Autistic or shy?

When her twins missed their growth milestones — sitting, standing, walking and speaking — parents, teachers, doctors and others suggested they were autistic, Paula Lynn Johnson writes on Ricochet.

Image result for shy boy play Legos

Her “lifeline to sanity” was Thomas Sowell’s book, Late Talking Children. Sowell’s son, who didn’t start talking till he was 4, grew up to be a successful, non-autistic adult.

After speech therapy, Johnson’s kids began talking. But her son showed “red flags” of autism in preschool, teachers said. He didn’t want to stop building Legos and go on to the art station.

His kindergarten teacher also complained about her son’s Lego obsession.

Moreover, my son lived too much in his head, preferring to build and tinker rather than playing tag or ball with the other boys. He was clumsy. He was autistic-ish.

The school’s Child Study Team wanted to do an evaluation for autism, but the parents passed. Elementary school was tough, but he came into himself in middle school.

Academically, there were less worksheets and rote work. A lot of his teachers not only allowed, but welcomed discussion (suddenly, he was no longer “argumentative”, but “thoughtful”). He started enjoying his classes. And socially, the transition to a bigger pond with more potential friends was just what he needed. He found his tribe.

. . . they’re on the debate team and in robotics club. They like to play Risk and Magic the card game. They follow politics and like tossing around obscure movie quotes and references. You know the type. Would I call any of them socially smooth or sophisticated? No. But I wouldn’t call them autistic, either — and that includes my son. He’s empathetic and funny and engaging. He’s just taken longer than most to grow comfortable in his own skin.

“Go to a doctor, preferably a pediatric neurologist or psychiatrist who specializes in autism” for a diagnosis, rather than a special-ed teacher, Johnson advises.

She adds that shyness can be confused with autism.

For example, autistic kids often have trouble making direct eye contact and come across as socially stiff. Well, unfortunately, so do shy kids

“Professionals working for the public school system have built-in incentives to label children and put them into special programs, which often get the school system more money from the government,” she writes.

. . .  if you fear the costs of “doing nothing”, consider the costs of labeling your kid with a serious neurological condition that he just doesn’t have. Read I Had Asperger Syndrome. Briefly, in which the author recounts how his mother — an “expert” in Asperger’s! — not only diagnosed him with the disorder but had him participate in an educational video about it.

As a baby, my daughter missed the major developmental milestones — by miles. Other babies were walking before she could roll over. It turned out she was developmentally weird.

How Texas keeps kids out of special ed

Roanin Walker was diagnosed with a condition resembling autism as a preschooler but his mother Heidi says he received no help when he entered kindergarten in Humble, Texas.

Texas cut the percentage of disabled students by one third since 2004 by threatening to audit districts that let more than 8.5 percent of students get special-ed services, reports the Houston Chronicle.

The Texas Education Agency saved “billions of dollars but denied vital supports to children with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, epilepsy, mental illnesses, speech impediments, traumatic brain injuries, even blindness and deafness,” the Chronicle reported.

More than a dozen teachers and administrators from across the state told the Chronicle they have delayed or denied special education to disabled students in order to stay below the 8.5 percent benchmark. They revealed a variety of methods, from putting kids into a cheaper alternative program known as “Section 504” to persuading parents to pull their children out of public school altogether.

Nationwide, 13 percent of students receive special-ed services. Texas, which used to be close to the national average, fell to “exactly 8.5 percent” in 2015.

In a statement, Texas Education Agency officials said the 8.5 percent number is a performance “indicator,” not a cap.

However, special-education limits will be abandoned, officials pledge.

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?

Do special-ed kids need teacher-cams?

Credit: LA Johnson/NPR

Texas will require schools to videotape classrooms with special-ed students, if a parent or teacher requests it.

The law applies to any self-contained classroom in which at least half the students receive special-ed services for at least half the day, reports NPR.

Last year, an NBC-5 investigation exposed “calm rooms” — padded closets — at some North Texas schools.

Some of these rooms had cameras. In one cringe-worthy video recording, a teacher forced an 8-year-old boy with autism inside a room, forced him to the floor and held the door shut despite his protests.

Parents protested. State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Texas, sponsored legislation to “give a voice to someone who could not speak up when they were abused at school.” He says videotaping also will protect teachers from false accusations.

It’s not clear how many cameras will be required or how much it will cost to record and store footage.

If one parent requests camera, other students’ parents can’t block the videotaping.

Putting the ‘special’ in special ed

Special education teacher Chris Ulmer spends 10 minutes every morning by complimenting each of his eight students at Mainspring Academy in Jacksonville, Florida. Does he find something new to say every day?

You can see more on Ulmer’s Special Books by Special Kids Facebook page.

Charters close special-ed gap

Charters are closing the special-education gap with district schools and are more likely to mainstream special-ed students, according to an analysis by the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools.

District schools classify 12.55 percent of students as needing special education, compared to 10.42 percent in charter schools. That gap is shrinking.

