Acting teaches social skills to autistic kids

Acting out
Children with autism perform at Vanderbilt’s SENSE Theatre.

Acting can teach social skills to students with autistim, writes Laura McKenna in The Atlantic.

How do you join a conversation at a middle-school lunch table? What do you say when someone says hi to you in the hallway and you don’t know her name? How do you delicately correct a member of your lab group in science without calling him stupid?

. . . A set of subtle and complicated social skills is embedded into the entire school experience, from the lunchroom to the classroom.

Drama classes can help autistic students improve their ability to interact with others, concludes a new Vanderbilt study.

Blythe Corbett, an associate professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt, teaches drama exercises such as role playing and improvisation to children with high-functioning autism in her SENSE Theatre program.

Drama participants are better able to recognize faces, understand others’ perspectives and regulate anxiety, compared to a control group, she found.

Researchers at the University of Kent found that children with autism could recognize more facial expressions after they participated in a drama program. Children who participated in the Social Competence Intervention Program, another drama-based intervention, improved their ability to play cooperatively, share, speak with respect, communicate while smiling, and say appropriate pleasantries, like please and thank you.

MarbleJam Kids, an after-school group in River Edge, New Jersey, provides art, music, and movement therapy to about 120 kids on the autistic spectrum. Founder Anna Villa-Bager wanted a program for her daughter.

Children can role-play responses to social dilemmas, writes McKenna, whose son is a MarbleJam kid. “Improvisation exercises are also useful because so many autistic kids otherwise rely on ‘scripts’ to navigate social situations.”

Autistic actors star in Rule Breaking, production by the NYU Steinhardt Drama Therapy program.

Autistic actors star in Rule Breaking, a production by the NYU Steinhardt Drama Therapy program.

Teaching autistic kids to act like everyone else is controversial, reports Shira Polan in ScienceLine. While Corbett values social competence, Maria Hodermarska, a drama therapist at NYU, doesn’t think autistic people need social skills to improve their lives.

“At NYU, we focus on social justice, instead of addressing these deficits in functioning,” says Hodermarksa, whose son acts in Rule Breaking: Disability as Performance. “Drama therapy gives people who are marginalized a voice, a platform, a place to be seen and heard.”

Some of McKenna’s readers think students with autism should be allowed to pursue their interests rather than being pushed into drama classes.

My nephew, who’s on the spectrum, did a summer theater program in middle school by his own choice. He had no talent, but liked hanging out with theater kids. He tried to get into drama in high school, but didn’t get through the auditions.

Don’t drug those kids: ADHD can be a gift

Stop drugging ADHD kids — and start teaching them to use their gifts, writes Peter Shankman, founder of FasterThanNormal, in the New York Post.

Parents and teachers may be “drugging the creativity out of our next generation of leaders,” writes Shankman.

As a New York City public-school kid, Shankman had trouble paying attention, but wasn’t medicated.

Diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, he became “a best-selling author, an entrepreneur who’s started and successfully sold three companies and a corporate keynote speaker,” he writes. “It’s because of my ADHD, not in spite of it, that I’m as successful as I am today.”

It’s time to stop looking at ADHD as a negative, and start understanding the positives and incredible benefits of being gifted with a brain that runs a thousand times faster than normal. Teachers need to understand that a student with a faster brain doesn’t automatically equate to “difficult to teach,” but rather, that much more interested and able to learn, if the information is presented in a way that reaches that student.“

Instead of giving them a pill, let’s give them an hour to run around outside.

Tell then “their differences are their greatest gifts,” Shankman concludes.

Is ADHD the same as having a “faster brain?”

Big districts hire more cops than counselors

School security officers outnumber counselors in some of the nation’s largest school districts, including New York City, Chicago, Miami-Dade County and Houston, reports Matt Barnum for The 74.

Some cities, such as New York City, hire high numbers of both security staff and counselors, the analysis found.

Others, such as  Houston and Los Angeles, don’t have many guards or counselors. Both school districts have their own police force.

Most school security officers have little training in dealing with troubled and special-needs students, reports The 74.

Hyperactive — or just young?

Many children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder are just immature, suggests a study in Taiwan. Children who are young for their grade are much more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, reports The Telegraph.

