Month: January 2019

“But, She’s So Sweet – She’s So Smart”

This week my “Annoy-O-Meter,” which is usually running pretty high (like at a level of 70 out of 100), was up in the high 90s.

What pushed it into the upper end of the dial was a run of girls that I either evaluated or met with their parents to discuss their girl’s struggles.

I heard consistent stories such as the following:

We’ve seen our daughter struggling with school practically every day.  It’s not that she isn’t doing her homework, but she breaks down crying in the middle, sobbing that ‘she’s so stupid – she’s so dumb’ and that others are starting to laugh at her in school.  She’s an anxious mess and we think she may be getting depressed.  The school says the same thing they’ve been saying since she was in kindergarten and now in 5th grade – ‘But, she’s so sweet;  she’s so smart; she’s such a pleasure.’”

“We know she’s sweet – we know she’s smart.  We also know that she’s struggling and that she can’t read, spell or write.”

I know I run the risk of generalizing here and that broad stroke statements don’t account for individual differences, but quite often this is what I find.

The girls are masters at teacher pleasing behaviors (in contrast with the boys).  As a result, they are literally off of anyone’s radar screen of concern.

Interacting with teachers in such positive ways often covers a wealth of flaws that are there, but are rarely commented on because of being “so sweet – so smart.”

Here’s a writing sample from one of the kids, Christine, age 11, a fifth grader, who has not gotten referred for any testing.  She’s not on anyone’s radar screen even though her parents are very worried about her.

Defining the word “barrage,” she spelled it as “brage” and then said it was, “heavey and continuos firing of wea pons during a battle  (no period)

For “pacifist” she spelled the word, “pastifiet.” Saying someone who beleves  that war and volence are wrong.

Writing is always an x-ray that reveals many things including a child’s thought process and understanding of sound-symbol relationships.  The writing should be the bell that sounds the alarm.

In this situation, no alarm was sounded, because Christine could not be more pleasant, engaging and positive.   Yet, every night she was breaking down behind the scenes.

Of course with such breakdowns, someone will be soon diagnosing her with either ADHD and/or an anxiety disorder (with the medication regimen to follow), but that is a subject for another post.

Takeaway Point

It’s really great that your daughter is “so sweet – so smart,” but don’t be lulled if you have concern.  You’ll need to have someone dig a little deeper beyond the sweet and smart.

More Questions of An Assessment: Part II

Last week we talked about some of the essential questions to ask of an assessment:  Questions of An Assessment: Part I.

We emphasized asking fundamental questions first such as:

  • Does my child have a problem? (yes or no)
  • If there is a problem(s), where does it lie?
  • How mild, moderate or severe is the problem?
  • With a reading problem, what type is it?
  • Do other professionals need to be brought in?

It was emphasized that the first questions need not be, “does my child have dyslexia or ADHD” (or some other syndrome casually tossed around these days) – that there were other essential questions to consider.

Starting with those questions (hopefully being answered by the person who did the evaluation), what are the next set of essential questions?

What do we do next?  I believe that this is a fundamental question that is not easily answered.  What may be easy for one family or situation may not be for another.  Factors such as availability of resources (i.e., both time and money) need to be considered.   For example, tutoring usually involves twice weekly sessions that can be pricey. With “next step thinking” don’t go too far down the road.  What are the best next steps in the realm of reality that can be done over the next four to six months or so?

What is the school’s responsibility?  Again, this is a very complex question and issue.  Just because an outside evaluator identifies issues or areas of concern, does not mean that the school is going to say, “Oh, Dr. Selznick, thank you so much.  We will start program of remediation tomorrow.”  It rarely works that way.  It’s important to emphasize that the school will have specific guidelines as to who is or is not deemed as eligible for services.  That doesn’t mean you should be purely passive and take whatever the school gives you, but you need to understand the realities and the challenges.

What can be done at home?  Parents shouldn’t have to feel that they need to become reading specialists or behavioral interventionists in the home, but there are often very doable activities that can be easily managed by parents in the home and that can have a big impact on a child’s progress.  There are so many basic activities (to be discussed in a later post) that are fun for parents and kids that don’t take a lot of time or experience to implement.   One hint, if you can, get a white board set up in a basement (if you have one).

Beside direct intervention like tutoring, what are ways around the problem?  Sure specialized tutoring is essential but you need to consider how to get around the problem.  These are often referred to as “accommodations.”  They represent simple adjustments that don’t take a lot of time and effort in order to help the child in a particular situation.  There are classic ones that may or may not apply to your child’s needs such as providing the child with extra time, but there may be ones that are not commonly considered that may be more helpful to your child and his/her needs.  An example would be having the teacher come over to the child and preview the “low frequency” (big words) on a worksheet before the child has to do an activity.  That may be more impactful than giving extra time to a child who can’t read the words anyway.

Takeaway Point

 Ask the right questions of the person evaluating your kid and you will come away with a more satisfying experience than if you just focus on the question of label.


Questions of an Assessment – Part I

In this day and age of ready information at your fingertips, what I find is that parents are frequently armed with confused notions or misinformation that they’ve gotten from all kinds of sources.

For example, there frequently is a great deal of confusion or misguided notions about evaluations or assessments.

