Month: May 2019

504 Plans – Changing the Odds

Parents talk freely about 504 Plans and seem to be comforted when their child receives one.

What is largely forgotten (or never understood) is the fact that 504 Plans were an outgrowth of ADA (Americans with Disability Act) legislation.  As ADA noted about addressing those with disabilities:

“No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States, as defined in section 705(20) of this title, shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance or under any program or activity.”

With regard to schools, “FAPE” is the guiding principle

“Section 504 requires school districts to provide Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to children with disabilities, who may benefit from public education, within the individual district’s jurisdiction. Regardless of the child’s disability, the school district must identify the child’s educational needs and provide any regular or special education to satisfy the child’s educational needs just as well as it does for the children without disabilities.”

My interpretation of the spirit of the law is the notion of “leveling the playing field,” to the extent that those with a “disability” need some type of external assistance to help the child to function as close as possible to their non-disabled peers.

The assumption is that the disability puts the disabled person at a decided disadvantage in the classroom.  In theory a 504 Plan addresses this disadvantage.

That was the intent.  The reality of 504 Plans is often entirely different.

For schools, the vast majority of the kids given 504 Plans are ones diagnosed (on the outside by a medical practitioner) with ADHD.  (A learning disabled child is given an IEP based on special education testing, not a 504 Plan.)

Twenty or so years ago or so, getting a diagnosis from a neurologist or other medical practitioner was somewhat novel and even a bit on the exotic side.  It didn’t occur all that frequently.

No more.

Now legions of children are diagnosed with ADHD/ADD and schools are overwhelmed by requests for 504 Plans.  Here’s an article that documents studies citing a doubling of the children diagnosed with ADHD (ADHD Doubling in Percentages) over a 20 year period.

Most 504 Plans (at least on paper) offer the child extended time, possible preferential seating and the potential to have material read to the child.  There are other accommodations that sometimes appear in a 504, but these are the common ones.

While parents may be comforted by the 504 Plan, it is my impression that most kids I know don’t want extra time and they reject the idea of preferential seating for fear of being singled out and embarrassed.

Do I think 504 Plans have some value?  Sure. However, 504 Plans are almost impossible to monitor. There is no objective way of showing that the teacher “repeated directions,” for example, to a confused, distracted child.

I maintain the key to its success is in the relationship the parent establishes with the teacher.  If the parent can establish a good working relationship with the child’s teacher, then a 504 Plan can be implemented with some fidelity.

Without the relationship, the 504 becomes a fairly meaningless document that often receives minimal compliance or attention.  In other words, the plan is nice on paper and parents feel they’ve gotten something of value, but they don’t do all that much.

With a good working relationship between parent and teacher, there is usually a more open dialogue that takes place.   In this dialogue, the teacher might say, “Oh, yes, I check in with him through the day.  I know he needs to have directions clarified a lot, so I remind myself to do it.  I also let him go past time limits when he needs it, but I don’t make a big deal of it.”

Bingo.  The playing field is leveled.

Take Away Point

To maximize the odds of a 504 Plan being implemented, establish a good, trusting relationship with the child’s teacher as early in the school year as possible.  Don’t be overly clinical in your conversation with the teacher. Speak in plain language, conveying what you think the child needs to make things a bit easier for him/her in the classroom.

Copyright, 2019
Questions or topics email Dr. Selznick.  Not in the South Jersey area? For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email –

To purchase a signed copy of  “What To Do About Dyslexia: 25 Essential Concepts” & Dr. Selznick’s other books and to receive blog updates go to

The Summer Slide

It’s that time of year when parents start looking to the lazy, hazy days of summer.  With that in mind, many parents start worrying about the “summer slide,” concerned that their kids will regress and fall backwards without the normal day-to-day structure of school.

Here are a few thoughts on the slide:

Summer goes by very quickly.  Before you turn around, you will be shaking your head wondering what happened to summer and not believe it’s back to school.

To be somewhat preventive regarding the slide I would encourage you to establish some rules on the front end.

Let your kids know that they are not going to be allowed to zone out all day on Youtube or their various screens.  Perhaps an hour or so of those screen activities is ok, but let them know that there is going to be a basic academic portion to the day, as well as a great deal of time spent outdoors.

In other words, summer should be time of screen “detox.” (Yes, they will go through various stages of working through their screen addictions – stay strong).

Take them to that ancient building in your town called the “library.” Reacquaint them with the concept that the library has these things in it that we used to look at a great deal called “books.”  Talk to the librarian about finding books that are in the child’s independent or instructional level, that is the level that the child can manage reading on his or her own without too much assistance.

(If your child has a significant reading/learning disability then make sure that they have access to  audio books.)

Have your child read books out loud to you.  Assuming the books are leveled properly, the act of reading out loud should be fun for your child.  Do this a lot.

If the child has problems with decoding, preview the books and look for difficult words to practice.  Use old school index cards and put these words on the cards, underlining the parts of the word that will highlight how the word should be broken apart.  Practice these words in a lively manner.  Make it fun.

Vocabulary is a fundamental life skill and a cornerstone of comprehension and writing.  Along with decoding practice, perhaps get a vocabulary guidebook, like one of those books that you can get in the bookstore (yes, they still exist) with titles like, “The 300 Words that Every Fifth Grade Should Know.”  Have your child put those words on the index cards (a separate box of words from the decoding) as well and have them draw a little picture to go with the word.

For example, let’s say the word is “remedy.” They can put the word on the front with a little picture like a bowl of soup to go with the word.  On the back would be a brief definition and a small sentence, like “My mom gave me soup as a remedy for my cold.”

Practice the words adding to the vocabulary bank as words are mastered.  If you do this four or five times a week, by the end of the summer, you should have a pretty decent word bank.

