Monthly Archives: May 2013

To Medicate or Not to Medicate

Any decision to medicate your child should be made in consultation with your doctor. This is the statement educators are allowed to say, in meetings, with parents. Beyond that, suggesting the child needs medication, or which one he or she should be taking, is not the educator’s domain.

Teachers may share their observations of the student and strategies they have employed.

When a student experiences ongoing academic struggles, parents or teachers can recommend the student be referred for evaluation for special education services. Before that occurs, the team of teachers needs to meet as an Educational Support Team to consider and review the student’s strengths and challenges, and what strategies they have tried, which have been successful or not successful in helping the student. When this logical first step has occurred and the student is still experiencing adverse effect in school (poor grades, testing scores, etc), teachers or parents may recommend the student be evaluated for special education services.

An evaluation begins with an Evaluation Plan Meeting. Team members convene and discuss what they are seeing and which areas they would like the evaluator (school psychologist) to review. Two months later, after the school psychologist completes a lengthy process of testing the student, surveying parents and teachers and compiling the results based on their professional expertise, the team will reconvene to review the results at the Eligibility Meeting. Perhaps the parent had provided documentation of an existing diagnosis, and the evaluator and team’s purpose is to review the affect on the student’s progress in school. If the student is found to have a disability which has an adverse effect on their educational progress, an Individualized Education Plan will be created. The team will detail the strengths and challenges of the student, abilities and disability, learning goals, accommodations and special education services.

The parent may address medical needs in consultation with their physician, and this may occur before or after a comprehensive school evaluation is conducted. Depending on the age at the time of the diagnosis and progress in school, the  parent may already have a medical treatment plan. In the rare instance the school suggests the need for medication, they will be expected to provide and pay for it as a treatment.

You may encounter the teacher who says, “In my many years of experience working with children, I can see clearly this child needs medication and would benefit from it.” Or, “This is the most ADHD kid we’ve ever had here. His life would be so much better on medication.” Perhaps you agree, but a medication treatment plan is handled medically, as are its side-effects. If you’re having a conversation with a teacher about medication, it’s an opinion, and they’re really not supposed to share it as their expertise is around instruction, not medicine. Seek your doctor’s advice and become educated around ADHD medical treatments, as it’s a field with continuous research and developments.* The Children and Adults with Attention -Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder(CHADD) advocacy groups suggests pharmacology treatment may be successfully followed up with behavior therapy, offering a longitudinal look at medically treating ADHD through a person’s life.

If you’ve tried medication for ADHD, and the side-effects were so awful you’ve abandoned medicine completely, yet the teachers are clamoring for a solution and asking you to consult your child’s physician, you have two options. One, consider that advances have been made in treatment for disabilities and perhaps a medicine could be found to benefit your child with as minimal side effects as possible. Two, maintain your ground against medicinal treatments and prepare yourself by knowing what alternative strategies can help your child and use them. Ask the teachers what they have tried that has helped your child be successful. The American Academy of Pediatrics research findings indicate psychotherapy is a necessary first-line treatment for depression in children. The research details the potential benefits and drawbacks of FDA-approved prescription treatments.

This is a brief overview of the basics when determining whether or not to prescribe, especially when a diagnosis of a disability becomes a school discussion. There are many more specifics to consider based on the child, circumstances, diagnosis and so on. It is never an open-and-closed conversation, and you are a key player on the team in determining how to treat. Keep your mind open and learn of reputable organizations dedicated to education and research. We have a great deal to learn about medical treatment of autism and bipolar disorder.
(*Please note, the link to the CHADD article on ADHD medical treatments references Strattera, a non-stimulant medication for ADHD which has mixed reviews. As mentioned, please keep current on the research into benefits and side-effects of medication you consider including in your medical treatment plan, in consultation with the prescribing doctor.)

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Healthy Choices Game

Healthy Choices Game Snakes and Ladders

A fun game to help kids learn about and remind them they can make healthy choices. A great conversation piece to play in the morning over a healthy breakfast and get the day started right. You can cut out the tokens on the page or use your own special mini-toys or coins for playing pieces. You will need die to play. Can be coupled with a larger, floor-sized version using chalk or paper pieces and a large foam cube.

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May 23, 2013 · 12:52 pm

First Things First: Coming To Grips with a Disability Diagnosis

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You suspect your child has a disability, or perhaps you’ve just received the diagnosis. Maybe he or she is a little more active than other kids, isn’t hitting the benchmarks the same time as the other kids, or you have discovered in utero you are facing a major difference with your unborn child. You are stressed and worried he or she will be different, will be picked on, will need you until the day you die. The first thing I would say to any parent is…take a breath. It’s going to be fine.

