Tag Archives: Education

Special Parents Confidential 54 Neurocore and the Education Secretary

Neurocore and the Education Secretary

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 43 with 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.

Links Mentioned in the Podcast:

Ulrich Boser’s Website and Blog

Ulrich Boser’s profile at the Center for American Progress

The article about Neurocore in the Washington Post 

Learn Better – The book about how we learn, mentioned in the podcast 

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Amazing Things Happen – Excellent Autism Animation

Amazing Things Happen.

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.

From Alex’ business website:

“Colombian by birth. British by naturalisation.

“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 now Amazing 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 to Alex 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!

Links: 

Alex Amelines Professional Site 

Amazing Things Happen Official Website.

Special Parents Confidential 53 be nice campaign.

be nice. 

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.

Links Mentioned in the Podcast.

be nice. campaign official website

The Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (website)

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255.

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Revisiting Special Parents Confidential Episode 06 Special Education Advocacy

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 Center The 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.

Parent Technical Assistance Center Network Directory of regional (State by State) special education advocacy centers for parents of special needs children.

Michigan Alliance for Families Special Education Advocacy for families in Michigan. Note: for non- Michigan residents, you can search similar websites for your state in the PTAC directory.

Wright’s Law Special 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.

Revisiting Special Parents Confidential Episode 10 Special Education

Revisiting Special Parents Confidential Episode 10 Special Education.

It’s IEP Season, and we’re revisiting some of our older episodes that have information that will help you with the process. In this episode, we find out what Special Education is all about.

Special Education.

In this episode we take a look at the world of Special Education. What exactly is Special Education? How do teachers become Special Education teachers? How and why has the concept of Special Education changed over the years from isolation and institutionalization to mainstreaming and inclusion, and has it worked? How do researchers determine what works and what doesn’t work? And are the current budget problems that so many state governments face affecting Special Education in our schools?

Our guest for this episode has answers to all of those questions and many other questions. Paula Lancaster is a Professor of Special Education and the Chair of the Special Education, Foundations, and Technology Department at Grand Valley State University in West Michigan. We talked about a wide range of issues including the questions above, as well as discussing some of the major misconceptions about Special Education; the differences in how Special Education is handled by public schools, charter schools, and private schools; how Special Education changes from elementary school to middle school, to high school, and college; to the importance of special needs children learning to advocate for themselves; how to make sure that the information you’re finding is proven to work versus a marketing scam; and a lot more. This is one of the longest episodes of Special Parents Confidential that we’ve recorded, but Paula shares some very important information that you and everyone who is interested in Special Education need to know.

Links Mentioned In The Podcast: 

What Works Clearinghouse The Institute of Education Sciences. Providing educators (parents can use it too) with the information they need to make evidence based decisions.

LD Online  Learning Disabilities Online. The world’s leading website on learning disabilities and ADHD.

Council For Exceptional Children The Voice and Vision of Special Education. Excellent resource site.

National Dissemination Center For Children With Disabilities Another excellent resource website. Provides easy-to-read information on children with disabilities from infants to early 20s.

Note:  Paula’s advice on researching information: Whenever you encounter a site that you’re not certain whether the info is credible, scroll down to the bottom (or check ‘about us’ info), and find out who is responsible for the website content.

The Self-Advocacy Strategy Paula and Sean Lancaster’s software package that teaches children the strategies of negotiation and self-advocacy. Great for all kids, not just special needs children.

Revisiting Special Parents Confidential Episode 17 When Schools Say ‘No’.

Revisiting Episode 17 When Schools Say ‘No’.

It’s IEP Season and we’re revisiting past episodes on the Individualized Education Plan. Find out what you can do when schools say ‘no’.

Special Parents Confidential Episode 17 When Schools Say ‘No’.

In 1990 Congress passed IDEA, or Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which entitles each student with a disability to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to meet his or her unique needs. Originally titled Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (EAHCA), it was based on Congress’ finding that the millions of children with disabilities had educational needs which were not being met due to a lack of services and inappropriate public school placement. IDEA set down guidelines for how schools and states were to implement special education procedures.

Unfortunately, there is a wide disparity across states as to how those guidelines should be implemented, or even interpreted. Similarly, school districts can even have differing standards for services they offer in special education. Simply put, IDEA allowed States and schools a lot of leeway in special education implementation, based on numerous issues including need, population, local economic factors, and other considerations.

