Month: October 2019

“I’m Not the Lead Actor…I Play a Supporting Role”

Let’s say you have one of those 14 year old boys who shows signs of what is now commonly being referred to as “executive function deficits,” or EFD.

You probably know some of the signs of EFD – poorly organized, poor planning, little task initiation, weak follow-through, and a lack of sustained mental effort, among other things.

Or as I like to explain to parents, “He’s got a floppy rudder – there’s little steering his boat.”

Parents, rightfully, struggle with their role relative to these kids, especially when they are moving into the middle and high school years when the stakes become more serious.

Let’s take George, a 14 year old young man who recently had a project that would probably take about 10 hours total from beginning to end in order to adequately complete.

Recounting how he managed the project, George explained (vaguely) how he spent his time starting with the weekend, going through to the time it was due on Wednesday.  As George stumbled through the retelling, his mom was sitting close by to offer a counterbalance to George’s telling.

“Well, I worked a little over the weekend,” George started. (To my ears I translated  that to mean George probably spent about 12 minutes on the project.)

“Come on, George,” his mom chimed in.   “You were on Xbox literally all weekend.  Maybe  you put 15 minutes into the project on the weekend.  It was not until Monday night that you put in about an hour before going back on Xbox while I ran around going to the store to get the materials you needed.”

(George shrugged and didn’t offer much defense.)

I  sit up somewhat incredulous, “So, wait.  Let me guess.  Come Tuesday night, you still had about 80% left and I bet your mom’s head was exploding.  Is that right?”

(Mom nods vigorously while George continues shrugging.)

I turn to the mom.  “Look, you’re not the lead actor in this play. George is in the lead. It’s George’s show.  Your role is to be a supporting actor – you play a supporting role.  As a supporting actor you can help structure it for him.  That’s about it.”

One of the things that the George types don’t know how to do (and they legitimately don’t have a clue), is how to break larger tasks down into smaller parts and put them in a task sequence that leads from beginning to end.

I have found the boys, especially the middle to high school boys, to be particularly bad at this skill of planning and task sequencing.

I suggest, “George, how about we play it back for a couple of minutes and let’s make believe you are about to start the project.  With your mom, let’s go through every step involved and make a list.”

They do that together in front of me and with a bit of prompting George comes up with about 10 steps – some small (make sure there’s paper in the printer) and some large (go to Staples and get project material).

George almost looks stunned as he sees how many steps are involved.

“George, I get it,” I say.   “Planning doesn’t come naturally to you and breaking tasks down is not something you do on your own.  How about going forward with your mom as a “supporting actor” for you she will help you break it down to make a task list, but it’s your show.  She will be about 10% or so involved.”

George shows the slightest sign that such an approach may be helpful while giving me one more shrug while mom looked like a weight had been lifted from her shoulders.

Takeaway Point

Moms.  Repeat after me, “I am not the lead actor…I play a supporting role…it’s his show.  I’m not the lead actor.”

Say it as a mantra over and over.

“Spelling Doesn’t Matter Anyway”

Let’s say your 6th grade 12-year-old child, of average to above average  intelligence spelled the following words:

  • bref (brief)
  • susess (success)
  • edcccate (educate)
  • resolt (result)
  • kicten (kitchen

Then he wrote the following story to a picture prompt

“Once a o pon a time there was a kid that was a million air and he whated to buy a house.    He look at so many house and finally found a house. but it needed a lot of work So the kid hierd lots of people to help him but after thay were all done the house went back  to it whent back to the way  it was.

Or let’s say you have a 7 year old in the second grade who writes:

“I hrd a son.  It was funne. My dad was beyen funne was he dats Wen he was in the cr  Wan we wr gown to the prck.”

(Translated as best I can- “I heard a song.  It was funny.  My dad was being funny when he danced.  When he was in the car when we were going to the park.”)

In each case, when the parents raised the issue of their concerns about their child’s spelling  the response  from the school was the following:

“Spelling doesn’t matter.  He can always use spell check.”

For those of you following this blog for a while, I am sure that you will predict that I respectfully disagree.

In the early grades about 70% of the kids who are given typical exposure to words through a variety of reading and spelling activities  progress smoothly These kids read, spell and write pretty well and then they do more of it.    Effectively, the rich getting richer.

The rest of the population are not in the same position.  They are not in tune to the sounds within words and spelling does not come to them naturally.  They are at a decided disadvantage.  They need to have these sounds taught much more explicitly with much greater practice following.

It’s a long, slow process.

Why bother when there’s spell check, as the school told these parents?

I will answer by way of an example.

Josh, is a 19 year old college student with an IQ in the superior range (i.e., above 130).  He’s extremely savvy with technology and all things modern.  There’s one problem. As high as his IQ is, that’s how low his skill and confidence are regarding spelling and writing.

How did Josh fare as a first year college student?  Even though he had a 504 Plan in place that gave him some basic accommodations, he spent 90% of his time in college doing one thing – avoiding.