The so-called “normal” child will have strengths and challenges, will put parents through their paces just as much as any child with a “difference.” All children have value, all have a special contribution to make. So many times I have thought, “If only this parent would accept their child has…autism…adhd…..behavior disorder…then we could really get to work.” In those moments, I attempt to share the idea that if we push them through everything they will be up until midnight doing their homework and missing opportunities for socialization. If we tell them they need to keep working on their long-division even when other kids are using calculators, we are setting them up for misery and failure.

You accept it, but you want the school to make sure they’re succeeding, right? You want your child to look normal, just like every other kid. You want them on the honor roll. You want all their homework done. Here’s the thing: all kids miss their homework sometimes. All kids give their parents attitude sometimes. All kids want to learn, they can’t help it. Let it happen. Every kid an area in which they are incredibly talented. Let them be “normal,” be a kid, be a star.

I’ve known students with learning impairment who were so proficient in one area, it would knock your socks off. Listen when your child is evaluated. Read the report. Your child has strengths, let them pursue those interests and strengths, fight for that. The honor roll will come, if that’s what matters to you. In my career, I regret each missed opportunity to work on a student-centered skill for the drive to achieve “normalcy.” I have had countless conversations with parents about what works for their child, and their special talents. Most listen, and it’s an enjoyable part of the work, to know you’ve provided an opportunity for a child to grow and flourish, to relieve the pressure and learn at their pace. For the parents who want their child to be “normal,” to achieve the honor roll, to look just like everyone else, this message is for you. Your child is not like everyone else. Your child is different, and that’s ok.

You have every right to demand the best, to expect all the support and help and educational opportunity entitled to each child. Special educators and service providers will go the extra mile to support your hopes and wishes for your child. We will teach them their basic skills and help them keep up with their same-age peers. We will make sure they have their lunch money and know the new schedule. We will get their special reading book and talk to them about their fears. Not of that is required, and we do it happily. However, this is where I would like to draw the line. The purpose of special education is not to ensure your child makes the honor roll. It is to provide for your child’s unique needs. Children and special educators are successful when parents do one thing: accept the disability, really accept it and your child for who he or she is. That does not mean have a lower standard. Really, the same message could be sent to every parent. Accept your child, support their dreams and fulfill their needs, not yours.

There’s nothing wrong with having ADHD. It’s inconvenient in a school system which demands quiet rigor applied to sitting, completing worksheets and listening to a one-way dialogue. Lots of amazing, famous people have ADHD. Look it up. Autism is challenging, but it’s becoming more prevalent, with more knowledge and services available. You will get help, you will love your child for his or her personality.

We who have known scores of students with differences can tell you we love and value them all. The disability does not matter. Perhaps we came to this conclusion long before we chose to work with special needs, perhaps we’ve learned it over time. Hurrah to the parent who learns it and chooses to accept it. There are plenty more examples of a changing world which requires a changing attitude. Dyslexia, for example, was a serious problem in a world which judged you based your worth on your ability to write polished products unassisted. That world is gone. Education is not keeping up, and you’ll know that when you see kids doing anything you remember doing in school. You were preparing for a world in which each person did not have their phone, contacts, camera, music, books and GPS in their pockets. You could not reach in your pocket and read a review of a car you wanted to buy. A person with dyslexia will be the modern genius in the new visual world, with their visual-spatial abilities and conceptual strengths. Assistive technology, which was cumbersome and inaccessible to the mainstream, is now commonplace thanks to advances in technology. If you are reading this on a computer or smartphone, you have the ability to video conference and use voice recognition software. It’s a new world, allow your child to find his or her unique place in it.

The future is here. It won’t matter if your child is able to sit quietly in his bedroom and answer 7 questions on lined-paper using complete sentences. It will matter if he is able to work in a group, picture a solution and use technology. If your child enjoys drawing and isn’t a great speller, that’s ok. The world is looking for artists, it has a spell-checker and it’s not afraid to use it.

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Welcome to Education Matters for All

Welcome families and educators to Education Matters for All. In this series of publications, I hope to share my experience in education so you may feel you are informed and getting the most out of your educational opportunities. In the field of special education there is one constant, and that is everything changes. It’s a challenge for most service providers to remain current and true to their practice, and certainly families need a simple, effective source for information.

In this source you will find articles that support and inform families and educators around disability categories, special education procedures, strategies and expectations. I am a licensed special educator with a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction and Special Education. I have 15+years classroom experience involving intensive needs, alternative classroom instruction, adaptive skills, mental illness, autism and co-teaching in the general education setting. I understand the needs of today’s family and the school demands.

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