Month: November 2018

Ryan & His “Quasi-ADD” – Part I

Over the last couple of decades ADHD (commonly referred to as “ADD”) seems to be pretty casually diagnosed from all I can tell.  It doesn’t take much to get “diagnosed.” The parent fills out a rating scale, which usually comes up positive for things like distractible and inattentive.   The child’s history is reviewed and the diagnosis follows.

Sometimes there will be a large battery of computerized tests complete with fancy electrodes put on the child’s head that give the air of being scientific and which yield sophisticated looking data, but other than costing the patient (or the insurance company) thousands of dollars, these have never been shown to be all that valid as an approach to assessing ADHD.

As a result of the significant numbers of children diagnosed with ADHD, parents stream into schools requesting 504 Plans for their child.

Let’s take a step back and look at 504 plans.  Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was written as a federal civil rights law to address discrimination against people with disabilities in the work place and in school.   Like other civil rights legislation, it was a major game-changer.

To illustrate some of the issues in the real world, let’s look at Ryan, a 7th grader I recently evaluated who was previously diagnosed by a medical practice specializing in assessing ADHD.  I was to be offering a second opinion while his mom was in the process of pushing the school to offer 504 plan accommodations.

After evaluating him,  I didn’t see all that much ADHD with Ryan.  It was my view Ryan had, at best, quasi-ADD (a term I made up).  Largely, he was so caught up in a myriad of screen preoccupations (YouTube, Fortnight, etc.) that school and homework were just basic annoyances that he had to deal with to primarily get his mom off of his back.

Ryan never seems to know what he has to do.   Mom’s blood pressure is rising over her son’s seeming obliviousness. Frustrated that Ryan never writes down any assignments (“Why should I,” says Ryan.  “It’s on line somewhere.”), to lower her blood pressure,  mom has taken to downloading the Google Classroom App on her phone so that she can try and figure out what he has to do.

Ryan thinks that’s pretty cool his mom has Google Classroom App, because it relieves him of having to write anything down, which he has stated as, “is so hard to do” (said in a plaintive, whining voice).

Recently Ryan has not been handing in homework or meeting his basic responsibilities.  It’s the mom’s view that the school should be relaxing the deadlines for turning in his work due to his “ADD.”

I pushed back some on the mom.  I wasn’t buying that Ryan wasn’t handing in his work due to a disability.

It struck me that the purpose of 504 accommodations in school was essentially to “level the playing field” for children with handicapping conditions, not to be giving Ryan the message that he can hand in homework when he chooses or not at all because of his “diagnosis.”

I have a good relationship with Ryan.  While his mother tells me what she feels the school should be doing (extending deadlines), I give Ryan one of those squinty-eyed (“come on man”) looks and he smiles back at me.  His nonverbal says to me says  something like, “I know, I know. I just don’t want to do my homework.”

It was my view that it wasn’t a 504 issue.  It was a lifestyle issue.  That is, Ryan had a pretty cool lifestyle and he wasn’t about to compromise it.

Takeaway Point

ADHD (ADD) is casually diagnosed.  There is no pure objective measure of ADHD.  As a parent you need to double check what you are asking for in a 504 and what message it is sending the child

(I will elaborate on Ryan, 504 plans and lifestyle in Part II of this blog next week.)

“Better a Diamond With a Flaw…”

For this week’s inspiration we find ourselves looking to some pretty heavy hitters.

Voltaire said, “The best is the enemy of the good.”  On that same theme, Confucius reminded that, “Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.”  Shakespeare, cautioned, “Striving to better, oft we mar what’s well.”

How do these variations on a theme apply to struggling children?

The vast majority of kids sent for special education as well as outside evaluations are struggling with the fundamental core skills of reading, writing and spelling.  They may have other “stuff” (you know, the usual – distractability, attention and behavior issues), but those core skill deficits are the primary reason they are referred.

When assessments are completed, most of the kids with these issues need sensible instruction targeting their skill deficiencies.  (Note, I did not name a specific program or method.)

