Following the Web from “organic foods” to “hyperbilirubinemia”

What does it tell you about eating “conventionally grown” foods if your own health insurance plan includes in its newsletter a short article about eating “organic”?

Harvard Pilgrim’s Winter 2009 mini-magazine includes a brief feature titled “Eating Organic on a Budget.” (see page 11)

Now, if you read the “fine” print (the paragraph titled “A Guided Tour of the Supermarket”), this feature seems to be just somewhat of an ad for one of the Harvard Pilgrim programs called “Supermarket Shopping” which

includes an aisle-by-aisle supermarket tour, led by a registered dietitian, that teaches you how to make informed decisions about the food you buy for yourself and your family.

Too bad they do it only on Cape Cod! I’m quite a long way from the Cape.

But the article also includes “Tips to avoid pesticides” and provides a link to a pdf of the “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce” released by the Environmental Working Group. I especially like the page titled “Reducing Exposure is Smart” on the EWG site, which has a section “Tiny Doses Can Be Toxic to Children” and a list of references at the end.

I took a peek at Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children and what really got me interested was a quote that’s actually not related to pesticides or organic food at all.

Chapter 2, “Special Characteristics of Children” says

Because of the dependence of behavioral development on physical and functional development, toxic effects occurring before maturation may permanently alter behavioral development. The most commonly encountered and well-known toxicants that can permanently change all four of the components of behavioral development are bilirubin toxicity in the newborn and lead toxicity in the infant or young child. All four aspects of behavioral development are important in studies of developmental toxicology, but much more attention has been given to the first two because they are easier to measure.

The four aspects of behavioral development that they’re writing about are:

(a) gross motor and fine motor activities; (b) cognitive ability; (c) emotional development; and (d) social development.

And apparently:

Alteration in one of these domains can affect the development of each of the other three.

Interestingly, both of my children had neonatal hyperbilirubinemia, which was caused by our blood type incompatibility.

My son’s hyperbilirubinemia was severe enough that he had to get phototherapy. (if I remember right, when he was two days old his levels were at 17 or 18 mg per dL).

My daughter also had hyperbilirubinemia but didn’t receive phototherapy because supposedly her levels were never high enough to warrant that. I do not remember what they were and I do not have these records at home, and now I wonder, because her jaundice hung around for much longer. In fact, she is quite yellow in the pictures from the first days of her life.

Now, I knew that one of the effects of hyperbilirubinemia might be “mild mental retardation.” But if I understand the paragraph I cited correctly, hyperbilirubinemia might also influence the other aspects of “behavioral development” such as gross motor and fine motor activities; emotional development; and social development.

I wonder if anyone has done studies what percentage of people with autism and ADHD had neonatal hyperbilirubinemia as compared to “control group.”

Another thing to add to my “things to research” list…

Citizen’s Briefing Book update

The Citizen’s Briefing Book, which I mentioned in the post “Citizen’s Briefing Book at” was closed on Sunday, January 18, 2009 (see “Wrapping up the Citizen’s Briefing Book”  entry on the blog).

My comment “Revamp the Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program” got only 210 votes overall and two comments. My two other comments got more points — “Education for Gifted Children” got 500 points and “Gifted Education” got 470 points.

The “Begin a discussion about fair public school funding” comment was just a tad more popular — it got 230 points (and two comments). I must say I’m really surprised people put up with the way the schools are funded because it really is not fair to poor kids to have to go to crappy schools just because their parents cannot afford to live in a town where the schools are good.

“Fulfill the promise of the federal IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) funding” got 420 points (and eight comments, some of them quite passionate).

I must say I’m quite surprised that of the four comments I submitted, the “Ban artificial coloring and chemicals in foods” was the most popular — it got 620 points (and 5 comments). Granted, that’s nothing with the most popular entries that got thousands and thousands of votes. But if people care about this topic so much, why isn’t there more of an outcry to do something about artificial coloring in the U.S.? I wonder if the new administration will do anything in that direction.

Labeling kids

Way back in December a Washington Post article “Montgomery Erasing Gifted Label” caught my eye and I’ve been planning to write about that.  (“Montgomery Erasing Gifted Label: Implications Concern Some School Parents” by Daniel de Vise, December 16, 2008)

Of course this is old news by now, and covered widely by various blogs, including, naturally, the Gifted Exchange blog, which asks “Does the ‘Gifted’ label matter?” .