The problem for parents is, this leeway in the implementation of procedures can sometimes allow States and school districts to restrict or even deny extra help for students who don’t fit the exact definition of a particular disability or learning disorder. School Districts and States are also cutting certain aspects of special education support from Education budgets as cost-saving measures. While districts and States aren’t outright eliminating Special Education, they do cut budgets for support programs, assistant teachers or para-pros who help in the classrooms, and other accommodations. The result is many parents are finding out that their children will perhaps get minimal help (the least allowed under regulations), but more often than not they hear the word ‘no’ when asking for additional help or support for their child.

So what can you do when your school or State says ‘no’?

Our guest in this episode has some answers. Suzanne Wilcox is the co-owner of Hope Educational Consulting, LLC a special education advocacy service based in Ohio and Michigan. She is also the mother of four children, two of whom needed special education support in school.  She explains how IDEA works, and how schools and states interpret those regulations. She also explains how ‘best practices’ can sometimes be overlooked due to budgeting, or availability issues.

During the time when she and her family lived in Ohio, she and her partners were instrumental in creating and passing legislation that allowed Ohio to become one of the first States in the country to recognize Dyslexia as a learning disability, and implemented official regulations on the kinds of therapies schools must offer to help students with Dyslexia. She has worked with parents, teachers, school districts, and legislators on numerous issues with special education.

Suzanne offers some great advice and information that all parents of special needs children need to know.  Please feel free to share this episode with everyone you know who has a child with special needs or works with children who have special needs.

* Note: first paragraph attribution to Wikipedia article on IDEA, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. For more information on IDEA, visit http://idea.ed.gov

Revisiting Episode 21 Special Parents Confidential IEP And The Law

Revisiting Episode 21 Special Parents Confidential IEP And The Law.

It’s IEP Season and we are Revisiting Episode 21 Special Parents Confidential IEPS And The Law.

Individualized Education Plans. IEPs for short. Possibly one of the most stressful times for parents of special needs children. IEP meetings are those annual events when parents meet with schools to plan out the kinds of help and services their special needs children are going to receive for the next school year.

IEP meetings are very long, sometimes taking two hours or more, and usually filled with terminology that can sometimes be overwhelming. Parents are expected to understand a huge amount of information and make decisions on what kind of educational support their child will receive in the next grade year. The problem is for many of us, we don’t even know how our kids are going to do from week to week, much less three or four months later, after the entire summer break.

Typically the schools bring in the teacher, the special education teacher, any school therapists, the school social worker, and the Principal or Vice Principal of the school. Sometimes the school or district psychologist will attend, sometimes the district’s Director of Special Education will also attend. There can be as many as ten to fifteen people representing the school in these meetings. It is very easy for parents to feel ‘ganged up on’ or intimidated, especially when there is often only one or two parents in the room.

This is where Attorney Advocates can help. Lawyers who work in special education advocacy and mediation are trained in all areas of special education law. They can be the parent’s voice in the room and they know exactly what the laws are in what the school should be doing for your child and whether your concerns are being addressed.

Our guest on this episode of Special Parents Confidential is Attorney Randi Rothberg who’s firm, Thivierge & Rothberg is a Special Education Law Firm based in New York City. She and her partner, Christina Thivierge focus exclusively on representing families of children with special needs, including attending IEP meetings, mediation, Due Process, and, when necessary, litigation in the State and/or Federal Courts. She talks about some of the problems that can arise when parents face an IEP meeting, how to prepare for those meetings, what to watch out for when you’re faced with things you don’t agree with in an IEP, and how to look for an advocate in your area. Randi also does advocacy work for issues of bullying in schools and discusses addressing those situations.

LEGAL DISCLAIMER:

Some of the legal issues Randi discusses are general, however some points, such as the “Parent Member in IEP meetings” are specific to New York State and may not apply in your State, or Country. Please consult a Special Education and Disability Law Attorney or Special Education Advocate in your area for complete information on your State laws and your rights.

Here are the links mentioned in the podcast:

Thivierge & Rothberg PC – Representing children and adolescents with disabilities in New York & New Jersey

COPPA – Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates

Wrights Law – Special Education Law and Advocacy