The new Eduction Secretary of the United States has caused some controversy in the past months since her appointment over her views on special education, and her financial ties to a company called Neurocore. Specifically, she seems to have no interest in special education at all. Indeed, one of the first actions that took place after her appointment was the removal of all special education information from the Department of Education website. That information has since been restored, but it is still troubling. It should also be noted that this is the first time ever that an entire section of the United States Education Department’s website was deleted and only restored after public outcry. While it was claimed that there had been a simple mistake during the transition from one administration to another, many were quick to point out that this had never happened before in the entire history of the department during either administrative transitions, or otherwise.
Education and Special Education?
Further troubling is that Betsy DeVos’ only answer to any questions about the future of education in America, including special education, is to state her belief that, “parents have the right to choose what school they want their kids to attend”, and that, “states have the right to decide what that education will be”. Seemingly, without any federal government oversight. If that is truly the case, where does that leave special education, and the oversight of IDEA – the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, that was implemented by Congress in 1991 and has been administered by the Education Department in since then?
What Is Neurocore?
During her confirmation hearings it was revealed that Mrs. DeVos and her family are the majority owners of Neurocore – a brain training program that has been hyped as a way for people with learning challenges to succeed. (They are also majority shareholders in several for-profit Charter School corporations, which we addressed in SPC Episode 43with Kristen Totten of the Michigan ACLU.)
Our Guest: Ulrich Boser
Back in May of this year an article appeared in the Washington Post, written by our guest for this episode, Ulrich Boser. He investigated Neurocore, went to one of the Neurocore Centers to have an exam done, and checked out their findings with medical doctors and education experts. He talks about the concerns about Neurocore’s claims of success, and the problems caused by Mrs. DeVos’ financial ties to the company.
A few days ago I came across the above video on Facebook called Amazing Things Happen, It does an incredible job of explaining Autism in a way that kids could understand.
Amazing Things Happen, since it was posted online, has had over 5 million views. It’s been translated into 28 subtitled languages, and 10 fully dubbed versions. I wanted to know more about the person who created the video, Alex Amelines, and how he was able to create such a well-done piece.
“I worked in Editorial design for 5 years. Back in Colombia. Then I moved to the United Kingdom to do an animation course after which I ended up settling up in. Both in the animation field and in the UK.
“I now work as an independent animator and director, my animations have gone in all directions: television, exhibitions, installations, games, films, planes, etc. In 2012 I established Studio Tinto in an attempt to become rich and famous.
“I’ve achieved neither.”
This wasn’t quite all the information I was looking for, so I sent Alex a message. He replied that his preference was to not do a podcast interview because he was worried that his accent was a little to hard to understand. But he would be happy to explain the process of how he came up with the animation.
By the way – Alex mentions the term SENCO, which in the U.K. stands for Special Education Needs Coordinator.
The Amazing Things Happen Background Story.
“I must warn you that my story is not an exciting one and that I’d prefer the focus were on the animation rather than me or my family but I’ll try to tell you what drove me anyway:
“A few years ago, my son’s school organised an assembly to help explain autism to the children, which struck me as a wonderful idea. The talk was very interesting and the local expert who led it obviously knew her stuff but it was limited by a lack of clear, visual materials. The children got most excited at a slide of Lego toys and enjoyed a scene from the animated series Arthur, where Arthur meets a boy who doesn’t make eye contact and only wants to talk about trains.
“My immediate thought was, this could all be an animation – and might even retain the children’s interest better that way. I’ve always loved working on creative side projects to distract me from client work and thought this would be both fun and potentially useful for the school. Perhaps even a few more schools, locally. I had no big plans beyond that.
