Tuesday, December 21, 2010

I am moving!

Not the blog, I am physically moving.

I have started a position as a Director of Special Education in Northern San Diego County, and I will be spending the better part of the month moving.

I will try to keep up with posting once things are settled.

Please keep questions coming.

Happy Holidays!


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A response to the articles in Our Weekly regarding Special Education and AVUHSD.

Our Weekly recently wrote a series of articles regarding African-American students in special education at the Antelope Valley Union High School District (www.avdistrict.org).

The articles can be found right here.


Note: I will not comment on any statement regarding issues with direct students.
The Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) prevents any discussion or commentary about specific students... I will get back to that later.

Although no individual fact (again, excluding any commentary on specific students) in the articles are incorrect, the manner in which they are presented and the omission of key facts are extremely relevant to the context of the story.

For example, the secondary headline of the 11/3/2010 reads, "Link between Black students in special ed and prison."
The article then presents an array of statistics regarding the amount of disproportionality with African-American students in special education at AVUHSD and the high percentage of white teachers in the district.
It then hypothesizes, "So what is the cause of this phenomenon? One report indicates that due to the disproportionate amount of White female teachers instructing African Americans, a repetition of this type of classification persists."

The sad fact is that proper journalistic inquiry would have uncovered one key fact that would negate about half of the commentary in this article.

It is the following:
AVUHSD serves grades 9-12, and 98-99% of all of the students that the district serves in special education were identified by other districts.
Eight K-8 districts feed into AVUHSD (Palmdale, Lancaster, Westside, Eastside, Wilsona, Keppel, HELUS, & Gorman).
In addition, a large amount of our students transfer in from other districts when they move, already identified for special education.
AVUHSD inherits its disproportionality.

Why have these districts, as well as LAUSD and the other districts that transfer students to AVUHSD, identified a disproportionate amount of A.A. students for special education?
I don't know, and it would be really irresponsible for me to guess without performing adequate research.

Secondly, I have already mentioned FERPA.
It is common knowledge to those in the journalism profession that parents and disgruntled employees attempt to use the media to wage a one-sided attack.
The law prohibits any commentary by any district employee.
To do so is a violation of rights equal to, or greater, than the allegations in print.
Too often, the district staff's response of, "I cannot comment" is presented similarly to the "no comment" of someone who is actually guilty.
Now, I am not making any accusations to any or all of the parents mentioned in the articles.
However, I do take exception to the lack of commentary in the article considering that there may actually be two sides of the story.

Thirdly, I want to focus on the omissions of who were not contacted or referenced in the articles.
For example, there are resources in the Antelope Valley to assist parents in educating or advocating for their children.

One such resource is the Antelope Valley Branch of Family Focus Resource and Empowerment Center (http://www.csunfamilyfocus.com/Default.asp).
FFREC provides education, support, and - as a last resort - adversarial advocacy against school districts or other agencies to parents in the community.
Most, if not all, of their services are free of charge.
In the past, FFREC has convinced me to volunteer my time doing parent training for them.
Why was FFREC not pursued?

Another group that was not immediately involved is the High Desert Alliance of Black School Educators .

Here are the facts that were omitted.
HDABSE is a group of African-American educators that work in the Antelope Valley at all levels in education (teachers, administrators, support, etc.) who volunteer their time and resources to improve the educational outcomes of African-American students in the Antelope Valley.

Every year they host a symposium of workshops and resources for parents.
Example is here: http://www.cityoflancasterca.org/index.aspx?recordid=1461&page=20

Not only are the members of HDABSE part of the African-American community in the Antelope Valley, many of them have their own A.A. children and/or grand-children going through the local educational systems.

Any discussion on systemic problems and/or potential solutions for African-American students in the Antelope Valley that does not include HDABSE is just plain irresponsible.

(Side-note: HDABSE also provides support, networking, and mentoring for A.A. educators.
Thus, they are addressing some of this issues of faculty disproportionality as cited above.)

Fourth, let's look at the "advocacy support" that was involved.
Despite any fancy titles, the vast majority of these individuals are attorneys.
As finally pointed out in the 11/11/2010 article by Bridget Cook (General Counsel for AVUHSD, member of HDABSE, member of the A.V.'s African-American Educational community, and INVITED guest to the meeting that she attended.), these attorneys make substantial amounts of money by tacking on large amount of legal fees in legal matters against the school districts.
Although they market their services as free to parents, they make their money by going straight to legal action against school districts and then charging large amounts of legal fees to the district if/when they prevail in legal action.
(According to the Office of Administrative Hearing more than 95% of all legal action is settled.
Districts usually settle to limit expense.)

The majority of the time, the services that they "fight" for can be acquired for free by using the techniques taught by groups such as the FFREC.

This is not to say that I am naive to think that parents should never retain legal counsel.
However, I will say that many of the more reponsible and locally prominent educational advocates - who are part of the AV community (FFREC and Claudia Petryshn come to mind immediately) - usually find this step unnecessary and only use it as a last resort.