Parents will go to schools insisting things like, “I must have my child seen in individual daily instruction by a certified Orton-Gillingham teacher.”  Or, “My child must have a certified Wilson Instructor.  It is not acceptable that the teacher went to an introductory workshop on Wilson.  She can’t possibly teach my child.”

Often, the school will push back saying that the demands can’t be met. They don’t have a certified Wilson or Orton-Gillingham instructor.  (These programs are expensive per teacher and they take a great deal of time and commitment on the part of the teacher to get trained.)

Things can get very contentious and adversarial.

Sometimes, attorneys and advocates get in the mix.

Many years ago (I won’t tell you how many), I had a kid in my class named Frankie who was severely disabled in reading, spelling and writing.

Sitting in a third grade class, he couldn’t read at even the preprimer level.  In spite of my newly minted master’s degree in learning disabilities, I had no idea what to do with him.

By chance, I attended a workshop in Brooklyn given by Dr. Gerald Glass, a colorful professor from Adelphi University, who had a method that he developed called the “Glass Analysis for Decoding.”  It was a sensible and structured methodology for teaching basic decoding and reading fluency skills to severely reading disabled (dyslexic) kids.   Glass taught us the method and after the day’s workshop, he said, “Now go try it out.”

The next day I did just that.  I started to use the method and in a short time, even though I was certified in nothing, Frankie started to get better.  He started proudly responding to words, none of which he was able to read previously.

Looking back, I wonder how did this happen?  How could he have made progress in decoding when I wasn’t certified in Orton-Gillingham, Wilson or any other research-supported methods?

Sure, programs like Orton-Gillingham or Wilson may represent remedial nirvana, but what if there is no one in the kid’s school, district or geographical region who is certified?  What then?

I say, ok.  It’s not that big a deal.  Think Voltaire!

Find a program that is good enough, one that follows the basic tenets of these methods. For example, maybe you are a teacher out there in Wyoming, Montana or Australia (I’ve been contacted from these areas by parents) about to start working with a reading disabled kid.  Well, for $20 you may want to consider purchasing a program like, “Angling for Words,” or “Explode the Code,” both Orton-based programs and start using them with the child.

Are they perfect?  No.  Could there be better?  Of course.  Could your kid make progress with  programs like these?  Absolutely.

Takeaway Point

Don’t believe everything you are hearing.  It’s great to get teachers certified in research supported program like Orton-Gillingham or Wilson, but it takes a long time and money to train teachers in these methods.  They may not be readily available.

In the meantime, I’m ok going with good enough programs or approaches.  I’m sticking with Voltaire, Confucius, Shakespeare (and Gerald Glass).


Copyright, 2018
Not in the South Jersey area? For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email –
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“Almost Heaven…”

                                                                                          “Almost heaven, West Virginia
Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River”

                                                                                                                       John Denver, “Country Roads”

Among my fondest memories from  my Staten Island childhood are sports memories.  These memories includes my being a quarterback, wide receiver and defensive end.  Yep, I played all three of those positions.

It’s not what you think, though.  I never played one game of organized football, not even youth football.  But, boy, did I have a great time as a football player.

The football that I am talking about involved three, maybe four kids out on the street.  When three of us played someone was designated to be the “official quarterback,” that is he was assigned to be the quarterback on both sides.

The quarterback would set the play. (“Go 15 yards straight, give a head fake left, then head to the fire hydrant on the right and I will hit you just before the sidewalk.”)

There were no parents cheering for us or telling us how wonderful we were and what great football players we would become. In fact nobody ever watched us play.  Nonetheless, we all thought we were heading to the NFL.

On a given Saturday, we would probably played all day, except for the annoying intrusion of having to go inside to eat a bologna sandwich on white bread (maybe with a slice of American cheese) when your mother called you in for a lunch that was wolfed down in seven minutes before heading back out.

It was heaven.

