Month: January 2020

Getting “Buy-In” – Recharging the Battery

A major premise of “The Shut-Down Learner” is that children who are struggling  by degrees become discouraged over time.

Effectively for these children the air leaks out of the tire and it becomes increasingly difficult to motivate them.

They shut down.

Since much of my professional life involves assessing children while trying to get parents on board to understand their child’s issues, I find myself trying to cut into notions that parents hold that have been told to them, which may or may not be fully accurate.

For example, parents will maintain the notion that for kids with reading, spelling and writing problems, a remedial provider “must be certified” in a particular methodology, such as Orton-Gillingham (O-G) or Wilson to work with their child.

To counter this, I have known many very good O-G and Wilson providers over the years who were very competent, yet were not certified in these methods. They likely attended training workshops exposing them to the methods and they have logged in lots of years working with children with the methods, but they did not go the distance in obtaining the certification, which is another level of time and financial commitment.

From my perspective, perhaps a more important question to ask is whether the person providing  the remediation can get the child  to “buy-in” sufficiently to have his/her battery recharged so the child connects enough to  benefit from the remediation.

To illustrate the point, let’s use the example of young Frankie, a 9 year old fourth grader who detests reading, spelling and writing.   To call Frankie discouraged would be a significant understatement.

In the middle of second grade, Frankie’s parents brought him to a certified O-G instructor for private sessions.  The instructor was very knowledgeable and competent, but for some reason Frankie did not “buy-in.”

There was no connection between them and Frankie’s battery was never recharged.

After about a year or so of this, the parents pulled Frankie from the sessions.

They then heard of a teacher who was known to be knowledgeable in the field of reading disabilities and had good experience, but was not certified in either O-G or Wilson.

They brought Frankie to her and for indefinable reasons, he bought in and connected.

Going forward, Frankie rarely complained going to sessions as he had vigorously done previously.

Regardless of how well-trained a therapist or remedial teacher is, unless there is legitimate connection with “buy-in” on an emotional level, very little will take place.

Of course, certifications are important, but the message is be cautious.

If I had to choose, between a letter perfect therapist/tutor who was highly credentialed/certified compared to one who is reasonably experienced in the method and can get the connection going with the child,  I’m going with the latter.

There is an intangible aspect with “buy-in.”  How and why it happens is beyond objective analysis.

When it comes to success for remedial instruction such as with O-G programs or even therapeutic methods treating anxiety and depression this intangible, “buy-in,” accounts for a significant percentage of what makes for success.

Copyright, 2020
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 Lens Through Which We See or the Doorstep We Land

To help parents better understand the issues with their kids, I have so  have so many expressions that I use that are in heavy rotation.

Among my favorite are the following two:

“It depends on whose doorstep you land on.”

“It all comes down to the lens through which you see things.

When it comes to the “doorstep with which you land,”  and the “lens through which you see things, understand that there are numerous “players” who may be involved with some aspect of  your child’s  struggling.

Some of these include

  • neurologists
  • pediatricians
  • child psychiatrists
  • psychologists
  • audiologists
  • optometrists
  • ophthalmologists
  • occupational therapists
  • speech/language therapists
  • holistic medical practitioners
  • organic food practitioners
  • educational specialists
  • tutoring centers
  • special education advocates
  • lawyers

(If I left you off this list and you are one of the “players” in this field,  I humbly apologize.)

The point in listing all of these is that even when practitioners are acting primarily in the child’s interests and not influenced by financial gain, it is hard not see the issues primarily through the perspective  of their particular profession or orientation.

In other words, the old axiom applies, “You go to a carpenter, you get a nail.”

Take, Liam  a somewhat drifty 8 year old who doesn’t read very well.  Liam’s parents are quite diligent and believe in leaving no stone unturned.  They have taken him to various professionals in the community.

As his mom noted, “We have been recommended a variety of therapies from diet to sensory interventions, cognitive-behavior-therapy and social skills groups.  There have been ‘train- the-brain’ programs, on-line reading programs, along with stimulant medication and at least 10 different apps, all of which are pay accessed.  I feel we have almost every body part in play.  I just want him to read better.”