I like Laura Vanderkam’s point that although “what matters is that kids’ needs are met,” yet “when districts do label kids, then that at least creates pressure to do something for those with the label.”

That’s certainly true on the other side of the scale, and as I and many of my friends with kids on IEPs know, even the label doesn’t guarantee that kids’ needs are met.

The Washington Post article reports that

“Officials plan to abandon a decades-old policy that sorts second-grade students, like Dr. Seuss’s Sneetches, into those who are gifted (the Star-Belly sort) and those who are not. […] Montgomery education leaders have decided that the practice is arbitrary and unfair.”

Don’t even get me started on fair… As long as the quality of education a child gets depends on the income of that child’s parents and their ability to buy a house in the best school district, there is no “fair” in American education.

Gifted programs at least promise to give a chance for better education to smart kids from families who are not rich. Whether they deliver on that or not, that’s another matter.

Another reason given for scrapping the label is that

“the approach [sorting kids into gifted and not gifted] slights the rest of the students who are not so labeled. White and Asian American students are twice as likely as blacks and Hispanics to be identified as gifted.”

Interestingly, the officials do admit that “the practice is arbitrary” and their “formula for giftedness is flawed.” Well, then they should look at their identification and eligibility methods and revamp them!

Oh and apparently “A school that tells some students they have gifts risks dashing the academic dreams of everyone else.”

What about the gifted kids’ academic dreams? Why aren’t they allowed to dream of being challenged?

A lot of these kids are very excited to go to Kindergarten because they love learning and think it’s going to be so much fun learning new stuff all the time.

But then, even if they know how to add fractions, they get stuck recognizing patterns for a year or two (you know – circle, circle, square, circle, … what goes next?) And even if they can read chapter books, they are lucky if their “advanced reading group” reads four- to six-page books and when they skip forward while their classmates slowly decode the words on the page, the teacher frowns upon them.

No wonder a lot of these kids have pretty much lost their enthusiasm for learning by third grade and think the school is boring.

But, no need to worry — apparently “losing the label won’t change gifted instruction, because it is open to all students.”

I don’t get it. If gifted instruction is open to all students, then how does it differ from regular instruction? Gifted education is not what the kids are being taught, it is how they are being taught.

The thing about scrapping the label is that even though “educators have become more nimble in deciding who needs accelerated instruction” it doesn’t mean they are actually going to provide accelerated instruction. The fact that “teachers codify children’s math and reading levels with frequency and precision unknown in previous decades” doesn’t really mean anything.

Sure, at my son’s school they can “codify” that his math and reading levels are above grade. So what? There’s no gifted mandate in Massachusetts, so they don’t have to do anything about it. The only thing they care about is that he meets the curriculum requirements, which he does.

I have no doubt that “Principals and teachers say they don’t miss” the gifted identification program. It’s probably easier that way. No more fighting with parents over whether little Johny III will get into the program or not. No more proving to parents that they differentiate.

And as far as the gifted label setting “up a kind of have and have-not atmosphere at your school”… Looking at it from the SPED point of view, are then the kids with IEPs “don’t-even-dream-about-it-have-nots”?Or would the school like to scrap that label too to not make the SPED kids feel bad?

Incidentally, just as some parents fight to get their child labeled “gifted,” some parents don’t want their child labeled “SPED” and will not request or even deny testing. As a result a child is not getting the services she or he needs… But that’s a topic for an entirely different post.

Gifted and Special Education in Texas

Going over the news I’ve bookmarked a while ago I found a brief story from “FBISD Gifted and Talented Academy Students Connect with Real World,” by John Pope that talked about gifted students “learning about the nutritional perspectives of various cultural food items, including those representative of the Latino, Indian and Asian cultures.”

FBISC is the Fort Bend Independent School District funded by the taxes collected by the Fort Bend County in Texas. The district introduced a gifted program in 1990. According to their Gifted and Talented section of the FBISC’s site, GT program is available for identified GT students at every grade level in every school throughout the district. Kindergartners start getting GT services in February of their Kindergarten year.

