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.

Parental psychiatric disorders and children with autism

The May 5, 2008 issue of Pediatrics published an article “Parental psychiatric disorders associated with autism spectrum disorders in the offspring,” written by the UNC research team, led by Julie Daniels, PhD, assistant professor in the departments of epidemiology and maternal and child health at UNC’s School of Public Health.

As I understand, the team reviewed birth and hospital records from Sweden and looked at the numbers of psychiatric disorders in parents and the numbers of autism in children. And yes, there seems to be a link between the two.

But what I found interesting is how this news is reported, beginning with headlines to the way the results are described in the news about this study.

Take, for instance the following headlines:

Don they make it sound like the child’s autism is the cause of parent’s mental illness? In other words, if you have an autistic child, there’s a high chance you’ll develop a mental illness as a result, which is not what the study is saying, I believe.

Some headlines’ language is more neutral:

But simply because they put “autism” in the first part of the headline I still think someone could understand these headlines as pointing to autism as the cause of parents’ mental illness.

I found just a couple of headlines that put the “parents’ mental illness” language at the beginning (just like the article to which they are referring):

In other words, the way I would understand these headlines without reading the article underneath, the parents’ mental illness is related to a child’s autism, but without reading more, I wouldn’t know in what way – which one causes the other.

And finally, I found it quite amusing that the Russian Pravda’s headline “Parents with mental disorders more likely to have autistic children” is pretty much the opposite of the Washington Post’s headline.

Pravda‘s headline, by the way, as blunt and to the point as it is, does seem to get the gist of what the researchers are saying, but I’ll have to look at the actual article to confirm.

Heart Conditions and ADHD

The American Heart Association recommends that children with ADHD should get “careful cardiac evaluation and monitoring, including an electrocardiogram (ECG) before starting treatment with stimulant drugs.”

Apparently, “studies have shown that stimulant medications like those used to treat ADHD can increase heart rate and blood pressure.” And while “these side effects are insignificant for most children with ADHD; however, they’re an important consideration for children who have a heart condition.”

What I found very curious is the following: “Surveys indicate that ADHD affects an estimated 4 percent to 12 percent of all school-aged children in the United States, and it appears more common in children with heart conditions. Studies report that, depending on the specific cardiac condition, 33 percent to 42 percent of pediatric cardiac patients have ADHD.” What is the link between heart conditions and ADHD?

Interestingly, during the recent American Psychiatric Association, a pediatric psychopharmacology researcher at Harvard, “emphasized that there’s no evidence that stimulant or non-stimulant medication for ADHD causes sudden death.” By the way, his talk was sponsored by drugmaker Abbott Laboratories, which is working on a new drug for ADHD.

What’s the issue here? Money, of course. It’s expensive to do ECG on every child diagnosed with ADHD. And then if a heart condition is detected (in a whooping 33 to 42 percent of the cases) the parents will be told about the risk of side effects and as a result may decide to avoid medications. This recommendation obviously is not in the financial interest of both insurance companies and drug makers.

Bisphenol A and ADHD

Apparently major retailers in Canada are pulling off the shelves products that contain bisphenol A because they’re anticipating an announcement from Health Canada that the chemical is “dangerous.” (See the April 15, 2008 article “Major retailers pull bottles containing bisphenol A” on the CTV News web site.

Bisphenol A or BPA is a component in polycarbonate, #7 plastic that is used to make food and drink containers (including baby bottles). It is also used in the lining of soft-drink and food cans.

No action from the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. on it yet, but apparently, as The New York Times reports in its April 22, 2008 article “A Hard Plastic Is Raising Hard Questions,” the chemical is”facing increasing scrutiny by health officials in Canada and the United States.”

What I found interesting in the article on CTV is the following quote: “There are over 150 peer-reviewed studies that show that bisphenol A is linked to breast cancer, to attention deficit disorder, to obesity and a whole host of developmental problems.

I knew about the studies linking BPA to cancer. I did not know there’s a link between BPA and ADHD. One more thing I need to do a bit more research on.

