Thursday, December 27, 2012

Best Musings of 2012

Well, it's that time of the year again... time for visits with family, relaxing and recharging over winter break, and eating so much that we dig for the baggiest dress pants/skirt come January 2nd. It's also time to revisit my best musings from the past year! 2012 was a big year for me, both personally and professionally--I got married, spent a killer week in the Dominican Republic, and became more involved within the field (1,000+ Facebook friends and being "published" can't be wrong). Here are the highlights from my bloggy year, as measured by most viewed, most comments, or my personal favorite:

January-- An uber mondo list of non-tangible reinforcement ideas, perfect for those kids you just really shouldn't be giving candy or sweet treats to... you know exactly who I mean. 

February-- A hard-edged, tough look at the challenges faced by professionals working in an urban education setting. This was written in response to a reader's question about commonly faced issues and necessary skill sets needed to work in urban education. Although it's not warm and fuzzy, this is one of my favorite posts because of how passionate I felt for my job when I was writing it. It's the heart of what I do. 

March-- A post about my school's monthly attendance breakfast, a school-wide incentive to increase overall attendance. Months later, I am a master pancake maker, worthy of song and world renown.

April--  An impressive collection of "Musings on Survival from School Psychologists," organized into categories. This post was compiled from entries to my giveaway of Dr. Rebecca Branstetter's book, "The School Psychologist's Survival Guide." This continues to be one of my most viewed posts, and with all the incredible advice and quips from readers and fans, how could it not be?

May-- My "a day in the life" series was a big hit, especially among grad students or new professionals in the field. I will definitely be continuing this... you know, when I have time during the day to make notes on my goings-on!

June-- An interesting case student on a preschooler I completed the transition reevaluation for to prepare him for kindergarten. He's a hearing child of two deaf parents who's native language was American Sign Language. Pair that with a lack of exposure to schooling and significant academic and language delays, and you've got one unique kiddo!

July-- A post where I reviewed my entire insane Committee on Special Education meeting list and assessment schedule from the year, and I realized two things--1) I accomplished an insane amount during the year and 2) It hadn't made me sprout gray hairs. I reiterate: I am psychologist. Hear me roar.

August-- no posts... I was too busy doing Zumba and wedding planning.

September-- My first day back to school for the 2012-2013 school year, where I was graciously gifted with a new nickname. It, thankfully, has gone by the wayside in the time since. 

October-- The compilation of the emotions/anger management small counseling group that I led in our first grade 6:1+1 Special Class, where we played with balloons, said adorable comments, learned "soup breathing," and tried not to make it 50 shades of cray.

November-- An informative post about families experiencing homelessness, and how the McKinney-Vento Act can provide services to them. 

December-- A large gathering of resources relating to grief, loss, crisis, and tragedy response that was posted in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings in Newton, CT. Not a pleasant topic or event to remember, but the information continues to be relevant.

Don't forget to check out and "Like" my Facebook page!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Grief, Crisis, and Tragedy Resources

There are no words to explain or rationalize what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary on December 14th, 2012. It is truly a tragedy, and moving forward, we must focus on the impact that it may have on the students we work with. As school psychologists, we need to continue the job that our fallen Sandy Hook colleague, Mary Sherlach, lost her life doing: helping our students. 

Below is a list of resources to help students and families cope with crisis and tragedies, and the feelings and fears that may arise from such events. This is by no means exhaustive--PLEASE share further resources that have been helpful to you in your practice.

Tips for Teachers and Parents Following School and Community Violence (PowerPoint; NASP)
School Shootings: How to Empower Kids in the Face of Armed School Violence (KidPower)
15 Ways to Help Your Child Through Crisis (KidsPeace)
Talking With Kids About News: Age-by-Age Insight (PBS Parents)
Helping Kids Cope: When the Unthinkable Happens in Your Backyard (NYU Child Study Center)
Caring For Kids After a School Shooting (Child Mind Institute)
Tips for School Administrators for Reinforcing School Safety (NASP)
The 12 Core Concepts: Concepts for Understanding Traumatic Stress Responses in Children and Families (National Child Traumatic Stress Network)
Crisis or Trauma Reactions (NASP)
Talking With Children About Difficult Subjects: Illness, Death, Violence, and Disaster (NYU Child Study Center)
Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers (NASP)
A National Tragedy: Helping Children Cope (NASP)
Kids May Ask Questions About the Newtown Shooting. Be Frank and Reassuring, Psychologist Says (WFPL)
How to Help Children Cope with a Crisis (Save the Children)
How to Talk to Your Kids About the Conn. Shootings (NPR)
Helping Youth and Children Recover From Traumatic Events (multiple links; Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools)
Talking with Students in Response to the Sandy Hook Shootings (School Counseling by Heart)
Tragedy and Disaster Response Resources (multiple links; School Counselor Blog)

Don't forget to check out and "Like" my Facebook page!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Awkward Conversations at School, Part 1

(because you know there will be more)

I love when I have experiences that are totally off the wall at work and give me gleeful bouts of laughter when I reflect on them. Yesterday, I got called down to have a conference with a student and the substitute principal, Mr. G. The student, who has never been a behavior problem and who I've never even seen before, was poking kids with a paper clip and pulled a chair out from under another student. Dangerous behaviors, and uncharacteristic, so we tried to figure out what was up. The student was tight-lipped, noncompliant, and full of crocodile tears, so it didn't go anywhere. The fun part came after the conference, when Mr. G said that he had a story to tell me. It went a little something like this (somewhat abbreviated for clarity and amusement):

Mr. G: "When I was the principal at XX Elementary, one of my kindergarten teachers brought a student into my office because the girl had punched the teacher in the stomach. I kept the girl in my office with me, talked to her, and sent her back to class after a half an hour. Not fifteen minutes later, the teacher was back because the girl had punched her again. Well, I knew this couldn't continue, so I had to suspend her. A kindergartener! When we were at the hearing for her suspension, I noticed she was acting strangely. Her eyes were looking up at the ceiling as she slouched and slid up and down in her chair. Now, I was a music teacher before I was a principal, and this girl was speaking in a voice that no child of her age and gender could naturally make. She kept groaning, 'I hate you, Miss Ray... I hate you, Miss Ray.' .... Now, I have to ask you... as a psychologist, do you believe in possession?"

Me: 0_o "Um."

Mr. G: "No, really. Do you believe in possession, do you have that faith? Because there's something wrong with that girl." [the one we had just conferenced with, who had thankfully left the room]

Ah... awkward, inappropriate conversations in the workplace. Needless to say, I booked it out of there before he started explaining any other uncomfortable and outlandish viewpoints that his music teacher expertise may have given him about behavior and mental health.

Don't forget to check out and "Like" my Facebook page!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Popcorn-y Goodbyes

Today was the last session of my first grade emotions/anger management group. Sad face... although without a doubt I haven't seen the last of those kiddos!

At the close of our previous session, the boys got to choose the treat that I would bring to our last group session, and the overwhelming choice was popcorn. Really? This was over cupcakes and ice cream sandwiches? Cool! (and since I was out sick this week and actually almost forgot, it's a good thing, since I had popcorn in the cabinet and didn't need to run to the store :) )

I brought Candy Land with me to play while we munched on our popcorn, and while fun and games it was, we were also learning! I'm sure I've said it 42 times, but I really enjoy playing simple board games with young kiddos to work on good sportsmanship, coping with losing, turn-taking, and other general social skills, plus counting/adding/subtracting, color recognition, etc for these little guys. With scaffolding and explicit modeling from me, it went really well. You can't help but feel silly saying, "G, it's now your turn, please pick your card. Everyone, what card did G draw? What color? How many? Let's count together, one purple, two purple. Great job, G please hand me your card. Okay, D, it's now your turn, please pick your card. Gentlemen, what card did D draw? ..." while playing Candy Land with four 6-7 year olds, but the continual, constant prompting and reminders really do help.

