits supporting people with developmental disabilities. (“We’re always looking,” the agency had said, and hired me without any sort of drug screening and a cursory, astonishingly fast background check. The drug screening was my only concern while filling out applications.)

iPad App Brings Braille Keyboard to Blind Users’ Fingertips

Christina Bonnington:

The proliferation of touchscreen technology may have revolutionized mobile computer input for most everyone, but there’s one sector of the population that isn’t exactly feeling the pinch, the tap, or the swipe: the blind. It’s nearly impossible to interact with elements on a totally smooth screen if you can’t see.

iBrailler Notes, which began as a summer project at Stanford University in 2011 and is now available as a stand-alone app for iOS, aims to offer blind and vision-impaired iPad users an easy way to type Braille notes and perform basic word processing on a touchscreen.

The connections in autistic brains are idiosyncratic and individualized

Diana Gitig:

The New York Times Magazine recently ran a cover article about mapping the connectome, all of the connections that link all of the neurons in someone’s brain. Many of these connections are formed and reinforced as a result of our experiences, and their sum total constitutes everything about our personalities: the memories we’ve formed, the skills we’ve learned, the passions that drive us.

There is even data suggesting that some neurological disorders are in fact “connectopathies,” characterized by either aberrant connections or an unusual extent of connections among neurons. Some studies have found that autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is associated with decreased functional connectivity in the brain, but other experiments have found increased connectivity in autistic brains. A new study may have reconciled these contradictory findings. Researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel determined that brain regions with high interconnectivity in controls have reduced connectivity in ASD, and regions with lower connectivity in controls have elevated connectivity in people with ASD.

The scientists analyzed fMRI scans from high functioning autistic adults and controls, obtained from five different data sets. When the scans from the controls were superimposed upon each other, a typical, canonical template of connectivity was clear. Certain regions had high inter hemispheric (between the right and left sides) connectivity: primary sensory-motor regions like the sensorimotor cortex and the occipital cortex. Others showed low interhemispheric connectivity: regions like the frontal cortex and temporal cortex, which are involved in higher order association. Overall, the control brain scans looked pretty much the same as each other.

Autistic and Searching for a Home: Between jail and the hospital, Savannah Shannon’s life is in limbo.

Genna Buck:

Savannah Shannon has good days and bad days.

On good days, she can crack a great joke, go on and on about Harry Potter and quote Shrek with such deadpan delivery that she’ll have the whole room in stitches. Her bad days can be terrifying. May 31, 2012, wasn’t a good day.

On that day, Shannon’s name was on the schedule at the New Brunswick provincial court in Saint John next to three letters: NCR. Not criminally responsible.

Shannon sat in the prisoner’s dock; her heavyset body hunched and her short blonde hair sticking up on one side, as if she’d slept on it. With her eyebrows knit together in a scowl, she looked older than her twenty-one years. Early that morning, someone had driven her to court from the Restigouche Hospital Centre, a psychiatric centre five hours away in Campbellton. She’d been waiting at the courthouse all morning and she didn’t know where she would sleep that night.

A prosecutor, court-appointed defence lawyer and representative from the Department of Social Development were supposed to meet in front of a judge to decide on a place where Shannon could live without posing a risk to others. Since she turned nineteen, Shannon has been charged with a long list of offences. She’s pushed, she’s bitten; she’s struck someone who was trying to wash her hair. Every time, it’s been determined that she was NCR. Her autism, intellectual disability and mental health issues were to blame for the violence. By late 2010, Shannon had been kicked out of nearly every community home she’d lived in. She was sent to Restigouche and, at the time of this court date, had been there for a year and a half.

U.S. Child Study Canceled After $1.3 Billion

Alex Wayne:

The U.S. government canceled one of its most ambitious health research projects, an effort to follow 100,000 children from before birth through adolescence, after spending about $1.3 billion since 2007 without it ever really getting off the ground.

Run by the National Institutes of Health, the study was to collect data on child health and development in the hope of discovering insights into autism and other maladies.

Administrative difficulties and the project’s spiraling costs alarmed NIH Director Francis Collins, who ordered an evaluation of the study after the National Academy of Sciences raised concerns in a June 16 report.

The project was authorized by Congress in 2000 yet never got past a small pilot study to test research methods. The study “as currently designed is not feasible,” Collins said in a Dec. 12 statement on the NIH’s website.

Identifying Autism from Neural Representations of Social Interactions: Neurocognitive Markers of Autism

Marcel Adam, Vladimir L. Cherkassky, Augusto Buchweitz, Timothy A. Keller, Tom M. Mitchell::

Autism is a psychiatric/neurological condition in which alterations in social interaction (among other symptoms) are diagnosed by behavioral psychiatric methods. The main goal of this study was to determine how the neural representations and meanings of social concepts (such as to insult) are altered in autism. A second goal was to determine whether these alterations can serve as neurocognitive markers of autism. The approach is based on previous advances in fMRI analysis methods that permit (a) the identification of a concept, such as the thought of a physical object, from its fMRI pattern, and (b) the ability to assess the semantic content of a concept from its fMRI pattern. These factor analysis and machine learning methods were applied to the fMRI activation patterns of 17 adults with high-functioning autism and matched controls, scanned while thinking about 16 social interactions. One prominent neural representation factor that emerged (manifested mainly in posterior midline regions) was related to self-representation, but this factor was present only for the control participants, and was near-absent in the autism group. Moreover, machine learning algorithms classified individuals as autistic or control with 97% accuracy from their fMRI neurocognitive markers. The findings suggest that psychiatric alterations of thought can begin to be biologically understood by assessing the form and content of the altered thought’s underlying brain activation patterns.

Identifying Autism from Neural Representations of Social Interactions: Neurocognitive Markers of Autism

Marcel Adam, Vladimir L. Cherkassky, Augusto Buchweitz, Timothy A. Keller & Tom M. Mitchell:

Autism is a psychiatric/neurological condition in which alterations in social interaction (among other symptoms) are diagnosed by behavioral psychiatric methods. The main goal of this study was to determine how the neural representations and meanings of social concepts (such as to insult) are altered in autism. A second goal was to determine whether these alterations can serve as neurocognitive markers of autism. The approach is based on previous advances in fMRI analysis methods that permit (a) the identification of a concept, such as the thought of a physical object, from its fMRI pattern, and (b) the ability to assess the semantic content of a concept from its fMRI pattern. These factor analysis and machine learning methods were applied to the fMRI activation patterns of 17 adults with high-functioning autism and matched controls, scanned while thinking about 16 social interactions. One prominent neural representation factor that emerged (manifested mainly in posterior midline regions) was related to self-representation, but this factor was present only for the control participants, and was near-absent in the autism group. Moreover, machine learning algorithms classified individuals as autistic or control with 97% accuracy from their fMRI neurocognitive markers. The findings suggest that psychiatric alterations of thought can begin to be biologically understood by assessing the form and content of the altered thought’s underlying brain activation patterns.

FL families begin using new parental choice scholarship accounts

Redefined Ed:

One of the nation’s newest parental choice programs is shifting into higher gear.

PLSAFamilies of hundreds of Florida students with significant special needs, including autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy, have been given the green light to begin using Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts for the 2014-15 school year.

So far, parents of more than 1,200 students have been awarded PLSAs, which give them the resources and flexibility to access a range of educational services, including private schools, tutors, therapists, curriculum and materials. The Florida program is the second of its kind in the country, and some education policy experts see it and a similar program in Arizona as models for a new wave in parental choice.
– See more at:

Most Autistic People Have Normal Brain Anatomy


Published in Cerebral Cortex by Israeli researchers Shlomi Haar and colleagues, the new research reports that there are virtually no differences in brain anatomy between people with autism and those without.

What makes Haar et al.’s essentially negative claims so powerful is that their study had a huge sample size: they included structural MRI scans from 539 people diagnosed with high-functioning autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and 573 controls. This makes the paper an order of magnitude bigger than a typical structural MRI anatomy study in this field. The age range was 6 to 35.

The scans came from the public Autism Brain Imaging Data Exchange (ABIDE) database, a data sharing initiative which pools scans from 18 different neuroimaging centers. Haar et al. examined the neuroanatomy of the cases and controls using the popular FreeSurfer software package.

How Apple’s Siri Became One Autistic Boy’s B.F.F.

Judith Newman:

Just how bad a mother am I? I wondered, as I watched my 13-year-old son deep in conversation with Siri. Gus has autism, and Siri, Apple’s “intelligent personal assistant” on the iPhone, is currently his B.F.F. Obsessed with weather formations, Gus had spent the hour parsing the difference between isolated and scattered thunderstorms — an hour in which, thank God, I didn’t have to discuss them. After a while I heard this:

Gus: “You’re a really nice computer.”

Siri: “It’s nice to be appreciated.”

Gus: “You are always asking if you can help me. Is there anything.

Connecticut Targets Homeschoolers

Matthew Hennessy:

But while Lanza’s abnormal social and emotional development surely contributed to his crime, homeschooling neither exacerbated his mental illness nor obscured it from local education officials. Lanza attended traditional public schools up to the eighth grade. From the beginning, everyone knew he was different. As Andrew Solomon detailed earlier this year in The New Yorker, Lanza suffered from sensory issues and received speech and occupational therapy beginning in kindergarten. At every juncture of his early life, he was analyzed and agitated over by psychologists, counselors, behaviorists, and other state-credentialed educators. Yet Lanza’s troubles deepened, and his anti-social behavior grew worse. Peter and Nancy Lanza were as desperate to help their son find psychological peace as they were to identify a school environment in which he could thrive. At 13, he was sent to a private psychologist, who diagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome. At 14, he underwent a psychiatric assessment at the Yale University Child Study Center, where obsessive-compulsive disorder was added to his growing list of personality disorders. The Lanzas considered moving 50 miles away, to a town with a school district known for excellence in special education. They briefly enrolled him in a Catholic school.

Commission: Evaluate some home-schooled kids for emotional issues (!)

Ken Dixon:

Parents who home-school children with significant emotional, social or behavioral problems would have to file progress reports prepared by special education program teams, under a proposal being considered by the governor’s Sandy Hook Advisory Commission.

Commission members acknowledged Tuesday that the proposal, contained in a tentative section of the panel’s final report, could be controversial and prompt opposition from parents of home-schooled children across the state.