Texas has a mandate to identify and serve gifted students, (see the Genius Denied, Gifted Education Policies site), and the programming is partially funded by state.

The mandate “that all school districts must identify and serve gifted students at all grade levels” was passed in 1987. (I found this info on the Texas Education Agency “Gifted/Talented Education” page.)

The “Gifted/Talented Education” page has a lot of interesting links. I especially liked the Texas Performance Standards Project link which led me to the “Texas Performance Standards Project Additional Tasks” page with links to specific projects for various grades.

Other interesting info I found on the “Gifted/Talented Education” page were the “G/T Teacher Toolkit II: Resources for Teachers of G/T, AP and Pre-AP Classes” page; and the “Gifted and Talented Teacher Toolkit,” which interestingly includes a link to a page titled “Seven Essential Instructional Strategies for Powerful Teaching Learning” hosted at the Bellingham (Washington State) Public Schools site.

I wish we lived in a state with a gifted mandate…

But on the other hand, I saw a post on ADD Forums from a parent from Texas whose child has been diagnosed with ADHD impulsive at 3 ½ years old and she did not want to enroll him in a public school because did not want him “labeled as special ed” (post # 7 in the “Came home and just cried tonight” thread) because he’d be “thrown into resource classes or self contained classes.” (post # 27 in the same thread). I guess they don’t do as much inclusion in Texas as they should be. Also, the neuropsych doctor who evaluated my son is from Texas and she said that autistic kids do not get very good services around there.

Yet, the FBISD site includes a page titled “Gifted Students with Disabilities,” which includes a section on Giftedness and ADHD, so I suppose that district does recognize (and possibly serves) gifted students with disabilities.

By the way, in case anyone is interested what (average) kids in Texas are supposed to know at each grade level, here’s the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) page.

Bartlesville, OK – Gifted/Talented Committee members fail to show up for meeting

I found the following story quite amusing – A Bartlesville Public Schools Gifted and Talented Local Advisory Committee meeting […] didn’t take place because the only person who showed up was Vicki Walker, BPS director of special services. (see Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise “Gifted/Talented Committee members fail to show up for meeting,”)

Interestingly, according to the Bartlesville Public Schools’ web page titled “Gifted and Talented Education,” the number of BPS students qualifying for the gifted and talented program is far above the state average of 12.8 percent, in Bartlesville Public Schools, 17.2 percent of students qualify. On average the district serves approximately 1,300 students annually in the program.” I wonder what their criteria for admission into the program are. It seems they count everyone who’s taking the Advanced Placement classes.

Of course it’s important to know that Oklahoma is one of eight states where gifted programming is not only mandated (identification begins in first grade) but also funded by state (in 2004-2005, the state allocated $42,200,030 for Gifted and Talented programming). (Davidson Institute’s GT-CyberSource, Oklahoma’s Gifted Education Policies page)

What I find curious is that according to the web page titled “Bartlesville Public Schools’ success in Special Education,” the district has only 727 students (less than 10% of their student population) currently enrolled in Special Education Services (much fewer than the students in the gifted programs), while in 2004-2005 the state’s average was 13.79%. (according to the Oklahoma State Department of Education, Special Education Services information) I wonder what the reason for these discrepancies is.

By the way, I really liked the Oklahoma’s “Special Education Parent Handbook,” especially the “Questions to be Answered during the Multidisciplinary Evaluation Eligibility and Team Summary (MEETS)/IEP Meeting” form on pages 12 and 13 (18 and 19 of the pdf document), “My Personal Directory” form on page 15 (21 of the pdf), and sample IEP form on pages 19 through 25 (25 through 31 of the pdf). I need to bring that to our next IEP meeting.

Gifted Education – Federal level

Even though the United States has a federal definition of gifted students, there is no federal-level mandate to identify gifted students and place them in gifted programs. As a result each state has its own rules about gifted education.

Despite no mandate, in 2008 there are federal funds for gifted programs through the Javits Grant, “available to institutions of higher education (IHEs), local education agencies (LEAs), nonprofit organizations, other organizations and/or agencies, and state education agencies (SEAs).”

