Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Beware the IQ Score: New Research Challenges Our Ed Policy and Practice

Beware the IQ Score: New Research on Intellectual Development Challenges Traditional Educational Policy Based on Reliance on IQ Scores and the Assumption that a Person’s Intelligence is a Constant

By Matt Cohen

For over a hundred years, researchers, educators and others have debated about the factors that contribute to human intelligence. It has been generally believed that a person’s intelligence was primarily innate, that is that it was based on their genetic makeup and under most circumstances would remain constant. Intelligence might decline due to severe illness or neurological trauma affecting the brain. It might be subject to some positive influence through early interventions such as Headstart. However, for most people, one’s intellectual ability would remain relatively the same throughout their healthy life. This belief has had an enormous impact on educational policy. Formal and informal tracking systems in regular education and programming and placement strategies for many children with disabilities have been heavily influenced by the belief that one intellectual potential was essentially constant and not significantly related to one’ s education, upbringing, enrichment experiences and other external factors. The possibility that one’s intellectual ability or potential could be positively or negatively influenced by the quality and intensity of education and other positive or negative environmental experiences should dramatically change our commitment to providing more intensive and sustained educational experiences for all children, rather than assuming that the intellectual cake is baked by adolescence, if not earlier In addition, the belief that intellectual ability was constant gave measuring a person’s intelligence n special importance, as it appeared that it was not only possible to assess a person’s intellectual functioning at a particular point in time, but that, barring neurological damage, that assessment was likely to be predictive of the person’s intellectual performance from childhood onward. In other words, your intellectual ability, whether high or low, was essentially thought to be pre-determined. .

Remember that one’s native intelligence or intellectual ability does not equal one’s performance. As well, IQ tests purportedly measure intellectual ability or potential, where academic achievement tests are intended to measure what a person has learned. A person can have high intellectual ability and perform poorly academically. This can occur due to the presence of a learning disability, poor teaching, lack of motivation or many other factors. The converse was generally believed to not occur- one could not generally function academically higher than one’s intellectual potential. The growing recognition that a person’s intellectual ability can be influenced by their academic experience, positively or negatively, undermines some of the key assumptions about how we educate people and how we structure curriculum and resources for education. If a person’s intellectual ability can be substantially improved with higher quality teaching and can be negatively impacted by poor teaching (and other environmental factors), it raises the stakes enormously in relation to the need to provide “the best” or at least “much better” education, as opposed to the minimally adequate education that we often currently provide.

Complicating matters, even assuming that the beliefs about intellectual development are accurate, modern societies and particularly the United States, have attached tremendous importance to the assessment of intelligence and have used IQ scores for everything from kindergarten classroom placement to qualifications for employment. There are even organizations for the intellectually gifted. IQ scores follow us from an early age—either a gold badge of ostensible superiority and promise or a scarlet brand on the forehead—a numerical message that the individual has limited ability for intellectual growth or performance.
Adding insult to injury, there are many problems with the accuracy of IQ testing. The tests are often based on norms (comparison groups) that may not adequately represent all of the people being tested (you can’t predict the IQ of an apple when you are comparing it to the IQ of an orange). They often are dependent on means of testing that do not adequately control for the limitations of the tests. For example, few evaluators would give an IQ test requiring vision to someone that is blind, but many IQ tests requiring language are given to people with language problems and most if not all IQ tests require attention and concentration, though some people that are very bright have problems in these areas.

Our educational, vocational and even social policies are in many ways based on the belief that one’s intelligence is static. Consider the degree to which schools shift from a regular curriculum to a “functional” curriculum for children labeled as mentally retarded. Or that the law allows schools and parents to waive the requirement for three-year reevaluation based on the assumption that the child’s functioning may not have changed much. Or that a high or low IQ scores can entitle one or exclude one from special benefits, from disability benefits for those with developmental disorders to extra accelerated educational programming for students considered to be “gifted.”
Although still a source of controversy, there is a variety of research that also suggests that teacher expectations for students, based to some degree on the perception of the student’s intellectual potential, create a self-fulfilling prophecy that impacts the student’s academic and overall performance. (See for example
and )
Indeed, it is my suspicion that this phenomenon is present not only among educators, but with parents, families, employers and the society at large. If someone is told that a person is cognitively delayed or intellectually gifted, most people adjust their expectations accordingly. In turn, this often has a significant impact on the person’s self-perception, self-confidence, motivation, and performance. But at the most fundamental level, the assessment of intellectual potential for many people significantly influences the level of information and experience that they are exposed to. The assumptions about the person’s intellectual ability drive the type of academic instruction they receive, the content, rate and intensity of material, the expectations for progress, and even the types of cultural experiences they may have. Does the IQ brand impact performance? It is hard to imagine otherwise. There are many reasons that this is problematic, but especially if the brand is not accurate or reliable.

But new research about intellectual development raises even stronger concerns about the assumption that IQ is static—the assumption that we can take snapshots that allow us to accurately assess it and respond to the individual or groups of individuals based on these assumptions in ways that presume to link the level of instruction, cultural experience and vocational potential to performance predictions based on the IQ scores. This past week, Nature magazine (a UK-based science magazine) published a study indicating that the intellectual ability of students continues to change through their teen years. Cathy Price, at the University College of London, conducted this study on teens between the ages of 12 and 16. Her team found that a teenager’s IQ can rise or fall as much as 20 points over the short span of four years. In the statistical analysis of IQ scores, that 20 point difference in IQ score could represent the difference between a label of average and gifted or average and cognitively impaired. In her study, 20% of participants moved either way on the intelligence scale—showing the ability of experience to alter intelligence. Such changes were found to actually correlate with changes in brain structure. While the study is still new, and its findings require more research for any broad conclusions, it provides hope that intellectual potential may not have the plateau we once thought. Early assessment may not be a telling indicator in all circumstances, which should alter the way we think about education, academic performance, and our children’s potential. This is especially true in relation to children with disabilities, as there are a number of very important educational, programmatic and even procedural decisions that have historically been heavily influenced by our assumptions about the static nature of intelligence.
In light of this research, consider these principles in relation to testing, intelligence and expectations:

First, if as the research suggests, a child’s cognitive ability (not performance, but actual intellectual ability) can be dramatically influenced by non-physiological factors, we need to rethink our entire approach to educational theory, programming and tracking systems. Rather than assuming that a student with a low IQ scores in elementary school is developmentally consigned to function at a low cognitive level for life, justifying an educational plan that lowers expectations, content, and intensity, there may be renewed basis for raising standards, expectations, and intensity to promote the potential intellectual growth of the student, as well as their academic achievement. If we teach low, this research suggests that we may miss the opportunity to shatter our self-imposed cognitive glass ceiling.