Hard to believe 8 weeks is over already! I'm going to buckle down and get some CSE work done before Christmas, with perhaps more group planning for the new year. Right now, my other colleagues are heading their own groups (4th and 5th grade girls groups focusing on bullying, 6th grade 6:1+1 group focusing on anger management and self-expression, and more!), so I'll take a breather and get my test on.

Don't forget to check out and "Like" my Facebook page!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Tale of Peter Rabbit

Our group lesson this week was a continuation of problem solving with a touch of "accepting consequences," and once again, I dipped into Skillstreaming for my outline and ideas. The lesson was almost torn asunder by the fact that our library didn't have the picture book I needed, but my social worker came through in the 7th hour like a trooper.

I read The Tale of Peter Rabbit to prime the lesson, which, side note, I had no idea was written over 100 years ago. The more you know. Also, I really need to use bibliotherapy more in my counseling endeavours. Anyway, the boys were a little squirmy (surprised?), but it's amazing how fast the wiggliest of kiddos calms when a story is being read to them. Peter Rabbit is a great story about what happens when we make poor decisions. Peter's mother tells him not to go in Mr. MacGregor's garden, but that rascally rabbit does it anyway, and gets the fright of his life as a consequence.

After we finished the story, I took the opportunity to practice some reading comprehension with the boys. We reviewed that story in sequence and also answered literal "wh" questions, to make sure they had a grasp on the details. We also discussed the choice that Peter made (going into Mr. MacGregor's garden), why it was a poor choice, and what the consequences were for his decision. We talked about the choices he could have made instead that would have been better (i.e. going only where his mom said, playing with his three siblings, staying home, etc) and what the consequences of those might have been. Not a lot of "text to self" connections, but in this isolated story, the boys were spot on!

This was out last "teaching" session of group. Next time, we'll have a little party, but of course I'll bring some skills into it as well. The plan is, amongst our popcorn chomping and cupcake licking, to play some board games to work on social skills, turn-taking, sharing, and good sportsmanship. Every opportunity is one to learn something!

Don't forget to check out and "Like" my Facebook page!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Homeless, but not Helpless

Regardless of the kind of area you work in, homelessness is probably a bigger problem than you think. In urban settings, it's even more pronounced. I recently attended a training on the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act and the services available to families experiencing homelessness, and it was so informative and helpful. It was one of those trainings where I could use the information immediately the next day-- and did.

The biggest misconception about homeless is that the family is living on the streets, but it's actually living without a permanent home (specifically, a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence). "Homelessness," per the McKinney-Vento Act, can look like one of the following:
  • Sharing housing.
  • Living in a motel, hotel, trailer with wheels, or campground.
  • Emergency or transitional shelters.
  • Awaiting a foster care placement.
  • Cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, standard housing, bus or train stations.
  • A nighttime residence not ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation (i.e. park bench).
The biggest qualifier I see in my school is families sharing housing. It's actually astounding the amount of my kiddos who would qualify for McKinney-Vento now that I know this is considered a form of homelessness, because they do not have their own permanent residence. We also see a lot of families living in hotels.

How do you know if a family might be homeless? Watch the students closely. Are they wearing the same clothes every day, or don't have clothing appropriate to the weather conditions? Do they hoard food, ask for seconds, etc? Do they have working telephone numbers? Are they evasive about their living situation when asked? 

The McKinney-Vento removes the barriers impeding homeless children from attending school. It ensures homeless children transportation to and from school free of charge, allowing them to attend their school of origin (the last school they were enrolled at or the school they attended at their last permanent residence), regardless of what district the family resides in. It also requires schools to register homeless children immediately, even if they lack normally required documents, such as immunization records or proof of residence. Even after finding permanent housing, a family can access McKinney-Vento services for a year afterwards.

One thing that concerned me was how little I knew about the McKinney-Vento act. As an educator, I didn't know about a vital act that ensures proper education for disadvantaged students? And if I didn't know much about these resources, what about the parents?

Just a few days after the training, we were notified of a family who had experienced a house fire and has been living in a hotel for the past two months. The five kiddos in the family were wearing the same clothes every day, didn't have coats (good ol' Western NY weather is unkind), and always seemed hungry. Mom came into school looking for support, and we were able to provide her with quite a lot immediately. We gave the students extra uniform pants and shirts and also enrolled them in our school's Backpack Program, which provides a backpack of nonperishable food from the local food bank to students for the weekend. I also notified our district's McKinney-Vento liaison, who will contact mom for further support.

As school psychologists, we may seem to be primarily responsible for the appropriate education of special education students. However, we need to be mindful of the resources and tools that will lead to the proper instruction of ALL students. Investigate the McKinney-Vento act, find out who your district's liaison is, and refer families. You never know who might be in need. 

Here is the full text of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Asisstance Act, for those ambitious folks out there.

Don't forget to check out and "Like" my Facebook page!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Day Without Accomplishing a Thing in Group is a Day Wasted

Today in group, the lesson was on problem-solving! Last time, we reviewed all the steps we've learned to identify how we're feeling, know how our body feels, and ways to calm down--all of which the kiddos have to do first before they can problem solve. Today's lesson was mostly based off of Skill #30 in Skillstreaming in Early Childhood. The boys would be thinking of different choices they could make in a certain situation, picking a "good" choice, then talking about how they would carry that out. Sounds great, right?

I felt like this, only with clothes and
without the sweet hat.
Wrong. Group was pretty much a waste.

Today was the class's first day with a new student who is going to be very challenging. He is brand new to our building and his grandma and mom came in before he arrived to let us know what a terror he is. Awesome, you know things are going to be stellar when you get the "he's terrible" talk two weeks before he arrives. Well, little L arrived in a wind storm of crazy, and swept all the other boys into his tornado of nuts.

Pretty much all we were able to accomplish today was talking out different choices we could make in the situations in the Skillstreaming book. L was so off-task and distracting (crawling on the floor, playing in the sink, pulling math manipulatives off the shelves, playing with a yard stick), the other munchkins couldn't focus for very long. We'll have to chock this one up to experience and work harder next time. To stay in line with School Psychology Awareness Week, my strength for today was knowing when to walk away.

And I did... really quickly.

Don't forget to check out and "Like" my Facebook page!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Putting the Group Pieces Together

Today's 1st grade group counseling session was very productive! I grabbed Mr. S, another colleague, to come up and assist, as I had role-plays planned and knew that one of me and four of them wouldn't be productive. Our lesson today was putting together the skills we've been learning, so that we can look towards problem-solving (that'll come next time).

We reviewed and reinforced ad nauseum how to identify a feeling and practiced showing with our bodies what different emotions looked like. We mostly focus on "anger" in this group, because that's what these little kiddos with Emotional Disturbances are most troubled by, but we also were able to work on "sad" and "excited," too. After we reviewed the emotional side of things, we reviewed all the different ways to relax when upset, and practiced a few all together, like deep breathing and counting backwards.

