Entrapping the handicapped

An undercover cop befriended an autistic 17-year-old, persuaded him to buy marijuana and arrested him, reports Reason TV.  Special-needs students made up most of the 22 teens arrested on drug charges at a Riverside County, California high school.

Why the special ed gap?

Some 13.1 percent of New York City charter school students receive special education services compared to 16.5 percent in traditional public schools. That’s because special-ed students are less likely to apply to charters, concludes Why the Gap?, a study by the Center on Reinventing Public Education. In addition, charters are less likely to place students in special education and more likely to “declassify” them.

There’s no evidence charter schools refuse to admit or “push out” disabled students, writes Marcus Winters, the lead researcher, in the New York Daily News.

Parents of students with special needs are less likely to choose to apply to charter schools, especially autistic students and students with a speech or language disability.

The reason isn’t clear. Disabled students enrolled in special preschools that feed into district schools may be inclined to stay within the system.

The gap grows by another 20% as students progress through the third grade. Nearly all of this growth occurs in the mildest and most subjectively diagnosed category of student disabilities: specific learning disability. That’s important because specific learning disability is a category widely recognized to be over-identified among low-performing students.

On average, students attending New York City’s charter schools “learn more than they would have in a traditional public school,” Winters writes. “Thus, it is possible that some students avoid the disability label because they perform well academically.”

More special-needs students enter charter elementary schools than exit, Winters writes.

The difference is that when charter school students with disabilities move, they usually end up in a traditional public school — perhaps because there are more of them, or perhaps because charters accept relatively few students in non-gateway grades — thus reducing the percentage of students with disabilities within the charter sector.

Mobility is high for special-needs students. They are somewhat more likely to leave a traditional public school than a charter.

New York now requires charter schools to set enrollment and attendance targets for students with disabilities, Winters writes. Bill de Blasio, who’s likely to be New York City’s next mayor, advocates requiring charter schools to serve students with special needs at the same rate as traditional public schools.

It would be easy to do: Just hand out more learning disability diagnoses and keep students from leaving special ed. But it wouldn’t be good for students.

A study of Milwaukee charters found similar results, writes Jay Greene. Charters there also were less likely to classify students as learning disabled. He thinks funding incentives are driving special ed placement.

ADHD or narcissism?

Many children diagnosed as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder may simply be slow to grow out of “normal childhood narcissism, writes psychologist Enrico Gnaulati in The Atlantic.

In the 1970s, a mere one percent of kids were considered ADHD. By the 1980s, three to five percent was the presumed rate, with steady increases into the 1990s. One eye-opening study showed that ADHD medications were being administered to as many as 17 percent of males in two school districts in southeastern Virginia in 1995.

ADHD symptoms — “problems listening, forgetfulness, distractibility, prematurely ending effortful tasks, excessive talking, fidgetiness, difficulties waiting one’s turn, and being action-oriented” — aren’t all that different from normal childhood challenges, he writes. In the past, a distractible, fidgety child would have been considered slower to mature and learn social skills. Now that child is quickly diagnosed with ADHD.

The core symptoms of ADHD resemble childhood narcissism, which is characterized by “overconfident self-appraisals, attention-craving, a sense of personal entitlement” and weak empathy for others, writes Gnaulati.

“Jonah” falls apart when he can’t master a task immediately. It could be a symptom of ADHD, writes Gnaulati. Perhaps he can’t retain the information needed. But it could be the “magical thinking” common for young children.

He believes mastering tasks should somehow be automatic—not the outcome of commitment, perseverance, and effort. Jonah’s self-esteem may also be so tenuous that it fluctuates greatly. For instance, when Jonah anticipates success, he productively cruises through work, eager to receive the recognition that he expects from parents and teachers. He is on a high. He definitely feels good about himself. But in the face of challenging work, he completely shuts down, expects failure, outside criticism, and wants to just give up.