To address this, over the next two weeks we are going to cover some of the essential questions you should be asking of an assessment.  These are the questions that should be “knocking around in your head,” when you are having your child evaluated.

As we go through these questions, please keep in mind that I am talking below about testing done outside of the schools with a private clinician (e.g., psychologist) or a learning specialist.

Essential Questions:

Does my kid have a problem or not?  An evaluator should be able to answer in broad terms, “Yes, I concur your child has an issue(s),” or “No, I don’t see any areas of concern.”  It’s a “yes” or “no” proposition.  Notice, the first question is not, does my child have dyslexia? Or is my child ADD?  Those are not the most important first questions to have answered, even though they seem to be front and center most of the time.

Where do the problems lie?  A comprehensive psychological/psychoeducational assessment covers a lot of different areas.  Some of these include:

  • Verbal abilities
  • Nonverbal thinking skills (like spatial thinking)
  • Reasoning/Problem Solving
  • Working memory
  • Word recognition
  • Reading fluency
  • Word reading efficiency
  • Spelling/Writing.
  • A tendency toward distractibility
  • Ability to sustain mental effort
  • Frustration tolerance
  • Anxiety
  • Social skills
  • Self-esteem

There are many more that can be added to the list, but these are some of the top ones.  The point is that difficulty in any one of these can be causing a child to struggle depending upon the task at hand and what’s being asked of him.

How mild, moderate, severe is the problem(s)?  An evaluator (clinician) will be using a combination of the quantitative and qualitative (observable) results to answer this question. It’s not all the numbers and having a good clinical “eye” in answering this question is essential.  The better clinicians will not solely rely on scores, as it is possible that a child scores adequately (i.e., average) while still showing signs of struggling depending upon how they managed the task or activity.

If it’s a reading problem, what type is it?    I know that there are more scientific people out there who have all kinds of ways of delineating or subdividing the reading process, but that’s not what I have found helpful.  For those who have read my stuff, you know that I have two essential categories of reading difficulty – Type I or Type II.  Type I readers are the ones struggling with decoding, reading fluency, reading efficiency.  The Type II readers have no problems with decoding or reading fluency, but they comprehend poorly.  It is essential to know which type of reading problem your child has, as the interventions are very different for each. (Keep in mind that if you Google “Type I” or “Type II Reading problems” you probably won’t find anything, as it doesn’t exist in the real world – I made it up.)

Do other professionals need to be brought in?  Depending upon where the problem(s) lie, you may need to bring in other disciplines for their input.  For example, if the rating scales and the history are pointing in directions that suggest ADHD/ADD, a consultation with a developmental pediatrician would be a good next step to get additional information. Similarly, there are a number of different specialty areas that might need to be brought in depending upon what the findings indicate.

Takeaway Point:

There’s a lot going on with a good evaluation.  Be ready to ask the right questions.

Next week we will build on these questions to give you a little more understanding of the things that should be knocking around in your head when it comes to an evaluation.

The Symbolic Value of Homework

Homework is often a battleground.  Refrains such as, “It’s stupid,”  “I hate it,”  “It’s not fun,” and variations on these themes occur across the country starting in the afternoon, continuing through until about 9:00 at night.

Of course there are the dutiful soldiers who don’t complain (more often the girls), get started on their own, get out their material, complete the assignment (putting checks next to the completed task in the assignment book) and even putting it  back in the backpack so it can be found the next day in school.

In so many ways much of school and homework are like reminders of the past, of days gone by.  Take a peek at their book bags. Kids will still break out those zippered three-ringed binders with loose loose-leaf paper (yes, they still are using paper), dividers, pencils, pens and all the other stuff that goes with it.   In many ways, it’s still a real throwback to eras gone by.  I think if someone who hasn’t been around  since say 1970 was beamed in to a modern day homework session, it wouldn’t be all that strange or foreign.  Much would be recognizable.

As parents it is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day struggling, the angst, teeth gnashing and displays of emotion, as the child rolls around on the floor doing everything to get out of doing homework.

I never have known whether homework has legitimate value as a learning tool for reinforcing or broadening skills.  I do think homework has symbolic value and if you think of homework as a symbolic process that school (society) imparts on children then you as a parent will not get so caught up in the roller coaster of emotions and reactions.

Without stating it directly, the symbolic process of homework conveys an underlying value that says something like the following:

In order to be a functioning member of society you need to learn a few things, like getting out of bed and showing up on time.  As adults you will probably have deadlines for different tasks doing this thing we call a ‘job’ and it is in your interest to meet the deadlines.  Just hanging out and watching TV or going on the internet is not going to cut it.”

If kids were given this message directly in lecture form they would certainly tune it out and stare into the attention-deficit ether, not listening to a word of it. So the message is given indirectly through homework, starting in first grade continuing all the way through high school and even college.

As overseers, parents should practice their role and stance, with no strong reactions, no large arguments. Your job as parent overseer is to be empathetic, while shrugging your shoulders and conveying a message like, “I know.  It’s not fun, but you have to deal with it.  That’s your job,” without actually saying the words.

You too, are giving indirect messages.

Nonverbal body language conveys plenty.

So does homework.

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Copyright, 2018
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