Second, the research highlights the tremendous danger in utilizing IQ snapshots, particularly from testing performed when children are in elementary and junior high schools, to track students. The misuse of IQ scores may occur in relation to the determination of whether someone has a cognitive disability or simply based on gradations of ability within the regular education population. By making tracking decisions based on the early IQ scores, or even based on perception of intellectual ability driven by teacher or parent judgment, even without IQ testing, we assure that the students perceived to be less intellectually capable will be provided a lower level of instruction, potentially guaranteeing a lower level of performance by an individual capable of developing further. The new research showing that a child can experience gains or losses in intellectual ability through adolescence, based on environmental and educational (that is, non-medical) factors, calls into question whether the use of IQ tests as a significant, if not controlling, factor in relation to placement and programming decisions violates the IDEA’s protections against misuse of testing. The IDEA provides:

(b) Evaluation Procedures.--….
(2) Conduct of evaluation.--In conducting the evaluation, the local educational agency shall--
(A) use a variety of assessment tools and strategies to gather relevant functional, developmental, and academic information, including information provided by the parent, that may assist in determining--
(i) whether the child is a child with a disability; and
(ii) the content of the child's individualized education program, including information related to enabling the child to be involved in and progress in the general education curriculum, or, for preschool children, to participate in appropriate activities;
(B) not use any single measure or assessment as the sole criterion for determining whether a child is a child with a disability or determining an appropriate educational program for the child; and
(C) use technically sound instruments that may assess the relative contribution of cognitive and behavioral factors, in addition to physical or developmental factors.
(3) Additional requirements.--Each local educational agency shall ensure that--
(A) assessments and other evaluation materials used to assess a child under this section--
(i) are selected and administered so as not to be discriminatory on a racial or cultural basis;
(B) the child is assessed in all areas of suspected disability;
(C) assessment tools and strategies that provide relevant information that directly assists persons in determining the educational needs of the child are provided;
20 U.S.C. Sec. 1414 (b)

If a student is capable of experiencing considerable cognitive growth based on their educational experience, it is inconsistent with these provisions to base their programming on a single IQ test or even a set of scores that assume a static level of intellectual functioning. Instead, those scores may offer a baseline for the student’s potential functioning, rather than a ceiling. Educational decisions based on lowering expectations or programming based on these scores become questionable, both educationally and legally.

In a 1997in an effort to streamline the evaluation/reevaluation process for students receiving special education services, Congress modified the IDEA to eliminate the previously absolute requirement that all students receiving special education services be given a full reevaluation, including new psychological (including intelligence) testing, at least every three years. 20 U.S.C. Sec. 1414 (c)(4). Perceiving the testing to be costly, time consuming and sometimes unnecessary for students whose intellectual or other development appeared static, Congress gave schools the option to recommend either reduced or no retesting if they felt that the student’s functioning was generally constant.
34 CFR Sec. 300.303 Reevaluations.
(a) General. A public agency must ensure that a reevaluation of each child with a disability….
(2) Must occur at least once every 3 years, unless the parent and the public agency agree that a reevaluation is unnecessary.

Parents retain the right to insist on full testing, but frequently acquiesce to limited or no testing based on school recommendations, particularly for students with labels of cognitive impairment, due to the belief that their cognitive ability could not vary significantly. But it is important for parents to remember they have the option of insisting on full and up-to-date reevaluations at least every three years. Given the inherent limitations in IQ testing, these reevaluations would often be advisable even in the absence of the new research on brain development. However, in light of the new research, it seems even more important for schools and parents to recognize and implement more frequent, comprehensive periodic reevaluation in order to ensure that the student’s programming is adequately challenging them and giving them the greatest degree of opportunity for intellectual growth and enrichment.

No IQ test can take into account the many variations in individual functioning that affect the accuracy of the testing. For example, many IQ tests rely heavily on language skills. A person may have considerable intellectual ability, but language impairments. A language based IQ test would likely yield a score suggesting low intelligence. However, there are non-verbal IQ tests that would help to control for this. Similarly, there are IQ tests that require less motor skills. It is very important to be sure that IQ tests are actually testing the person’s IQ, and not something else that limits their ability to test.

In “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” Stephen Covey writes that “Principles are like lighthouses. They are natural laws that cannot be broken….The ‘objective reality,’…is composed of ‘lighthouse’ principles that govern human growth and happiness-natural laws that are woven into the fabric of every civilized society throughout history and comprise the roots of every family and institution that has endured and prospered….[there is] the principle of fairness….of integrity and honesty….of human dignity….of service….of quality or excellence. There is the principle of potential, the idea that we are embryonic and can grow and develop and release more and more potential, develop more and more talents. Highly related to potential is the principle of growth-the process of releasing potential and developing talents, with the accompanying need for principles such as patience, nurturance and encouragement.” (emphasis added)

Covey did not write this in reference to the development of the brain, nor in reference to IQ testing, scores, and the ways that our society sets artificial limits based on lowered expectations. He did not write in reference to our educational system and whether it should be structured based on achieving minimal outcomes or to promoting and nurturing and enhancing each individual’s chance to grow as much as possible. But as I read the passage above, by pure coincidence, as I was in the midst of writing this essay, the connection was unavoidable. OUR BASIC PRINCIPLES, OUR BASIC HUMANITY, DEMAND THAT WE PROMOTE THE FULL POTENTIAL OF EVERY INDIVIDUAL. AN ENHANCED RECOGNITION OF THE EXISTENCE OF EVEN MORE POTENTIAL FOR GROWTH IN EACH OF US ONLY STRENGTHENS THE PRACTICAL AND COMMON SENSE BASIS FOR WHAT IS A MORAL IMPERATIVE – EVERY INDIVIDUAL HAS A RIGHT TO GROW TO THEIR FULL POTENTIAL. OUR SCHOOLS, OUR SOCIETY, OUR OWN EXPECTATIONS SHOULD ENCOURAGE THAT, SHOULD INSIST ON THAT AND SHOULD SUPPORT EACH PERSON IN THEIR UNIQUE EFFORTS TO ACHIEVE IT!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

What, No Recess???!!! - Blowing Off Steam and the “Right” to Exercise for Kids with AD/HD – Countering a Knee Jerk School Punishment”

(Appearing in Fall, 2011 issue of ADDitude Magazine,

by Matt Cohen, J.D.

“What, no recess!!!!” Johnny screams after being told that he will not be able to participate in recess because he talked in class without raising his hand.

“What, no recess!!!” Rachel stammered, after being told that she couldn’t have recess because she hadn’t earned enough points on her behavior chart for completing her classwork on time because she was too distracted.

“What, no recess,” Matt cried, because he kept getting up to go to the bathroom and the class behavior plan said that all students lost recess if they got out of their seat more than once during class.

