3-D Print “Bionic” Limbs for Children with Special Needs

I usually post about children with special needs who have learning and/or developmental disabilities, but ran across some information about new technology for children who are missing limbs that I found truly amazing and wanted to share.

A student at the University of Central Florida has designed a myo-electronic prosthetic arm that can be created via 3-D print technology with a price tag as low as $350.  Devices with similar capabilities can cost in the tens of thousands and are therefore beyond the reach of most families.  The student’s company is called “Limbitless” and you can actually download the files to print your own arm here in New Jersey or Pennsylvania at this website:  http://enablingthefuture.org/upper-limb-prosthetics/the-limbitless-arm/

You can find a sweet youtube video of Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man) giving one of these arms to a young boy here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oEx5lmbCKtY

It’s easy to see why kids would love these.  The future holds such great promise.


Special Needs Students — Discipline and Bullying in the Schools

Hello All:

I will be speaking Thursday evening, March 19, 2015 to a Parent group in Cherry Hill, New Jersey and they have graciously opened it up to other parents who may want to attend.  It’s not far from the Ben Franklin for any of you driving over from Pennsylvania.

The topic is: “Legal and Practical Issues for Parents of Special Needs Children with respect to School-Based Discipline and Bullying.”   There is a lot of misinformation out there about disciplining children who have IEPs or Section 504 Plans, as well as about the laws concerning bullying in the schools.  Although there is much overlap with general education, there are significant variations for special education students.

I hope to provide some clarity to your child’s rights and exposures, and what you can do in advance in their IEPs or Section 504 Plans to provide additional protections and opportunities for growth.

The location is in the Cherry Hill School District Mahberg Administrative Building, 45 Ronaldo Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ.   I will begin at 7:00 p.m.

Please say hello when you come.


New Education Law in NJ Would Allow Sign Language as a World Langauge

The New Jersey Senate Education Committee just approved a new bill for submission to the full Senate that would require school districts to accept proficiency in American Sign Language (ASL) as satisfying any state or local world language requirements.  Thus, students with strong ASL skills will be able to forgo other language courses if they so choose.

The wording of the statute is simple:  “Notwithstanding the provisions of any law, rule or regulation to the contrary, American Sign Language shall be recognized as a world language for the purpose of meeting any State or local world language requirement for high school graduation.” http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2014/Bills/S2000/1760_I1.HTM

Under current law, Districts already allow students with sufficient skills in more traditional world languages to opt out of high school foreign language courses.  ASL will now be added to the list.

The bill does not require a District to provide ASL instruction, but it is hoped that it will encourage more Districts in New Jersey to do so.   In turn, this would lead to large increases in the number of people in New Jersey who will be able to communicate with persons with disabilities that utilize ASL.

Some District’s already provide ASL instruction to children with special needs who require such training as part of their individualized special education  plans or as part of their Section 504 Plans.  Some Districts already also provide such instruction to the general education community as well, which in my opinion increases the level of true inclusion in those schools and their surrounding communities for persons who rely on ASL to communicate.

It is certainly a welcome step forward to conceptualize ASL as simply another language that people use around the world, rather than treating it as some mysterious form of communication that is only understood by those with auditory disabilities, which is how most people now see it.

Indeed, because ASL is utilized across many world cultures and geographic areas, it may be a bit more of a “world language” than the traditional languages currently taught in our schools.


Adults with Autism

Saw this article today put out by Public Broadcasting about seeking to have more thought and supports put into adult services for people on the autistic spectrum.

Parents are very rightly focused on special education services for their special needs children when the children are young.  But the children do grow up and for many the fight for dignity and a meaningful life will continue.

Efforts to raise the bar must not end at graduation.

See the link here:  http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/adults-autism-deserve-system-allows-thrive/




Another School Bus Incident for a Child with Autism

Once again another incident in which a child with autism was abused or abandoned on a school bus.  This time a driver tied a three year-old child into his seat.    http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/local-news/denver-bus-driver-accused-of-tying-down-autistic-3-yr-old

The web is replete with incidents involving children with autism being put off the bus on busy roads, being left on the bus overnight at the bus yard, or being otherwise forgotten on the bus on hot summer or cold winter days. There are similarly large numbers of reports of bus related incidents of physical abuse and bullying by drivers or other students with respect to children with a variety of special needs.