After we finished our review, Mr. S and I each took two kiddos to break up and work through scenarios from the Skillstreaming in Early Childhood manual, Skill #28. We gave each boy a scenario or two and had them go through the steps we've been learning:

  • Identify the feeling
  • Notice how the body feels
  • Relax and calm down
  • Stop
  • (next we'll add "Think" and "Problem Solve")

While they acted out the steps, Mr. S and I helped their partner identified each one. For instance, as each kiddo was modeling how their body felt, the partner pointed out different things the body was doing that meant they were angry or sad (i.e. growling, clenched hands, arms crossed, stomping feet, red face). Then as a trio, we would pick a calming down strategy and practice it together. J came up with a great strategy all on his own--singing the alphabet slowly. I praised him up and down for that good idea, and of course, we all sang it together (his teacher was also impressed, because the class is missing a lot of foundational skills needed for first grade, like letter recognition and sound-symbol correspondence). After we practiced in pairs, we came back to the large group and had J and D, the more put together kiddos of the day, model for everyone. 

The biggest challenge with these kiddos is getting them to sit after our activity or lesson to process. Even with Mr. S's help, the boys had a lot of trouble sitting back down on the rug and listening for a few minutes of talking about what we did today and what we learned. They were under tables, standing by bulletin boards, rolling/laying on the floor, etc. The processing at the end of a lesson is important to me to sum things up and set up the next lesson, but I feel like I leave group lately with things hanging unfinished. On the upside, this was a worthwhile lesson, and it seems like at least the kiddos are remembering what we talk about in group--even if they can't always practice it!

  Don't forget to check out and "Like" my Facebook page!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Progressive Muscle Relaxation? Relax THIS, Lady!

My fourth first grade emotions/anger management group session was marred by the insanity that is November 1st. On this fateful day, the kiddos came to school all tweaked out on candy from Halloween the night before, ready to cause armageddon and other gleeful shenanigans. Enter 50 Shades of Cray.

Group was scheduled for 2:30pm, a nice way to end up the school day before dismissal starts at 3:10. Around 1:00pm, Miss R came down in a tizzy because one of the boys was throwing an Uber Tantrum and she needed help. Mr. S, my mental health counselor colleague, and I strapped on our sneakers and took off (and by sneakers, I mean high heels. Please, you know I didn't have no sneakers on :) ). There we found N, red-faced, scream-crying, face down on the floor, spitting, swimming like Ryan Lochte, only the hands and feet were for punching/kicking/scratching, not winning gold medals. He was not responding to Miss R, the classroom aide, or either of us, and the other students had been removed by the speech therapist, because N had partially destroyed the room.

Mr. S and I held N's hands and feet gently to keep him from hurting himself or one of us, and tried to calm him down, but N was having none of it. Mr. S was getting scratched on his wrists, I was getting kicked (by feet with no shoes or socks... I smelled like sweaty little boy feet for the rest of the day), and it was unproductive. It was one of those situations where you felt totally helpless, because nothing was working to help the kiddo. Mr. S recommended I call the district's crisis team, because this was more than just a tantrum. In the end, the crisis team recommended I call our school resource officer, who came quickly to assist Mr. S, and N's mom eventually came to take him home. We were pooped.

By the time 2:30 rolled around for group, I was worried that N's behavior had set the other 3 boys off and it wasn't going to be a productive session. I was told that it was fine to come up, so I settled myself on the rug with D, G, and J and we got down to business on the topic of "relaxation" (irony). Immediately, I knew that it was going to be a wash--they were much squirmier than normal, D and J kept posturing like they were going to punch each other, and where they normally respond to positive redirection and praising, it wasn't working. What an awesome day to try and do relaxation techniques!

J had to be removed to take a "cool down" walk, so with D and G we were able to discuss why it's important to calm down when you're upset, and ways to do so. With some teeth-pulling, we were able to get a good list (watch TV, sit by yourself, put your head down, go for a walk, deep breathing, counting backwards, etc). We also practiced some of the techniques where appropriate, like the deep breathing technique I call "Soup Breathing." Students visualize a bowl of their favorite soup in front of them, which is too hot to eat. They're excited to eat it, so they take a big sniff of how good it smells ("in through the nose"), then blow on it to cool it down ("out through the mouth").

I settled the boys into their tables and crossed my mental fingers that the progressive muscle relaxation activity I planned would be somewhat productive. It took a while to settle the boys down, but we were able to get through a few of the scripts with little trouble. J joined us halfway through and was able to participate appropriately. I used the script found here, with some minor modifications to the introduction and conclusion to shorten them. I also didn't do all the scripts, only "hands and arms," "arms and shoulders," "jaw," and "legs and feet." I liked the script because of the visualization, and while the kids got a little silly, they did exactly as instructed.

Once the muscle relaxation was over and I tried to process and get them talking about the activity, the squirminess was back. D and J were right back at each other, instigating a fight and getting in each other's faces. D went to hide under a table and J yelled and tried to push a chair at him. I went to try and calm J down, but for some reason, he had forgotten all the cool techniques he had just learned! With time and help from Miss R, the boys got settled back into their dismissal routine and I was able to skeddadle. Phew.

Don't forget to check out and "Like" my Facebook page!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

This is How My Body Feels When I'm ANGRY

Third group session today in my emotions/anger management first grade group! Last time, we focused on identifying feelings in others, and today, I wanted to focus on how the kiddos can tell what they're feeling in themselves. Since this group is mainly focusing on anger management, we talked about how we can tell we're angry based on what our body does or feels.

We practiced making "angry bodies" and while the kids flexed like The Hulk and pulled faces that rival Chris Farley's in the "Colombian Coffee Crystals" SNL sketch (above, I couldn't resist), I pointed out different things their bodies were doing. D's eyes got small and narrowed, J's face got red, N's fists balled up. We also talked about what happens inside our bodies when we get angry too, like heads pounding, stomachs getting in knots or butterflies, and hearts beating quickly.

My modified worksheet for today.
Once we got the basics down (and the boys calmed themselves down again, because they got pretty riled up), I sent the boys back to their tables to complete a coloring worksheet our of Colorful Counseling! Life Lessons Learned Through Drawing. I don't own this, but somewhere along the way I received copies of the anger management unit, which I recommend. Most of it is too advanced for these little guys, but this worksheet was good. I modified it a little bit to make the writing portion more simplified, and gave the boys bigger spaces to write in. While they drew their pictures, I circled around and commented on various aspects, and wrote in highlighter their answers to the questions below, so they could trace.

Each boy had really neat parts of their drawing, it was awesome to see their uniqueness. D's was done all in red, because he said red was a "mean color." N's had balled up fists and a big blue stomach, because he said that his tummy feels funny when he's been crying. J's drawing also had balled up fists and a big "yelling mouth." Most of the boys also drew a happy picture on the back. When they were finished drawing, we went back to the carpet to present our pictures. Each boy had a turn to be the presenter, where he described his picture and read each of the lines at the bottom. It gave us a good opportunity to talk about good listening behaviors and how to be a good presenter, as an added bonus!

Next week... relaxation and calming down, in which I will attempt to do a relaxation script with my squirmy friends. Wish me oodles of luck.

Don't forget to check out and "Like" my Facebook page!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

We Feel... AWESOME!

Today for our group, I grabbed the wonderful Skillstreaming in Early Childhood book and taught Skill 21: Knowing Your Feelings. This was a great little lesson to practice identifying feelings in a variety of settings and talking about the situations in which we feel certain emotions.

We started by reading Feelings, by Aliki, which is a wonderful book and covers a ton of different feelings. The boys had a hard time getting past "mad, sad, happy," so the book gave us the chance to talk about "nervous, shy, excited" etc. We went page by page, reading each little snippet, pointing out characters and talking about what they're feeling and why. We also discussed times that they felt the same emotion.

After we finished examining the book (and they wanted to go through EVERY character), I had pictures printed off of people and animals showing different emotions. We went through each picture and I had the kiddos make up a little story about why each person or animal was feeling that way, and tell about a time that they felt that way too. It also gave us the opportunity to talk about different synonyms for each feeling (mad: angry, upset, frustrated, etc). Lots of repetition and praising, to the point that their teacher must've thought that we were accomplishing nothing!
My favorite animal photo from group today.

