Month: August 2014

Bright Kids Who Can’t Keep Up – An Interview With Dr. Braaten

Franklin, age 8, can build wonderful Lego cities.  A creative and thoughtful child, he is also a wealth of information when it comes to anything about nature – he can talk about swamps like no one’s business.  The problem is Franklin is having trouble keeping up in school.   For him, completing worksheets, carrying out multiple-step tasks and performing any writing activities are a laborious and challenging process.

Even though they were not in a position to diagnose him, Franklin’s teachers were pretty convinced he was “ADHD.”   Franklin’s parents then took him to a neurologist,  but a trial period on simulant medication did not seem to have much of an effect on him.

When I evaluated Franklin and found him to be sluggish in practically everything that required a degree of efficiency.  Tasks that normally took five minutes, took nearly 15 or 20.  On paper and pencil processing speed measures, Franklin only scored in the 10th percentile (compared with his 90th %ile verbal and spatial thinking).

Poor Franklin just couldn’t keep up in school and he was getting frustrated each day, as he had to bring home work that wasn’t completed on almost a daily basis.

Related to the topic at hand, I am excited to let you know that I recently interviewed Dr. Ellen Braaten, an expert on the topic of kids with processing speed problems like Franklin’s.   Dr. Braaten appeared on my internet radio show, “School Struggles,” which is a part of the Coffee Klatch network (

The interview will air on 9/2 & 9/3 at 8:00 p.m est.  It will also be available after that date on the Coffee Klatch site.

Dr. Braaten is a psychologist and director of the Learning & Emotional Assessment Program (LEAP) at  Massachusetts General Hospital and Assistant Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School.  Dr. Bratten is the author of “Bright Kids Who Can’t Keep Up.

Here’s a quote from Dr. Braaten’s wonderful book:

Processing speed isn’t a one-dimensional concept. It’s not just about how we see, or how fast we write or how fast we can process what we’ve heard. It’s really a combination of all those factors. In fact, processing speed deficits can be observed in visual processing, verbal processing and motor speed. Problems in one or more of these areas can manifest in problems with academic fluency and general difficulties.  However, it is rare to be slow at all of the above….In every day life there is a cost to processing everything more slowly.

Within the first interview, Dr. Braaten discusses some of the more common variables with processing speed weaknesses. In the second one, she highlights how parents and teachers can approach children with processing speed weaknesses.  She also reviews her model of,  “The Three A’s of Processing Speed.”

For more information about the interview, please go to:…

You can also access the interview through my website:

Dyslexia in the New Year: Trying to Stay Away from the “New School Year Blues”

It’s that time again.  Another summer slips away.  They just don’t make them like they used to.

Soon you will be bombarded soon by all of “top tips for having your child to have a great school year.”  They will be in all of the magazines and the evening news.

Even with the tips, that pit in your stomach will start to form with all of the concerns you have about 504 Plans, IEP’s, Common Core, and whatever else is lurking out there in school land.

So here are the tips you probably won’t see, specifically for children with a reading disability (dyslexia):


1)      Offer Front End help.  Dyslexia often involves a problem with “low frequency” words.  That means words that are not common are really tough for the child to independently read.  When your child brings home those dreadful worksheets, look them over with her.  Scan for the tough words.  They are the big ones that are more than one syllable.   Go over them quickly with your child so he isn’t laboring through it.  For example, if the sheet has the word “penguin” in a word problem, like “there were three penguins in the zoo” there is no gain in having your child read it as “pwagney” or however he reads it. Help him out on the front end.

2)      Too Much Pain, Very Little Gain.  No one likes to work at a level of frustration or at a point of overwhelming difficulty.  The fact of the matter is, too often the child with dyslexia is given work that is simply too difficult and over her head.  Look at the reading material.  If it is too difficult, then read it out loud to your child.  There is no gain in reading at one’s frustration level.

You might say, “If I read it out loud, how will she ever develop her skills?”  The answer is simple – no one learns to swim with the water over his head.  You have to be in comfortable waters.


3)      Don’t Beat Reading to Death.  There is a lot of tension in the house around the child not reading enough.  One secret.  Don’t beat it to death.  Set up a 20 minute period to do independent reading as a part of the nightly routine and stick with it.  Don’t nag, but make simple contingencies…”you give me a no attitude 20 minutes then you have earned your electronic time after homework.”  Simple.  Easy. It’s one way or the other.  Make it earned.  “You give and you get” messages rule.


4)      Find the Easy Level:  Picking up on the last point, if you set up an independent reading period (and you should), make sure that the reading conducted is at the child’s independent level that is the reading should not be tough sledding. The material should be in the child’s zone of competence.


5)      Keep the Heat Index Down:  The heat index rises in households across America at homework time.  Resolve to stay calm.  Deep breathe.  Get some fresh air.  Walk around the house.  Pour yourself a glass of wine.  Whatever. Turn down the heat.

Well there you have it.  The five pointers you won’t be seeing in the parenting magazines (but I am sticking by them).

“Lost at Sea:” Executive Function Weaknesses

Every 10 years or so in education and psychology there is a trendy hot topic or new term that was essentially unheard of the previous decade. Before learning disabilities became a hot term in the 1970s, these were virtually unknown in the public. The same was true with ADHD, which became a hot term in the mid-1980s into the 1990s. (I know, I know, I am dating myself.)

Executive function deficits is one of those terms.  Prior to 2005 or so, very few people were making reference to executive functions in the real world. Whereas now  the term is becoming more commonplace. Parents will even state upfront (before the child has even been tested) that they think the child has problems with executive functioning.

While I tend to be one who does not embrace too many hot trends, this conceptualization of  why children struggle makes a lot of sense to me and think it should be understood better.

When I work with parents, I do all I can to stay away from jargon, preferring to translate into metaphors terms that are casually tossed around with imagery that parents can better understand.

For example, trying to explain executive function deficits to parents, I use the imagery that the kid’s “boat is being steered by a very floppy rudder.”  Another image I use to explain frontal lobe, executive function deficits, is a weak “orchestra leader-one that is being ignored.”

Take Mark, age 14, a ninth grader who is bright, creative, witty, charming and personable. Mark is an absolute pleasure on so many levels. However, when it comes to managing his time and facing his “pain” (i.e.,  his homework) on a day-to-day basis, it Mark has given his parents fits for number of years. The stress level on the household has become unbearable, getting worse every grade from latter elementary school to the present day.  Mark has a very tough time steering his boat and he is drifting around at sea aimlessly.

One of the challenges, kids like Mark are almost immune to becoming organized or to steer their boat more effectively.

From what I’ve seen, change can come in small, incremental steps.  If you focus on small steps in terms of mastering and internalizing different skills, then change can occur.

Executive function coaching can make a big difference in terms of targeting the specific skills. For example, Mark can be shown how to use and color code his calendar practice this skill over time (practicing to mastery).

One word of caution though.  The odds of success are very poor if this skill is being delivered by you as a parent. Kids are wired to tune out their parents.  They will fight you, resist you and basically show you how your approach doesn’t work.  They won’t do that with “hired gun,” that is, the coach. So, even though it will cost you, you will save a lot of grief and aggravation by finding someone who gets this approach of one baby step at a time.

In summary, keep your expectations modest, do a lot of deep breathing and you will get through the coming year.

(Adapted from “School Struggles,” Richard Selznick, Ph.D., 2012, Sentient Publications)


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