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Another Voice: Sweeping action is needed to deal with lead crisis

By Michael Helman

The crisis in Flint, Mich., wasn’t as isolated as we’d like to believe. Cities around the country have dealt with their own public health threats stemming from elevated levels of lead in drinking water and homes. In fact, the level of lead in the City of Buffalo, and the possibility of poisoning from it, is greater than that of Flint.

Even low levels of lead exposure can cause learning disabilities, intellectual impairment, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and behavior problems. A learning disability is a neurological condition that interferes with an individual’s ability to store, process or produce information.

Learning disabilities can affect one’s ability to read, write, speak, spell, compute math and reason, and also attention, memory, coordination, social skills and emotional maturity.

Testing for lead poisoning and, if needed, removal of lead from children’s bodies is only the first step. Any plan for dealing with this health crisis should contain the following:

1. All 2- to 4-year-old children testing positive for lead poisoning be periodically assessed for early warning signs of a learning disability/neurological impairment (LD/NI) and, if warranted, receive early intervention services at school and home. Early intervention can significantly reduce the long-term impact of a LD/NI.

2. All 7-year-old children testing positive for lead poisoning be given a comprehensive evaluation, including a cognitive assessment to identify specific problem areas.

3. All children testing positive for lead poisoning be assigned a special education advocate/parent trainer to help secure the right services at the right time.

4. Recognition by the state that many children identified with neurological impairments will need an ongoing system of supports as adults.

Learning disabilities are a lifelong disability, developmental in nature, and have no cure. The Learning Disabilities Association of Western New York believes that every person with learning disabilities can be successful at school, at work, in relationships and in the community – given the right opportunities.

Our goal is to ensure such opportunities exist. That’s why our primary mission is to provide high-quality individualized, comprehensive and innovative services that support, educate and empower all individuals with learning and/or developmental disabilities.

LDA offers information about types of learning disabilities and early signs, assessment, evaluation, special education services, issues faced by adults, legislation and advocacy.
For more information, visit our website at ldaofwny.org.

Michael Helman is executive director of the Learning Disabilities Association of Western New York.

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