Only 2.8 percent of boys born in September, the oldest in the class in Taiwan schools, are diagnosed with ADHD. The rate is 4.5 percent for boys born in August, who are the youngest in the class.

For girls, the rate of ADHD diagnoses rose from 0.7 to 1.2 per cent, depending on birth month.

Teachers may be comparing the behavior of younger children to their older, more mature classmates, researchers concluded.

How many ADHD kids just need more time to learn how to focus their attention — and instead get medication?

‘College for all’ includes learning disabled


Amanda Carbonneau (in pink top) laughs with friends at University of Central Florida. Photo: Red Huber, Orlando Sentinel

Amanda Carbonneau, 21, who reads at the fourth-grade level, is enjoying her first year at the University of Central Florida. A new program for students with learning disabilities has made it possible for her to live in a dorm, learning independent-living skills, and participate in campus activities, reports Gabrielle Russon in the Orlando Sentinel.

“We’re paying for a college experience,” said her mother, Janet Carbonneau.

Amanda Carbonneau is living away from home for the first time. Photo: Orlando Sentinel

Disabled students who aren’t seeking a degree can live in University of Central Florida dorms.  Photo: Orlando Sentinel

Amanda has taken an early childhood education course and study skills.

Students in the program take low-level classes (often P.E.) and have access to tutors, but are not working toward a degree. UCF may award a special diploma or certificate.

A new state-funded center in the College of Education and Human Performance “will grant $3.5 million annually in scholarships to students with disabilities.”

I know this is supposed to be a feel-good story, but . . . Shouldn’t the “college experience” including higher education? Florida will spend $3.5 million so young people who lack the ability to do college-level work can live in a dorm and hang out on a university campus.

Manifest injustice

Special-ed students can disrupt classrooms without consequences, if their behavior is a “manifestation” of their disability, writes Darren on Right on the Left Coast. A training session — lots of slides — left him “extremely frustrated when I’m told that essentially, special education students are the only students that matter, and screw everyone else.”

These days, parents “will fight any effort to require their angel to conform to even the most nominal standards of conduct,” he writes. Schools often give in to avoid an expensive fight.

It’s even harder to discipline special-ed students.

If a special education student has over 10 days of suspension in a school year (which should be an indicator of something right there), a meeting with a large number of people must be held for each additional suspension to determine if the misbehavior is a “manifestation” of the student’s disability.  If it’s a manifestation, they cannot be suspended.

He wonders: “What disability manifests itself via vandalism?” Is being an “a–hole” a disability?

Untimed tests: ‘not such a crazy idea’

Untimed tests — aren’t such a crazy idea, opines Robert Pondiscio in the New York Daily News. In response to the opt-out movement — 20 percent of students skipped New York’s state exams — this spring’s test takers will be allowed as much time as they want.

Dropping time limits won’t invalidate the results, writes Pondiscio. Research shows extra time helps students with learning disabilities, but has no significant effect for students without disabilities.

Most state math and reading tests are “power” tests rather than “speed” tests, according to University of Pennsylvania psychometrician Andrew Porter. Power tests “are designed so that nearly all students will be able to complete all items within the allotted time.”

“Education officials seem to think that allowing unlimited time will give parents one less reason to complain about test pressure,” writes Pondiscio. He doubts it will work. “The real source of test pressure is not the clock, it’s adults pressuring kids to perform.”

Any leveling or reduction in the number of parents refusing to let kids sit for state tests this year will likely be a function of New York’s moratorium on linking test scores to teacher evaluations. School administrators and teachers are less likely to transfer their anxieties to students, wittingly or unwittingly.

The moratorium ends in 2020.

I’ve worked under deadline for most of my life. I do the best I can in the time and space I’ve got. Then I stop. I find unlimited time very stressful.

The schools they chose

Included in the school choice stories on Education Post is Dashaun Robinson’s story how he failed in neighborhood schools, until he “found a small charter school in Providence, Rhode Island, and became a 10th grader, again, at the age of 18.” He’s now a sophomore at Rhode Island College.

