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

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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.

Forget Marble Notebooks: High Tech Is Coming To A K-12 Classroom Near You

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

All across the country, K-12 students are settling into the school year, which more than ever probably includes the sort of technology you’d expect to see in a corporate office or college classroom. From video and web conferencing to handheld devices for all students to online testing, the days of number two pencils and teachers writing notes on the blackboard could soon be a thing of the past.

Take a look at some technologies coming to (or already at!) a K-12 classroom near you…

Incorporating Technology Into Every Lesson

Remember when the big excitement at school was getting to watch a video, or if you’re really old, those slideshows that had accompanying records that beeped to prompt you to the next slide? We’ve come a long way when one considers that 52 percent of teachers say they use interactive whiteboards in their classes, and 40 percent have a class wiki or website, according to the Pew Report “The Impact of Digital Tools on Student Writing and How Writing is Taught in Schools.”

Even when it comes to test preparation for the SAT, the days of flipping flashcards are over. One company, Benchprep, for example, uses an interactive gaming approach to appeal to high schoolers who are prepping for the college admissions exam.

Testing Online

Unless you’re living under a rock or in one of only 5 states that hasn’t adopted the Commor Core, you’re probably aware that by spring 2015, states must administer a mandatory online assessment to test student proficiency in math and English. Online testing means more students sitting at computers during the school day. As such, public schools are beefing up their IT offerings. In fact, says a CDW-G survey, 83 percent of public school district IT professionals surveyed cited Common Core as one of their top three IT priorities.

Paper and Pencil Is So Retro

Just as many have gotten used to using e-readers instead of hard copy books, the same may happen with school textbooks. In fact, 37 percent of teachers in a “Styles of Learning” survey by Enterasys Secure Networks said they planned to transition to digital textbooks within the next one to five years. At home, students are already getting used to making the switch to digital, as 31% of middle school students say they use tablets to complete homework assignments, according to a Verizon Foundation study.

The World Is Their Classroom

Thanks to video and web conferencing, some lucky students are able to watch presentations, experiments, and other learning events in real time from anywhere in the world. Think of it as the modern day field trip. For instance, some zoos, museums, ­libraries and other organizations have distance learning ­programs specifically designed for schools.

This technology is especially helpful for rural areas that are too far from cultural centers for students to frequent. One such school district in Oklahoma has been using mobile video conferencing with great success, according to an article in EdTech Magazine.

It’s just a matter of bringing video conferencing equipment into schools as companies like InterCall do to facilitate educator’s needs.

Online Courses

Beyond technology in the classroom, many K-12 students are taking courses right from their own homes via online learning. For example, Iowa Learning Online is currently serving 800 students, and has plans to expand and grow the program. Teachers broadcast to students via webcams or use technologies like Skype or Adobe Connect.

Technology in learning has come a long way in a short time, and will likely continue improving as it becomes more accessible and user friendly. Just imagine what the classroom will look like five years from now!

About the author: Dawn Papandrea is a Staten Island, NY-based writer specializing in education, careers, parenting, and personal finance. Her work has appeared in publications including Family Circle, Parents, WomansDay.com, CreditCards.com, and more. She has a master’s degree in journalism and mass communications from New York University. Connect with her on Twitter and Google+.

Project-Based Learning In Today’s Classroom

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

“When are we ever going to use this?”- Many teachers have been stopped mid-lecture by a student asking this simple question.  And you probably have experienced days in the classroom where you have wondered the same thing: How will memorizing the phases of mitosis benefit my life, especially when I will forget everything right after I finish the test?

Successful school drop-outs like Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook; Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple; and Alex Banyan, the world’s youngest venture capitalist, are making the world rethink how education should be done. These men succeeded not because of the information they crammed for a test but rather because they were able to critically think, problem solve, and collaborate with others. As schools begin to recognize the importance of these skills, the lecture-and-test style that bored so many of us is being replaced with a new style called Project-Based Learning.

Not the Projects of Old:
Before you start thinking “I did projects in school and they were useless,” you should know that Project-Based Learning (PBL) is not the same as the family tree you had to create. Where projects are done after the learning is finished and by following the teacher’s instructions, PBL is done as a way of learning the information by using investigation, problem solving, and collaboration. In an article on PBL, Launch Education describes Project-Based Learning as a way of establishing skills that will continue to benefit them as they grow older.

Project Based Learning begins when the teacher and students contemplate a question like “Should our school cafeteria use a compost system?” After discussing the question as a class and identifying many areas that need to be considered, students work as teams to provide an answer. In order to find the answer, students will need to research many areas like how is composting done, what are its benefits, how costly is it to implement, and how would our school use it. Through PBL, students not only learn about the process of compost; they also see the relevancy of the information. Additionally, the process demands the skills employers are looking for: critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration as the students work together as a team. Launch Education explains that it is a method that “allows children to explore their own talents and ways of thinking.”