There is lots of research showing that exercise and physical activity help students improve academic performance and behavior.
A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control supports this:

“School boards, superintendents, principals, and teachers can feel confident that providing recess to students on a regular basis may benefit academic behaviors, while also facilitating social development and contributing to overall physical activity and its associated health benefits. There was no evidence that time spent in recess had a negative association with cognitive skills, attitudes, or academic behavior.”
pdf/pa-pe_paper.pdf (July, 2010)

Recess is good for kids. Does it make sense to use it as punishment or require that it be earned?
NO!!!!!! Research confirms the importance of recess and extra physical activity for kids WITH AD/HD! A study in a school psychology journal concluded:

“Results showed that levels of inappropriate behavior were consistently higher on days when participants (with AD/HD) did not have recess, compared with days when they did have recess. Results also showed that the level of inappropriate behavior for all participants progressively increased over time on days when they did not have recess. However, this progressive increase did not occur on days when the participants had recess.”

Effects of Recess on the Classroom Behavior of Children With and Without AD/HD.
Ridgway, School Psychology Quarterly, Vol 18(3), Fall, 2003, 253-268.


Unfortunately, the federal special education or disability laws do not explicitly address a right to recess. However, apart from the research and common sense arguments for kids with AD/HD need recess, the federal laws support the right to recess for kids with AD/HD and related disabilities.

First, every child with an IEP or Section 504 plan is entitled to an individual program, designed to meet their needs, including accommodations and special supports. For many kids with AD/HD, there is a need for at least equal, if not even more opportunities for exercise, then for typical students. If the activity is needed for the child to benefit from education, it should be provided, not withheld.

Second, the IEP should include “positive behavior interventions and supports.” If a student needs recess in order to help them stay on task or discharge excess energy, it should be written in to the IEP as a part of the student’s accommodations and/or behavior plan.

Third, when schools are developing behavior plans or administering discipline, they should do a functional analysis of the relationship of the student’s disability to the behavior, including whether they may need recess or if removing it makes things worse. Research shows that depriving a student of recess is unlikely to promote positive behavior and may result in increased inappropriate behavior.

Finally, Section 504 prohibits discrimination on the basis of the nature or severity of a student’s disability and requires that students with disabilities be given equal access to school programs and activities. Excluding a student from recess for behavior relating to their AD/HD may be discriminatory because they are being punished based on their disability.

Parents and educators should promote recess and additional breaks as a positive support for children with AD/HD, rather than something that must be earned or can be removed as a punishment. That not only conforms to the provisions of federal law, it makes good sense!

Matt Cohen provides legal representation to children, adults and families with AD/HD and other disabilities in Chicago. He writes and speaks frequently on AD/HD, special education and disability issues throughout the US.
Phone: 312-961-4179
This article is not intended as legal advice. If you have a problem with your child’s school, you should seek informed leg

Sunday, September 11, 2011

“I Don’t Want to Be Pushy, but…..” – Ten Ideas for Parents AND Educators to Help Deal with the Start of School

“I Don’t Want to Be Pushy, but…..” – Ten Ideas for Parents AND Educators to Help Deal with the Start of School

By Matt Cohen

September 11, 2011

We leave in an age when schools are underfunded, saddled with expectations that are difficult for them to fulfill, loads of scrutiny using arbitrary test measures, and inadequate training for teachers to cope with the demands that are placed on them. And then there are “those pushy parents.” Parents that actually want to contribute to the development of their child’s IEP. Parents that want to know how their child is doing. Parents that want to get meaningful feedback from the staff and perhaps even observe the classroom from time to time. Parents that want to know why their child isn’t making progress on their goals and objectives or why promised services aren’t being delivered. Parents that ask questions at IEP meetings or even in between IEP meetings. Parents that may even have special knowledge about their child that might be helpful in teaching the student or in working with them more effectively. Parents that are actually interested in volunteering in the classroom. Oh, my God!!!!!!!
Those pushy parents!!!! A scarlet letter quickly gets branded on their foreheads – watch out for them, they are “pushy parents.”

It is no surprise that this happens, as teachers feel unsupported by parents and administrators, overloaded by paperwork, unprepared to cope with some of the demands of their students, let alone of parents, embattled and unappreciated. The quality (or inadequacy) of American education is now an ongoing political issue. It can’t feel good to go home and turn on the tv to have politicians and talking heads blasting away night after night.

But the result is a phenomenon I call “Pushy Parent Hypersensitivity Syndrome.” This syndrome leads some educators to react defensively to any efforts by parents to become more involved, seek more information, make suggestions, or just come to observe. Clearly, some parents over do it, seeking to micromanage every thing about their child’s education, down to correcting the teacher’s grammar or insisting on being called every day. But “Pushy Parent Hypersensitivity Syndrome” causes many educators to react to even highly appropriate efforts by parents, even very limited efforts by parents, to get involved, to participate or, god forbid, to share a concern about something that is happening. PPHS results in reluctance to take phone calls, refusal to respond to emails, rigid time schedules for meetings when more time is needed, involvement of administrators when direct communication would be better, even restrictions on the parents’ ability to communicate with staff or visit the school. This syndrome usually escalates to a point of Mutually Assured Distrust, for as the educators shut down and become more defensive, the parents become more concerned, more frustrated, and feel greater need to be assertive, demanding and ultimately adversarial.
So as this new school year starts, here are some suggestions for both PARENTS AND EDUCATORS for avoiding PUSHY PARENT HYPERSENSITIVITY SYNDROME and MUTUALLY ASSURED DISTRUST!

1) COMMUNICATE OPENLY AND OFTEN ABOUT POSITIVES. Not only does the child need to feel good, but the parents and teachers need to feel good. Open and positive communication is the best vehicle for building cooperation and rapport.
2) SEEK AND WELCOME OPPORTUNITIES FOR HELP. Parents should make clear their desire to assist and support the educational staff, whether volunteering in the classroom, on field trips, or at school events. Teachers should seek out and embrace this involvement. In this era of limited and declining resources, who couldn’t use more help.
3) RECOGNIZE THAT THIS CHILD IS THE PARENTS’ MOST IMPORTANT CONCERN AND THAT THE TEACHER CAN AND SHOULD BE CONCERNED ABOUT THIS CHILD BUT CONCERNED ABOUT ALL OF HIS/HER STUDENTS. This is a message that both parties need to understand in both directions. It is important for the teacher to understand and value the parents’ concern for THEIR child and convey appreciation for that concern. It is also important for parents to recognize that no one can have the level of concern they do for their own child. They should expect appropriate and sincere concern for their child from the staff, but not that the staff will have equal concern or ignore their responsibilities for other students.
4) DON’T MAKE IT PERSONAL/TRY NOT TO TAKE IT PERSONALLY. It is is for people to feel ignored, devalued or attacked. For parents, this may happen if they feel their child is being mistreated or given insufficient attention or support, or is being treated disrespectfully. For teachers, this may result from something as simple as the parent asking the teacher their qualifications or years of experience or experience with a particular teaching method or computer system. It is easy to feel hurt, injured or angry. Try to avoid reacting to the impression or emotion that is perceived or implied. Try to focus on the actual problem. And if there seems to be inappropriate or miscommunication, try to clear the air as quickly as possible.
It is important to work on relationships and communication all the time. Little problems can build into big problems if they are not addressed. For both the parent and the school, this is made more complicated because the parent remains involved throughout, but the teacher inherits whatever problems have occurred in the past. Try to start each year fresh. Don’t ignore prior problems, but try to allow for a new start and to repair whatever problems were present before. It can be helpful to acknowledge these issues and try to address them and move on, rather than pretending they weren’t present.
The converse of number six is that sometimes, the parent or educator may get hung up on minor issues that are not worth fighting over. Rule 5 is important, but it is also important to be selective about the things you are concerned about and address with the other party. Especially if things are getting tense, it can be easy to overreact, react to things that aren’t high priority or react in a way that aggravates the problem, rather than promoting a solution.
It is almost always preferable to work together, rather than to be in conflict. Even if compromise is needed on both sides, a plan or process that everyone supports is far more likely to succeed than one that is forced on someone or that is done without real commitment.