“I met with the school’s SENCO and told her my idea, which she as was excited as I was. I had to do a lot of research, a lot of books, a lot of TED talks, blogs, articles, etc. I met with the SENCO several times to discuss my progress. The hardest part was to condense the script into 5 minutes, as English is my second language, I’m not a trained writer and most importantly, because there is so much to say about autism! The spectrum is so unforgivingly vast it seemed impossible keep it all in, everything seemed so relevant. But I knew from experience that this could only work if it was short enough to be feasible to finish on my own and also to retain the attention of small children.
“My prerogatives were: keep it short, only positive words, keep the language simple.
“It took me the best part of a year to get to a point that I thought I can start animating. But before doing so I ran it past the SENCO and reached out to Prof. Tony Attwood, a leading expert on autism who was really generous with his time and knowledge. He checked the script and storyboards and made some adjustments to the language. So I felt I had a proper seal of approval, which cheered me on.
“As I moved on from writing to animation things got easier. I was in my element. I developed the characters, created the artwork, did some research for the look of the animation. The backgrounds and colours were inspired by old 1940s UPA animations, which I’ve always loved.
“For the music I asked London based musician Chris Harrington, he has always supported my animated projects with beautiful original compositions. The narrator is a Scottish actor called David Gant (Braveheart, Sherlock, Final Fantasy VII), who I’d met while working on the visual effects of feature film, The Fitzroy. He has a beautiful booming voice that is both authoritative and warm. The kind of voice that inspires trust. So I reached out and David kindly agreed to do it pro bono. Mike Avgeros also generously offered to let us use his recording studio for an hour on a weekend.
“We released Amazing Things Happen in time for autism awareness month, then something amazing really did happen. By the second day the film had been seen thousands of times. I was over the moon with that, but after two weeks it was 5 million. It was all very surreal and very moving, as I got many beautiful messages of thanks from parents, teachers and – most importantly to me – from people who themselves have autism. So it has been very rewarding, more than I had ever imagined.
“Right nowAmazing Things Happen has subtitles in 28 languages, it has been dubbed into 10 languages, apart from the French and German narrations, everything has been from contributions from people who’ve liked the project. And there are more foreign narrations coming, the former director for the Icelandic Autism Society has offered to do an Icelandic version, the Executive Director of OC Autism wants to do Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Tagalog and Hindu, there are offers to do Finnish, Norwegian, Portuguese, Arabic, Hebrew, Estonian, Japanese and Malay. And an animation studio in Bangladesh, who are connected with the Prime Minister’s daughter are recreating the animation with Asian themes.
“From the reaction it’s clear that there is an urgent need for this kind of material. I would also love to do more, so I am considering a crowd-funding campaign to develop a series in which children could tell their own story, describing their autism to us. Raising funds this way would mean I could work on this full time, rather than finding a spare hour here and there around my usual client work. There’s so much more to be said on the subject. And I figure that the only way to paint a portrait of something that has a million faces, is to paint as many pictures as possible!”
Additionally, Alex wrote the following to me in a separate email:
“In relation to how I visualised it, I think the fact that so many autistic people have felt it is an accurate depiction is sort of a fluke, I mean I did lots of research but I knew it wasn’t going to be accurate for everyone as the spectrum is so vast, so it felt like taking a gamble, I tried to be generic (too much detail in some parts, too little detail in others, too bright, too loud), while showing things that Neuro-Typical children can relate to, so they can put themselves in their shoes. Professor Tony Attwood came up with the idea of removing people’s faces to convey the fact that they can’t read people’s expressions, which I think is a great touch, even if it’s not obvious to people who see it, it is there.
“It helped me a lot that I am a visual person, for instance I can’t remember a phone number but I can remember the pattern my finger draws as it types. Even my mental associations are visual, when I was reading “The Reason I Jump” as part of my research at some point it evoked a scene from The Man of Steel, were Superman as a child starts discovered his powers (well I say discovered but it looked more like they ran him over, the scene is terrifying), suddenly he can hear everyone at the same time, see everything too clear, too bright, too much, that’s how I imagine sensory overload. Unfortunately autistic people don’t have superman’s ability to control this, there’s no filter or off button.”