As the Javits Grant web site states “The purpose of this program is to carry out a coordinated program of scientifically based research, demonstration projects, innovative strategies, and similar activities designed to build and enhance the ability of elementary and secondary schools to meet the special education needs of gifted and talented students. The major emphasis of the program is on serving students traditionally underrepresented in gifted and talented programs, particularly economically disadvantaged, limited English proficient (LEP), and disabled students, to help reduce the serious gap in achievement among certain groups of students at the highest levels of achievement.”

The National Association for Gifted Children is rallying the gifted community to contact their state representatives and senators to support funding for the 2009 Javits program because, “as he did seven times before, President [Bush] has requested $0 for the Javits program in his Budget Request to the Congress.” NAGC also has a web site showing which representatives and senators have already co-signed the letters requesting $11.25 Million for the Javits Program in fiscal year 2009.

By the way, no Javits grant competition was held in 2007 and 2006 due to lack of funds.

In 2005, the U.S. Department of Education received 140 applications for the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program and funded 14 Priority Two grants totaling approximately $3.5 million.

In 2004, due to limited funding in 2004, no Javits grant competition was held and the funding was distributed among high quality proposals that were submitted in 2003

And in 2003, the Department received 105 applications for the Javits competition and funded two Priority One and five Priority Two awards totaling $8.17 million.

Most of the grants were awarded either to state departments of education or universities and colleges that train teachers to specialize in gifted education. Very few school districts received federal funding.

I was a bit jealous to find that the GATE program at the Davis Joint Unified School District in California – one of the school districts that received federal grants –offers self-contained classes for gifted children. (The program’s site includes the district’s restructured standards specifically for the GATE program.)

I also liked the Gifted Programs page of the Page Unified School District in Page, Arizona, which offers “enriched curriculum with the flexible grouping of students […] to facilitate differentiated instruction.”

From among the districts that received federal funds, the closest one to where we live – the Nashua, NH School District – does not seem to have a link straight from their home page to their “REACH: Recognizing Extraordinary Abilities in Children” program site.

According to another page I found through the search engine, in 2007-2008 school year 618 students participated in the REACH program and the district is planning to allocate $335,099 to REACH in 2008-2009 FY. (see page 4 of the document).

I could not find much detailed information about the program on the REACH site. It seems students identified as gifted “have their needs met through accommodations proscribed within individual action plans (IAPs)”, which sounds very much like the Individual Education Plans (IEPs) used in Special Education. But it’s not clear from the information posted whether the program is self-contained, or offers pull-out, or simply provides differentiates instruction within a heterogenic classroom.

Either way, it’s not our district, so our son cannot attend that program.

Shopping for an ADHD diagnosis?

One of the members of the ADD Forums discussion board recently claimed she knows a family who got a diagnosis of ADHD for their child to be able to enroll that child in a gifted program (see posts #42 and #52 of the thread “Re: Unwrapping the Gift of ADD” Program).

I find it hard to believe that there really are people who would do that. I have never met a parent who wanted their child to be diagnosd with ADHD.

IQ: A Smart History of A Failed Idea, by Stephen Murdoch

I have just finished reading IQ: A Smart History of a Failed Idea, by Stephen Murdoch, published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. in June 2007.

I first heard of this book on July 3, 2007 when I was listening to the interview with the author (New Book Raises Questions About IQ Test) on the National Public Radio’s program “Talk of the Nation.”

When I exchanged e-mails after the show with one of the callers I know, who primarily deals with gifted children and who earns her living in part by administering various tests, she said she wished she could have said more because the author was “spewing so much misinformation it was amazing.” That made want to read the book myself.

Overall, the book does not say much about the gifted part of the population and how the IQ tests affect them, except for a couple of places.

Chapter 1 titled “The Problem with Testing” describes a well-off, highly educated family from Washington, DC who were terrified that their 3-year-old son scored very poorly on an IQ test because that meant he would not get into one of the elite private schools in DC his daddy went to. The child got some speech therapy and occupational therapy while in preschool and went to a public kindergarten. He was tested again at five, at six, and at seven. While he scored in the 34th percentile when he was five, by the time he was seven he scored in the 98th percentile and was finally accepted at the school his father went to. Murdoch doesn’t say whether the child was “prepped” for the test by the overanxious parents. He probably was and that might explain the score difference. The author does make a strong point that although the most often used IQ tests claim to measure “intelligence,” they really measure learned information and can definitely be prepped for.