Some special education disputes may involve legitimate issues where the parties just disagree. Many get tangled up with communication issues, personality, trust, competence, motivation and emotion. Where individual competence, motivation or conduct is at stake, it is often best to try to work out issues individually first. If that doesn’t work, try talking to a supervisor or the parent in an informal setting. Saving face is important for everybody. Public confrontations are generally more likely to polarize, rather than to bring people together. Unfortunately, if informal means are unsuccessful, it is also important to go through formal procedures and make sure that concerns are documented.
Everyone involved in this process may be experiencing stress or pressures about the process and the outcome. Often, there are other things happening that may not be known to the other party that also cause problems, stress, limit options or influence how the person comes across or what they can do. Try to imagine the situation from their perspective. It is especially important for educators to imagine what they would do if they were in the parents’ situation and all the issues the parents must be facing in trying to help their child. But the parents should also go through that process, rather than making assumptions about the educators.
Sharing important information at the last minute, or worse, in the midst of an IEP meeting, generally triggers a negative reaction in the person receiving the information. It also consumes valuable time for the other person to even process and understand the information. Often, because the person is upset at being surprised, they may respond with anger and be unable to even address the information in a meaningful way. This is particularly important when the school is sharing major new information about a child’s diagnosis, new difficulties, or need for some other program. Parents hearing this type of information for the first time in an IEP meeting are very likely to feel hurt, victimized and overwhelmed. Imagine being told that your child is failing or has a new or different disability when you thought the meeting was just a routine meeting. Similarly, parents may trigger hostility and resistance when they bring in new clinical information or a dramatic change in desired plans for the child without any advance discussion with any of the school staff. Everyone is more able to focus on the real issues when they are aware of them, rather than surprised by them.
Often, the adults involved in decision-making concerning the child can easily become caught up in their own agendas, in personalities, in emotions, and in issues of power, control, and ego. It is easy for the child and the child’s needs to get lost. All the adults, parents and educators, need to be aware of their own agendas and emotions and keep them in check. The goal is to meet the child’s needs, not to make a point, establish control, or win a moral, financial, political or emotional victory.

Copyright, Matthew D. Cohen, September 11, 2011. May be reprinted with the author’s written consent.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual- Modern Techno Edition by Matt Cohen

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – Modern Techno Edition
Copyright by Matt Cohen, September 3, 2011 on behalf of the
American Psyberatric Association

104.50 Too Many Techno Toys Disorder:
Characterized by a need to acquire the latest and greatest communication device, each of which has unique advantages, and each of which uses a different mode of communication. This individual typically experiences a strong sense of inadequacy, jealousy, anxiety and incompleteness if they do not have the latest and newest device. Normal inhibitory process is defeated by the need to acquire the newest devices, regardless of need or resources. This disorder creates functional problems due to demands, real or perceived, for the user to maintain, charge and carry multiple devices, as their family, friends and clients may each use different systems and the New Techno Conversion Disorder causes the individual to feel that they must be available to all people at all times. People with TMTTD are typically convinced that the devices save time and improve accessibility and communication, but usually suffer persistent difficulty with keeping devices charged, remembering passwords, keeping all devices available, and losing devices frequently.

265.40 Listosynchomania- This disorder manifests itself in a chronic and overwhelming need to insure that various techno devices including calendars, contact lists, files, and data bases are constantly up to date and are using the latest versions of the necessary software. This disorder becomes progressively more disruptive as increasing numbers of devices and changing software create ever growing problems in maintaining consistency. This triggers a secondary disorder – ,

558.60 Duplication Distress Disorder, resulting from lists replicating out of control and causing memory overload and search identity disorientation. The cumulative manifestation of this disorder is an obsessive desire to insure that all lists are up-to-date and have no duplicates, leading to chronic list purging and resynching.

668.14 Post-It Addiction Disorder
This is a pre-techno disorder typical of individuals that have difficulty with organization and/or are often generating or receiving Too Much Information (TMI Syndrome –see 994.68) and can not adequately manage it either in working memory or in a consistent single method. Post-it addiction disorder presents problems with Post-it Creep, a phenomenon in which the individual’s surroundings are gradually and progressively covered by more and more post-its, even in their car, their bedroom and bathroom and their mirrors. As the Post-it Creep intensifies, the individual may experience a worsening of the condition by adding different sizes, colors and shapes of Post-its, leading to even more confusion and anxiety as to what the colors and shapes represent.
Similar to eating disorders, the individual typically maintains over use of post-its, but periodically engages in Post-It Purges, in which they frantically remove post-its, consolidate them, or transfer them to lists that are then misplaced or buried under additional post-its, rendering them unreadable and useless.

668.15 Post-Post It Traumatic Stress Disorder: This disorder is a second stage disorder, related to Post-It Addiction Disorder, but more complex. The individual with PPTSD becomes so overwhelmed by the Post-It disorder that they begin to compulsively seek alternative ways of recording their thoughts, tasks, and reminders. Often shifting to techno-based programs, they develop multiple lists, alarm systems, reminder messages are other electronic means of tracking information previously confined to post-its. Some even use an electronic version of post-its. Whatever the means, the person inevitably becomes overwhelmed by excessive numbers of lists, lost passwords, and has co-morbid problems
with Listosynchomania and Duplication Distress Disorder. One paradoxical effect of Post-Post-It Traumatic Stress Disorder is that the individual continues the effort to shift to electronic substitutes for the post-its, but, due to an underlying feeling of anxiety and insecurity as to whether the lists will be accessible or may be lost in a techno crash, they often revert to using Post-its at the same time, resulting in a dual addiction and requiring more complex intervention.