But the commission, which is preparing its final report to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, said tighter scrutiny of home-schoolers may be needed to prevent an incident such as the December 2012 slaughter of 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. The murders were carried out by Adam Lanza, a disturbed 20-year-old who had been home-schooled by his mother, Nancy Lanza, whom he also shot to death on the morning of his murder spree.

Madison Schools’ Mental Health Programs Cheered

Kelly Meyerhoffer:

Eight years ago, a community health report from the Fox Valley uncovered an alarming trend among local high school students: one in four reported experiencing depression, and more than one in 10 had attempted suicide.

An experiment soon followed that placed licensed therapists with expertise in children’s mental health in elementary, middle and high schools.

“We decided if students had trouble making their appointment (at community clinics), let’s bring the appointment to them,” said Mary Wisnet, one of the program’s officers.

A new IOS app for the blind & visually impaired

knfb Reader:

By harnessing the power of digital photography coupled with state of the art Apple hardware, this new app, tailored to the specific needs of people who are blind or visually impaired, makes access to print materials much faster and more efficient than ever. This fabulous, life-changing technology was presented by James Gashel, Vice President of Business Development at K–NFB Reading Technology Inc. and Secretary of the National Federation of the Blind, during the General Session of the Convention, before a presentation of Ray Kurzweil, Director of Engineering at Google Inc. The KNFB Reader for iOS is a joint development effort of Sensotec nv and K–NFB Reading Technology Inc.

Reuters has more.

Children with autism ‘have too many synapses in their brain’

Medical News Today:

new study by researchers from the Columbia University Medical Center in New York, NY, finds that children and adolescents with autism have too many synapses in their brain, which can affect their brain function. Furthermore, the team believes it may be possible to reduce this excess synapse formation with a drug, paving the way for a novel autism treatment strategy.

The Advantages of Dyslexia

Matthew Schneps:

“There are three types of mathematicians, those who can count and those who can’t.”

Bad joke? You bet. But what makes this amusing is that the joke is triggered by our perception of a paradox, a breakdown in mathematical logic that activates regions of the brain located in the right prefrontal cortex. These regions are sensitive to the perception of causality and alert us to situations that are suspect or fishy — possible sources of danger where a situation just doesn’t seem to add up.

Many of the famous etchings by the artist M.C. Escher activate a similar response because they depict scenes that violate causality. His famous “Waterfall” shows a water wheel powered by water pouring down from a wooden flume. The water turns the wheel, and is redirected uphill back to the mouth of the flume, where it can once again pour over the wheel, in an endless cycle. The drawing shows us a situation that violates pretty much every law of physics on the books, and our brain perceives this logical oddity as amusing — a visual joke.

Apple’s iPhone Is at the Center of Another Major Revolution to address disabilities

Victor Luckerson:

Improving lives in unexpected ways

The most essential app Aimee Copeland has downloaded for her iPhone isn’t Facebook, Candy Crush Saga or Evernote. It’s “my i-limb,” an app that allows her to easily change the gestures her two prosthetic hands can make while on the go. Copeland, who lost her hands after a zipline accident in 2012, used to have to visit a registered prosthetist who had access to special software in order to adjust the grips on her hands for different physical activities. Now, with the i-limb bionic hand and its accompanying mobile app, such changes are as simple as booting up her phone or tablet.

Autism Parents Build Virtual Birdhouse for Others

Rabbi Jason Miller:

Dani Gillman was a single mom in Metro Detroit with an autistic daughter, Brodie, who ran a popular blog detailing her daughter’s challenges and successes as a way to help other parents of autistic children. Using a pencil and paper, she vigilantly kept track of her daughter’s daily regimen, including diet, medications and vitamins, sleeping patterns, bathroom usage and doctor visits. These notes were then organized in a 3-ring binder, but the data Dani recorded was difficult to process in order to adapt Brodie’s daily routine – and it was easy to misplace the binder.

Enter Ben Chutz. In 2011, when Brodie was six-years-old, Ben and Dani began dating. The tech-savvy, entrepreneur with strong organizational skills took one look at the methods Dani employed to keep track and analyze Brodie’s complicated life and was immediately puzzled. “He said there must be a better way of doing this,” Dani recalled. “Ben wanted to know why I wasn’t using newer and better technology for this daily practice.” She explained to him that she had searched and there simply wasn’t any better option available.

Ben, 29, came up with the idea for “Birdhouse for Autism” not only so the two could raise Brodie using the data of her daily patterns, but also to help other parents of autistic children find the answers they need. Just as Dani, 36, has been a salvation for tens of thousands of parents with her mommy blog, “I’m Just That Way,” now the Michigan couple, who also have an infant son Julian, are helping thousands of parents across North America with the Birdhouse website and mobile application. The name “Birdhouse” is derived from the anonymous nickname Dani uses for Brodie on the blog and because, as Dani explains, “It sounds like a warm, safe place for a bird.”

Filling the Autism Gap


John Waite investigates why scientists say autism research receives a fraction of the funding invested in other conditions and that as a consequence, there are very few effective interventions to treat the disorder. Meanwhile, parents of autistic children say they face a long wait for treatment provided by their local authority, and have instead turned to unproven methods offered by nutritionists and psychotherapists.

New Jersey’s Special Education Task Force

John Mooney:

Regardless of how long it took to appoint a new state task force on special education, the 17 members will have less time to come up with recommendations.

Formally called the Task Force for Improving Special Education of Public School Students, the group appointed by Gov. Chris Christie met for the first time on July 1 to begin its work looking into the needs of students with disabilities — assessing everything from programs to costs.

But as complicated as that job may be, the law creating the task force — enacted in spring 2013 — calls for final recommendations by the end of this calendar year.

That’s a tall order. New Jersey’s schools face some vexing issues, such as how to best pay for services for special-needs students, how to implement and monitor those services, and how to balance the sometimes-conflicting needs and wants of families, districts, and the state.

Laura Waters has more.

Technology Use in Special Education Classrooms

Gail Robinson:

Eleven-year-old Matthew Votto sits at an iPad, his teacher at his elbow. She holds up a small laminated picture of a $20 bill.

“What money is this?” she asks. Matthew looks at the iPad, touches a square marked “Money Identification” and then presses $20. “20,” the tablet intones, while the teacher, Edwina Rogers, puts another sticker on a pad, bringing Matthew closer to a reward.

They race through more questions. “What day of the week is it?” “What is the weather outside?” “What money is this?” In most cases, Matthew, who has autism, answers verbally, but he is quicker and seems more comfortable on the device.

Chess Site Now Accessible to Visually Impaired People


Thanks to recent improvements, it is really easy to start playing chess games through Lichess using screenreader. The first thing you need to do is to press “Enable blind mode” button, which should be one of first elements you encounter on the site. It is not really possible to play games without blind mode turned on.

If blind mode is on, you are offered textual description of moves and you are presented with labelled buttons. Now it is really easy – pick a player or just choose to play against computer and fun begins. During the game there is a heading called “Textual representation” and following this heading are following information:

Students with Special Needs Less Likely to Leave Charter Schools than Traditional Public Schools

Center for Reinventing Public Education, via a kind Deb Britt email:

CRPE commissioned Dr. Marcus Winters to analyze the factors driving the special education gap between Denver’s charter and traditional public elementary and middle schools.

Using student-level data, Winters shows that Denver’s special education enrollment gap starts at roughly 2 percentage points in kindergarten and is more than triple that in eighth grade. However, it doesn’t appear to be caused by charter schools pushing students out. Instead, the gap is mostly due to student preferences for different types of schools, how schools classify and declassify students, and the movement of students without disabilities across sectors.

Among the key findings:
Students with special needs are less likely to apply to charter schools in kindergarten and sixth grade: In the gateway grades, when students are most likely to choose schools, those with disabilities are significantly less likely to apply to charter schools than are students without disabilities. This difference explains the majority of the gap in middle school grades, particularly for certain categories of disability.

The gap grows significantly between kindergarten and fifth grade: 46% of the growth occurs because charter schools are less likely to classify students as special education, and more likely to declassify them; 54% is due to the number of new general education students enrolling in charter schools, not from the number of students with special needs going down.

Students with special needs in charter schools change schools less often than those in traditional public schools: Five years after enrolling in kindergarten, about 65 percent of charter students with special needs are still in their original schools, while only 37 percent of traditional public school students with special needs are still in their original schools.

Autism costs ‘£32bn per year’ in UK

Helen Briggs:

The economic cost of supporting someone with autism over a lifetime is much higher than previously thought, research suggests.

It amounts to £1.5m in the UK and $2.4m in the US for individuals with the highest needs, say UK and US experts.

Autism cost the UK more than heart disease, stroke and cancer combined, said an autism charity.

But only £6.60 per person is spent on autism research compared with £295 on cancer, according to Autistica.

The research looked at the costs to society of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in both the UK and US.

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin on Special Education spending (2007).

The Value of Autism

Lisa Domican:

My name is Lisa Domican and I am the mother of 2 healthy, energetic, engaging and good-looking teenagers; who are both very autistic.

I co-created the Grace App along with my daughter Grace and a very clever young Games developer called Steve Troughton-Smith.

Grace App is a picture communications system for smart phones that has enabled 30,000 non-verbal people with autism or other communication disabilities to ask for what they want.

Unlike the multitude of picture speaking apps that followed, Grace app was created to be owned and controlled by the person who needs it. The goal is to give the user, the person with the disability, total control over what they want to communicate, and the means to do it independently.

Information Processing: Rare mutations and severe intellectual disability

Steve Hsu:

The paper below describes rare de novo mutations which cause severe intellectual disability. See also Structural genomic variants (CNVs) affect cognition.

By the principle of continuity, I suspect that rare variants of smaller negative effect on cognitive ability also exist. These alleles, although harder to detect, would account for part of the observed population variation in the normal range. As discussed in an earlier post (Common variants vs mutational load), these are likely responsible for additional heritability not included in the h2 ~ 0.5 due to common variants estimated from GCTA.

Brentwood parents of special education students unite to call for school district reform

Paula King:

Parents of special education students who recently protested in front of Brentwood Union School District headquarters are calling for districtwide reform, including greater inclusion for special needs children on campuses and an end to alleged retaliation against proactive parents by district officials.

Parents for Special Education Reform claim that their children are being treated unfairly and even excluded from grade-level field trips. Group members said parents who advocate on behalf of their children by filing complaints against the district with the state or taking legal action are being targeted.

