Non-Traditonal Instructional Grouping for Reading for Students with LD: Implications for Practice

By: Ifeanyi-Allah Ufondu, Marie Tejero Hughes, Sally Watson Moody, and Batya Elbaum

After discussion of each grouping format, implications for practice are highlighted with particular emphasis on instructional practices that promote effective grouping to meet the needs of all students during reading in general education classrooms. In the last 5 years, two issues in education have assumed considerable importance: reading instruction and inclusion. With respect to reading instruction, the issue has been twofold: (a) Too many students are not making adequate progress in reading), and (b) we are not taking advantage of research based practices in the implementation of reading programs. In the popular press the complexities and subtleties of this issue have been reduced to a simple argument between phonics versus whole language, but the reality is that there is considerable concern about the quality and effectiveness of early reading instruction. With respect to the second major issue of inclusion, considerable effort has been expended to restructure special and general education so that the needs of students with disabilities are better met within integrated settings. The result is that more students with disabilities receive education within general education settings than ever before, and increased collaboration is taking place between general and special education.
Both of these issues-reading instruction and inclusion-have been the topics for national agendas (e.g., President Clinton’s announcement in his State of the Union Address in 1996 that every child read by the end of third grade, Regular Education Initiative), state initiatives (e.g., Texas and California Reading Initiatives), and local school districts. The implementation of practices related to both of these issues has immediate and substantive impact on professional development, teaching practices, and materials used by classroom teachers.
Grouping practices for reading instruction play a critical role in facilitating effective implementation of both reading instruction and inclusion of students with disabilities in general education classes. Maheady referred to grouping as one of the alterable instructional factors that “can powerfully influence positively or negatively the levels of individual student engagement and hence academic progress”, as well as a means by which we can address diversity in classrooms. As increased numbers of students with learning disabilities (LD) are receiving education in the general education classroom, teachers will need to consider grouping practices that are effective for meeting these students’ needs. Furthermore, reading instruction is the academic area of greatest need for students with LD; thus, grouping practices that enhance the reading acquisition skills of students with LD need to be identified and implemented.
Until relatively recently, most teachers used homogeneous (same ability) groups for reading instruction. This prevailing practice was criticized based on several factors; ability grouping: (a) lowers self-esteem and reduces motivation among poor readers, (b) restricts friendship choices, and (c) widens the gap between poor readers and good readers. Perhaps the most alarming aspect of ability grouping was the finding that students who were the poorest readers received reading instruction that was inferior to that of higher ability counterparts in terms of instructional time; time reading, discussing, and comprehending text (Allington, 1980); and appropriateness of reading materials. As a result, heterogeneous grouping practices now prevail, and alternative grouping practices such as cooperative learning and peer tutoring have been developed.
As general education classrooms become more heterogeneous, due in part to the integration of students with LD, both special and general education teachers need to have at their disposal a variety of instructional techniques designed to meet the individual needs of their students. In this article, we provide an overview of the recent research on grouping. practices (whole class, small group, pairs, one-on-one) teachers use during reading instruction; furthermore, implications for reading instruction are highlighted after each discussion.


Whole-class instruction
Research findings

Considerable research has focused on the fact that for much of general education the instructional format is one in which the teacher delivers education to the class as a whole. The practice of whole-class instruction as the dominant approach to instruction has been well documented. For example, in a study that involved 60 elementary, middle, and high school general education classrooms that were observed over an entire year, whole-class instruction was the norm. When teachers were not providing whole-class instruction, they typically circulated around the room monitoring progress and behavior or attended to their own paperwork.
Elementary students have also reported that whole-class instruction is the predominant instructional grouping format. Students noted that teachers most frequently provided reading instruction to the class as a whole or by having students work alone. Students less frequently reported opportunities to work in small groups, and they rarely worked in pairs. Although students preferred to receive reading instruction in mixed-ability groups, they considered same ability grouping for reading important for nonreaders. Students who were identified as better readers revealed that they were sensitive to the needs of lower readers and did not express concerns about the unfairness of having to help them in mixed-ability groups. In particular, students with LD expressed appreciation for mixed-ability groups because they could then readily obtain help in identifying words or understanding what they were reading.
Many professionals have argued that teachers must decentralize some of their instruction if they are going to appropriately meet the needs of the increasing number of students with reading difficulties. However, general education teachers perceive that it is a lot more feasible to provide large-group instruction than small-group instruction for students with LD in the general education classroom. The issue is also true for individualizing instruction or finding time to provide mini lessons for students with LD. Teachers have reported that these are difficult tasks to embed in their instructional routines.


Implications for practice
Numerous routines and instructional practices can contribute to teachers’ effective use of whole-class instruction and implementation of alternative grouping practices.
Teachers can involve all students during whole-class instruction by asking questions and then asking students to partner to discuss the answer. Ask one student from the pair to provide the answer. This keeps all students engaged.
Teachers can use informal member checks to determine whether students agree, disagree, or have a question about a point made. This allows each student to quickly register a vote and requires students to attend to the question asked. Member checks can be used frequently and quickly to maintain engagement and learning for all students.
Teachers can ask students to provide summaries of the main points of a presentation through a discussion or after directions are provided. All students benefit when the material is reviewed, and a student summary allows the teacher to determine whether students understand the critical features.
Because many students with LD are reluctant to ask questions in large groups, teachers can provide cues to encourage and support students in taking risks. For example, teachers can encourage students to ask a “who,” “what,” or “where” question.
At the conclusion of a reading lesson, the teacher can distribute lesson reminder sheets, which all the students complete. These can be used by teachers to determine (a) what students have learned from the lesson, (b) what students liked about what they learned, and (c) what else students know about the topic.