This is a guess, and I do not want to portray it as a fact - I bet that these attorneys did not divulge in their meetings with unhappy parents how much money they charge the school districts in legal action that come directly out of the same budgets that we use to pay their childrens' teachers.

So let's summarize:
1. Many of the services that these attorneys fight for can be accessed for free with parental education or local advocacy resources.
2. When these attorneys do get to charge districts for their "advocacy" large sums of money, the money encroached on the local districts' general funds to be sent to Sherman Oaks, or whatever rich, white neighborhoods these individuals live and work.
3. The individuals that are part of and are invested in this community that are in a position to make positive change have been circumvented.
4. Every anecdotal example is presented in a way that renders rebuttal or clarification illegal.
5. AVUHSD inherits it's disproportionality.

So I cannot be accussed of being a hypocrite, I need to make sure I cover my bases.
1. Until 12/9/2010, I work for AVUHSD as the Coordinator of Psychological Services.
2. I am writing this article on my own time, as a community member, and as a former-employee of AVUHSD.
This is not endorsed, motivated, or requested by AVUHSD.
3. I am making no claims against the articles' author, parents, or the attorneys involved.
I am not a mind-reader, and I will not claim to know their motivations, thought, or feelings.
I merely want to present some glaring ommissions that change the context of the situation.

I would love to see some respectful and responsible discourse on how to improve educational outcomes for the students of this community.

There is no question that the need for this discourse needs to take place, but let's lay all of our cards on the table and remove the profit-motive from the discussion.

It is why I entered a career in education, and it is why I write this blog in my free time.

Integrity is more than the absence of lying.
It is also about divulging enough of the full-picture and not witholding significant, relative facts.

Monday, November 29, 2010

My Interview with www.everydayhealth.com

I recently did a panel interview on ADHD.
Please check it out!

You can read the article here:

Please check it out.
However, please read the actual questions and do not rely solely on the "headline" for each question.

My unedited responses are below.

1. Why are there so many theories about the causes of ADHD? What are the most common?

Like any psychological disorder, the number of theories comes from two main sources.
First, there are so many theories in psychology: neuropsychological, biological, cognitive, behavioral, social, etc. No one theory has ever perfectly covered a disorder and treatment so perfectly that it renders the others obsolete. For any given disorder and/or any given person, certain theories may have more dominance. However, a diversity of understanding and repertoire of treatment options in the hands of a skilled-practitioner is necessary to balance the strengths and weaknesses of any one theory by itself.

Although we have come a long way, we still have a lot to learn. This means that we have a lot of dots still unconnected. This allows for a lot of theories to exist parallel to each other. It also allows a lot of theoretical purists to act more like cultists than scientists. However, in time, the more that we learn and understand about ADHD collectively, the more theories start to converge and overlap. Some theories will not hold up to scientific research while others will be modified and/or supported.

Unfortunately, money also has influence. The pharmaceutical industry has plenty of detractors, and their opponents have a strong presence. However, they are not the only ones making money in the treatment of ADHD. Alternative treatments, with varying levels of scientific levels supporting them, have strong marketing towards parents and individuals that are desperate or frustrated. Individual practitioners also market their skills, and I bet that marketing a “Revolutionary and specialized program in the treatment of ADHD not provided by the competition!” is sexier and invokes more response than “Experienced in the scientific problem-solving model with multi-modal treatment.” Specialization and niche marketing do more to accentuate differences than unify commonality.

I personally give most weight to the work of Russell Barkley. When you review his research, you see that he has never done much, if any, direct research on the disorder. Instead, he absorbed, analyzed, and assimilated all of the valid research that he could get his hands on. Then, he used this information to synthesize the more comprehensive and unifying theory on ADHD. My preference towards his work is obvious. It is more inclusive of multiple theories, and it has a strong foundation in quality research. Also, he supports the set of tools that I have found to be effective in practice.

2. How can you explain the value of treatment to resistant parents? For example, “I survived my childhood with ADHD --and I was never diagnosed or treated. Why does my child need ADHD treatment?”

 My personality is very bottom-line oriented, so I do better with these parents than the more touchy-feely practitioners. I don’t push for “ADHD treatment.” I push for results. I push for a plan that is calculated to improve outcomes. I don’t have a standard response based on the disorder. Each person, as well as how ADHD manifests itself in them, is different. Let’s look at individual strengths and challenges.

I have two quotes hanging in my office, “They don’t care how much they know until they know how much you care.” (I don’t know the source.) I also have a plaque with Einstein’s, “Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” If you are in my office, we can acknowledge that you probably want some result to come out better. This means, we cannot do the same thing over and over.

I call it “problem-solving” with my students and parents. I call it “data-based decision-making” with educators. So long as it works, who cares?

I also have external constraints on how I approach things. Although my wife and I have discussed private practice for years, we have yet to launch the practice. I am very cautious in making sure that I stay within the bounds of my professional duties and scope of practice while working for a school system. Do I have expertise and experience outside of my job duties? Yes, but it is not about me, my experience, or my opinions. It is my job to serve the community and the students that my employer serves. I have little patience for people who step outside of their proper role due to a sense of self-righteousness. I would rather play a smaller role, but play it to the best of my abilities.

