Month: May 2018

The “Just-Off Child”

There is a type of child I see quite often that is often confounding for schools and parents alike.  This is the child I think of as “just-off.”

Quantitatively, the “Just-Off Child” mostly resides in the portion of the bell-shaped curve, within the dreaded “average range,” with scores that are left of the strict mid-point (e.g., standard scores of 90 – 95 or the 25th to the 37th %ile).

If I said to you that your child’s overall reading was in the 37th %ile you’re not jumping for joy, but such a score is considered “average” and is not going to result in the child getting classified for special services.

Rightfully so, this child is probably not “disabled,” he is “just-off,” as in just-off the mid-point.

Qualitatively, these children can also show a number of indicators of concern.  Many of the common ones include:

  • They are often not “zippy.” (How’s that for a scientific term?)
  • They typically need a fair amount of prodding to get started on tasks.
  • Their homework and work output doesn’t look that great. (There’s something off about the homework – it’s just-off.)
  • They aren’t great at “self-monitoring” (a psych term for not checking one’s work).
  • Of course, they are viewed as on the distractible side of the continuum.

There are many more of these qualitative variables, but you get the idea.

Frequently, these kids get diagnosed as “ADHD,” (I’m not so sure they are) which yields a prescription and the likelihood of a 504 Plan with the school giving extra time (not that the kid wants to spend more time on school work).

What to do with this type of child?

Above all, everyone interacting with the “Just-Off Child” needs to be patient.

Understand that these kids can pull for irritation (“What’s the matter with you – I told you to pay attention.”) while they complete work semi-sloppily and make careless errors.

Mind you, I’m not suggesting that you go totally easy on this type of child, but the kid is feeling it and he knows he’s not doing great.  He is not thrilled with all of the red marks and mediocre grades on the page.

Takeaway Point

There is a common type of child who is neither “fish nor fowl” – the “Just-Off Child.” This child resides in the lower portion of the average range and shows many common indicators that usually yield a diagnosis of “ADHD.”  They require a great deal of deep breathing from the adults who interact with them.  Besides practicing parental patience, in future blog posts we will elaborate on other things to do this child.

Copyright, 2018

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“Must See a Neurologist” Really?

One of the things that I hear quite often from parents is the following statement:

“When we inquired with the school about dyslexia, they told me, ‘dyslexia is a medical condition and that we need to go to a neurologist (or some other such physician) for the diagnosis.’”

Is that right?

Let’s  see.

The next time you go to your child’s neurologist (or other medical specialist such as a psychiatrist)  did they do the following:

  • Determine whether there were phonological components of the language that were problematic?
  • Have the child read a graded word list to determine adequacy of word identification skills?
  • Listen to the child read a list of nonsense words to see if decoding was adequate?
  • Assess oral reading fluency skills?
  • Evaluate comprehension skills?
  • Assess working memory and processing speed?
  • Oh, and what about rapid object, letter and number naming? Were they assessed?
  • Were different cognitive abilities evaluated?
  • Was there a detailed review of school, developmental and family history?

Frankly, I don’t know too many neurologists in our area.  Do you? One I have recently come across is a private neurologist in dublin, but as you can guess, that is unfortunately too far for us to travel!

If they did have more in our area, it would probably take a minimum of three to four face hours with the kid, not to mention the time scoring, interpreting and writing up a summary.

Takeaway Point

If the school is telling you that you need a neurologist to determine whether your child has a learning disability such as dyslexia, you may want to respectfully disagree and remind them that there are probably not too many such neurologists that you know of doing an assessment that touches on all of these necessary components.


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Draining of Childhood

Beyond their level of development and maturity, kids are becoming preoccupied and exposed to far too much content than they can handle.

Childhood is becoming overwhelming.

What’s behind this?

It’s pretty clear.

Most of the kids I talk to have pretty unlimited access to Youtube.  From what I can tell, it’s one of their “go to” screen spots where they get a great deal of “content.”