This was a good group today, the boys were on-task with minimal fidgeting. I find that it works really well with such a small group of students to just call them out individually if they're not raising their hands. If they are, then they get chosen and get verbal reinforcement ("D, I love how you raised your hand, thank you"). Next time, we're going to talk about how our body feels when we feel certain emotions, and how we can tell by looking at other people.

Don't forget to check out and "Like" my Facebook page!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Hot Potato, Hot Potato!

Today was the kick-off of my newest counseling group, hooray!! For this group, I'm going to be focusing on identifying feelings and the way the body feels when we have certain emotions, and ways that we can cope and problem-solve when we get upset. These boys have a lot of anger management issues, and when they get upset, they resort to screaming, crying, hiding under tables, hitting, and throwing things. It's especially hard for the little ones with significant emotional problems to express themselves properly, so that's what we're going to work on.

Today's group was just an introduction, laying of ground rules, and team building. I started the group by talking about what behaviors are safe and unsafe for us to use in group and reviewed the classroom rules. The kiddos were super rambunctious because they had just come back from speech. After some calming and reinforcing of the little things they were doing correctly ("I like how G's voice is on 0," "J, thank you for sitting criss-cross," "N is showing me ready behavior because his hands are in his lap," etc), we got on track and the boys chose their group name to be The Footballs.

The activity we did today was all about communication and working together. I blew up a balloon and the boys stood in a circle. The objective was to keep the balloon in the air. We brainstormed ways to hit the balloon (with our hands, knees, heads, elbows, etc) and how we have to hit it (gently, up, not across the room, not at another person). Each took their spot on the carpet and up the balloon went. As we went through the first very exciteable round, I got to point out a lot of skills:
  • Assertiveness - making sure they "called" the balloon by saying "I got it" if they planned on hitting it. It kept them all from running into each other and gave each boy ownership over that hit.
  • Turn-taking - one of the boys, J, got a little too riled up and kept hogging the balloon. I had the opportunity to redirect him to include the other boys, and had him sit out when he needed a break from the excitement to give the others a chance.
  • Apologizing - as expected, a few bumps occurred. We practiced saying a good apology when this happened (i.e. looking at the person in the eye, saying you're sorry, and why) and also accepting the apology with a "thank you, it's okay."
For the second round, I had the boys put their hands in their pockets or under their arms, and they had to keep the balloon in the air without using their hands. Obviously, this was much more challenging for kiddos with impulse control! Every time someone used their hands instead of another body part, I had to stop the game and remind them. D was excellent in this round and helped direct the boys to play appropriately as well (i.e. telling them to spread out so they wouldn't kick each other, reminding them about "no hands").

In retrospect, this game was probably a little above the kiddos level, but we made the best of it. Once we were done, I got the kiddos calmed down (a rather big task after jumping all over whacking a balloon around), and we processed a bit. We talked about what was easy, what was hard, and what we learned about working together and talking it out. They pooped out and lost attention pretty quickly, so processing was kept at a minimum.

Don't forget to check out and "Like" my Facebook page!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

All About Emotions and Social Skills!

At one of our last bi-weekly meetings, my principal asked that my colleagues and I plan to do counseling groups in our 6:1+1 Special Classes to teach appropriate social skills that the kiddos may be lacking. I immediately jumped all over the idea, because it meant I could do a group in my new squish G's classroom! He's a "squish" because I want to hug and squish him... obvi.

As with the 5th grade social skills/anger management group that I ran a few years ago in a 6:1+1 classroom, I will outline and recap my lessons on this post as they are completed. And here we goooo!

Don't forget to check out and "Like" my Facebook page!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

"Marvel"ing at the Positive

One of the new classrooms that we acquired for the 2012-2013 school year is a 1st grade 6:1+1 Special Class. It's all boys and they are becoming my new precious snowflakes. I have such a soft spot for behaviorally challenged young men and have been visiting their classroom often. Here's one reason why:

One of the boys, G, is very sensitive to noise over-stimulation. Another of his classmates was having a minor meltdown and G became very overwhelmed and started crying. G's teacher took him for a walk to calm down and have some quiet, so they came to visit me. As soon as G walked in, his adorable little face crumpled and he started crying again, so I took him in my lap and hugged him for a bit while I talked to his teacher. When he had calmed down, I dug into my prize box to see if there was something he might like.

One of my awesome Target $1 bin finds this year were Batman and Avengers erasers and tattoos. I was pathetically giddy to find these, and had to restrain myself from giving myself a sleeve with temporary Hulk tattoos. I asked G if he liked Batman and his eyes lit up. We picked out a tattoo of Batman punching the Joker and I helped him put it on.

It was spectacular. I love days where a quick moment with a kid at 2:00pm makes up for anything that happened earlier that was less than spectacular.

Don't forget to check out and "Like" my Facebook page!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Welcome Back, Mrs. Sh*t!

Well hello friends, it's been a while! My apologies for the long hiatus in exciting blog posts--I pretty much turned my brain off once summer hit, and I'm still in the slow process of rebooting (I feel like I'm stuck on the Blue Screen of Death). Too much sun and wedding planning!

However, I can share some stories from today, the first day back to school!

1. I got to play "QUIP" with the 6th grade 6:1+1 classroom. QUIP is a math game where you are given 3 numbers and can use only those numbers to equal values 1 to 10. For example, when given the numbers 4, 5, and 8, you do "8+5-4-4" to equal 5.

2. I'm starting the school year using my married name, so that the kiddos have extra time to adjust (wedding isn't until October). Now, my maiden name was no peach to say (one of those names that doesn't look like it's pronounced) and my married name will also be a little mouth-fumbly, and sounds like a curse word. I went into the 8th grade 15:1 class and introduced myself to a new student in the class as "Mrs. NewLastName," and the boys who helped with my Veteran's Day fundraising project giggled and replied, "Mrs. Sh*t?" Yes, you're hilarious.

3. When visiting our new 1st grade 6:1+1, one of the kiddos yelled, "Hey miss, I got a cigarette burn on my belly, look!" and lifted his shirt up. Enter conversation about how to appropriately wear our clothing in school.

4. Totally geeking out with a 4th grade boy over The Avengers. I casually mentioned to his teacher that I had some Batman and Avengers tattoos, erasers, and pencils if she wanted to send someone down for good behavior, and the young man's eyes bugged out--"WHAT? Why didn't I know about this earlier? I have an Avengers BACKPACK!" I think I have a new friend.

Day one down... days 180+ to go.

Don't forget to check out and "Like" my Facebook page!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Committee on Special Education Year In Review... aka, I Am A Machine

Add glasses and this is surprisingly accurate.
As I bask in the glory of summer, I remember that this year was not all Zumba classes, bike rides, wedding planning, and watching TLC. As you may remember, this year was totally nutty-- my Committee on Special Education (CSE) chairperson was out for 9 months receiving chemo and I spent the year working with a district representative (which was fantastic); I single-handedly underwent a state ed. review; attempted to run Positive Behavior Intervention Supports like Check-in, Check-out; and of course, dealt with every day chaos and crisis. I'd be a big fat liar if I said I'm not enjoying the time off, that's fo sho.

