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Is My Child with Special Needs Being Bullied?

April 27th, 2015

Our guest blogger this week is Tara Fishler, CEO of Customized Training Solutions.  Tara Fishler founded Customized Training Solutions in 2003. She and COO Leiat Klarfeld, have provided training to thousands of parents, teachers, support staff, administrators, and students in schools and organizations on topics including anti-bullying, anger management, special needs, diversity and mediation among many other topics. Ms. Fishler currently serves as President of the New York State Dispute Resolution Association (NYSDRA).

One in four kids in the U.S. is bullied on a regular basis. That’s bad enough, but what’s worse is that according to several studies, the rates are usually two to three times higher, for children with special needs. In nearby Connecticut, more than 50 percent of tracked bullying reports involved a student with a disability or an IEP.

 

While more and more schools are developing anti-bullying programs and policies, there’s still a great deal of work to be done, particularly for kids with special needs. For many of these kids, their parents will always remain their primary advocate.

The good news is, there are proactive steps that parents can take to protect their kids and create a healthier, more accepting environment in their schools and communities.Littman Krooks Special Education Advocacy

How Do You Know If It’s Bullying?

In the past, bullying issues were, at best, addressed haphazardly, and at worst, swept under the rug. Now, it’s taken more seriously, which is good. However, it’s also created confusion, because “bullying” has become a catch-all phrase for all kinds of peer conflicts, such as teasing and other relationship issues. In addition, since a child with special needs may not be able explain exactly what’s happening, how do you know if it’s a bullying situation or just “kids being kids?”

Bullying is defined as behavior that is intentional, aggressive and negative, carried out repeatedly against one or more targets. Bullying occurs in relationships where there is an imbalance of power between the parties involved.

Evaluating the balance of power in a conflict is often the best way to identify bullying versus teasing. If one party is afraid of the other, it’s more likely to be a bullying situation. When a child has special needs, it can be especially hard to tell what is really going on. (Look for my personal experience on this issue in a future post.)

Why Kids with Special Needs Are Targeted

Littman Krooks Special Education AdvocacyKids with physical, developmental, intellectual, behavioral, sensory disabilities and even allergies are more likely to be bullied than others. Studies indicate that when kids have visible physical disabilities, they are more likely to be victimized.

In addition, children with special needs often have a lower baseline social standing than their fellow students, which makes them more vulnerable from the start. When part of a child’s condition includes social challenges, such as autism, Social Communication Disorder (formerly Asperger’s syndrome), and ADD or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), the problem is intensified. Kids who have trouble holding conversations or making friends, or who have a low frustration threshold, are prime targets.

Ironically, the recent inclusion movement in schools may have actually made students with special needs more vulnerable. Special classes, aides, and technological equipment highlight the fact that these students are “different.” And being “different” can set kids up not only for social ostracism, but as the go-to target of bullies.

How to Spot if Your Child Is Being Bullied

The first indication of a bullying problem is often a change in a child’s behavior. Often, kids who are being victimized:

  • Become reluctant to go to school.
  • Start eating or sleeping poorly, or too much.
  • Lose interest in classwork and slip academically.
  • Lose interest in friends and favorite activities.
  • Become moody or get upset easily.
  • Regress in toileting and other skills.
  • Complain of headaches or stomach aches.

In addition, look for physical signs, including:

  • Cuts, bruises, or injuries that weren’t there in the morning.
  • Torn or dirty clothing.
  • Damaged or missing belongings.

If you suspect your child may be the target of bullying, document the situation and bring it to the attention of their teacher(s) and Principal. For more tips about how to handle bullying situations, visit www.tarafishler.com.

 

Learn more about our special needs planning and special education advocacy services at www.littmankrooks.com or www.specialneedsnewyork.com.


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Understand the Emphasis on State-Standardized Testing and What Parents Can Do

April 16th, 2015

Littman Krooks special needsBy Nicole Garcia, MS.Ed., Educational Advocate

In New York, this week, students in grades 3-8 will take their English Language Arts and Math. As the testing season begins, the routine of school changes. The introduction of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has created even angst and frustration.   Governor Cuomo’s new accountability measures for teachers have created even more pressure for teachers and principals. Many parents believe that there exists too much emphasis on state testing. To help you navigate issues surrounding state testing for your child, we have provided some background.

