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How to Help Children Who Have Difficulty with Executive Functions

August 30th, 2013

Children with special needs often struggle with executive functions. For parents whose children face these challenges, it is important to understand what executive functions are, the common warning signs of problems with them, and how learning specialists can help children who face this difficulty.

Executive functions are cognitive processes that control other cognitive processes, connecting past experience with present action. Executive functions are crucial to children’s daily activities like dressing themselves or doing chores, and difficulty with executive functions will especially impact a child’s schoolwork. We all use executive functions for such actions as making plans, keeping track of time, making corrections while thinking, reading or writing, and engaging in group discussions. Executive functioning is what permits us to keep track of more than one thing at a time, holding on to information until it is appropriate or useful for it to be applied.

Children who struggle with executive functions will often seem to be disorganized. Thy may have trouble planning projects and have little understanding of how long they may take. These children may have trouble memorizing information, and when telling a story may have trouble keeping events in sequential order. In addition, a child may have problems with working memory, for instance being unable to remember a phone number while dialing it. There is no one test to identify problems with executive functioning. Educators, psychologists and others may use a variety of methods to identify such problems, including careful observation, tests and trial teaching.

If a difficulty with executive functions has been identified, there are many learning tools that educators and parents can share with children to help them with organizational skills.

Four Learning Tools Available:

  • Checklists: One tool that helps with executive functions is using a checklist. If a child has trouble conceiving of or keeping track of the steps necessary to accomplish a complex task, then a checklist can be a tremendous help. Instead of struggling to understand what step should be done next, a child can simply move through the list. Checklists can be useful at school or with the tasks of daily living, such as getting ready for school in the morning. It can be especially helpful to set time limits for each task on a checklist, as children with executive dysfunction will often not be able to judge how much time each step should take.
  • Calendars and Plans: Because struggling with executive functions make planning difficult, it is all the more essential for children to be introduced to the importance of writing down a plan. Frequent use of a calendar and writing down homework assignments are habits that should be encouraged, and that will take time and energy.
  • Encouragement: Children who find organization challenging often do not understand why being organized is important and may become frustrated with planning. However, encouragement and repetition can help children develop these skills, and establishing a reward system can help them see the benefits.
  • Routines: Developing a routine is also important for children with executive function problems. Doing homework at the same time every day is an especially useful routine, especially with older children who may prefer to do homework when they feel like it. This leads to procrastination and problems with the work. A child who has trouble planning and getting organized may not see that putting off a task will have bad results, and encouraging a routine is one way to help.

Difficulty with executive functions is a common problem for children with special needs, but if the challenge is identified and addressed, then there is a lot that parents and teachers can do to help. If you believe your child’s executive functioning difficulty is becoming debilitating, be sure to discuss this with his or her teacher or section 504 or IEP team and document concerns in writing.

For more information about our legal services for families with special needs, visit www.specialneedsnewyork.com.

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U.S. Department of Education Proposes End of 2 Percent Assessments

August 27th, 2013

The U.S. Department of Education has proposed Regulations, published on August 23, 2013, to transition away from the so-called “2 percent rule.” Under the existing regulations, States have been allowed to develop alternate assessments aligned to modified academic achievement standards (AA-MAAS) for some students with disabilities and use the results of those assessments for accountability purposes under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. In making accountability determinations, States currently may count as proficient scores for up to 2 percent of students in the grades assessed using the alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards. The alternate achievement standards are commonly known as 2 percent tests.

The notice emphasizes the Department’s commitment to holding all students to high standards that better prepare them for college and career.  Under the Department’s proposed regulation, students with disabilities who have been taking the AA-MAAS will transition to college and career ready standards and general assessments that are aligned to those standards and accessible to all students.The proposed amendments would permit states that administered the  modified testing during  2012-13 to continue doing so on a transitional basis, and include the results from these tests in AYP calculations “subject to limitations on the number of proficient scores that may be counted for AYP purposes,” according to the Notice of proposed rulemaking.  The proposed amendments also would apply to accountability determinations made by eligible states that receive ESEA flexibility waivers and have requested a waiver of making AYP determinations, the notice says.

The U.S. Department of Education cited research showing that low-achieving students with disabilities make academic progress when provided with appropriate supports and instruction. The general assessments, “in combination with such supports and instruction for students with disabilities, can promote high expectations for all students, including students with disabilities, by encouraging teaching and learning to the academic achievement standards measured by the general assessments.” The US Department of Education expects that elimination of the alternate achievement standards will give states the opportunity to “refocus their assessment efforts and resources” on developing these general assessments.

The rules are only proposed and will alarm parents of students with disabilities, as assessments just became more rigorous, with the introduction of the Common Core.  However, alternate assessments have not been very effective in measuring progress, so their elimination could be a positive development.   Ask your school what additional supports may be available for your child.

Bottom line: Do not panic. Take some time to review the rules and comment and ask your school district to do the same. Then, wait for the final rules and state guidance.

