Brain Science for Courts. Why Not Schools?

In San Francisco there is a special court for young adult offenders called the Young Adult Court, established in 2015 after the district attorney attended a neuroscience lecture at Harvard. It was learned that maturing brains do not fully develop until the middle 20s.  After that lecture, punishments were based on  neuroscience, tailored to the biology and circumstances of the offenders, ages 18-25.  This experiment was implemented because current approaches across the country are not working, young offenders returning to jail off and on throughout their lifetime.  Clinical psychologists trained the court’s staff in order for the offender to avoid lifelong entanglement with the criminal justice system.

Researchers emphasized that there is a difference between cognitive capacity and psychosocial maturity, which includes impulsivity, risk perception, thrill-seeking and resistance to peer influence. A test for “emotional brain age” was developed, finding that those with younger brain age tended to prefer riskier behavior.  Variability was highest among young adults.

Six such courts now exist in states ranging from Idaho to Nebraska and New York.  Sentencing to avoid incarceration includes checking in with the judge once a week, employment, housing, and educational support.  Weekly therapy sessions and life-skill classes are also required.

Why isn’t this model used in public education?  It is not even used in special education currently or in approaches involving Response to Intervention (RTI), used to prevent special education referrals.  Schools and educators generally continue to look at behavior as though it had nothing to do with brain development and how that brain interacts with its environment.  This is particularly true of the education of very young children.  Teacher training programs do not emphasize the role of the brain in learning and behavior.  If it did, outcomes would surely improve. It works for young adults in this Young Adult Court. Let’s apply it to our kids instead of paying only lip service to the role of neuroscience in education.

(Based on A Court Calls on Science, Tim Requarth, Science Times, The New York Times. 4/18/17).

SCOTUS’S Special Education Decision and What it Means

Marilyn Arons, MAC Director & CEO

Special education has become the land of the living dead. Laws go unenforced by state and federal agencies, school staff are largely untrained in IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), and school district attorneys often make decisions for the child study teams when no legal action is pending. There are few if any advocates left who know what they’re doing, and there are no affordable lawyers for parents. This is the context for the most recent special education decision from the U.S. Supreme Court in a unanimous ruling on March 22, 2017.

Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District is about an autistic child whose parents placed him unilaterally in a private school due to lack of progress in the public school. They then sought reimbursement for that placement. At issue was the level of special education services that are required in order to comply with IDEA. Was it a minimum level of service or a higher standard of a free appropriate public education? At its core, this SCOTUS opinion addresses the importance of the IEP and the process for developing it to provide more than minimal benefit to each handicapped child. The decision states:

  1. The adequacy of a given IEP turns on the unique circumstances of the child for whom it was created.
  2. The nature of the IEP process ensures that parents and school representatives will fully air their respective opinions on the degree of progress a child’s IEP should pursue.
  3. The IEP is tailored to the unique needs of the child, based on careful consideration of the child’s individual circumstances.
  4. Endrew’s IEPs were largely the same from Kindergarten through 5th grade, his behavioral needs unmet.
  5. His parents filed for due process. That administrative decision held that he had made minimal progress that was enough to comply with IDEA requirements. The district court and the 10th Circuit agreed with the minimal standard requirement for Endrew’s education.
  6. An IEP is not a form document. It is constructed only after careful consideration of the child’s present levels of achievement, disability, and potential for growth.
  7. Every disabled child should have the chance to meet challenging IEP objectives.
  8. Aiming IEP instruction so low is tantamount to “sitting idly…awaiting for the time when they are old enough to drop out.”
  9. Parents and school representatives will fully air their respective opinions on the degree of progress a child’s IEP should pursue.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

At this juncture in special education there are no more individualized IEPs. Rather, they are boiler-plate goals and objectives generated from the school’s computerized bank of IEP goals and objectives and based solely on classification and a predetermined placement. None of them minimally comply with the requirements of IDEA. But there is nobody around to monitor or supervise either the process or the outcome. Unless there is vigorous parent input, either with or without an expert or advocate, no IEP is developed to meet either the academic or functional needs of the student. Staff is not trained, they are over worked, and state and local budgets do not support higher levels of service.

Today’s young parents do not appear interested in learning how to develop IEPs and prefer to hire an expert to do the job. Those who cannot afford outside help or fail to learn how to write an IEP, the vast majority, get essentially nothing for their children. Therefore, the gift of this SCOTUS opinion is only as good as the awareness it brings. Perhaps the most critical implication of this decision is to emphasize the absolute importance of the IEP. It is not just worthless paper that parents sign if they agree with the contents. It is the individualized instructional program that is to improve the life of the disabled child, with the parents playing a key role in its development. Now, with this opinion, there must be more individualized services for each child at a higher level. Let’s see if that happens.