Before school ended, I sat down and totaled up all of the stats for the Committee on Special Education meetings I've done during '11-'12. The results were all together staggering, nauseating, tiring, and awe-inspiring. Here are some fun facts...
  • The meetings held for male vs. female students was 73 vs. 42. Our special education population at our building (and in the district) is disproportionately male and African American.
  • We held 30 initial CSE meetings. Many of these meetings were kiddos that were being referred for services due to severe behavioral problems, and the students were recommended for more restrictive settings where their needs could be met, such as a Special Class. Five of these initial referrals did not qualify for services. 
  • In a similar vein, we held 28 reevaluation meetings where a more restrictive setting was recommended. Many of these were for a Special Class, but others were a recommendation where a student moved from receiving only related services, like speech, to Integrated Co-Teaching services.
  • We held 21 reevaluation meetings where changes were made to programming (adding or removing a related service, etc) or as part of a three-year reevaluation, in accordance with legal mandates.
  • We declassified 8 students from special education services this year. One of them was due to chronic lack of attendance in school, thus not accessing special education services nor receiving appropriate instruction (he came to school four days all year).
  • Although I had three full days of CSE meetings in March (on top of helping teachers with the Annual Review process for their caseloads), the biggest volume of CSE meetings came late fall, during the state ed. review. In November and December, I had a total of four meetings days, but they covered 30 kiddos. I'm getting hives just remembering... ugh.
  • My building has a small population of preschoolers receiving special education services via the Committee on Preschool Education (CPSE). When they turn school age in kindergarten, we have to reevaluate their programs to see if they will transition into CSE services. We completed 4 CPSE to CSE reevaluations this year, two at the beginning of the year for '11-'12, and two at the end for '12-'13 (we got ahead of the game). 
  • We amended 24 students' IEPs, making minor changes that don't overly affect their service levels. These included changing goals, fixing/cleaning up parts of the Present Levels of Educational Performance (PLEP), altering time durations for programming, and adjusting program modifications and testing accommodations. 
So, for those playing at home, that brings my Committee on Special Education meetings for the 2011-2012 school year to a whopping 115.

I am psychologist. Hear me roar.

Don't forget to check out and "Like" my Facebook page!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Analyzing Your Friends: A Fun Party Trick

I'm sure that many of you, when telling others that you're a school psychologist, have encountered those folks who get nervous that you're analyzing them or are eager to tell you their problems (or they ask if you're a school counselor, whatevs). Sure, we joke and laugh, but maybe you are psychoanalyzing or evaluating them in some way unintentionally (or on purpose, I won't judge). Honestly, as psychologists, we have more insight into human behavior than the average Joe, and maybe we're scrutinizing those we meet just a little more.

For me, this means seeing dysfunction where it doesn't actually exist.

Fiance and his college roommates went as the Channel 4 News Team one year
for Halloween. He was Brian Fantana, at left, with a legit dirty mustache.
Fiance went to high school with a group of guys who are still all very close and are very happy to revert to Frat Pack silliness when they're together (think The Hangover and Anchorman bromances). One of the guys, Chewy, is a little younger than the rest and therefore often the butt of silliness. I'll begin by stating that Chewy has no mental health concerns or developmental disabilities... but that doesn't stop me from very jokingly and in no way seriously finding them (in his defense, I tease him about this often and he takes it in stride and without offense).

Thus, I bring you, Why I Think Chewy May Have an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (as substantiated by NY State Part 200 educational regulations and DSM-IV diagnostic criteria):

  • Use of repetitive phrases, especially movie quotes (i.e. Anchorman, I Love You, Man, Superbad, Wedding Crashers, etc). Also, echoing statements of friends and peers for days and weeks after it was first stated (i.e. "adorable," "cupcake," "it's not not hot out," "chicks chicks chicks," "so good! so good!,") Meets Part 200 and DSM-IV criteria B3
  • Encompassing preoccupation with women, or "chicks" - looking at women, chatting up women, trying to pick up women, going on dates with women. Will then work a certain girl into repetitive phrasing (i.e. "omg I love her so much," "love her, need her, Chewy," repeating the girl's name over and over). Meets Part 200 and DSM-IV criteria C1
  • Use of repetitive/stereotyped gestures and poses, which often coincide with said repetitive phrases (i.e. pumping his arms in the air above his head while squatting and cheering, "It's free!"; flicking his wrist and fingers while stating, "Obviously.")  Meets Part 200 and DSM-IV criteria C3
  • Adheres to routines in most weekend locales, food, and drink (i.e. same group of watering holes, vodka tonics, Bud Light Limes, Raspberry BBQ chicken wings). Meets Part 200 criteria
Actual diagnosis/classification: typical mid-20 something male. But super psychologist me sees a little bit of the Autism spectrum, for amusement's sake.

Please tell me I'm not the only one. :)

Don't forget to check out and "Like" my Facebook page!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Not So Summery Vacation

This post is perhaps a little too late, since the vast majority of us have finished the school year, but it's something I'm thinking about today on the first day of summer vacation (or summer lay-off, depending on who you talk to).

Some students have a very hard time as summer break approaches, and I find this especially true working in the urban setting. Although the academics may not always be of interest, school is a place where at-risk children can receive appropriate socialization, two out of their three daily meals, positive reinforcement and modeling from an adult, and a sense of safe structure. The proposition of losing those things is enough to make anyone anxious, but for a child that may have little stability in their life, it can seem like the end.

In my building, we notice a huge rise in behavior problems during the months of May and June. Some data to back that up (since we love data up in here): in April, we had 63 discipline referrals, an average of 4.20 per day. In May, we had 183 discipline referrals (8.71 per day) and in June, we had 93 (5.81 per day--and not all of them have been entered in the system yet).

Kids have a very hard time coping with "goodbyes" when they're leaving a place they feel safe. They may act up or try to jeopardize connections and bonds they have with friends and teachers, so that they can avoid an uncomfortable separation at the end of June--think of it like, "If you don't like me or are mad at me, you won't care that I'm gone." They may actively try to get suspended, so that they won't be there the last few days to celebrate and say goodbye, even if they don't want to be at home in the first place. I've also had kids that try to cope by fibbing about their summer plans or where they will be next school year; a bunch of students at the end of this year told me that they're moving, going to another building, etc, when I know from speaking to their parents or older siblings that I'll see them in September.

So what is a school professional to do? Personally, I don't make the end of school a big deal. The bigger the fanfare, the bigger the anxiety, the bigger the transition, the bigger the disruption. While I may have been trumpeting up and down Main St. in my head, I gave my usual hugs, shoulder squeezes, fist bumps, and a casual "See you in September!" as the kids left last week. When students had concerns about the summer or about missing school (and for the 8th graders, moving up to high school), I addressed them individually. For students known to have poor coping skills or difficulties with transition, it may be a good idea to address it in groups or within a more counseling/teaching setting, so that the students can learn some more concrete skills that they can take with them.

Professionals should also be searching for and providing students and families with resources that can fill the void that school did during the year. Community resources and organizations like a Food Bank, YMCA, summer camp, free library reading programs, etc will help to support the basic needs of school, like meals and socialization, and also allow for summer fun and structure. In my office, we had a bunch of applications for summer camps and programs, as well as information about free classes, programs, and reading challenges. We also send our students in our Food Bank's backpack program home with a bigger stash. It may beneficial for some students to attend summer schooling, to make sure they don't lose any academic skills, and to keep up consistency. Last summer, I had two sisters attend summer school because they wanted to, not because they needed to--that's dedication.

I'll be thinking about my kiddos this summer! I was approved for 15 half days of summer work, which I won't be starting til mid-July. I'm not sure where I'll be operating out of, as my CSE team will not be working this summer, so I may be bounced around. We shall see! In the meantime, I'll be whiling away the hours at the gym, trying to get in shape for my October wedding... here goes nothing.