Nonverbal autistic teenagers “speak out”

Amanda Baggs (see the entry “Non-verbal Autism and Intelligence – some myths debunked”) is not the only nonverbal autistic person who communicates through a computer.

More than a year ago, in March 2007, PBS Boston station, WBUR broadcast a program about about Portia Iverson, an Emmy-winning Hollywood art director and the author of Strange Son: Two Mothers, Two Sons, and the Quest to Unlock the Hidden World of Autism, and her son Dov who was diagnosed as severely autistic when he was 18 months.

After the Iversons learned how Soma Mukhopadhyay from Bangalore, India has taught her autistic son Tito to communicate through a board with alphabet and numerals written on it, they have invited Mukhopadhyay and Tito to the United States, and Mukhopadhyay has taught the Prompting Method to Dov as well.

Mukhopadhyay is now the Executive Director of HALO (Helping Autism Through Learning and Outreach) – a non-profit organization located in Austin, Texas where she provides 1:1 educational instructional sessions for students with autism and similar disorders.

Iverson, who co-founded the Cure Autism Now Foundation (now Autism Speaks), also runs a web site which discusses not only the book but, among other things, the pointing method as well.

A couple of months ago, in February 2008, ABC News showed a story about Carly Fleishman, a thirteen-year-old who has begun to type on the family computer. (You can see the footage if you click on the “play” button in the picture of Carly.)

As I understand, there’s a disagreement whether both Amanda Baggs and these stories are a hoax, and some people cannot believe that a nonverbal autistic person can communicate, make videos, write poetry, or even just be able to type full sentences. You can see some negative opinions like that in the “Comments” to the entry “Your Opinion Requested: Are Non-Verbal People with Autism Intellectually Capable?” on the Autism Blog by Lisa Jo Rudy.

What is the truth? I do not know.

But just think about Stephen Hawking. He cannot talk, he can communicate only through an adaptive device, yet nobody would deny he’s a genius.

Is it really so hard to believe that autistic people who cannot talk are more aware of their surroundings than they can show?

Yes, it is PDD-NOS after all!

We finally got the neuropsych (neuropsychological testing) results and it is PDD-NOS after all! (See the entry “Autism 101: A basic definition” for more on PDD-NOS.) That may sound like I’m happy and someone might be thinking “Has she gone crazy?” but it’s good to finally have one doctor agree with another (see the first entry “Personal Introduction” about our history of testing and diagnosis. And as far as PDD-NOS goes — we knew it’s a high possibility. It is not the end of the world.

In fact, when I made the same remark in the doctor’s office, she emphatically said “Of course not! Just go and take a walk around the MIT campus!” Laughing out loud, but she’s right, and not just regarding the MIT. I suspect a lot of academics, especially the spacey, absent-minded type ones, have some undiagnosed conditions. I work with academics, so I’ve seen these types often enough to wonder about that myself sometimes.

The doctors haven’t recommended many changes to his IEP, they said they were quite impressed with it being so detailed and with the whole “team” at our son’s school. That was good and comforting to hear.

But they did give us a list of books “helpful in explaining and guiding [...] in fostering play.” We’re supposed to encourage him to “just be a kid.” We’ll try…

Oh, and he may have “challenges with higher-order processes such as executive functions.” (No kidding. We have problems with it too.) So we got a title of a book about executive skills as well.

Looks like I have the reading list all cut out for the next several months. (I’ve also been planning to read all the books mentioned in the “Unwrapping the Gift of ADD” series, and there were quite a few of those.)

There’ll be plenty of material for blogging.

Sari Solden – Part Seven of the Unwrapping the Gift of ADD series

Guest of the seventh lecture in the Unwrapping the Gift of ADD series was Sari Solden.

Sari Solden has a Masters Degree in clinical counseling from California State University and is also licensed as a marriage and family therapist (LMFT). She currently serves on the professional advisory board of the National Attention Deficit Disorder Association and has a private practice in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

In addition, she’s the author of Journeys Through ADDulthood: Discover a New Sense of Identity and Meaning with Attention Deficit Disorder, published in 2002 by Walker & Company and Women with Attention Deficit Disorder: Embrace Your Differences and Transform Your Life, published in 1995 by Underwood Books (second, revised edition was published in 2005).