When I hear stories such as this, I do my best to not be rolling my eyes or showing my consternation, neither of which are easy for me to do.

There is one basic solution to all of this.

First, start sensibly.

Decide what is it that you want to accomplish.  For example, if you want your child to learn how to play tennis better, would it make much sense if I told you to have him swim 10 laps a day for the next six months?

Of course not.

Therefore, stay as close to the skill that you are targeting and don’t go too far afield.

Second, try and find out if the recommendation being offered has reasonable research-backed support (with an emphasis on the word “reasonable”).

The world that I am in is not the most rigorous, scientifically speaking.  Sure there is decent research that has existed for decades on reading, learning disabilities,  ADHD, etc., but much of what takes place on a day-to-day basis is a combination of some research support for a given method, mixed in with a dose of “I believe…”

That is, when challenged as to why a particular method or approach is being used with the child, the answer is often something like, “Well, I’ve been doing this for a while and I believe it works for kids.”

Bottom line.

Make sure what is being recommended to you passes the “smell test.”

It has to make sense to you and should have decent research behind it.

Copyright, 2020
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 note: Dr. Richard Selznick is a psychologist, clinician and author of four books.  His blog posts represent his opinions and perspectives based on his years of interacting with struggling children, parents and schools.  He reminds readers that he is neither a scientist, nor a researcher.  The  advice in the blogs and in practice is governed by one overriding principle – “If this were my child, what would I do?”   The goal of the blogs and the website is to provide you with straight-forward, down-to-earth, no-nonsense advice and perspective to help cut through all of the confusion that exists in the field.)


And Then There’s Mathematics

Beside my status as a certified oldster, there are many things that parents bring to me or talk about that make me feel increasingly cranky.

One that gets me regularly irritable is the current state of affairs relative to the teaching of mathematics, in particular in relation to struggling elementary school children.

I don’t know when it occurred or what was behind it (I have my suspicions which I will leave out of this), but from what I can tell the teaching of math has changed over the years, based on two things that I frequently see.

The first is what I will call the Sacredness of the Mathematic Word Problem.

As recently told to me by a mom regarding her 7 year old, second grade child, Sydney,  who doesn’t read very well, she noted that the Sydney’s class  receives virtually no traditional mathematic problems presented in purely number form (i.e., not word problems).

While Sydney has shown good mathematic instincts outside of school, she is already feeling insecure and shut-down with the daily bombardment of word problems, along with her struggles with reading, spelling and writing.

Sydney’s  parents were hoping that she could at least shine in math, but sadly this was not the case.

As the mom said, “I don’t get it.  I’m not exaggerating.  It’s January and maybe one time so far this year Sydney was given traditional math problems on the page with just numbers.  Whether it’s classwork or homework it’s always the same, word problem after word problem.  Along with the fact the fact that she can’t decode well, she has comprehension issues, so what do they expect her to do? She’s freaking out because she can’t read the word problems.”

It’s not that I don’t understand the value of mathematic word problems, especially for children in the upper grades, but for the  Sydneys of the word, the word problems are just one more reminder of their weaknesses.

The fact of the matter is that many of the children who are struggling with reading, spelling and writing often have solid mathematic instincts.

It’s a shame that they just can’t show them.

The second phenomena on the surface may seem trivial, but I do think for the children of concern the issue represents a challenge.

This phenomena is the insistence that at those rare times the children are given  more traditional mathematic problems, the problems are rarely presented in a vertical format, but are largely presented  horizontally.

For example, instead of:

 x 3



+ 32

The problems are given horizontally, as in 12 x 3 =  ?  and  57 + 32  = ?

It’s probably my own mathematic limitations, but I of consistently find the horizontal presentation of mathematic problems to be more challenging than when they are presented vertically.

Of course, educators may respond that it is good for children to be thinking flexibly and I support this notion, but again, for the children of concern, the whole show is hard enough for them to manage without adding one more compounding variable.

Takeaway Point

If you see your child struggling because of word problem confusion or difficulty navigating horizontal math problems, talk to the teacher.  Maybe sensitizing her to the issues can help.

With your child, help them to sort it all out. That is, without doing the problems for your child, help setting up the problems so it is more understandable.

Copyright, 2020
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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