Monday, February 15, 2010

Special Education Defined

The term special education broadly defines educational programs designed to serve children with mental, physical, emotional, and behavioral disabilities.

Special education is largely defined by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or the IDEA, which guarantees a “free, appropriate public education” to children with disabilities and mandates that, to the “maximum extent appropriate,” they be educated with their non-disabled peers in the “least restrictive environment.”

The term refers to all the “special” individualized help required by those children who do not learn well with traditional teaching methods. If the child’s problem is identified early enough, they benefit greatly from the special services provided to help them achieve.

How Services Are To Be Delivered

These special services should be provided to the child in his regular classroom whenever possible. The child should not be removed from the classroom for services unless they cannot be provided in the regular classroom. When special individualized services are required, the child may leave the classroom to receive then, and return to the classroom.

Interventions outside the classroom may be provided by a number of professional service providers including a special education teacher, a speech and language therapist, an occupational therapist, or other professional as needed.

These services are the ingredients that determine the appropriateness of your child’s education. All interactions with the child are coordinated with the classroom teacher, and the parent is informed at all stages of the process.

The Process of Special Education

The process begins with a referral from the classroom teacher to a team comprised of the child’s teacher, the parent, the building administrator and the school psychologist. Others may attend by invitation from the parent.

At this meeting, the team looks at the child’s behavior, his achievement, and any other information which the team deems necessary to determine whether he should be referred for an assessment and whether he would benefit from special education services.

If the team decides an assessment would provide needed information, the parent is asked to give permission for the assessment by signing an assessment plan. The assessment plan outlines the nature of the assessment the child is to receive including all the tests that will be administered; what they measure and which professional will administer them. When the assessment is completed, the team meets again to review the results.

The Individualized Education Plan (IEP)

If the child is eligible, the team will design an individualized education plan outlining goals and objectives for the child’s education. If the parents agree to the plan, their signature and the signature of all the team members obligates the school district to provide the child with all the services on the plan.

The IEP is reviewed every year, and the child receives a complete reevaluation every three years, and when indicated, the plan is modified, or completely redesigned.

Interventions for Visual Processing Disorder

Interventions for visual processing disorders need to be aimed at the specific needs of the child. No two children share the same set of strengths or areas of weakness. Interventions need to be tried until by trial and error you find what works. Intervention is a dynamic and ever changing process.

Although this may sound overwhelming initially, it is important to remember that the process of finding successful interventions becomes easier with time and as the child's learning approach, style, and abilities are more carefully observed.


The very best strategies are those that the child chooses for himself. Take note of where the child places his book to read, if it is not straight in front of him or is tilted at an angle, take this as a sign that he is having difficulty, and leave the book where he places it.

Very often teachers and parents fret over what to do next. It is heartily recommended that you consult with the child. The child knows best what he is experiencing, and can figure ways to modify the situation for himself. Offer him work with two sizes of print. Ask him which he prefers.

Sometimes color plays a role in vision, ask him if he likes his work on light blue or cream colored paper. He may need help finding the things that he thinks might work. That is where the adult comes in. Helping him to modify his world so that he can deal effectively with it until you are able to get a thorough visual examination will pay big benefits immediately. When you find out exactly what the problem is you will be better able to find an intervention that works.

The Golden Rule

The golden rule for children with visual processing disorders is to give them lots of breaks. Never allow them to become overly fatigued from visual tasks. Fatigue will bring about an immediate change in behavior, and can do further damage to an already immature visual system.

In some cases, the ability to stay visually focused can be as short as two minutes in younger children, and up to ten minutes or fifteen minutes in older children. Carefully observe the time the child is able to stay focused and break things down into little chucks that they can complete in that amount of time (do two math problems instead of five). This is also a good idea when assigning or doing homework.

During breaks see that they do something physical like walking around the room or going to the pencil sharpener. Ever wonder why kids sharpen their pencils so much? They are giving themselves a time out!

Plan meaningful activities for them to do during these very necessary breaks. If they have artistic talent, plan a mural. Every child has something that they do well. Find that strength and keep them busy doing it. Keep visual tasks to a minimum. Put their books on tape and let them listen to a book.

The objective is to make learning pleasant and prevent damage to the child’s self-concept. The damage to the psyche of learning handicapped children is immeasurable and can last a life time. Protect the child from failure.

Extensive insights and strategies for the development of an appropriate individualized education plan (IEP)) for children with visual processing difficulties are outlined in Chapter XIV of Learning Disabilities Understanding The Problem Managing the Challenges.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Understanding Visual Processing Disorder

For special education purposes, a visual processing, or visual perceptual disorder refers to a child’s limited ability to make sense of information taken in through the eyes.

Vital role in the learning process

For success in school, children must have crisp, sharp eyesight in order to see the print clearly. In addition, they must also be able to coordinate their eye movements as a team in order to follow a line of print without losing their place; they must be able to make quick focusing changes when looking up to the board and back to their desks; and they must be able to interpret and accurately process what they are seeing. A weakenss in either of these abilities can seriously interfere with school performance.

