The Anatomy of a Special Needs Child

This infographic was supplied by Wendy Turner, a Clonlara School guest blogger (***Clonlara School does not endorse or recommend any product/service in connection with this author***).

When you hear about a child with special needs, you might not really understand what that means. However, for parents who face this challenge in their lives, members of the medical community, and educators, it’s important to have a firm grasp of the issues many children face on a daily basis. Special needs refers to a gamut of issues that include physical, developmental, behavioral/emotional, and sensory impaired problems. Children may deal with major health issues such as severe allergies, diabetes, heart defects, or juvenile diabetes. Hyperactivity, autism, and dyslexia can create many obstacles in a young person’s life. Blindness and deafness pose challenges of their own. A child may be dealing with one area of need or a combination. No matter what type of special needs a child endures, it is important to recognize the problem and get help.

Parents Need to Begin with Answers Many parents may see that there is a problem, that something isn’t happening as planned for their child, such as developmental milestones or behaviors that are exhibited at home. They not even be aware of any issues until children go to school and problems arise due to learning disabilities or difficulties in a group setting. A proper diagnosis is key in assisting children with special needs. Whether the family physician begins the chain of action or it begins with the Committee for Special Education at the public school, parents need to get to the bottom of any special needs for their child. From that point, schools must make accommodations and modifications for a classified child.

Understanding the Rights of a Child with Special Needs Federal legislation is in place to protect the rights of any children that have been classified with special needs. The Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act all entitle children with special needs to an educational plan that will suit their situation. Parents can request that their child be placed in a classroom that is designed for children with similar needs or ask that their child be in the regular classroom to promote their child’s well-being.

Source: Masters in Special Education



Using Music To Reach Deeply Into The Mind

Written by Carrie Thompson, a Clonlara School guest blogger, (***Clonlara School does not endorse or recommend any product/service in connection with this author***).

“Where words fail, music speaks.”

Author and poet Hans Christian Andersen is responsible for the above quotation, which is quite interesting considering his profession and the fact that Andersen gave us what are some of the most memorable fairy tales ever written, including “The Princess and the Pea,” “Thumbelina” and “The Little Mermaid.”

Nonetheless, the power of music has long been noted and is something that all of us experience throughout our lives. Music is used to set the mood for a romantic dinner. It is used to stir deep emotions and prompt nations to war. We crank it up in our cars to provide a soundtrack for a long road trip.

While the exact mechanism that allows music to reach deeply into our minds may not be fully identified or understood today, that hasn’t stopped professionals from using it in powerful ways. Educators, health care providers and social workers are all using music to help those with whom they work, and they are looking for new ways to leverage the power of music.

Music and Autism

Watching the above video gives a quick taste of just how deeply even the emotionally impaired person can be touched and, in turn, touch others back through lyric and song.

Music therapy is well-known to have incredibly positive results. It is used liberally in autistic patients who go from destructive behaviors to focusing on the song and the effect the music has on them while they participate.

Music and Alzheimer’s Disease

Dan Cohen, social worker and director of the nonprofit Music & Memory, made some startling observations back in 2006. It was then that Cohen realized that virtually none of the 16,000 nursing homes in the United Stated had iPods for their residents. When he received some used iPods to distribute to residents, he found that the music could have remarkable effects on Alzheimer’s patients.

For years, caregivers have known that when those inflicted with Alzheimer’s have seemingly lost most of their ability to recall memories—even names and faces—they can still remember the words to songs.

Cohen noticed cognitive improvements even beyond the ability to recall song lyrics. He found that with some Alzheimer’s patients, music seemed to improve other mental faculties. For example, patients who had turned inward and stopped socializing would appropriately engage with others after having listened to the music of their eras on iPods.

The 2013 documentary Henry is reawakened when he is given the opportunity to listen to his favorite Cab Calloway tunes.

Music and Memory

In Alzheimer’s patients we see how music can be used to prompt the recall of memories that are otherwise long lost. In other words, in the elderly, music can be used to bring back memories. In youth, music is a powerful force that is used to create memories.

