ChildsWork News, May 4, 2012: Unruly Behavior Could Equal a Mental Disorder and a Congressional Stance on Braille Education
The final news this week will focus on two interesting bits in the special needs education world. The first is a press release that discusses a presentation given be Thomas R. Insel, MD who is the director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Dr. Insel discusses the connection between unruly behavior in children and the presence of mental illness. Also this week, the contents of a letter addresses to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan was released. In this letter, 26 U.S. Senators urge the Secretary to promote the expansion and improvement of Braille education in the reauthorization of IDEA. Blindness and visual impairment is a problem that receives relatively little press compared to other disabilities, however, there are great benefits to the improvement of this education say the senators, led by Patty Murray, D-Washington. Unruly Kids May Have a Mental Disorder From Medical News Today When children behave badly, it's easy to blame their parents. Sometimes, however, such behavior may be due to a mental disorder. Mental illnesses are the No. 1 cause of medical disability in youths ages 15 and older in the United States and Canada, according to the World Health Organization. "One reason we haven't made greater progress helping people recover from mental disorders is that we get on the scene too late," said Thomas R. Insel, MD, director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the featured speaker at the American Academy of Pediatrics' Presidential Plenary during the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in Boston. Dr. Insel discussed signs of mental illnesses in young children and the importance of early diagnosis and intervention in his presentation, "What Every Pediatrician Needs to Know about Mental Disorders," in the Hynes Convention Center. As the first line of defense, pediatricians can detect mental disorders early and ensure children get treatment as soon as possible, Dr. Insel said. While questionnaires currently are the best way for doctors to screen for mental illness, better tools are on the horizon, such as cognitive and genetic tests. It's also important to understand that mental illnesses are a developmental brain disorder even though they can look like behavior problems, Dr. Insel explained. "The future of mental illness has to be at the point where we aren't treating behavior separately from the rest of the person," he said. "There needs to be full integration of behavior and medical concerns to ensure that we are able to care for the whole person and not just one system." In addition to serving as director of the NIMH, Dr. Insel is acting director of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, a new arm of the National Institutes of Health that aims to accelerate the development of diagnostics and therapeutics. Letter to Secretary Duncan re: Braille Literacy Please follow this link to the .pdf file provided by Education Week, the following is the text from Senator Murray’s website: Dear Secretary Duncan: We are writing in reference to the Department of Education’s regulation concerning the development, review, and revision of the individualized education program (IEP) for a student with blindness or a visual impairment. We strongly urge the U.S. Department of Education to develop new regulations and provide additional guidance to school districts to ensure students with blindness or a visual impairment are provided braille instruction when the student will benefit. In reauthorizing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 2004, the intent of Congress was for braille instruction to be presumed appropriate for all students with blindness or a visual impairment. However, current regulation does not provide school districts adequate guidance in developing, reviewing and revising the IEP. It has come to our attention that in some circumstances, parents and advocates request braille instruction for their child with blindness or low vision but meet resistance from a school-based IEP team member. We believe this is due, in part, to a misunderstanding of the needs of some students with low vision. Regardless of the reason, braille instruction is a crucial literacy skill which should be provided to students with blindness or a visual impairment who would benefit from learning braille. In statute, Congress acknowledges braille instruction is not appropriate for some students with blindness or a visual impairment. For example, students with blindness or a visual impairment who also have a significant cognitive or developmental disability delaying language acquisition may require alternative literacy approaches, but not necessarily braille. However, we are concerned there are some students who would benefit from braille instruction but are not receiving it. Instruction in braille closely parallels instruction in print reading. Beginning in kindergarten, instruction focuses on fundamentals such as phonemic awareness, and in later grades continues into higher order skills such as comprehension. For students with blindness entering kindergarten, braille instruction is begun immediately. However, as you know, many students with a visual impairment have a degenerative condition resulting in low vision or blindness during later childhood or adolescence. For many of these students, braille instruction is begun much later, once the student’s visual acuity significantly decreases. Often, the result is that the student is unable to access the grade-level curriculum because he or she lacks proficiency in braille. As we know from research, literacy gaps are difficult to close and result in other negative academic and social outcomes. Students with blindness or a visual impairment who are inappropriately denied or delayed braille instruction find themselves struggling in middle and high school, falling further behind their sighted peers. As this achievement gap persists, the student’s ability to compete with sighted peers for post-secondary opportunities and employment is significantly compromised. This literacy gap is both unnecessary and preventable. We strongly urge the U.S. Department of Education to engage stakeholder groups to develop new IDEA regulations related to the development of an IEP for a student with blindness or a visual impairment. New regulations should carry out the intent of Congress that students with blindness or a visual impairment must receive braille instruction, unless the results of a data based learning media assessment and other appropriate assessments indicate the student will not benefit from braille. The burden should be placed on the IEP team to use evidence from individual student assessment (i.e., data based learning media assessment, functional vision assessment, and other appropriate assessment tools) to negate the presumption created by Congress, that the IEP team “in the case of a child who is blind or visually impaired, provide for instruction in braille and the use of braille unless the IEP team determines, after an evaluation of the child’s reading and writing skills, needs, and appropriate reading and writing media (including an evaluation of the child’s future needs for instruction in braille or the use of braille), that instruction in braille or the use of braille is not appropriate for the child.” This evaluation must include a data based learning media assessment, which would provide data of learning modalities including auditory, visual, and tactual such as braille. Additionally, this data is to be used by the IEP team in determining the appropriate approach to literacy for the student. We also strongly urge the U.S. Department of Education to provide additional guidance to school districts as to the circumstances in which braille instruction is beneficial to a student who is blind or has a visual impairment. Assistive technology, including text-to-speech, is an important and necessary means to literacy for many students with print disabilities. However, for students with blindness or a visual impairment, providing instruction in assistive technology alone may not be used as the only reason for denying braille instruction. Instruction in braille offers students with blindness or a visual impairment the best path to college and career readiness, independence, and a productive future. Thank you for your partnership in ensuring the statutory provisions in IDEA are implemented consistent with the intent of Congress.