144.99 Numerous Numbers Anxiety Disorder: This disorder is a reciprocal disorder, experienced both by those possessing numerous communication devices and by those trying to communicate with them. As the number of devices, numbers, email addresses, and communication systems proliferate, e.g., gmail, email, voice mail, facetime, skype, blackberry, Nextel direct connect, VoIP, and smoke signals, people trying to reach the person using these devices are never sure which is the preferred device, which is on, which has the priority alarm or alert system, and/or is charged. Recognizing that the proliferation of means of connection may result in MESSAGE LIMBO (a state in which a message is transmitted to the person, but is not received because the device is turned off, left home, lost, deactivated, or buried in their purse), the person transmitting the message develops Numerous Number Anxiety Disorder, leading them to compulsively transmit messages to all available numbers and addresses, realizing that limiting the means of communication to one method reduces the chances of the message being received in direct proportion to the number of devices or message systems the person has. The American Psyberatric Association has, through exhaustive research, developed an equation to explain this phenomenon:
The probability that any given transmitted message will reach the intended recipient goes down in direct ratio to the increase in number of devices the person possesses. Conversely, the probability that a single message will be received goes up in direct proportion to the fewer devices the person has. The only fail-safe option, which then generates NNAD, is to generate messages in equal number to the number of devices. NNAD triggers a number of secondary reactions in the person receiving the messages including a variation of Duplication Distress Disorder (see above, but here generated by excessive messages due to excessive devices, rather than excessive lists) and Reactive Message Invasion Syndrome.

842.35 Reactive Message Invasion Syndrome. See above. This syndrome results from the person with the communication devices feeling overwhelmed by the number of messages they are receiving, both generally and from specific senders. Though triggered to some degree by TMTTD, the person with RMIS does not perceive that their techno systems may be contributing to message overload or generating difficulty for others in knowing how to best communicate with them. Despite the Message Invasion Syndrome, which can sometimes even result in resentment or hostility at the receipt of excessive messages, the individual is unable to reduce the number or sources of messages out of fear that they will miss something important or that their TMTTD will be further aggravated. A vicious circle of overload and inability to control it results, which leads to aggravation, reactivity, fatigue and sleeplessness, resulting from the need to keep track of all the messages.

125.68 Spamalot Attraction Regulatory Dysfunction: This condition is manifested by the individual’s intense and impulsive need to join lists, visit new websites and add their name to email lists and listservs, resulting in an overflow of messages. This is also manifested by excessive attraction to social network pages and uncontrolled desire to add friends to one’s lists, regardless of whether there is any actual social or other connection. This Dysfunction also leads the individual to post news about their life of absolutely no consequence, but allowing for the sensation of connection to those on their lists (e.g., I saw a Beautiful Bird today…..isn’t that great!) As the inbox and friends lists exponentially expand, the person becomes convinced that they are gaining social importance and connection, though the number of messages and individuals being connected results in another American Psyberatric Association : The Friend/List Paradox: The more messages, lists or friends an individual establishes on line, the less ability the person has to follow the information received or maintain meaningful connection with the individuals or groups sending the messages.

999.99 Cybercommunication Attention Deficit Disorder/Hermetic Relationship Disorder: These two serious and co-existing conditions involve interrelated phenomena. First, the more messages and lists the individual is receiving and the more devices being used, the more time they need to spend managing, reading and responding to the information and the more dependent they become on the devices and communications systems, as they have no time for other activities or in person interaction. This in turn leads to Hermetic Relationship Disorder, in which the person becomes totally attached to their devices, spending more time with their devices then with people. Often, the condition is characterized by the person anthropomorphizing the devices, giving them names, special colors, prominent places in their room or on their body, spending their day with ear buds or Blue Tooth devices in their ears even when there is no one on the line, and interrupting their daily activities to constantly check for new messages, even in the midst of live conversations with people talking to them. As the condition worsens, they become increasingly engaged in the cyber world, sometimes opting to communicate to people electronically even though they may be in the next room or down the hall. Increasing relying on the light of the device and its keyboard, they may not even turn on the regular lights in their room, glued to their screens, and ritualistically checking the various devices to insure that no new message, list post, or announcement is missed. The only cure for this disorder is MADD: Methodical Assistive Device Destruction.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Missing the Boat- Aging, AD/HD, Societal Overload? Life is too short to cheat ourselves of the good things we do!

“I missed the boat so many times….there were so many crossroads where I made the wrong turn.” Regrets of aging, of AD/HD, of denying the value of what we have done – Thoughts on my father and on life….

I spent some time with my 86 year old father today. I see him often, but most often there are other people around, my mother, my children, siblings, friends. I talk to him almost every day and he regularly says “Let’s make a date. I would love to have some time just with you.”
Today we did. He is 86. He has Parkinsons, some form, perhaps Parkinson’s dementia, perhaps some Alzheimers’s thrown in, perhaps just a mind that gets confused and has trouble remembering things both present and past….

My son was diagnosed with AD/HD when he was 3… AD/HD emergency, the neurologist called it. I was diagnosed with AD/HD about eight years ago, but was aware I had it long before that. And my dad was diagnosed about 5 or 6 years ago, before his Parkinson’s was in full swing. It is hard to know now what is Parkinson’s, what is AD/HD, what is being old for him.

Recently, Nor and I read a book together by Ned Hallowell that drew a parallel between the experience of people with AD/HD and the experience of everyone. The point was that our society is overwhelming now, filled with distractions, excessive demands and pressures, information overload. This creates a societal Attention Deficit disorder that mimics many of the symptoms of AD/HD for those that actually have it. True enough. Imagine what is like for those of us that have AD/HD and have societal overload as well. Imagine what it like for my dad, as he struggles to establish where he is, what point in time, what part of his life. As he comes and goes from considerable lucidity and awareness to being in the ball park, but not quite, to being totally frustrated by his difficulty recalling a thought or a needed word, to being totally disoriented and disconnected.

Whatever the other factors, I am convinced he did have AD/HD. Through out his adult life, despite amazing accomplishments, he struggled with many things, time, completion of projects, keeping track of details….and we certainly saw incredible signs of it when we helped my parents move from their house – letters piled in old bags, uncashed checks, files replicating other files, things hidden away all over and countless systems of organization – each well designed, but none consistently implemented.

As I was growing up, my dad constantly communicated a message that I was very talented, but could do even better, should try harder, could do more. Saving the world was pretty good, but all in a day’s work. But he was an even harder critic of his own work. He developed and constantly revised elaborate formulas for calculating what he had accomplished. How many patients had he seen? How many students had he taught? How many patients had the students he taught helped? And on and on. Never enough. The numbers an attempt at comfort and satisfaction, but actually an impossible trap – what ever the numbers were, they were never enough.

