Month: June 2019

Syndrome du Jour

Dyslexia was barely spoken of some years ago and now it seems to be front and center on everyone’s mind.

I honestly don’t know how it happened, but parents are streaming in worrying and preoccupied with dyslexia.

Dyslexia has become mainstream.

At its core when a child has “dyslexia” it means that they have trouble with reading, spelling and writing- beyond what would be expected, given that the child shows at least average cognitive ability. (I understand that there is more to it, but this is the core.)

If I had my way, I would call it just that, a “reading, spelling and writing problem.” Or perhaps calling it a “big word problem.“ (How’s that for scientific.)”   I wouldn’t call it a disability.  I wouldn’t suggest that the child had a neurological dysfunction or disability.

But, I don’t have my way.

So, parents ask about dyslexia, when they used to come in asking about “ADD” or “ADHD.” (Which has been beyond mainstream for over two decades.)

Dyslexia has become the syndrome “du jour.”

Research and clinical experience informs us that approximately 20% of the population going in to first grade are predisposed not to learn how to read, spell or write very well.

That’s not a small number of kids.

These kids then carry their predisposition into the later grades, effectively limping along unless they have gotten significant intervention/remediation, which is rarely the case.

Are all of these kids “dyslexic?”   It’s not likely.

What matters more than the dyslexia question is what type of learning problem the child has.

Most of the kids have what I call Type I problems. That is, their basic decoding, reading fluency, spelling and writing skills are deficient.

With the second type, the Type II children, these kids read the words pretty well and they have adequate oral reading fluency, but show problems with their understanding.

These are very different types of kids requiring different types of treatments/intervention.

Answering what type of learning problem your child has is far more important than the “Is he/she dyslexic question.”

One last point. Schools are not easy to deal with around any of these issues.  In later blogs we will talk again about best strategies for approaching them so the odds are shifted better in your favor, but I can tell you with almost 100% certainty, that when you start talking to schools about the “D Word”  their eyes collectively start rolling inside their collective head.  They (the schools) then shut down and stop listening as shown by their standard response of…

“We’re not medical doctors – we don’t assess dyslexia.  You need to get a neurologist.”

Nothing, and I mean nothing gets my blood pressure rising more than that statement which I hear on a regular basis about the need to get a neurologist.

That is not putting the odds more in your favor.

It’s a tough chess game to play with the school, but there are ways of playing it better which we will be talking about in later blogs.

(***  Please note: Dr. Richard Selznick is a psychologist, clinician and author of four books.  His blog posts represent his opinions and perspective based on his years of interacting with struggling children, parents and schools.  The goal of the blogs and the website is to provide you with straight-forward, down-to-earth, no-nonsense advice to help cut through all of the confusion that exists in the field. He reminds readers that he is neither a scientist, nor a researcher.  His advice in the blogs and in practice is governed by one overriding principle that he asks himself – “If this were my child, what would I do?)

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

“But, Is It Too Late?”

A mom checked in with me recently regarding her 10th grade child who was struggling with reading, spelling and writing.  The question on the table was at this phase of his life, what can be done with him?  Is it too late to teach him how to read (spell and write)?”

The mom said that high level professionals in her child’s school district told her that phonics should not be taught to a teenager who has struggled over the years as he will “never be able to get it” (“it”meaning the ability to decode words), and they should instead focus on content like higher order thinking or comprehension.

Effectively, the message was “forget about trying to teach your kid to read – it’s too late,” said in slightly different words.

I have been in this business a while and have heard the same thing for many years. I didn’t get it when I first heard this point of view and I still don’t get it.

Reading is a skill.  Some people are wired to learn the skill pretty easily without too much effort (what I call the “smooth road” types), a percentage are not (those on the rougher road with learning disabilities like dyslexia).  Isn’t it the same with any other skill that can be acquired, say tennis, golf or learning to play an instrument?  Some learn the skill more easily, others take more time and effort.

Would you ever say to a 45 year old person who was a poor tennis player, but wanted to learn how to play better,  “It’s really too late to learn the basics, so maybe you should just play tennis video games instead since you are too old to learn how to play.”

Yet, this happens all the time in middle school and beyond where parents are told things like that.