Many of these stories have occurred right here in New Jersey and southern Pennsylvania, and I have represented several families with respect to such issues.

Seeing another news report like this I am left with the seemingly impossible mindset of being simultaneously mind-boggled and not surprised.

Parents of special needs children are reminded to ask about and insist upon proper training for bus drivers and bus aides with respect both to their child’s disability in general and to any particular issues specific to their child. It is an often overlooked issue because it is outside of the school day and does not involve direct special education.

Stay safe out there.

Jerry Tanenbaum Special Education Speaking Engagements

Hello friends:

Tomorrow is a busy day for me as I will be making two presentations on special education topics.

In the morning I will be speaking in New Brunswick to other attorneys from across the state of New Jersey on the topic of Manifestation Determinations.  This topic deals with the often misunderstood issue of school discipline for students with special needs who  violate the student code of conduct.   The presentation is part of a continuing education program for attorneys entitled “Hot Topics in Special Education Law.”

In the evening, I will be presenting to a group of parents in Cherry Hill, New Jersey on the topic “How to Effectively Negotiate an IEP for Students with Special Learning Needs.”  The parent group is organized under ASPEN, which is focused on students who have Aspergers Syndrome, a disability associated with the Autism Spectrum.   An IEP is an Individual Education Plan and my presentation is a combination of knowing your child’s rights and knowing what District personnel are likely to find most persuasive.   I enjoy working with parent groups because the presentations often turn into interactive events, which include taking questions that can benefit the entire group.


Special Education Student Raped During Scheme by School Officials

I’ve written and spoken frequently on how school districts can sometimes be held accountable for the actions of one student toward another.  A recent case out of Alabama with some truely horrific facts seems to run counter to prevailing law.

The prevailing law holds that school officials can be liable under Constitutional arguments if the District took affirmative steps that increased the danger of foreseeable harm (known as the “state created danger” rule).  The school can also be liable if the harassment was based on gender, disability, race or ethnicity if the school knew of the harrassment, the harassment was severe or pervasive, it was sufficient to cause an educational detriment to the victim, and the school reacted to the bullying with “deliberate indifference.”

In this case, known as Hill v. Madison Cty. Sch. Board, the school district had a rule not to punish misbehavior of a student unless it could be “corroborated” by a third party.  Thus, a student who claimed she was bullied or otherwise harassed had no support from the school unless she could provide a witness or some other form of evidence of the maltreatment.

A special education aide at the school became aware that a male student who had a history of inappropriate sexual behavior was targeting some of the special needs female students at the school.  Because of the school “corroboration” rule, the aide believed that the offending boy could not be disciplined unless she had witnesses to his sexual misconduct. 

Thus, when a 14-year old female student with special needs informed her that the boy was harassing her and seeking to have sex with her in the boys’ bathroom, the aide told her she should agree to meet the boy in the bathroom for sex, where she and another teacher would be hiding, so they could catch him in the act. 

At first the girl said “no”, but the aide convinced her she would be safe and that they would stop it before it went too far.  The aide then went with the female student and reported her plan to the Vice Principal.  He did not instruct them to call it off, nor did he report it to his superiors.

The female student then went with the boy, but he took her to a different boys’ bathroom than the aide and teacher were hiding in.   She fought him off for a while but ultimately was anally raped.  Needless to say she was deeply traumatized.

You would think these facts would fit squarely within the “state created danger”  Constitutional claim, as well as amount to a severe attack, known to the school, and to which the school acted with deliberate indifference to the danger.  However, the case was thrown out on summary judgment by the federal District Court in Alabama. 

The parents are appealing to the 11th Circuit and the federal Department of Justice has written a brief to the Court in support of the special needs student.  You can read the brief yourself here: http://media.al.com/news_impact/other/doj%20amicus.pdf

You can read a news report of the case here: http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2014/09/feds_side_with_14-year-old_gir.html

One of the more appalling comments from the school vice principal is that the victim was “responsible for herself once she entered into that bathroom.”  This comment should never be made about any victim of rape, let alone a young girl in the special education community.

