Special Education Home Field Trips – White Water Rafting

Did you know there are white water rafting programs for special education kids, autistic kids, and kids with down-syndrome? Did you know that one ride down the river for these kids will be an event of a lifetime? Think about it. Best of all when kids of this nature experience something so radically different and new, it causes them use parts of their brains that have yet to be used much. Yes, that’s right it helps with brain development, just as if they were learning how to ride a bike, sing a song, or learn how to do a new skill. Okay so, let’s talk.

Some folks involved in providing such trips down the river for special needs kids tell of how it becomes a life changing experience, so to do the parents. Occasionally, it’s almost to the point that there was “little Junior before the white water rafting trip, and little Junior after.” Some parents note the difference is that profound – to which I say; wow. When I first heard about all this, I thought to myself, no, it couldn’t be that good, but the parents swear by it and the kids after doing it, they’ll never stop talking about it.

My question is; why does it work so well? Perhaps, because special kids maybe apprehensive about the water, fearful, and yet excited at the same time, well, that is just about everything you need for strong memory imprintation isn’t it? Okay so, I’ve read research papers on how the simple task of learning how to play a musical instrument, learning how to ride a bike, or interacting with an avatar on a computer helps develop these brains, and the empirical evidence has been show to prove it so. Thus, maybe these white water river rafting trips are akin to those other activities, but even more so, perhaps that’s why only one trip down the river is enough to trigger changes.

It’s not that normal (whatever that is) kids don’t also go away with experiences and memories that they cherish for years to come, they do too when it comes to river rafting, but for the special education kids who may not get the chance to do all those other activities that regular kids do consider it the most fun they’ve ever had in their lives, and it shows on their faces and their excitement every time anyone mentions it for long into the future. Indeed, I hope you will please consider all this and think on it.

Over-Identification of Minority Children in Special Education – What Can Be Done?

Are you concerned about the amount of minority children that are being diagnosed with disabilities in your school district? Are you worried about the large numbers of African American boys receiving special education services? Are you concerned about your child who is in a minority group and being found eligible for special education! Much has been written in the past several years about the increased numbers of poor African-American children receiving special education services. This article will discuss this issue, and also underlying causes of this.

In 1975 when the Education for All Handicapped Children Act was passed Congress found that poor African-American children were being placed in special education much more often than other children. These difficulties continue today. In the Findings section of IDEA 2004 Congress stated about the ongoing problems with the over-identification of minority children including mislabeling the children and high drop out rates.

About 9% of all school age children are diagnosed with a disability and receive special education services. But African-American children receive special education services at a rate about 40% higher than the national average across racial and ethnic groups at about 12.4%. Studies have shown that schools that have mostly white students and teachers, place a disproportionately high number of minority children in special education.

Also, rates of mental retardation and emotional/behavioral disturbance are extremely elevated within the African-American population, roughly twice the national average. Within the African-American population the incidence of mental retardation is approximately 220% higher than other ethnic groups. For emotional/behavioral disturbance the incidence is approximately 175% higher than other ethnic groups.

Factors that may contribute to disabilities include:

1. Health issues like prenatal care, access to medical care, child nutrition, and possible exposure to lead and other pollutants.

2. Lack of access to good quality medical care as well as services for any mental health disorders.

3. Cultural issues and values or stigma attached to disability

4. Discrimination along the lines of class and race!

5. Misdiagnosis of the child’s behavioral and academic difficulty.

A few ideas that could help decrease the over identification:

1. Better keeping of data to include increased information about race, gender, and race by gender categories. More detailed, systematic, and comprehensive data collections would provide a better sense of demographic representation in special education that could better help understand this issue.

2. More analytic research is needed to improve our understanding of the numerous factors that independently or in combination contribute to a disability diagnosis.

3. More people that are willing to help advocate for children in this situation. I believe that some of this issue, is related to the inability of some special education personnel to understand cultural differences.

4. Better and clearer guidelines for diagnosing disabilities that could reduce the potential for subjective judgments that are often cited for certain diagnosis.

5. More improvements are needed in general education to help children learn to read and keep up with their grade and age appropriate peers.

I hope over time this issue will get resolved so that all children receive an appropriate education.