No More Daydreaming at your Desk
Students complain frequently that school is so boring, and frequently, they are right. Sitting at a desk and listening as a teacher drones on is not something that many of us enjoyed. This is one more traditional classroom set-up that PBL is changing. Project Based Learning rejects the concept of a passive learner. Students are not vessels for stuffing information. Instead, PBL makes students active learners, placing them at the central role of the process where they are directly engaging in the concepts and their implications. By getting students active in their learning, PBL takes the focus of the classroom off the teachers and places it on the students. Teachers become guides who assist students in their learning process.

This departure from traditional education is becoming especially popular in the political world. With the falling test scores, increasing drop-outs, and failing schools, the educational world is becoming an increasingly heated issue, and education reform is on every politician’s radar.  Politicians like mayoral candidate for NYC Jack Hidary are using Project Based Learning as one of their methods for reforming the school. He suggests that PBL will be more effective for, “… Preparing students for the kinds of jobs we have now in our economy.”  As more politicians adopt PBL as part of their educational platform, this style of learning may gain more ground in the classroom.

One Method Among Many
While PBL is beginning to gain popularity, it is important to remember that it is not meant to be the only method of learning used in the classroom. The National Academy Foundation recommends using Project Based Learning for learning goals that include “applied learning and demonstration of deep core understanding,” but not for things like spelling or addition.  With effective preparation and placement, PBL is an effective strategy for preparing our students with relevant skills; without preparation and proper usage, it can be just as ineffective as a lecture.

Doing What’s Best for Our Students
In the end, Project-Based Learning is all about engaging students in real-world scenarios and forcing them to use real-life skills to solve them. When we consider that school is a method of preparing students to be successful, thoughtful members of our society, we see that PBL is a very beneficial tool. By starting students young and engaging them in this kind of thinking and learning, we are creating the next generation of innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders for our world.

How Project-Based Learning Will Make Your Kids Successful

Written by Pengfei, a Clonlara School guest blogger (***Clonlara School does not endorse or recommend any product/service in connection with this author***) and has been reposted with the permission of Launch Education Group.

Alex Banayan, 20 years old and the youngest venture capitalist in the world. Still a college student at USC, Alex spends his days flying to various cities, hanging out with people like Zappos founder Tony Hsieh, networking with young entrepreneurs, and writing his own book. He has turned down an offer from MTV (for his own reality TV show) and another from Interscope Records. Alex is at the pinnacle of success at his age. Yet, an interview with his boss, Stewart Alsop, will make you realize that the Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm did not hire him for his grades. They hired him for his creativity, entrepreneurial spirit and social saavy. Above all, they hired him for his confidence.

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Most parents believe that academic achievement is the key to a lucrative future. However, we also know that success means so much more than being calculus geek or being able to write a great paper on James Joyce. After all some of our society’s most beloved visionaries are college dropouts.

Because skills like leadership, confidence, communication skills, and curiosity take a lifetime to develop, it is imperative for children to start at an early age. For example, parents should implement a routine activity that stimulates a child’s creativity and develops their confidence. A great way to do this is a project-based learning model described in Lori Pickert’s book Project-Based Homeschooling.

“The first step toward success is taken when you refuse to be a captive of the environment in which you first find yourself.”  -Mark Caine

Although primarily designed for homeschooling parents, the program can be adopted by all families and academic institutions. Project-based learning is a way for kids to choose their own subjects and work on projects that interests them. A time of the day/week is allocated for kids to routinely work on various projects individually or with others. Parents and teachers, for the most part, offer minimal guidance and are only there to encourage and observe. The benefits of this approach are immeasurable.

Take this scenario in the book for example:
“A group of children age three to five are working together to build a large, three-dimensional cardboard whale. Two are crouched on the floor looking at a book, shouting out information and ideas to others, Two are arguing about fin design-they decide they will each make one fin the way they prefer and they’ll use both. Another decides to make krill for the whale to eat, so he sits down and begins cutting paper into tiny pieces… Later she [parent] can use her notes to help the children remember all of their plans. One of the children walks up to her and asks her to write down the colors of paint they will need: he lists them. Another says he wants to measure how big the whale is – he would like it to be life-size. They begin to discuss the best way to measure, and one of the children runs to get a book from the bookshelf-he remembers which book mentioned the exact length of their whale, even though he can’t read yet.”

The activities and learning in this scenario are representatives of the skills the children will develop as they get older. For example, learning how to freely to express their creativity and create a whale according to their own imagination is essential for developing innovative thinking and self-confidence. Learning how to settle arguments (i.e. the aforementioned “fin” example) and working as a group help mold them into team players. Lastly, by starting the project over to build the whale with the correct dimensions, students learn to cope with failure and persevere.

Project-based learning is a workspace that allows children to explore their own talents and ways of thinking. By helping your children develop them at a young age, you are placing them a step ahead of the likes of Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Alex Banayan. Who knows, maybe your child will be on the cover of Forbes as the world’s youngest millionaire a decade from now.

About the author:   Pengfei is a student at Cornell University. As one of the Launch interns, he assists the director, Matt Steiner, with online marketing and business development. During his high school and college years, he has held a couple of tutoring jobs, helping elementary to high school students in math. Pengfei also has strong backgrounds in technological design, social media, and information policy.

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.