In short, she said that it’s okay to be disorganized and messy. Well, no… Not quite. At least not exactly in these words.

Solden’s message was aimed primarily (but not only) at women with ADHD – she emphasized how crucial it is for women to move “from perfection to fullness” which (if I understood her point correctly) means to let go of the idea of trying to achieve the impossible and unattainable ideal of perfection in life and instead find strength from embracing one’s differences and learning how to respect oneself and expecting respect from others.

Women, according to Solden, have a harder time getting diagnosed with ADHD because they are not as hyperactive as men and instead frequently are given the diagnosis of depression, which of course is present, because women, more than men, feel more ashamed of themselves if they cannot meet the prevalent cultural expectations of women as being good organizers, housekeepers, and caretakers. There’s more acceptance in the society for men who are disorganized — the absent-minded professor type.

Women are also more likely to overfocus on their deficits than men and have a harder time to seek help. Once they do look for help they also have a harder time with healing and improving their condition because they continue being so critical of themselves.

Solden says that instead of trying to attain the lofty goal of trying to live up the ideal stereotype, women need to redefine their idea of success and learn to build on their strengths and their unique traits, concentrate what they’re good at while not obsessing about but acknowledging and coming to terms with their weaknesses.

(At that point I was thinking that Solden has been saying also applies to children –parents need to help children “experience success” – find an activity that the kids are good at and then teach them to concentrate on the feeling of being successful to understand that they have both strengths and weaknesses.)

Solden also “warned” that once women seek and receive help and get better, they may need to know how to renegotiate relationships, because they frequently become more outspoken and less intimidated by those around them, which might lead to conflicts, because their family members, friends and co-workers may not know how to “deal” with this “new” person, so confident and full of wonderful ideas and energy.

I liked the story that Solden told at that point – at one time when she was getting ready to go to a conference, she kept losing her conference ID (I believe), and her daughter was getting frustrated to the point that she finally said “Mom, you’re a very messy person.” In response Solden asked her “How big a problem is it for you? How important is it whether I’m messy or organized,” explaining that at the conference she will be talking to other women with ADHD who are probably just as disorganized and messy as she is. And the daughter responded “Tell them it’s not important, what you feel inside is important.”

That also seems to be a pattern in women – to concentrate so much on the external and conforming to the perception and expectations of others to the point that it overshadows their own feelings, desires, and ambitions.

Ultimately, Solden said, women need to learn how to let go of the ideal, allow themselves some slack and acknowledge that it’s okay to get help with housekeeping, laundry, babysitting, paying bills, organizing, whatever it takes. And get social support from family, friends, or even virtual friends on the Internet.

I hope it is all right to quote here an excerpt from her book that is posted to her web site. “I said I’ve learned to live successfully with ADD as a woman. The definition of the word successful is very important, because women very often get locked into a fruitless search for an unachievable goal. When I say I’m living successfully, it doesn’t mean that I’m living stress-free. It doesn’t mean that I’m perfectly organized. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have to constantly strategize and struggle. And it doesn’t mean I’m never overwhelmed or that I don’t sometimes still hide.

What it does mean, for me, to live successfully with ADD, is that I’ve found a way to move the focus of my life onto my strengths, my talents and my abilities, to increase my choices and options. […] It means that I’ve learned to separate out my strengths and my weaknesses and to embrace both of those as part of myself, even though it’s a long stretch. I’ve come to accept the fact that I do have deficits out of proportion with the rest of my abilities, and that these do severely impact my life. I’ve learned to separate out the shame, embarrassment, and guilt surrounding these difficulties from my core sense of self.”

If that peaked your interest, you can see more excerpts from Solden’s books on her web site.

Solden also announced that pretty soon she will be launching a new web site and encouraged everyone interested to contact her to become part of its “special pre-launch group.”

As a sidenote, I also found on her web site a link to “National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization.” Turns out, there exists “a non-profit organization serving professional organizers and related professionals who are interested in the study and methods of serving chronically disorganized people.” I had no idea someone might be interested in studying chronically disorganized people. They even have a clutter hoarding scale.