Small-group instruction
Research findings

Small-group instruction offers an environment for teachers to provide students extensive opportunities to express what they know and receive feedback from other students and the teacher. Instructional conversations are easier to conduct and support with a small group of students. In a recent meta-analysis of the extent to which variation in effect sizes for reading outcomes for students with disabilities was associated with grouping format for reading instruction, small groups were found to yield the highest effect sizes. It is important to add that the overall number of small-group studies available in the sample was two. However, this finding is bolstered by the results of a meta-analysis of small-group instruction for students without disabilities, which yielded significantly high effect sizes for small-group instruction. The findings from this meta-analysis reveal that students in small groups in the classroom learned significantly more than students who were not instructed in small groups.
In a summary of the literature across academic areas for students with mild to severe disabilities, Polloway, Cronin, and Patton indicated that the research supported the efficacy of small-group instruction. In fact, their synthesis revealed that one-to-one instruction was not superior to small-group instruction. They further identified several benefits of small-group instruction, which include more efficient use of teacher and student time, lower cost, increased instructional time, increased peer interaction, and opportunities for students to improve generalization of skills.
In a descriptive study of the teacher-student ratios in special education classrooms (e.g., 1-1 instruction, 1-3 instruction, and 1-6 instruction), smaller teacher-led groups were associated with qualitatively and quantitatively better instruction. Missing from this study was an examination of student academic performance; thus, the effectiveness of various group sizes in terms of student achievement could not be determined.
A question that requires further attention regarding the effectiveness of small groups is the size of the group needed based on the instructional needs of the student. For example, are reading group sizes of six as effective as groups of three? At what point is the group size so large that the effects are similar to those of whole-class instruction? Do students who are beginning readers or those who have struggled extensively learning to read require much smaller groups, perhaps even one-on-one instruction, to ensure progress?
Although small group instruction is likely a very powerful tool to enhance the reading success of many children with LD, it is unlikely to be sufficient for many students. In addition to the size of the group, issues about the role of the teacher in small-group instruction require further investigation. In our analysis of the effectiveness of grouping practices for reading, each of the two studies represented different roles for the teacher. In one study, the teacher served primarily as the facilitator, while in a second study the teacher’s role was primarily one of providing direct instruction. Although the effect sizes for both studies were quite high (1.61 and .75, respectively), further research is needed to better understand issues related to a teacher’s role and responsibility within the group.


Implications for practice
Many teachers reveal that they have received little or no professional development in how to develop and implement successful instructional groups. Effective use of instructional groups may be enhanced through some of the following practices.
Perhaps the most obvious, but not always the most feasible application of instructional groups, is to implement reading groups that are led by the teacher. Whereas these groups have been demonstrated as effective, many teachers find it difficult to provide effective instruction to other members of the class while they are providing small-group instruction. Some teachers address this problem by providing learning centers, project learning, and shared reading time during small group instruction.
Flexible grouping has also been suggested as a procedure for implementing small-group instruction that addresses the specific needs of students without restricting their engagement to the same group all the time. Flexible grouping is considered an effective practice for enhancing the knowledge and skills of students without the negative social consequences associated with more permanent reading groups. This way teachers can use a variety of grouping formats at different times, determined by such criteria as students’ skills, prior knowledge, or interest. Flexible groups may be particularly valuable for students with LD who require explicit, intensive instruction in reading as well as opportunities for collaborative group work with classmates who are more proficient readers. Flexible grouping may also satisfy students’ preferences for working with a range of classmates rather than with the same students all of the time.
Student-led small groups have become increasingly popular based on the effective implementation of reciprocal teaching. This procedure allows students to take turns assuming the role of the leader and guiding reading instruction through question direction and answer facilitation.

Peer pairing and tutoring
Research findings

Asking students to work with a peer is an effective procedure for enhancing student learning in reading and is practical to implement because teachers are not responsible for direct contact with students. For students with LD involved in reading activities, the overall effect size for peer pairing based on a meta-analysis was ES = .37. This finding was similar to one reported for students with LD (ES = .36; Mathes & Fuchs, 1994) and for general education students (mean ES = .40).
The Elbaum and colleagues report revealed that the magnitude of the effects for peer pairing differed considerably depending on the role of the student within the pair. For example, when students with disabilities were paired with same-age partners, they derived greater benefit (ES = .43) from being tutored rather than from engagement in reciprocal tutoring (ES = .15). This may be a result that for the most part the tutors were students without disabilities who demonstrated better reading skills and were able to provide more effective instruction. These findings differ, however, when the peer pairing is cross-age rather than same-age. Overall, cross-age peer pairing students with disabilities derived greater benefit when they served in the role of tutor.
Students with LD prefer to work in pairs (with another student) rather than in large groups or by themselves. In fact, many students with LD consider other students to be their favorite teacher. Considering the high motivation students express for working with peers and the moderately high effect sizes that result from peer pairing activities for reading, it is unfortunate that students report very low use of peer pairing as an instructional procedure.
Implications for practice
Because students appreciate and benefit from opportunities to work with peers in reading activities, the following instructional practices may enhance opportunities for teachers to construct effective peer pairing within their classrooms.
Classwide Peer Tutoring (CWPT) is an instructional practice developed at Juniper Gardens to “increase the proportion of instructional time that all students engage in academic behaviors and provide pacing, feedback, immediate error correction, high mastery levels, and content coverage”. CWPT requires 30 minutes of instructional time during which 10 minutes is planned for each student to serve as a tutor, 10 minutes to be tutored, and 5 to 10 minutes to add and post individual and team points. Tutees begin by reading a brief passage from their book to their tutor, who in turns provides immediate error correction as well as points for correctly reading the sentences. When CWPT is used for reading comprehension, the tutee responds to “who, what, when, where, and why” questions provided by the tutor concerning the reading passage. The tutor corrects responses and provides the tutee with feedback.
Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies (PALS) borrows the basic structure of the original CWPT but expands the procedures to engage students in strategic reading activities. Students are engaged in three strategic reading activities more typically addressed during teacher directed instruction: partner reading with retell, paragraph summary, and prediction relay. PALS provides students with intensive, systematic practice in reading aloud, reviewing and sequencing information read, summarizing, stating main ideas, and predicting.
Think-Pair-Share hare was described by McTighe and Lyman as a procedure for enhancing student engagement and learning by providing students with opportunities to work individually and then to share their thinking or work with a partner. First, students are asked to think individually about a topic for several minutes. Then they are asked to work with a partner to discuss their thinking or ideas and to form a joint response. Pairs of students then share their responses with the class as a whole.

