January - March, 2014


The Education News Blog will inform you of stories about public education, homeschooling and news concerning developmental disabilities such as autism and Asperger's.

Here you will see stories that you probably haven't seen on the major news shows or in the major newspapers.

In this issue of Education News Blog you will find:

March, 2014

Florida State Assessments Questioned
Autistic Siblings at Risk
The Arc
Autism and Obesity
Top 10 Ranked Colleges for Sp.Ed
Parents Accused of Taping IEP Meeting

February, 2014

Happy Birthday Colin
Little Accidents, a movie

January, 2014

American Girl Doll Company Petitioned
Using Therapy Dogs in the Work Place

MARCH, 2014


Has the Florida State Education Department gone to far?

This is a question that Andrea Rediske has to be asking after her son’s teacher made daily visits to assess his progress so that he could take the state assessment test.  Ethan, 11 years old was in a morphine coma and was expected to die at any moment.

The state education commissioner, Pam Stewart, defends the use of assessments for all students.  All students in Florida are required to take the state assessment tests.  An estimated 1.7 million students take the statewide assessments.  An alternate assessment is available for special needs students or those with severe disabilities can apply for an exemption from testing.  Any request must be approved by the superintendent and the state education commissioner.  However, only 50% of the 30 requests for exemption was granted.

Other examples of severely disabled students taking the assessment tests are:

·        11 year old who is blind and in a vegetative state

·        A child that had to be given a cookie after each answer in order to stay focused

These are just 2 examples of developmentally delayed students required to take the state assessment test.

Pam Stewart, State Education Commissioner, defended all children taking the assessment with this statement:

“We all know that the only way to guarantee success in any endeavor is to set goals and measure our progress.  In education, measuring progress is key to successful learning, and I firmly believe that every child enrolled in a public school in Florida deserves the opportunity to have access to the best education possible.  It would be a moral outrage to deny that opportunity to any child for any reason.”

Sabrina Berger, has been teaching students with severe disabilities for 18 years.  She is concerned about her performance evaluation because her student’s test scores are part of that evaluation.  When she is forced to give a state assessment that is geared for the mainstream to her students she questions the premise because it could affect her paycheck.

State Rep. Karen Castor Dentel has introduced a bill that will make it easier to opt out of the state assessments for special needs students.

From Disability Scoop



Research has found that almost 50 percent of siblings of an autistic child will have some type of developmental delay.

The Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reported that out of 294 siblings that had a brother or sister with autism, 17 percent of them will also develop autism and that 28 percent will have either a developmental delay or delay in behavior. The siblings were assessed at six month intervals from 6 months of age to 36 months old.

Siblings that did not show signs of autism did exhibit social and communication delays which showed up as shyness or delayed pointing.  These findings strengthened the need for babies who have an autistic sibling to be screened for any developmental delays regularly.


A Non-Profit Org. Helps People with Disabilities

The Arc, located in San Francisco, California, is a nonprofit organization that helps adults with developmental disabilities find jobs. The Arch has placed adults with autism, Down Syndrome and other developmental disabilities at more than 80 companies in the San Francisco Bay area.

Zendesk, a tech company, was the first to hire an employee at The Arc.  Eric Lin’s first job at Zendesk was office support.  That means that he helps with keeping the snacks and caffeine stocked. Lin has learned most everyone’s favorite munchies.  Eric works four hours a day and has an eight page checklist he runs through each shift.  Besides stocking the much needed snacks and caffeine, Eric cleans the conference room and kitchen on a daily basis.

The Arc supplies a job coach to its employees like Lin.  Whenever Lin gets a new responsibility, the job coach is beside Eric until he is able to handle the job sufficiently on his own.  The Arc also makes sure that the company and the developmental disabled person are a “good fit.”

Ainsley Hill, the facilities manager at Zendesk says, “Eric is a really hard worker.  He also really helps to lighten the mood around the office.  If you walk into the kitchen having a bad day, Eric immediately makes you feel better.”


I love this story!!  I wish a nonprofit organization like The Arc would have been around 40 years ago for my own brother, who is mentally delayed.  When he turned 21, there was no place for him to work.  Even though there have been big strides in work for the mentally and developmentally disabled, he was always just a little too old for the new program.

The Arc in Indiana has organized with Courtyard by Marriott to teach and employ people with disabilities. The state of Indiana has also committed up to $5 million to help fund this hospitality training institute and teaching hotel.

This first of a kind hotel is being built in Muncie, Indiana.  The Courtyard Marriott will be the first hotel that will have at least 20 percent of their staff that have some type of developmental or other type of disability.