If a parent asks me about medication, I will not share many opinions or answer many direct questions. However, I may help facilitate their ability to construct a set of questions to ask the appropriate medical practitioner. In the end, it is not my decision.

3. What role does a child’s school have in helping him or her with ADHD?

The school’s role is to teach - to teach well. First and foremost, students with ADHD need excellent teachers. They need to be engaged in learning from door-to-door and bell-to-bell. They need a structured external environment that offers the right combination of support and challenge. They need to be engaged through a variety of methods and modalities. In addition, students with ADHD often need to receive explicit instruction in certain skills that students are usually just expected to “pick-up” along the way – social skills, study-skills, time management and organization, etc.

Not only am I a pragmatist, but I love to read about Zen philosophy.  There is a beauty in the fact that less is more. It is better to do fewer things, but to do them very well. Conversely, it is also a simple maxim in organizational leadership that if we try to make everything a priority – nothing is a priority. I am supported by the emerging body of research on personal productivity against the idea of “multi-tasking.” Focus is as important to an organization as it is to the individual.

This is my biggest pet-peeve is with the type of educational advocates that have a “more is better” mentality. They take my approach as evidence that the school is “trying to withhold” and  they refuse to see the harm in their ways. I cannot tell you how many high school students have mentally given up after their advocates have "won" huge amounts of outside services in legal action. After a day of struggling at school, the only thing that they have to look forward to is more hours of after-school counseling, therapy, groups, tutoring, interventions, etc. I have seen far too many burn-out and give up.

This does not mean that I am minimizing the role of educational planning,
accommodations, 504s, IEPs, or supplementary services etc. However, I do believe that these are merely the means to an end. They should be the means to allow the student to benefit from quality instruction. If we focus too much on process, we tend to lose focus on what the process is supposed to deliver. Energy and concentration are precious commodities, and children only have so much that they can deliver in a given day. We need be wise and strategic because concentration is even more limited when dealing with ADHD.

4. Are the medications recommended for ADHD safe for children? What are the potential dangers?

I think that there are way to many variables to answer in general: each child’s therapeutic response to a medication, each child’s sensitivity to potential side-effects, the quality of the practitioner prescribing the medication, the external constraints on the prescribing person (such as caseloads or funding issues), etc. Medication can be a wonderful and safe option, but it can also be a dangerous thing. The problem is not in the chemicals themselves, but in how well the adults monitor and administer the medication.

For example, I have seen heavily-medicated students not receive any follow-up after the medication calmed their behavior. Pills do not teach children study-skills, coping methods, or proper social interactions. The medication’s job is to create a window of opportunity for those skills to be developed. It is the adults’ job to exploit this opportunity.

I have seen a lot of variance in how students respond to medication. This is why I get scared when I see initial prescriptions that have not gone through a rigorous process. I am not a medical practitioner, and I would rather defer commentary on specific medication to those folks. My favorite medical doctors titrate dosages. Titration is a term that comes from chemistry. It means starting with a low dose and slowly increasing over time while monitoring therapeutic benefit and side effects. They treat each patient as a miniature single-subject case-study. This allows them to maximize therapeutic benefit while minimizing side-effects. They also understand that things change as children develop. Unfortunately, I see this method utilized less and less. The ten-minute parent consultation is becoming too common. This may be fine once the ideal prescription is established, but it concerns me when it happens in the initial stages.

When I hear parents say that they will not consider medication because, “they had a bad experience with medication.” I often wonder if the problem was with the medication or the manner that it was implemented?

5. What are the most common side effects of ADHD meds?

Anyone on the internet can read about the common possible side-effects: decreased appetite, increased blood pressure, sleeplessness, etc. I would like to focus on one side-effect that is extremely common, but that very few talk about. It is the subjective side-effect on how the child feels.

Many people on medication do not feel like themselves when they are on medication. They can feel like they have a different, artificial personality or that their true personality is inhibited. This can have some serious psychological impact to children based on how adults talk to them. How many adults have communicated the following to kids who take ADHD medication?   
Oh no, someone did not take their meds today!
Who are you? You are such a good kid when you take your medication, where did that kid go?
etc. etc. etc.
Via the transitive property of algebra, when people say these things, many children really hear:
If you are someone else when you are on your meds, and I like you better when you are on medication, THEN I don't like the real you.
Those little comments can slip out so easily, but how many people realize the impact of their words?


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Gift Ideas for Black Friday

Given my lack of time for a post of substance, I figured that I would share my season gift ideas.

For the adult with ADHD:

Disclaimer - Any Smartphone will do with the following Caveats.
1. If you have a white-collar job, make sure it is compatible with your work calendar and productivity software.

For the parent of a child with ADHD

Kids with ADHD

I don't believe in iPads or laptops for kids with ADHD.
They will end up broken, stolen, or too many apps too distract... not a problem with this device.