You might try similar activities with mathematic workbooks.  Again, don’t be too heavy handed in the approach, but practicing math facts and basic math skills or math word problems never hurt anyone.

If your child does not go to a structured camp or some other type of summer program, then do these activities in the morning before the day has kicked in.  If they go to a structured program then do it before the nightly screen time starts.  Even if they go to a camp, maybe you can do some of these academic activities before they have to leave in the morning.)  I stress not to be too heavy handed and keeping it fun and lively.

I would suggest that you do no more of an hour of this type of thing a day.

Copyright, 2019
Questions or topics email Dr. Selznick.  Not in the South Jersey area? For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email –

To purchase a signed copy of  “What To Do About Dyslexia: 25 Essential Concepts” & Dr. Selznick’s other books and to receive blog updates go to

Firming Up the Rudder

We recently wrote a post on “executive functioning.” (Previous Post on Executive Functioning)

As I have noted, I like to think of executive functioning as the rudder to a ship.  It’s the steering mechanism that helps you do stuff, like start tasks, finish tasks, stay-on-track, those sorts of things.

Some kids (adults, too) have pretty decent executive function traits, others do not.  It usually shakes out in a 65-35 % ratio based on my experience and understanding.  That is, about 35% of the kids have weak executive functioning.

On average (and I know I need to be tread very carefully here these days), the girls are killing the boys when it comes to executive functioning, although of course, there are plenty of girls who do not have well-developed internalized steering mechanisms.

This summer I am going for an in-depth training on executive functioning (I’ve had many previously) and I may be singing a different tune after updating my understanding, but I still don’t see executive functioning as something that can be “fixed.”  That is there is no fix or cure in the traditional sense of the word.

When I tell this to parents they look at me with that, “Come on man, we’re paying you for this stuff” stare of despair, like I am Dr. Gloom bringing them this horrible message of pessimism. (Welcome to my world.)

Of course, you can work on the skills that cluster with executive functioning, but it is a very lengthy, time-consuming, often expensive process that kids may be naturally resistant to undergo.  In fact, most of the time the kid doesn’t think he has any issue (other than his mom is on his back).

So much of the “fixing” comes down to a form of external assistance – I refer to it in my reports as “structuring, cueing and guiding.”

In other words the teacher or the parent provides a certain level of external assistance that helps to get the kid on track on any given task.

Take Marla, an 11 year old I saw recently.  The mom noted up front that Marla had executive function issues (mostly she was right in my opinion).  When I met Marla, she had that dreamy, cloudy way of approaching tasks (“Wait, what did you say, again?  Can you repeat that?”) and it was clear she needed a lot of structuring, cueing and guiding.

The thing is if too much external structuring is given to a girl like Marla, she will get very dependent on it and not try and figure things out on her own.

On the other hand if I am working with Marla and maintain a strict posture of, “You’re 11 – you need to grow up and do it on your own,” this is also probably not the best approach.

While testing Marla, I frequently gave her what I refer to as the “hairy eyeball.”  For example, when I asked Marla  a math word problem like, “There are 12 ducks on the pond and 5 flew away, how many were left,” with her hastily responding “8,”  I gave her that  look that conveyed that she needed to try again.

Without the look, or cue, Marla would have been very likely accepted 8 as the answer without thinking twice about it.

Takeaway Point

Structuring  and other external nudges are essential with these kids.  Sure, it would be nice if they can do it on their own, but you have to meet the kid where he/she is instead of wishing it were so.  If your child is in the 35-40% category find that sweet-spot of providing enough external structure or support to help keep them on track and to take incremental steps toward greater independence.

Copyright, 2019
Questions or topics email Dr. Selznick.  Not in the South Jersey area? For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email –

To purchase a signed copy of  “What To Do About Dyslexia: 25 Essential Concepts” & Dr. Selznick’s other books and to receive blog updates go to

“Please, Sir, May I Have Some More Food”

Parents will tell me of their ongoing efforts to get the school to do what they feel their child needs.

There are usually three or so common outcomes.

One outcome is the school will show data that the child is “meeting benchmarks” or meeting standards in spite of  the child’s struggling.

Another possible outcome is the child will get a “504” Plan, meaning that the child will be given  some accommodations such as extended time or repetition of directions, presuming he/she has received some type of “diagnosis” (almost always the “diagnosis” is ADHD generated from a 15 minute or so review of some rating scales like the Connors or the Vanderbilt).

Classifying the child in special education is a third possible outcome with the child theoretically receiving some type of service or “in-class support” as specified in an IEP  (Individual Education Plan).

When parents describe the process they go through to me it sounds like Oliver Twist asking in that plaintive voice, “Please sir, may I have some more,” as he begs for more food.

Like Oliver Twist, the parents are in a lower hierarchical position.  Even if you get “more food,” if your child is struggling you want to try and overcome the pervasive sense of one-down passivity.

I believe the only way to do that is to to not wait around for the few crumbs coming your way.  You need to take the proverbial “bull by the horns” and find the right type of person who can work with your child and do what needs to be done, typically in an individual format targeting the child’s areas of deficiency. Usually this is in the form of tutoring or some other type of therapy.

There are pros and cons to this recommendation.

The pros are you will be taking an action and not waiting for the crumbs to be thrown your way.

The cons are that it (the remediation) is likely to be an out of pocket expense and will  typically be after school, in the afternoon, evening or on the weekend for a couple of sessions a week.  So, it will be time and money.

Takeaway Point

Keep pressure on the school, but understand that that the three outcomes are the ones largely at work and often you will not feel satisfied with any of them.  If you can, take action on your own and step out from the hands-out,Oliver-like posture.

You will sleep better at night.



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