MAC Annual Review Prep 2017

MAC will conduct 3 sessions to help parents prepare to develop next year’s IEP.

A – Annual:

Your review of the current IEP at least once a year, often on the date of last year’s meeting. Schedule the meeting before the end of the present school year so as to address next year’s needs.

R – Review:

  1.   All current goals, objectives and related services in your child’s 2016-2017 IEP. Were they achieved?
  2. Never talk placement until reviewing/agreeing on next year’s IEP.
  3. Is there agreement between you and the school about your child’s functional, developmental and academic levels of functioning?
  4. If there is disagreement, how will you work it out?
  5. What is your child’s opinion about school, both the best and the worst?

MAC’s Free Annual Review Preparation Meetings:

  • March 23, 2017
  • April 20. 2017
  • May 25, 2017

Time: 7-9 P.M.
Place: 210 Carlton Terrace, Teaneck, NJ
Reservation required. Call 201-692-7908

Materials: Bring all current evaluations, report cards, and 2016 IEP.

IEP Review Prep Program 2017

MAC OAL Project Letter

MAC’s letter to Judge Robert Giordano and Laura Saunders concerning an OAL project.

OAL Project Letter

MAC Letter to American Psychiatric Association

MAC’s letter to the American Psychiatric Association regarding the request to differentiate autism from SPD, This letter actualizes one of the recommendations in our June case study.

MAC’s Letter to the APA

Supreme Court Special Education Watch

All involved with special education must know that two cases have been accepted by the Supreme Court to hear this term. This is particularly important since there are only 8 Justices, and because IDEA has not been reauthorized since 2004. The 2 cases are:

  1. Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District. The issue is how much special education is required in order to provide disabled students with a free appropriate public education. The standard of special education varies from state to state and circuit to circuit. The Third Circuit requires more than de minimus, or a little benefit, in order to meet the FAPE standard established in federal law. Other circuits require only “some” educational benefit. This case is about an autistic child who was placed unilaterally by his parents in a private school. They sought reimbursement and lost both the hearing decision and their appeal because it was held that the boy received “some” benefit from the school district. This issue was last examined in 1982 when the Rowley decision ruled that disabled students were not allowed the best education, but merely the “appropriate” education. The Colorado case will rule for the first time on the definition of appropriate, unless there is a 4-4 decision. In that case, the lower court decision will stand. This comes at a time that the federal government has refused to enforce the IDEA, and when it improperly issued a rule requiring the content of IEPs include the state content standards for mandated subjects. The Obama administration has urged the Court to address educational benefit in terms of the child’s potential and the purpose of IDEA.
  2. The second case involves whether or not a student with cerebral palsy can bring her service dog to school. A portion of this dispute is whether or not this case comes under the IDEA or the American’s With Disabilities Act.

NEW EDUCATION LAW

In 2015, a new federal law was passed, the Every Child Succeeds Act. This addresses all at risk populations, English language learners, homeless, drug addiction, etc. except special education. States’ special education advocates are forming groups to determine how to implement this K-12 law so as to be part of state determinations regarding implementation and the failure of the federal and state governments to enforce IDEA while considering how every other child is to succeed.

Preschool Scholarship Eligibility for 2016-2017 MAC Services

The Melody Arons Center is a not for profit organization serving preschool children with disabilities. For 2016-2017 it offers a scholarship through its fund raising efforts to a qualified child with disabilities whose family cannot afford the services needed. MAC’s program uses play-based interaction and instruction infused with sensory and musical experiences. The scholarship is for 1 hour, once per week for 10 months in a 1-1 teacher/student ratio, excluding school holidays. MAC does not fund transportation which is the responsibility of the caregiver. Families must commit to be trained so that carry-over from MAC into the home can occur. Prerequisites include:

  1. Comprehensive evaluations done by a child study team or other evaluators;
  2. Financial criteria confirming the parent’s inability to pay for services;
  3. MAC’s ability to meet the unique needs of the child and family;
  4. Parental agreement to bring the child to each session on time and for the complete hour, one caregiver required to remain throughout the session;
  5. Parental agreement to work with MAC to carry over its instruction into the home.
  6. Joint agreement between parent and MAC to keep the child healthy and not to attend sessions if the child is ill;
  7. Written recommendation from an outside professional who has worked with the family.