My thanks toAlex Amelines for offering this explanation of his work.
Amazing Things Happen is something everyone should watch. I highly recommend you share this video with everyone you know!
A new program called the ‘be nice’ campaign has been started in West Michigan to help end bullying. One of the hardest issues to deal with for parents of special needs kids – as well as parents of any child – is bullying in schools and online. What do you do if your child is the victim of bullying? For that matter, what do you do if you discover your child is bullying other children?How far does bullying affect a child? What kinds of impact does this have on a child’s mental health?
Learn About Mental Health.
Did you know that problems with bullying are the leading cause of suicide in children and teenagers? Bullying can also cause issues of depression, drug abuse, and other mental health problems that can affect people for their entire lives.
In this episode we’re going to talk to an expert in the subject of bullying. Christy Buck is the executive director of the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan, and they have a new program that offers a solution. It’s called the ‘be nice’ campaign and it’s designed to to help kids, families, schools, and communities work to understand and end bullying. We’ll also learn about mental illnesses, how to recognize when problems escalate to thoughts of suicide and what to do in these situations.
We also talk about the common myths and stigmas associated with bullying, depression, and mental health issues that can cause problems for kids as well as adults. For example, a person doesn’t need to ‘bottom out’ before they should get help. We discuss ways to overcome these myths and stigmas. You’ll also learn how the ‘be nice’ campaign can be used by your school or other organizations.
Clubfoot, or talipes equinovarus, is a treatable birth defect that affects approximately 150,000-200,000 children each year. When clubfoot occurs the foot is twisted inward and down. For decades the standard treatment for clubfoot consisted of performing radical surgery on the tendons and bones of an infant’s feet.
In the mid 1940s, Dr. Ignacio Ponseti, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Iowa, began reviewing the results of the surgical treatments of clubfoot that were commonly used at the time. His findings were not encouraging. He discovered that, in adulthood, former surgical patients often experienced foot stiffness, pain, arthritis, and limited mobility, and in many cases required additional surgery.
The Ponseti Method.
By studying the anatomy and functions of a baby’s foot, Dr. Ponseti developed a non-surgical method to correct clubfoot in infants through gentle manipulation of the feet followed by the application of plaster casts. In 1948, Dr. Ponseti began using what has now become known as the Ponseti Method of clubfoot treatment.
Our guest for this episode has a great deal of experience with the Ponseti Method of clubfoot treatment. Dr. Jose Morcuende is a professor of orthopedic surgeries at the Ponseti Clubfoot Clinic at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospitals.
Dr. Morcuende trained directly with Dr. Ponseti and has helped to promote the Ponseti Method around the world through the Ponseti International Association, of which he is the President at CEO. He talks about working with Dr. Ponseti, how clubfoot affects children born with it, and the success rate of the Ponseti Method. Dr. Morcuende also talks about the mission of the Ponseti International Association, and the importance of finding a doctor who has been fully trained in the Ponseti Method.
Find out how the Michigan Alliance For Families, and other similar organizations around the United States can help you negotiate special education services for free.
What Is The Michigan Alliance For Families?
Trying to get help with the special education process can be very difficult, and potentially expensive. There are dozens of advocacy service businesses and legal firms that specialize in handling IEPS for families. There are hundreds of books you can buy. Seminars you can attend. Personal counseling services. The list goes on.
But did you know that some of the best help for negotiating special education services is available for free from your own State government? Every State in America has what’s known as Parent Information and Training Centers that offer help in everything from early intervention, to writing an IEP, to legal support, transitioning issues, and beyond.
Free Is A Nice Price.
Here in Michigan, the Parent Center is called the Michigan Alliance For Families. They offer parent-mentors… these are parents of special needs children… who have been trained to coach other parents to work with schools and get the help that their children need.