Individuals will be able to learn about every aspect of the hotel industry; from food service to hotel management.  Human resources professionals will also be trained so that they can gain a better understanding in how to hire “special needs” individuals.

This idea was spawned by a father, Jeff Huffman, who was frustrated by the lack of post-secondary opportunities for his son that has Downs syndrome.  His idea will help hundreds of individuals who once had no hope of a job to be able to work for a living.

Expected opening date is Summer, 2015.


Between the years of 2008 and 2010, the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a study on the risk of  obesity.  They found that adolescents with developmental disabilities struggled with their weight more so than any of their peers without any disabilities.  Children with autism had the greatest risk.

The study used parent-reported data on almost 10,000 individuals between the ages of 12 – 17.  1,400 parents reported that their child(ren) had some type of developmental disability such as ADHD, learning or intellectual disability, autism, or a developmental delay.

This study found that 20 percent of individuals with intellectual disabilities are obese as compared to only 13 percent of adolescents without a developmental disability.  32 percent of children with autism are obese.

Obesity in children should be something every adult should be concerned about.  Obesity leads to other health issues.  For children that are already at risk because of their developmental disabilities, obesity in these children must be addressed.

Story from Disability Scoop



US NEWS 7 WORLD REPORT program ranking for best graduate schools for Special Education:

  • Vanderbilt University
  • University of Kansas
  • University of Oregon
  • University of Virginia
  • University of Florida
  • University of Texas at Austin
  • The University of Washington
  • The University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • University of Minnesota-Twin Cities



After 5 months, the San Carlos School District in San Carlos, California has finally been reprimanded by the U.S. Department of Education.

The parents of a second grader was falsely accused of audio recording an IEP meeting.  This child was receiving “special education services because of a health impairment and a speech or language impairment.” A letter from the Office for Civil Rights, after their investigation, stated, “The parents were proactive in seeking special services for their child, sometimes questioning determinations made by the district.”

The accusation was brought to the principal’s attention by a teacher who hadn’t even attend the Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting.  This accusation happened on October 3, 2012; a week after the IEP meeting.  On this same day, the parents had sent an e-mail to the principal and requested a consultation with the school psychologist to discuss their child’s behavioral issues.  Later that day, Oct. 3, the director of student services made the complaint to the Sheriff’s office.

This same director of student services later admitted that even though she contacted the district’s lawyer and the superintendent of schools, and the school board she never contacted the parents  about the allegation of taping the IEP meeting.

The director of student services stated that she had been informed that it was illegal to tape meetings with a 24 hour notice and the consent of everyone at the meeting.  The federal agency (US Dept. of Education) said that the state law does not apply to IEP meetings.

Some of the responses to this story:

Debra – “This kind of stuff happens all the time in our local school district.  They have a significant history of filing false complaints with DCFS.”

Advocat – “Too many parents have suffered child abuse investigations as retaliation for parental advocacy.


It seems to me that if parents want to record the IEP meeting, they should be able to regardless if everyone is in agreement.  I have been at these meetings.  There are many school personnel and the parents.  Often times, the parents are overwhelmed by all of the information coming their way during this 30 minute “informational” meeting.  However, at the end of this meeting the parents are required to sign off on the “goals” or “outcomes” that these teachers, psychologist, school counselor, principal and others have set for the child. 

All of these goals and outcomes are set in writing but these don’t mean anything to most of the parents.  Being assured by these professionals that their child is getting the services that their child needs is more important to the parent than specifics of the IEP.  Having a taped recording of the meeting that parents can go over and listen to again at a less stressful time would be a plus.

Again, why should school personnel object to a taped recording unless they are trying to be deceitful of their goals (which I can’t believe they would be)?

Story from Disability Scoop




When Colin told his mother that he didn’t want to have a birthday party because he had no friends, it must have brought a tear to her eye.  Instead, Jennifer turned to Facebook for help.  She created a page “where people could send positive thoughts and encouraging words.”

In one month, Colin received over 40,000 letters and cards after the family opened a post office box to receive all of the birthday cards for Colin. Over 2.1 million have liked Colin's birthday page.

Jennifer was trying to keep this a secret from her son until his birthday. However, this news story was so big that national media picked up the story and several kids told Colin they had seen him on TV.

Jennifer said this, “He’s going to have a lot of friends after this.  They may not live by him, but he’s going to have a lot of friends.”

Colin’s birthday was March 9.  On March 7, Colin and his family appeared on Good Morning America.  Colin thought they were on TV to test a new video game. After the family revealed that they were really there to celebrate his birthday, Good Morning America announced that they were sending the family to Walt Disney World.

Jennifer, Colin's mother, stated she was amazed how people had reached out to do something for her son.

