The Importance of a Right Start in School

Piaget observed his own children as they grew up. He gave us valuable information about the kinds of activities a child of a particular age could accomplish. There were things that were easy for a seven-year-old but almost impossible for a four or five year old. Therefore, we know that there is a right time and a wrong time for a child to start formal schooling. A child with learning disabilities may be better off starting school a little later than usual to give his/her brain more time to mature.
Bonnie Bruce, M.A.
Orange County LD
September, 2003

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What Is Response To Intervention?

Questions have arisen in the educational, professional and parent communities regarding “Response to Intervention” (RTI). It is the intent of this article to clarify and provide basic information about RTI to answer such questions as: What is RTI? How is it implemented in public schools? How is RTI relevant to learning disabled children?

It is extremely important that those who are interested in the field of learning disabilities have basic knowledge about RTI. Numerous professional publications have been authored in the last few years that are related to RTI and as it pertains to special education and specifically serving the needs of struggling learners (who may have specific learning disabilities and / or “learn differently”).

It is no secret that there have been significant concerns about the effectiveness of special education programs in public schools for many years. One important publication: Rethinking Special Education for a New Century includes a chapter titled Rethinking Learning Disabilities authored by Lyon, Shaywitz, Torgeson and other nationally prominent researchers (Publisher: Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, 2001). This publication /chapter title may best describe the thoughts of many in regard to special education. While public schools may be well-intentioned and want to serve struggling learners, the lack of a consistent implementation of effective, research-based practices, present lack of appropriately trained and/or credentialed teachers / specialists, coupled with the ever-present lack of program funding in public schools, has resulted in inadequate service and outcomes for many special education identified students.

In the past, special education support for students with learning disabilities has often been delayed by a practice that has commonly come to be known as “wait to fail”. California Department of Education (CDE) regulations have required public schools to largely base identification for Specific Learning Disability (SLD) on a “severe discrepancy” between a student’s measured intellectual ability and his / her standardized achievement test scores. For many struggling learners of “normal” intelligence, this “severe discrepancy” could not be documented until the third or fourth grade (or later); thus, services were delayed until the young child had “failed” for several years and become a “discouraged learner”. The educational and life-success as well as personal adjustment outcome for many of these late-identified special education students has been discouraging, not only for these students and their families, but for society as a whole.

Just prior to, during and after the re-authorization of IDEA (IDEIA 2004 – federal special education regulations), much public and professional debate has occurred regarding how to best educate “high risk” learners. Out of this debate, a professional consensus has developed that supports the implementation of what has come to be known as Response to Intervention or RTI. The RTI philosophy and practice is based on the implementation of effective early intervention strategies in the general education classroom rather than the “wait to fail for special education support” model

A non-inclusive list of basic RTI concepts regarding educating struggling learners follows:

  • Public schools must provide a unified educational system for all children at risk of academic failure. For example, children with learning disabilities are general education students first, and responsibility for their education is a shared responsibility between regular and special education.
  • All children with “learning problems” should have effective intervention, whether they are “special education – identified” or not.
  • Early intervention is likely to prevent the development of more severe academic delays that eventually lead to placement in special education programs “for life”.
  • General education teachers should be trained to implement research-based screening assessments to identify students who require early intervention.
  • General and special educators should be trained to team together to meet the needs of struggling learners, regardless of special education identification or classroom placement.
  • Interventions for struggling learners must be research-based in terms of documentation of effectiveness.
  • Educators must implement interventions with “fidelity” (e.g., interventions must be accurately implemented in accordance with the recommended research model.)
  • There must be administrative support and follow-up with general education teachers to insure that RTI is being implemented effectively and that student positive “Response to Intervention” is the outcome.

It can readily be seen that RTI, and its implementation, is a very complex process. Presently, most Orange County public school districts are in process of training of staff, beginning implementation of RTI “model programs” at school sites and the monitoring of assessment intervention student response.