When Josh came home and met with me to discuss what was going on, he shared some of his writing.  It was painfully obvious at first glance that Josh had severe writing (and spelling) deficits that made him acutely embarrassed.  There was barely a complete sentence and most of the words beyond the most basic were severely misspelled.

Over the years Josh really never received the ongoing, explicit instruction needed.

Spelling is tough  there are words that don’t easily “play by the rules” (think of a word like “because”) and there are others that require a certain level of sound/symbol awareness that just don’t come easily to the Josh types.

A study conducted of practices in the classroom where teacher practices  were observed, revealed that less than 4% of the language arts instructional block time is devoted to spelling or spelling related activities.

For the 70% mentioned above, that’s fine.  They get these skills  intuitively and by third grade they are spelling just fine, thank you.

For the Josh types, this is a formula for disaster.

Takeaway Point

Spell check is a helpful tool.  It is not a substitute for the challenging work needed for the Josh’s among us.

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

A Case of the “Didja’s”

Modern parenting is plagued by a bad case of the “Didja’s.”

You know.  While the content may vary somewhat, here is a sample of some common Didja’s:

  • “Didja (i.e., “Did you”) start your homework?”
  • “Didja finish your homework.
  • “Didja put your stuff away?”
  • “Didja brush your teeth.?
  • “Didja take out the trash?
  • “Didja get out of bed?”
  • “Didja put your lunch in your book bag?”
  • “Didja remember your equipment for practice today?”

On and on it goes.

Guess what’s happening inside the typical kid’s head while he’s being “Didja’d” to death?  That’s right, his eyeballs are snapping inside his head, while he mutters a range of not so pleasant statements, laced with largely unintelligible, but occasionally well-pointed curses leaking out.

Early on in my adolescence my bedroom (in a very small house),  shifted to the basement.  Effectively, it was my lair.  Within the lair, endless hours were spent listening to the Rolling Stones  (over and over) sprinkled with listening to some other lesser bands.  I shudder to think how many hours a day I devoted to this activity between ages 12 – 18 (and even older).  Truth be told, the hours were probably countless.

Even though we lived in a box of a house while I was blasting songs like “Sympathy for the Devil,”  and “Gimme Shelter,”  I don’t remember my parents coming into the lair to find out whether I had done my homework or put my stuff away. (Sadly for them they had to come down and do the laundry.)

If such a thing were available like it is today, maybe my parents would have marched me into a therapist office or some other such medical practitioner  bewildered at how addicted I was to the god-awful music being blasted in the basement while avoiding basic responsibilities. and displaying a shocking lack of “executive functioning.”  (“Doctor, all he can pay attention to is that God awful Mick Jagger.  Does he need medication?”)

But, guess what they did?

That’s right.  Nothing.

They probably kept shrugging their shoulders while looking at each other wondering if their son would ever snap out of it, but it was a largely a “hand’s off” style of parenting.

They never knew what I had for homework (and my dad was a school principal). I don’t remember ever getting bombarded by the “Didja’s.”

I think they believed it was my problem to deal with, not theirs.

You might say something like, “Well, you must have been an excellent student and therefore they didn’t need to hound you to death.”

Hardly.  Trust me, more than studying history or chemistry,  I studied the Rolling Stones.

Looking back on it, I think they were wise.  They knew they had this adolescent creature in the basement who was making his choices and the choices had consequences.  If you choose poorly there are consequences – you deal with it.

Modern parenting has a different philosophy embodied in the bad case of the “Didjas.

On average there is considerable anxiety resulting in  micromanaging virtually every aspect of the child’s day-to-day life.  This anxiety is driven by a deep fear to let the kid experience the consequences of his/her choices.

While the kid is snapping his eyeballs, the micromanaging ultimately fails.

To illustrate, let’s look at a common scenario. Say it’s a typical Saturday and the child has an English project due on Monday morning.  The modern parent will continually tell the kid to get off his video gaming/Youtubing with at least 20 – 25, “Didja start your English project?”  All the while while the kid ignores his mom snapping his eyeballs.

An alternative approach (way scary for most parents – moms) would be to leave the kid alone and come Monday morning just shrug as the kid goes off to school with his project not done, saying something like, “Oh, well.  Too bad you will get an F for that project.  It’s your problem. You deal with it.  (Said with a tone of very chilly anger which works wonders.)

Takeaway Point

Stop with the “Didja’s.”

Repeat the mantra.  “It’s your problem – you deal with it.”

Or as the Rolling Stones so wisely said, “Oh, the storm is threatening, my very life today.  If I don’t get some shelter, yeah, I’m gonna fade away.”  (Gimme Shelter, Mick Jagger/Keith Richards)

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


Parent Outrage Quotient

Outrage is an emotion parents often feel when it comes to how they perceive their struggling child is ultimately handled/managed by the school.

Part of the outrage stems from a lack of understanding in terms of how the school operates when it comes to the issues of concern.