Chapter 10 talks about the eleven-plus tests in the United Kingdom and how this one test, supposedly again measuring “intelligence,” but according to the author heavily relying on educational knowledge gained in the elementary school, determined to what school a child would be sent at eleven years of age. So a child who went to a crappy elementary school that did not teach to the test and who had no private tutoring was highly unlikely to score well on the eleven-plus.

Other than that, Murdoch mostly writes about how the IQ tests were misused to mistreat people with low IQ scores, those on the left side of the bell curve. He describes how in the 1920s the U.S. began forced sterilization of the “feeble minded” which apparently continued until 1970s, and how the Nazi Germany carried the idea of not allowing the “feeble minded” to procreate into euthanasia, or basically murder. It’s truly terrifying.

I’m not a psychologist or a professional test administrator, so I cannot say if, and how much, misinformation there is in this book, but overall, I found it quite interesting and informative. And it did make me wonder about this whole IQ test business and whether it really measures anything meaningful adequately (which seems to be the main thesis of the book). Murdoch does make a good point that someone’s IQ score and a difference of a point off the scale can have too much weight in some situations—whether a murderer is executed or spends life in prison, whether a person with low IQ qualifies for a subsidy from the government, or whether a child gets into the gifted program or not. He also makes a good point that someone with high IQ scores will not necessarily have a great and successful career and happy life.

This brief description of the book is of course just a (very small) nutshell and does not really do justice to the book. Go read it for yourself. It really is interesting. Here’s the table of contents.

By the way, in the chapter titled “Alternatives to IQ” Murdoch writes about Howard Gardner’s idea of multiple intelligences, proposed in Frames Of Mind: The Theory Of Multiple Intelligences, published in 1983; Emotional Intelligence, written by Daniel Goleman, and published in 1995, and Robert Sternberg’s Successful Intelligence published in 1997. So, my list of “books to read” has just expanded.

Gifted and Talented (GT or GAT) 101: A (Basic) Definition

When people say someone is “talented” or “gifted” they usually mean that person has exceptional and highly developed abilities in arts or sport, music, singing, dancing, drawing or painting, running, jumping, pitching, and so on. The word “talented” in everyday language is rarely connected with someone’s intellectual abilities.

In the world of education, though, the definition of “gifted and talented (GT or GAT)” is connected to the Intelligence Quotient (IQ).

The average IQ as measured by standardized tests is around 100. Majority of people (statistically, 68.27% of the population) would score somewhere between 85 and 115, or again, “statistically” within one standard deviation from the mean. And most people (95% of the population) would score between 70 and 130 — within two standard deviations from the mean.

Those who are visual and who like graphs can see that on the IQ bell curve:

I also like the standard deviation graph, showing the percentages corresponding with the scores.

Those scoring more than two standard deviations from the mean, below 70 or above 130, are highly unusual—people in each group make up only about 2.5% of the population.

Mensa, a society “for bright people” grants membership only to those who score above the 98 percentile on standardized tests of intelligence. Statistically, from among a hundred of one’s acquaintances, only two would qualify to be Mensa members.

It’s lonely at the end of the bell curve.

Personal Introduction

My son is twice exceptional — he is both academically gifted and special needs, or the other way around, depending on how you look at it.

There are times when I’m amazed at his intellectual abilities. Even since he was little, he could always figure out very fast how toys are operated and what he has to do to make it move. When he was two he could do quite complicated puzzles, the type for preschoolers. His daycare teachers were borrowing games from the preschool class especially for him. I also noticed he had an amazing memory and could remember events and places for a long time afterward.

Now, at nearly six, he can read fluently, is pretty good at math, knows all the planets in the solar system, etc, etc. Some of his favorite TV shows are the typical stuff that smart, geeky kids like: the PBS shows Cyberchase, Fetch!, Super Why, and Curious George; the Discovery Kids shows Popular Mechanics for Kids and Crash! Bang! Splat!, and Magic School Bus. But he also watches such shows as How It’s Made shown on the Science Channel and Brainiac shown on G4.

