What’s the big deal with SEL?

By Christina Cipriano, PhD

Social and Emotional Learning, or SEL, refers to interrelated sets of cognitive, affective, and behavioral competencies that underscore the way we understand, use, and manage emotions to learn. Emotions drive how we think, pay attention, make decisions, manage our time, and countless other processes that impact how students and teachers show up in the classroom.

The Rethink Ed SEL for ALL Learners platform is a school-based social and emotional learning (SEL) program for enhancing the psychosocial health and well-being of teachers and students while creating an optimal learning environment that promotes academic, social, and personal effectiveness. Psychosocial health and well-being refers to the knowledge and skills needed to promote mental health, emotion regulation, and prosocial behaviors—knowledge and skills that are necessary for optimal development.

Educators, parents, and legislators acknowledge the need for schools to address the social and emotional needs of students in order to provide a rich learning environment. In fact, a systematic process for promoting SEL is the common element among schools that report an increase in academic achievement, improved relationship quality between teachers and students, and a decrease in problem behaviors.

Ideal SEL curricula are those that address the full spectrum of children’s needs by cultivating a caring, supportive, and empowering learning environments that foster the development of all learners in the school. Rethink Ed SEL was designed specifically to meet these criteria.

Autism Prevalence Increases Again: 1:59

About 1 in 59 eight -year-old children in 11 communities across the United States were identified as having autism in 2014 as reported by the CDC this week. This report increases the feeling of urgency to ensure that all individuals living with autism receive appropriate services and supports to achieve their optimal outcomes. We still have a long way to go on this front, as adults living with autism have high rates of unemployment, experience limited social engagement with their communities, and do not have access to appropriate services in adulthood.

Autism prevalence has again risen. In addition to the prevalence numbers two interesting outcomes emerged:

  •  1.  Change in Ethnic Distribution: In the prior report (2012) they identified 20 percent more white children with autism than black children and 50 percent more than Hispanic children. In the most recent CDC report, researchers identified 7 percent more white children with autism than black children, and 22 percent more than Hispanic children. As there is no biologic reason for the disparity in autism diagnosis by ethnicity, this is directionally correct. This finding demonstrates progress in addressing ethnic diversity in autism diagnosis but as current movements like Black Lives Matter have brought to society’s attention, there is significant work to do to ensure the color of one’s skin does not dictate life outcomes. Ethnic disparity is an issue in education as well. Disproportionality in student disciplinegraduation rates, and enrollment in special education have all been raised as concerns. This autism prevalence study provides additional data that our society continues to struggle with racism.
  •  2.  Geographical Distribution: 11 US communities participated in this study and the results show various rates of autism prevalence. Across the multiple monitoring sites, prevalence ranged from a low of 1 in 77 children in Arkansas to a high of 1 in 34 in New Jersey. This disparity is most likely reflective of access to healthcare as well as awareness and understanding of autism. New Jersey is well known for its diagnostic services and supports to those living with autism and other developmental disabilities. However, children should not be excluded from services an supports simply because they were born outside of New Jersey.

Prevalence studies are important. We now have 15 years of prevalence reports from the CDC informing us as a community. Progress is being made. But awareness of the number of people living with autism should prompt action to the development of meaningful supports. Additionally, the adult outcomes for many living with autism are abysmal. We can’t just identify people; we need to identify, support, and ensure every individual living with autism can lead a high-quality life.

So you might be asking what does this mean for me and how can Rethink Ed help?

Every student with autism deserves a quality education; Rethink Ed provides your district the tools to design, deliver, and monitor, evidence-based practices in special education. The comprehensive suite of tools ensures that every student develops the academic, behavioral and social/emotional skills they need to succeed in school, at work, and in life. Rethink Ed can help. To learn more contact info@rethinked.com.

Cyberbullying and Special Needs Children

By Tranika Jefferson

We live in a world, in which nearly everything is digital. This makes life easier. However, it also causes problems. Previously, bullying had been confined to the school playground, bus, or outside in the neighborhood; however, this deadly phenomenon has filtered its way into the digital world and is known as cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is described as when someone intentionally uses digital media to threaten, harass, or intimidate someone (Heiman, Olenik-Shemesh & Eden, 2014). This can be done via the internet (e.g., social media, blog post, chat group, etc.), telephone (to include calls and text messages), or videos. Social media outlets such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat have created more opportunities for cyberbullying to potentially occur.

No longer restricted to school environments or direct physical contact, bullying can now expand from one continent to the other without the individuals involved even personally knowing each other. This allows 24/7 access for individuals to be victims of cyberbullying. No child is exempt from the destruction of cyberbullying and online harassment. Studies have found that children with special needs such as learning disorders, attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), and Autism Spectrum disorders are more likely to be bullied than their peers (Kowaloski & Fedina, 2011). A possible explanation for this is that children may not fully understand different disabilities. When someone is viewed as “socially awkward,” they are more likely to encounter cyberbullying since they are an “easy” target. Cyberbullying makes it that much easier for children to harm and alter the learning path of those with special needs by threatening, harassing, or intimidating them.

