Month: September 2019

“Where There’s Smoke…”

I recently evaluated an 8 year old third grade girl who had significant reading, spelling and writing issues.

Previously evaluated by the special education team and a local hospital, the mom was informed that her child was “average.”

Closer inspection of the child’s assessment data found scores around the 15th to the 20th percentiles on tasks such as word identification, oral reading fluency, spelling and written expression – not quite “average” in my book.  (When was the last time that you felt good about  85 people out of 100 beating you in a race, which is what the 15th %ile represents?)

Yet, the child was considered “average” and the case was closed.  No services warranted.  Thank you very much.

As I would have predicted from the previous assessments, there were “red flag” concerns that I identified.  When I shared these concerns, the mom said something like, “I knew it in kindergarten, but I was dismissed.  Everyone said, ‘she’s so cute, she’s so sweet,’ but I knew there was something up with her, but I kept hearing that I was overacting or exaggerating.”

So, now in third grade it is clear that the child is overwhelmed by the level of demands placed on her, yet  no one is stepping forward to offer this child a life vest or to teach her how to swim.

The take away point is that I have found practically 99% of the time that “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”   That is, the mom knew that there was something going on when the child was in kindergarten.

There was plenty of smoke.  Something should have been done then.

My dad was a horse player who schooled me from a young age on odds.   Thinking of odds,  I can tell you this.  If a mom thinks that something is going on with her child, I would bet there is and win that bet virtually every time (and do a lot better than my dad ever did betting the horses).

It’s extremely rare that a mom raises concerns and the results don’t support her concerns.

So, moms (forget the dads), when you think something is going on, odds are there is.  The odds that it is just a mom being unduly anxious are extremely low.

Unfortunately, in school for a child to get a life preserver or some other such thing to help him/her to swim in the deep end of the pool, there has to be a significant and severe discrepancy shown between the child’s theoretical level of intelligence (i.e., IQ) and an the achievement score.

In the case of the child mentioned above, the fact that 85% of the other kids her age were beating her in a race was not enough.  That was fine – she was viewed as “average.”

I  just didn’t agree with this view.  I thought she needed a lot of help.

So did the mom who has known since kindergarten that her daugher needed help.

It’s a shame that no one listened to her.

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


“Suck It Up, Buttercup!”

There are different phases to an assessment that I will do with a child.

One of the phases I like the best, is the “informal feedback” portion.  That is the point where I’ve gotten a feel for the child and start sharing some impressions with the mom (occasionally the dad, too).  It’s mostly off the top of my head, and a good portion of the actual tests that were given have not even been scored, but I find what I say usually holds up after I’ve gone over the data.

It also gives the mom a chance to say some things.  Recently, the mom of an 8 year old said something that generated a good deal of laughter and that inspired this blog post.

I was talking to the mom about one of my favorite recommendations that I was going to making with her struggling child, an 8 year old boy – the use of Learning Ally ( – in which children who have a learning/reading disability are able to access books in an auditory format.

As I explained it to the mom, one of the cautions I put forward is that occasionally I’ve heard some parents say that their child chose not to use Learning Ally because, “He doesn’t like the voice (i.e., the narration that accompanies the text). ”

The mom looked at me a bit dumbfounded and said, “Well, I guess he will just have to suck it up, buttercup.”

Doesn’t that sum up much of modern childhood –  the need to, “Suck it up buttercup.”

So often it goes the other way.  As soon as the child feels some level of discomfort or doesn’t like what is being asked of him, the parent worries that he may be experiencing some type of imagined psychological distress and looks to make things instantly comfortable.

Having seen first hand the damaging effects of making children quickly comfortable and not asking them to “suck it up, buttercup,” I would rank this issue as one of the top challenges of modern childhood.

In other words, the central question for many parents is a very basic one, “How can we help our child develop a thicker skin?” Or to put it in more psychological parlance, “How do we increase the child’s tolerance for frustration.”

You will see all kinds of articles on positive approaches with ideas about giving the child stickers, money, tokens, or other such positive reinforcers to increase a child’s ability to cope with frustration.

I don’t know.

My money’s on this mom’s approach  as her child whines about not liking the voice –  “Suck it up, buttercup!”

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


Essential Questions of an Assessment: Part II

Recently we talked about assessment and my perspective  that there is often endless and unnecessary complication when it comes to assessing kids and their issues (see Assessment Basics).

This week I want to elaborate on a couple of points.

As I noted, a good assessment provides a “snapshot” at a moment in time.  This snapshot should help you understand a couple of basic questions, such as:

  • Does my child have a problem in the key areas assessed? (If so, how mild moderate and severe is the problem?)
  • What is the nature of the problem? (i.e.,  Is it and issue with decoding? Comprehension?  Anxiety? Avoidance?  Where does the problem lie?)
  • What are my next best steps?

Those are basic, but very central questions to answer.  In my opinion they are the essence of what should be asked within any assessment.

Beyond these questions another issue to consider, not discussed enough in my opinion,  is the one of  instructional levels.

To illustrate, I will paint a picture for you from a different facet of life – weight lifting. (Not speaking from persona experience, I might add.)