Anybody  in need of some inspiration:

For Educators and School Psychologists

#1 - Registration to one of my Trainings.

December 2010

March 2011

Best Practices in School Crisis Prevention and Intervention

The ones above are for clinicians.
For other educators, I recommend:

Anyone that ever needs to deal with powerpoint or presentations:



Saturday, November 20, 2010

Call for Questions

Life has been very hectic lately.

I will explain soon enough.

However, I am running out of questions/topics.

I have three left right now.

  • Why does it take so long to get an assessment?
  • How do you deal with school refusal?
  • What is the Universal Design of Learning?
Once I get back into the swing of writing, I want to make sure that I write about things that people want to know about.

Please, please, PLEASE!
Send me your questions or topic suggestions.


And don't forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter! (Links are on top of the page.)


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Giving parent what they want?

How focused should we be on giving parent what they want?
Part of my job is to fix problem-IEPs.
I also randomly read IEPs in the district and provide feedback.
There are times when I read IEPs that just do not make sense.
Sometimes, it is a good plan, but it was poorly written.
Other times, you just have to scratch your head.

When I pose the question, I try to make it a more professional and supportive version of, "What the hell were you thinking?"

One of the most common responses always start the same way.
"But the parent wanted _____"
"The parent would not agree ________."

When it comes to writing IEPs, I am too simplistic.
I also don't have to deal with compliance audits as much as I handle Due Process Hearings.
I only really care about three things in an IEP.

1. Good, objective evidence on student progress, educational benefit, strengths and needs.

2. A reader-friendly description, using this evidence, of the student's strengths, needs, and parental concerns.

3. Every need has a specific action plan (using the SMART acronym model)  that is reasonably calculated for the student to access educational benefit in the Least Restrictive Environment.
This must include rationale as to why this plan was chosen, and why other alternatives were not.

Most importantly, the IEP needs to be written in such a way that any reasonable reader can understand these three points solely by reading the IEP document.

Think about it.

If the student transfers, the receiving educators should have enough information to start servicing the student.

So we care about what the parents want, but not necessarily directly.
The real difference is in how you go about things.
There is a difference between collaboration with parents versus treating an IEP like a negotiation haggling over the price of a used car.

You say 30 minutes of Speech Therapy.
We want 90 minutes.
Let's call it 60, and we have ourselves a deal!

Not really.
There may be a time for certain compromise.
However, the questions should really be,
What does the evidence suggest the correct balance of direct services should be?
How do we maximize the benefit of direct services while minimizing the impact of time away from class (and, therefore, direct teaching, socialization, and generalization of skills to the natural environment)?

There is not always an easy answer, but it frames the conversation more productively.

Here are the benefits to doing things this way:

1. It will increase the likelihood of a quality IEP that will benefit the student by increasing the likelihood that the IEP effectively covers my three main priorities.
It also facilitates a more scientific, data-driven decision-making process.

2. It produces better collaboration.
In the haggle-model IEP, the parent sees the school staff as the people saying, "No" to their requests.
In this model, we can frame the disagreement.
Do we agree on strengths and needs?
If not, have we all looked at the evidence together?
Is something missing?
Do we agree on the plan?
If not, can you explain why you think the proposed plan would/would not work?

3. Everyone feels empowered.
Haggling is a power-based negotiation.
Whomever has the expertise and/or power will win.

(Car salesman never want you to walk away without a deal.
They don't want the rational part of your brain to regain power, "The salesman needs the deal to earn a paycheck. I need to not waste money on a depreciating asset." versus. "Cool! I want it! Gimme, gimme, gimme!")

In this model, everyone from parent, seasoned-expert, to rookie educator has input.

In the end, we may disagree with details on the plan, but  we can all agree that we are working on a plan to achieve the same goal.

If I have to make a decision, I would rather have disagreement and defend a good plan than have agreement on a bad one.

So in the spirit of full-disclosure, here is how the full conversation usually goes,

What are the student's strengths?
What is the evidence we have on progress or lack thereof?
What is the SMART plan to meet the student's needs?
What is your rationale that this plan will work?
Did you consider ___?
Why would that not be a better plan?
Until you can answer those questions and back it up, I don't care the parents say!
We can discuss their requests once we know what we are doing.


Friday, October 15, 2010

Randomness - Great Advice from Other People

Here are three sets of advice that I would like to share.
Two of them are actually been incorrectly attributed.
I have provided external links for those two.

#1 - Barry Sanders Nike Ad.
I had a copy of this on my door as an undergrad.

Too often we are scared.
Scared of what we might not be able to do.
Scared of what people might think if we tried.
We let our fears stand in the way of our hopes.
We say no when we want to say yes.
We sit quietly when we want to scream.
And we shout with the others,
when we should keep our mouths shut.
After all,
we do only go around once.
There's really no time to be afraid.
So stop.
Try something you've never tried.
Risk it.
Enter a triathlon.
Write a letter to the editor.
Demand a raise.
Call winners at the toughest court.
Throw away your television.
Bicycle across the United States.
Try bobsledding.
Try anything.
Speak out against the designated hitter.
Travel to a country where you don't speak the language.
Patent something.
Call her.
You have nothing to lose
and everything
everything to gain.