Don't forget to check out and "Like" my Facebook page!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Not Your Typical English Language Learner

I am finally getting to the "unique case" mentioned on my Facebook page... it's been a nutty end of the school year, so sue me (hey '90s flashback catch phrase). On an up note, 4 more days!!

Every spring, elementary buildings in my district are in charge of reevaluating prekindergarten students receiving Committee on Preschool Special Education (CPSE) to see if they qualify for school age services conducted under the Committee on Special Education (CSE) when they enter kindergarten. We haven't had too many to do, but this interesting case made up for that.

O entered our prekindergarten in January, having not received any schooling since June 2011. We knew right away that O would need a lot of support, not only because he missed half a year of instruction, but because he is a hearing child of two parents who are deaf. American Sign Language is O's native language and what is used at home, so he is technically learning English. Curious, right? Because he has had so little exposure to English, his speech is similar to that of a person who is hearing impaired, and is only 30% intelligible. O receives speech/language therapy and special education teacher services as part of his CPSE programming.

We went around and around about programming and an appropriate classification for O when he enters kindergarten. He has a great deal of need, so we knew he would qualify for services, but for what, we were unsure. New speech testing indicated severe language delays in all areas (receptive, expressive, language structure, articulation). He also had a highly variable cognitive profile and limited school readiness skills. Despite a high profile of academic need, I could not classify him as a student with a Learning Disability, due to his lack of exposure to appropriate instruction from June '11 to January '12 (per New York State regulations). We decided to go with a classification of Speech/Language Impairment.

Our district has a few classrooms at the kindergarten level for students with severe language impairments. One is a regular sized class that has a full-time teacher plus a full-time speech/language therapist, and the other is a 15:1 Special Class with a full-time special education teacher and speech/therapist. Both of these classes offer 60 minutes of speech therapy every day, on top of ongoing remediation provided within the room during the way. We recommended O for the 15:1 level of service, so that he can not only receive intensive speech services, but his academic deficits can also be addressed. At the end of kindergarten, the CSE team at his new building will reevaluate his program, examine his progress, and determine the most appropriate services as he gets older.

Have any of you ever worked with a student who has parents who are hearing impaired? What strengths and weaknesses did they have? How did they fair learning/refining their English skills in school?

Don't forget to check out and "Like" my Facebook page!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Why Working in Education is Like "The Walking Dead"

I have decided to devote this post to the somewhat-reaching-but-very-pop-culturally-relevant topic of zombies. No, not the Miami Zombie (shudder), but The Walking Dead. If you remember, Fiance and I are kind of dorks (as if an entire post about my shoes, complete with Wizard of Oz and Star Wars references wasn't enough for you). One of our good friends from undergrad is a comic book king, and he sparked our interest in The Walking Dead as it made its move from graphic novel to TV. We were instantly hooked. I mean, c'mon, the opening scene of the series is just creepy perfection. 

Anyhoo, I recently got a copy of the first compendium of the graphic novel from our building mental health counselor, and on my evening bike ride tonight, I made a pretty out-there and wacky thought comparison about how The Walking Dead relates to working in education. Hear me out on this one.

Some of the cast of The Walking Dead. From left: Shane (w/ big gun), Glenn, Carl, Rick, Dale. 
There's a great ensemble of characters. Rick, the main character, is the every-man who tries to be the stand-up leader of the group, but has his flaws. He's stubborn and sticks to what he thinks is right, but it often isn't what works or would be best. He always wants to do what's right, and the other survivors look to him. He's a great allegory for a building principal--perhaps not always making the best decisions, but working with the staff to try and make things right. Carl is an idealistic kid trying to survive the zombie apocalypse, learning more and more every day about reality and survival. First year teacher, anyone?   Glenn is a master at navigating around the now decimated Atlanta, dodging zombies and other survivors personalities while keeping an enthusiasm for life and providing comic relief. He reminds me of a master veteran teacher at our building, who in the midst of a terrible day, will still crack a joke and smile. Shane is the antagonist for the first two seasons, and as Rick's former police partner, they butt heads in a rather violent way as Shane tries to derail a lot of the good that Rick tries to put up. There's always one in every building going against the grain. Dale is the moral compass of the group and doesn't hesitate to call people out on mistakes in judgement. He's a little spacey, but always watchful, kind, and friendly. Perhaps a guidance counselor or advocate for children, in a former life. Not pictured above is Daryl, a tough, loner guy who takes no crap, is an excellent survivalist, and is loyal to what he thinks is right (he is also a stellar marksman with a crossbow). He's the teacher in the corner classroom whose class is never rowdy. 

Zombies. Duh. Whether it's feeling like a zombie on Monday or mid-June or the students being especially monstrous, schools and The Walking Dead have zombies! To get metaphorical about zombies, the undead hordes could represent a whole mess of oppressive things that just keep looking for brains to eat: looming budget cuts; NCLB; standardized testing; no time and too much to do; bureaucracy, etc. There's always something creeping up around the corner behind you, waiting to jump up and bite you in the shoulder.

But that's why the great ensemble is... great! In the face of the zombie apocalypse, you've got a whole group of survivors to watch your back. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, and everyone plays of each other. Are there attitudes, big personalities, people that disagree, and shoot outs in the woods? Yes (except maybe that last part). But at the end of the day, it's a group of people working towards a common goal: surviving the zombie apocalypse.

Oh, and educating America's youth. Can't forget that part.

Don't forget to check out and "Like" my Facebook page!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Day in the Life, Thursday

Alrighty friends, here's what my Thursday shaped up into! I do not plan on documenting my day tomorrow, as I will be at an in-service training all day Friday (pray for me, as they are typically somewhat boring).

I hope this wee series has been interesting in documenting the day-to-day workings of a school psychologist! Perhaps it'll be continued at another point in time. :)

8:30 – arrived at school.

8:30-8:45 – orientation with a new student (Learning Disability, Integrated Co-Teaching level of service) and his family who moved in from NYC.

8:45 – emails, paperwork, filing.

9:15 – read the announcements (The character trait quote of the week: “Do the thing you think you
cannot do.” Eleanor Roosevelt)

9:20 – 10:10 – attempted to work on a psychological report for an initial case while an IT guy fixed/
updated two computers and a maintenance guy worked on the phones. I haven’t had a working phone
on my desk since August 2011. I now can be bothered on demand.

10:10-11:00 – supervised an assembly where a local musician presented on various types of wind
instruments, particularly didgeridoos. I love that our kids can be exposed to interesting and unique
experiences like this!

11:00-12:45-- attempted to continue write reports, interrupted by chatting IT guy, phone
calls from the district Placement office, teachers and students visiting. The IT guy is uber creepy. I think
he might be a vampire or some other creature of the night. Also, I have accomplished next to nothing
today thus far. Sigh.

12:45-1:15 – collaboration and discussion with colleagues about best course of action to ensure the
safety of a student facing gang retaliation in her neighborhood after her cousin was shot last night. Ugh,
it disgusts me to see a child so afraid. We planned to have a police car follow her bus home and make
sure she got into her house safely. There will be increased police presence in the neighborhood for a

1:20 – began record review of suspension data for initial case I’ve been trying to finish all day. Dragged
two stuffed-to-the-rims 3” binders down from the cabinet, both full of suspension letters. I also braced
myself for potential paper cuts from flipping through the binders.

2:30 – realized I haven’t eaten lunch yet, ate some pineapple. Finally finished the report I was working
on. Began entering information into the student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). It’s incredible
how late it gets before I realize that I haven’t eaten.