Twelve year old Jason is trying to build his upper body strength.  Currently, he can lift 20lb weights pretty easily.  At this weight he can do many repetitions without getting too tired or overwhelmed.  Effectively, 20 lbs are easy for Jason. 

In instructional terms, the 10 lbs represents his “independent level,” the point where it is very easy for him and he can succeed without needing any support.

When the gym teacher puts a few more pounds on the bar he notices that Jason is showing signs of struggling, but that increased weight represents that “sweet spot” of where Jason is moderately challenged, but not overwhelmed.  

 Effectively, this next increase of weights (say, to 25 lbs.) is Jason’s “instructional level,” the point where Jason can lift pretty well, but it’s getting tough.  When the gym teacher asks Jason to lift 30 lb. weights, he could lift the weights, but with a great deal of effort.  He is quickly overwhelmed.  That level was simply to hard and a point of clear frustration to Jason.

When it comes to reading (and spelling and writing, for that matter), it is less helpful to say the child is at a 2.4 or “Level M” (or whatever the letter is that corresponds to that grade equivalent).

It is much better to think in terms of ranges of instruction as described with Jason lifting weights.  That is, where is it easy for the child, where is it starting to get more difficult, and where is it simply to hard.  These are also essential questions to have answered.

Commentary on these ranges should be a part of any assessment that you are seeking.  In other words in the snapshot,  where is the child comfortable (independent) and where is he/she reasonably comfortable, but starting to getting “winded” or overwhelmed.

 Takeaway Point

Answering these questions on instructional ranges are central and fundamental to a good evaluation.  Make sure you are getting them answered.

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


It’s That Time of Year

Everywhere you go there are reminders.

Yep, it’s back to school.

There will be all kinds of articles in magazines and on the internet like 10 Tips for Having an Easy, Breezy School Year.

Good luck.

These articles rarely get to the heart of the matter, the nitty-gritty, especially when it comes to kids who are struggling and who can be difficult to manage around homework and their willingness to be cooperative.

Difficult kids need a different handling than those articles typically suggest.

So, in an effort to get you started on the year on a good footing, we offer you the “‘Non-PC’ Top Tips to Combat the School Year Blues.” 

If you’ve followed my blog for some time or have read the books, some of these tips may echo ones you’ve heard before.  They are sort of my best hits.

1. Set Aside Sacred Quiet Time: From day one, let your child know that there will be a one hour “quiet time” (Typically the hour past dinner is what most families find works best).  This will be an hour devoted to quiet activities, such as school work, reading, fun workbooks with puzzles, word/math games, etc.  Within this hour there will be no YouTubing or video games.

Let your child (children) know there is not to be any whining, complaining, moaning, groaning, or melting down during the 45 minute session. The cost of doing these behaviors during the quiet time, will be the loss of the usual electronic stuff  for the rest of the evening that they take for granted.

 2. Homework Heat:   Turn down the homework heat.  Back it down.  It’s just homework.  In the grand scheme, does homework mean all that much?

Largely, it is a tool used for teaching kids to become more independent, self-reliant citizens. If you notice your parental anger temperature reaching a 5 or more on a scale of 1-10, take an action to turn it down to the cooler zone.  Go wash your face in cold water.  Take a brisk walk around the neighborhood.     Pour yourself a glass of wine (not too much now) – anything that will turn down the heat.

Keep in mind, that I am not suggesting you let your child off the hook (see point #1),  just turn down the parental he

 3.  When Your Kid Loses It:  The previous point centered on you as the parent, but what about when your kid goes off the rails over homework?  So many parents I see describe their child having a full-blown meltdown over what would seem to be relatively minor frustration   around homework.              Often the meltdown is a calculated manipulation to get off of homework and go back on YouTube or Fortnite (an addicting video game, in case you              don’t know).   The meltdown also leads to the parental meltdown.

In calm tones, suggest that your child take a break to change his/her “state” and reset.  As a parent you need to have a pretty good awareness of your            kid’s temperature.  If it is creeping (or sky-rocketing) from 5 up to 10, you need to shut-down the operation for a while.   Nothing productive will take place if his emotional temperature is 5 or over.  If the temperature remains high, with excessive whining, complaining and melting down, get all            of the electronics out of reach for the night.   It’s a quiet night.  It is important to have a matter-of fact-it’s-your-choice mindset when it comes to homework.

4.  Have a Few Parental Mantras & Shrug a Lot: Practice shrugging and pulling out a parental mantra that you can repeat when needed.  For example, when your kid starts protesting and you feel his heat rising and nothing has helped,  a parental mantra that says something like, “Hey, you’re a big boy.  It’s up to you if you choose to do your homework,” can be very helpful in turning down the heat.

Start this mantra early, even as early as first grade.  It does wonders in putting the responsibility where it belongs and it saves you from having to keep running to the liquor store.

Remember, practice shrugging a lot as you say the mantra.

Most of the articles on back-to-school focus on giving the child positive attention.  We’re not advocating being negative, but understand that most modern children are motivated by one thing – screens.  That’s what drives them.  Therefore, you need to bring a dose of reality to their head.

In other words, you give and you get.  If you don’t, that’s it for the evening.  It will be a very quiet night.

Takeaway Point

Following these points will get you started on having an easier year.

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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