School/Special Education Misc

Fillin’ the Cracks

Anxiety over your child’s school-based problems can start very early. A mom recently contacted me after reading The Shut-Down Learner.

“My son is drowning in school. Do you think he could be a shut-down learner?”

After asking a few more questions, I was struck by the fact that the child in question was only five and in kindergarten.

When I wrote the Shut-Down Learner I was largely envisioning a disconnected, shut-down adolescent.

However, as I gave more talks to the parents, so many of the concerns being raised involved young children.

To help explain things to parents I created a formula:

Early Cracks in the Foundation + Time + Lack of Understanding + Widening cracks + Family tensions increasing = Shut Down Learner

So, while the child of concern may only be in kindergarten there are cracks that can be identified.  Time goes by quickly and with a lack of understanding how to address them, they widen with family tensions arising around the school issues.

Takeaway Point

There’s no gain in waiting.  Do what you can to fill the cracks.


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To Contact Dr. Richard Selznick for advice, consultation or other information, email – rselznick615@gmail.com

Copyright, Richard Selznick, Ph.D.  2023, www.shutdownlearner.com.

 

Sharks & Minnows – Part II

Last week we talked about the law of the playground  (and the jungle), that in spite of well meaning attempts to extinguish the phenomenon of “sharks” picking on the “minnows,” the law of the playground persists (Sharks & Minnows (Part I).

Picking up on the smallest drop of blood, the sharks jump in.  It really doesn’t take much to get things going in a not so great direction.

It may not be overt or aggressive, but the minnows feel it.

“She can’t even read – she’s so stupid,” Claire overheard from one of the sharky kids snickering to a few other sharky types in the lunchroom as she walked past them.

Sometimes the minnows unknowingly hand it over to them, by acting too silly or too over the top, like young Nicholas who is always making “knock knock” jokes that no one wants to hear.  (I say these kids can be “too too.”)

So, if it’s an immutable law, what’s to be done (keeping in mind that there are no easy answers to any of it)?

Here are  a few points:

  • Watch overuse of the word “bullying:” As noted on stopbullying.govBullying represents unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.  

Others may disagree, but I don’t think Claire’s situation above would qualify as bullying.  If that type of interaction is repeated over time, that’s a different story and the school should be notified to address the issue with their HIB policy.

  • Sensitizing the Minnows: This is much easier said than done.  A young man I work with mentioned above, Nicholas, is a great kid, but he can set himself up unwittingly to be shark chum.  I try (the best I can) to help him to turn his dial down a little in group situations  Not blurting out the first thing that comes to your mind, being mindful of side behaviors like cracking knuckles, making jokes or tapping too much are small examples.  There are many other behaviors like these that get the sharks going.  Having a child like Nicholas get feedback in therapy about their social behavior can be helpful.
  • Sensitizing the Sharks: When I worked in schools, I’d like to believe I could sensitize the sharks to some extent, not by “getting in their grill,” but by talking to them in plain, direct language.  “Listen, man, I saw you giving Nicholas a hard time the other day in the playground.  I know he gets on your nerves, but it’s really starting to bother him.  I’d appreciate it if you backed it down,” is the type of thing I would say to a shark.  Most of the time, talking to the shark directly worked more often than not.

Adult involvement is key with any intervention.

Without adult involvement, neither the sharks nor the minnows will alter their behavior, or to borrow another metaphor – “Leopards don’t change their spots.”


Feel free to make comment below.  To receive future blog posts, register your email: https://shutdownlearner.com.

To Contact Dr. Richard Selznick for advice, consultation or other information, email – rselznick615@gmail.com

Copyright, Richard Selznick, Ph.D.  2023, www.shutdownlearner.com.

 

All Aboard the Curriculum Ship

Is your child falling off the Curriculum Ship?

The Curriculum Ship  leaves dock in early September and starts steering its course until mid to late June, when it arrives at port somewhere on the other side of the ocean.

Not slowing down even when some passengers are falling off the side of the boat, the ship must go full steam ahead.

Marianne, age 9, is barely treading water while she watches the ship leave her behind, having fallen off the ship in early October.

