Suspended at 6 for ‘sexual misbehavior’

How apraxia got my son suspended from school is a horror story:  School bureaucrats became convinced that a first grader with an “invisible disability” was a victim of sexual abuse or a predator because he rocks when stressed.  

Apraxia is a movement and coordination disorder affecting about 5 percent of children, but it’s often missed or misunderstood, writes Michael Grazianao, the boy’s father and a professor of neuroscience at Princeton.

People look at apraxia sufferers and see a clumsy child who won’t try hard enough, a child who must not be very bright because he can’t keep up in math and reading, or a disobedient child who won’t stop moving in weird ways and bumping into people.

Handwriting is stressful for his son because of his disability. That struggle was affecting his reading and math. Unable to get any help from the school, the parents paid for an occupational therapist to help with coordination problems and a psychiatrist to help their son cope with classroom anxiety.

When the six-year-old began rocking to calm himself in class, his teacher decided he was masturbating. The principal, who didn’t know about the movement disorder and didn’t ask, reported the family to a state agency for possible child abuse.

Our son’s psychotherapist wrote a letter to the school to tell them about his classroom anxiety. Our son’s pediatrician also wrote a letter to the school telling them that he saw no medical evidence of any abuse. These experts asked the school to intervene with a step-by-step behavioural plan to help our son’s classroom difficulties. Under federal law, he was entitled to what’s called a 504 plan, in reference to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which is meant to ensure that disabled children have full access to education, but the school refused.

After a monthlong investigation, the parents were cleared of abuse charges. The state investigator told the principal in person. Within hours, the first grader was suspended on charges of sexual assault. Playing “Zombies” after lunch, he‘d hugged a friend.

The parents took the district to court.

The principal’s written testimony included a set of classroom notes about our child to show how he willfully misbehaved. Strangely enough, the school had given us an alternative version of this document about a month earlier, which we still had. . . .  The version that was submitted to court as sworn testimony offers a noticeably different account, including several additional sentences that make our son’s conduct sound willful and sexual. It looks to me very much as though somebody in the district was willing to lie in court and falsify documents in order to damage a child.

According to the written testimony of the principal, the psychiatrist supported her claim that our son was sexually assaultive and a danger to others. . . . (The psychiatrist) wrote a letter . . . noting that he thought our child was not sexually assaultive, not a danger to others, and should never have been suspended from school.

The judge ruled for the parents, but there were no consequences for school officials who denied special education services, lied or forged evidence.

The Grazianos’ son moved to a new elementary school. The school psychologist talked to him about his stress and set up a reward system for good class work. “Within a few days, the rocking stopped.”

Graziano urges other parents to fight for their kids’ needs, but admits that he and his wife barely saved their son, despite money, leverage and “degrees in neuroscience, psychiatry, and psychology.”

Via Instapundit, who thinks responsible parents should not entrust their children to the public schools. (The Grazianos believe strongly in public schools, despite their ordeal.)

Attention Deficit drug ‘disaster’

“After more than 50 years leading the fight to legitimize attention deficit hyperactivity disorder,” Dr. Keith Conners calls the rising rates of diagnosis “a national disaster of dangerous proportions,” reports the New York Times in The Selling of Attention Deficit Disorder.

“The numbers make it look like an epidemic. Well, it’s not. It’s preposterous,” Dr. Conners, a psychologist and professor emeritus at Duke University, said in a subsequent interview. “This is a concoction to justify the giving out of medication at unprecedented and unjustifiable levels.”

Fifteen percent of high school-aged Americans now are diagnosed with ADHD, reports the Times. Classic ADHD, “historically estimated to affect 5 percent of children, is a legitimate disability that impedes success at school, work and personal life.” Drugs can help, though they have side effects.

But . . . drug company marketing has stretched the image of classic A.D.H.D. to include relatively normal behavior like carelessness and impatience, and has often overstated the pills’ benefits. Advertising on television and in popular magazines like People and Good Housekeeping has cast common childhood forgetfulness and poor grades as grounds for medication that, among other benefits, can result in “schoolwork that matches his intelligence” and ease family tension.

Now,  adult diagnoses are soaring, reports the Times. “In this six-question test, anyone but the highly organized” could be deemed “ADHD possible.”

Carnival of Homeschooling

The Common Room is hosting this week’s Carnival of Homeschooling.

Victorian family of homeschoolersSensory Processing Disorder is a Deceptive Adversary, writes Christina on SPD and ME.

The Headmistress also has a special-needs child. She recalls a “not really so horrible very bad day.”

No arms, no excuses

Richie Parker gets it done.

Born with no arms, Richie Parker now designs race cars — and drives his own car with his toes. With his parents’ help, he grew up designing ways to feed himself, open the refrigerator, ride a bike, drive a car and operate a computer. A Clemson graduate, he works as an engineer for Hendrick Motorsports.

The promise of iPads for special ed

Technology can free special education students from worksheets, writes Anya Kamenetz in The promise of iPads for special ed on the Hechinger Report.

When Neil Virani walked into his middle school special education classroom at Mulholland Middle School, part of the LA Unified School district, three years ago, he encountered a roomful of students with a range of cognitive, emotional and physical challenges. But the most toxic problem they had to combat was the low expectations from the school system they’d been in since kindergarten. “All they had was coloring books and watercolors. They were not working on any academic aspects of the curriculum,” he says. “When I saw a [previous] teacher had written of  a student, “they don’t require ELA writing instruction because they’re never going to manipulate a writing device,’ I said, before I met him, this kid is going to write.”