An independent agency needs to help guide the district with its special education program, according to the group. Recently, 13 Brentwood families filed complaints with the federal Office for Civil Rights in San Francisco, and a six-month investigation into the retaliation and discrimination claims is underway.

Children of parents in technical jobs at higher risk for autism

Deborah Mann Lakr:

Children of fathers who are in technical occupations are more likely to have an autism spectrum disorder, according to researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth).

The findings will be presented Friday at the International Meeting for Autism Research in Atlanta.

During participation in the LoneStar LEND program, first author Aisha S. Dickerson, Ph.D., a researcher at UTHealth’s Center for Clinical and Translational Sciences, used the United States government’s Standard Occupational Classification system. Parents were divided into those who had more non-people-oriented jobs (technical) or more people-oriented jobs (non-technical).

Fathers who worked in engineering were two times as likely to have a child with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Those who worked in finance were four times more likely and those who worked in health care occupations were six times more likely to have a child on the autism spectrum.

The DOJ and Wisconsin’s private-school choice program: a storm is brewing

CJ Szafir:

Last week, the Wisconsin Reporter reported that the United States Department of Justice is still conducting an “ongoing investigation” into whether Wisconsin’s private-school choice program discriminates against children with disabilities and, as a result, violates federal disability law.

In 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a complaint with the Justice Department accusing the Wisconsin school-choice program—as well as two private schools in the program—of discriminating against children with disabilities. In April 2013, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department sent a letter and legal memo to the state of Wisconsin accusing the school-choice program of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They concluded that unless Wisconsin drastically changes its choice program, the United States will take legal action.

Among its numerous demands, the Justice Department wants private choice schools to be forced to adjust their programming to accommodate all children with disabilities, so long as the accommodation does not “fundamentally alter” the school (an extremely onerous legal standard). Federal disability law, as traditionally interpreted by the U.S. Department of Education, applies a different, less exacting standard to private schools in the choice program. Private schools must only make “minor adjustments” to accommodate students with disabilities. Given that private schools do not receive the same government funding for special education as public schools and may wish to take distinctive approaches to students with behavioral problems, this is perfectly appropriate.

Via Alan Borsuk.

Much more on vouchers, here.

Self-Regulation: American Schools Are Failing Nonconformist Kids

Elizabeth Weil:

f the possible child heroes for our times, young people with epic levels of the traits we valorize, the strongest contender has got to be the kid in the marshmallow study. Social scientists are so sick of the story that some threaten suicide if forced to read about him one more time. But to review: The child—or really, nearly one-third of the more than 600 children tested in the late ’60s at Bing Nursery School on the Stanford University campus—sits in a room with a marshmallow. Having been told that if he abstains for 15 minutes he’ll get two marshmallows later, he doesn’t eat it. This kid is a paragon of self-restraint, a savant of delayed gratification. He’ll go on, or so the psychologists say, to show the straight-and-narrow qualities required to secure life’s sweeter and more elusive prizes: high SAT scores, money, health.

I began to think about the marshmallow kid and how much I wanted my own daughter to be like him one day last fall while I sat in a parent-teacher conference in her second-grade classroom and learned, as many parents do these days, that she needed to work on self-regulation. My daughter is nonconformist by nature, a miniature Sarah Silverman. She’s wildly, transgressively funny and insists on being original even when it causes her pain. The teacher at her private school, a man so hip and unthreatened that he used to keep a boa constrictor named Elvis in his classroom, had noticed she was not gently going along with the sit-still, raise-your-hand-to-speak-during-circle-time program. “So …” he said, in the most caring, best-practices way, “have you thought about occupational therapy?”

Autism ‘begins long before birth’

Helen Briggs:

Scientists say they have new evidence that autism begins in the womb.

Patchy changes in the developing brain long before birth may cause symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), research suggests.

The study, in the New England Journal of Medicine, raises hopes that better understanding of the brain may improve the lives of children with autism.

It reinforces the need for early identification and treatment, says a University of California team.

The boy whose brain could unlock autism

Maia Szalavitz:

SOMETHING WAS WRONG with Kai Markram. At five days old, he seemed like an unusually alert baby, picking his head up and looking around long before his sisters had done. By the time he could walk, he was always in motion and required constant attention just to ensure his safety.

“He was super active, batteries running nonstop,” says his sister, Kali. And it wasn’t just boyish energy: When his parents tried to set limits, there were tantrums—not just the usual kicking and screaming, but biting and spitting, with a disproportionate and uncontrollable ferocity; and not just at age two, but at three, four, five and beyond. Kai was also socially odd: Sometimes he was withdrawn, but at other times he would dash up to strangers and hug them.

Things only got more bizarre over time. No one in the Markram family can forget the 1999 trip to India, when they joined a crowd gathered around a snake charmer. Without warning, Kai, who was five at the time, darted out and tapped the deadly cobra on its head.

Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation

Donald J. Hernandez

Educators and researchers have long recognized the importance of mastering reading by the end of third grade. Students who fail to reach this critical milestone often falter in the later grades and drop out before earning a high school diploma. Now, researchers have confirmed this link in the first national study to calculate high school graduation rates for children at different reading skill levels and with different poverty rates. Results of a longitudinal study of nearly 4,000 students find that those who don’t read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma than proficient readers. For the worst readers, those who couldn’t master even the basic skills by third grade, the rate is nearly six times greater. While these struggling readers account for about a third of the students, they represent more than three fifths of those who eventually drop out or fail to graduate on time. What’s more, the study shows that poverty has a powerful influence on graduation rates. The combined effect of reading poorly and living in poverty puts these children in double jeopardy.
The study relies on a unique national database of 3,975 students born between 1979 and 1989. The children’s parents were surveyed every two years to determine the family’s eco- nomic status and other factors, while the children’s reading progress was tracked using the Peabody Individual Achievement Test (PIAT) Reading Recognition subtest. The database re- ports whether students have finished high school by age 19, but does not indicate whether they actually dropped out.
For purposes of this study, the researchers divided the children into three reading groups which correspond roughly to the skill levels used in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP): proficient, basic and below basic. The children were also separated into three income categories: those who have never been poor, those who spent some time in poverty and those who have lived more than half the years surveyed in poverty.
The findings include:
— One in six children who are not reading proficiently in third grade do not graduate from high school on time, a rate four times greater than that for proficient readers.
— The rates are highest for the low, below-basic readers: 23 percent of these children drop out or fail to finish high school on time, compared to 9 percent of children with basic reading skills and 4 percent of proficient readers.
— Overall, 22 percent of children who have lived in poverty do not graduate from high school, compared to 6 percent of those who have never been poor. This rises to 32 percent for students spending more than half of their childhood in poverty.
— For children who were poor for at least a year and were not reading proficiently in third grade, the proportion that don’t finish school rose to 26 percent. That’s more than six times the rate for all proficient readers.
— The rate was highest for poor Black and Hispanic students, at 31 and 33 percent respectively–or about eight times the rate for all proficient readers.
— Even among poor children who were proficient readers in third grade, 11 percent still didn’t finish high school. That compares to 9 percent of subpar third grade readers who have never been poor.
— Among children who never lived in poverty, all but 2 percent of the best third- grade readers graduated from high school on time.
— Graduation rates for Black and Hispanic students who were not proficient readers in third grade lagged far behind those for White students with the same reading skills.

A.D.H.D. Seen in 11% of U.S. Children as Diagnoses Rise

Alan Schwarz and Sarah Cohen
Nearly one in five high school age boys in the United States and 11 percent of school-age children over all have received a medical diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to new data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
These rates reflect a marked rise over the last decade and could fuel growing concern among many doctors that the A.D.H.D. diagnosis and its medication are overused in American children.
The figures showed that an estimated 6.4 million children ages 4 through 17 had received an A.D.H.D. diagnosis at some point in their lives, a 16 percent increase since 2007 and a 41 percent rise in the past decade. About two-thirds of those with a current diagnosis receive prescriptions for stimulants like Ritalin or Adderall, which can drastically improve the lives of those with A.D.H.D. but can also lead to addiction, anxiety and occasionally psychosis.
“Those are astronomical numbers. I’m floored,” said Dr. William Graf, a pediatric neurologist in New Haven and a professor at the Yale School of Medicine. He added, “Mild symptoms are being diagnosed so readily, which goes well beyond the disorder and beyond the zone of ambiguity to pure enhancement of children who are otherwise healthy.”

Read more here.
A thoughtful (and personal) commentary here.

