Content authored by Dr. William R. Stixrud, Ph.D.

The Importance of Independent Schools in an Age of Inclusion

For the past 20 years, Dr. Stixrud has been extensively involved in the training and supervision of psychologists and learning specialists. View Profile Throughout my career as a clinical neuropsychologist, I have been a big fan of the independent schools that serve students with special needs.  I recall that when the field of special education was developing, experienced educators intuitively knew that students who do not learn easily or are not developing at a typical rate need highly specialized instruction that is provided in small, structured, supportive classroom settings with a low student-teacher ratio.   Along with the development of special education programs in public schools following the passing of the first special education law in 1975, numerous independent schools were founded in the Greater Washington area and around the country to meet the needs of students who required a highly specialized learning environment.  In my work over the last 30 years, I have met dozens, if not hundreds, of children and teenagers who have been “saved” by these independent schools.  These are students who hated school and, in many cases, hated themselves before they entered these special independent schools, where they felt understood and supported – and did not feel stupid.  We have all met successful adults who struggled as children and attribute their success in life to adults who “got them”, believed in them, and supported them.   Over the last three decades I have met many, many people who have told me that they are thriving in life as adults because teachers, administrators, and/or support staff in these independent schools saw potential in them and nurtured it. Over the last 10 years, the landscape in public special education has changed dramatically, as changes in special education law have led to a stronger emphasis on education in the “least restrictive environment”, and as reduced resources for public education have forced schools to close their small, specialized programs.  Although I believe that many students can be included successfully in regular education classrooms – and that school districts make a very sincere effort to support their students, it is my experience that many students cannot be successfully included and need the kind of specialized learning environment provided by these independent schools.  I’d like to briefly share with you some of the reasons why I think this is the case. Safety First.   One of the most important principals of education, based in research on the effects of stress on learning, is that kids need to feel safe in school in order to learn.  Many of the children and teenagers I have seen over the years have been highly stressed in regular education environments and have simply felt safer in their own skin in a small independent school.   This is commonly because the classrooms and hallways in typical schools are too noisy and distracting or because being in a regular classroom leads to a painful awareness that other kids learn easier, get their work done more quickly, seem smarter, etc.  In my [...]

2017-12-03T22:26:58-05:00November 13th, 2013|Categories: Blog Post|Tags: |

Myths of Autism – Dr. William Stixrud

For the past 20 years, Dr. Stixrud has been extensively involved in the training and supervision of psychologists and learning specialists. View Profile Individuals with high-functioning autism or Asperger’s…. Social/Emotional Myths Don’t want to make friends.   Some individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) really want to have friends but do not know how. Can’t make friends.   Many individuals with ASD do have friends; often their friendship forms around a shared interest. Don’t engage well with anyone, including adults.   Kids with ASD are often better at interacting with adults than peers, and may be affectionate with their parents, siblings, or others close to the family. Don’t feel emotions or experience anxiety and/or depression.   The emotions are there, even though insight into their own emotions and the emotions of others may be limited.  Individuals with autism who are aware of their social difficulties may feel rejected, incompetent, and lonely, leading to anxiety and/or depression. Are weird and/or not likeable.    We know and very much like many people with autism! Diagnosis Myths Have obvious behaviors and traits which everyone can identify.  If an individual with ASD does not have the more noticeable motor mannerisms or unusual language, his or her social impairments may go unnoticed. Will be harmed or limited by a diagnosis of autism.  Diagnosis can provide access to targeted services and treatments, and provides the teachers, family, and the individuals themselves a non-judgmental framework for understanding behaviors. Can’t have autism if they have already been diagnosed with other disorders, such as ADHD, sensory integration disorder, auditory processing issues, or mood disorders. ASD often comes along with related neurodevelopmental issues, and sometimes these other issues  are identified first. Other Myths Don’t have language difficulties.  Even with a seemingly good command of language, many individuals with ASD have trouble understanding non-literal aspects of language (e.g. metaphors, idioms, inferences) or may have difficulty taking  the listener’s perspective when speaking (e.g. too much detail, or insufficient background information). Always demonstrate “stimming” behaviors.  Self-stimulatory behavior is seen in some but not all individuals with ASD; and for those who do “stim”, there is a wide range of “stimming” behaviors, some more subtle than others. Can’t lead productive lives, go to college, nor have a family.   Individuals with ASD often need additional support in managing life transitions and developing functional independence.  Their families are their biggest supporters in learning how to navigate big life decisions. Have autism due to their parents’ poor parenting skills.  Research indicates that there is a strong genetic basis to ASD.  We also know that no particular parenting style causes ASD. By Patricia Eyster, M.Ed, Donna Henderson, Psy.D., Rebecca Penna, Ph.D., NCSP

2017-12-03T22:38:42-05:00October 28th, 2013|Categories: Blog Post|Tags: |

Dr. William Stixrud: The Development of Self-Regulation and Executive Functioning in Children

For the past 20 years, Dr. Stixrud has been extensively involved in the training and supervision of psychologists and learning specialists. View Profile NEW EVENT! What: The Development of Self-Regulation and Executive Functioning in Children When: October 11, 2012; 6:30 – 8:30 PM Where: The Newton School – 45965 Nokes Blvd. Suite 120 Sterling, VA 20166 (703) 772-0480 Note: The Newton School will be offering child care for this event from 6:00-8:30pm for $20 per child ($10 for additional siblings). The kids will have pizza, play in the gym and watch a movie. Space is limited,  do have limited spaces so indicate in your RSVP as soon as possible if you are interested in this option. RSVP information: If you plan to attend this workshop, please RSVP to Allison Abraham by Tuesday, October 9th. This event is free and open to all parents and professionals.

2017-12-03T22:01:38-05:00October 11th, 2012|Categories: Events|Tags: |

Being a Non-Anxious Presence for Your Child – Dr. William Stixrud

For the past 20 years, Dr. Stixrud has been extensively involved in the training and supervision of psychologists and learning specialists. View Profile Harvard University recently reported the worst cheating scandal in its history. Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I presume to be the high level of fear (e.g., of not being successful) experienced by the students involved. I’ve been reflecting on Edwin Friedman’s view, which he described in the late 1990′s (in his book Failure of Nerve), that we live in a chronically anxious and emotionally reactive society. Mr. Friedman emphasized the need for people who can function in families, businesses, and organizations as what he called “a non-anxious presence” – or individuals who can lead with courage. I suspect that this is even more true today than it was then. In my view, it is important for us as parents to work in the direction of being a non-anxious presence for our children. Although kids don’t need perfect parents (just good enough parents), we can optimally support our children’s development when we are not highly anxious, fearful, reactive, or overly controlling. Consider, for example, that when we are not highly stressed or anxious we can much more effectively comfort an infant or sooth a toddler, respond to children in a flexible and mature manner, help teenagers figure out who they want to become, and enjoy our kids (which may be the best gift we can give them). So, about the best advice I can give parents is to build routines into your daily life that are “de-stressing”, whether it’s regular exercise, a daily meditation practice, yoga classes, or martial arts training. Also, make enjoying your kids — as they are — a top priority, and remember that most kids turn out to be perfectly fine adults even if they are not top students or don’t seem to excel at anything in particular as children. Find out more about Dr. Stixrud

2017-12-03T22:14:35-05:00September 2nd, 2012|Categories: Blog Post|Tags: |