So we talked today….or mostly I listened and occasionally asked questions and tried to cut through the haze of his confusion. He kept saying he “had missed the boat, made too many wrong turns….” He wasn’t sure if he would have been here or there, but wasn’t sure where here and there were, but was sure that the choice was whatever the path he hadn’t taken.

I talked about how hard it is to be confused and overwhelmed by choices, information, expectations, and that we can only do what we are able – and he couldn’t allow himself to hear that. He wasn’t confused, he just……and then he would lose what he was saying. Then he started telling me a story about a cat and a small man, a story that he said his father told him repeatedly. Both the cat and the small man had many virtues, but their virtues conflicted with each other and they couldn’t seem to acknowledge each others virtues or find a way for each to work with the other. It was one or the other, but never both. It took a while to tell the story, and it was unclear if he was reporting the story his father told or sharing his own story or talking to me in the present. I asked him if this was a metaphor for his life and his marriage and he laughed but didn’t respond, perhaps couldn’t respond. He wasn’t sure who was telling the story or to whom it applied. He said there was so much he hadn’t done, had not accomplished. I described the Cohen condition – always expecting too much, accomplishing much, but focusing on what we haven’t done, not on what we have done. I talked about the number games he had played trying to prove to himself that he had accomplished a lot but always seemed dissatisfied. I shared that we were all our own worst critics and needed to be able to give ourselves credit for what we had done (and he had done an incredible amount), but he kept coming back to bad choices, wrong turns, things undone. A societal condition? A personality characteristic? A genetic predisposition (it seems to run in our family!) A part of his AD/HD? I am sure it is all of the above. But I think the story of AD/HD makes this particularly hard, and the experience of aging can make it very hard. But AD/HD does create confusion, persistent doubt. We constantly generate new ideas, new projects, new possibilities. Many get done. Many don’t. But there are so many in our head, so many things always spinning in our minds, that it is impossible to feel that we are ever finished. It is hard to feel we have ever done enough. It is hard to feel that we have accomplished what we could or what we should, because more is always there, both because of the many things in our head that never make it in to the world and because the many things in the world that demand our attention and make it harder to focus on the things that we are doing or need to do. As I sat with my dad, I was crying inside, in part because of the pain of watching him struggle just to say what he wanted to say, but also because whatever confusion he felt, there was no question that he saw his life in many ways as a failure and was unable to see or value the great things that he was able to do.

Growing old is hard. Each person experiences it differently. And having AD/HD is also hard and we each experience it differently. But a common element, for all of us, is to value what we do, to treasure what we have experienced, and to enjoy the people in our life and what we can give to them and they give to us. It isn’t healthy to ignore our problems or to minimize mistakes we make. We need to deal with them and learn from them. But we need to be able to value the things we have and that we accomplish. And we should be able to recognize that it is a very difficult and confusing world, one that we can’t totally control and that often overwhelms. Sometimes, just keeping going is a big accomplishment by itself. I love my dad, love what he has done, and love our moments, even as he struggles to hold on to them. We all need to hold on to them. Old, AD/HD or just facing an out of control world, we should value that we keep doing what we can to make things better.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

What lessons are our children really learning? It is time to break the code of silence and the phony outcomes game!

What lessons are our children really learning? It is time to break the code of silence and end the phony outcomes game!

Jimmy has disabilities and struggles at school, but had never been evaluated for special education. Some kids that live near him were bullying him, before, during and after school. His parents complained to the school staff, but little was done….. and he became more and more upset. In an apparent effort to deal with the bullying at school, a speaker was brought in to address all the students about bullying. At the end of the speech, he offered the students his email so they could write him. The next day, Jimmy wrote that he was being bullied and was not getting protected and was having suicidal thoughts. The speaker told the Principal, who called the parents and suggested that Jimmy be hospitalized. When Jimmy returned to school, little changed. The bullying continued. Jimmy finally couldn’t take it any more and fought back. He was suspended for fighting and still the school did not stop the bullying nor evaluate him. What does it teach the victim when he is ignored when he seeks help and, not getting help, is punished when he fights back? What message does it send to the bullies when they are not punished, but the victim is? Can teachers feel safe and supported if their administrators are not willing to take decisive action to maintain control of the school and assure that bullying, aggression and violence are not permitted?

Sally has learning disabilities, AD/HD, Reactive Attachment Disorder and auditory processing problems, along with other disabilities. She is only 8 years old. She receives special education services at school and has an outdated behavior plan that calls for the staff to record all of Sally’s behaviors and to email the parents if there are any serious behaviors. Recently, the teacher and staff in the class have been logging as many as 180 behaviors a day and emailing the parents 10 or more times a day about all the problems she is having. Most often, the reports show the behavior, but nothing is being done to change the behavior or to change the strategies that have been repeatedly unsuccessful. Because the plans aren’t working, Sally is spending much of her class time in time out and the staff are spending much of their time recording behavior data, but not addressing the behavior. Isn’t learning supposed to include learning that we need to change our strategies when they aren’t working? Isn’t it likely that Sally has learned that she can escape the work that is difficult for her if she acts out, because then she is removed from the work? Is that what we want Sally to be learning about behavior? How much academic learning is Sally able to do when there are so many behavior problems occurring? What is the teacher learning, when she is spending enormous time recording data and sending reports to the parents, but no one is analyzing the data or helping her to identify what may be causing Sally’s behavior or to find better strategies for addressing it?

Andre had a reading disability and Asperger’s Syndrome, but is very smart. His teachers didn’t think that he had a disability, because he was able to perform reasonably well in school. The parents were insistent that he needed extra help or would begin having serious problems. The school finally agreed, but the teachers were skeptical, feeling that he didn’t need their help and it was a waste of time. At the end of the year, one of the teachers told the parents that Andre had made remarkable progress with the strategies that she had started using, but that she had discovered that many of these strategies were also very helpful with most of her other students. It’s great that the teacher was able to recognize and acknowledge the effectiveness of the strategies the parents were recommending, but what would have happened if the parents hadn’t known to ask for a change? How long would Andre have had to fail before the staff realized that something different was needed? Isn’t part of learning that we always strive to find solutions to problems and to find new and better ways to learn and teach, even if things are working adequately? Sometimes new strategies initially involve more work. Working with kids with disabilities, and teaching generally, can be emotionally and physically exhausting. But what lessons to we model for kids when we repeat what is familiar, rather than challenge them and ourselves by trying things that are new and setting standards that require them and us to stretch higher?