MAC Bee Theme for 2016-2017

The Melody Arons Center has chosen the topic of bees as the theme for 2016-2017. Two groups will be formed. Group 1 is for children ages 3-5 and will meet every other week each month beginning in November. Group size is limited to 5 children per group. Group 2 is for children ages 6-9 and will also meet every other week starting in November. Preregistration is required, to be received by October 15, 2016. Contact MAC through this website or call 201-692-7908. Cost per session for 90 minutes is $25 per child. One parent is required to stay with the younger group until they have fully transitioned into the group experience. The groups will be led by Dr. Ray Arons, MAC’s bee keeper, and Marilyn Arons, the keeper of the bee keeper. MAC reserves the right to review records and meet with the child before registration confirmation to the group is given.

The honey bee curriculum for the year will combine music, dance, group play, crafts, and story time and be adapted to meet individual needs. The culminating experience will take place in April. Group 2 will be given the opportunity to put on a bee suit and go in to an actual bee hive to look at the bees in their hives as they wake up to gather pollen from Spring dandelions. Written parent consent is required, as well as a doctor’s note that this is a safe activity in the unlikely event of a bee sting. Each holiday throughout the year will have a bee context and project:

Thanksgiving- Bee Thankful
Christmas/Hanukah- Bee Good
Valentine’s Day- Bee Sweet
Easter/Passover- Bee Happy
Mother’s Day/ Father’s Day- Bee Grateful
One of the songs includes (sing to tune of I’m a Little Teapot):
I’m a little honey bee
Yellow and black.
See me gather
Pollen on my back.
What the queen bee tells me
I must do
So I can make sweet honey for you.

We hope that you are able to participate in this new MAC curriculum. We are happy that Dr. Ray is teaching these groups and know that all of you will enjoy the experience.

MAC Research 2016

This case study examined disabilities that are mistaken for autism or co-exist with autism.

Autism, Sensory Integration, Self-Regulation, Apraxia, and Hearing Loss: In and Out of the Spectrum

Marilyn Arons, M.S., and Raymond Arons, Dr. P.H.

ABSTRACT

This case study examined disabilities that are mistaken for autism or co-exist with autism. It presents a literature review, neuroscience principles, school evaluations, independent testing and 53 MAC lesson plans designed for this 5-6 year old boy. Data from his three year regression in his preschool program is provided, the child having neither a language system nor self-regulation by age 5. Upon entrance to MAC he received co-teaching from a sign language instructor and a special education teacher specializing in sensory integration techniques and play-based instruction. All sessions were videotaped for analysis. Formative and summative assessments were made at 5 months and 10 months into the program. Data demonstrated that the child developed sign language and oral language systems, as well as self-regulation by the 11th month. Discussion includes a current international debate regarding the inappropriate definition of autism by the American Psychiatric Association, and the inappropriate use of Applied Behavior Analysis for children with sensory processing disorders, either separately or with autism.

The case study can be purchased on Amazon.com.

Jack: A Case Study Autism Sensory Integration, Self Regulation, Apraxia and Hearing Loss: In and Out of The Spectrum

MAC September Meeting

A MAC meeting will be held in Fort Lee on 9/22/16 to present this research paper. All those involved with autism, both parents and professionals, are encouraged to attend and participate in the discussion. Parents of the child who is the focus of the paper will be available for questions and answers. Check the Events Calendar for details.

Autism & Genetics Updates 2015

Researchers in autism have long attempted to discover the genetic factors in children. Those early efforts were total failures, but during the past year headway has been made. Current technology can spot newly arising gene mutations in families with only one child having autism. It turns out that a new picture of the genetics of autism is appearing. New mutations of genes and their variations, unrelated to the parents, affect neurologic development in the earliest weeks of prenatal brain growth. Others kick into gear after birth. Certain regions of the human genome are particularly prone to disruptions, with “hot spots” linked to many forms of autism. Subtypes of autism are associated with these mutations and begin to explain the mysteries as to why some cases have severe symptoms while others are more modest. In addition, it is not only the unexpected mutations, but a copying problem. When the cells divide and multiply, certain gaps appear in the sequence that should not be there. When extra copies of a gene occur or there is a gap in the sequence, the variation can predispose people to autism. While the research is growing, treatment methods are not. It is hoped that with better understanding of the neurology of autism, more effective treatments can be created. (Solving the Autism Puzzle, Stephen S. Hall, MIT Technology Review, July/August 2014)

During 2015, search continued for identification of genetic signatures to aid in early identification of those with autism. In recent studies, only male children, ages 1-4, were used. Those with autism were compared to typically developing toddlers. The procedure used was able to predict those with autism 75% of the time. This demonstrated that there are biomarkers with very good sensitivity for boys in general pediatric settings. Blood-based clinical tests can be refined and routinely implemented by the pediatrician. No similar testing has been created for girls. (Prediction of Autism by Translation and Immune/Inflammation Coexpressed Genes in Toddlers from Pediatric Community Practices, Tiziano Pramparo et al, JAMA Psychiatry, 3/4/15).