Talk to experienced elementary school teachers, and they will tell you that if they could set their entire curriculum to music, they could make “A” students out of all their children. Educational song writer Jean Feldman, Ph.D, better known in the elementary school world as Dr. Jean, receives treatment usually reserved for pop icons like Kim Kardashian when she speaks at educational conferences.

Continue your discussion with those experienced elementary school teachers, and they will also tell you that the children who have been regularly exposed to educational songs before entering the school system are the best prepared for the work ahead.

Videos from creators like The Giggle Bellies can help parents give their kids a head start as well as reinforce material covered in the lower elementary grade curriculum. PBS and commercial network programming such as Sesame Street and others have been taking advantage of the power of music for years.

Philosopher Emmanuel Kant called music, “the quickening art,” meaning that it arouses and stimulates our minds. We see evidence of that every day and can expect professionals to find even more beneficial applications in the future.

Music Therapy Going Mainstream

Ending this article with an example of what is a growing trend on YouTube will clearly dispel any illusion that we, as a society are growing more relaxed. People are self-medicating in a good way. There is a proliferation of relaxing videos available for free on the internet. Relaxing music, both classical and what is often called new-age, usually accompanied by video or images of nature are abundant. It is here that we will leave you.

About the Author:  Carrie Thompson writes and truly enjoys working with children and the elderly, gaining wisdom from each.

Inventing Kindergarten – Kickstarter Project

Written by Scott Bultman a Clonlara School guest blogger  (***Clonlara School does not endorse or recommend any product/service in connection with this author***).

Below may be something of interest to some of our readers, either because of the resource and/or because many of us talked about using kickstarter for a project.  After exploring the quick description below and the link – you might be interested in helping Norman out.

Inventing Kindergarten

Norman Brosterman’s Inventing Kindergarten (Abrams, 1997) tells the story of the first system for educating young children by the inventor of Kindergarten, Friedrich Froebel. The book shows the origins of Montessori, Waldorf and Reggio Emilia, and see how this early design education method contributed to the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, Buckminster Fuller, Charles Eames, and the Bauhaus. Brosterman’s popular book has been out-of-print for almost decade (but cited in over 200+ other works) and he’s working to bring it back.  

Visit the kickstarter site specific to Inventing Kindergarten at:

About the Author:  Scott Bultman is the owner of Red Hen, LLC and Froebel USA.  He is also the managing partner of Kaleidograph Design, LLC. 

The Implications and Treatment Options of Mental Illness in Children in the UK (part 1)

Written by Amy Fry a Clonlara School guest blogger  (***Clonlara School does not endorse or recommend any product/service in connection with this author***).

Grazed knees, a runny nose and measles may be the most popularly expected ailments that parents can expect their children to face, not mental illness. However according to government data , 1 in 10 children aged between 5 and 16 years has a mental health problem.
two young girls laughing behind another girls back

Photo courtesy of Zalouk Web Design on Flickr

With the issue of mental illness in children being a relatively unexplored concept, it could be difficult to identify. Therefore what is being done to distinguish a mental health disorder in a child, and what help is available?

Identifying mental illness in children

Mental disorders commonly associated with children such as Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder can be detected through disruptive behavior. Experts have recently stated that if bad behavior goes beyond being naughty, and parents suspect their child may be suffering from ADHD , then they are probably right.

For example, it is normal for a child to let off steam when they come home, but if they struggle to concentrate or fail to learn from their mistakes, then they may be suffering from ADHD.

However ADHD is only suspected to affect 2% of children, and not all mental health issues will be as simple to diagnose. For example, recent figures from the Office of National Statistics show that 4% of children suffer from anxiety and depression, and 6% will struggle with a behavioral disorder.

Identifying these illnesses has been proven to be difficult; recent figures show that between 60-70% of children and adolescents with significant mental health problems were not offered necessary interventions at the earliest opportunity.