“Parents who think their kid has ADHD often describe scenarios at home where the kid reacts to minor setbacks with bloodcurdling screams or to modest successes with over-the-top exuberance,” writes Gnaulati. For kids who really have ADHD, completing homework can be torture. But, for others, “dramatic displays of emotion are attempts to get out of tasks that warrant commitment, application, and effort.”

If parents give in, “these kids often do not acquire the emotional self-control necessary to buckle down and do academic work independently.”

I think the technical term is “spoiled brat.”

Gnaulati is the author of  Back to Normal, which is subtitled “why ordinary childhood behavior is mistaken for ADHD, bipolar disorder, and autism spectrum disorders.”

Brainy, introverted boys are over-diagnosed with autism, he writes in Salon. ”If we don’t have a firm grasp of gender differences in how young children communicate and socialize, we can mistake traditional masculine behavior for high-functioning autism.”

Finding a future for autistic students

At Newark’s JFK High, teacher Janet Mino prepares six autistic young men to cope with life once they age out of the public schools at 21. Best Kept Secret will air on PBS today.

CDC: 1 in 5 kids has a mental disorder

Nearly 1 in 5 children in the U.S. suffers from a mental disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That includes attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression and autism.

Kids who once would have been called antsy, shy, moody or odd are now being diagnosed with mental disorders and disabilities. How many really need mental health care? The bill is up to $247 billion a year, the CDC estimates.

Girl, 9, wins courage award — but the bullies win

When a group of fifth-grade boys were beating an autistic student at a Maui school, nine-year-old Eileen Parkman told them to stop. They cursed her, pushed her to the ground and stepped on her. A local autism center honored Eileen for her courage, reports the Maui News.

“It isn’t the right thing to beat up people. It’s the right thing to help people,” Eileen said in explaining her bravery in coming to the defense of a helpless student during a lunch recess at Kamali’i Elementary School.

. . . “Yes, I was very scared,” Eileen said.

The bullies made sure she stayed scared. After standing up to the older boys, the second grader became a target for bullying, said her father, Sean Parkman. He and his mother offered to volunteer as recess monitors, but were rejected, he said.

Parkman said school officials told him that if he pulled Eileen from the school, then officials would report him to Child Protective Services because he could be violating school attendance policies. So, he held off.

But after taking Eileen to doctors several times after getting beaten, doctors warned Parkman that Eileen was not safe. He then removed her from the school.

Eileen is being tutored at home. Apparently, the autistic boy still attends the elementary school.

Study: Some autistic kids recover

Some children diagnosed with autism recover completely, according to a study in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. A team led by Deborah Fein of the University of Connecticut at Storrs evaluated the social and communications skills of 34 people who had been diagnosed as autistic before the age of 5 and no longer had any symptoms. They ranged in age from 8 to 21 years old.

The ”optimal outcome” group did just as well in socialization, communication, face recognition and most language measures as the “typical development” control group. Early in their development, the optimals displayed milder social deficits than others in the high-functioning autistic range, but had “equally severe difficulties with communication and repetitive behaviors.”

“They no longer qualified for the diagnosis,” Dr. Fein told the New York Times. “I want to stress to parents that it’s a minority of kids who are able to do this, and no one should think they somehow missed the boat if they don’t get this outcome.”

Researchers have long known that between 1 and 20 percent of children given an autism diagnosis no longer qualify for one a few years or more later. They have suspected that in most cases the diagnosis was mistaken; the rate of autism diagnosis has ballooned over the past two decades, and some research suggests that it has been loosely applied.

The new study should put some of that skepticism to rest.

In 1987, “the pioneering autism researcher O. Ivar Lovaas reported that 47 percent of children with the diagnosis showed full recovery after undergoing a therapy he had devised,” reports the Times. “This therapy, a behavioral approach in which increments of learned skills garner small rewards, is the basis for the most effective approach used today; still, many were skeptical and questioned his definition of recovery.”

My niece is a behavioral therapist working with autistic children. Her clients are not high functioning.

