Some years back, The Onion, a satirical publication, announced in a headline, “Miracle of Birth Occurs for 83 Billionth Time.” At our older son’s Bar Mitzvah, my husband used this article to explain that we perhaps take for granted the milestones our children reach. We forget that each and every birth, and each and every event in that child’s life, is unique and special. Each bris, each first communion, each first tooth, each first day of kindergarten are all miraculous. We’ve somehow lost our wonder in the ordinariness of life. And yet, how much greater is the miracle when it is a child who has been ill, or who has a disability, or whom for whatever reason there was doubt that he or she would reach a particular milestone?
For many parents and students August means that thoughts turn to back-to-school sales on clothes and school supplies. While those items are on the minds of parents of students with special needs, they often have much weightier things on their minds; how to make this school year experience significantly better and different than last year. At the annual review IEP at the end of last school year, schools often make promises that the issues from last year or the unmet goals will be accomplished, or progress will be made, next (school) year. Well it is time to make good on those promises and representations, as this year IS next year. Those promises need to have more meaning than the average New Year’s resolution. Here are my thoughts on some things to consider, as an attorney who practices in the area of special education law, at the start of this new school year:
Humor is usually an area of the blog that I leave to my wife's column High Stakes Jesting, but the following just came across my desk and it struck me as quite funny and wanted to share it. Under the heading of "Anger Management" a local school district just emailed the following lesson overview, which is excerpted below:
" Here is an example of how you might practice these steps with your child at home: You hear a shriek from the family room. You find your child near tears because Henry, the family dog, just ran through your child's board game. You say, "Remember to stop and think. Ask yourself how your body feels. I can tell that you're angry. Calm down. Remember what you said to yourself when you needed to calm down the other day? Try saying those things again. Now that you're calm, let's go through the problem-solving steps you learned to see if we can keep Henry from messing up your game the next time." ... At-home activity idea: Write each of the calming-down methods on a small piece of paper. Fold each piece and place all in a container. Present your child with a pretend situation that may cause him to become angry (such as a sibling taking the last cookie). "
Most adults would find this lesson challenging and more than a little off-putting. I am thinking of using this paragraph above, however, as a script at the next IEP when my advocacy gets the special education director's nostrils flaring. "Now remember, that raising your voice at me did not help the last time we met and you got mad at me. You made really damaging admissions that we used against you at hearing and your attorney got mad at you too. When you went home that night how did that make your body feel." If this part of the script worked, I would go on to say "OK now that you are calm, you can readily see that no matter how much you scream and holler and bluster, this student is not literate at all and he/she is in high school. You see confession is not just good for the soul, your body feels better too." Next time, we will use a hypothetical like controlling your anger when "the teacher tells the truth when he/she has been expressely been told to lie." My body feels better just thinking about it.
It is cold and flu season. Before you give your child with special needs cough medicine consider the following. Children with special needs frequently do not metabolize medications, even over the counter products, the same as their typcial peers, as a result of underlying physical, neurologic, immune or metabolic conditions. A recent report as to the risks of cough and cold medicines for younger children should especially be heeded for parents of children with special needs even if they are chronologically older per the packaging directions. These risks are in addtion to the body of research that some children with special needs are at heightened risk from serotonin inhibitors or SSRIs.
During years 2004-2005 an estimated 1,519 infants under the age of two were treated in U.S. emergency rooms for ailments related to bad side effects of cold and cough medicines. Even scarier, in 2005 three infants aged six months or younger died and the underlying cause of death was found to be cold and cough medicines. As a result of these alarming statistics the Food and Drug Administration has issued an advisory to parents to never give cold and cough medicines to children under the age of two, unless instructed to do so by a doctor. As explained in the New York Times the FDA will convene a panel on October 18 to determine if more warnings are necessary. The medications currently tell parents not to give to children under the age of two unless recommended by a doctor, but too many parents are failing to heed this warning and more drastic measures may need to be taken.
The world continues to get smaller thanks to technology and the special education world is no exception. From specialists using video conferencing to touch base with clients to students using technology to express themselves, the possibilities seem to be endless.
Recently in Washington, a school district used technology to discuss a student with selective mutism. The insight and knowledge that school personnel was able to attain would not have been possible without the technological advances. Students can also get evaluated and even receive therapy virtually. The growing access to early diagnoses and intervention will help students all over the county.
These advances can also provide access to education for students who are unable to attend school due to health issues or other reasons. One of the most widely used practices of videoconferencing for special needs students is connecting students from remote locations to the classroom.
I am presenting tomorrow at a conference on Dravet's syndrome which is a rare type of seizure disorder. Here is an excellent resource on this rare disorder. If your child has Dravet's it is important that you work to educate the school, especially the nurse and the SLP, since schools are often slow to accept new information even on more well-known disorders such as autism or similar conditions.
New research conducted by the California Department of Health suggests a link between autism and in utero exposure to endosulfan and dicofol, organochlorine pesticides that are banned in many countries, but still used in the United States. The study, published by Environmental Health Perspectives, is the first to explore the connection between maternal residential exposure to organochlorine pesticides at different concentrations during key periods of gestation and risk of ASD (autism spectrum disorder) in children. ASD risk increased with poundage of organochlorine applied and decreased with distance from field sites. The study concludes that risk for ASD was consistently associated with residential proximity to organochlorine pesticide applications during critical periods of embryonic development. The study also states that the possibility of a connection requires further study.
Many pesticides, rodenticides and other toxins applied in public spaces operate on the nervous system of the targeted pest. The application tends to be around base boards/floors where younger children spend much more time than adults or older children making them more vulnerable to the effects of these neurotoxins Over time these chemicals can have particularly negative effects for students with special needs who often have immune system deficits or nervous systems that have already been injured in some way. The effects of neurotoxins in schools, in my opinion, is factor that is rarely considered when IEP teams convene to consider behavioral or learning issues. Only the most obvious situations, like overgrowth of toxic molds, are ever even considered as a problem typically because the effects are widespread and not subtle.
According to Science Week pesticide poisoning is a commonly under diagnosed illness in the U.S. and can resemble acute upper respiratory tract illness, conjunctivitis, and gastrointestinal illness. Studies have also shown a 50-70% increased risk for Parkinson's Disease with exposure to herbicides, insecticides, and pesticides. Exposure to chemicals, including pesticides can cause multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), a disorder which is triggered by exposure to chemicals in the environment. Use of chemicals in schools can prevent children who have MCS from having access to a mainstream education. For example, two children in Maryland were forced to attend a home school program when their school was being reroofed and sprayed with pesticide.
(case law 18 IDELR 1041).
When it comes to websites like myspace there is an innate fear that parents often succumb to without exploring the possible benefits. While there are dangers, there are also benefits, discussed below, which are too often overlooked. Many children with disabilities are socially isolated and have little opportunity to express thoughts, participate in meaningful communication with peers, or otherwise fit in with mainstream society.
This is a site that may allow these teens to do just that. Myspace is a free website that allows people to set up a profile including pictures, personal information, music, and videos, among other things. Once a profile is set up the user can share pictures and messages with anyone else who has a profile and is approved as a friend. Profiles can be set to private which prevents anyone who is not approved from viewing. Myspace is easy to use and very popular with both children and teens. The site was developed for teens and adults ages 14 and older, but it is easy for children of all ages to join. A child is best protected by a parent who educates themselves, and their children, about the risks and benefits of myspace.