#2 - Charles Sykes, incorrectly attributed to Bill Gates.
"Some Rules Kids Won't Learn in School."

This is my cynical counter-balance for when I feel that we have gone too far in protecting kids from life, when we really should be teaching them on how to cope with life and become more resilient.
(Have I mentioned that I like to present in extremes to prove a point?)

#3 - Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young.
More commonly known as the "Sunscreen Graduation Speech"
By Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune, incorrectly attributed to Kurt Vonnegut.


Monday, October 4, 2010

Random Thoughts on Bullying

I figured that I would give some thoughts on bullying.

It is not just a bandwagon thing for me.
I live and work between two of the towns known for high-profile suicides due to bullying - Acton and Tehachapi, CA.

Enough people have discussed the topic, so I do not want to be repetitive.
I want to offer some thoughts that I have not seen discussed.

I spent two years as a high school Vice-Principal.
Bullying cases were always the toughest to discipline.
In general, I was not involved until way too late in the process.
Too often, things had flared up to a critical level.
Often, the one being referred for discipline was the victim.
Essentially, the victim boiled over to the point where they lost control and things got out of hand.
When a victim throws chair at the head of the bully, they are going to get in trouble.
If I think that the bully provoked the situation, I need proof.
It is rare to get a good third-party witness that allows me to discipline the bully early.

This scenario is for kids that lose control on the bully.
I doubt that it would help the ones that take it out on themselves.

Aside from Cyberbullying (see below), there were only two scenarios when I could effectively discipline bullying.
#1 - Multiple reported incidences. This allowed me to justify a "where there is smoke, there is fire" progressive-discipline penalty.
#2 - I had a good, adult witness reporting the incident.
Otherwise, no evidence = "We told the administrator, but nothing happened!" (or so it seems.)

Zero Tolerance gets a bad rap because of all the press time is monopolized by people who have used Zero Tolerance to a stupid extreme, in the absence of common sense.
However, much like the "broken window" policing method, Zero Tolerance has its place.

Look at cases of Hazing.
Hazing could even be considered a form of institutionalized bullying.
I am willing to bet that, if you researched the literature and studies on hazing, the lowest incidents would not be at institutions that spend the most money on special "anti-hazing education programs."
My bet on where the lowest incidents of hazing: institutions that have adopted Zero Tolerance policies as a result of civil litigation.
Of course, these are probably the institutions forced to invest money in anti-hazing programs.
It is amazing on how, where there is a will, there is a way.

Where is our will?

Zero Tolerance should not just be implemented at the administrative level.
It must be administered at the "Every Adult, Every Incident" level.
Then, Progressive Discipline and Due Process (The two things that protect the bullies being disciplined.) can be navigated to an effective result.
If/when this happens, the issues of disciplining bullying should be significantly decreased.
Again, where there is a will, there is a way.

We need to watch Cyberbullying.
On one hand, it has taken bullying to extremes.
As a Vice-Principal, I had one successful expulsion for bullying - Cyberbullying.
There were two reasons for this.
#1 - It was an extreme case, and I already had one previous documented opportunity of intervention.
#2 - Cyberbullying leaves evidence. This is a minor silver-lining, but a silver-lining nonetheless.

California Education Code allows schools to discipline Cyberbullying, even if it theoretically occurs outside of school.
Therefore, this type of discipline is easy... hit "print" and give to your administrator.
(Also, print proof that "LoCaChIcA", or whomever, is who you claim.
Teenagers rarely use their legal name in email addresses.)

If you live in another state, check to see if your state has a law that clearly allows school discipline for Cyberbullying.

I do not think that the answer is really that complicated.
I really think that it is a matter of will.

Where is our will?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Does fear of litigation make educators act like this?

I just need to share a recent conversation.

I just found out that, although I signed an IEP authorizing a Non-Public School, they have not been providing services because the contract has not yet been board-approved.

Our School-Board meets twice a month: once for report outs, and once for actionable business - like approving contracts. There are also legal deadlines to get items on the agenda due to laws regarding public meetings. Therefore, it can sometimes take 6 weeks before you can get a contract reviewed by the Board.

Here was my conversation:

Eric:        Is there anything that you need in addition to the IEP to authorize her going to school while we wait for the contract and ISA? We have always honored our IEPs, but I want to make sure we provide this kid FAPE!

(FAPE = Free & Appropriate Public Education. The legal entitlement to services under special education.)

NPS:      No, it needs to be the Contract and ISA per Ed Code. In case, you know, someone comes and asks why we are serving this kid, we can get in trouble, per Ed Code, if we do not have the contract and ISA.

Eric:        I don't think I am understanding… It is your intention to deny FAPE, the foundation of special education law, so that you can comply with the billing portion of the Ed Code?

NPS:      Yes.