Charter students with disabilities are far more likely to spend their school day in maisntream classrooms.

Charters may not serve as many severely disabled students who require a separate class, said Lauren Morando Rhim, executive director of NCSECS. Inclusion also is more practical for small schools.

“If you’re in a huge district, you might pool resources and put all the kids with disability A in this school, but if you’re a single charter school operating as its own district, you can’t do that,” said Morando Rhim. “So you’re going to figure out how to integrate them in their program versus creating a distinct program.”

Charter and district schools suspend and expel students with disabilities at about the same rate, according to the report. In both sectors, students with disabilities are much more likely to be suspended or expelled than other students.

The report also identified 115 charters that focus on serving disabled students.

‘Pay for success’ preschool gains are iffy


Students in a preschool program in Utah meant to help kindergartners avoid special education. Credit: Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

A  “pay for success” preschool program in Utah helped 99 percent of high-risk children avoid special education in kindergarten, Salt Lake County officials announced last month. Investors who bought “social-impact bonds” to fund the program received a $260,000 payout, representing a share of the district’s savings on special education. They’ll get more in coming years, potentially making a profit.

Results are too good to be true, early-education experts tell the New York Times.

Even well-funded preschool programs — and the Utah program was not well funded — have been found to reduce the number of students needing special education by, at most, 50 percent. Most programs yield a reduction of closer to 10 or 20 percent.

It’s either “a miracle, or these kids weren’t in line for special education in the first place,” said Clive Belfield, an economics professor who studies early childhood education.

It seems clear that “miracle” is not the right answer.

The school district used a picture and vocabulary test called the PPVT to screen the incoming preschoolers. Those who scored below 70 — 30 to 40 percent of children over three years — were labeled likely to need special education.

“To just assume that all these children would have gone to special education is kind of ridiculous,” said Ellen S. Peisner-Feinberg, a senior scientist at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute.

The test rarely is used to screen for disabilities, especially when used alone. Furthermore, 30 to 50 percent of the preschoolers may have scored poorly because they were not fluent in English.

Kentucky, Georgia top NAEP Dishonor Roll 

Kentucky, Georgia and Maryland top Dropout Nation’s NAEP Dishonor Roll 2015 for excluding high percentages of special education and English Learner students from testing.

The U.S. Department of Education requires districts and states to test 95 percent of students and 85 percent of special ed and EL students. Some states are out of compliance.

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Dropout Nation also looks at cities that exclude high percentages of special ed and EL students.

Washington D.C. Public Schools, which won praise for rising NAEP scores, “excluded as many as 44 percent of ELL fourth- and eighth-graders” from the reading exam, reports RiShawn Biddle.

Dallas “excluded 44 percent of fourth-grade kids in special ed, leading in that category, and ranked second behind the notorious Baltimore City school system (36 percent), by excluding 29 percent of eighth-graders who were special ed and had other disabilities,” reports Dropout Nation.

Accountability worked — for some — in Texas

Texas’ test-based accountability system, introduced in 1993 under Gov. George W. Bush, improved academic performance and earnings (by age 25) for students in schools at risk of a low-performance rating, but hurt students in higher-scoring schools, according to a study reported in Education Next.

. . . pressure on schools to avoid a low performance rating led low-scoring students to score significantly higher on a high-stakes math exam in 10th grade. These students were also more likely to accumulate significantly more math credits and to graduate from high school on time. Later in life, they were more likely to attend and graduate from a four-year college, and they had higher earnings at age 25.

These schools increased math courses for students who’d failed the eighth-grade exam and boosted staffing and instructional time, the analysis found.

However, higher-performing schools seeking a “recognized” rating were likely to more low-scoring students to special education to exempt their scores from lowering the school’s overall rating.  These students were less likely to complete college and earned less at age 25.

“High-stakes testing creates strong incentives to game the system,” conclude the authors.

Preschool pays — for kids and investors


First graders play during recess. Photo: Chris Detrick, Salt Lake Tribune

“Pay for Success” is succeeding in Salt Lake City. Expanding preschool cut special-ed spending dramatically. Most of the savings will go to repay investors who funded the expansion, reports the Salt Lake Tribune.

Private funding allowed about 600 students to enroll in public and private preschool programs in 2013. Of those students, 110 4-year-olds were expected to need special education during their kindergarten year.

But only one of the students — who are now in the first grade — has required special education, which translates to about $281,000 in cost avoidance for Utah’s public education system.

Goldman Sachs and J.B. Pritzker committed $7 million to the pay-for-success program.

United Way of Salt Lake has cut a check for $267,000 to cover 95 percent of the first-year savings.

Once investors are repaid, with interest, they’ll receive 40 percent of ongoing cost savings until the participating students complete sixth grade.

An Pay for Success project that tried to reduce recidivism at New York City’s Riker’s Island jail failed this summer, notes the New York Times. Goldman Sachs lost its money. The project was canceled.