The popular belief out there about gifted kids is that these kids’ parents are pushy and “train” the kids to be gifted.

I admit, we have always tried to read a lot to him (if he’d sit and listen). And we have been trying our best to answer the never ending stream of questions he’s been asking over the years, starting from “What does this word say?” to, most recently, “Why are the red blood cells red?” and “What is infinity divided by two?”.

Our son also attended a Montessori preschool for two years and they have wonderful educational materials that, in my opinion, help kids learn how to read, write, and do math much faster than the conventional methods teachers use. I believe that academically he progressed at that Montessori school much faster than he would have at a regular preschool (but he also progressed faster than his peers in his Montessori class).

And yes, if we made him watch the Cartoon Network instead of letting him watch the Discovery Science Channel, he would not know more about the solar system and the universe than I do.

But giftedness, or as some call it “raw intelligence,” is not something that can be “trained” or”taught.” I suppose if we kept our son locked up in a dark cellar he would not know as much as he knows, but I have a feeling he would figure out his way out of there anyway.

When he was two and started daycare, his teachers wrote in a monthly report that he likes exploring the room and that in his explorations he has dismantled the faucet above the kids’ sink. They had not known that the faucet could be taken apart because no other child before had tried to do it.

That ties into our son being special needs.

As much as I love him and admire his gifts, there are times when I’m absolutely sure a diagnosis of ADHD is just a matter of time. He’s always on the go, touching everything, pushing all the buttons he sees, opening all the drawers and doors, or at least trying to do that, no matter where we are, at home, in the doctor’s office, at the grocery store, or anywhere we are. He can’t eat a meal sitting down, he has to stand and fidgets all the time. When he sits down, he still fidgets, and sometimes he falls down and appears truly surprised he fell down. On the other hand, when we send him to the bathroom to brush his teeth, and go in after ten minutes to check on him, more likely than not he is has gotten distracted and is just playing with water, and of course has completely forgotten why he went there in the first place.

There are also times when I’m afraid he will end up heavily medicated or worse, institutionalized. Because even though for the most part he’s a sweet and loving kid, there are times when he licks the back of the seat in front of him, his hands, or the window and does not understand why I am so opposed to him doing it. There are times when he goes in his pants because he is too absorbed in doing something and is “too busy” to go to the bathroom. He also does not seem to understand why he should not do that. And there are times when he just spins or seems to be in his own world, ignoring or not hearing what we are trying to tell him.

And then, not very often, but every now and then, especially after a long weekend full of him being wild and unresponsive, the medication route looks very enticing.

If only I knew what is the right thing to do…

There are days when I am completely exhausted from dealing with him and originally I wrote here that there are times when I wished he were institutionalized or medicated, but I’ve decided to change that. The truth is, even on those days, after he goes to bed and I have had a chance to sit and think and calm down, all I really want is to know how to help him have a happy life.

By the way, our son does not have a clear cut diagnosis. He’s been evaluated by three different specialists, each from a very renowned clinic or center, specializing in child development and various mental, neurological, and developmental disorders. And each of them told us a different thing and recommended a different course of action to help him.

When was three, we were told by an MD, MPH specializing in developmental and behavioral pediatrics from the Developmental Medicine Center at the Children’s Hospital in Boston that he has a Developmental Coordination Disorder. That was also when the tests confirmed he’s gifted.

When he was five, an MD specializing in Autism spectrum disorders, attentional difficulties, learning disabilities and school problems at the Learning and Developmental Disabilities Evaluation and Rehabilitations Services (LADDERS) center said that he has PDD-NOS.

Shortly after that, we were told by a PhD in psychology specializing in Autism and Developmental Disabilities at the Center for Child and Adolescent Development that he’s “just a plain old bright fun kid.”

Both my husband and I are very committed to helping him. We always attend the IEP meetings together. I’ve also been reading a lot of books, scouring the Internet for information. But, as my husband says, it’s hard to help him, if we don’t know what it is we’re dealing with and what the best course of action would be. This blog is intended to be my record of what we’ve tried, what we’ve learned, and any progress (or lack thereof). I can already see it will also be therapeutic for me to write about our son. And if anyone happens to find any useful information here, that would be an added benefit.