Eric:        I was never expecting to hear that. I have no idea how to respond. I will need to go and talk to my chain-of-command and figure this one out. Bye.

Full disclosure: I think there was more behind the scenes than the stated issue.

However, I do find the disturbing trend in the litigious world of special education.
As silly as this conversation seems in writing, I am amazed at how many similarly-themed conversations like this that educators have.

The paranoia of legal action forces people to lose sight of the forest because they are so focused on the trees.
Procedures, compliance, check-boxes, and lists stop being the means to educate the child, and become the ends in of themselves.  Not that I ever saw a checklist teach a child a new skill.

Those of us that have had to defend ourselves on the witness stand can attest that attorneys may drill us on procedural details, but, ultimately, we are judged on whether or not we provided a plan reasonably calculated to provide an educational benefit in the Least Restrictive Environment possible.

Based on this, I would like to issue two challenges:

To educators:
Follow the rules, but do not blindly follow them.
Understand why the rules exist, and how you can use them to educate the child.
If you do not see the connection, find out!

To parents and advocates:
Understand that the threat of litigation may provide a short-term gain, but it has a long-term consequence.
In the disability chat-rooms, the prevailing theme is, "You need to fight to get anything done!"
Even if you have been burned in the past, please try to treat every new school year as a fresh collaboration.
You want the IEP to be about your child, not the lawyers and advocates.
I guarantee you, if a lawyer or advocate are in the room, that is where the staff's attention will be.


Friday, September 10, 2010

Public educators need to learn marketing and public speaking.

Two things recently happened in the same week.

#1 – I was in an IEP with a mother that was convinced that a (non-therapeutic) private school was THE solution to her son’s problems.
She was also convinced that a local, computerized math tutoring franchise was EXACTLY what her son needed.
I  think that she may have given less weight to the UCLA Neuropsychologist’s assessment than the “To Whom It May Concern” letter (If you want my opinion on those, see this post) from the franchise owner… who may not have any educational or math training whatsoever.

How did she get so convinced?
I think that it has to do with the tri-fold brochures that they created.
A tri-fold brochure, with the right WordArt, can turn an above-average teacher into an Expert Consultant!

#2 – I was asked to do a high-stakes presentation for a district, and a good friend recommended that I read Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds.
It was such an eye-opener!
(Thanks again!)

As we worked on my presentation, it clicked.

I remembered observing a student in a hoity-toity NonPublic School in an affluent part of Los Angeles.

The teacher was good.
Good, not great.
Without hesitation, I can name a dozen teachers in my district that do a better job.

So why did the parents get a lawyer to try to force us to have this placement?
Mostly, it had to do with bad experience.
Knowing this family’s experience with a previous district, their bias is understandable.
I cannot guarantee that they will never have another bad experience again.

(Feel free to debate the merits of teacher’s unions, the impossibility of firing bad teachers with tenure, or the L.A. Times publishing of L.A. teachers’ test-scores in the comments!)

However, I do not believe that this is the full-story.

I attended several IEPs with this teacher.
Let’s compare and contrast how she presents in an IEP compared to a better, public-school teacher.
Let’s give them the same scenario, a student that has met 50% of last year’s reading goals.

Private school teacher:
Wow! What a year it has been! Things were rough when little Johnny first came here. But you know what? We aimed for the stars, and we managed to get the moon. We made some lofty goals, and he got half-way there! Now, we still have some work to do, but I think that this is the most progress that he has made in a while. And, (if you legally pressure the district to pay for this ridiculously expensive school at tax-payer expense – implied not spoken), we will ride this wave of momentum even farther! It has been such a pleasure. I hope that I get to see him again next year!

Better public-school teacher (paraphrased more-or-less):
Wow! What a year it has been! Johnnie has only made half of his goals. Because I anticipate everyone blaming me for not fully meeting the goals, I am going to point out all of the things that prevented him from meeting the goals that are not my fault. Of course, this will offend you because it will sound like I am blaming you, the parent, or sound like I dislike Johnny. I hate IEPs. Did you know that regular education teachers make the same amount of money without having to deal with IEPs or advocates?

Aside: I sometimes exaggerate or engage in sarcasm.

Based on objective evidence, these kids are doing exactly the same!

Who would not be more attracted to the first teacher’s classroom?

Again, this is a much more complicated and loaded issue.

To quote Garr Reynolds, “It is not the only thing, but it is one thing!”

I see this when I do workshops for parents.
In the beginning, I was shocked by the amount of parents sounding surprised that a school district employee:
A)    Sounded like he cared.
B)    Knew what he was talking about.
They expressed honest surprise!

In IEP meetings, in contrast, I am viewed as the guy that may or may-not give them what they ask.
They love or hate me, rarely anything in-between, based on what I offer.

What was the difference?
Not the facts or objective data.
This pains me to admit because I am the data-driven problem-solving guy.
It is presentation and style.
Demeanor and affect.