One-on-one instruction
Research findings

Traditionally, one-on-one instruction in which the student receives explicit instruction by the teacher is considered the most effective practice for enhancing outcomes for students with LD. In fact, the clinical model where the teacher works directly with the student for a designated period of time has a long standing tradition in LD. Most professionals consider one-on-one instruction to be the preferred procedure for enhancing outcomes in reading . Many professionals perceive one-on-one instruction as essential for students who are falling to learn to read: “Instruction in small groups may be effective as a classroom strategy, but it is not sufficient as a preventive or remedial strategy to give students a chance to catch up with their age mates”.
In a review of five programs designed for one-on-one instruction, Wasik and Slavin revealed that all of the programs were highly effective, even though they represented a broad range of methodologies. Though one-on-one instructional procedures are viewed as highly effective, they are actually infrequently implemented with students with LD, and when implemented, it is often for only a few minutes.
In a recent review of research on one-on-one instruction in reading, no published studies were identified that compared one-on-one instruction with other grouping formats (e.g., pairs, small groups, whole class) for elementary students with LD. Thus, though one-on-one instruction is a highly prized instructional procedure for students with LD, very little is known about its effectiveness.


Implications for practice
The implications for practice of one-on-one instruction are in many ways the most difficult to define because although there is universal agreement on its value, very little is known about its effectiveness for students with LD relative to other grouping formats. Furthermore, the instructional implications for practitioners revolve mostly around assisting them in restructuring their classrooms and caseloads so that it is possible for them to implement one-on-one instruction. Over the past 8 years we have worked with numerous special educators who have consistently informed us that the following factors impede their ability to implement one-on-one instruction: (a) case loads that often require them to provide services for as many as 20 students for 2 hours per day, forcing group sizes that exceed what many teachers perceive as effective; (b) increased requirements to work collaboratively with classroom teachers, which reduces their time for providing instruction directly to students; and (c) ongoing and time-consuming paperwork that facilitates documentation of services but impedes implementation of services.
Considering the “reality factors” identified by teachers, it is difficult to imagine how they might provide the one-on-one instruction required by many students with LD in order to make adequate progress in reading. Certainly, it would require restructuring special education so that the number of students receiving services and the amount of time these services are provided by special education teachers is altered.
Research studies have repeatedly shown that reading instruction in many classrooms is not designed to provide students with sufficient engaged reading opportunities to promote reading growth. We have provided a summary of recent research on the effectiveness for students with LD of various grouping practices that can increase engaged reading opportunities, as well as implications of this research for classroom instruction. As classrooms become more diverse, teachers need to vary their grouping practices during reading instruction. There needs to be a balance across grouping practices, not a sweeping abandonment of smaller grouping practices in favor of whole-class instruction. Teachers can meet the needs of all students, including the students with LD, by careful use of a variety of grouping practices, including whole-class instruction, teacher- and peer-led small group instruction, pairing and peer tutoring, and one-on-one instruction.


About the authors

Ifeanyi-Allah Ufondu, PhD, is the Nation’s leading Special Needs advocate and Educational Psychologist. He is also the founder of Beautiful Minds Inc.- Advocacy & Special Needs Solutions. His current interests include best grouping practices for reading instruction and advocacy for At-Risk youth. Marie Tejero Hughes, PhD, is a research assistant professor in the School of Education at the University of Miami. Her research interests include parental involvement and instructional strategies for students with disabilities in inclusive settings. Sally Watson Moody is a senior research associate in the School of Education at the University of Miami. Her research interests include instructional grouping and effective reading instruction for students with learning disabilities. Batya Elbaum, PhD, is an assistant research professor in the School of Education at the University of Miami. Her primary research is on the academic progress and social development of students with learning disabilities.

Effective Reading Interventions for Kids with Learning Disabilities

By: Dr. Ifeanyi Ufondu, Ph.D.

A worried mother says, “There’s so much publicity about the best programs for teaching kids to read. But my daughter has a learning disability and really struggles with reading. Will those programs help her? I can’t bear to watch her to fall further behind.”
Fortunately, in recent years, several excellent, well-publicized research studies (including the Report of the National Reading Panel) have helped parents and educators understand the most effective guidelines for teaching all children to read. But, to date, the general public has heard little about research on effective reading interventions for children who have learning disabilities (LD). Until now, that is!
This article will describe the findings of a research study that will help you become a wise consumer of reading programs for kids with reading disabilities.

