Month: October 2017

Explaining #Dyslexia at Dinner

My wife and I were out for dinner with another couple, both of whom were in the medical field with lots of years of experience.  They were curious about my recently presenting as a keynote speaker at the Decoding Dyslexia conference in Utah.

“So, Rich, what percentage of the population do you think are dyslexic,” my friend asks, “and what is dyslexia, exactly?”

(We get a glimpse inside Rich’s head as his anxiety shoots up and he thinks the following:)  (“Ugh.  I’ve been in this field for 30 years and have written three books related to dyslexia and I still don’t know the best way to explain it to people.  You would think I’d have a ready answer by now.  What a field!  Why can’t I be Dr. Sally Shaywitz – she wrote the bible on dyslexia. I bet she would have a ready answer.  Should I start to get my routine about ‘smooth road and rough road kids’ and that the dyslexics are on the rough road?  Well, that’s not going to explain anything.  Just drink more wine and start talking about Trump – that gets everyone going. Maybe they will forget about dyslexia.”)

Rich answers, “Probably about 20 to 30% of the population is dyslexic.”

My friend responds, “Really, I had no idea.  That’s a lot of people reading upside down or however they read with dyslexia, but what is it exactly and what causes it.”

(Back in Rich’s head.)   (“Seriously, why can’t you just answer the question?  Man, you  spoke  at a dyslexia conference two weeks ago – the people at the conference even said they liked you – well, maybe they were just being polite.  You can’t start talking to people about ‘decoding’ and ‘oral reading fluency,’ and  no one wants to hear about ‘phonemic awareness’ or ‘sound segmentation.’  I mean, come on. You don’t want to put them to sleep at the dinner table.  Don’t you have some type of elevator speech on dyslexia somewhere in this head of yours?  Just get to the point.  Jeez.  You have problems, man.”)

“The best way I can explain it is reading inefficiency – like, about 70 of the population reads smoothly and effortlessly.  They just are on a smooth road since first grade.  (“There you go again with your smooth road and rough road.”)  The dyslexic kids are not.  They can’t handle big words like ‘porcupine’ and ‘institute.’  Words like these get all jumbled up and they misread them like ‘pricopinney’ for porcupine and ‘instate’ for institute – that sort of thing.”

My friend asks, “So, are they seeing the words wrong?”

(Back in Rich’s head as he does his mental tap dancing.)   (You’re back in the weeds again are you?  It would be much easier if you just said it’s a reading problem, but then what about the spelling and the writing.  You should have gone to dental school like your parents wanted you to do.  The dentists don’t have to fumfer, mumble and tap dance like you do.  And they make a lot more money too! What is your problem????)

“So, what do you all think about Trump’s week?”


For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email –

To receive free Dyslexia Infographics and updates, go to:

Just Do Your ‘Personal Best’

Kids are frequently told a lot that they need to be doing their “personal best.”

Doesn’t that seem like an unfair standard?    Are you doing your “personal best?”

If I were honest about it (and I would like not to be), I think I have failed at my personal best every day of my life.

Look, I get it.

We want kids to put forth good effort and to pay attention (all the time) and do all of those tasks we want them to do.  When they start to fall off track we get worried about what it means and whether they have some type of disorder.

Kids have different agendas than adults.

Their agendas are mostly driven by pleasure – that is, they  want to have fun any way they can, whether it is with video games, going on Instagram to see who’s up to what, texting their friends, or running around outside (some still do that).

In other words, they are looking to blow through their school work as fast they can and be done with it so that they can be engaged with an activity that is giving them pleasure.

Huck Finn talks about adults trying to “sivilize” him.  (I know I go back to Huck a lot for guidance and inspiration.)

As Huck noted:

The Widow Douglas she took me for her son, and allowed she would sivilize me; but it was rough living in the house all the time, considering how dismal regular and decent the widow was in all her ways; and so when I couldn’t stand it no longer I lit out. I got into my old rags and my sugar-hogshead again, and was free and satisfied. But Tom Sawyer he hunted me up and said he was going to start a band of robbers, and I might join if I would go back to the widow and be respectable. So I went back…. But I reckon I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before.

Join a band of bank robbers?  Running away from being civilized?