Upset by what is happening in school, Marianna’s mom said, “This week they are reading science stories about photosynthesis. Photosynthesis,” she exclaims, “she can’t read or pronounce the word!!!! She has no idea what’s going on.  Yesterday she got a worksheet packet all  marked wrong. Marianne was beside herself, feeling horrible. How  does a 9-year-old deal with all this failure?”

Looking at the worksheet packet, I could feel my blood pressure rising. Beside “photosynthesis,” there were many other words on the page that Marianne could not read on her own.  Yet, that was what she was being asked to do.

Clearly she was in over her head and quite frustrated.

I tell the mom the work is simply too hard and that it was analogous to asking someone to lift 50 pound weights when they could only lift ten.

“I know,” she responded.  “It took her two hours to complete the worksheets last night and she still got an F along with those frown faces at the top of the sheet.”

I tell her, “It’s the Curriculum Ship. The message is swim harder if you want to keep up with the ship.”

Children face rough waters when they are not in the green zone (See last week’s post:  Green-Yellow-Red Zone)

The Curriculum Ship doesn’t bother to consider which passengers have fallen over board and need to be rescued.

The ship must reach the other side.

That is its mission.

Takeaway Point

The Curriculum Ship is tough to deal with.  Advocate where you can by having an open relationship with the teacher.  Point out where your child is in over their head.  Ask to cut back on the “frowny faces,”  especially when good effort is shown, as in the case with Marianne.

(There’s a lot more that can be said about this, but it’s a start.)


(***Please note:  All blogs represent the opinion and perspective of Dr. Richard Selznick.  Comments and questions are welcomed, but are blocked by the hosting site.  Please email questions or comments: rselznick615@gmail.com)  

Copyright, Richard Selznick, Ph.D.  2023, www.shutdownlearner.com.

To Contact Dr. Richard Selznick for advice, consultation or other information, email rselznick615@gmail.com.

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“504 Realities (Part II) – Raising My ‘IQ'”

In last week’s post we talked about some of the basics involved with 504 Plans (504 Plans – The Reality : Part I ).

Remember, that a 504 does not offer any interventions,  but accommodations. It is intended to provide equal access to the mainstream to those identified as having a disability.  By far, ADHD is the disorder that receives the most 504 plans in school.

Of the things (among many) that raises my “IQ” (i.e., Irritation Quotient), are 504 accommodations that seem rubber-stamped or given by default.

A classic example is the provision of extra time, which is the top of the list of accommodations typically offered to ADHD children. (Not sure I’ve ever seen a 504 Plan that doesn’t give extra time as its top accommodation.)

To illustrate and expand upon my irritation, let’s look at Carl, an impulsive child who rushes through his work (and practically everything else he does).  Diagnosed by his pediatrician with ADHD, the parents took the physician’s prescription with a request for a 504 to the school.

The team met with the parents and set up a 504.  Among a few other accommodations at the top of the list was the provision of extra time (i.e., double time) on tests and classroom activities.

Given Carl’s characteristic impulsive style, the last thing Carl needs (or wants) is extra time.

As Carl blitzes through everything, it’s unclear how double-time helps Carl, as he is finishing a typical fifteen minute task in under three minutes (without checking any of his work).

Perhaps, rather than giving Carl extra time, which doesn’t help him at all, they can have the teacher’s assistant slowly go through his answers to help him to double check them, something he rarely to never does.

As you go into yo.ur 504 meetings  try and have an open and honest conversation (admittedly, not easy to do) regarding your child.

To guide the discussion there should be one central question.   That is, “What are the few things that can be done  to  help the child to function more effectively in the classroom?”  If time extension isn’t helpful, then don’t put it in the 504.

Takeaway Point

Be practical and realistic.  Come up with two or three things that you think would legitimately help your child

Keep it simple.  Keep asking the central question.


(***Please note:  All blogs represent the opinion and perspective of Dr. Richard Selznick.  Comments and questions are welcomed, but are blocked by the hosting site.  Please email questions or comments: rselznick615@gmail.com)  

Copyright, Richard Selznick, Ph.D.  2022, www.shutdownlearner.com.