Tommy’s mother was worried that he didn’t seem to be learning much at school and struggled with the little homework that he brought home. Recently, the school did a three year reevaluation of Tommy. Tommy’s mother was very confused because the staff reported that he had made lots of progress and had tested in the average range in the school’s psychological testing. Tommy’s mother decided to get an outside evaluation done to help to figure out why Tommy was struggling so much if the school’s testing was accurate. When the evaluator began to test Tommy, he not only reported that he was familiar with the tests, but that the teacher had spent worked with him to practice taking the tests at school and had helped him while the formal tests were being done by prompting him if he was giving an incorrect answer. How is Tommy helped by being assisted to perform on a school evaluation so he will appear to be functioning much higher than he really was? What will Tommy learn from being assisted to cheat on an important test? What accountability does a teacher or evaluator have for encouraging a student to cheat? Is this isolated or are educators receiving subtle or even explicit pressure to teach to the test and to take questionable measures to increase the test performance of their students?

Bonnie had a variety of fine motor and speech problems. She had an IEP with very modest goals in these areas and she was getting passing grades. Even though Bonnie had many continuing problems with speech and sensory-motor skills, the therapists and teachers decided she no longer needed speech or OT services and that the teachers could provide whatever help she needed. Is it realistic to expect teachers to know how to help Bonnie if the specialists aren’t involved? Is it fair to Bonnie or the teachers to expect them to do even more to assist with Bonnie’s problems when they already have a full load of activities and aren’t trained to provide these services? Is it wise educationally to reduce services to Bonnie (perhaps to save money), when the many needs Bonnie still has may create further academic and other problems for her as she continues with her education and into adulthood?

These stories are amalgams of the experiences of a number of children with whom I have worked in the last few months. While the names and details have been changed for obvious reasons, each story is based on real situations. There are many excellent, committed and compassionate teachers and educators working in our schools. And there are many good schools and good school districts. We ask them to do the impossible, but give them the resources to do what is unacceptable. But in the ongoing debate over the lack of adequate outcomes from our educational system, as part of the debates over No Child Left Behind, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the push for accountability, innovation, flexibility, and less regulation and control, the stories above and many variations are frighteningly commonplace. I have grave doubts that some of the proposals for reforming education that are currently being discussed will improve the schools. In fact, I fear that many of the proposals may make things worse.
Students and educators all deserve better! It is tempting to focus on quantitative measures to promote higher quality in our schools, but it is an impossible mission. We must broaden our view of the role of the schools to include not only academics but the wide range of life skills. These cannot be measured on school-wide tests.
We must broaden our training of teachers so that they are using the best educational practices to teach our students academics (skills that many currently lack), but also prepare them to be leaders and models for our students in relation to values, behavior, communication, and service. We must shatter the code of silence within schools in which low performance is hidden and professional evaluation is seen as a threat, rather than seen as a means to identify and solve problems. We must break down the barriers to parent involvement, both those erected by the educators and those resulting from parental indifference or inability to find time to be involved.
We must invest in teaching new teachers not only the basic content information they need to teach a subject, but much more in how to be a good teacher. We must rethink and redesign our ongoing in-service and continuing education programs for current teachers to give them access to the training to learn and master best practices. We must demand that administrators set expectations for their teachers and their schools that are geared to excellence in teaching, to maximizing the performance of all students, not only on test, but in their day to day work, and we must redefine the schools as open communities involving educators, parents and businesses, rather than as fortresses to be defended against attack from the public or from complaining parents or policy makers. We must recognize the importance of public education, the need for high standards and the cost of quality education. We must invest in our children, our teachers and our schools, rather than paying lip service to quality, accountability and innovation through gimmicks that require change, but are not likely to achieve the true changes we want and need. We must expect outcomes that improve the quality of our children’s education and their ability to succeed as adults, rather than outcomes that show statistical improvement, but do not correspond to improvement in real life. Too often, parents and teachers are now seen as opponents in the political arena. Isn’t it time that teachers and parents united and demanded better training, resources, and support.? It would be better for all of us.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Myths, Legends and Realities- Legal Rights of Kids with AD/HD at School

Myths, Legends and Reality-
School obligations for Kids with AD/HD That
Need IEPs or Section 504 Plans (c)
Matt Cohen, J.D.

This will appear in ADDitude Magazine's Fall
Success in School Issue -

After working in special education law for more than 30 years, I have found that some schools don’t always follow the letter and spirit of the law when it comes to providing accommodations and services for children protected under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (the IDEA, the law governing special ed) and Section 504. The bottom line: Because your special needs child doesn’t receive some or any of the educational assistance he deserves, he may find school more challenging or even experience failure, rather than success.
Here are 10 common myths that some schools purvey, either through ignorance or in an attempt to discourage parents from receiving help they are legally entitled to. Remember parents: Knowledge is power.

1) Myth: ADHD is not a real disorder and does not qualify as a disability.
Reality: ADHD is among the most thoroughly researched and documented psychiatric disorders, and the U.S. Department of Education has expressly recognized that students with ADHD may qualify for special education (and an IEP to implement their program) under the Other Health Impaired (OHI) Category or a Section 504 plan, even if they don’t qualify for an IEP through special education.

2) Myth: Students with ADHD may only qualify for a Section 504 plan, not an IEP, particularly if they are getting passing grades or adequate achievement scores.
Reality: Students diagnosed with ADHD can qualify for an IEP if their AD/HD adversely affects educational performance (including social and behavioral performance), and requires special education (including modifying the content, method or
mode of delivery of regular instruction,). Special education can be delivered in a regular education classroom. The OHI category of IDEA expressly lists ADHD as one of the Health Impairments that may qualify for special education. Further, a student with AD/HD may qualify for an IEP even if they are getting passing grades and have good achievement scores, if they are having other serious difficulties at school.

3) Myth: Students with ADHD can only qualify for an IEP or a Section 504 plan if they are failing or if they have below average achievement test scores.
Reality: Students with ADHD may be eligible under either law if their symptoms affect their performance at school, including problems with organizational skills, time management, behavior and social skills, or even regularly talking without being called on. Failing grades and low achievement scores may be evidence of impairment, but are not the only factors to consider. IEPs should not only identify accommodations or related services to address the student’s needs, but also goals for the student to improve the behaviors that result from the ADHD, such as time management problems or being off-task.

4) Myth: To be eligible for special education or Section 504 plan, the student must be diagnosed with ADHD by a physician.
Reality: While best-practice evaluations of ADHD recognize the importance of comprehensive medical and psychological evaluation of a student suspected of having ADHD, the Department of Education has issued a policy statement stating that if the IEP team includes persons the school believes are qualified to diagnose ADHD—a psychologist trained to evaluate ADHD—a medical evaluation is not legally required.
5) Myth: Schools may require a medical diagnosis of ADHD at parent expense prior to proceeding with an evaluation for special education or a Section 504 plan.
Reality: If a school requires or recommends a medical, psychiatric, or neurological evaluation as part of the evaluation process to determine eligibility for special education or a 504 plan, the medical evaluation must be at no cost to the parent. The school must pay for it.