Blackstone Valley Prep, a charter school in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, created a very small, supportive class to serve their son and other disabled students, write Kevin Sims and Krystal Vasquez. Despite his epilepsy, anxiety and adjustment disorder, he “loves learning” and performs at grade level.

Kim Wilborn

Kim Wilborn plans to earn a college degree.

Kim Wilborn, an eighth-grader, credits Perspectives Charter School in Chicago for  turning her into a straight-A student who’s forgiven her drug-addicted mother and taken her first steps on “a path to a brighter future.”

In elementary school, she “ran with a bad crowd,” she writes. There was  no homework. When she started Perspectives in sixth grade, she “didn’t know multiplication or division,” only how to punch numbers in a calculator. She got extra help to catch up in math.

In an ethics class called A Disciplined Life, she learning about taking responsibility — and forgiveness.

Even though he was in prison for 27 years, Nelson Mandela forgave the people who put him in there. He had dinner with one of his prison guards. He had lunch with the man who wanted him to get the death penalty. He was not bitter.

I didn’t want to be, either.

She’s learned how to push herself to overcome challenges.  Almost 200 pounds in sixth grade, she was encouraged to join the track team. “You have to keep going,” the coach told her. “When your legs get tired, you have to start running with your heart.”

I’ve lost a lot of weight since then. I have the willpower to keep going no matter how hard it gets.

. . . I get lots of homework now but it’s like when I started track: the more I’m used to it, the more I can do.

Gabby Dixon, a Perspectives high school student, likes the “small size and personal relationships.”

Her AP Literature is reading Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.

Sometimes I really have to sit down with my teacher to understand it — there’s so much going on in the text. What’s great is he told us it’s OK not to understand something right away. It’s OK to wrestle with a text. It’s OK to be vulnerable and open. That’s the best way you get to learn.

She’s also a big fan of A Disciplined Life.

Charters retain more hard-to-teach kids

While critics claim charters “push out” hard-to-teach students, urban charter schools are better at retaining students with disabilities and English Language Learners than district-run schools, concludes Marcus Winters.

Four years after entry into kindergarten, 65 percent of students with disabilities remained at their Denver charter school,  while district schools retained only 37 percent of special-ed students, writes Winters.

Victor Uriarte and his daughter Daniela, 11, celebrate the winning of the lottery of West Denver Prep. Photo: Hyoung Chang, Denver Post

Victor Uriarte and his daughter Daniela, 11, celebrate winning a seat at West Denver Prep, a high-performing charter network,  in a lottery. Photo: Hyoung Chang, Denver Post

Students learning English are more likely to remain at a charter than a district school. In New York City, 82 percent of ELLs who enrolled in charters for kindergarten remained in their schools four years later, compared with 70 percent in traditional public schools.

ELLs and students with disabilities made “substantial” learning gains in Boston charter schools compared to district schools, concludes a new MIT study.

Charters enroll fewer students with disabilities or an ELL designation. That’s because fewer apply, writes Winters. He advocates a common-enrollment system to make it easier for parents to apply.

Common enrollment nearly eliminated the gap in ELLS entering charters in Denver, his analysis found.

Is it OK to push out disruptive kids?

“I have no problem at all with charters functioning as a poor man’s private school,” Fordham’s Robert Pondiscio tells Reason. “Are we saying that if you’re a poor black or brown kid, it’s a problem that you should have a disruption-free, studious, high-quality school? Why is that unfair?”

A group of parents have filed a a civil rights complaint accusing high-scoring Success Academy charters of pushing out students with disabilities.

One Success Academy principal issued a “Got-to-Go” list of unwanted students, reported the New York Times in October. Founder Eva Moskowitz called it a mistake.

In response to the complaint, she said Success schools only suspend students for violent behavior. The schools’ disabled students perform better in reading and math than non-disabled students in other city schools, she points out.

Success Academy students who behave well enough to stay are doing much, much better than similar students in district schools. Should Success be forced to adopt laxer discipline policies and keep disruptive students? Should district schools be allowed to adopt tougher discipline policies and get rid of disruptive students?

Milwaukee’s voucher program also was accused of discriminating against disabled students. After four years, the federal investigation has been closed “with no apparent findings of major wrongdoing,” reports the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.