I have read reports of studies showing that girls with special needs are up to 8 times as likely to be sexually abused at school as compared to other girls.  Sadly, I am not suprised.  I am suprised, however, that such girls cannot obtain protection from the federal courts on facts as egregious as the ones here.  I am quietly confident that the Circuit Court will overturn the dismissal and send the case back for trial.

If your child is harassed at school, remember to report it to teachers and administrators.  People are often reluctant to report, but the District’s knowledge of the abuse is critical to holding them responsible if they fail to take effective measures in response.


Special Education “Individual Employment Plans”

Congress has passed a bill that may change the way many people with disabilities or other special needs now move into the workforce.  It amends the existing Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.

Currently, large numbers of people with significant special needs issues manage to find productive work experiences in what are known as “sheltered workshops.”  These work groups consists of a workforce of people with special needs and some trained supervisory staff.  The work often involves repetitive manual labor, such as sorting items into boxes or packaging.

The issue the bill is intended to address is that the workshops are segregated and pay substandard wages, often well below minimum wage, which they are permitted to do under an exception to the Fair Labor Standards Act.   Many believe that far too many and too capable of people are being pushed into these workshops, when instead they could have actual competitive employment at higher wages along side non-disabled workers.

The bill attempts to address that issue in several ways — (1) it requires state vocational agencies to work with high schools to provide vocational training, including the development of “individual employment plans” while the student is still eligible for special education; and (2) it prohibits individuals under age 24 from accepting a sub-minimum wage position without first having tried to find competitive employment.  

Some critics are concerned that sheltered workshops will close, and that many persons with special needs who depend on such opportunities to be productive in society might find less and less opportunity to participate in such programs.

For myself, it appears to be a step forward – perhaps most importantly in forcing agencies and schools to develop more meaningful transition plans.  The idea of an individualized employment plan that is developed while the student is still in high school and receiving special education is, at least in theory, especially appealing. 

Parents of students who might need such services should (as always) be pushing for meaningful vocational or employment guidance as soon as their children move into high school.  Once the bill is signed and the program is in place, they should advocate as strongly with respect to the details of their child’s Employment Plan as they do now for their child’s Individualized Educational Plan.

All the best,



School Recess for Body Regulation and Sensory Input

Here is an interesting article from the Council On School Health about the importance of recess for all students in school — not just students in special education. The Council writes because recess for students generally is being reduced in many districts throughout the nation.   He notes cognitive, academic, social emotional and physical benefits.   Here is the link:  http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/131/1/183.full

For those of you with children who have special needs, especially those on the autistic spectrum, you likely have learned how important body regulation and sensory input can be for a student to have success at school.  Recess can be a utilized with support from the school OT to provide such benefits, in addition to those discussed in the article.

Indeed some of the ideas discussed in the article about recess for all students should be considered for possible IEP programming specific to your child.

Finally, for all of the above reasons, it can be important for children with special needs that access to recess not be used as a disciplinary tool,  and that they are not pulled out from recess for other forms of supplemental or related services.  When you sit with your IEP Teams in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, you may want to give some thought to these issues.

All the best,  Jerry Tanenbaum

Child With Autism Entitled to Service Dog in School

The Unites States Justice Department recently brought suit on behalf of an 8 year old boy with special needs — autism and encephalopathy — against a New Jersey school district.  The suit alleged that the School District discriminated against the child by first requiring him to provide an inordinate amount of paper work to support his request to use a service dog, and then by denying his request. 

The case is a good reminder that service dogs are now being used effectively for all sorts of disabilities — not simply for people with blindness as we might be accustomed to.  In this case, the dog was there to keep the child from wandering off; to reduce the child’s anxiety and increase attentiveness; and to alert adults if the child started to have a seizure.  They are increasingly being used for people with other special needs, such as mental health issues, deafness, and mobility issues. 

This case shows that children in special education settings may under the right circumstances require their schools to accommodate the use of service animals during the school day. 

Here is a link to the news report:   http://www.courierpostonline.com/story/news/local/south-jersey/2014/06/24/delran-schools-pay-k-refusing-students-service-dog/11318031/