Research reveals the best approach to teaching kids with LD to read

You’ll be glad to know that, over the past 30 years, a great deal of research has been done to identify the most effective reading interventions for students with learning disabilities who struggle with word recognition and/or reading comprehension skills. Between 1996 and 1998, a group of researchers led by H. Lee Swanson, Ph.D., Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of California at Riverside, set out to synthesize (via meta-analysis) the results of 92 such research studies (all of them scientifically-based). Through that analysis, Dr. Swanson identified the specific teaching methods and instruction components that proved most effective for increasing word recognition and reading comprehension skills in children and teens with LD.
Some of the findings that emerged from the meta-analysis were surprising. For example, Dr. Swanson points out, “Traditionally, one-on-one reading instruction has been considered optimal for students with LD. Yet we found that students with LD who received reading instruction in small groups (e.g., in a resource room) experienced a greater increase in skills than did students who had individual instruction.”
In this article, we’ll summarize and explain Dr. Swanson’s research findings. Then, for those of you whose kids have LD related to reading, we’ll offer practical tips for using the research findings to “size up” a particular reading program. Let’s start by looking at what the research uncovered.


A strong instructional core

Dr. Swanson points out that, according to previous research reviews, sound instructional practices include: daily reviews, statements of an instructional objective, teacher presentations of new material, guided practice, independent practice, and formative evaluations (i.e., testing to ensure the child has mastered the material). These practices are at the heart of any good reading intervention program and are reflected in several of the instructional components mentioned in this article.
Improving Word Recognition Skills: What Works?

“The most important outcome of teaching word recognition,” Dr. Swanson emphasizes, “is that students learn to recognize real words, not simply sound out ‘nonsense’ words using phonics skills.”
What other terms might teachers or other professionals use to describe a child’s problem with “word recognition”
phonemic awareness
word attack skills
Direct instruction appears the most effective approach for improving word recognition skills in students with learning disabilities. Direct instruction refers to teaching skills in an explicit, direct fashion. It involves drill/repetition/practice and can be delivered to one child or to a small group of students at the same time.
The three instruction components that proved most effective in increasing word recognition skills in students with learning disabilities are described below. Ideally, a reading program for word recognition will include all three components.
Increasing Word Recognition Skills in Students With LD

Instruction component Program Activities and Techniques*
Sequencing The teacher:
Breaks down the task (e.g., starts by having the child break an unknown word into separate sounds or parts they can sound out).
Gradually reduces prompts or cues.
Matches the difficulty level to the task and to the student.
Sequences short activities (e.g., first spends 10 minutes reviewing new words from a previous lesson, then 5 minutes underlining new words in the passage, and finally 5 minutes practicing blends).
Uses step-by-step prompts.
Segmentation The teacher:
Breaks down the targeted skill (e.g., identifying a speech or letter sound) into smaller units or component parts (e.g., sounding out each speech or letter sound in that word).
Segments or synthesizes component parts (e.g., sounds out each phoneme in a word, then blends the sounds together).
Advanced organizers The teacher:
Directs children to look over material prior to instruction.
Directs children to focus on particular information.
Provides students with prior information about tasks.
Tells students the objectives of instruction upfront.
* May be called “treatment description” in research studies.
Improving reading comprehension skills: What works?
The most effective approach to improving reading comprehension in students with learning disabilities appears to be a combination of direct instruction and strategy instruction. Strategy instruction means teaching students a plan (or strategy) to search for patterns in words and to identify key passages (paragraph or page) and the main idea in each. Once a student learns certain strategies, he can generalize them to other reading comprehension tasks. The instruction components found most effective for improving reading comprehension skills in students with LD are shown in the table below. Ideally, a program to improve reading comprehension should include all the components shown.

Improving Reading Comprehension in Students With LD

Instruction component Program Activities and Techniques*
Directed response/questioning The teacher:
Asks questions.
Encourages students to ask questions.
The teacher and student(s):
Engage in dialogue.
Control difficulty of processing demands of task The teacher:
Provides assistance (as needed).
Gives a simplified demonstration.
Sequences tasks from easy to difficult.
Presents easy steps or concepts first and moves on to progressively more difficult steps or concepts (a technique called task analysis).
Allows student to control level of difficulty.
The activities:
Are short.
Elaboration The activities:
Provide student with additional information or explanation about concepts, steps, or procedures.
Use redundant text or repetition within text.
Modeling of steps by the teacher Teacher demonstrates the processes and/or steps the students are to follow.
Group instruction Instruction and/or verbal interaction takes place in a small group composed of students and teacher
Strategy cues The teacher:
Reminds the student to use strategies or multiple steps.
Explains steps or procedures for solving problems.
The activities:
Use “think aloud” models.
List the benefits of strategy use or procedures.
* May be called “treatment description” in research studies.
Evaluating your child’s reading program
Now you are well-equipped with research-based guidelines on the best teaching methods for kids with reading disabilities. These guidelines will serve you well even as new reading programs become available. To evaluate the reading program used in your child’s classroom, follow these steps:
Ask for detailed literature on your child’s reading program. Some schools voluntarily provide information about the reading programs they use. If they don’t do this — or if you need more detail than what they provide — don’t hesitate to request it from your child’s teacher, special education teacher, resource specialist, or a school district administrator. In any school — whether public or private — it is your right to have access to such information.
Once you have literature on a specific reading program, locate the section(s) that describe its instruction components. Take note of where your child’s reading program “matches” and where it “misses” the instruction components recommended in this article. To document what you find, you may find our worksheets helpful.
Reading Program Evaluation: Word Recognition
Reading Program Evaluation: Reading Comprehension
Find out if the instruction model your child’s teacher uses is Direct Instruction, Strategy Instruction, or a combination approach. Some program literature states which approach a teacher should use; in other cases, it’s up to the teacher to decide. Compare the approach used to what this article describes as being most effective for addressing your child’s area of need.
Once you’ve evaluated your child’s reading program, you may feel satisfied that her needs are being met. If not, schedule a conference with her teacher (or her IEP team, if she has one) to present your concerns and discuss alternative solutions.
Hope and hard work — not miracles
Finally, Dr. Swanson cautions, “There is no ‘miracle cure’ for reading disabilities. Even a reading program that has all the right elements requires both student and teacher to be persistent and work steadily toward reading proficiency.”
But knowledge is power, and the findings of Dr. Swanson’s study offer parents and teachers a tremendous opportunity to evaluate and select reading interventions most likely to move kids with LD toward reading success.