To Contact Dr. Richard Selznick for advice, consultation or other information, email rselznick615@gmail.com.

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504 Plans – The Reality: Part I

Parents will come to me loaded with terms only partially understood,  like referring to “504 Plans.”.

I will hear things such as the following:

“We just need to get him a 504.  so he can start reading better.”

“Yesterday, she had a meltdown in school and no one wants to play with her.  The 504 just isn’t working.”

Listen folks.  We need to get real.  Even if you are able to obtain a 504 Plan, that does not result in giving the child the help that may be needed.

It’s not the purpose of a 504 Plan.

Tack this on your office wall and repeat it as a mantra:  A 504 does not provide any service or intervention!!!  

This point is absolutely essential to keep in mind.

The notion of the 504 is that the child identified by an outside professional as having a disability necessitates developing reasonable accommodations so that the child can function as free as possible of any handicapping barriers  in the mainstream setting.

The word “reasonable is  open to a great deal of interpretation.

So is the word “adequate,” which comes up a lot in special education lingo.

Second mantra to post on your wall:

Schools are not required (by law) to provide the “best” education when it comes to special education, but an adequate one.

The Toyota – Lexus analogy has been used frequently to explain this.  While the Toyota may not have all of the features of a Lexus, it certainly is adequate to get you from here to there.

Takeaway Point

504 Plans do not offer services.

504 provides accommodations, not interventions.

More next week.


(***Please note:  All blogs represent the opinion and perspective of Dr. Richard Selznick.  Comments and questions are welcomed, but are blocked by the hosting site.  Please email questions or comments: rselznick615@gmail.com)  

Copyright, Richard Selznick, Ph.D.  2022, www.shutdownlearner.com.

To Contact Dr. Richard Selznick for advice, consultation or other information, email rselznick615@gmail.com.

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“Common Sense & ‘Passing the Smell Test'”

Last Sunday there was a feature article in the New York Times on the science of reading emphasizing that “science” has confirmed the need to teach children phonics. (Science of Reading – New York Times)

While this comes after decades of debate, the article notes that the “science of reading” has determined (finally), that there is a correct way to teach reading and it looks like phonics instruction has been declared the winner.

(Not to mention that this was already determined by researchers under the Bush Administration with Reading First and Leave No Child Behind.)

Once again, though, the determination that phonics is the winner, on some level, does not make common sense and does not “pass the smell test.”

The question is not whether phonics instruction is the best way to teach reading, but whether or not the child needs it.

Let’s put it this way.

About 70% or so  of six- and seven-year-olds get on the “reading bike” in kindergarten and first grade without much trouble and before you know it they are reading pretty fluently.

Fortunately for this group their  “reading brain” kicks in, mostly through a type of reading osmosis, such as interacting with books in early childhood and being read to regularly by their parents and other adults.

There was little to no formal phonics instruction, yet they became adequate readers.

For the wobbly remainder, the 20 – 30%, many of whom have a learning disability like dyslexia, the natural interactions did not take hold. There was no reading by osmosis.

Guess what they need?

That’s right –  phonics-based instruction.

Unfortunately, by and large over the last 30-40 years that’s not how it’s gone in the schools.

Common sense did not govern instruction and most kids received a model of reading (often referred to as “top-down”) emphasizing reading comprehension.  Phonics instruction was deemed as “so yesterday” and virtually eliminated.

Top-down approaches became the rule of he land.  For the 70%, for those who already know how to read, that is fine.

For the remainder, they wobble along making little progress with such approaches.

Makes common sense, right?

And it even passes the smell test!


(***Please note:  All blogs represent the opinion and perspective of Dr. Richard Selznick.  Comments and questions are welcomed, but are blocked by the hosting site.  Please email questions or comments: rselznick615@gmail.com)  

Copyright, Richard Selznick, Ph.D.  2022, www.shutdownlearner.com.

To Contact Dr. Richard Selznick for advice, consultation or other information, email rselznick615@gmail.com.

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“‘What’s Your Mom Gut?'”

As part of the assessment process, I always conduct an interview (usually with the mom) to get an overview of the issues of concern.

Typically, there will be multiple disorders that have been raised by other professionals along with the parent diagnosing by Google.