Younger Students More Likely to Get A.D.H.D. Drugs

Anahad O’Connor
A new study of elementary and middle school students has found that those who are the youngest in their grades score worse on standardized tests than their older classmates and are more likely to be prescribed stimulants for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The findings suggest that in a given grade, students born at the end of the calendar year may be at a distinct disadvantage. Those perceived as having academic or behavioral problems may in fact be lagging simply as a result of being forced to compete with classmates almost a full year older than them. For a child as young as 5, a span of one year can account for 20 percent of the child’s age, potentially making him or her appear significantly less mature than older classmates.
The new study found that the lower the grade, the greater the disparity. For children in the fourth grade, the researchers found that those in the youngest third of their class had an 80 to 90 percent increased risk of scoring in the lowest decile on standardized tests. They were also 50 percent more likely than the oldest third of their classmates to be prescribed stimulants for A.D.H.D. The differences diminished somewhat over time, the researchers found, but continued at least through the seventh grade.
The new study, published in the journal Pediatrics, used data from Iceland, where health and academic measures are tracked nationally and stimulant prescription rates are high and on par with rates in the United States. Previous studies carried out there and in other countries have shown similar patterns, even among college students.
Helga Zoega, the lead author of the study, said she had expected there would be performance differences between students in the youngest grades, but she did not know that the differences, including the disparity in stimulant prescribing rates, would continue over time.
“We were surprised to see that,” said Dr. Zoega, a postdoctoral fellow at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and an assistant professor at the University of Iceland. “It may be that the youngest kids in class are just acting according to their age. But their behavior is thought of as symptoms of something else, rather than maturity.”
In the study, Dr. Zoega and her colleagues tracked over 10,000 students born in Iceland in the mid-1990s, following them from fourth through seventh grade, or roughly ages 9 to 12. Iceland has detailed national registries containing health and academic information, so the researchers were able to compare students’ scores on standardized tests and look at the medications prescribed to them.
The researchers then divided the subjects based on the months in which they were born. In Iceland, children start school in September of the calendar year in which they turn 6, and the nationwide birthday cutoff in schools is Jan. 1. So the oldest third in any grade are born between January and April. The middle third are born between May and August, and the youngest third are born between September and December.
The study showed that average test scores in mathematics and language arts, which covers grammar, literature and writing, were lowest among the youngest students in each class. On standardized tests at age 9, the children that made up the youngest third ranked, on average, about 11 percentile points lower in math and roughly 10 percentile points lower in language arts than their classmates who made up the oldest third. Compared to the oldest students, the younger ones were 90 percent more likely to earn low test scores in math and 80 percent more likely to receive low test scores in language arts. By the seventh grade, the risk had diminished somewhat, but the younger children were still 60 percent more likely to receive low test scores in both subjects.
A similar pattern was seen with A.D.H.D. medication, with students in the youngest third of their grade significantly more likely to receive stimulant prescriptions than their classmates in the oldest third. Dr. Zoega found that gender had some influence as well. Over all, girls scored higher than boys on tests, and had lower rates of stimulant prescriptions. But ultimately there was still an age effect among girls for both academic performance and the use of A.D.H.D. medication.
The findings dovetail with research carried out by two economists, Kelly Bedard and Elizabeth Dhuey. In looking at fourth graders around the world, the two found that the oldest children scored up to 12 percentile points higher than the youngest children. Their work, which was described in the best-selling 2008 book “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell, has shown a similar pattern among college students.
“At four-year colleges in the United States,” Mr. Gladwell wrote, “students belonging to the relatively youngest group in their class are underrepresented by about 11.6 percent. That initial difference in maturity doesn’t go away with time. It persists. And for thousands of students, that initial disadvantage is the difference between going to college — and having a real shot at the middle class — and not.”
Dr. Zoega said she did not want her study to be seen as an indictment against stimulants. Instead, parents and educators should consider a child’s age relative to his or her classmates when looking at poor grades and at any behavioral problems.
“Don’t jump to conclusions when deciding whether a child has A.D.H.D.,” she said. “It could be the maturity level. Keep in mind that he or she might not be performing as well as the older kids in the class, and that should not be a surprise.”

Paul Vallas, a School Reform Town Hall May 26 2012

Paul Vallas at LaFollette Video

School reform superintendent Paul Vallas spoke at LaFollette High School at the behest of Boys and Girls Club of Dane County CEO Michael Johnson. The two and a half hour presentation with question and answer periods as attended by about 100 people in the LaFollette Auditorium.
Paul Vallas has been the Superintendent of schools in Chicago (CPS), Philadelphia, New Orleans, and currently Bridgeport Connecticut. He is currently hired to improve the schools in both Chile and Haiti, and has been praised in two State of the Union addresses. His work as a superintendent has engendered both strong support and strong disagreement.
The two and a half hour meeting has been divided into five clips and I have tried to summarize comments made by Paul Vallas, the panel and the audience members who spoke.

Milwaukee Schools prevail in special education lawsuit

Erin Richards:

An 11-year-old class-action lawsuit that has seen Milwaukee Public Schools battle a disability rights group, the state and the courts over how it finds and serves children with special needs came to a dramatic climax Friday when a federal appeals court ruled in favor of the district.
The decision, outlined in a dense 51-page ruling by a three-judge panel at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago, upholds all four areas of appeal the state’s largest school district had sought – incuding the certification of the class itself.
By throwing out the class-certification order from a lower court, the judges subsequently vacated the liability and remedial orders the school district was under obligation to follow as well.

Parents provide clues to autism

Neil Tweedie:

Are you and your partner graduates and prepared to answer a few online questions about your children? If so, Simon Baron-Cohen would like to hear from you.
One of the country’s foremost researchers into the causes of autism, Professor Baron-Cohen wants to know what kind of degree you hold. If you are both graduates in the so-called hard sciences, such as engineering and computer science, then you may end up being of particular interest. The reason is that parents who are both “systemisers”, as he describes them, appear more likely to have autistic children.
Systemisers are lovers of precision, people who are good at analysing how things work and discerning patterns. Ideal material for code-breaking activities. Current thinking suggests we all sit somewhere on a scale of systemising. At one end are people who have little or no drive to be precise when confronted with structured information – political spin doctors might be an example – and at the other are hyper-systemisers, those whose obsession with analysis and dissection borders on the autistic.

An Economic and Rational Choice Approach to the Autism Spectrum and Human Neurodiversity

Tyler Cowen:

That is a new paper of mine, you will find the link here. Here is the abstract:

This paper considers an economic approach to autistic individuals, as a window for understanding autism, as a new and growing branch of neuroeconomics (how does behavior vary with neurology?), and as a foil for better understanding non-autistics and their cognitive biases. The relevant economic predictions for autistics involve greater specialization in production and consumption, lower price elasticities of supply and demand, a higher return from choosing features of their environment, less effective use of social focal points, and higher relative returns as economic growth and specialization proceed. There is also evidence that autistics are less subject to framing effects and more rational on the receiving end of ultimatum games. Considering autistics modifies some of the standard results from economic theories of the family and the economics of discrimination. Although there are likely more than seventy million autistic individuals worldwide, the topic has been understudied by economists. An economic approach also helps us see shortcomings in the “pure disorder” models of autism.

New Definition of Autism Will Exclude Many, Study Suggests

Benedict Carey:

Proposed changes in the definition of autism would sharply reduce the skyrocketing rate at which the disorder is diagnosed and might make it harder for many people who would no longer meet the criteria to get health, educational and social services, a new analysis suggests.
The definition is now being reassessed by an expert panel appointed by the American Psychiatric Association, which is completing work on the fifth edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the first major revision in 17 years. The D.S.M., as the manual is known, is the standard reference for mental disorders, driving research, treatment and insurance decisions. Most experts expect that the new manual will narrow the criteria for autism; the question is how sharply.
The results of the new analysis are preliminary, but they offer the most drastic estimate of how tightening the criteria for autism could affect the rate of diagnosis. For years, many experts have privately contended that the vagueness of the current criteria for autism and related disorders like Asperger syndrome was contributing to the increase in the rate of diagnoses — which has ballooned to one child in 100, according to some estimates.

Navigating Love and Autism

Amy Harmon:

The first night they slept entwined on his futon, Jack Robison, 19, who had since childhood thought of himself as “not like the other humans,” regarded Kirsten Lindsmith with undisguised tenderness.
She was the only girl to have ever asked questions about his obsessive interests — chemistry, libertarian politics, the small drone aircraft he was building in his kitchen — as though she actually cared to hear his answer. To Jack, who has a form of autism called Asperger syndrome, her mind was uncannily like his. She was also, he thought, beautiful.
So far they had only cuddled; Jack, who had dropped out of high school but was acing organic chemistry in continuing education classes, had hopes for something more. Yet when she smiled at him the next morning, her lips seeking his, he turned away.
“I don’t really like kissing,” he said.

Trenton brings special ed. in-house

Matt Ruiz:

A year after Luiz Munoz-Rivera School shut its doors as the public school system dealt with a budget shortfall, the district has opted to reopen it for nearly the same reason.
Rebranded as the Rivera Learning Community, the school has become the flagship for the district’s efforts to invest in in-house special education programs rather than send students to expensive out-of-district institutions.
The rising cost of out-of-district placement for special education students has dogged the district for years and drawn heavy criticism from the state Department of Education.

Meet the former high school quarterback who lost a LEG playing football… and is now inspiring Tim Tebow

Associated Press:

Jacob Rainey is inspiring people all across the sports world – and no more so than giants from the NFL.
The Virginia prep quarterback who had to have part of his right leg amputated has moved the likes of Alabama coach Nick Saban, Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews and Denver quarterback Tim Tebow.
A highlight film of Rainey on YouTube shows why college coaches had taken notice.
It shows the once-promising quarterback at Woodberry Forest School throwing a 40-yard dart for a touchdown, running into the line on a quarterback sneak, then emerging from the pile and sprinting 40 yards for a TD. There is also of clip of him running a draw for another 35-yard score.
All that was taken away, without warning when he was tackled during a scrimmage on September 3. He suffered a severe knee injury and a severed artery and part of his right leg had to be amputated.

Special education costs threaten to put Darien schools in a $250,000 hole

David DesRoches:

Despite efforts by school administration to streamline its special education services, an unforeseen 59 students joined special ed this year, causing the district to face a deficit for the third year running.
Superintendent Dr. Stephen Falcone told the Board of Education that he’s expecting a $251,866 shortfall, primarily due to out of district tuition increases of more than $550,000, and another year of reduced state funding. Darien also lost $225,000 in stimulus money after receiving it for the past two years.
To close some of this gap, Falcone advised a number of saving measures to get the schools back on track. [see related story]

Discovering Autism: Unraveling an epidemic

Alan Zarembo:

Amber Dias couldn’t be sure what was wrong with her little boy.
Chase was a bright, loving 2 1/2-year-old. But he didn’t talk much and rarely responded to his own name. He hated crowds and had a strange fascination with the underside of the family tractor.
Searching the Internet, Amber found stories about other children like Chase — on websites devoted to autism.
“He wasn’t the kid rocking in the corner, but it was just enough to scare me,” recalled Dias, who lives with her husband and three children on a dairy farm in the Central Valley town of Kingsburg.
She took Chase to a psychologist in Los Angeles, who said the boy indeed had autism and urged the family to seek immediate treatment.

Autism: What A Big Prefrontal Cortex You Have


A new paper has caused a lot of excitement: it reports large increases in the number of neurons in children with autism. It comes to you from veteran autism researcher Eric Courchesne.
Courchesne et al counted the number of cells in the prefrontal cortex of 7 boys with autism and 6 non-autistic control boys, aged 2-16 years old. The analysis was performed by a neuropathologist who was blind to the theory behind the study and to which brains were from which group. That’s good.

Parents applaud huge breakthrough as Gove’s great schools shake-up spreads to special needs children

Simon Walters:

A major breakthrough in Michael Gove’s education revolution will be heralded tomorrow with the launch of the first-ever ‘free schools’ for special needs children.pecial needs children Read more: http://www.dailym
And two of Britain’s oldest football clubs, Everton and Derby County, are to open free schools for children from difficult backgrounds.
Education Secretary Mr Gove believes the latest batch of establishments will silence critics who claim they are designed to be the elitist preserve of pupils of sharp-elbowed, middle-class parents.