What started me on this nostalgic reverie was last Sunday night, the first night of Daylight Savings Time.  The sun was going down pretty early.  As I was taking the trash out what caught my eye were a couple of the neighbor’s kids throwing a football out on the street and looking like they were having a great time.

They vaguely knew me (you know how it is with neighbor’s kids these days), but I decided to risk it and go up to them to start throwing the football around. Before long we were playing for real.  I was the official quarterback.   We were setting plays and the three of us were in a game.

When a pass was completed, a touchdown made, there was exhilaration.

The kids loved it.  They played until the darkness set in.

Afterward I couldn’t help reflect on the kids and how unusual it is to see this type of play.

As I interact with children daily, I will often ask them to track me through their days.  How do they spend their time?

Except for some type of organized activity (you know, the obligatory karate or soccer), without fail the bulk of their “activity” is in their basement or family room.

The nostalgic play that I think about from childhood (and Sunday night) had key elements that seem missing in this day and age.  Some of these include:

  • Imagination
  • Live, interactive fun
  • Lots of physical activity
  • Arguing (yes, we argued a lot, but we worked it out) and learning to negotiate

Today, it seems all so controlled and if it’s not controlled, it’s controlled by a screen.   Perhaps it has a couple of those above elements, but I don’t think so.

Takeaway Point

I hope those kids are playing next Sunday afternoon.  Maybe I can hit one deep in the end zone.  It will be heavenly.

Copyright, 2018
Not in the South Jersey area? For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email –
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Finding That Sweet Spot

Try this as an experiment.  Maybe you haven’t done them in some time, but try doing a few push-ups.  See how many you can do?  None? A couple?  10? 20?

Regardless of the number that you can successfully complete,  there will be a point where you will hit a wall that is the point where effort doesn’t matter.  Perhaps with a little extra effort you can crank out one or two more, but essentially you’ve hit a point of frustration.  You can’t go past that point.

With most academic tasks (e.g., reading, spelling and writing) the same applies. That is, these tasks fall on a continuum, a range from the most basic and easy to the more difficult and complex.

Just like the push-ups,  children can be plotted on a continuum for the skills from the easy to the frustrating.

It may seem sacrilegious to some of you, but when I assess kids I am more concerned with figuring out where a child is on the continuum than determining whether he has a given label or diagnostic category.

Knowing where a child is on the spectrum or the continuum helps us with taking an appropriate next-step action, where the label is just that – a label.

For example, if I give the child a representative first grade level passage and he reads it comfortably and confidently and can answer some comprehension questions, I know something.  He has mastered basic sight words and at the point he can read smoothly at this level he has the cognitive ability to process the information.

If the same child starts to show signs of struggling with larger words at perhaps the third grade level, that also tells me something.  Probably his reading is based primarily on memorization and less based on an internalized system of decoding more challenging words.

Ah, now I can roll up my sleeves and start targeting those skills that are shaky.  We can get down to business.

Or, take the example of a child who reads smoothly with all of the passages read, but whose comprehension, particularly for questions that are not directly in the text (i.e., inferences) he looks at me confused when the questions are asked.

Aha.  Maybe I should start explaining inferences to this child and give lots of examples for  practice.

We turn ourselves into knots trying to find the reasons behind the difficulty.  I get comments all the time like, “What region of the brain is producing these challenges?”  “Was it due to ear infections from 10 years ago?”  “You know, I think my grandmother may have had dyslexia and that must be the explanation.  They always talked about her reading backwards.”  “I know Uncle Joe can’t focus on anything.  That explains the ADD.”

On and on it goes. None of those speculations move things forward guiding “next-step thinking.”

Takeaway Point

Know at what point the skills start to break down.  Identify the skill deficiencies.  Target them.  Practice them.

Then your child will start to feel better about himself or herself.

Copyright, 2018
Not in the South Jersey area? For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email –
To receive free newsletter and updates, go to:

Questions or topics that you want covered in future blogs, send email to:




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