A mom recently said something like the following:

“When I asked about dyslexia, the teachers raised the question of either dysgraphia or dyscalculia.”

“Phonological awareness/auditory processing disorder was raised by another.”

“My sister thinks he has an oppositional defiant disorder and is sure that there is an attention deficit disorder.”

“My therapist raised the issue of an emotional dysregulation disorder.”

“My husband thinks he is spoiled and just needs more discipline.”

At some point when I feel my eyeballs snapping as they often do when I am in the midst of “disorder speak,” I try and cut through it with a simple question:

“Without any psychological explanation, what’s your mom gut?”

Since no one’s asked the mom this question before, typically there is  a moment of being slightly surprised that someone wants her opinion stated in this way.

“Well, I think he has a reading problem and he hates doing it, because it embarrasses him.  He will do anything to get out of it.”

“Sounds pretty on point to me,” I respond.

Takeaway Point

I have learned to trust “mom gut” over the years.

About 99% of the time they are on the money.

(The dads are another story.)


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Copyright, Richard Selznick, Ph.D.  2022, www.shutdownlearner.com.

To Contact Dr. Richard Selznick for advice, consultation or other information, email rselznick615@gmail.com.

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“Pull the Curtain”

One of my favorite comedic bits is the one from Jerry Seinfeld’s standup where he talks about the difference between flying first and passenger class.  As the stewardess brusquely pulls the curtain between the first class and the rest, she has a look of, “If you only worked harder,” looking at the hapless passenger class.

With that said, let’s look at Olivia,  a lively and engaging 8-year-old third grader. Involved with a range of typical 8-year-old pursuits, she’s well-liked by her teachers, coaches and peers.

There’s only one problem.

Olivia can’t read, spell or write very well.

Oh, wait, there’s another problem.  As determined in a recent special education evaluation, Olivia won’t be qualifying for her to get help in the form of an IEP.

You see, her score on an IQ test called the WISC-V came in at 91 (27th %ile) and her Composite Reading score was an 83 (13th %ile).

When the mom was told there wasn’t supporting evidence to generate an IEP, the mom was flabbergasted.

“Wait,” the mom said.  “My child reads at a level where about 90% of the children her age read  better than she does and she does not qualify for services?  How is that possible?  I think you’re telling me that Olivia is just not smart enough.  That is, if her IQ came in at 110 or 115, we’d be signing an IEP right now.”

There was no response to the mom’s statement.

Pull the curtain.


Copyright, Richard Selznick, Ph.D.  2022, www.shutdownlearner.com.

To Contact Dr. Richard Selznick for advice, consultation or other information, email rselznick615@gmail.com.

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“‘FAPE’ Realities”

Let’s say you have a 7 year old child just finishing second grade who struggles greatly with reading, spelling and writing and has been diagnosed with a learning disability (i.e., dyslexia).

The school has recently classified the child for special education and an IEP (Individual Education Plan) is put into place.

In spite of the IEP, you have not been thrilled with how your child has been handled to date, since there has been no specialized intervention and second grade is effectively done..  So you look into a specialized private school about 20 minutes away that everyone tells you is  perhaps one of the best ones in the country, the Dyslexia Nirvana School, commonly referred to as “DNS.”

Dyslexia Nirvana School comes with a pretty hefty price tag of $55,000 per year, so you want the public school to either provide what DNS does (specialized individual instruction daily) or to pay for your child to go there.

The parents ask me,   “Don’t you think the school should either do what DNS does or send her there at their cost?”

I know this is going to be one of those tough conversations, so I breathe deeply going into my meditative mode and then offer the following answer –

“Nope, I do not.”

“What do you mean,” they exasperatedly respond, surprised I am that blunt and direct.  “Do we need to get a lawyer?”

From there, I go into my understanding of special education and how it all works to try and help them get on board (not my favorite conversation).

“Here’s the deal,” I start. “The school is required by Federal Law to provide children who are given IEPs what’s called ‘FAPE’ (i.e., a Free and Appropriate Public Education).  (The operative  word in FAPE being “appropriate” which is challenging to define.) They are not obligated nor do they have the resources or the wherewithal to provide what a highly specialized private school offers such as the Dyslexia Nirvana School offers.”