Special Tax Deductions for Special Education

Laura Sanders:

More than six million children in the U.S. fall into the “special needs” category, and their ranks are expanding. The number of those affected by one developmental disability alone–autism–grew more than 70% between 2005 and 2010.
The tax code can help–if you know where to look.
There are numerous tax breaks for education, but the most important one for many special-needs students isn’t an education break per se. Instead, it falls under the medical-expense category.
Although students with disabilities have a right to a “free and appropriate” public education by law, some families opt out and others pay for a range of supplemental therapies.

Inclusion: The Right Thing for All Students

Cheryl Jorgensen:

It’s time to restructure all of our schools to become inclusive of all of our children.
We have reached the tipping point where it is no longer educationally or morally defensible to continue to segregate students with disabilities. We shouldn’t be striving to educate children in the least restrictive environment but rather in the most inclusive one.
Inclusion is founded on social justice principles in which all students are presumed competent and welcomed as valued members of all general education classes and extra-curricular activities in their local schools — participating and learning alongside their same-age peers in general education instruction based on the general curriculum, and experiencing meaningful social relationships.

Cheryl M. Jorgensen, Ph.D., is a member of the affiliate faculty with the National Center on Inclusive Education at the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire. In 2008 she received the National Down Syndrome Congress Education Award for her leadership and pioneering research supporting the inclusion of students with Down syndrome. She has written this open letter to Shael Polakow-Suransky, the chief academic officer for New York City schools.

Autism Linked to Excess Neurons

Crystal Phend, via a kind Larry Winkler email:

Children with autism appear to have bigger brains with more neurons than normal for their age, a small preliminary study affirmed.
Postmortem examinations of seven boys with autism showed 67% more neurons in the prefrontal cortex (1.94 billion), which controls social and emotional development as well as communication, compared with six controls (1.16 billion, P=0.002), Eric Courchesne, PhD, of the University of California San Diego, and colleagues found.
Autistic brains also weighed 17.6% above normal for age (P=0.001), the group reported in the Nov. 9 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Point out that the brains from autistic boys in this study were 17.6% above what is considered normal brain weight based on age.
Neuron counts in the autistic children should have been accompanied by brain weights of 29.4% versus the observed 17.6% enlargement, they said. “Thus, the size of the autistic brain, overlarge though it is, might actually underestimate the pathology of excess neuron numbers,” the group explained.

Scientists and autism: When geeks meet

Simon Baron-Cohen:

In the opening scene of The Social Network, Jesse Eisenberg portrays a cold Mark Zuckerberg getting dumped by his girlfriend, who is exasperated by the future Facebook founder’s socially oblivious and obsessive personality. Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg is the stereotypical Silicon Valley geek — brilliant with technology, pathologically bereft of social graces. Or, in the parlance of the Valley: ‘on the spectrum’.
Few scientists think that the leaders of the tech world actually have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which can range from the profound social, language and behavioural problems that are characteristic of autistic disorder, to the milder Asperger’s syndrome. But according to an idea that is creeping into the popular psyche, they and many others in professions such as science and engineering may display some of the characteristics of autism, and have an increased risk of having children with the full-blown disorder.

Analysis of New Jersey’s Census-Based Special Education Funding System

Augenblick, Palaich and Associates:

As part of the School Funding Reform Act of 2008, New Jersey changed how special education was funded. Prior to 2008, special education students in New Jersey were funded based on their level of need. Each student was placed into one of four need tiers, with higher per pupil funding associated with the higher need tiers. A study done in 2003 by Center for Special Education Finance (CSEF) showed that New Jersey had higher per pupil spending for special education than the national average. 1 The study suggested switching to a census-based special education funding model might help New Jersey control its spending. In 2008, the state made the switch to a census-based model.
Under a census-based funding model all districts are funded for the same percentage of special education students. For the 2008-09 through 2010-11 school years the funding percentage was 14.69%. (This percentage does not include students receiving only speech services, who are funded separately.) Each district’s special education funding, excluding extraordinary aid2, is calculated by multiplying the district’s resident student population by 14.69% to determine the number of special education students to fund. This funded count is then multiplied by the special education per pupil funding amount to determine the total special education funding allotted to the district. The new system then wealth equalizes two thirds of this amount, splitting it up into a state and local share, and then funds the remaining third entirely from the state. Wealth equalization is a process commonly used in school funding formulas that determines what percentage of funding the state pays based inversely on the relative wealth of each individual district (the wealthier the district, the lower percentage the state pays). It is important to note that districts also receive extraordinary aid for special education students who are extremely expensive to serve. This aid is beyond the basic special education funding.

New Jersey Left Behind:

First, a little back story. New Jersey currently has about 185,000 kids who are eligible for special education services, out of a total enrollment of about 1.3 million. Before SFRA, costs for special ed kids was calculated based on the individual level of need. But after the passage of SFRA, we went to a census-based model which calculates state aid for kids with disabilities based on a percentage above cost-per-pupil of 14.69%. The idea behind the census-based model was that we could control our special ed costs, which are among the highest across the nation.
The formula is also weighted for high high cost-disabilities (like autism, emotional disturbances, deaf/blind, severe cognitive impairment); moderate-cost disabilities (like moderate cognitive impairment, auditory); and low-cost disabilities (like specific learning disabilities or communication-impaired).

College Readiness Is Lacking, New York City Reports Show

Fernanda Santos:

Only one in four students who enter high school in New York City are ready for college after four years, and less than half enroll, according to the A-through-F high school report cards released on Monday.
Those numbers, included for the first time in the report cards, confirmed what the state suggested several months ago: the city still has a long way to go to prepare students for successful experiences in college and beyond. And they were a signal that graduation rates, long used by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg as a validation of his education policies, were not as meaningful as they seemed.
“There’s a huge change in life chances for kids who are successful in post-secondary education,” the city’s chief academic officer, Shael Polakow-Suransky, said. “We really have a task to prepare kids for that, and the data is one of the most motivating tools.”

Improve your vision with an app

Peter Aldhous

A system that trains your brain to overcome degrading vision as you age will soon be available as an iPhone app
WE HAVE gotten used to the idea that smartphone apps can substitute for devices like GPS navigation systems or portable music players. But the latest item on the list may come as a surprise: reading glasses.
Early next year, a company called Ucansi will launch GlassesOff, an iPhone app that could help older people shed their reading glasses for at least part of the time – and may allow others to carry on reading without optical aids for years longer than would otherwise be possible.
The app helps people compensate for deterioration in their eyes’ ability to focus on nearby objects by training the brain to process the resulting blurred images. “We’re using the brain as glasses,” says Uri Polat of Tel Aviv University in Israel, and co-founder of Ucansi.

A Hormone May Treat Autism, Social Disorders

Shirley Wang:

Researchers are finding that a hormone in the body believed to help people form emotional bonds with each other may work to treat people with schizophrenia, autism and certain other psychiatric disorders related to social interaction.
A number of small scientific studies have been published recently suggesting that puffs of oxytocin into the nose may reduce some symptoms in people with these disorders and improve their ability to function. In particular, the hormone seemed to enhance patients’ abilities to recognize others’ emotions, which is a crucial step in improving social interactions.
Oxytocin, produced both by men and women, is nicknamed the “love hormone” because of its apparent role in building trust between people. Women, for instance produce large amounts of oxytocin during labor preceding childbirth, presumably to foster bonding with the newborn.

California Governor Brown should give ‘thumbs down’ on autism-linked education bill

Patrick Johnston:

Hundreds of pieces of legislation are sitting on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk awaiting his proverbial “thumbs up” or “thumbs down.” Gov. Brown has already warned that many of these bills will be vetoed, saying that there will be “plenty of veto blues.”
One bill that regretfully deserves a veto is Senate Bill 946 (Steinberg). It would impose a costly new mandate for private health insurance to pay for educational non-medical services for children with autism, while exempting the public health programs — Medi-Cal and Healthy Families — from the requirement to cover the same therapy.
The bill was jammed through the legislature at the last possible moment without sufficient time for debate or evaluation of the potential consequences of passage. While on the surface it may seem like a well-intentioned bill, it is riddled with flaws and in the end will do more harm than good.

Bachelor’s for Autistic Students

Allie Grasgreen:

For some students with autism, the idea of operating in the social environment of a college classroom can be so debilitating as to derail the pursuit of higher education at all. For those who do enroll, their condition can make it difficult to succeed in a traditional classroom setting.
But Dana Reinecke, in the department of applied behavior analysis at the Sage Colleges in Albany, N.Y., said she realized that through online learning, students with autism can overcome those barriers. “It allows them to learn from their most comfortable environment, whether it’s home, a library, a friend’s house, a treatment center, their psychiatrist’s office,” she said. “It takes away that need to be in a room full of people that they might be uncomfortable with.”

Experts say the earlier they can treat autistic children, the better their chances of improvement. But for many youngsters the waiting list is too long

Oliver Chou:

Dannen Chan Kim-wai vividly recalls the joy he felt when his son – “a lovely and healthy child” – was born in 2005. But there was a problem. As he grew, Rex didn’t speak a word, he says.
“Friends comforted us with the usual words, saying that boys typically start talking later than girls. But when all my boy uttered was a single syllable ‘da’ at age two, we decided not to wait. We took him to the Child Assessment Centre. There he was diagnosed as having symptoms of autism.”
Hong Kong is seeing a big leap in autism cases. Last year, the Health Department diagnosed about 1,500 children under the age of 12 with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) compared with 218 children in 2000. That is a five-fold increase over the past 10 years.

Raising a dyslexic child: from guilt and confusion to progress

Dr Lau Yuk-king:

I would like to tell you about my experience as the mother of a child with dyslexia. According to the Health Department, children with dyslexia have difficulty with word recognition, reading and dictation. Without proper assistance, this may result in a severe disability in acquiring reading skills.
A 2008 study by the University of Hong Kong found that dyslexia affects 7 per cent to 9 per cent of children in Hong Kong, and up to 17 per cent of children worldwide.
My first child, a girl, is a “normal” child. As an enthusiastic and committed mother, I read books and took courses to equip myself with appropriate parenting knowledge and skills. My daughter learned to read before kindergarten.