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How Adults with Autism Can Manage Their Own Treatment Plan

August 26th, 2013

Children with autism spectrum disorders often receive support in school through special education, school psychologists and other services, and parents are usually closely involved in helping to develop their child’s treatment plan and following up to make sure that treatment is as effective as possible.

Once a child with autism turns 18, the situation changes. Although an adult with autism may benefit from continued treatment, and parents may be funding that treatment, parents will not necessarily have the same access to their adult child’s treatment providers, and thus cannot play the same role. In addition, it can be an important step for a young adult with autism to begin playing more of a role in directing his or her own treatment. However, this can often be a struggle.

For students on an individualized education program (IEP) in high school, there is a legal requirement that a plan be developed to help the student transition into adulthood. Research has shown that the more students can be encouraged to develop self-determination, the more they will be able to participate in their own IEP and transition plan. This transition into self-direction of his or her own treatment will serve the student well as a young adult.

One difficulty that is often encountered with young adults receiving treatment for autism is lack of coordination among multiple service providers. When the young adult was a child, his or her parents or school counselors may have worked to ensure that different types of treatment fit into a cohesive treatment plan. As an adult, it is important for a person with autism to understand, as much as possible, the goals of treatment and be able to judge whether or not various treatment options are meeting those goals. Needless to say, each young adult with autism has different capabilities, but the if parents work with their child toward self-determination during the teenage years, then the person will be more able to participate in his or her own treatment as an adult.

For more information about our legal services for people with special needs, visit www.specialneedsnewyork.com.

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Pegasus Therapeutic Riding Center: Fall 2013 Programs for Veterans and People with Special Needs

August 15th, 2013

Pegasus Therapeutic Riding Center provides therapeutic equine-assisted programs for people with special needs, military veterans and at-risk individuals, including disadvantaged youth and abuse survivors. We are a PATH International Premier Accredited Center with chapters throughout Putnam, Westchester and Fairfield counties. Our main equestrian center is Pegasus Farm, a 20-acre facility on Route 121 in Brewster, N.Y.

Fall 2013: Pegasus

Earlier in the summer, Littman Krooks graciously invited us to write blog post that outlined our organization’s mission and programs, specifically our summer program options. As we near the launch of our fall session on September 7, we’d like to share some information about our programs:


OUR PROGRAMS

Pegasus offers therapeutic horseback riding and Horses & Me (an unmounted program) for individual students, Pegasus Patriots for veterans, and Wings for at-risk groups. Each lesson is 45 minutes in duration, and most students participate once a week. Therapeutic riding and Horses & Me session fees are $50 per lesson. Pegasus Patriots is a fully funded program, and the Wings program is partially funded. Prospective Wings groups and Pegasus Patriots veterans are welcome to contact us for further details regarding their programs.

Our 12-week fall 2013 session at Pegasus Farm will begin on Saturday, September 7. Our three regional chapters in Greenwich, Darien and Pleasantville will begin the following week. Anyone interested in joining us for the fall session should review the registration information below and contact us as soon as possible.

At Pegasus Farm, we run program every day but Sunday. Our Greenwich chapter, hosted by Kelsey Farm, runs program on Mondays, as does our Pleasantville chapter, hosted by Fox Hill Farms. Our Darien chapter at Ox Ridge Hunt Club, which is the founding chapter of Pegasus, runs program on Mondays and Thursdays. Open six days a week, Pegasus Farm accommodates about two-thirds of our students. We do our best to place students at the chapter closest to their home, but prospective students should be aware space at our Greenwich, Darien and Pleasantville chapters is limited.

PROGRAM BENEFITS

Therapeutic riding can produce remarkably improved mobility, balance, posture, coordination, language development, behavior control and concentration. Lessons include instruction in basic riding skills as well as opportunities for social interaction, recreation, sport, therapy and work with developmental concepts. Lessons are conducted in our Ann Pinkerton Riding Arena or outdoors if the weather permits.

In addition to the arena, Pegasus Farm features a multi-acre sensory trail that is a fun and integral part of our therapeutic riding program. A sensory trail is a rich learning environment of woodland paths that includes natural sights and sounds as well as man-made sensory experiences. This environment challenges the students’ balance, stimulates their senses and encourages them to engage with the world around them. The Pegasus sensory trail features musical instruments, ball games, a fragrant herb garden, a “woodland village” of houses containing objects of all shapes and sizes, and a life-size road course complete with real street signs. Not surprisingly, the sensory trail is a favorite student activity.

Horses & Me activities take place during unmounted sessions in the barn and/or arena. Students’ progress through sequenced activities adapted to their abilities. Lesson topics may include grooming, equine nutrition and first aid, ground training, basic equine anatomy, and how to tack up and lead a horse. Horses & Me activities offer a wide range of therapeutic benefits. Students can exercise their muscles, develop fine motor skills, socialize with peers, and learn about routines and what it means to be responsible for another living thing, develop greater awareness and focusing skills, and build their confidence and leadership ability.