Acronyms in English Education

As an English teacher from Canada living overseas I am often asked if I teach ESL. I actually teach EFL and there is a simple explanation in that ESL (which is English as a Second Language) is when English is learned and taught in a country that is an English speaking country. On the other hand EFL, (English as a Foreign Language) is taught and learned in non-English speaking countries. So, learning English in Japan would be EFL and learning English in Canada would be ESL. There have been comments that many students of English in ESL programs already are in possession of a second language, however the “a” in ESL negates that argument. An acronym that has grown in common use, particularly in the UK, New Zealand and Australia, is ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages).

When educators are studying to become an English language teacher, there are several options to the student of language pedagogy. An organization named TESOL which means Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, was formed in the mid 1960’s in America and is now designated an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) by the United Nations is dedicated to English language pedagogy. However TESOL also means Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. There are even degrees in TESOL offered at the undergraduate and graduate levels. There is also TEFL, Teaching English as a Foreign Language and TESL Teaching English as a Second Language that may even be offered at the certificate or diploma levels. There is also the CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) and CTEFLA (the Certificate in Teaching English as a Foreign Language to Adults) replaced the RSA (Royal Society of Arts) Certificate. In addition to the American based TESOL that is an NGO, many groups also implement the acronym in their organizations where language teachers support them, such as KoTESOL (Korea TESOL) and CamTESOL (Cambodia TESOL).

As for testing the abilities of the students of English, there are several. The biggest that is put on by ETS (Educational Testing Service) is TOEFL (Test Of English as a Foreign Language) that is the largest English norm-referenced test, and within the TOEFL it has its own acronym within which is the TWE (Test of Written English). And, the TOEFL has several versions, the CBT (Computer Based TOEFL), the iBT (internet Based TOEFL) and the PBT (the Paper Based TOEFL). The other major language test that ETS puts on is the TOEIC (Test Of English for International Communication). There are several other testing options available and they include the IELTS (International English Language Testing System), the YELT (York English Language Test) and MELAB (Michigan English Language Assessment Battery).

6 Things You Need to Know About State Special Education Laws That Will Empower Your Advocacy!

Are you the parents of a child with Autism or other type of disability who receives special education services? Are you currently having a dispute with your school district related to your child’s education? Would you like to learn about State special education laws and regulations to use in your advocacy? This article is for you and will be discussing these laws,and information that you need to know to empower your advocacy!

1. Every state is required by IDEA 2004 (federal special education law) to have laws and regulations that will show how they will be complying with the law.

2. State regulations cannot “establish provisions that reduce parent’s rights or are otherwise in conflict with the requirements of IDEA and Federal Regulations.” Federal law “trumps” or is stronger than State law. State law can give a parent more rights but cannot take away rights.

3. Many States laws are not consistent with federal laws.

4. Some states have been told that they must change their state regulations to be consistent with federal law. For example: New Jersey stated in their regulations that school districts had the right to test a child in an area that they did not previously test—if a parent asked for an independent educational evaluation at public expense (IEE at public expense). Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) found this inconsistent with IDEA 2004 (300.502). They have required NJ to revise their regulations and until they do so make sure school districts are not evaluating children in an area not previously evaluated before paying for an IEE.

5. Other States regulations are also inconsistent with federal law but have not been told by the U.S. DOE that they must change their regulations. One example is New York who has a regulation that ESY eligibility is only for children with multiple disabilities and/or who show regression and slow recoupment. This is not consistent with federal special education law and may hurt children by denying them needed services. Another example is in my State of Illinois the parent guide states that parents must “request” an IEE before the testing is done. IDEA 2004 states that parents have the right to “obtain” an IEE if they disagree with the schools evaluation. A letter to the Illinois State Board of Education pointing out this inconsistency was answered with this statement “The office plans to review the identified guidance document and initiate any necessary revisions during the summer of 2012. Your information will be considered during the course of that process.” It is now 2014, and I will not be holding my breath for the State of Illinois to revise their parent guide.

6. OSEP policy letters often address inconsistent State laws and regulations! They are great advocacy tools and can be found at: http://www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/memosdcltrs/index.html#topiclisting. I use them all the time to show special educators how the Office of Special Education Programs (at the U.S. DOE) interpret IDEA 2004 and inconsistent State regulations.

By understanding these 6 things about State Special Education Law, your advocacy will be empowered! Good Luck!