Guidelines for Parents: As always, parents are children’s “first teachers” and must be active participants in their child’s education. Here are some guidelines for parents in regard to RTI and its implementation in public schools:

  • If your child is a struggling learner, ask for a conference with your child’s teachers to discuss your concern and ask to review the teacher’s in-class assessment of your child.
  • A parent, or school staff, may initiate a meeting to discuss a student’s needs. This team may be called a Student Support Team (or SST) and parents are integral members of this team.
  • At this meeting, it is important that school staff provide information and “hard data” about your child’s status as a learner. Your child’s teacher should be able to articulate how he/she has assessed your child’s learning progress and what are areas of need that should be “targeted” to advance your child’s education.
  • A specific intervention plan should be put into place to address your child’s specific needs. This plan should provide specific interventions (e.g., an intervention plan that is limited to “watch” or “monitor progress” or “child will do homework” is not a meaningful plan). Parents should ask for a copy of the intervention plan / outcome statement from the SST meeting.
  • Regular dates for review of this plan should be in place to accurately determine if your child is “responding to intervention”. If your child is not “responding to intervention” your child’s intervention should be intensified in terms of duration, intensity or program implementation. Special education assessment and identification may be an outcome at this stage of the RTI process.
  • Parents retain the legal right to request special education assessment from public school staff at any time. It is important to note that, at this time, “eligibility” under the category of “learning disability” (SLD) includes the “severe discrepancy” component described earlier in this article. If parents wish to pursue a public school special education assessment, the request for such an assessment should be put in writing, signed and dated and mailed to the school district Director of Special Education. School districts are required to respond to the parent request within fourteen days of its receipt.

Remember: A core purpose of RTI is for all students to receive a quality education in general and/or special education. RTI guidelines require consistent and regular assessment and modification of a student’s educational program.

Author’s note: The implementation of RTI has been subject to much professional debate, writing and discussion. This article is by no means an exhaustive explanation of RTI. It is hoped that this article will provide basic, practical knowledge about current educational thought and practice and stimulate discussion among those interested in serving learning disabled students. (March 17, 2007)

Linda Herrick is a Licensed Educational Psychologist in private practice in Orange County. She serves families with children between the ages of 18 mos – 14 yrs old. Her professional interests are: early intervention practices, specialized child assessments and parent-professional collaboration. Contact information: (714) 849-9123 or LHerrick@socal.rr.com

Linda Herrick, M.S., L.E.P. Licensed Educational Psychologist, member OCLDA
Published in the Orange County LDA Newsletter, Vol 45, No. 2
March/April, 2007

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What Is Neurofeedback?

By Elaine Offstein, MA, Board Certified Educational Therapist

All systems of our body and brain are designed to constantly work to maintain life-sustaining balance that scientists call homeostasis. Unconsciously and automatically our bodies and brains maintain the functions and systems enabling us to be active and alive, such as body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, digestion, elimination, and healing.

The brain is the master controller for all voluntary and involuntary body systems and actions. It sends messages to the body and receives messages from the body by using electricity. The brain does this using a network of specialized cells called neurons, combined with specific hormones and chemicals produced by the brain and body for this purpose.

The brain produces four distinct types of rhythmic electrical impulses known as brain waves, labeled with the Greek letters Alpha, Beta, Theta, and Delta. Brain waves are measured in electrical units known as Hertz. Hertz is a standard unit of measurement equal to a frequency of one cycle per second. Each brain wave has it’s own unique frequency range. Beta measures 15 Hertz and above. Alpha is 8-14 Hertz. Theta is 4-7 Hertz. Delta is less than 4 Hertz.

People usually produce a mixture of brain waves frequencies at any given time. An electroencephalogram, or EEG, is a recording of brain wave activity. Brain waves are measured and recorded using an instrument known as an electroencephalograph (EEG) machine. The normal, focused waking state consists primarily of Beta. When you close your eyes during relaxation/meditation and during dreaming activity, Alpha waves tend to be produced. The slower Theta and Delta are dominant during deep sleep.

If the rhythmic electrical impulses, or brain waves, produced by the brain become abnormal or out of balance, imbalances are created in the body. Examples of conditions that can result in abnormal brain wave rhythms are: open and/or closed head injury, stroke, coma, autism, epilepsy, migraine and cluster headaches, attention deficit disorder, dyslexia, learning disabilities, clinical depression, anoxia, Parkinson’s disease, and post viral damage.