Disorder usually goes untreated

Without explaining that the school nurse measured only the ability to see clearly at a distance of 20 feet, a report of “normal” vision can be very misleading. There are at least twenty factors of vision. It is possible for a child to have difficulty in one or a combination of these 20 factors and still be able to see clearly at 20 feet.

Given a report of "normal" vision, the parent is less likely to consider vision as a factor contributing to learning problems. As a result, many children with visual problems that would respond to intervention often go untreated.

Symptoms often misdiagnosed

At the close up distances required for reading, children with eye teaming problems (the ability to focus both eyes on the same space at the same time) are only able to aim their eyes together correctly for short periods of time.

When a child with eye teaming problems reads, the print appears to “swim” across the page and he will lose his place. In addition, children with eye teaming problems can be easily distracted, finding it difficult to concentrate and remain on task when the strain on their eyes is so great. Because of these symptoms, many children with visual problems are misdiagnosed as having an attention deficit disorder (ADD).

If a child has difficulty remaining focused during the early years, the first place to look is for visual immaturity. Children at risk for learning-related vision problems should receive a comprehensive eye examination.

Glasses alone will not correct many of these problems. Time and further maturation may improve the problem, but it is best to get proper evaluation and care.

Auditory processing disorder explained

The term auditory processing disorder is used when a student’s difficulties are believed to be due to a weakness in the ability to process verbal and written language.

Children with auditory processing disorders often do not recognize the small differences between sounds in words, and may struggle to understand or remember what the teacher says even though her voice may be loud and clear. The child will have even more difficulty understanding what is said when there is noise or other activity in the classroom.

Causes of processing difficulties

A history of ear infections, during the first three years of life, is thought to cause auditory processing disorders. If the child has an ear infection, fluid may build up in the middle-ear space, and if it remains there over a period of time during the early years of life while the child is developing, it may prevent the sound from reaching the brain.

If the brain does not receive the sounds, the area of the brain which interprets them does not develop. During the first three years of life lullabies and bedtime stories and talking to the infant child help to develop these areas of the brain.

In older children the buildup of wax in the ears, or water from swimming, may be responsible for the sound stimuli not reaching the brain. Any form of blockage that distorts the sound wave on the way to the brain will weaken the child’s ability to interpret what he hears.

Food allergies can, also, be a big factor in brain function and performance. The main foods to which children appear allergic are dairy, wheat, corn, and sugar. The allergy may result in fluid in the middle ear, changes in behavior, redness around the eyes, being tired and sleepy or a runny nose. Allergies affect the brain by keeping it from functioning at its best.

Other causes of processing difficulties

There are things that may interfere with normal child development that can be easily identified at home. Really alert parents have proven over and over what good nutrition, good child rearing practices, sound sleep, plenty of exercise and good parenting will do to improve a child's development. And, it is never too late to begin to try to make a difference.

When determining whether a child needs a special education the school does not address why a child does not interpret language well, and will not attempt to correct the problem, the only concern is that the child is having difficulty with language and teaching methods will be modified to help him to learn in spite of his problem.

When a diagnosis of auditory processing is being considered it is very important to explore all the things in the environment that may be impacting the child’s focus and attention. Parents should insist that everything else has been ruled out before accepting any diagnosis of a disability in their child.

Unique new advocacy service to parents of children with learning problems

Ceres Psychological Services, is a group of retired Licensed Educational Psychologists who have arganized as a non-profit group to provide counseling and advocacy services to parents of children with learning disabilities.

The introductory statement, “So you have been informed that your child has a learning disability, Now What?” explains where they begin their support of parents seeking their services. Etta Brown, the director, says that the high rate of unemployment is the reason why services are so affordable or, as is most often the case, free of charge.

Reason for the service

The psychologist providing services say that the law Title IV, No Child Left Behind is their motivation for being involved. Originally signed into law in 2002, the 1997 amendments were signed into law on June 5, 1997.

The law states, “The purpose of Title IV (No Child Left Behind) is to promote parental choice… Parents armed with data, are the best forces of accountability in education. And parents, armed with options and choice, can assure that their children get the best, most effective education possible.”

Parents not prepared for delegated responsibilities

To acquire all this skills needed to be effective in this new role would take the equivalent of a four-year college education. And if you are like most parents who are working and trying to raise a family, you just don’t have time to research the data needed to knowledgeably advocate for your child’s education.

Why the retirees coach parents

The lack of parent preparation is the reason why the retirees at Ceres Psychological Services have returned to the process to coach parents. Meetings at school can be intimidating, and schools sometimes unintentionally deny parents their rights.

Parents who have received the services of these retirees state that they feel more confident in meetings, and can better represent their child because they know their rights under the law, and have learned how to express their concerns.

Services available nationally

Parent coaches are available to all 52 states. The service works because it is advising on Federal law and the coaches, therefore, are not limited to a particular State or geographical area.

Services are provided by fax, phone, or email so it is readily available at no cost to the parent. The organization is supported by the sale of their book Learning Disabilities: Understanding the Problem, Managing the Challenges and the book is reasonably priced in printed or e-book form.

The retired psychologists have an international following of parents, teachers, administrators, and graduate students who find their services and willingness to answer questions and share information invaluable.