It takes a certain personality to become a special educator or any service professional.
That personality is usually very different than the personality of a salesperson or start-up entrepreneur.
However, we sell products everyday.
We sell our expertise.
We sell our ability to meet a child's needs.
We sell one plan over another as providing educational benefit in the Least Restrictive Environment.
If you sell, you should have those skills.

Some good resources:
Many of these appear to focus solely on graphic design, but they really give good advice on the whole package.

Not only is it a good skill-set to acquire, it is fun to break-out of the mold and try something different!

Eric Boyd's blog-post, a business perspective on the presentation. www.boydsays.com
In addition to his two books, Garr Reynold's has a great blog.

Nancy Duarte of Duarte Design has a book and a blog.

Last, but not least, examples of the world's best speakers at TED.

 I would LOVE some more references and resource to share!


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Reunion (2 of 3) or My ADHD Story 2 - Revisited.

I intended for my second installment on my high school reunion to be a retrospective on my post
My ADHD Story Part 2 – Early years through high school.

However, I delayed because I could not find adequate parallels between my reunion and my post.

I read and re-read my original post, and I finally exclaimed,
"My reunion issues were not about ADHD! They were about self-esteem, self-confidence, and feeling socially isolated although I was not really isolated!"


Ladies and gentleman, allow me to introduce the concept of "Secondary Symptoms of ADHD".

Secondary symptoms represent those symptoms that are not really listed as the primary symptoms of ADHD (inattentiveness, hyperactivity, etc.).
However, these symptoms are closely associated with people that have ADHD.
Low Self-Esteem.
Before I continue, a lot of times, miscommunication arises when people use the same term different ways.
So I wish to clarify.

Most of the literature uses the term "Comorbid."
However, comorbidity only truly means that another disorder exists at the same time.
Sometimes, there may an inference of the two comorbid diagnoses being independent of each other.
"Comorbid" does not quite work well enough.

Even the term "secondary" has different meanings in clinical circles.
To some, the term means "not as important as the Primary."
In this case, I am using the term as "Secondary to ADHD."

For example, the direct signs and symptoms (unstable blood-sugar, insulin insensitivity, etc.) of Diabetes can cause problems of their own.
These problems can be referred as "Secondary to Diabetes."

It works like this:

A student with ADHD misses social cues, interrupts others, and misses/ignores what others say.
This leads to other students avoiding social interaction with the student with ADHD, or worse, teasing and/or bullying.
Social isolation ensues, which then denies the student more opportunities to improve and learn from positive social interactions.

This same student also conceptualizes school-work at a level far-higher than classwork and grades suggest.
Underachievement of one's potential ensues.
Teachers and parents see this.
Bring on the numerous lectures that start,

You are a smart kid, but you just do not do your work. You could be successful if just applied yourself more... Be more serious... Tried harder... blah... blah...

"What? Yes, I am listening, I am smart, but lazy. Got it!"

The result?

I am friendless and lazy.
I am a failure.

It does not take a psychologist to figure out that low self-esteem and depression are imminent.

This is not the type of depression that occurs when a child genetically inherits the same chemical-imbalance from a parent.
That would truly and accurately be considered comorbid.

In this case, the secondary depression is a logical response to the situation - social isolation, the frustration of achieving below potential, etc.
Furthermore, the situation is a direct result of the ADHD.

Why is this important?

For one thing, many students may not get referred for assessment or treatment for ADHD.

The Secondary Symptoms may get the adults' attention - depression, oppositional behavior, withdrawal, even self-harm.

This is my argument for comprehensive assessments that deeply seek differential diagnosis, not the just the easy or superficial diagnosis.

A poor practitioner can use faulty circular-logic to attain a diagnosis of Oppositional Defiance Disorder, but have we worked hard enough to ensure that it is just ODD?

Or, was there something that triggered the symptoms that we are using the label ODD?

This goes beyond the semantics of labelling, "You say 'Poe-TAY-to.' I say, 'Po-TAH-to'."

There are treatment implications.
Yes, you can give a pill to limit the symptoms for, say, depression or anxiety.

What is the long-term prognosis if you do not address the triggers and/or reinforcers that caused those symptoms?

I still have no friends and fail in social situations, but I take a pill that makes me not feel so bad about it.


I am still a genius with below-average achievement.

(Aside, Malcolm Gladwell gives a great case-study on an under-achieving genius in his book "Outliers.")

Don't get me wrong, you still need to address these secondary symptoms/diagnoses.
However, success will be severely limited without addressing their cause.

This makes intuitive sense with medical disorders.

Most people can address a head-ache with some Tylenol and a glass of water.

However, there is a point when the head-aches' severity, frequency, duration and functional impairment prompt you to ask a professional, "What is the cause and cure?"

If those head-aches were caused by a malignant brain tumor, you may still need pain-killers, but will you just stop there?

Why would ADHD be any different?