Autism Risks: Genes May Not Play Biggest Role


Up to now, genetics were thought to account for 90 percent of a child’s risk for autism, but a new Stanford University School of Medicine study suggests environmental factors could play a much larger role than previously thought.
The largest study of its kind, the research focused on autism in 192 pairs of twins — 54 identical, 138 fraternal. The surprise came when Stanford researchers found a greater number of fraternal twins shared autism than identical twins. Fraternal twins share only half their genes with each other, thus, when both fraternal twins are autistic, it suggests factors other than genetics are at work.
In fact, “About half of what we see is due to environmental factors, and half of what we see is due to genetic factors,” Dr. Joachim Hallmayer tells Guy Raz, host of weekends on All Things Considered. Hallmayer is the lead author of the study.

Charter School Battle Shifts to Affluent Suburbs

Winnie Hu:

Matthew Stewart believes there is a place for charter schools. Just not in his schoolyard.
Mr. Stewart, a stay-at-home father of three boys, moved to this wealthy township, about 20 miles from Midtown Manhattan, three years ago, filling his life with class activities and soccer practices. But in recent months, he has traded play dates for protests, enlisting more than 200 families in a campaign to block two Mandarin-immersion charter schools from opening in the area.
The group, Millburn Parents Against Charter Schools, argues that the schools would siphon money from its children’s education for unnecessarily specialized programs. The schools, to be based in nearby Maplewood and Livingston, would draw students and resources from Millburn and other area districts.
“I’m in favor of a quality education for everyone,” Mr. Stewart said. “In suburban areas like Millburn, there’s no evidence whatsoever that the local school district is not doing its job. So what’s the rationale for a charter school?” Locally, the Verona School District offers a Mandarin immersion charter school. More, here.

Student mental health: ‘Need far outweighs resources’

Matthew DeFour:

With nearly one in six students exhibiting mental health problems and fewer specialists to monitor their behavior, Madison school and community leaders are launching new efforts to better treat student mental health.
The Madison school district is expanding services this fall, and Superintendent Dan Nerad is calling for a task force from the broader community, including health care providers, to review the issue and devise solutions.
“The need far outweighs the resources that are currently available,” Nerad said.
Local experts say untreated children’s mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress can result in lower academic performance, higher dropout rates, and more classroom disruptions, truancy and crime.
The problems are often exacerbated by childhood trauma related to poverty, domestic violence and substance abuse. Madison’s growing number of low-income students, who account for two-thirds of those exhibiting mental health problems, also face barriers to accessing mental health services, local experts and advocates say.

TJ Mertz advocates property tax increases to support additional Madison School District expenditures.

New Study Implicates Environmental Factors in Autism

Laurie Tarkan:

A new study of twins suggests that environmental factors, including conditions in the womb, may be at least as important as genes in causing autism.
The researchers did not say which environmental influences might be at work. But other experts said the new study, released online on Monday, marked an important shift in thinking about the causes of autism, which is now thought to affect at least 1 percent of the population in the developed world.
“This is a very significant study because it confirms that genetic factors are involved in the cause of the disorder,” said Dr. Peter Szatmari, a leading autism researcher who is the head of child psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at McMaster University in Ontario. “But it shifts the focus to the possibility that environmental factors could also be really important.”

Special education advocates press Oakland Schools to hire more experienced teachers

Katy Murphy:

In the last two years, teaching candidates from Oakland Teaching Fellows and Teach for America pretty much had a lock on all open special education positions in the Oakland school district.
All but three of the 70 new hires during that time period were teachers placed in Oakland schools through one of those two programs, according to a report the school district released today.
But district staff say in the report that is about to change:

Special needs kids and options

Hasmig Tempesta:

As the mother of a special needs child and as someone who works professionally with individuals with disabilities, I support Assembly Bill 110, the Special Needs Scholarship Act. The bill would allow the small group of parents whose children’s needs cannot be met by their school district to pursue an appropriate education for their children, just as any parent would want to do.
It is a sad fact that some school districts across this state fail to provide special needs students with the education they require due to lack of funding/resources, specialized training and sometimes willingness. In these few cases, the scholarships would help move these children into a program that meets their needs and prepares them for success.
Our family lives in the Racine Unified School District. We removed our son from the district when he was 3 due to inappropriate, undocumented, unapproved and sustained restraint by teachers at his school. (In 2007, the Journal Sentinel reported on the case, with the state Department of Public Instruction echoing concerns about the school’s use of restraint. Following an investigation, the DPI determined that teachers in the district had improperly used restraint.)

Shifting Trends in Special Education

Janie Scull, Amber M. Winkler, Ph.D.:

In this new Fordham Institute paper, analysts examine public data and find that the national proportion of students with disabilities peaked in 2004-05 and has been declining since. This overall trend masks interesting variations; for example, proportions of students with specific learning disabilities, mental retardation, and emotional disturbances have declined, while the proportions of students with autism, developmental delays, and other health impairments have increased notably. Meanwhile, at the state level, Rhode Island, New York, and Massachusetts have the highest rates of disability identification, while Texas, Idaho, and Colorado have the lowest. The ratio of special-education teachers and paraprofessionals to special-education students also varies widely from state to state–so much so that our analysts question the accuracy of the data reported by states to the federal government.

Woof! John Elder Robison, Living Boldly as a “Free-Range Aspergian”

Steve Silberman:

John Elder Robison would stand out in a crowd even if he didn’t have Asperger syndrome. A gruff, powerfully built, tirelessly curious, blue-eyed bear of a man, he hurtles down a San Diego sidewalk toward a promising Mexican restaurant like an unstoppable force of nature. “What’s keepin’ you stragglers?” he calls back to the shorter-legged ambulators dawdling in his wake.
As they catch up, Robison utters his all-purpose sound of approval — “Woof!” — which he utters often, being a man in his middle years who is finally at peace with himself after a difficult coming-of-age. For the acclaimed author of the 2007 New York Times bestseller Look Me in the Eye, a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder in mid-life was liberating, giving a name to the nagging feeling that he was somehow different from nearly everyone around him.

Parents Battle School Districts for Special Support

Trey Bundy
In October, after months of anxiety, Caroline Barwick and her husband, Russell Huerta, celebrated the arrival of their son Sebastian’s third birthday. It was the day the San Francisco Unified School District became legally responsible for addressing Sebastian’s severe autism.
Ms. Barwick and Mr. Huerta met with school clinicians to discuss their son’s education and treatment. But the meeting did not go as they had hoped — the district offered Sebastian fewer than half of the therapeutic services recommended by three private doctors and did not offer a choice of schools.
“You’re reeling from what’s already been a tragic diagnosis,” Ms. Barwick said, “then it’s almost like you’re slapped across the face.”
The couple took legal action against the district. Last week, an administrative law judge criticized the district for its handling of the case and ordered it to reimburse Sebastian’s parents for about $55,000 they spent on his therapy and education during the dispute.
Ms. Barwick and Mr. Huerta are part of a growing number of parents of special-needs children who are battling the school district over federally mandated support. The stakes are high. The district is facing a $25 million budget shortfall, and the types of intensive services in dispute can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars per child.
There is not always agreement on what constitutes appropriate treatment. Disputes between the district and parents are initially addressed in Individualized Education Program meetings, and sometimes in hearings involving lawyers.

Continue reading Parents Battle School Districts for Special Support

Autism Prevalence May Be Far Higher Than Believed, Study Finds

Betty Ann Bowser:

For the first time, researchers have studied an entire population sample and found that one in 38 children exhibited symptoms of autism. The study was published Monday in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
“These numbers are really startling” said Geraldine Dawson, chief science officer for Autism Speaks, one of the three organizations that funded the project. Most previous researchers have found that about one in 110 children is autistic.
The NewsHour explored the puzzling condition of autism in the recent Autism Now series, anchored by Robert MacNeil.

Expert to help Ball State better train teachers to educate autistic kids

Dan McFeely:

Among the questions facing parents raising children with autism is this: Could easing the symptoms be as simple as taking away grains and dairy products?
Many parents swear the popular gluten-free, casein-free diets being promoted by celebrities help their children be more social and less prone to problematic behaviors such as loud outbursts.
But Lee Anne Owens, a Brownsburg mother of two boys with autism, isn’t sure.
“I have a girlfriend who has tried it for her autistic child, and she has seen remarkable improvement,” Owens said. “But I just don’t see it.”

SPECIAL NEEDS SCHOLARSHIPS: Myths and Facts about Wisconsin’s AB 110

Disability Rights Wisconsin (78K PDF), via a kind reader’s email:

Special interests in Washington DC have hired expensive lobbyists who also represent large corporate interests including, General Motors and Proctor & Gamble to try to pull the wool over the eyes ofparents ofchildren with disabilities. They allege that their interest is, “To advocate for parental options in education that empowers low and middle-income families to make choices in where they send their children to school.” (1) These high powered special interests have never approached Disability Rights Wisconsin or any other major Wisconsin disability group to learn from those of us who have been advocating for Wisconsin children with disabilities for over 30 years, to find out what really needs improvement Wisconsin’s special education system. Instead, they have set up a Facebook site which fails to tell the whole truth about the bill they promote.
This fact sheet tells the whole truth about AB 110 and its effort to dismantle special education as we know it and subsidize middle and upper income families who want to send their kids to private school ai taxpayer expense.
Myth# l-AB 110 allows parents the option to choose any other school they want their child to attend if they are unsatisfied with the special education being provided in their public school.
Fact-AB 110 has no requirement in it that forces any school to accept a child who has a special needs voucher.
Myth# 2-Since only children with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) can receive a special needs scholarship, private schools who accept them must provide them with special education and implement the child’s IEP.
Facts-AB 110 makes no requirement that private schools which accept a special needs scholarship provide any special education or implement any IEP. In fact, AB II 0 does not even require that private schools which accept special needs scholarships have a single special education teacher or therapist on their staff!

Related: Wisconsin Public Hearing on Special Needs Scholarship.