I continue, “Here’s the guiding principle.  Think of Dyslexia Nirvana as one of the best, most expensive cars you can think of – maybe a Lamborghini.  Schools do not offer a Lamborghini and are not required to by law.  It’s not that they are supposed to provide a mediocre product, but they can’t offer what a specialized private school offers.”

“Well, we want her to have the best,” says the mom.

“Then, at least for now, you need to enroll her in the Dyslexia Nirvana School and pay the tuition on your own.”

“What do you mean ‘at least for now?’”

“Look,” I continue, “I’m not a representative of the school and I’m just sharing my understanding of how it works, but at this point the school has barely worked with her.  The program they are suggesting is ‘appropriate’ meaning it is an educationally acceptable program considered to be “appropriate.”

Let’s say some time goes by with this program and she makes very little progress. Then you are in a better position to say they are not providing FAPE and you can make an argument that she should attend the Nirvana School at their expense.  Let’s hope she makes progress, though.  We need to watch it closely.”

Takeaway Point

FAPE is the guiding principle, with the operative word “appropriate,” being open for interpretation.  Before you go for the Lamborghini and expect the school to pay for it, you need to go a step at a time.


Copyright, Richard Selznick, Ph.D.  2022, www.shutdownlearner.com.

To Contact Dr. Richard Selznick for advice, consultation or other information, email rselznick615@gmail.com.

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“IQ-Achievement Model – ‘Ineffective, Irrational, Immoral & Indefensible'”

Child A, we’ll call him Leo, a second grader, is in the 10th percentile of reading, spelling and writing.

Depending on whether you are a “glass half full or half empty” type you can translate it that Leo is better than 10% of the children his age or that 90% are better than he is.

Being a bit of a “glass half empty type” myself, I’m fixated on the notion of the  90% that are better than Leo.

Child B, Joelle, also a second grader, is in the exact same place as Leo.

Both children are struggling significantly.  Their parents are extremely worried and concerned (rightfully so).

Of the two, only one, Joelle,  is getting any kind of legitimate remediation using methods supported in the research.

If they are in the exact same place in their academic functioning, why is only one getting assistance?

While it won’t be said as bluntly as this, the fact from the school’s point of view is Leo just isn’t smart enough.

Joelle has the good fortune of having a FSIQ of 118 (86th %ile), while Leo’s is in the lower portion of the average range (FSIQ = 92 (21st %ile).

As I noted in last week’s post,  Leo is just out of luck (“Sorry, Our Hands Are Tied”).

This “not smart enough” model is linked to states like New Jersey that use a “severe discrepancy model to determine eligibility for classifying a child with a learning disability.

In an article written by Emerson Dickman, special education attorney and former president of the International Dyslexia Association, he quoted leading experts regarding the use of a discrepancy model.

Here are a few choice ones:

For 25 years we have used  the IQ-achievement discrepancy model, a wait-to-fail model that is known to be ineffective, inefficient, irrational, immoral and indefensible.”  (Dr. Douglas Carmine presentation during testimony to Congress on reauthorization of IDEA.)

The formula is a “wait and fail” model and is immoral.”  (Dr. Thomas Hehir, Director of Special Education Programs during Clinton Presidency.)

IQ-Achievement discrepancy is not a valid means for identifying individuals with LD.”  (Dr. Robert Pasternack, Assistant Secretary for Office of Special Education)

 One last point.  Not only is the model unfair and immoral offering no support to struggling children who just aren’t “smart enough,  it also leaves everything entirely up to parents to try and find outside services like tutoring that are never covered by insurance.

Individual tutoring is expensive.  Depending on where you live the range can be between $60 to $100 an hour.  To be effective children ideally should be getting twice weekly sessions.

So, for the single mom I met recently who works full-time with three children, one of whom is severely learning disabled but getting nothing, I ask proponents of this model to guide me on what I should tell her.

Help me out here.


Copyright, 2022 www.shutdownlearner.com

Questions or comments email Dr. Selznick:  rselznick615@gmail.com

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