It will allow adults on the spectrum to live independently and train for employment.
Debra Caudy is a retired oncologist who lives in the DFW area of Texas. She has four kids, one of whom is on the autism spectrum. His name is Jon and he’s 19-years-old. She and her husband had noticed that resources for adults on the spectrum are lacking in the area, so they bought 29 acres of land in Northern Texas to build a gated community for people with ASD.
It will have 15 homes, 150+ trained professionals, job training and more. They raised more than $1 million and they’re now working with investors to raise another $11 million.
Read More: Dallas Parents Will Build Community for People With Autism – The Good News [VIDEO] |

US families provide billions in unpaid care to kids with special needs

written by Dr. Ifeanyi-Allah Ufondu- Los Angeles, CA

Millions of U.S. children with special needs receive care from family members that would cost billions of dollars if it was instead provided by home health aides receiving minimum wage, a recent study suggests.

Researchers examined data from a nationally representative sample of about 42,000 parents and guardians of children with special needs surveyed from 2009 to 2010.

Overall, they estimate that approximately 5.6 million children with special needs receive about 1.5 billion hours a year of unpaid care from family members.

In 2015 dollars, replacing this unpaid family-provided care with a home health aide would cost an estimated $35.7 billion, or $6,400 per child per year, the researchers report in Pediatrics.

“Although caring for a child with special health care needs can be rewarding, the time and effort families of children with special health care needs must often devote to providing health care at home has been found to potentially create financial problems, marital discord, sibling issues, problems at work, social isolation, and regular sleep disruptions,” said senior study author Dr. Mark Schuster of Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital.

Parents and other adults providing this unpaid care to kids with special needs lose out on an estimated $17.6 billion or $3,200 per child each year in missed earnings, the study also found.

“It can also compromise parents’ physical and mental well-being,” Schuster added by email.

“However, the formal child health care system would essentially be unable to function and children’s health and well-being would suffer if parents or other caregivers were not available to provide this care,” Schuster said. “Children would need to stay in the hospital longer, professionals would have to come to the home, or children just wouldn’t get the care their doctors say they should get.”

Even if home health aides were paid only minimum wage, the care would cost an estimated $11.6 billion or $2,100 per child each year to provide, the study also found.

On average, children with special needs received 5.1 hours of family-provided home healthcare a week.

Some of the most common conditions requiring high amounts of unpaid care from parents and guardians included muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, intellectual disabilities, and head or brain injuries and concussions.

Parents who spent time coordinating healthcare outside the home devoted 3.9 hours a week on average to this effort.

Children age five and under were more likely than older kids to receive family-provided home healthcare.

Family-provided care was also more common among Hispanics, poor children and kids whose parents or guardians lacked a high school degree.

In fact, the formulas estimating the cost of care may not accurately reflect the true amount of families’ lost wages or the true cost of hiring a home health aide to provide care instead, the authors note.

The costs calculated in the study also don’t include medical expenses caregivers may incur, even though providing unpaid care in the home is associated with increased stress and a higher risk of serious health problems, the researchers also point out.

“Hours and money don’t capture the whole picture of the impact on families, including siblings, when one child needs so much attention and resources,” said Carol Levine, director of the Families and Health Care Project for the United Hospital Fund in New York City.

“Many of these parental caregivers also take care of older adults,” Levine, who wasn’t involved in the study, added by email.


Our Children & the Media: Dr. Ifeanyi Ufondu’s tips for parents

In a world where children are “growing up digital,” it’s important to help them learn healthy concepts of digital use and citizenship. Parents play an important role in teaching these skills. Here are a few tips from the AAP to help parents manage the digital landscape they’re exploring with their children.

Treat media as you would any other environment in your child’s life
The same parenting guidelines apply in both real and virtual environments. Set limits; kids need and expect them. Know your children’s friends, both online and off. Know what platforms, software, and apps your children are using, where they are going on the web, and what they are doing online.

Set limits and encourage playtime
Tech use, like all other activities, should have reasonable limits. Unstructured and offline play stimulates creativity. Make unplugged playtime a daily priority, especially for very young children. And — don’t forget to join your children in unplugged play whenever you’re able.

Families who play together, learn together
Family participation is also great for media activities — it encourages social interactions, bonding, and learning. Play a video game with your kids. It’s a good way to demonstrate good sportsmanship and gaming etiquette. And, you can introduce and share your own life experiences and perspectives — and guidance — as you play the game.

Be a good role model
Teach and model kindness and good manners online. And, because children are great mimics, limit your own media use. In fact, you’ll be more available for and connected with your children if you’re interacting, hugging and playing with them rather than simply staring at a screen.

Know the value of face-to-face communication
Very young children learn best through two-way communication. Engaging in back-and-forth “talk time” is critical for language development. Conversations can be face-to-face or, if necessary, by video chat, with a traveling parent or far-away grandparent. Research has shown that it’s that “back-and-forth conversation” that improves language skills — much more so than “passive” listening or one-way interaction with a screen.

Kids Playing Video Game


Create tech-free zones
Keep family mealtimes and other family and social gatherings tech-free. Recharge devices overnight — outside your child’s bedroom to help children avoid the temptation to use them when they should be sleeping. These changes encourage more family time, healthier eating habits, and better sleep, all critical for children’s wellness.