The No Child Left Behind Act

In January 2002, President George W. Bush signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), which represented a re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (“ESEA”). NCLB required all states to develop assessments tests in basic skills to receive federal funds. School districts must administer assessments to all students (on selected grade levels) or risk losing federal funding. NCLB expanded the federal role in public education and increased accountability for teachers and schools. Students must be tested in science at least one grade in elementary, middle and high school. Depending on which state, testing occurs from February through April. NCLB is overdue for re-authorization (since 2007) and Secretary Duncan has proposed a blueprint, but Congress has not reauthorized the law yet.

New York Adopted Common Core State Standards as NCLB Assessments

Every state, including New York, has put in place testing and standards in core subjects to comply with NCLB requirements.  For ELA and math, New York, like most other states, adopted the CCSS in 2010 and first implemented the CCSS exams—as the NCLB assessments– in the Spring of 2013.   The CCSS aspire to create a “common core of standards that are internationally benchmarked, aligned with work and post-secondary education expectations, and inclusive of the higher order skills that students need…”   Essentially, the tests are aligned to prepare students for the skills measured by the ACT and SAT and prepare them for a globally competitive marketplace. Yet, in New York, students had to take the CCSS with little preparation and most teachers did not receive training, the first year that the tests were given. Only 33% of students in New York State achieved proficiency.

Supporters of the CCCS assessments believe the test provides a measure of accountability for what goes on in the classroom, as well as greater rigor. The more rigorous standards help students meet basic proficiency levels and to achieve skills to become “college and career ready.” Supporters also believe teachers will perform to ensure that children will be prepared and score well on the state test.

But many parents and educators have been highly critical of the exams.   They have observed that scores do not convey additional portions of the curriculum and do not include measurement of progress in enrichment programs. Critics contend that the tests do not measure whether a student is learning critical thinking skills or how engaged students are in the learning process.  Teachers have little time for other subjects. Recent accountability measures for teachers have exacerbated this pressure. Also, many parents are concerned that teachers “teach to the test” and must necessarily eliminate enriching opportunities and creative lessons from the curriculum.  More information about the CCSS can be found on the New York State Education Department website.

Most School Accountability Measures Have Been Waived in New York

In the past, schools and school districts that did not show students making adequate yearly progress (“AYP”) toward achieving proficiency could be subject to federal sanctions (e.g., offering school choice, loss of federal funds, possible complete restructuring of the school, or closing the school). In 2012, President Obama waived most of these sanctions for approximately 32 states, including New York. Yet each state still holds schools accountable for results. Test scores provide an indication of how students are performing and are reported by State Department of Education to compare groups of students from year to year.

New York State Alternative Assessment

Children with the most severe cognitive disabilities, as set forth in their Individualized Education Programs (IEPS), may take alternate assessments. In New York, students with alternate assessments on their IEP take the New York State Alternate Assessment (NYSAA). Students with severe cognitive disabilities may demonstrate their performance toward achieving the New York State P-12 CCSS in English language arts and mathematics on the NYSAA.

The Committee on Special Education (CSE) for each student will determine eligibility for participation in the NYSAA. Only a very small percentage of students should take alternative assessments. More information about NYSAA is available on the state education website at: http://www.p12.nysed.gov/assessment/nysaa/.

What Can Parents Do?