Our guest for this episode is Kelly Orginski, who is the executive director of the Michigan Alliance For Families. She explains how the Michigan Alliance came together, how the parent-mentors are trained and work with families, and how they can help. She also talks about what parents can do to help themselves with the negotiations, and where to find help from similar organizations in other States.
Early Intervention – Revisiting Special Parents Confidential Episode 25.
It’s IEP Season and we’re looking back on older episodes that deal with Individualized Education Plans. Early Intervention is one of the first terms that parents hear when they are trying to find help for their children. We talk to an early intervention coordinator to learn about the process.
There’s probably nothing more nerve-wracking and stressful for any parent than the realization that your new baby, your toddler, your child might have some problems. Whether it’s not speaking, not walking, or not engaging socially like other kids, the hardest question many parents face is, what do I do about this?
Of course friends and relatives will tell you, oh it’s alright, that’s just how some boys or some girls are… and they’ll grow out of it. But that’s not always the best advice, and if your child does have a developmental delay or a learning disorder, they are simply not going to grow out of it. They need help. And then the question becomes, where do I get that help?
Our guest on this episode of Special Parents Confidential can answer a lot of those questions. Barbara Corbin is the Early On Coordinator with the Kent Intermediate School District in Kent County, Michigan. She handles Early Intervention, and Early Childhood Special Education with school districts. She helps parents get their first diagnosis and coordinates getting help for children right at the very beginning. Thanks to advances in medical research and therapies, children can be diagnosed very early, and Early On programs can start at age two.
Links to websites mentioned in the podcast:
1800EarlyOnEarly Intervention information for Michigan, with links to other States. The website name is also their toll free phone number: 1 800 Early On.
Michigan Alliance for Families.Provides information, support, and education for families who have children (birth through 26 years of age) who receive (or may be eligible to receive) special education services.
Revisiting Special Parents Confidential Episode 06 Special Education Advocacy.
It’s IEP Season and we’re revisiting older episodes that offered information to help with the IEP process. Today we’re Revisiting Special Parents Confidential 06 Special Education Advocacy. Learn about the role of the Special Education Advocate and how they help parents negotiate the Individualized Education Plan, as well as the 504 Special Education Plan, and what the difference is between these two options.
Special Education Advocacy.
As parents of special needs children we hope that our kids will have every opportunity to get a good education, and get assistance when they need it in school. Special Education has changed over the past couple of decades. Special needs children are spending more time in mainstream classrooms and spending only limited time out of the class with their special education teachers for whatever assistance they need.
But what exactly is Special Education? We know that our kids are supposed to get help. Where can we get good advice or assistance when facing the task of getting the educational help for our special needs children? Do we have to see a lawyer? Can we just expect the school to handle it properly? What are the standards? What’s an “IEP” (Individual Education Program), what’s a “504”, and what kind of educational help can we even reasonably expect our children to have in the first place?
Our guest on this episode of Special Parents Confidential can answer a lot of those questions. Kathy Holkeboer is a Special Education Advocate in West Michigan. Advocates for Special Education work with families on understanding what kinds of educational assistance their special needs children are entitled to have, based on need. They can even go with the parents to meet with school officials to put the special education plan in place for each school year.
Links To Websites Mentioned In This Podcast
Pacer CenterThe National Parent Training and Information Center for children with disabilities. They offer publications, workshops, and other resources to help parents make decisions about education, vocational training, employment, and other services for children with special needs.
Michigan Alliance for FamiliesSpecial Education Advocacy for families in Michigan. Note: for non- Michigan residents, you can search similar websites for your state in thePTACdirectory.
Wright’s LawSpecial Education Law and Advocacy, created by two lawyers, Peter and Pam Wright (husband and wife), providing legal assistance and information for parents of special needs children.
Contact Information for Kathy Holkeboer – (note: Kathy is a special education advocate in the State of Michigan, and works primarily in the West Michigan region. Residents of other States or regions in Michigan should consult the PTAC directory for Special Ed Advocates in their area). Holkeboer Advocacy-Facebook page.