Don’t use technology as an emotional pacifier
Media can be very effective in keeping kids calm and quiet, but it should not be the only way they learn to calm down. Children need to be taught how to identify and handle strong emotions, come up with activities to manage boredom, or calm down through breathing, talking about ways to solve the problem, and finding other strategies for channeling emotions.

Apps for kids: do your homework
More than 80,000 apps are labeled as educational, but little research has demonstrated their actual quality. Products pitched as “interactive” should require more than “pushing and swiping.” Look to organizations like Common Sense Media for reviews about age-appropriate apps, games and programs to guide you in making the best choices for your children.

It’s okay for your teen to be online
Online relationships are part of typical adolescent development. Social media can support teens as they explore and discover more about themselves and their place in the grown-up world. Just be sure your teen is behaving appropriately in both the real and online worlds. Many teens need to be reminded that a platform’s privacy settings do not make things actually “private” and that images, thoughts, and behaviors teens share online will instantly become a part of their digital footprint indefinitely. Keep lines of communication open and let them know you’re there if they have questions or concerns.

Remember — kids will be kids
Kids will make mistakes using media. Try to handle errors with empathy and turn a mistake into a teachable moment. But some indiscretions, such as sexting, bullying, or posting self-harm images, may be a red flag that hints at trouble ahead. Parents should take a closer look at your child’s behaviors and, if needed, enlist supportive professional help, including from your pediatrician.

Media and digital devices are an integral part of our world today. The benefits of these devices, if used moderately and appropriately, can be great. But, research has shown that face-to-face time with family, friends, and teachers, plays a pivotal and even more important role in promoting children’s learning and healthy development. ;Keep the face-to-face up front, and don’t let it get lost behind a stream of media and tech.


Dr. Ifeanyi A. Ufondu is an Educational Psychologist and founder of Beautiful Minds Inc.- Advocacy and Special Needs Solutions headquartered in Beverly Hills, CA


By Dr. Ifeanyi Ufondu  August, 22. 2016


Due to their unpredictable nature, transitions in general, can be very difficult for our children with special needs. The new school year creates a whole host of transitions that made me want to devote this month’s column to tips for helping your child make a smooth entrance into school.

About 3-5 day prior to the beginning of the new school year, make a social story with your child that will create a visual map as to what he/she can expect in the upcoming days. The story does not have to be long and should include the basic morning routine (getting dressed, taking the bus, etc.), what the child can expect during the course of the school day (class activities, snack/lunch breaks, recess) and then the schedule for the afternoon/evening (bus ride back, additional therapies, dinner, etc). You may want to laminate the covers so that you can reuse and don’t forget to add a place for your child to check off the activity once the event has occurred.

Additionally, I encourage you to write your own specific narrations to the story, for example, letting the child know that the noise and activity levels during certain parts of the day are different and what he/she can do about it to reduce their own stress levels.
If possible, allow your child an opportunity to visit his/her new classroom, 1-2 days ahead of the opening of school. Typically, arrangements can be made either directly with the teacher or with the school administrator to allow your child the opportunity to spend a few minutes getting the ‘lay of the land’. You may even want to encourage your child to add a small gesture (special sticker) to the classroom set up so that come the first day of school, his/her efforts are acknowledged by the teacher for the creation of an especially warm welcome.
For middle and high school students; special arrangements can often be made in advance of the first day of school to help your child learn how to navigate the hallways as they go from class to class and how to get to and open their lockers in a timely fashion.
Children with special needs are often plagued with auditory processing disturbances. While not traditionally impacting actual hearing, this can nonetheless make the auditory instructions by the teacher often difficult to understand. I suggest supplementing the verbal messages with a visual schedule that can be placed on the board and/or on the child’s desk to help him/her know exactly what is going on in the classroom and what the upcoming expectations are. Teachers can also encourage their special needs student s to be their ‘helpers’. This gesture asks the child to explain to the class what is going on, or help support a fellow student in class. What this typically accomplishes is twofold; the teacher can check to see if the student fully understands the lesson while elevating the status of the child with challenges by making him/her ‘the special helper’.
Finally, I encourage the establishment of an alliance with your child’s teacher. That early bond will be crucial to your working together as a team throughout the school year. BEAUTIFUL MINDS INC. 



The School-to-Prison Pipeline for Children of Color with Disabilities: How Beautiful Minds Inc. – Advocacy & Special Needs Solutions is Helping to Diversify the Fight

This year marks the 25th Anniversary of Spike Lee’s iconic film, Do the Right Thing. I recently watched it on cable for what seems like the hundredth time. One of my favorite scenes is when the character Buggin’ Out (played by Giancarlo Esposito) is eating a slice in his neighborhood pizzeria, in his predominantly African-American Brooklyn community, and challenges the Italian owner Sal (played by Danny Aiello) with the question that would set the stage for the movie’s pivotal moment:

“Hey Sal, how come you don’t got no brothers on the wall here?”

The question expresses Buggin’ Out’s resentment at not seeing photos of any black or brown people – “people” that looked like himself

– on the Wall-Of-Fame in Sal’s shop that he regularly patronizes. Tension builds, heated words are exchanged, drama ensues – end scene.

The films depiction of this incident speaks to our need to feel included; our desire to see ourselves reflected in and represented by those institutions that share space in our communities. And, the animosity that can build when we don’t see anyone that looks like us – our identifying group – on that institution’s proverbial wall, or at the discussion table in the board room, or at the workplace, or in the classroom, etc.