The Orton-Gillingham method and its spin-offs, the ones that research and clinical practice have supported (such as the Wilson Reading System) are very basic in what they are teaching.  Metaphorically speaking, these methods effectively involve practicing the notes and then learning to play the chords, hopefully leading to the capacity to play them in longer strings of music (sentences and paragraphs).

What is largely forgotten is the fact that the original Wilson program was created to address adolescents (and older) dyslexics with content and material to match their level of development, so it would not be too late with an adolescent who had reasonable motivation.

Now, it’s possible that an adolescent is sick of all of it and is not willing or motivated to undergo such basic remediation.  So, to the mom of the 10th grader here’s what I said to her in email regarding the “too late” question:

              Largely it is kid by kid, person by person.  So much depends on the motivation of the student and the way the program is delivered.  I could be a 50  year old dyslexic and if I am motivated to work hard on a consistent basis and receive the right kind of instruction, then I can make gains.  Will I ever be a great reader, probably not, but progress can be made.  If I am shut-down and unmotivated, then my guess is Barbara Wilson  herself (creator of the Wilson Reading System) probably would have little impact.

Takeaway Point

Is it too late to teach phonics and word structure to adolescents and older who struggle with reading/learning disabilities?

Absolutely not, but it is kid by kid.  Person by person.

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

More From the Land of Low Frustration Tolerance

A while back we talked to you guys about a term that I made up called FID (Frustration Intolerance Disorder).

We offered suggestions as to how to address it ( Part II: Frustration Intolerance), but it looks like no one is listening, because I see the trend continuing.

Here are some of the hallmark features:

  • Small difficulty leading to large reactions.
  • Limited capacity to problem solve.
  • Weak coping.
  • Anticipation of task and shutting-down prior to starting (thinking that the task is too large to tackle).
  • Meltdowns

Take young Braden, age 7, a child I recently evaluated.  Sensing that Braden was one of these FID style kids, I tried to prep him prior to giving him certain tasks.  For example, when putting down the spelling page which has 40 lines on the page for potential words to spell, I informed Braden that he was only doing some of the words, not all of them (no one does them all).

“Braden,” I started,  “We’re going to spell some words on this page.  Now, don’t worry (I could see the storm clouds quickly brewing), you’re not going to be doing this whole page…I promise you.”

After about 10 words, Braden started to dramatically seize his hair while tensing up, “Oh my God,” he exclaimed, “We have to do all of these???” (Remember, I told him we weren’t.)

(I’m not sure how it became such a common phrase, but I hear young kids exclaiming, “Oh, my God,” a great deal expressing their personal exasperation.)

After evaluating Braden, I talk to his mom about some of his reactions and his low-level frustration tolerance.

Shaking her head showing me non-verbally that she totally understood what I was saying about his lack of frustration tolerance, she said, “I see it all the time.  We’re so worried about keeping the child happy that he almost never has to deal with frustration.  I see it in our house and his friends and cousins.  None of them can cope with the slightest difficulty.”

(It always helps me when the moms get it.)

From where I sit, too often these kids are quickly “diagnosed” ADD or ADHD. In fact, when a Braden style child is brought in to the physician’s office, it’s all but teed up to certify that the child has a medical condition, some neurobiological imbalance that is in need of treatment of a medical nature.

Hey, I get it. It’s a whole lot easier giving the kid his daily dose of Vyvanse or Concerta than having to deal with his reactions of exasperation and all of his,  “Oh, my ‘Godding’” reactions.   (In addition, as a side benefit with the “diagnosis,” a 504  Plan may get squeezed out of the school.)

I really don’t know what’s contributing to what I perceive to be an increase of kids who have low tolerance for frustration, but I have my suspicions.  In the way back machine there was a word that one doesn’t hear very often – “grit.”

How does one get grit?  Certainly, it does not come by making nice all of the time.

It also doesn’t come either by simply medicating it.

Grit is a skill (quality) that needs to be practiced over time.

When the child shows signs of working through his/her difficulty, notice it and offer a nice comment.  A simple, “That’s nice Braden – you really worked through it.”

You don’t need to go over the top with clapping and statements like, “You’re so amazing, Braden.”  Keep it mild and low key.

Stay with it.  Keep encouraging working through frustration and  your child will incrementally increase his ability to “tough it out.”

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


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