Note: For my readers that do advocacy work, Secondary Symptoms do not meet the "Direct or substantial relationship" test required to argue that a behavior is a manifestation of a disability.
There are too many degrees of separation.
 I have seen this argument only work when districts do not know what they are doing or when they have other legal exposure that they do not want to risk.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The High School Reunion (1 of 3)

I had the best opportunity to revisit my K-12 years after my 20th High School Reunion.
I spent a lot of time thinking about how I was going to present this experience, and I decided to break it down into three parts: reunions in general, my retrospective from my reunion and My ADHD Story Part 2, and a message to my classmates from Haddam-Killingworth H.S. Class of 1990.


Class reunions are a cliché.

Apparently, they are a cliché that match the stereotype.
Why do reunions bring so much angst and anxiety for many people?
I believe that the answer is in the concept of Psychological Projection.

Psychological projection is the phenomena where people interpret or view their world based on their psychological state.
For example, people who have been the victim of deceit and/or people that are dishonest are more likely to view the people around them as dishonest.
There is an entire set of psychological assessment instruments called Psychological Projective.
Psychologists present the test subject to a large number of neutral and/or ambiguous stimuli.
What the subject “sees” is really based on their preoccupations and state-of-mind.

The most famous projective is the Rorschach Inkblot Test.

I prefer the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) and Sentence Completion.

Instead of a random inkblot, the TAT presents the subject with real pictures of

I find it a little more direct and to the point.

So what does this have to do with reunions?
Or, am I digressing because I don’t take Concerta in the summer?

I believe the power of the reunion is that two sets of angst and anxiety collide – high school and our sense of current accomplishment.
I do not know anyone that does not wish for something more - money, beauty, love, sex, looks, health, fitness, a better relationship, etc.
Many think that these are the means to an end – happiness.
In reality, they start treating these ends themselves, and they lose sight of what is important.
Heck, even the people with all of those things often think, “I have all of these things? So why am I not happier, or why does my life not have deeper meaning?”

This is no different than high school cliques.
The archetype of cliques was most masterfully presented in the movies of John Hughes.
The Princess wanted a better home life and less peer-pressure.
The Criminal wanted a better home-life than being poor and abused.
The Jock wanted less pressure from his dad to get a scholarship.
The Brain wanted the cute girl and to be better at something other than math and science.
The Basket-Case wanted positive attention from parents and peers.
They all wanted to be loved and accepted as individuals.
In the movie, they all understood their commonality and bond, but they also acknowledged the reality of what would happen when they returned to their respective peer groups.

How much of your “label” or clique is a function of how people view you, and how much is how you view yourself?
Likewise, at the reunion, why does an update of your class-mates lives dictate how you feel about yourself?
We all changed.
We are all 20 years older.
Some, ok, MANY of us are balder.
Some look identical to our high school selves, and some of us required name tags to be recognized.
Some got poorer; some got richer.
Some ducklings became swans.
Slackers became CEO’s.
Some experience tragedy, and some got lucky.
Some became victims of circumstance, and others made bad choices.
Those who were voted, “Most likely to __(insert label here)___” are just like the men and women that you pass on the street.
I will be nice and not discuss the “over-compensaters.”

Guess what?
None of those labels determined happiness.
Some folks are going to be miserable wherever they are.
Some folks make the choice to be happy regardless of circumstance.
Some folks hated high school, but are happy now.
Some folks loved high school, but are unhappy now.

The ones who intrigued me are the folks that have good lives, but seemed embarrassed to talk about it.
Seriously, do you think that I care that you do not travel the world as an investigative journalist for National Geographic?
Besides, why do you give a crap what someone that you have not seen in 20 years thinks anyway?
The World’s Most Interesting Man is a marketing gimmick, not a bench-mark for your life.

Your neighborhood may be boring, but I bet it is a better place to raise kids than where I live.
You may be “just be” a PTA mom, but I know so many women who cannot afford to work less hours to be with their children.

Yes, I am the guy that got accepted to MIT, Dartmouth, Yale, the Air Force Academy, etc.
I am also the guy that failed out of MIT and felt like a lost soul in high school and college.
I only had one American girlfriend in the last semester of high school
My other hook-ups were with the exchange students that did not seem to know/care just how un-cool I was by American High School standards.
I also married a beautiful, intelligent, wonderful… and international… woman.
I would call her the woman of my dreams, but she surpasses my dreams.
(We met at work, but I really regret not making up a mail-order bride story for the reunion. )

In the end, the reunion has no meaning other than the meaning that you give it.
It is a psychological projective.
From that perspective, what meaning would you give a reunion?
What about the people you run into from your past?
Realize that these opinions are more indicative on how you view your life than anything else.

Ask yourself this-
Are you happy?
If not, what are you doing about it?
My experience has been that folks that seek the external pursuits of happiness – cars, money, sex, beauty, etc. – may achieve those ends, but they are not the means to happiness.
Many times, happiness is merely a choice.
Make the choices to appreciate what you have.
If you need to make a change, don’t buy a new car… make deep, meaningful changes.
When you get that invitation to the reunion, find the happiness within and follow the advice of my fellow triathletes and, “Suck it up, Buttercup.”
Stop giving a crap about your past, and, to quote Gandhi, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”