A parent may have sought an outside assessment by someone like a Dr. Selznick type, you know, a psychologist or other such professional, who has evaluated the child and indeed certified that the child does in fact have issues.

Perhaps this outside professional has even “diagnosed” the child with something like dyslexia, a learning disability, ADHD or some other such label or category.

Armed with the professional’s report, the parent expects the school to offer something like an IEP or perhaps a 504 Plan (they are very different).

Sometimes the school will offer a ready green light and comply with the recommendations offered in the report, but often the parent may get a yellow or even red light.

With the yellow and red lights, the “Outrage Quotient” (we’ll call it the “OQ”) rapidly rises.

It is important to understand the fundamental difference between an outside professional assessment and the school’s evaluation.

When an outside professional conducts an assessment, that practitioner’s primary responsibility is to answer – “Does my child have a problem and what should we do about it?”

That’s it.  That’s the primary job of the outside professional.

Frequently, in such an assessment the outside professional offers suggestions (recommendations) for the school, but again, the green, yellow or red light  follow depending on a range of different factors (too numerous to discuss now) at the school level.

Contrary to what parents believe a school assessment to be, these evaluations are governed by a different question than the one raised with the outside professional.

Different than the question of, “Does my child have a problem,” they have a totally different question behind their assessment.  Their central question is, “Is this child eligible for special education or not?”

Those are totally different questions.

Frustrating as that may be for parents to digest (yes I can feel the “OQ” rising), they are not asking the same question as the outside professional.

Listen to Kelli Sandman-Hurley in her wonderful book, “Dyslexia Advocate” discuss this issue:

“School districts do not diagnose anything.  They don’t diagnose ADHD, autism, dyslexia, nothing. It may seem as if they do because we tend to hear terms like ADHD and autism tossed around in meetings all the time, but they cannot diagnose those qualifying conditions either.  They can only determine eligibility under specific eligibility categories.

Or as noted in my book, “What To Do about Dyslexia: 25 Points for Parents:”

“In my experience it is not only possible but very common for a child to be diagnosed as dyslexic by a non-school professional but then found to be ineligible for special education services.  This is the case because special education assessment has one primary purpose, and that is to determine whether child is eligible for special education through the school.”

Takeaway Point

While it may not be something that sits well with you, by reflecting on this difference of question behind the assessment, it may help to turn down the “OQ” just a notch.

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

That Place on the Bell-Shaped Curve

I regularly get referral questions from parents anxious to know whether their child has a learning disability or or is “dyslexic.”

Often the story goes that the child has shown signs of struggling since the early grades and even though the special education team has not felt it warranted to evaluate the child, the struggling has persisted.  Or, in some cases the child has been evaluated, but has found not to be “eligible” for receiving any services.

Recently, I have had a run of kids that are in the early to middle elementary grades.  Upon evaluating them, it becomes quickly evident that they don’t read, spell or write all that well, but their scores fall in that zone of the bell-shaped curve where little will be done for them – the dreaded lower portion of the “average range,” (or what I refer to as the “zone of no zone”).

When you land in this region of the curve, that places you roughly between the 15th  to the 25th percentile.  In other words if you are running a race thenn about 80% of the others running in the race are beating you – not very comforting.

Yet, when you are a child whose reading skills are around the 20th % ile quite often you will not be given services or special remediation.  Upon hearing that their 15th – 25th %ile child is “ineligible” for special services, most parents are dumbfounded.  “What do you mean he’s ineligible for extra help,” they exclaim, “He can’t read at all?”

Holding to a standard that maintains there must be a statistically significant discrepancy between the child’s overall IQ and his/her score in reading, this standard leaves many kids (excuse my French), “S out of luck.”

Let’s say you’re typical of so many of the struggling kids that I’ve seen.  Typically, they are shown to be reasonably high in one major domain of cognitive functioning (say, spatial reasoning), but much weaker in verbal thinking and active working memory.

Put all of that together and the IQ score (the FSIQ) may shake out between a standard score of 85 – 92 or so, which places you in about the 15th – 20th % ile of intelligence.  Yet, this child has demonstrated solidly average or above average functioning in a major domain of intelligence.  In other words he/she is not what would have been considered in the old days a “slow child.”

Here’s what the Learning Disabilities Association ( has to say on the topic:

Generally speaking, people with learning disabilities are of average or above average intelligence. There often appears to be a gap between the individual’s potential and actual achievement. This is why learning disabilities are referred to as “hidden disabilities”: the person looks perfectly “normal” and seems to be a very bright and intelligent person, yet may be unable to demonstrate the skill level expected from someone of a similar age.

The basic fact is that there are legions of children, approximately 30% of any given school population who are struggling, who lack fundamental literacy skills,, who maintain “hidden disabilities” yet they are not given any legitimate support or intervention.

Like the parents, I am dumbfounded.

It’s beyond my understanding how children who can’t read,  spell or write are left to fend for themselves.


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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