  1. Know when and what testing will be offered. Don’t ignore the obvious step of understanding when and what testing your child will be taking. Testing begins this week in New York in Grades 3-8. School calendars should indicate when the tests are administered. In grades 3-8, each child will take the English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics assessments. Children will also take Science and Social Studies assessments, in fourth and fifth grades and may again take it in eighth grade. Speak with your teacher in the beginning of the year to find out.
  1. Reassure your child to prevent stress.   Parents should keep their children calm and prevent any stress and anxiety.   The CCCS assessments should not be a primary or major factor in any promotion decisions, so parents should reassure their children.
  1. In the fall, ask for an information session on the test and the results from the prior year. Because New York State does not release the results of assessments to school districts and parents until the following school year, many parents may forget to follow up. When you receive the assessment results, ask the school principal to hold an information session about the test and the results. Parents may misunderstand the purpose of these assessments and how to read the results. An educator would be able to clarify in “parent terms” what the results mean. Once parents are given clarity about the assessments, they may have a better understanding of their child’s strengths and areas of need.
  1. Become educated on the assessments and support available. Parents should reach out to their child’s teacher to find out if he or she will be offering extra support for testing. This may include more homework or staying after school. The parent can correspond by email and sending a letter to school, or leaving a message for the teacher with the office. Parents can find out if their child is entitled to Academic Intervention Services (AIS). AIS is designed to help students achieve the learning standards in ELA and mathematics and supplements the general curriculum. AIS can be given throughout the day or after school. New York State has provided Guidance  on cut scores to school districts on when they must offer AIS services, since most students in New York State are not yet proficient on the CCCS. Parents should also become educated on the goals of the assessments and support the skills measured by the CCSS. Guidance for parents and families on the CCCS is available.
  1. Consider whether your child should opt out of testing. Today, more parents are considering this option.  School districts discourage opting out, as schools must show a certain level of participation on the exams or could risk state funding and educators are concerned about the lack of assessment data.   Parents should work with their local PTA/PTSA to find out information on removing their child from state testing. Review carefully the pros and cons of opting out. Many advocacy groups have set forth information on opting out.

 

Learn more about our special needs planning and special education advocacy services at www.littmankrooks.com or www.specialneedsnewyork.com.


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World Autism Awareness Day

April 2nd, 2015

Littman Krooks AutismBy: Giulia Frasca, Esq.
April 2, 2015 is the eighth annual World Autism Awareness Day. Organizations around the world are celebrating with fundraising events and events to raise awareness. Within the last decade, research has led to the discovery of new information regarding autism. See some of these discoveries below:

  • Autism’s prevalence has soared within the last ten years. Ten years ago, autism was diagnosed in approximately 1 in 166 children. Today, it has increased more than 100% as it is prevalent in 1 out of 68 children.
  • Direct screening of children indicates that autism may be more widespread than current statistics suggest.
    Autism Speaks, an organization founded ten years ago to raise awareness and funding for research into Autism studies conducted a study in South Korea where it screened children in South Korean schools. The study concluded that 1 in 38 children were affected by Autism. The majority of the children were previously undiagnosed. A similar study is currently being worked on in conjunction with the CDC in the United States.
  • Early intervention makes a difference. It is now possible to have an Autism diagnosis by age 2. Early screening is important so that services can be administered. Early intervention affects underlying brain development and activity and may also reduce the need for interventions later in life.
  • Behavioral therapy for autism may be essential. Behavioral issues may be present in a child diagnosed with Autism. Behavioral therapy can have significant benefits in the development of a student with Autism. Health coverage for behavioral treatments is now available in 38 states. Many families can now benefit from behavioral treatment for children diagnosed with Autism.Littman Krooks Autism
  • One out of three persons diagnosed with Autism cannot speak. Assistive technology is necessary for one third of persons diagnosed with Autism to be able to communicate. These devices can be very expensive. Efforts are underway to help obtain insurance coverage for such necessary devices.
  • It is possible for a nonverbal child diagnosed with Autism to eventually speak. Appropriate services and therapy can make it possible for a nonverbal child with Autism to speak. It is important to communicate with the school district and providers regarding the child’s needs and to obtain evaluations to determine the needs of the child.
  • Many children with Autism suffer from gastrointestinal issues. Gastrointestinal issues and allergies to foods are common in children with Autism. The pain that results can exacerbate behavioral issues. It is important to understand the child’s gastrointestinal issues and make others who work with the child aware so that the issues can properly be managed, for example, following gluten- free or lactose-free diet.
  • Children with Autism often have trouble sleeping. Any trouble sleeping or sleep disturbances should be discussed with the child’s doctor so that interventions can be taken. The information should then be relayed to the school if the child is school-aged so that an appropriate program can be provided, such as planning instruction in the morning if the child gets sleepy in the afternoon.

 

Identifying the best services for someone with special needs can be daunting. We can help you navigate the system, understand your child’s legal rights, and establish the financial foundation that will enable as much independence as possible. Our goal is to empower families with the tools they need to advocate for their loved ones—for a free and appropriate education, public benefits, and social services.

Learn more about our special needs planning and special education advocacy services at www.littmankrooks.com or www.specialneedsnewyork.com.


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