6) Myth: Schools may require that students with ADHD receive stimulant medication in order to qualify for special education or for other school services or activities.
Reality: Schools may not base a student’s eligibility for special education or any school activity on their taking any medication. Medication is a medical decision between the family and their doctor. If the student has ADHD and qualifies for special education through an IEP or a 504 Plan, but is not taking medication, the school still must develop appropriate academic and behavioral supports to meet their needs.

7) Myth: Teachers may decide whether or not they will implement an IEP or 504 plan or even have a student with a disability such as ADHD in their class.
Reality: If a student has an IEP or a Section 504 plan, the staff are required to implement it. Further, teachers may not refuse to have a student with a disability in their class, just as it would be illegal for them to refuse to teach a student based on race, gender or religion.
8) Myth: Students with ADHD may only qualify for a positive behavior support plan if they are exhibiting disruptive or inappropriate behavior towards others.
Reality: Under the IDEA and Section 504, positive behavior supports can be included in the plan to address academic and social problems, such as timeliness, work completion, social isolation and on-task behavior, as well as to address aggressive or disruptive behaviors.

9) Myth: Students who have ADHD and a 504 Plan are only entitled to accommodations, like preferential seating or untimed tests, not services.
Reality: Under Section 504, students with ADHD (and other disabilities) are not only entitled to accommodations, but may also be entitled to specialized educational services (such as individual instruction or tutoring) and related services (such as counseling). The Section 504 plan should be designed to meet the individualized needs of the student.

10) Myth: Students with AD/HD can not qualify for 1-1 aides, bus transportation or other more intensive/expensive services.
Reality: Students with ADHD are entitled to any services or supports necessary for them to benefit from their education under IDEA or to have equal access to educational opportunities under Section 504. There is no limitation on the nature or types of services a student may qualify for, if it can be demonstrated that the service is needed for the student to participate in educational activities provided to others and/or to make meaningful progress in the least restrictive environment appropriate to their needs. Any blanket policy limiting access based on diagnosis or disability label is suspect.

(c) Copyright by Matthew Cohen, April, 2011, May not be reproduced without author's express written consent. Additude Magazine Article may be reproduced only with consent of the publisher..

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Let's Stop the Blame the Parent Game.....

by Matt Cohen
Times are tough for the public schools....less money, more demands, new standards to meet, budget pressures....
In many ways, they are even tougher for special education. Kids with disabilities have often been shortchanged
in relation to what they really need to make meaningful progress, thanks to an early Supreme Court decision
that held that schools had met their responsibilities if the student's program was "reasonably calculated" to
allow the student to make "some educational progress." But it is even worse as schools face tightening
budgets and increased pressure to reduce seemingly extra or disproportionate expenses for special education
services. And even where budget cuts are evenly distributed, the impact on kids with disabilities is often
greater, because they are more vulnerable to disruption, reduced support, larger classes, less individualization.
Yes, times are tough for schools. But times are tough for families, too. Families have higher costs,
many are facing one or both parent losing work or being underemployed. Health care costs are skyrocketing
and state and federal funding for services for kids with disabilities is shrinking. Just the basic costs for
food and gas are going through the roof. All families are having to do more with what they have and often have
less to spend then before. And their kids need more, as less is available at school, from the state and is less
affordable from private clinicians. Stress and more stress....
And times are tough for kids....all kids. They can see their parents struggling, financially and emotionally. They know that their vacations aren't happening this year. They know that for teenagers, work is harder to find, and for those going to
college, tuition is rising and financial aid is often harder to get.
And in this painful and chaotic economic crisis, times are especially tough for kids with disabilities.
What can the school provide? Will the services be there next year? Direct services are being changed to
consultative service. Individual service is not being made group service. Minutes of individual help are being
reduced or discontinued. More decisions are financially driven, rather than driven by the needs of the child.
It is no wonder that many parents are trying to reach out to their schools to make sure that their kids' needs are being met,
asking if the services being promised are being provided, seeking to make up for some of the things that are no longer
available elsewhere, or just seeking to hold the line in minimizing the reductions that are occurring. Schools
should welcome the concerns parents are sharing....
But it's become BLAME THE PARENT TIME! In too many situations, administrators and school attorneys
are going on the offensive. Parents are being criticized for asking for too much when budgets are tight, even
though they are asking for things their kids need and often that their IEPs require.
-At a recent program to inform parents about their rights, the school district's attorney broadly chastised parents for
being too critical of teachers, for being intrusive, for overwhelming them with questions and emails, for treating them poorly
and for not being sensitive to the difficult jobs that they have.
-In a recent case involving a young man that had been inappropriately placed and had 10-15 absences during one semester, some excused and some unexcused, the school attorney, while offering limited extra tutoring to provide the student remedial help, insisted that he or his father (who worked nights), call the school 12 hours in advance if he was going to be sick or reimburse the school for the cost of tutoring (not even doctors charge patients for missed appointments if they are sick) and would lose the tutoring altogether if he missed three sessions in a semester.
-Another parent, who had won a due process because the school was failing to provide appropriate ABA services for her son with Autism, was accused of filing due process hearings to spite the school.
-In yet another case, school staff criticized the parent and the consultant the school had hired for being too easy on the student with disabilities, when the behavior involved was directly caused by her disability.
We should expect more, not less! Parents are being accused of
taking advantage of the system for asking for services that go beyond school formulas. Parents asking questions are accused of not trusting the staff or questioning staff expertise, when they aren't getting basic information they are entitled to and any parent would want.
Some schools are threatening to have parents arrested if they come to school too often, are restricting
parents' ability to observe their kids in school, or are faulting parents for medical conditions that make it impossible
for the child to attend every day.
The broader school community is also playing the blame game in relation to special education services. That's wrong too.
But the BLAME THE PARENT STRATEGY is really intended to intimidate parents into backing off, giving up
in trying to get help for their kids, accepting mediocre services or worse. It is inhumane and arguably, often
illegal, if it denies the parent the ability to adequately participate in the IEP process, to access information
about their child, or to have the same access to the school as other parents. It may even violate the
non-harrassment rules of Section 504 or the ADA if it is being done in response to parents exercising their
right to complain or use the procedural safeguards of the special education system.
But legalities and strategies aside, it isn't good for anybody. It hurts the kids. It undermines, demeans
and intimidates the parents. And it makes problem solving much harder. When times are tough,
everyone is better off having open, cooperative and pragmatic discussions about how to best meet the
needs of all students. Blaming parents may cause them to back off at the moment, but it will ultimately
create more problems for the students, more conflict, and more work for the staff. And it just
isn't right. Parents should blame educators for things that they can't control, but educators and their
attorneys shouldn't demonize parents or put them on the defensive just to control them and keep them from
being legitimately involved in their kids' education. Let's all start talking, instead of attacking....