Similarly, the issue of ethnicity came up at last month’s National Council on Disability / Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund’s meeting focusing on the School-to-Prison Pipeline for Children of Color with Disabilities. In particular, the discussions centered on the overuse of the “10 Day Rule” discipline provision of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which permits schools to remove a student with a disability from school for up to 10 days – providing an all too convenient justification for getting rid of students with disabilities without an assessment (i.e., IEP team meeting, behavioral intervention plan, functional behavioral assessment) or any other service or support. To put it another way, the 10 Day Rule constructively harms the very students the IDEA was intended to help. Unsurprisingly, the Rule tends to disproportionately impact children of color.

Which is why the issue of ethnicity is so ironic in this instance because while Latinos make up one of the fastest growing populations in the country, and are disproportionately overrepresented in the juvenile justice system, there was apparently only one Latino person in attendance at the meeting. And it was that lone Latino who made a point of posing the rhetorical question out loud to the group, in true “Do the Right-Thing”-esque fashion, “why are there no other Latinos in the room”? Furthermore, young people – as in high school age youth – were another key group noticeably absent from the event as someone else quickly pointed out. And while the temperature of the room remained congenial rather than accusatory (no garbage cans were thrown as in the movie) the passionate discourse that followed concerning the lack of Latinos and missing youth voice at this otherwise diverse meeting, was powerfully candid. In other words, the conversation turned very real!

“Nothing About Us, Without Us”

Diversity, or the lack of, is something we all like to think we are adequately sensitive to. I know what it’s like to be in a professional setting and be the only African American in the room. I recognize how important it is to have the active involvement of other people of color in the planning of strategies and policies that affect our lives. Having worked in the adult and juvenile reentry worlds, I understand why it’s critical to have input from formerly incarcerated people when the subject is criminal justice policy reform. I also get how absurd it would have been to not have people from the disability community well represented at this meeting. Yet, in all my ‘sensitivity’ I failed to immediately recognize and address the elephant in the room – that, youth and Latinos were almost entirely absent, adding particular irony to any discussion about school discipline for children of color, let alone those youth with disabilities.

This is not an indictment of the efforts to assemble a diverse audience. On the contrary, many of the guests – present company included – acknowledged that this meeting was one of the most racially diverse gatherings they had ever attended on the subject of disability. But diversity is more than race, and diversity is not the same as inclusion. And when it comes to inclusion, we are all complicit when we fail or even inadvertently neglect to recognize the voices that are missing from the conversation. Part of our due diligence as practitioners fighting for juvenile justice reform and disability rights is to make sure that whenever we sit down to formulate policy recommendations, the following questions are always asked: “who” else needs to be involved in the discussion; “why” are they not here; and “what” needs to be done to get and keep them involved. There is no moral victory in merely being more diverse or inclusive than in years past. Broader diversity and inclusion along a range of individual variables (i.e., types of disabilities, ethnic background, gender, age, etc.) is the necessary precursor to any meaningful progress for students with disabilities. More importantly, the issues surrounding race, ethnicity and disability are often inseparable as the stigma and discrimination that correlate with any one of these designations is palpable by itself. When you combine racial and disability discrimination together, the results are devastating for school children as multiple school suspensions reduce the chances of graduation from high school and increase their chances of incarceration.

Given the disproportionate number of youth with disabilities caught in the juvenile justice system, it is important to identify specific interventions that address their many needs for successful transition. The National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth’s Making the Right Turn: A Guide About Improving Transition Outcomes for Youth Involved in the Juvenile Corrections System highlights experiences, supports and services that all youth need, and distinguishes the particular needs of youth in the juvenile justice system. IEL’s Right Turn Career-Focused Transition Initiative (Right Turn) is based on the Guide along with other IEL-created foundational materials, and is currently being implemented across the country in five communities.


Beautiful Minds Inc. – Advocacy & Special Needs Solutions (Beverly Hills, CA) founder and CEO, Dr. Ifeanyi Ufondu states, “Understanding, implementing and ensuring greater diversity and youth voice along the adult-youth partnership spectrum expresses the conviction of people with disabilities, and people of color, and people of different ethnicities, and formerly incarcerated people, etc., that they all have particular insight into what is best for them and are ultimately the agents of their own progress. I have fought most of my academic and professional career, for the rights of children of color with severe and emotional disabilities…because no-one else would!” That said, it’s important to also realize that diversity and inclusion are ongoing journeys rather than finite destinations. As leaders in the juvenile justice reform and disability rights movements attempting to curb the School to Prison Pipeline, we must always be mindful to ensure that our brothers (and sisters) “on the wall” are present and part of every conversation that affects them.

By Byron Kline, Project Manager for the Right Turn Career-Focused Transition Initiative at the Institute for Educational Leadership’s Center for Workforce Development


By Dr. Ifeanyi A. Ufondu


Students with disabilities are entitled to special education services and supports even if they attend school online, the U.S. Department of Education says.

As public virtual schools — those that have no physical campus and rely on computers and other telecommunications — proliferate, federal officials say they’re increasingly fielding questions about how the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act applies.

In guidance issued this week, the Education Department said these new educational offerings share many of the same responsibilities as their traditional counterparts when serving elementary through high school students with disabilities. That includes obligations to make certain that kids needing special education services are identified, evaluated, provided an individualized education program and served in the least restrictive environment.



“Children with disabilities attending virtual schools have the same right to a free appropriate public education as children attending brick and mortar schools,” said Sue Swenson, acting assistant secretary for the Education Department’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. The nation’s leading Special Needs Advocate, Dr. Ifeanyi A. Ufondu, founder and CEO of Beautiful Minds inc.- Advocacy & Special Needs Solutions claims “States and school districts must ensure that children with disabilities are getting the special education and supports that they need to be successful in school.”