The digital world can help improve the social cognitive skills of children with special needs as well as “offer young people a setting for social support, intimacy and the development of autonomy through self-expression and identify exploration (Good & Fang, 2015).” However, it can also be a harmful place due to cyberbullying. Efforts must be made to address cyberbullying in the general population as well as with children with special needs. Parents, educators, and clinicians are tasked with the responsibility of ensuring the safety of these children while still teaching them skills on effectively dealing with virtual harassment or intimidation.

If children with special needs can be taught to deal with the adverse situations imposed upon them virtually, then they can continue to expand their own social skills and communication. In addition, they can increase their independence with the broad utilization that the virtual world offers. This, in turn, may improve their self-confidence, self-concept, and social life.

References

Good, B., & Fang, L. (2015). Promoting Smart and Safe Internet Use Among Children with Neurodevelopmental Disorders and Their Parents. Clinical Social Work Journal, 43(2), 179-188. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10615-015-0519-4

Heiman, T., Olenik-Shemesh, D., & Eden, S. (2014). Cyberbullying involvement among students with ADHD: relation to loneliness, self-efficacy and social support. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 30(1), 15-29. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08856257.2014.943562

Kowalski, R., & Fedina, C. (2011). Cyber bullying in ADHD and Asperger Syndrome Populations. Research In Autism Spectrum Disorders, 5(3), 1201-1208. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.rasd.2011.01.007

Raising the Bar for Students with Disabilities: Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District

The Supreme Court ruling in the Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District case is now raising the bar for special education for the first time in decades. The unanimous decision, issued in favor of Endrew on March 22, clearly establishes that “a student offered an educational program providing ‘merely more than de minimis’ progress from year to year, can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all.”

The ruling came after the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on behalf of Endrew F., a child with an autism spectrum disorder and an attention deficit/hyperactive disorder, who received annual Individualized Education Programs in the Douglas County School District in Colorado. According to the case, Endrew’s school never effectively addressed his behavioral issues and as a result, he made little to no progress from year to year. In fifth grade, his parents withdrew him from the school in Douglas County and enrolled him in a private school. They immediately developed a behavioral intervention plan and Endrew has since made significant progress.

This case is important to schools and individuals who serve students with disabilities because it addresses a very grey area in the Individuals with Disabilities Act. The act offers states federal funding to assist in educating children with disabilities. Along with that funding, states must comply with statutory requirements that obligate them to provide every child a “free appropriate public education.” Until now, that level of education was interpreted by a 1982, Board of Education v. Rowley case, in which the Supreme Court determined that free appropriate education meant states only had to provide “some educational benefit” to students with disabilities who meet grade-level expectations.

Today, that thought process has changed. The Supreme Court’s ruling is sending a message that it is necessary for schools across the country to help students progress, no matter their challenges. Quality instruction and intervention is the expectation for students with disabilities and therefore, we cannot ignore or dismiss the need for IEPs and interventions to be reasonably calculated to ensure children make progress in light of their circumstances or disabilities.

Over time, we’ve seen that students with disabilities can and do learn with quality programming. With the right support, they can also make progress throughout their educational career and integrate into society by acquiring jobs and living meaningful adult lives. One of the growing expectations to accomplish this in special education is the need to utilize evidence-based practices. Endrew was placed at a school that utilized Applied Behavior Analysis as the basis of its intervention practice. ABA is a well-established evidence-based practice in education. For students to have the greatest opportunity to succeed, their educational plan or program must be proven effective. Rethink is committed to all children and educators having access to the professional development tools and resources necessary to deliver effective interventions. The intervention strategies contained within Rethink are both highly effective and evidence-based. Like the program that Endrew attended, ABA is the foundation of Rethink.

Endrew prevailed in this case because he made significantly more progress in his alternative school after regressing in the previous public school he attended. This progress was demonstrated through his behavioral intervention plan and through his private school’s ability to track his progress with quality data collection and analysis tools. As a result of this case, schools must now be prepared to demonstrate that every student is making more than de minimis progress. Progress monitoring, although required by IDEA, is an aspect of special education service delivery that teachers are often not able to implement with a high degree of fidelity. Rethink supports teachers to develop, implement and monitor instructional programs. It also helps them to feel confident monitoring progress in instruction to ensure that children are not just learning, but growing in their abilities to meet their educational goals. Educators can also use Rethink to monitor progress and adapt their intervention plans and strategies to confirm students are making more than de minimis progress to meet the Supreme Court’s expectations. While more support is still necessary for schools to serve students with special needs adequately, this ruling is certainly a step in the right direction.