Month: October 2015

Reading Disability & a Confused Mom: Getting Clear on the Focus

There’s a lot in this business that gets me rolling my eyes. Too often when I talk to parents about what is going on with their child, I feel my cranky meter rising.

Take, Patricia, the mom of 7 year old Beth Anne.

Patricia plopped a stack of reports on my desk.

“Since she was 4, we’ve been on this mission to help her,” Patricia said. “She just isn’t making progress in reading and the gap is widening.”
“What have you done,” I asked.

“We first saw an OT (occupational therapist) who identified sensory issues and suggested we get Interactive Metronome Therapy. Then we heard about a person who administered special colored lenses for reading and someone else who suggested a different vision treatment. After that, an audiologist found central auditory processing disorder and recommended that we go to her office for a year of computer treatment to address the “auditory” issues. Then we saw a neurologist who wanted to put her on medication for ADHD. Really, my head is spinning and I don’t know what to do.”

“Has anyone suggested that they teach the child to read,” I asked.

“Not really,” she said. “I keep getting all of these treatment recommendations, but very few have said anything that makes sense regarding reading. I am really feeling overwhelmed by all of this and don’t know what direction to go.”

As I looked over the reports and recommendations, it was clear that Beth Anne needed sensible reading remediation.

If reading is the primary concern, then that should be the target of treatment/remediation.
To hit a tennis ball better, you wouldn’t go for swimming lessons. Why is reading any different? Reading is a skill that can be taught and practiced.

Professionals will see things from the window of their own specialty (e.g., auditory, visual, medical). The more narrow the window, the more narrow the recommendation.

Get clear on what you are remediating and why before you commit a significant amount of time and money.
Takeaway Point

If you are seeking treatment from different professionals, make sure you’re asking the professional exactly what the goals of the treatment are and how the program can deliver these goals.

Make sure you’re comfortable with whether your questions are being answered. Be certain that there is a match between your areas of concern in the program being recommended. Does the program pass the commonsense test? If it does not, you may want to think twice before proceeding.

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

The Goldilocks Standard: Executive Functioning & Shut-Down Learners

I had the pleasure the other night presenting to parents at the Orchard Friends School.  The topic was “Executive Functioning & Shut-Down Learners.”

As I always try to do, my mission is to present concepts that I think become unnecessarily overcomplicated (like the term “executive functioning”) to parents in down-to-earth, understandable terms.

Here are few of the points:

  • Think of “executive functioning,” like a rudder to a ship. For many kids, they have firm rudders and their boat is well-steered.  For the kids of concern, though, they have floppy rudders.  Hence, their boat flounders at sea.
  • For many of the kids of concern (especially the boys), there is a late maturing of the “rudder.” These kids are not on the same timetable of school.  So, just because  the kid may be in sixth grade, doesn’t mean he has that he has it in him to take care of the things that he “SHOULD” be able to do by school and societal standards.
  • You, as parents need to be thinking of the Goldilocks Standard when you look at your involvement. If you’re in too deep (the soup too hot, that is), then the kid will not be taking sufficient personal responsibility for things like homework.  If you are not in at all (the soup being too cold), then the child will flounder..  You need to find the “just right” level.  I like the 10% solution, meaning the parent is in about 10% or so.
  • Speaking of parental involvement, remember to turn down the heat.  Yep, there is an awful lot of yelling, screaming, peckering and cajoling going on in homework land.   Most of it is unnecessary.  I will elaborate on that in future blogs.

Try and find the sweet-spot of parental involvement – not too hot, not too cold, but just right and you will be on the path to helping move things forward.





Overcoming Early Writing Malaise

Open-ended writing can be dreadfully difficult for school-struggling children.  Many kids, especially in the early grades, find the task of writing to be overwhelming on a variety of levels.  Typically, schools recommend occupational therapy (OT) to address the issue.

While OT is a valid approach to start with, it really addressed to the lowest level of the process-defined-motor/motor-planning aspects of writing.

The problem is, beyond this level children often feel at a loss and the need much more guided and direct instruction.  To address writing difficulty, the intervention/remedial program needed is involved and follows a similar sequence to the structured, multisensory reading programs that are a part of the Orton-Gillingham methodologies.

With such structured approaches a child would be started at the smallest possible sentence level, that is a two-word sentences.  Children would be trained to see that every sentence has at least a square (now) and a triangle (verb).


Fish                        Swim.

(square)                 (triangle)

Kids would be practicing the mastery of two-word sentences before moving on to more complex 1’s.  When they have this skill mastered they can add other elements to the sentence, with the sentence such as the following:

The lively Fish swim.

(circle) (diamond) (square) (triangle)                

The corresponding shapes which would be on a white board in the form of manipulatives  provide children with tangible, visual anchors and allows them to understand that sentences have component parts.

The simple level of sentence structure would be practiced in many different ways with some variation to keep it interesting.  From there, more complex sentences can be introduced.

Once different sentence styles are mastered, the child can work on the concept of one paragraph, with a topic sentence and four or five supporting sentences.  This approach would represent a highly sequential skill-mastery approach to writing development and is contrary to the more popular open-ended approach that is the norm across the country.

To some, such an approach may not be seen as much fun, but it is an approach that the struggling 40%  of the school population can get their minds are around.

By practicing with smaller, digestible bites, the child can gain a sense of confidence that he or she does not typically experience with open-ended writing.

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

Shutting Down Early

“It’s getting late early.”  Yogi Berra

Anxiety over your child’s school-based problems can start fairly early.  A mom recently contacted me after reading The Shut-down Learner.

“My son is drowning in school.  You think he could be a shut-down learner?”

When I wrote  The Shut-Down Learner, I was largely envisioning disconnected, shut-down teenagers.  However, as I gave more talks to parents, many of the concerns being raised centered on young children.  This led me to understand that so much of the import of The Shut-Down learner is to determine how we can prevent this shutting down from happening as early as possible.

Cracks in the Foundation can appear very early and can be easily identified by 4 or 5 years of age.  Classic cracks can include weaknesses with identifying letters and their sounds, along with difficulty with language-based tasks, such as rhyming.

When the cracks are ignored, time goes by and typically there is a sense that the issues are widening and getting more significant and difficult to manage.

Targeting letter naming and sound identification with good individualized instruction would be very appropriate if your child has been shown to have some of these cracks in kindergarten.

There is no gain in waiting.

Takeaway point

Start early.  While your child may not be technically shut-down when he is in kindergarten or first grade, acting early is a key factor in heading off later shut-down qualities and further school struggling.

Adapted:  “Schools Struggles,” by Richard Selznick, Ph.D (2012) Sentient Publications


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