Friday, February 21, 2014

Having a disability and having money

As a mom of a child with a disability, I am currently looking at how to help my child transition to the adult world. Unfortunately, his school has not risen to the challenge of teaching him the emotional-social skills he needs to be a productive adult. He has been allowed to put in minimum input so long as he does not tantrum. School work and requirements have been modified so that he is not stressed. Now as he nears graduation, he does not handle stress any better than he did five years ago. He will need the benefits of public support for at least some time. Current guidelines for assets while receiving disability payments are capped at $2000. That includes a car. If he earns money, that will come out of his payments which are capped at $1200 per month for the most disabled. They stopped even telling parents that this amount was to cover clothes- just food and housing. Well-intentioned people leaving money to these individuals have it all going to the state rather than paying for extras like clothes and transportation. Finally a new bill is before Congress to change this; to allow some savings and assets so that the choices are available. My son has been deprived of learning how to be independent at school. We should not deprive him of an opportunity to learn how to work and earn at least some of a living. Read about the bill.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Supporting struggling readers and writers

So much of the job of the resource room teacher is supporting struggling readers and writers. The advent of the Common Core has just increased this emphasis. Dorothy S. Strickland, Kathy Ganske, and Joanne K. Monroe's book Supporting Struggling Readers and Writers: Strategies for Classroom Interventions 3-6 is designed to help teachers meet the needs of these students. The book has two parts. Part one consists of 9 chapters addressing two categories- general student populations (learners and contexts, motivation, ELL, and instructional intervention frameworks) and literacy topics (words, fluency, comprehension, and writing). The second part is a strategy bank. This structure is carefully developed, eminently readable and useful.

The authors call out whole class instruction as a method of reading instruction. "Whole class instruction is generally aimed at teaching subject matter rather than teaching students how to read" (p. 57). When I think about much of the common core instruction I have heard of and observed, it has involved an increase in whole class techniques and a reduction in small group and differentiated approaches. While this might be useful for covering subject matter, it tends to be less effective for improving the reading instruction of the class. Teaching reading as a whole class generally involves leaving the struggling learners behind, boring the highest students and targeting the middle. Their recommendation is to have ELA classes use small group instruction. Large group mini-lessons can be pared with small group instruction in reading. If we want to improve reading skills, we need to teach reading skills within a student's zone of proximal development.

When we think of comprehension skills one of the critical components is the monitoring of the skill. As the authors observe, our struggling readers are least likely to recognize when comprehension breaks down and consequently, least likely to apply fix-up strategies (p. 71). I have included a graphic for comprehension monitoring strategies here. I am afraid that if we put all students into one learning group, our struggling learners will not even try. I have worked with students who decode beautifully. The problem is that they have no idea what they read. Language and/or memory issues interfere, our pushes for reading more words per minute deny the import of comprehension, and boldface terms and markers highlight the area of the text to copy so that comprehension is not a concern. Small group instruction helps target this need and teach self-monitoring. There is movement within the CCSS initiatives to address this concern and refocus on comprehension, but whether underlying issues will be addressed remains in the air.

One of the strategies suggested for developing the strength and quality of mental representations is sorts. I have used sorts in Wilson Reading System lessons with the word cards- find me the words with a long e sound or the words which end with a vowel consonant e syllable. I have also used sorts in vocabulary building- separate the words into poetry sound devices (ex. rhyme, onomatopoeia, alliteration, assonance) and literary devices (ex. allusion, metaphor, personification) or terms related to  the separate branches of government (ex. legislators, senators, president, executive, Chief Justice, Supreme Court, Congress, make laws, enforce laws and impeach) or terms related to triangles (isosceles, right, equilateral, scalene, obtuse, acute, 180 degrees) and those related to quadrilaterals (square, right angle, trapezoid, kite, rectangle, rhombus, 360 degrees). They have worked well and students enjoy them. The most important part, however, the debrief, is often skipped. Students need to justify their sort. Sometimes they identify unique features that teachers did not foresee and sometimes they use misinformation that leads to correct sorting. Discussion in small groups is easy. If a whole class is working on sorts, justifications may need to be written or shared with partners.

This book offers an easily accessible source of ideas that can easily be adapted up throughout secondary instruction. Teachers need to have firmly in hand their objectives. If they are teaching reading or reading strategies, materials need to be accessible to each child, low level reading materials need to be available as well as more challenging above grade level works so that students can practice on comprehendible materials, materials at their independent reading level, where they read 90% of the words correctly and have 90% comprehension. If they are teaching content, strategies for reading are not the focus. Such strategies need to have been taught so they can be used on materials that may be more challenging for many students. If we co-mingle, lost looks are sure to be found on our struggling learners and bored to tears ones will be found on students who did not need the strategy to approach the material in the first place.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Standards of Practice for autism guide

Fred Volkmar, Matthew Siegel, Marc Woodbury-Smith, Bryan King, James McCracken, and Matthew State, the doctors who compose the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology Committee on Quality Issues, created a new edition of the Practice Parameter for the Assessment and Treatment of Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder in The Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in February 2014. Two of the major reasons for the revision is the new diagnostic criteria of the DSM- IV-TR and the copious quantity of research undertaken within the field.

They examined the etiology of the disorder, particularly the neurobiological and familial/genetic factors. They found a high rate of epilepsy  and some support for neurological issues, including limbic system abnormalities and neurotransmitter elevations. They confirmed a lack of support for vaccine related causes, but leave the door open for immune system concerns in some cases. They highlight risk factors of close spacing of pregnancies, advanced maternal and paternal age, and extreme prematurity. They also confirmed the evidence for multiple genes to be involved in the disorder.

Under the section related to differential diagnosis, the authors identify many assessment tools. they then go on to identify common comorbid conditions such as intellectual disabilities in 80% of all cases, behavior difficulties (ex. hyperactivity, OCD, self-injury, tics, anxiety and depression), often defined by age, and attentional difficulties.

From there they make seven recommendations:
  1. early screening of all children
  2. diagnostic evaluations on children who are identified in the screenings
  3. multidisciplinary assessments
  4. support for families to obtain appropriate, evidence-based, structured educational and behavioral interventions
  5. pharmacotherapy targeting specific symptoms
  6. long-term support for the family and individual for treatment
  7. specific inquiries regarding alternative treatments, especially in light of the limited evidence supporting many of them

They offer an extensive listing of social-pragmatic programs and medications that have evidence to support their use. A teacher might be well served to have access to the medications listing to better understand the intention of the medications and side effects. I was pleased that sleep disturbances were identified as a concern. Many individuals and their families endure chronic sleep deprivation that must be addressed in order to improve their quality of life. Further there is support for combining medicine and parent training.

Of particular note is the multiple places where support for the family is indicated. Since autism is a disorder that has significant impact on the family especially stress levels which have been compared to soldiers in combat, professional support for families to thrive is essential. Providing wrap around services to families seems the gist.