Take Blake, a bright 10 year old, who is preoccupied with Youtube, going down endless rabbit holes, following his interests on anything that catches his attention.

As reported to me recently, Blake found himself watching a “comedian” who sings some type of song that focuses on suicide as a theme, somehow done comically.   (I’m sure it’s a laugh a minute.)

The problem is Blake is set off by the comedian’s song and starts to look at other Youtube videos on the topic and then he starts to wonder about the idea of suicide until he has worked himself into a full-blown lather of anxiety.

It wasn’t that Blake felt suicidal, but the topic captivated him to the point of preoccupation.

Sure, I could try and help Blake understand how his thoughts (cognitions) impact his moods and emotions and all of the ways that psychologists try and help kids deal with their emotions.

But, that’s not what I am thinking.

I am thinking about the state of childhood.

I am thinking Blake is 10. When I was 10 I don’t remember thinking about suicide as a topic.  For me, I was preoccupied with whether Batman was more powerful than Superman (in the comic books, I might add).  When not worrying about that we were playing a bunch of games outdoors, joyously free of any adult involvement.  (In fact, whole weekends would go by without adults telling us what to do at all or watching us play our games.)

I know. I know.  I can hear all of the critics now.  “Well, Richard, your childhood was just once removed from when Abe Lincoln was president.  Get over it. Times have changed.”

Look, I know times have changed. I have my own screen problems. In fact, as I write this on my lap top, the phone is close by like a pathetic security blanket, while the iPad is synching to my blue tooth speaker, keeping me maximally stimulated.

However, I am an adult.

While all of this technological content may be distracting and is probably not serving me well, I can handle it (mostly). If I watch a video on Youtube with questionable or disturbing content, it doesn’t result in a downward psychological spiral.

In contrast, I’m not so sure kids have the psychological reserve in their tank to handle the content they have ready access to.

Takeaway Point

We need to wake up.

I am concerned that childhood is being drained from them as we stand by helplessly, while our kids swipe and swipe on the iPads they got for Christmas or their fifth birthday.


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Fundamental Questions

What are the fundamental questions you can use as dyslexia evaluation and ADHD assessment tools?

In contrast with kids who travel on a smoother road, on this site and in our books we are concerned with kids riding a rougher road.  These kids have a tough ride for all kinds of reasons.

Dyslexia evaluation and ADHD Assessment Tools

Here are some fundamental questions that can (and should) be asked of the kids on a rough ride, depending on the child’s age and stage:

  • How are the child’s decoding skills? Regardless of age and stage, this is an essential question to consider.
  • When presented with challenging words that don’t show up in the text all that often (think of words such as “porcupine,” “financial,” “institute”), can he/she read them smoothly and effortlessly?
  • How does the child do when asked to follow sequences and basic directions?
  • When given a passage roughly in the grade level of the child and asked to do a “cold read,” how does it sound?   Is it smooth and fluent or not?
  • How is the child’s word knowledge or word awareness?
  • How about understanding what is read? When the child reads different passages, how does he/she respond to factual questions? Inferential questions? Does he seem connected or disconnected to the material?
  • Do you think your child shows the ability to sustain his/her mental effort or does is he falling off track and giving up easily?
  • How does the child manage different types of problems where solutions are not readily apparent?
  • What about math? How does he/she manage basic calculations? Word problems? Does the child seem confused?Does the child work through his/her challenge or give up easily?
  • How connected is the child when interacting with others? How about his social skills?

Category is Less Important than Word Knowledge and other Fundamentals

Even though I find people to be very concerned about questions of category, such as does my child have dyslexia or ADHD, from my point of view the fundamental questions are examples of ones I am always asking when conducting an assessment.

The fundamental questions (the above are not an exhaustive list by the way) are ones that guide you as to what your next steps should be, what action you might want to take, what skill to develop.

Takeaway Point

I encourage you to be less concerned about a diagnostic category and more concerned about specific questions that lead to an action to take.


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