Given the lack of face-to-face interaction between teachers and students taking classes online, federal officials acknowledged that there may be “unique challenges” in identifying students in need of services.

Nonetheless, the guidance indicates that the “educational rights and protections afforded to children with disabilities and their parents under IDEA must not be diminished or compromised” when they attend public virtual schools.

Future unclear for Beautiful Minds Inc. affiliate after-school program for special needs kids

TRENTON – June 5th, 2016


An after-school program for children with special needs is being displaced from one of the city’s elementary schools, leaving its future in limbo.

The program’s director Mike Callahan, said it marks another setback for special education students following news that the 164 net layoffs would disproportionately affect the district’s most vulnerable kids.

“Our special needs kids are being targeted,” said Nicole Whitfield, who started the Special Needs Community Resource Center. “I think it’s discrimination. Those are the programs where they make their cuts.”  Whitfield, who founded the nonprofit Special Parents Advocacy Group in 2011, began an after-school program at Monument Elementary School last school year.


Former Superintendent Francisco Duran and national advocacy group, Beautiful Minds Inc. – Advocacy & Special Needs Solutions founder, Dr. Ifeanyi Ufondu then helped her secure space at P.J. Hill Elementary School: two classrooms and an office, where she can provide programming for kids 3 to 21, offer workshops on special education rights and help parents navigate their child’s individualized education plan, or I.E.P.  Dr. Ufondu, the nation’s leading African American psychologist specializing in developmental disorders concerning children of color states, ” It is imperative that we keep programs such as Special Parent Advocacy Group afloat, in order to maintain our relevance in the Special Needs community.”



The center is open from 1 to 6 p.m. But after the principal signed off on the building permit renewal, she was told this week that the district now needs the space until dismissal at 3:15 p.m.

“The district will need full access of all the classrooms at PJ Hill Elementary School during normal operating hours,” Elizabeth DeJesus, the assistant superintendent of special education, wrote in an email Wednesday to Whitfield. “Approval for building usage will be provided to organizations that are able to use our facilities after school for specific events. All after school providers will have to respond to the RFP that will be available in May.”

The new time, however, leaves Whitfield in a bind. Students come from both in-district and out-of-district schools, including the county’s special services district, and arrive on a varied schedule, starting at 2:15 p.m.

“We’re providing these services free of charge,” she said. “We haven’t asked them for one penny. All we asked for was space so we could provide after-school programming.”

Other places like the YMCA and the Boys & Girls Club can’t accommodate the special needs kids that she helps, she said.

She said she will now be forced to find another space, but the rent and costs associated with relocating into a commercial space is expensive for a nonprofit like hers.

In addition, if the only space she finds is outside city limits, transportation becomes another hurdle. Currently, the district buses students with special needs from their home to school and then after school to whatever location the parent designates — but the program needs to be within the city.

Whitfield said her relationship with the district began taking a turn for the worse following Duran’s resignation in October.

When he was there, she could reach out to him at any time if the district was not complying with a student’s IEP.

“He would get back to me right away,” she said. “Any issue was always resolved right then and there. I never had to go to the state to file a complaint, I never had to file due process claims.”

But she said now she is met with challenge after challenge and Wednesday’s email came a day after she spoke out against the layoffs and cuts.

“I’m going to figure it out but I’m not going to abandon those kids,” she said.

Cristina Rodriguez may be reached at  Find The Times of Trenton on Facebook.

African-American Non-Profit Partners with Beautiful Minds Inc and Raises Awareness About Autism in Black Community

An African-American woman has established a non-profit dedicated to educating those in the Black community about autism.
After her son Ari was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at age 2, Camille Proctor needed to find resources that would help her care for her child. She also needed to make sure she knew how to deal with issues in the African-American community affecting young Black men, so she partnered with Dr. Ifeanyi Ufondu, psychologist and founder of Beautiful Minds Inc. – Advocacy & Special Needs Solutions.

Dr. Ufondu states, “For the Special Needs child, especially children of color, we must find their strengths and challenge their weaknesses. We as individuals, mentors, families and educators must help them discover their brilliance, on the meandering road to their hopes and dreams. In order to do so, we must Educate, Advocate and Empower communities of color and we must start now!” Proctor was inspired by the moving words of Dr. Ufondu and decided to do something about it. The Huffington Post reports Proctor founded The Color of Autism in 2009, an organization that provides support for and spreads awareness about ASD in communities of color.Proctor faced the unique challenge of learning how her son, who is now 10, will react to police as a Black teenager. Ari does not respond to social cues and his mother fears her son’s mental illness could cause him to be a victim of police brutality.

drufondu corp bmi

Dr. Ifeanyi Ufondu, Ph.D. courtesy of AP


“When I started my organization, I’d go to different support groups and ask, ‘What happens when my son is 12 or 13 and the police approach him?’ ” Proctor said to The Huffington Post. “When you have any child of color, the first thing you teach them how to do is yield. What happens to a kid who doesn’t know how to yield?”
The single mom quit her job and founded the Michigan non-profit to help others in her position. The Color of Autism was inspired by Proctor’s struggle on top of the lack of support and information for Black families who dealt with autism.
A 2008 report by the Centers for Disease Control says the estimated prevalence of ASD among white children is significantly greater than it is among Black children. One in 83 white children have autism, compared with 1 in 98 black children. The study notes the results may be indicative of differences in community screening and services than the actual prevalence. That explains the limitesd information available for African-American families with autistic children.

According to Autism Light, Proctor serves as director of the organization, and in that role she directly assists families with the challenges of raising autistic children. She tells the website that parents of special needs children should “build a strong foundation” and that “they also need to be able to express themselves because sometimes things become overwhelming.”

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