Wisconsin Public Hearing on Special Needs Scholarship

Brian Pleva Government Affairs Associate: American Federation for Children-Wisconsin, via a kind reader’s email:

Does contain the info you need?Good afternoon!
I am writing to you because you recently expressed an interest in the bipartisan Wisconsin Special Needs Scholarship Act (Assembly Bill 110).
As you may know, the bill would allow parents to enroll their special needs children in the public or private school of their choice with the education dollars following the child to the new school. The bill, introduced by Representatives Michelle Litjens, Jason Fields & Evan Wynn, and Senators Leah Vukmir & Terry Moulton, has impressive momentum:
-AB 110 has attracted Republican, Democrat, and Independent cosponsors
-32 members of the Assembly have signed on to AB 110, which is over one-third of that house’s current membership
-5 members of the Assembly Committee on Education have signed-on to AB 110, which is almost half of the 11-member committee
Fortunately, Assembly Education Committee Chair Rep. Steve Kestell decided today to schedule a Public Hearing on the Special Needs Scholarship Act for 10:00 am, next Tuesday, May 3rd.
This opportunity can pave the way toward making Special Needs Scholarships in Wisconsin a reality. It is crucial that as many affected families and school leaders as possible attend this public hearing and tell committee members, in their own words, what these scholarships would mean to them.
Please respond to this email and confirm whether you would be able to advocate for this legislation at the public hearing.
One parent wrote on our Facebook page, “It’s so important! Why doesn’t EVERYBODY get that???!!” It may be difficult to comprehend, but there are powerful, special interest groups that don’t get it and will be working to defeat this bipartisan legislation.
While an impressive list of parents who wish to testify is growing, we know that opponents of education reform are always represented at these hearings. Therefore, please forward this email to friends, family, and colleagues who you think will be supportive. The momentum is encouraging, but we must keep it up!
If you have any questions about the bill or public hearing, please feel free to contact me, and check out our website:
Thank you!
Brian Pleva
Government Affairs Associate
American Federation for Children-Wisconsin
(608) 279-9484
Committee on Education
The committee will hold a public hearing on the following items at the time specified below:
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
10:00 AM
417 North (GAR Hall)
State Capitol
Assembly Bill 110
Relating to: creating the Special Needs Scholarship Program for disabled pupils, granting rule-making authority, and making an appropriation.
By Representatives Litjens, Fields, Wynn, Knudson, Nass, Pridemore, Thiesfeldt, Vos, Kleefisch, LeMahieu, Nygren, Strachota, Bernier, Bies, Brooks, Endsley, Farrow, Honadel, Jacque, Knilans, Kooyenga, Kramer, Krug, Kuglitsch, T. Larson, Mursau, Petryk, Rivard, Severson, Spanbauer, Tiffany and Ziegelbauer; cosponsored by Senators Vukmir, Moulton, Galloway and Darling.
An Executive Session may be held on AB 71 at the conclusion of the public hearing.
Representative Steve Kestell

Wisconsin Special Needs Scholarship Assembly Bill 110 Summary (PDF).

Research Uncovers Raised Rate of Autism

Claudia Wallis:

An ambitious six-year effort to gauge the rate of childhood autism in a middle-class South Korean city has yielded a figure that stunned experts and is likely to influence the way the disorder’s prevalence is measured around the world, scientists reported on Monday.
The figure, 2.6 percent of all children aged 7 to 12 in the Ilsan district of the city of Goyang, is more than twice the rate usually reported in the developed world. Even that rate, about 1 percent, has been climbing rapidly in recent years — from 0.6 percent in the United States in 2007, for example.
But experts said the findings did not mean that the actual numbers of children with autism were rising, simply that the study was more comprehensive than previous ones.

Catching signs of autism early: The 1-year well-baby check-up approach

Science Codex:

A novel strategy developed by autism researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, called “The One-Year Well-Baby Check Up Approach,” shows promise as a simple way for physicians to detect cases of Autism Syndrome Disorder (ASD), language or developmental delays in babies at an early age.
Led by Karen Pierce, PhD, assistant professor in the UC San Diego Department of Neurosciences, researchers at the UC San Diego Autism Center of Excellence (ACE) assembled a network of 137 pediatricians in the San Diego region and initiated a systematic screen program for all infants at their one-year check up. Their study will be published in the April 28 online edition of the Journal of Pediatrics.
“There is extensive evidence that early therapy can have a positive impact on the developing brain,” said Pierce. “The opportunity to diagnose and thus begin treatment for autism around a child’s first birthday has enormous potential to change outcomes for children affected with the disorder.”

Madison Schools: Alternative School Redesign (Hoyt, Whitehorse & Cherokee “Mental Health Hubs”) to Address Mental Health Concerns: Phase 1

80K PDF, via a kind reader’s email:

I. Introduction A. Title/topic -Alternative Redesign to Address Mental Health Concerns B. Presenter/contact person- Sue Abplanalp, John Harper, Pam Nash and Nancy Yoder
Background information -The Purpose of this Proposal: Research shows that half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14.1 Scientists are discovering that changes in the body leading to mental illness may start much earlier, before any symptoms appear.
Helping young children and their parents manage difficulties early in life may prevent the development of disorders. Once mental illness develops, it becomes a regular part of a child’s behavior and more difficult to treat. Even though doctors know how to treat (though not yet cure) many disorders, a majority of children with mental illnesses are not getting treatment (National Institute of Mental Health).
II. Summary of Current Information: Success is defined as the achievement ofsomething desired and planned. As a steering committee, our desire and plan is to promote a strategic hub in three sites (Hoyt, Whitehorse and Cherokee) that connect, support and sustain students with mental health issues in a more inclusive environment with appropriate professionals, in order to maximize students’ success in middle school and help them achieve their aspirations in a setting that is appropriate for their needs. The new site will also offer mini clinics from a community provider
Current Status: Currently, there is one program housed at Hoyt that serves 28-30 students in self contained settings. There is currently a ratio of 1:4 with 4 staff and 4 special educational assistants assigned to the program. In addition, there is a Cluster Program housed at Sherman with 2 adults and 6-7 students in the program.
Proposal: This proposal leaves approximately half of the students and staff at the current Hoyt site (those students who pose more of a danger to self or others) and removes all of the students and staff from Sherman (no program at Sherman) to the new sites. Students will attend either Whitehorse or Cherokee Middle Schools with a program that provides ongoing professional help and is more inclusive as students will be assigned to homerooms and classes, with alternative settings in the school to support them when they need a more restrictive environment with support from a smaller student ratio and a psychologist or social worker that is assigned to the team.

This initiative was discussed during Monday evening’s Madison School Board meeting. Watch the discussion here (beginning at 180 minutes).

Doctor warns of complacency in face of autism danger

Vanessa Ko:

Hong Kong has escaped the anti-MMR childhood vaccine movement – linking the jab to autism – which spread across many English-speaking countries in the past decade.
But despite the overseas movement’s dangers and the fraudulent study that inspired it, a prominent paediatrician has nevertheless warned that local parents are too complacent about potential environmental factors that could trigger the onslaught of autism among some young children.
“They just don’t know about it. They are just ignorant about it,” said Dr Wilson Fung Yee-leung, who is a council member of the Hong Kong Medical Association.
He said it was dangerous not to be concerned about autism and its potential environmental causes.

Autism’s Causes: How Close Are We to Solving the Puzzle?

PBS NewsHour:

ROBERT MACNEIL: As we’ve reported, autism now affects one American child in a 110. Last month, a committee convened by public health officials in Washington called it a national health emergency. The dramatic rise in official figures over the last decade has generated a surge of scientific research to find what is causing autism.
Among the centers for such research is here, the University of California, Davis MIND Institute in Sacramento. Here and around the country, we’ve talked to leading researchers about where that effort now stands. Among them is the director of research at the MIND Institute, Dr. David Amaral.
DR. DAVID AMARAL, MIND Institute: Well, I think we’re close to finding several causes for autism. But there’s — I don’t think there’s going to be a single cause.
ROBERT MACNEIL: The science director of the Simons Foundation in New York, Dr. Gerald Fishbach; Dr. Martha Herbert, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School; and Dr. Craig Newschaffer, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Drexel University in Philadelphia. First, I asked, how close are we to discovering the cause of autism?

New Study Confirms UFT Report’s Findings on ELLs in Charters

Christina Collins:

The Journal of School Choice recently published an article in which researchers Jack Buckley and Carolyn Sattin-Bajaj confirmed the UFT’s findings in 2010 that charter schools in New York City enrolled a lower proportion of limited English proficient (LEP) students than the average district school in 2007-08. Overall, they find that among the city’s charters from 2006-2008, “in the case of the LEP proportions, there is a large group of schools with very few, a handful with a larger proportion, and perhaps 1-3 schools, depending on the year, with a large share of LEP students.”
This report provides a valuable complement to our findings in “Separate and Unequal,” both in its examination of two additional years of data and in its use of sophisticated statistical formulas to account for possible errors in the numbers of LEP students that charters report to the state each year. As this chart from the article shows, even when the researchers controlled for that possibility, the proportion of LEP students in most charters in the city fell well below the district average (represented by the solid line on the graph).

Autism Now: Demand for Educational Resources for Children Outstrips Supply

PBS NewsHour:

ROBERT MACNEIL: In New York City schools, there are more than 7,000 students with autism. Seven hundred of them, from preschool age to 21, attend this public school for autism in the Bronx, PS 176.
WOMAN: Roll the dice. Oh, boy. What number?
WOMAN: Good. What are you going to do next?
ROBERT MACNEIL: These children see doctors periodically, but they go to school every day. It’s the public school system that bears most of the burden of treating children with autism, because treatment means teaching. And federal law mandates that all children with disabilities are entitled to a free, appropriate education.
RIMA RITHOLTZ: Autism can suck the fun out of life. Having a child with a disability can suck the fun out of life. And we work very hard here to put the fun back in.

College-Bound and Living With Autism

The New York Times:

Several readers of the Consults blog recently had questions about the long-term course of autism, including succeeding in college and beyond. Our experts Dr. Fred Volkmar of the Yale Child Study Center and Dr. Lisa Wiesner, co-authors of “A Practical Guide to Autism,” respond. For more on this and other topics, see their earlier responses in “Ask the Experts About Autism,” and The Times Health Guide: Autism. The authors also teach a free online course on autism at Yale University, which is also available at iTunesU and on YouTube.
Are you aware of any longitudinal studies of occupational outcomes and successful (independent) living for high-functioning autistic adults? Where would I find those? Are there particular strategies that should be pursued in high school or college to enhance the likelihood of success in these areas?