Pegasus Patriots and Wings are highly customized blends of our Horses & Me and therapeutic riding programs, based on the needs and goals of the participants. Pegasus Patriots serves groups and individuals, and Wings serves groups from schools, residential facilities and other organizations that work with at-risk individuals.

REGISTRATION INFORMATION

For safety reasons, prospective students must be at least four years of age. A student or his/her parents or legal guardians should contact Program Coordinator Emily Wygod at (845) 669-8235 x104 or ewygod@pegasustr.org to begin the admissions process.

The prospective student will be asked to come in for an evaluation to determine general eligibility for participation in equine-assisted activities. The evaluation fee is $50. If Pegasus is an appropriate fit, the student will be placed in a program that meets the student’s goals and scheduling considerations.

If a prospective student misses the start of our fall therapeutic riding session or is unable to accommodate any possible openings we might have in the class schedule after fall session begins, we would be happy to discuss enrolling the student in our Horses & Me unmounted activities. Horses & Me offers many of the same benefits as therapeutic riding, and we highly recommend these activities as a way to get to know and understand our therapeutic horses before beginning to ride.

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Getting Organized for Back-to-School (Guest Blog)

August 5th, 2013

This week’s guest blogger is Leslie Josel, a nationally recognized expert on chronic disorganization and hoarding issues. Leslie has appeared on several episodes of TLC’s hit television show, “Hoarding: Buried Alive,” the Cooking Channel’s television special, “Stuffed: Food Hoarders,” “dLife-TV” and the nationally syndicated “The Better Show” as an organizing expert. She is frequently quoted in mainstream news media such as MORE Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, New York’s Daily News, Westchester magazine and many other print media.

In 2004, Ms. Josel launched Order Out of Chaos, a Mamaroneck-based company that provides organization and relocations services for the chronically disorganized (ADHD, students with learning challenges, hoarding behaviors).

Here’s more about how Leslie launched Order Out of Chaos:

“My son was diagnosed with ADHD, executive dysfunction and other learning differences. So, this all started with me trying to untangle his world. I didn’t know how helpful it was until a friend (who was a therapist) saw the work I did for my son and asked if I would be interested in helping a patient of hers in the same way. Not only did I do it, but the results were extremely successful; word got out within the special needs community of what I had done for my son and my friend’s patient and my services became in demand. As the business took off, I became certified in chronic disorganization, as a hoarding specialist and also a certified JST coach for teens and college students with ADHD.”

Click here to continue to Leslie’s blog, “The ABC’s To Getting Organized for Back-to-School. ”

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Website Accessibility is the Next Legal Frontier for Americans with Disabilities

August 1st, 2013

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), enacted in 1990, has been used to open countless public accommodations to people with disabilities. Now it is being used to make websites accessible as well, and this legal frontier is likely to expand in the future.

A number of cases in the past several years illustrate online accessibility issues.

In 2008, the National Federation for the Blind settled a class action lawsuit against Target Corporation that was brought under the ADA and California law. The lawsuit alleged that Target’s online store was a “public accommodation” under the meaning of the law, and it was not accessible to the blind. One of the problems allegedly stemmed from misuse of the alternative text for clickable images. Rather than a description of the image, blind users selecting an image would hear a non-descriptive filename. Target filed a motion to dismiss, claiming that its brick-and-mortar stores were accessible to the blind and that the law was only intended to apply to physical accommodations. However, a judge ruled that the lawsuit could proceed, allowing the interpretation that websites are public accommodations under the law. In the settlement, Target agreed to make changes to its website.

In 2009, Disability Rights Advocates, a non-profit public-interest law firm, settled a lawsuit against two hotel reservation websites: Hotels.com and Expedia.com. The lawsuit hinged on the inability of disabled users to search for the hotel accommodations they need, such as Braille signage, wheelchair-accessible showers and telecommunications equipment for individuals with hearing loss. Plaintiffs claimed that they were unable to take advantage of the convenience and discounts of online hotel reservations. Under the settlement agreement, the websites made changes allowing users with disabilities to search for the hotel accommodations they need and make special requests for those rooms online. Each special request will be handled individually to accommodate the customer’s needs.

Last year, the National Association of the Deaf settled a federal lawsuit against Netflix, alleging that the company violated the ADA by not providing closed-captioning for its streaming video. The plaintiffs claimed that 48 million deaf and hard-of-hearing people were prevented from using the service. In the settlement agreement, Netflix agreed to add closed-captioning to all its content by 2014. The text can be displayed on most devices on which Netflix is available. In the meantime, Netflix agreed to improve its interface to help users identify which content has closed-captioning available. The company said that is was already a leader in making content available to people who are deaf and hard-of-hearing, and that it hoped its commitment to 100 percent captioning would serve as an example for other streaming video providers.

These lawsuits successfully argued that people with disabilities should have access to accommodations in the online world just as in physical locations. These successes are already spurring other businesses to make their websites more accessible, a move that benefits people with disabilities and the businesses themselves. After all, making it easier for people to access services should improve any company’s bottom line.


For more information about our legal services for people with special needs, visit www.specialneedsnewyork.com.

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