Huck and Tom were certainly not doing their “personal best.”  In fact, if they were living in the present day, they would not be allowed back in school without a clearance from a psychiatrist.

Takeaway Points

Kids are kids.  At their core they are pleasure seekers. Children have always been this way.  Personal best is probably an unfair concept.  It’s the rare kid who is doing his personal best ever day.

“Sivilzing” kids is tough work.  They have other agendas.


For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email –

To receive free Dyslexia Infographics and updates, go to:

‘What’s My Address? Where do I Live?’

As part of an assessment I always ask kids to write their name and address.  Lately, I’ve been noticing a troubling trend. 

Increasingly, kids look at me blankly when it comes to the address part.  They don’t know where they live. 

Look, I understand that for kids with learning disabilities remembering how to spell certain street names can be challenging, but even when asked to tell where they live without writing it down, they are often confused.   

What I also have found out is they often don’t know what the word “address” means, so I rephrase it while they are looking at me – “You know, write down where you live.”  (The rephrased prompting often doesn’t help.  The blank stare remains.) 

I know.  

We are all relying on technology to a degree that may not be serving us very well.  There was a time when I probably knew over 25 phone numbers without looking them up in my address book (remember those?).  Now, I don’t even know my wife’s or kid’s telephone numbers, so I can’t be pointing a finger with too much superiority without a reminder of hypocrisy. 

For kids with learning problems, you may need to practice much more to obtain mastery for something like learning your address, but that’s the nature of things.  Patient practice and repetition usually helps; perhaps singing the address in some kind of song would also work. 

Along with knowing one’s address there are some other fundamental skills that are probably worth practicing and acquiring.  

For example, a friend of mine had her three sons mastering the skill of making their lunch by the age of 8.  Each night she had the three boys making their lunches.   Over time with practice and lots of parental patience, they got pretty good at it.

Practicing concepts of time and money are pretty essential and also  tough for kids with learning issues.  You will need extra patience to reach some level of mastery.   

Dare I say learning to do the laundry and making one’s bed at a young age are probably pretty good skills to acquire.  I know that my own parents never held my “feet to fire” in mastering these skills (among many others), and looking back on it I think it was a mistake. 

So, as we’re calling out to Siri, Alexa or “Ok Google,” and our kids are watching us in our own screen-technology obsessions, you might want to pause and consider what’s being gained, but also what’s being lost. 


For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email –

To receive free Dyslexia Infographics and updates, go to:



Dyslexia – Labeling or Describing

“Identifying a label for student’s type of learning disability is not the key issue.  Use of the label dyslexia may not even be necessary.  Describing the phenomena observed in the child should be the goal of the diagnostic assessment, especially in an area as muddled as this one.”

If it is decided to use the diagnostic label dyslexia, then it is critical to identify, the particular symptoms the student exhibits”. (Regina Richards, in “Dyslexia Testing: A Process Not a Score”)

Do you remember in Alice in Wonderland, where Alice discovers the little bottle that says “drink me” on the outside of it?  Well, recently, I was cleaning out the archaeological dig known as my office and I came upon a little pamphlet book that has been on my shelf forgotten for a number years – “Dyslexia Testing:  A Process Not a Score,” by Regina Richards, the renowned educational therapist.

Like Alice, I took it off the shelf and peaked inside.  It’s loaded with jewels like the above quote.

As Richards noted, it is a “muddled field,” loaded with multiple players offering various commentaries.  One’s head can spin with all of the interpretations and permutations.  As I said in “School Struggles,” so much depends on whose door step you land.

Richards is reminding us to be sensible (not an easy task).  The question of “does my child have dyslexia,” is not central.  The question “does my child have a reading (spelling, writing) problem and what are its characteristics is essential and a very different question.

If I describe the phenomena reasonably well, then there is an inherent prescription as to what to do next.  Saying the child had “difficulty with high frequency words in a first grade text,” offers an idea of what you need to target.   You need to target high frequency words with a research-supported approach.  It’s sensible.

If I say “the child is dyslexic,” I’m not sure that tells me what to do next.

What’s the nature of the difficulty?  What are we targeting?  Where is the zone of competence?  How mild, moderate or severe is the problem.

Those questions are far more important to understand and address.

Hey, if Regina Richards is in my camp, I’m sticking with that.

I’m heading back to Wonderland.  See you there.


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