Month: April 2018

Not Eligible For Services

In last blog post I talked about Jackson, a child who was struggling with basic concepts of math, such as time, money and simple fractions.

I had intended to build on last week’s blog, but instead I need to take a different direction in terms of Jackson.

Jackson was recently evaluated by the school’s special education team.  In contrast to decent reading and decoding scores, severe problems were noted with the different mathematic tasks given to Jackson, with scores clustering around the 5th percentile.  In short, Jackson was drowning with any math functions and was clearly in need of support in the form of patient, remedial instruction offered in a small group format on a regular (daily) basis.

From my point of view, looking at the data derived from the special education team, it was a “slam dunk” that Jackson should be classified with a learning disability.

That’s not the way it went though. When Jackson’s parents went in to review the special education assessment, the team said they were not classifying Jackson. No help or accommodation would be coming his way.  After the meeting the case was to be closed.


Very simply, Jackson’s IQ wasn’t seen to be high enough.  Effectively, he was being punished for an intelligence score that fell in the middle to high 80’s of IQ (around the 15th percentile), in spite of the fact that there were other scores om the IQ test that showed Jackson could demonstrate at least average potential in some of the sub-domains that were assessed.

Here’s the issue as I see it.

Each state interprets federal special education code in its own way.  In the state of New Jersey, a learning disability is determined by:

A specific learning disability can be determined when a severe discrepancy is found between the student’s current achievement and intellectual ability in one or more of the following areas: (1) Basic reading skills; (2) Reading comprehension; (3) Oral expression; (4) Listening comprehension; (5) Mathematical calculation; (6) Mathematical problem solving; (7) Written expression; and (8) Reading fluency

So, for the lucky ones who fall in the upper portion of the bell-shaped curve of intelligence, say with an IQ of about 110 or more (around the 75th percentile), there is likely to be a “severe discrepancy” determined and the child will get help.

If you’re not smart enough, forget about it.

The main IQ test used by special education teams is the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (5th edition) or WISC-V.  It was originally developed by David Wechsler back in the 1940s.  Anything I’ve read or known about David Wechsler suggests to me he would not be happy to see his test used in this way to ultimately deny a child like Jackson from getting the help he desperately needs.

Sadly, that’s how the test is often used now.


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“Dyscalculia”… Don’t Let it Fool ‘Ya’

Dyscalculia: Severe difficulty in making arithmetical calculations, as a result of brain disorder.

Recently, I had a number of kids who were struggling in basic mathematic functions. Parents will often inquire whether their child has “dyscalculia.” Even though I’ve tested a couple thousand kids at this point in my career I really have no idea whether I’ve evaluated a child who has dyscalculia.

Take, young Jackson, age 8, a third grader. Described by his parents as possessing many wonderful (mostly nonverbal abilities), he struggles with the most basic of mathematic functions.

“Jackson can look at any car on the road and tell you the model…his recall for that is incredible,” said his dad. “He’s also an amazing builder and loves coming with me on jobs (dad owns a heating and air conditioning company).”

“At the same time,” the dad continued, “he is unable to understand the concept of the most basic fractions. I’ve tried with real pizzas and cookies, you name it. He just can’t understand what a fraction is and that a half, that a half represents two parts of a whole thing. Everyone one of his tests and worksheets comes back with bad grade after bad grade and no attempt at offering any help.”

I see tons of kids who don’t get concepts that most of us take for granted. It doesn’t surprise me in the least. They get regular doses of red “X’s”

So much in daily life involves concepts of mathematics that we take for granted that kids like Jackson will understand. For them it’s totally abstract

Who thinks about the concept that a day is 1/365 of a whole year or 1/7 of a week.

What about time or money? How many of our kids of concern understand the concept of a minute, hour or quarter as fractions.

There are endless examples.

We forget that so much of mathematics is language and that if we don’t understand the concept, the calculations are going to be virtually impossible. There are some great resources online to help with maths understanding. For example, a friend of mine was recently learning how to do scalar projection on a website similar to For those that struggle with maths, there are some great websites available to help.

Samples of Jackson’s papers that parents brought to me were marked all over the place with red “X’s” or “pay attention more” comments. I looked over the problems that he got wrong:

Melody draws a quadrilateral with two pairs of opposite sides that appear to be parallel. Which could be the quadrilateral Melody draws.”

“Quadrilateral???” “Opposite???” “Parallel??? How ridiculous.

Honestly, do you think that a child who can’t understand the concept that a week has seven days is going to begin to understand a word problem involving quadrilaterals?

So, does Jackson have “dyscalculia?” Not from where I sit.

Jackson has a concept deficit. Talking about “quadrilaterals” when he doesn’t even understand what a half represents, is a complete instructional mismatch.

Takeaway Point

The Jacksons of the world need a lot more patient practice, in portions of the “mathematic pool” where they are remotely comfortable. Next week we will build on this theme.


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When You’re a Lego Kid

Those of you who have been following this blog or other Shut-Down Learner stuff for some time know that I have somewhat of a preoccupation with those kids I’ve  referred to as “Lego Kids.”

Even though I have assessed a few thousand kids in my career (yes, it’s true), I continue to be amazed by this style of child, their incredible strengths as well as their inherent weaknesses.

On average, these children excel with tasks that are nonverbal in nature.  They love building, organizing, tinkering, imagining, all in nonverbal ways.


They are our future engineers, architects, designers, landscape engineers, and builders.

There’s just one problem.

Quite often, they don’t read, spell or write very well.

There’s nothing wrong with their brains; they’re just not wired to excel in the domain where language functions predominate, such as with reading, spelling and writing.  They’re not sensitized to the way words are made up of individual sounds.  So if you ask the child to add or remove sounds to words (e.g., “Say flat.”  Now say flat without saying the /f/ sound”), they look at you blankly or just guess with little understanding.

Take, young Chris, age 6, who is not progressing well in the basics of reading, spelling and writing.  Continual reports about his inattentiveness are coming home with the implied message that he needs to be seen by a neurologist and put on medication.  The parents are told that Chris can’t pay attention and while the school personnel freely state that they can’t diagnose, they give strong signals in other words that Chris needs to be put on medication.

When I meet Chris he doesn’t look thrilled about the idea of the evaluation, but when the blocks break out to match them to complex patterns and he is given puzzles tasks, he becomes a different child.  He goes from disengaged to engaged in seconds. (With his rapid change of demeanor, some might even ridiculously start thinking he was bipolar!!!).

When I ask Chris to perform the tasks that involve language like the one above described his demeanor changes again and he starts to complain and rapidly falls off-track.

When Chris was done the testing, he involved himself with a very creative drawing at the white board, with a fully elaborate story with the pictures all connected in an imaginative sequence.

I don’t think we get these kids who are wired for the nonverbal.  Too quickly we think of them as “disordered” or “disabled.”

Even with all of the training initiatives taking place around the country, it’s my sense that we still are light years away from truly understanding them.


Not in the South Jersey area? For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email –

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