The effects of a delayed diagnosis

Professor Kamaldeep Bhui wrote for the Guardian that untreated mental health issues in children can lead to unemployment and poor levels of education later in life, so it is important to adapt a public health approach to this area in future to provide support where necessary. Currently less than 0.001% of the mental health budget is used for prevention, and Professor Bhui says this must change to improve the future of children’s mental health.

A lack of diagnoses and support of young people with mental health issues could have a damaging effect on their future; figures show that around a quarter of young offenders have a learning disability, 60,000 have difficulty communicating and a very large proportion have mental health demands. It does beg the question that if a preventative and supportive approach towards mental health disorders in children was applied, could prison have be avoided all together for these individuals?

Treating mental illness in children

To address the high figures of mental illness in children, the government is now investing an additional £22 million into providing more mental health care services for this age group, on top of the £32 million already dedicated to therapies as set out in the Mental Health Strategy. This extra financial support is to help a those who may have before “suffered in silence” due to lack of understand or resources.

In the meantime, there are a range of methods to treat mental health which can range from therapy to medication. Prescriptions are often only administered as a last resort, and a course of psychological treatment may be recommended first. This can include consulting with a psychiatrist to take part in cognitive behavioral therapy, or a form of talking therapy such as counseling.

Creating a safe, supportive and trusting environment for a child with a mental health illness is imperative to encourage a stable future and steady recovery. By seeking help as soon as possible for a child with mental health problems means that necessary treatment can be administered, therefore hopefully halting the damaging effects that can be caused by a delayed diagnosis.

Amy Fry writes for a variety of industries, but specializes in personal well-being, lifestyle and health issues. Amy lives and works in Brighton, UK and spends her spare time strolling by the seafront and going to art galleries.


ADD/ADHD Parenting Tips

Written by Mary Stedman a Clonlara School guest blogger  (***Clonlara School does not endorse or recommend any product/service in connection with this author***).

ADD/ADHD Parenting Tips

There is nothing more natural for a child than to be restless, absentminded, to forget things, to show inability to focus or sit still in some situations or in certain places, usually where it is required to be calm, quiet and concentrated. However, all of the above are also symptoms of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), one of the most controversial disorders of our time, and, ironically, the most common psychiatric disorder in children and adolescents.

Following are some less known facts and tips for parents whose children suffer from this very common problem.

What is ADHD, and what is ADD?

“Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a psychiatric or neurobehavioral disorder characterized by significant difficulties either of inattention or hyperactivity and impulsiveness, or a combination of the two.” (Source: Wikipedia)

ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) is a former name of one of the types of ADHD, labeled as “predominantly inattentive” (full name ADHD-PI), the other two being predominantly hyperactive-impulsive (ADHD-HI) and previous two combined (ADHD-C). ADD is today sometimes used as a synonym for ADHD, which is incorrect, and the name itself has officially been changed in 1994.

Why is it controversial?

Diagnosis and treatment of ADHD have been considered controversial since the seventies, with differing opinions of teachers, the media, clinicians, parents and policymakers. There are still scientists who don’t believe that ADHD exists as a medical problem.

Though very few health care providers today deny the existence of the disorder, the debate in the scientific circles regarding the methods of diagnosing and treatment, as well as the causes of ADHD still rages on. Those methods wildly vary from one country to another, which is the reason for large differences in the number of diagnosed cases. For example, only one percent of children and adolescents are diagnosed with ADHD, compared to more that 10 percent in the US, depending on the sources. Australian Child and Adolescent Component of the National Survey of Mental Health and Well-being reported ADHD being present in 11 percent of children and adolescents.

Similar differences exist in guidelines regarding the use of medication in the treatment. For example, UK’s National Institute of Clinical Excellence recommends their use only in severe cases, with most US guidelines recommend it in almost all cases.

How to spot it

As said before, the nature of ADHD makes it very hard to spot, since the symptoms (identified as lack off focus, impulsivity, hyperactivity and disruptive behavior) can easily be misinterpreted as normal phases in growing up. Generally, the rule is that the symptoms must be observed in at least two settings for a minimum of six months, and they must be more noticeable than in other children of the same age. Seventh year of life is excepted as the boundary for the appearance of symptoms.