3:10 – called to assist with a student (Emotional Disturbance, Bipolar Disorder) in crisis. Had to carry the
student downstairs due to extreme unsafe behaviors, he was unable to walk himself because he was
tantruming too hard. I supported his feet and have the red, rubbed raw forearms to prove it. Poor peanut…
he breaks my heart because he just can't control himself. He’s recently classified and waiting for a 8:1+1 Special Class placement for next year, as the district is not allowing anymore movement to new settings this school year.

3:20 – off to afternoon post on the bus loop.

3:35-3:45 - chatting with the 5th grade 6:1+1 Special Class teacher in the hallway on the way out the door.

Don't forget to check out and "Like" my Facebook page!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Day in the Life, Wednesday

Here's some more snip its of my daily ups and downs... enjoy Wednesday!

8:30 – arrived at school, booted up laptop and rifled through papers from my mailbox. And filing suspension letters… insert Debbie Downer noise here.

8:45-9:15 – chit-chatting with district representative about cases and issues. Fixing all the district’s problems and figuring out world peace, obviously.

9:15 – off to the main office to read the morning announcements! The character trait of the month is self-reliance, if you were curious.

9:20-10:15 – record review for an upcoming three-year reevaluation case. Set up report outlines for this case and another initial referral.

10:15 –student in crisis, wandering the building agitated by a negative peer interaction on the bus this morning. Tracked student around first floor, waited outside bathroom while she banged walls and doors. Eventually herded student to main office. Why is it so hard for kids to just admit they did something wrong, even when they’re told that they won’t be in trouble and it will be dealt with without the principal?

10:40-11:20 – returned to record reviews and discussion with school social worker.

11:15 – 12:15 – completed psychological evaluation testing for one reevaluation case and one initial case. Surprisingly, no fun anecdotes to report!

12:20 – 12:45 – gathering of paperwork, cumulative records, and documentation for a child being referred for a placement at a day school agency as a result of a Committee on Special Education (CSE) meeting from Monday. The agency referral packet is so big, I’m surprised they don’t need blood samples.

12:50-3:15 – worked on reports for two students evaluated earlier today, complete with interruptions to assist in a first grade classroom (see my Facebook post, which was my initial case from above), take phone calls, and have quick discussions with teachers and students as they wandered their ways in.

3:20 – afternoon post on the bus loop interrupted by a student needing to be escorted to her bus, to prevent her from punching someone in the face over a missing notebook. Problem-solving at its best.

3:25-3:35 – hallway chit chat with the music teacher on our way out the door.

Don't forget to check out and "Like" my Facebook page!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Day in the Life, Tuesday

I've had a lot of questions from readers about what my every day goings-on look like, since the field of school psychology can take so many turns and have so many faces, building-to-building and district-to-district. Well, I had planned to do a "day in the life" post every day this week. Monday can be summed up very simply:

Committee on Special Education meetings. All day. Fun stuff, I tell you.

So, that brings us to Tuesday! Today was a pretty full day...

8:30 – arrived at school and answered emails before my other colleagues came in. Ahhh… peace and quiet…

9:00 – students entered school. I worked on Individuals Education Plans (IEPs) from my Committee on Special Education (CSE) meetings yesterday, entering specific services and durations for programming.

9:15 – headed to the main office to read the morning announcements. So not my job, but it gives the
kids a happy voice in the morning!

9:18-9:45 – peer mediation with three seventh grade girls. Beat head against a metaphorical wall
over “girl drama.” God forbid I have a daughter… To quote the moms of my students, “I don’t have
that to do.”

9:45 – returned to entering programming on IEPs.

10:00-11:00 – meeting with various mental health and/or support service providers (mental health
counseling agency based in our building, tutoring/mentoring services, after school program, school
counselor, Big Brother/Big Sister). I presented on Check-in, Check-out, PBIS initiatives, and CSE decisions. YAY for collaboration with awesome professionals!!

11:00 - returned to entering programming on IEPs. IEPs can be so tedious!

11:30 – 12:45 – worked on psychological consultation reports for two students with speech/language
impairments that are being considered for declassification from services. With interruptions to
remove a student from the cafeteria, answer emails, and take phone calls, of course.

12:45-1:15 – fact finding regarding a Child Protective Services (CPS) call being made by a colleague.
Since the abuser was in the school building and refused to leave without the child, I housed the student in my locked office and we colored together while we waited for CPS to come to school. Poor peanut. Come home with me. 

1:15-2:30 – ate lunch at laptop. Went back to work on psychological consultation reports. Finished
both, yay for productivity despite distractions!

2:30-3:15 – catching up with colleagues, debriefing on the CPS case, chit-chatting.

3:15-3:30 – afternoon post on the bus loop, helping with an orderly dismissal. omg… so warm and
lovely out today! Love bus loop hugs from kiddos heading home.

3:35 – heading home for me!

Don't forget to check out and "Like" my Facebook page!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Putting People First

One of our district special education supervisors recently forwarded some information to the Committee on Special Education staff on People First Language, asking that we share it with our special education teachers. Seriously? Let's share that with EVERYONE! General education, special education, teacher aides, teacher assistants, engineering staff, cafeteria monitors, secretaries, parent volunteers... EVERYONE works with students with disabilities, and EVERYONE should be thoughtful of how they are reacting to those with differing abilities.

It's a simple concept really--putting a person before their disability--but the implications are great. By using People First Language, we are describing what the person has, and not who the person is. Kathie Snow at Disability is Natural has great resources regarding People First Language. This PDF gives a great overview of People First Language, and was the one that I shared with my entire building. This PDF is a great supplement as it provides examples of how we can turn phrases into People First Language.

Are you mindful of using People First Language?

Don't forget to check out and "Like" my Facebook page!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Implications of Concussions

Yesterday, we had a Committee on Special Education meeting on an interesting, and tough, case. Although, if I'm blogging about it, it'd have to be interesting, right? When do I ever blog about the cut-and-dry cases?

R was referred for the first time this year despite many years of below grade level performance. He's currently in one of our top Integrated Co-Teaching classrooms, so he's being watched and taken care of by two fantastic, intervention driven teachers. Ms. J came to me with concerns about him a few months ago and wanted to make a referral to help him have academic support services next year for seventh grade.

Some background on R... he looks like a 20 year old man, even though he's 13. He's the perfect sports specimen, built for football but with the height for basketball, and he excels at both (like, 10 trophies at home and the kid's in 6th grade). Just this weekend, he was in Florida for a basketball tournament. He could easily get scholarships to college with his skills. He's Rico Sauve, all the girls swoon over him and he loves the attention; but, he's got a sensitive side too as he's a fantastic artist and very protective over those he cares about. Great sense of humor, great story-teller, lots of "swag." I would want to be friends with this kid.

Last year, he had a very poor teacher and it was a wasted year for him, and as you may imagine, his behavior was a problem. He was often cutting up in class and butted heads with the teacher constantly. As an adult, you would guess he often instigated some of the issues, but if my teacher called me "big lipped," I would feel the need to defend myself, too. (Yes, she really called him that. I could barely be mad at him when I had to deal with the issue.) More typical behaviors are a lack of motivation, distractibility, taking a long time to complete assignments, and becoming easily frustrated over academic tasks and shutting down.

I happily took R for testing, but was blown away by the results. R had a Full Scale IQ standard score of 57 and academic achievement standard scores around 65-70, which place him in the Intellectually Disabled range. WHAT? I'll take "Results I Would Never Bet on in Vegas" for 1,000, Alex. How did this social, artistic, could-go-pro-football-some-day kiddo obtain a lower IQ score than the student we just placed in a life skills program? The scores didn't make sense--sure, R has a lot of difficulty academically, but an ID classification?