Of course, Colin was all smiles.

HOPE YOU HAD A VERY HAPPY BIRTHDAY COLIN.  I hope every special needs girl and boy has a birthday like Colin had this year!!

Story from Disability Scoop


“Little Accidents” is a movie about a young boy with Down syndrome.  It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January.  The movie stars Boyd Holbrook (Milk), Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games), Josh Lucas (Sweet Home Alabama) and Oscar nominee Chloe Sevigny (Boys Don’t Cry).

The movie is about James, a young boy with Downs, who must protect a secret with his older brother after a mining accident kills their father.  The mining tragedy leaves one survivor.  The movie follows several families lives after this accident.

Beau Wright, a 9 year old, who plays the role of James, has Down syndrome. Ben and Amy Wright, Beau’s parents, both have a background in theater.  The Wrights became aware of the role for Beau after they themselves wrote and produced a music video with Lauren Potter, star of Glee.

The song called “Be the One,” raises awareness of establishing mentoring relationships with individuals that have intellectual and developmental disabilities.  The Wrights got to know Potter’s agent and was informed of the possible role for Beau.

Beau was excited about the possibility of starring in a movie.  He called it “his movie.”  Beau loves to watch movies on his Kindle so he worked with his sister to learn the lines. When he was told that he had gotten the role of James, he realized that what he would be doing “would end up on a screen like the shows he loves to watch.”

His mother, Amy, stated that roles like this one (referring to Beau as James) is a “great way for the world to see a 9 year old boy on the big screen with Down syndrome… Kids just like him are capable of doing this.”

As for Beau after the experience; he says, “I love being a movie star.”

This is one movie that I will be on the lookout for. 

Story from Disability Scoop



10 year old Melissa Shang of Philadelphia has petitioned the American Girl Doll Company to make a doll with disabilities, Dana Difilippo of the Philadelphia Daily News/MCT reported.


Melissa has loved the American Girl dolls from the time she was 7 years old.  She says she loves these dolls because each doll has a story of overcoming some obstacle.  The modern dolls may face the challenge of a reading difficulty or bullying.  The historic dolls face challenges common to girls who lived through slavery, the depression and even during the wars.

Every year American Girl Dolls introduces a new character with a story about overcoming a specific challenge or finding success.  These dolls can be from anywhere in our nation; California, New Mexico or Hawaii.  One thing the American Girl doll hasn’t had to face is the challenge of a life altering disability like muscular dystrophy; a disease which has left Melissa in a wheelchair.


Melissa says, “Disabled girls might be different from normal kids on the outside.  They might sit in a wheelchair like I do, or have some other difficulty that other kids don’t have.  However, we are the same as other girls on the inside, with the same thoughts and feelings.”

Her college aged sister, Ying Ying, and her started an on-line petition at to get the American Doll Company to feature a girl with a disability. 

This is Melissa and her big sister Ying Ying

Melissa told the reporter, “I learned what it was like to be a horseback rider and a gymnast from reading about Saige and McKenna (American Girl dolls).  But I want other kids to understand what it’s like to be a disabled girl.”

Melissa says that her disability has created challenges unimaginable for many.  As most kids in a wheelchair, Melissa spends her recess at the edge of the playground watching her friends jump rope, swinging or chasing each other.  She wants an American Girl doll to represent girls with disabilities, visible and invisible. 

If you would like to support Melissa in her endeavor, you can sign her petition at  So far morethan 60,000 people have joined her.

Using Therapy Dogs In the Work Place

Since 2006, the Austin Dog Alliance has been using therapy dogs in special education classes to help autistic children learn social skills.  Most recently, the Austin Dog Alliance is using dogs to help young people with autism in their jobs.

Kayla Gage has anxiety attacks due to her autism.  However, when she pets her dog Hacker, it calms her.  Kayla and her dog, Hacker are in this new program.  Carolyn Honish, the teacher of the S+CORE program, says that “dogs are easier to read than people are and they tend to be more forgiving.”

S+CORE stands for Student + Canines equals Opportunities for Rewarding Employment.  The classes are funded by the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services.  The class teaches students what they need to know to land and hold down jobs.

This is a two level course and works mainly with dogs at the Central Texas SPCA.  The first level student will learn how to clean kennels and take care of the dogs.  The second level student will learn skills like grooming.

Parents are pleased with this job training.  Monica Wilkins, mother of a student, says, “Ben doesn’t usually say ‘thank you’.  It makes me proud that he is learning to say ‘thank you.’ Canines are the key to helping students come out of their shells socially.”  She stated that Ben goes to his dog, Max, when he is stressed and Max just licks him in the face; noting that “dogs are non-judgmental.”

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