Today, not only are most of his students reading and discussing stories, producing sophisticated written essays, and scoring proficient in math, they are drawing mind maps to organize their thoughts, building catapults in class to demonstrate physics principles learned from the game Angry Birds, and shooting and editing video documentaries of their experiences, which they storyboard in advance with cartoons.

The iPad and its wide range of apps has enabled students to meet the “highest possible realistic expectations,”  the teacher says.

A student who has control over only one finger was unable to write with a $15,000 assistive technology chair. One involuntary movement would erase what he’d typed. After an hour with a $500 iPad, he wrote his name for the first time.

The iPad has changed his students’ thinking, says Virani. “They believe in themselves; they can do what anyone else can do.”

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.

Workforce dropouts rise

Discouraged workers are dropping out of the workforce, masking the true unemployment rate. Only 63.3 percent of working-age adults are in the labor force.  Some enroll in community college — or graduate school. Others apply for disability or take early retirement.

Manufacturers are looking for skilled workers in Minnesota, but technical colleges have a hard time filling all the seats in manufacturing programs, even though pay averages $56,000 a year. Factory work has a stigma.

Teaching physics — and the power of love

As a physics teacher at a Kentucky high school, Jeffrey Wright is known for exploding pumpkins and lying under a nailed board as students use a sledgehammer to break cinderblocks above him. Most of all, he’s known for his annual lecture on raising a severely disabled son who taught him “the meaning of life, love and family,” reports a New York Times blog.

A former student of Wright’s at Louisville Male Traditional High School in Kentucky (it’s been coed for nearly 60 years) made an award-winning video, Wright’s Law.

“When you start talking about physics, you start to wonder, ‘What is the purpose of it all?’ ” he said in an interview. “Kids started coming to me and asking me those ultimate questions. I wanted them to look at their life in a little different way — as opposed to just through the laws of physics — and give themselves more purpose in life.”

One day, Wright realized his son could see, play and think, he tells students. He and his wife, Nancy, began teaching Adam simple sign language. One day, his son signed “I love you.”

In the lecture, Mr. Wright signs it for the class: “Daddy, I love you.” “. . . “There is something a lot greater than energy. There’s something a lot greater than entropy. What’s the greatest thing?”

“Love,” his students whisper.

Students are looking for purpose, “the purpose in your heart,” to answer the question, “who cares?” Wright believes.

He hopes to inspire students to pursue careers in science and genetic research. “We might be able to come up with something we can use to help Adam out one day.”

When illiteracy pays the bills

In the hills of Appalachia, parents pull their children out of literacy classes for fear they’ll lose their “learning disability” label and the federal check that goes with it, writes Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times.

Many people in hillside mobile homes here are poor and desperate, and a $698 monthly check per child from the Supplemental Security Income program goes a long way — and those checks continue until the child turns 18.

“The kids get taken out of the program because the parents are going to lose the check,” said Billie Oaks, who runs a literacy program here in Breathitt County, a poor part of Kentucky. “It’s heartbreaking.”

America’s safety net can entangle the poor by rewarding failure and discouraging marriage, writes Kristof.

When SSI was extended to children 40 years ago, only 1 percent of poor children qualified, writes Kristof. They had severe physical or mental handicaps that required intensive parental care. Now 55 percent of children on SSI have vaguely defined “learning disabilities” that essentially mean they’re not retarded and aren’t doing well in school. Eight  percent of low-income children now receive SSI disability at an annual cost of more than $9 billion.

. . . a 2009 study found that nearly two-thirds of these children make the transition at age 18 into SSI for the adult disabled. They may never hold a job in their entire lives and are condemned to a life of poverty on the dole . . .

Kristof recommends community visitors to help low-income mothers, pre-kindergarten and encouraging marriage. (Marriage! It’s not just for gays!)

I’d suggest eliminating SSI disability for children unless their disability imposes extra costs on the family.

When I reported on welfare reform, I met a teenage mother who supplemented her welfare income with SSI for her son, who’d been born three months early, before the mother’s 15th birthday. When he was two, the pediatrician decided he wasn’t disabled after all. Though happy her son was developing normally, she was distraught at losing the extra money. Still, she got a half-time job at the community college, where she was learning office technology.  She discovered that she loved working.  I don’t know if she worked her way out of poverty. She came from a very messed-up family and her boyfriend had abandoned her. But she had a shot.

NCLB waivers let states set goals by race

Virginia will revise its new goals for student achievement, but will continue to set “different achievement goals for students according to race, family income and disability,” reports the Washington Post.  That’s OK with Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

The Obama administration has allowed states to set different goals for different groups of students, as long as the low-performing students are required to make greater rates of progress, so that the gap between struggling students and high-achieving students is cut in half over six years.

The District and 27 of the 33 states that have received waivers from the Obama administration under No Child Left Behind have also set new goals that call for different levels of achievement for different groups of students.

In Maryland, for example, state officials say they want Asian students to progress from 94.5 percent proficient in math in 2011 to 97 percent by 2017. During the same period, the state wants black students to improve from 68 percent to 84 percent. The black students are expected to reach a lower endpoint but they would have to improve at a faster rate.

Virginia’s goals qualified the state for a NCLB waiver. While 89 percent of Asian students and 78 percent of whites are expected pass state math tests in 2017, only 65 percent of Hispanics, 57 percent of blacks and 49 percent of special-education students are expected to pass.