At the end of last week, our social worker went out to R's house to meet his mom for a social history, and things began to fall into place. R met all his developmental milestones on time or even early, and was sinking baskets at age 2. Then, at age 7, he was hit by a car riding his bike, lost consciousness, and was taken to the ER, where he was diagnosed with a concussion. He repeated second grade that year. By 9, he had at least three more concussions playing football. Around age 10, his mother started noticing changes in his behavior (problems concentrating, more listless, memory difficulties, impulsivity) and his academics dropped. Suddenly unexpected results make sense--R probably has a traumatic brain injury from multiple concussions over a two year span.

The worst parts about this whole scenario are two fold: 1) R has been struggling for years, and no one ever evaluated him before, and 2) R's future could be totally changed as a result of these concussions and special education classification. A child that could've gone to college on a sports scholarship may now require intensive supports to obtain higher education, if he makes it there at all.

Concussions are serious business, and a new "buzz" in the education world. What looks like a bump on the head when it happens can have serious, lasting, devastating impact on a child's future, especially if injuries are cumulative. Check out the CDC's "Head's Up" program, which has great information for parents, coaches, etc about concussions and traumatic brain injuries and their long-term impacts. Also, here are some resources from NASP's Communique:

Sports-Related Concussions, by Don Brady and Flo Brady
Getting School Psychologists Into the Game, by Susan C. Davies

One further exciting development in concussion research is a cool new app from PAR, Inc. called Concussion Recognition & Response: Coach and Parent Version. The app helps individuals screen the likelihood of a concussion at the moment an injury occurs. This app was recently featured in the Communique. At the October 2012 NY Association of School Psychologists Conference in Niagara Falls, NY, there will be a strain on concussions and head injuries, where PAR will come to present on the app and its use, as well as experts from University at Buffalo. I highly encourage all nearby to attend (and not just because I'm on the conference planning committee!).

Don't forget to check out and "Like" my Facebook page!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Ins and Outs of Intellectual Disabilities

Monica over at The Undergrad Tales of a Psychology Major emailed me a fantastic group of questions that set me off and running in my (probably long-winded and unnecessarily detailed) response. She had some questions about intellectual disabilities, a topic that I find pretty cool. According to New York State, "intellectual disability" is defined as:
"...significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning, existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior and manifested during the developmental period, that adversely affects a student's educational performance." [Part 200.1(zz7)]
If we're talking about the numbers and standard scores, a student with an intellectual disability (ID) generally has cognitive ability, academic achievement, and adaptive behavior at or below a standard score of 70. However, every child with ID looks totally different from every other one. Each has their own strengths, weaknesses, etc, and each needs to be educated in their own particular way to maximize their learning. When developing interventions for students with ID, you must go on a kid-by-kid basis. A good place to start is to modify assignments and instruction to what each child needs (i.e. fewer items, extra repetition, larger print, extra pictures/graphs, pre-taught vocabulary, re-taught material, manipulatives and hands-on learning, additional time to complete assignments, etc).

I looked through my cases over this year and found a few examples to send Monica, which I'll share here. Note that none of these five kiddos has exactly the same background, scores, profile, strengths, weaknesses, levels of services, or placement. That's why I find ID so fascinating!

For all the scores below, 90-109 is Average, with a 15 point standard deviation on either side. Also note that a classification of ID should not be taken lightly. The classifying psychologist and team need to conduct a thorough record review, social history, teacher interview, observations, medical exam, academic assessment, intellectual assessment, adaptive assessment, and in some cases, visual-motor, memory, projective, etc tests, if they so choose.

See this blog post for background information. After a very thorough evaluation, we classified this kiddo as a student with Multiple Disabilities due to pervasive delays, ID level cognitive ability, head trauma, and Fetal Alcohol Diagnosis. He was placed in a 6:1+1 Special Class for medically fragile students outside of our building. He receives occupational therapy (OT) and speech therapy, as well as services during the summer to prevent substantial regression.

Wechsler Preschool & Primary Scales of Intelligence, 3rd Ed. – Full Scale IQ (FSIQ) = 77
Bracken-3 Self Concept Scale – School Readiness = 77
Vineland Adaptive Behavior Composite = 74

Third Grader—
This kiddo was referred by her teachers in '10-'11 and had extensive interventions by a variety of school personnel. She was classified as a student with a Learning Disability and was placed in an Integrated Co-Teaching program (one gen ed teacher, one SPED teacher). We reevaluated her this year, and at that time, she was reading 26 words per minute (goal is 110 by end of 3rd) and was unable to recognize, identify, and count numbers to 100, let alone attempt addition and subtraction. She was academically very delayed, but was socially competent. She loved coming down for chats at lunch and was always giving hugs in the hallway. She was placed in a 15:1 Special Class outside of our building and her classification was changed to ID.

Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, 4th Ed. – FSIQ = 71
Woodcock-Johnson III Tests of Achievement – Broad Reading= 73; Broad Math= 79; Broad Written Language= 86

Fifth Grader—
This kiddo is currently in a 6:1+1 Special Class for students with intense behavioral and academic needs and is classified as a student with an Other Health Impairment. He has a diagnosis of ADD, for which he is not currently medicated, and he is uber distractible. He also displays symptoms of Autism (visual self-stimulation with small toys, perseverating on topics of interest, like TV shows). He has very limited social skills and often aggravates his more advanced classmates by violating their social boundaries to be friendly. He has no concept of social cues and is a big target for physical aggression--we have a safety plan for him so he doesn’t get killed by the boys in his class with Emotional Disturbances. Academically, he is at the first grade level or lower and reads 41 words per minute (goal is 115 by end of 5th). He is highly delayed both academically and socially. We are reevaluating him now and will be having his meeting at the end of the month. We have a placement saved for him for next year at a 12-month private school providing instruction in self-care and vocational skills to students with intellectual disabilities. His classification will be changed to ID.

Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence, 2nd Ed. - FSIQ = 66
Woodcock-Johnson III Tests of Achievement – Brief Reading= 64; Brief Math= 54; Brief Written Language= 63
Vineland-II Adaptive Behavior Composite = TBD (I just finished testing him)

Fifth Grader—same classroom as above
This kiddo is also in a 6:1+1 classified as Learning Disabled. She has highly delayed daily living skills—can’t tie her shoes, has had bathroom accidents and not told anyone, can’t tell time or count coins, and has difficulty keep an orderly appearance that is socially appropriate (pulls her shirt and skirt up in class). She also tantrums in response to minor upsets and has very low frustration tolerance and coping skills. Her social skills are also impaired and she exhibits socially immature behaviors that hinder friendships. The kicker is that she’s a grade level reader at 118 words per minute and has passable writing skills, but her math is highly delayed. We reevaluated her and will be contacting the personnel in charge of the community-based life skills program within our district to evaluate her for their program.

Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, 4th Ed. – FSIQ = 60
Woodcock-Johnson III Tests of Achievement – Broad Reading= 85; Broad Math= 61; Broad Written Language= 89
Vineland-II Adaptive Behavior Composite = 62

Seventh Grader—
This kiddo was classified as a student with a Learning Disability and is currently placed within a 15:1 Special Class. Records indicated that she suffered a few strokes at birth due to ingesting meconium during delivery, but has not had any concerns past age four. On state exams in reading and math, she scored a Level 1, which does not meet basic standard. She cannot tell time or count coins, and has very basic skills in all academic areas. She is very immature socially and has difficulty working with others, but is an absolutely pleasant, sweet girl who is always smiling. We changed her classification to ID and she remains appropriately placed.

Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence, 2nd Ed.- FSIQ = 62
Woodcock-Johnson III Tests of Achievement – Brief Reading= 83; Brief Math= 56; Brief Written Language= 71

Don't forget to check out and "Like" my Facebook page!