Sunday, March 1, 2009

My Turn: Is special education money well spent

I have just read an interesting article in the my turn section of Newsweek magazine written by a woman who has an autistic son and educationally gifted daughter who experiences the frustration that society is willing to provide ample funding for her son's special education under the IDEA law but not extra funding for her daughter. She seems to think gifted children should get more funding because they are bored and unchallenged in school. One good thing about the article was the last sentence which stated that if the autistic boy's gifted sister got the education she needed at taxpayer expense, she might find a cure for autism. At least this author does not adhere to a neurodiversity philosophy.

The question is, should either the gifted or the challenged person receive extra funding, I believe the answer is no in both cases.

If the author of the article would like to have a special gifted education for her daughter, let her pay for it out of her own pocket. Why should the taxpayer's foot the bill? The gifted child can clearly do the work and has an easier path than most. Richard Nixon came from a poor family, always went to public schools and received scholarships to ivy league schools, though he could not afford to live away from home, so attended Whittier college instead. He went on to graduate third in his class at Duke law school. Bill Clinton also came from a family of modest means, yet managed to become a Rhoades scholar and went on to Yale law school and became president of the United States. The daughter of friends of my parents also went to public school, but then went on to do well and attend yale university and later get a doctorate in english literature. If this girl is bored in a nongifted program, perhaps the girl's mother could encourage her to learn things on her own and acquire a broader education by going to the library.

Of more salient interest is whether the state should pay the extra costs of special education for her autistic son at all. Is the IDEA a good law or just a travesty? It costs taxpayers billions of dollars, jams courts with parents who litigate for all the pie-in-the-sky promises that this law has to offer and drains their finances. It discriminates against the poor who cannot afford to pay attorneys to help them navigate through the maze of complex special ed law. Only the relatively wealthy are benefited by IDEA with the more impoverished parents of disabled kids getting the short end of the stick.

Does this law really help kids live better lives? Will it improve their outcome after age 21 when they are aged out of the program? If there are any statistics, controlled studies or facts that demonstrate this I am certainly not aware of them.

I only know of the other side of the coin about an article some years ago in the Atlanta Journal Constitution stating that the more years children spent in special education, the lower their achievement was academically. Also not long ago I wrote about half of california special ed students failing the high school exit exam.

Ivar Lovaas published the famous 1987 study claiming that half of all autistics he treated with ABA functioned at a completely normal level and were indistinguishable from their peers. In effect, he claimed that he could cure autism in half of all cases. This study is used as evidence in special education lawsuits in order to obtain this costly treatment to students at taxpayer expense. Yet, the study employed aversives which are now outlawed in California where I live and probably other jurisdictions. Lovaas also distinguished between clinic based and work group ABA, the former consisting of many more hours and better trained personnel. His study employed clinic based ABA. As far as I know, there is nothing in the law that prevents a parent from suing for work group ABA or compromising with a school district so that the costly and unpleasant litigation can be avoided by both sides and having the school district pay for less hours and lesser trained personnel than were used in the 1987 study.

Most germane of all, there are no published adult outcomes of the children whom Lovaas treated. They are now in their late 30's and early 40's and we have no idea what happened to them or how they did occupationally or whether they functioned at a completely normal level as adults. Lovaas has never published these results in a peer reviewed journal. Perhaps the reason for this is that the outcomes were actually less than stellar.

On an interesting sidenote, I also wrote an essay about the irony of the Lovaas institute for early intervention and the social security office being located on the same floor of the same building in West Los Angeles. I submitted this essay to the Newsweek My Turn column. I never heard back from them. They only publish 1 in 200 essays they receive. Unlike the lady who authored this latest piece, mine did not make the cut. Instead, I published it on my web page The question still needs to be asked. Are the recipients of Lovaas' interventions today, the SSI collectors of tomorrow? There is certainly no evidence that the answer is not yes. Perhaps after making a visit to Lovaas' office in west L.A. they will go back to the same floor of the same building to apply for social security disability.

Perhaps it is really time to rethink the whole IDEA law. I believe it is time to abolish it.


SM69 said...

In my opinion, gifted people can fail very badly in traditional education. Parents are not always aware they are bored and because they are gifted, parents don’t even care or worry in any way about their child’s future. What do you do when you are bored in education- well you do something else, because until you reach University level you have no choice but to stick to the classes you are in. And what else can you do? Disruption, anti-culture, anti-social behavior, use of drugs, anarchy, constant opposition, even suicidal thoughts. Do you actually stand a great deal of chance to come out of this? Not that much. A child like this needs help.

A child with special needs, needs additional support, that means additional money. This is what a fair system should provide. I cannot see how one could argue otherwise.

Whereas ABA or other method is valid is another question- but I am afraid: should either the gifted or the challenged person receive extra funding? I believe the answer is YES in both cases.

Stephanie said...

I have an IQ over 160 (I am known as being "profoundly gifted") and school was a completely waste of time and was horrible for me. Those with IQ's over 145 often develop behavior problems and depression because school is so tiring. I believe approx. 45% of gifted people drop out of high school.

Those with IQ's at about 120-140, which is the majority of those in "gifted" programs, do quite well. But those who are much more advanced, as I was, who are capable of taking college classes at eleven, are often not identified or served properly because of our behavior problems and school refusal. Profoundly gifted people learn much differently than "gifted" people.

The highly gifted usually have special problems that come with being gifted and these are rarely addressed. Nixon and Clinton are not "highly" gifted, they are gifted, yes, but they are not "highly" or "profoundly" gifted.

