Ideas about IDEA

THE ARTICLE "An Alternative IDEA" in the April 2005 Monitor failed to point out that this so-called alternative method of identifying learning disabilities, "response to intervention," or RTI, plays right into the hands of sociopolitically and fiscally conservative school districts determined to allocate as little as legally possible to the very expensive demands of special education.

In the absence of operationally defined criteria, it is impossible to measure functional deficit. This holds true whether we are utilizing quantitative or qualitative methodologies. Hopefully a way will be found to successfully integrate both. Only in this way will the aforementioned school districts be compelled to provide the services that some children very desperately need!

South Setauket, N.Y.

THE STORY "AN ALTERNATIVE IDEA" was helpful in informing APA members about important changes in IDEA, but may have unwittingly encouraged poor professional practice. In explaining how the new legislation allows schools to use a child's response to intervention to diagnose a learning disability, the author cited two examples of interventions: "moving to the front of the class" and "smaller group instruction." Neither of these examples meets the spirit of the new law--or current standards for psychological practice.

The new law states "In determining whether a child has a specific learning disability, a local educational agency may use a process that determines if the child responds to scientific, research-based intervention..." [emphasis added]. Moving a child around a classroom is neither scientific nor research-based. Providing instruction in smaller teacher/student ratios has modest research support, but is far less important than other instructional qualities, such as explicitness or systematic coherence. In other words, incomplete and unsound instruction is unlikely to work, regardless of child location or grouping.

Sadly, many students who struggle academically are not disabled--they are casualties of the curriculum. Declaring these students "learning disabled" because they did not profit from ill-conceived interventions delivered by inadequately trained teachers in overcrowded, underfunded and disruptive settings fails psychology's mandate to use evidence-based assessment practices.

We must ensure that science and research guide the selection, implementation and interpretation of educational interventions and responses--even when it means declaring that it is dyspedagogia, not disability, that causes academic failure.

North Carolina State University

Facts of military life in Iraq

I AM DISAPPOINTED AT THE factual errors in your recent article "A new kind of war" (April Monitor). Two errors caught my attention. For one thing, "battle fatigue" and post-traumatic stress disorder are not the same thing; they have different presentations and are treated differently.

Also, Combat Stress Control units in the Army are not new in Iraq. They have been around in their current design since the Gulf War of 1990-1991. They combine Mitchell and Everley's principles of Critical Incident Stress Management with brief (72 hour) rest and recovery support for battle fatigued soldiers.

Fort Knox, Ky.

Studying supermax prisons

I AM IN WHOLEHEARTED AGREE- ment with Dr. Jennifer Groscup's suggestion in the Judicial Notebook article "Court considers prisoners' rights" (April Monitor) that "additional research would assist the legal and correctional systems" in resolving issues concerning the psychological effects of supermax or superseg prisons.

The current research findings on the effects of isolation and confinement are extremely slim, and much of the literature available contains a barely concealed political agenda. Contrary to popular belief, the majority of supersegs are anything but sensory deprivation: They are noisy, smelly, bright, hot or cold places with a lot of interaction occurring.

A couple of years ago I proposed a research project to be conducted at one of the supermax prisons in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice-Institutional Division (TDCJ-ID). Though the research was approved and even encouraged by a university medical school Institutional Review Board, the TDCJ-ID "Research Committee" flatly denied permission with no reason given, and even went so far as to explicitly forbid me to contact any member of the committee to find out why it was denied or to consider any revisions. It has been my experience over the past 20 years that the legal and correctional systems are more interested in demonstrating how "tough on criminals" (not "tough on crime") they can be than in actually finding out whether deprivation is destructive to the human psyche. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't....I think the jury is still out.

Lubbock, Texas

AFTER SPENDING 15 YEARS AS an administrator in the Federal Bureau of Prisons in the region where the government's supermax prisons are located, I am very familiar with the problems cited in the article.

Today a conservative estimate would suggest that approximately 15 to 20 percent of the millions of jail and prison inmates have relatively serious mental health needs. Many of the inmates are incarcerated because they cannot receive adequate mental health treatment in their communities, and the prospect of further treatment reductions seems inevitable. Similarly, correctional administrators and clinicians alike are aware of the problems, but are equally overwhelmed as they struggle with their own funding and resource challenges.

While the call for psychological research in this area is a great idea, it, nevertheless, seems like an idea that is highly unlikely to ever come to fruition. Although topics like this are often a cause for great concern and criticism of the system, in reality, they simply are not on the top of any psychologist's research agenda, particularly without funding.

Consequently, I would like to challenge APA take the first step by providing leadership through its various divisions and directorates. Clearly, the correctional systems would benefit, the courts would welcome the professional guidance, and the inmates' treatment would be greatly enhanced. Given the numbers and the social consequences, this topic seems to be equally as important to society and to the mentally ill as many issues APA currently devotes its considerable resources to address.

Leavenworth, Kan.

Clinical intuition?

I AM DISAPPOINTED THAT THE March cover story on intuition failed to mention a major area of interest to many APA members: clinical intuition.

Research from developmental psychology, neuroscience, cognitive psychology and other disciplines is converging to show that the right hemisphere of the brain plays an important role in forming clinical intuition. The right hemisphere, long given second=class status, nevertheless processes subconscious affective and somatosensory information that gives us our gut feelings about another person. The right brain structures and neurological pathways that determine our ability to read people and interact in the world begin their development at birth. Early attachment experiences determine their accuracy and effectiveness. Psychologist Allan Schore, a clinician and researcher, has written three books on the implications of this research for understanding psychopathology and for effective psychotherapy across all modalities.

This exciting research about the right hemisphere's ability to process and integrate at lightening speed emotions and visceral reaction, which form the basis for intuition, is exploding. I encourage the Monitor to offer its readers an opportunity to become more familiar with this major inquiry of study.

Everett, Washington