It is considered that, by the age of five, most children should learn to pay attention when expected, not to talk out of order frequently and not to say everything that pops to their mind. Most parents will draw the obvious conclusion themselves – if you notice any of the symptoms reoccurring, don’t hesitate to have your child examined. In order for the treatment to be successful, it is crucial to diagnose ADHD as soon as possible.

Keep in mind that, as said before, there are two distinct types of ADHD – inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive, and the third, with the combination of the two. Inform in detail exactly what symptoms to look for, in order to be able to spot them on time and help your child in the best possible way. Also, know that difficulties in learning don’t always constitute ADHD, as there are various learning disorders that can be, and are relatively often, mistaken for ADHD.

Helping a child with ADHD

If you spot some (or all of) the symptoms of ADHD, don’t wait. Go to the doctor as soon as possible. Also, there is no need to wait for a diagnosis. As said, it can take some time. Inattention and/or hyperactivity can cause a person big problems in all areas of life later on if left untreated, whether they are a part of ADHD or not. There are numerous ways you can help your child yourself. These include changing the diet, organizing your home environment to minimize distractions, encouraging the child to exercise and getting him or her into therapy.

Excluding medication, these are generally accepted strategies in helping kids with ADHD and similar problems in coping with them. If your kid is diagnosed with ADHD, the treatment will probably essentially be the same, but you will develop a plan in accordance with the doctor’s recommendations. In addition, treatment for childhood ADHD usually consists of parent education and training, social support, behavioral therapy, and assistance at school.

About the Author: This article was written by Mary Stedman, inspired by Shine Education, tutoring agency from Sydney.

Common Misconceptions About Autism

Written by Amy Elliott a Clonlara School guest blogger  (***Clonlara School does not endorse or recommend any product/service in connection with this author***).

In 2012, the CDC announced that one in eighty-eight children would be diagnosed with Autism. The actual number of diagnoses would appear to be higher – the CDC released new figures which showed the number is actually closer to one in fifty. Despite the increased prevalence, many people still harbor misconceptions about autism, a few of which are described in greater detail below.

  • Everyone on the spectrum is a genius. The truth is, less than 10% of people with ASD have savant characteristics (think of Dustin Hoffman’s character in the “Rain Man” movie). People with skills such as those are fascinating, and they gain huge publicity. However, the reality is that the majority of those with autism have normal intellect and ability.
  • Every person with autism also has a mental disability. Researchers have, for a long time, considered most people with ASD to have a below average mental capacity. Based on what we know now about autism, those numbers could stem from the fact that many autistic people don’t pay much attention to the tests used to measure intelligence.
  • Autism happens as a result of poor parenting. This is one of the more unfortunate misconceptions, and it caused a generation of women to be blamed for their children’s autism diagnoses. It’s not fully known what causes ASD, or if there is but one cause.
  • People with autism cannot talk. While some do not communicate orally, many do; even those who can’t talk can communicate in other ways—computers, pictures and even sign language. In some cases, people can imitate others’ speech, but can’t directly communicate when they need or want something.
  • Autism = eccentricity. Many on the spectrum are eccentric, original and creative, but so are many other people who don’t have autism! Autism is NOT a way of life. Some who claim to be on the spectrum believe that autism is merely possessing a “different” view of the world, and that parents who want to help their children learn daily skills such as dressing themselves are being restrictive. People are unique, and those with autism are no exception.
  • People with ASD don’t feel affection or empathy. Nothing could be further from the truth! Those with autism sometimes have difficulty expressing those emotions, but they feel the same emotions as every other human being.
  • There are autism-curing treatments available. As of now, there’s no cure for ASD, only ways to manage the symptoms. ABA (applied behavioral analysis) is touted as the gold standard in treatment, but it isn’t right for every case. The same holds true for other therapies, such as Floortime and even prescription medications.
  • Science knows the underlying cause of autism. Sure it does—and every week, it releases a new study saying that there’s yet another cause.