All-Digital, Real-Time EEG Neurofeedback is one of the most compelling examples of the body’s ability to self-regulate and bring itself into balance. Current brain research has shown that All-Digital, Real-Time EEG Neurofeedback can be an effective auxiliary treatment for the above-mentioned conditions.
When there is a brain injury or irregularity, the brain tends to produce too much Theta frequency. The ratio of Theta brainwaves to Beta brainwaves becomes out of balance.

All-Digital, Real-Time EEG Neurofeedback uses a special computer and amplifier to display the brain waves with less than one-thousandth of a second delay. It is this immediate and real time feedback that enables retraining of the brain. During All-Digital, Real-Time EEG Neurofeedback training, the brain learns to inhibit this abnormal amount of Theta and return to a state of balance among the four brain waves.

In All-Digital, Real-Time EEG Neurofeedback training, non-invasive painless sensors, called electrodes, are placed on the surface of the scalp. These sensors enable the brain wave patterns to be amplified and displayed on a computer screen. By displaying abnormal rhythmic patterns, the brain can be trained to replace them with normal patterns.

The computer assists the brain in recognizing normal rhythmic patterns by producing immediate audio and visual reinforcement when they occur. Because the brain inherently seeks normal brain wave rhythmic balance, the brain makes appropriate corrections immediately.

All-Digital, Real-Time EEG Neurofeedback is both safe and effective. It helps to improve functions such as concentration, short-term memory, speech, motor skills, sleep, energy level, and emotional balance.

Once the brain’s normal rhythmic patterns have been restored, All-Digital, Real-Time EEG Neurofeedback is no longer necessary. The results of the training are permanent unless another trauma or injury occurs.

The brain is divided into two halves, known as the right and left hemisphere. Each hemisphere is also divided into sections called lobes. Many parts of the brain are interconnected and control similar functions, but each part also has unique functions. The following provides a limited explanation of some brain functions.

Frontal Lobes:
Ability to feel and express emotions
Ability to understand feelings of others
Anxiety and panic attacks
Attention span
Balance
Control distractibility
Control hyperactivity
Control rage/anger
Control time management
Feelings of self-worth
Impulse control
Initiation of action/Procrastination
Judgment
Learning from experience
Maintaining focus
Organization
Problem solving
Social anxiety
Visual perception

Right Temporal Lobe
Creativity
Emotional control
Fine Motor Control
Memory
Social skills
Visual learning
Visualization

Left Temporal Lobe
Auditory learning
Control of aggression
Language skills
Logical functioning
Math skills
Reading skills
Short-term memory
Speech

No claims are being made to cure or diagnose any illness, disease, or condition using All-Digital, Real-Time EEG Neurofeedback. However, many people have reported experiencing improvement after being diagnosed with one or more of the following conditions:

Anoxia (oxygen deprivation)
Attention Deficit Disorder
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity
Autism
Birth injuries
Cerebral palsy
Closed head injury
Cluster headaches
Coma
Concussion
Dyslexia
Fibromyalgia
Learning Disabilities
Migraine headaches
Near drowning
Open head injury
Parkinson’s Disease
Epilepsy
Pervasive developmental disability
Post-neurosurgical trauma
Post-viral brain injury
Stroke
Unipolar depression
Whiplash

There are many different forms and practitioners of EEG Neurofeedback. The information discussed in this article relates exclusively to the unique, All-Digital, Real-Time EEG Neurofeedback Neuropathways System, developed and patented by Margaret Ayers. This system is the only EEG Neurofeedback system that provides immediate audio and visual feedback with less than one-thousandth of a second delay.

Elaine Offstein is a Board Certified Educational Therapist (BCET#10151). She holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology, a Master of Arts Degree in Special Education, an Elementary Education Credential, a Resource Specialist Certificate, a Montessori Education Certificate, and California State Non-Public Agency License #1A-19-189.

Elaine Offstein,
Published in the Orange County LDA Newsletter, Vol. 45, No.3, May/June, 2007
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