Autism Now

PBS NewsHour:

For the first time in more than 15 years, Robert MacNeil is returning to the program he co-founded, with a major series of reports on Autism Now. The subject that drew him back is one that resonates deeply with his own family and many others. Robin’s 6-year-old grandson, Nick, has autism.
The six-part series, “Autism Now,” will air on the PBS NewsHour beginning April 18. It’s the most comprehensive look at the disorder and its impact that’s aired on American television in at least five years. For more than a year, Robin has been researching and preparing these stories. He and his producer, Caren Zucker, have been criss-crossing the country producing the reports for the past five months.
As Robin told Hari Sreenivasan during a recent visit to our Washington studio, the series is designed to provide viewers with an authoritative, balanced look at the latest scientific research and medical thinking about the disorder. Equally important, it chronicles the growing impact of autism as seen through the eyes of families, children, educators and clinicians.
Since Friday is the beginning of Autism Awareness Month, we are posting Hari’s interview with Robin to introduce our audience to the series:

Why Do Charters Have Fewer Special Ed Kids Than Traditional Schools?

New Jersey Left Behind:

The Newark Council Education Committee met last night with group of stakeholders, including Theresa Adubato of the Robert Treat Academy, Junius Williams of the Abbott Leadership Institute, ELC founder Paul Tractenberg, and School Board Chair Shavar Jeffries. According to the Star-Ledger, the debate was noteworthy for its lack of contention, especially in light of recent fireworks. The meeting was chaired by South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka, who moonlights as Principal of Newark Central High School.
The conversation veered toward the disparity between the number of special needs kids in charter schools (like Robert Treat) and the number of special needs kids in traditional public schools. Here’s Michael Pallante, who is the former principal of Camden Street School, a district K-4 school. He’s now is at Robert Treat:

Siblings play key role in child development


PhD candidate in the School of Psychology, Karen O’Brien, said children with autism could have difficulties in social interactions and that their siblings played an important role in their development, particularly when it came to social skills.
“Children acquire the ability to identify mental states, also known as ‘theory of the mind’ (ToM), at around four years of age,” she said.
“Research has shown that children with autism typically struggle on ToM tests and their everyday ToM skills are impaired, making it rare for even the highest-functioning autistic child to pass these tests before the age of 13 years.”
Mental states identified in ToM include intentions, beliefs, desires and emotions, in oneself and other people, and understanding that everyone has their own plans, thoughts, and points of view.
According to Ms O’Brien, typically developing children show a significant advance in ToM understanding between the ages of three to five years.

Autism Treatments Scrutinized in Study

Shirley Wang:

Three new studies conclude that many widely used behavioral and medication treatments for autism have some benefit, one popular alternative therapy doesn’t help at all, and there isn’t yet enough evidence to discern the best overall treatment.
Parents of children with autism-spectrum disorder often try myriad treatments, from drugs to therapy to nutritional supplements. The studies being published Monday and funded by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, were part of the effort to examine the comparative effectiveness of treatments in 14 priority disease areas, including autism-spectrum disorders.
Autism and related disorders, conditions marked by social and communication deficits and often other developmental delays, have become more common over the years and now affect 1 in 110 U.S. children, according to estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Virginia assault case, anxious parents recognize ‘dark side of autism’

Theresa Vargas:

When a Stafford County jury this month found an autistic teenager guilty of assaulting a law enforcement officer and recommended that he spend 101/2 years in prison, a woman in the second row sobbed.
It wasn’t the defendant’s mother. She wouldn’t cry until she reached her car. It was Teresa Champion.
Champion had sat through the trial for days and couldn’t help drawing parallels between the defendant, Reginald “Neli” Latson, 19, and her son James, a 17-year-old with autism.

Life Beyond Autism

Janet Grillo:

It’s been 81 years since Virginia Wolff published her famous essay, more than 20 since I read it, and even more before I followed her advice that “a woman must have a room of her own, if she is to write.”
When my mother was my age, she considered the best part of her life as behind her. When my grandmother was this age, considered herself “old.” And my great-grandmother most certainly was. But that was then, and this is the era of longevity, vitality and change. We’ve rewritten all the rules. But maybe rules are only scaffolds we construct to contain what we can’t control. Which is just about everything.
My dreams and expectations changed radically when my child was diagnosed with Autism. From that moment, and for the next decade, every thought in my head, urge in my heart and pulse in my body was redirected to helping him. When your child is diagnosed as on the Spectrum, you’re told that much can improve, but most profoundly before the age of 5. My son was already three. So the clock was ticking, the meter was running, and I had a choice to make; pursue my needs, or save his life. So I put away the screenplay I was writing, abandoned the film collective I was trying to form, and forgot any notion of going back to a traditional job. In their place, I organized a line of behavioral therapists, occupational therapists, auditory training technologies, and casein-free diets. And thanked God each day that I had the resources so I could.

Do Charters Discriminate Against Kids with Disabilities?

New Jersey Left Behind:

Acting Comm. Christopher Cerf directly rebutted “myths” about charter schools at a State Board of Education meeting, according to The Record. Contrary to claims by anti-charter proponents, says Cerf, NJ’s charter school admit very poor kids and children with disabilities, and perform better than traditional public schools in Abbott districts.
Here’s the powerpoint.
For example, in NJ 15.87% of kids are classified as eligible for special education services. (We rank second in the nation in this category. First is Massachusetts. Then again, the classification rate at Wildwood High is 24.6%, Asbury Park High is 20.2%, John F. Kennedy in Paterson is 24.1%, and Camden Central High is a stunning 33.6%. But back to charters.)

New Berlin teen with Asperger’s finds he belongs on the stage

Laurel Walker:

When Judy Smith was looking for someone to play the central role of stage manager in “Our Town,” the classic Thornton Wilder play about life in small-town America, she wasn’t expecting to cast a boy with Asperger’s syndrome.
Yet when 14-year-old Clayton Mortl auditioned more than six weeks ago, Smith said she experienced a director’s “quintessential moment.” He was perfect for the role.
Legendary actors like Paul Newman have brought powerful performances to the play – a staple of Broadway, community theater and classrooms since its 1938 debut, said Smith, the performing arts center manager and theater arts adviser at New Berlin West Middle / High School.
But when the 18-member middle school cast takes the stage Thursday, at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m., Clay’s performance may be legendary in its own right.
Though everyone is different, people with Asperger’s – an autism spectrum disorder – have impaired ability to socially interact and communicate nonverbally. Their speech may sound different because of inflection or abnormal repetition. Body movements may not seem age appropriate. Interests may be narrowly focused to the extent that common interests aren’t shared.

Tiered Diplomas Abandoned in Rhode Island

Susan Moffitt:

Advocates for low-income, minority students and students with special needs, including the Rhode Island Disability Law Center and The Autism Project of Rhode Island scored a major victory in Providence last week when Education Commissioner Deborah Gist announced she would scrap a plan for a three-tiered high school diploma system tied to standardized test scores.
The plan called for students with high scores to receive an “Honors” diploma, those with average scores to earn a “Regents” diploma, and ones who score “partially proficient” to be granted a basic Rhode Island diploma. Children who fail the test would have the opportunity to take it again. If they fail a second time, but other requirements are achieved, they could still graduate with a certificate.
Opponents claimed the proposal created a state-sanctioned caste system that would stigmatize struggling students and haunt them when seeking future employment or college admission. Based on recent test scores, they countered that almost all students who were poor, minorities, had disabilities, or were learning English would get the lowest tier diploma, if they even got one at all.

Texas High School Freshman Sends Robot to School in His Place


This is so awesome. A school district in Knox City, Texas has allowed a student with a severe illness that keeps him at home to attend classes like a normal freshman by using a Vgo telepresence robot. My son’s school had to have a meeting with the school board to let me GIVE them technology.
The boy is named Lyndon Baty and he suffers from polycystic kidney disease, and treatment for the disease has left his immune system suppressed. The poor immune system means he can’t be around other kids to attend classes.

Proximity to freeways increases autism risk, study finds

Shari Roan

Children born to mothers who live close to freeways have twice the risk of autism, researchers reported Thursday. The study, its authors say, adds to evidence suggesting that certain environmental exposures could play a role in causing the disorder in some children.
“This study isn’t saying exposure to air pollution or exposure to traffic causes autism,” said Heather Volk, lead author of the paper and a researcher at the Saban Research Institute of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. “But it could be one of the factors that are contributing to its increase.”

Learning With Disabilities

Abby Goodnough

Ms. Nelson is paying most of her own way at Landmark, a two-year college exclusively for students with learning disabilities and A.D.H.D. She wants to graduate on time this spring, and with tuition and fees alone at $48,000 a year — more than any other college in the nation — she cannot give in to distraction.
“I have a lot riding on this,” says Ms. Nelson, who is also dyslexic. She wants to transfer to a four-year institution and get a bachelor’s degree — a goal that would have been out of reach, she says, had she not found Landmark three years after graduating from high school. If Ms. Nelson gets her associate degree in May after four semesters, she will buck the trend at Landmark.
Only about 30 percent graduate within three years; many others drop out after a semester or two. The numbers suggest that even with all the special help and the ratio of one teacher for every five students, the transition is not easy.

‘Daydream’ switch stays on in ADHD

Lindsay Brooke-Nottingham:

New evidence suggests children with ADHD have trouble switching off the “daydreaming” regions in the brain that often interfere with concentration, particularly on tedious tasks.
Using a “Whac-a-Mole” style game, researchers found evidence from brain scans that children with ADHD require either much greater incentives–or their usual stimulant medication–to switch off those regions and focus on a task. The findings are published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
“The results are exciting because for the first time we are beginning to understand how in children with ADHD incentives and stimulant medication work in a similar way to alter patterns of brain activity and enable them to concentrate and focus better,” says Chris Hollis, a professor of health sciences at the University of Nottingham. “It also explains why in children with ADHD their performance is often so variable and inconsistent, depending as it does on their interest in a particular task.”

Retracted autism study an ‘elaborate fraud,’ British journal finds


A now-retracted British study that linked autism to childhood vaccines was an “elaborate fraud” that has done long-lasting damage to public health, a leading medical publication reported Wednesday.
An investigation published by the British medical journal BMJ concludes the study’s author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, misrepresented or altered the medical histories of all 12 of the patients whose cases formed the basis of the 1998 study — and that there was “no doubt” Wakefield was responsible.
“It’s one thing to have a bad study, a study full of error, and for the authors then to admit that they made errors,” Fiona Godlee, BMJ’s editor-in-chief, told CNN. “But in this case, we have a very different picture of what seems to be a deliberate attempt to create an impression that there was a link by falsifying the data.”