 

Autism and violence

Adam Lanza had Asperger’s Syndrome and a personality disorder, his brother reportedly said. Can autism explain the Sandy Hook tragedy? asks Amy S. F. Lutz in Slate Magazine. Overall, people with autism are less likely to commit crimes than “neurotypicals.” Very few plan and execute an attack, as Lanza did.

However, some erupt in short episodes of violence: “Studies have found that up to a staggering 30 percent suffer from aggressive and/or self-injurious behaviors of varying degrees.”

As president of EASI Foundation: Ending Aggression and Self-Injury in the Developmentally Disabled, Lutz helps “many families struggling to manage their autistic children’s dangerous behaviors.”

Autism alone doesn’t lead to violence, writes Lutz. The problem is autism plus a psychiatric disorder.

One 2008 study by scientists at King’s College London found that 70 percent of their young autistic subjects had at least one co-morbid disorder, such as childhood anxiety disorder, depressive disorder, oppositional defiant and conduct disorder, or ADHD. Forty-one percent had two or more co-morbid disorders. . . . A 2008 review by Stewart S. Newman and Mohammad Ghaziuddin reported that “an overwhelming number of violent cases had co-existing psychiatric disorders at the time of committing the offence”—84 percent, to be precise. And Newman and Ghaziuddin couldn’t rule out personality disorders, such as anti-social personality disorder, in the remaining subjects.

School shooters “are almost always mentally or emotionally ill,” said Katherine S. Newman, author of the 2004 book Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings in a CNN editorial.

. . . those of us who care for a person on the autism spectrum . . .  need to watch for those secondary psychiatric disorders our loved ones are vulnerable to. Often, parents and clinicians assume that patients are anxious or depressed or manic or aggressive because of their autism, when in fact those symptoms may have a different etiology. . . .  it was only once my son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and treated accordingly that the frequent, unpredictable, and intense rages that characterized his childhood finally subsided.

 People with Asperger’s Syndrome and their parents are very worried about being seen as cold-blooded killers. On I Speak of Dreams, Liz Ditz rounds up reactions from people with autism, parents and others.

It’s a bit off topic, but everything you thought you knew about autism is wrong, writes Bookworm in a review of Ido in Autismland, a collection of essays by a 16-year-old boy who doesn’t speak but learned to communicate with a letter board. Ido Kedar also blogs.

Do charters serve fewer disabled students?

Charter schools are doing a better job serving special-needs students than reported, according to a New York State Special Education Enrollment Analysis by the Center on Reinventing Public Education.

Nationwide, charters serve fewer special-ed students, according to a General Accounting Office (GAO) report. However, the New York study finds “important variations in the enrollment patterns of students with special needs,” said Robin Lake, CRPE director.

In New York, charter middle and high schools enroll more special-needs students than district-run schools, according to CRPE. Charter elementary schools enroll fewer.

Some district-run elementary schools offer programs for special-needs students, the report noted.

Charter schools at the elementary level might also be less inclined to label students as needing special education services. This raises a troubling question: are charter schools under-enrolling or under-identifying students with special needs, or are district-run schools over-identifying them?

Instead of setting statewide special education enrollment targets, policy makers should set “school or regional targets that pay careful attention to those very specific factors that influence such enrollment choices as locations, grade-spans, and neighborhoods,” the report advises.

Setting targets assumes that every school should include the same percentage of disabled students. I’d like to see more schools (charter or district-run) designed for students with specific special needs, such as attention deficit disorder or autism, and more designed for academically gifted students.

New autism definition excludes many

new definition of autism – renamed autism spectrum disorder — proposed by the American Psychiatric Association could exclude 45 percent of those now diagnosed as high-functioning, reports the New York Times. People with Asperger’s Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder and mild autism could find it harder to qualify for health, educational and social services.

Autism spectrum diagnoses have skyrocketed in recent years. The new definition could end the surge, said Dr. Fred R. Volkmar, director of the Child Study Center at the Yale School of Medicine.