I could write pages about this but I won't. But, if you are interested in pursuing the topic of those with IQ's above 145 further, than I recommend these places:

The highly gifted are those that are going to solve the world's major problems (find a cure for autism, cancer and etc.), write symphonies, fight for peace and etc. and so they should be properly served.

Anonymous said...

"Most germane of all, there are no published adult outcomes of the children whom Lovaas treated. They are now in their late 30's and early 40's and we have no idea what happened to them or how they did occupationally or whether they functioned at a completely normal level as adults. Lovaas has never published these results in a peer reviewed journal. Perhaps the reason for this is that the outcomes were actually less than stellar."

I think that is an important question. According to the NIMH database, Lovaas received a grant from the NIMH in 1994 to do an adult follow-up study of his original subjects. However, in a rather uncharacteristic manner (turning down free money) Lovaas chose not to take the funding or do the study. Hmmm....

Anonymous said...

Here is the study Lovaas was too cowardly to do, despite funding approval:

jonathan said...

Hi K, I do remember hearing about Lovaas receiving NIMH funding for the adult outcomes of the subjects in the 1987 studies, I was not aware he turned down the funds, I think they actually attempted to do something with the kids as adults because they have made informal presentations at conferences about the adult outcomes and have Jacobson et al. in their cost-benefit analyses of ABA cited the conferences where the presentations of the adult outcomes were made. Also, someone wrote briefly about them in a book though i don't remember the name of the book offhand and have not read it but from what I heard, they were kind of short on facts.

I emailed Tristram Smith, Lovaas' heir apparent, asking about what went on at the conferences and why they had never published the adult outcomes and he wrote me that Lovaas had wanted to publish the adult outcomes but "logistical problems" had made it unlikely they would be published but he sent me what he said was the powerpoint file of the conference presentation. What he sent me turned out to be just one page from the powerpoint presentation just describing some psychological tests the subjects were given.

I will have to check out your link when I get the chance.

Anonymous said...

"Lovaas had wanted to publish the adult outcomes but "logistical problems" had made it unlikely they would be published "

That is a way of saying, yes, adult outcomes don't support the conclusions I gave in 1987 and I need to make up an excuse.

SM69 said...

Well I will contact the Lovaas Institute and this question. Not sure if I will be going anywhere, but at least I will try, I’ll do a few additional enquiries too along these lines. Having said, whilst this is of course a very important and valid question, I think two important factors have changed since these early intervention studies; one is today’s autism is very likely a different condition that comes under the same umbrella diagnosis. The second is that undoubtedly there complementary medical and biomedical approaches that facilitate learning, socialization, awareness, and generalization further. I can predict the outcomes of today’s children to be different to the ones 30 years ago. I am not here to provoke an argument; this is an opinion that will be only proven with time (and the right type of study in place).

Ender said...

While not being near as smart as Stephanie (at least not in terms of all round inteligence) I can agree with her sentiments. I wasn't ready for college classes by 11, but that was largely because I stopped growing. I was reading for high school classes (particularly high school math classes) by the age or 8 or 9, and that was largely because I WASN'T being taught fast enough. Math class at school was a joke for me, as was much of my reading training. It was only my mom who actually taught me anything, and her math knowledge basically went up to algebra and not much past it. So I learned what she knew in algebra, and couldn't learn anything else.

Yet, I was an aspie and I knew it was wrong to complain or hate school... so thats where I stayed. I "learned" new things in science and social studies, but was ready for more advanced concepts there too (and those are joke classes in elementry school, I know of schools that teach them once in a week). In English, I would read fun books... but not challenging books, and in math it was ENDLESS review.

This lead to me learning to slack off in school and that it doesn't matter what I learn (great things to learn I know) and by middle school I didn't even bother doing the work half the time (and didn't care about it when I did.)

As for special education, pay for them now or pay for them later. Same thing for gifted education.

SM69 said...

Just wanted to say that I have been enquiring about the Lovaas study which K gave us the link of to the Lovaas Institute as well as to J Partington, in my professional capacity. So far not a single answer. Which does not mean that ABA is not valid by the way, but which would suggest that indeed that work was not done, or that unwanted conclusions were reached. I will try to call up next week- but unless you hear from me- you might assume I had no luck with that query.

jonathan said...

Hi SM: Until adult outcomes are published in the peer reviewed literature (not just given as informal conference presentations) I will assume it is an ineffective treatment in providing success in life to autistic adults. Certainly, there should not be cost-benefit analyses done based on the alleged success of the adult outcomes in the 1987 study.

The fact, that NIMH money was given to Lovaas to study and presumably publish something about the adult outcomes of these children and given the fact there have been informal conference presentations, but nothing published in peer reviewed journals suggests to me that either the outcomes of the children as adults were less than stellar or that Lovaas and others tried to get them published in a peer reviewed journal and they did not pass peer review for some reason.

I will be interested in any answer you receive from the Lovaas institute and hopefully you will be given a more satisfactory answer than tristram smith gave me. I will not be holding my breath though.

oldfeminist said...

"the more years children spent in special education, the lower their achievement was academically. "

That couldn't possibly be because the more years children spend in special education, the more problems they have, and the more help they need?

Usethebrains Godgiveyou said...

I gave my son ritaling to keep him out of special ed. Turns out, with his IQ, it was a great idea.

Special ed is where you put the kids the regular ed teachers can't handle. It often has little to do with learning, with the exceptions of some teachers.