People with autism spectrum disorders are special and unique, with their own dreams, hopes and goals. The next time you encounter someone with ASD, remember the facts given here, and not the misconceptions—and take time to get to know the person, not their condition.
Bio: Amy Elliott is a writer with a passion for autism awareness. She occasionally writes for Voyage Care, specialists in supported living and autism care.

Pat Montgomery’s “Herstory”: Play, The Work of the Child

Written by Pat Montgomery, founder of Clonlara School.  We’ve taken this opportunity to reprint an early Learning Edge column from Volume 3, No. 1, February, 1986.

It is so hard for some—yea most—adults to appreciate the place of play in the development of a child. I had a difficult time with this when I first started Clonlara School nineteen years ago. Oh, it’s true that all of the master teachers attested to the value of play. Montessori, Piaget, Neill and others whose works I had read encourage us to recognize the importance of play. But the temptation to interfere in the child’s play is tremendous. It was for me as though I, the teacher, had to make sure that the child really was learning through these seemingly random activities of hers. It took months for me to restrain my teacher bent toward interrupting or interpreting for the child.

I had lots of help in doing this. A.S. Neill wrote of the teachers he observed who could not let a child enjoy his activities in a sandbox because of the teacher’s need to explain the quality of the sand or the many uses of sand or the best way to construct a castle, and the like.

Parents as teachers will surely experience this urge to “teach.” Many will even feel guilty that they are allowing their home schooler to fritter her time away in play. The fact is that motion is the natural business of the young child. Sitting at a desk or table “working” on math problems or reading is as unnatural to the child as lying in a hospital bed.

Joseph Pearce, author of Magical Child, said this in an interview in “Mothering,” #35, Spring, 1985:

Play is the exercise with the metaphoric, symbolic language structure in the midbrain. The child abstracts images from the adult world that are unavailable to him or her through the high level intellectual brain; then the child projects these metaphoric, symbolic images of the midbrain on handy targets out here in the world. PLAYING IS THE FIRST LEVEL OF GREAT IMAGINITIVE THINKING (emphasis added). This is a learned process. The child can never learn to play without the parent playing with the child. Play…goes dormant unless it is stimulated by the…parent.

As children grow older—to seven or eight years old or so—we fall into the trap of organizing their spare time for them: Little Leagues or dance classes and such. This seems a logical extension of the fear that they cannot be trusted to fill their hours with meaningful pursuits.

Susan Macaulay, author ofFor the Children’s Sake, quotes from educator Charlotte Mason:

There is a danger in these days of much educational effort that children’s play should be crowded out or should be prescribed for and arranged until there is no more freedom of choice about play than about work. We do not say a word against the educational value of games (such as football, basketball, etc.) . . . but organized games are not play…. Boys and girls must have time to invent episodes, carry on adventures, live heroic lives, lay sieges and carry forts, even if the fortress be an old armchair; and in these affairs the elders must neither meddle nor make.

A Detroit Free Press columnist recently wrote that planned activity clutters our creative time. A child named Darlene had been diagnosed as hyperactive. Her teacher complained; her doctor prescribed Ritalin. A psychologist said she was mildly retarded and had learning disabilities. Finally, a psychiatrist gave his appraisal:

She attended a private school with lots of extra-curricular and enrichment opportunities. Besides that, she had ballet, swimming, art, and piano lessons, with practice time for all. An obligatory trip to the library every Saturday was factored into this child’s “free time”…. This child’s life…had been filled with programmed activities. She was about to explode emotionally.

Play is the work of the child. Maria Montessori said that. Let us provide for our young children an atmosphere in the home school which is conducive to play. While that is happening, you, the teacher, can read what masters have said. I recommend Susan Macaulay’s book, John Holt’s How Children Learn and How Children Fail, and Pearce’s interview in “Mothering” as a start.

Pat Montgomery founded Clonlara in 1967, and was its Executive Director for 38 years. We are pleased and honored that she continues to share her knowledge and wisdom with the Clonlara community in the form of “Herstory,” her regular column for The Learning Edge.