Month: May 2021

“The Decoding Hurdle”

Young children face many hurdles that they need to overcome.  They come in succession. Getting over one leads to another.  Some hurdles are more important than others and are not all equal in their level of importance.

One particular hurdle I have been consistently focused on with children is what I call the “decoding hurdle.”

By the end of first grade going into second grade most have gotten over this hurdle.  You read Dr. Seuss, complete some phonics worksheets and it all starts to make sense.wwwshutdownlearner-com

It’s a smooth ride.

Once getting over this hurdle there is a sort of clicking in, an experience of “aha, so that’s how reading works.”

For these lucky children learning to read is no big deal.

From that point forward, these kids enjoy reading and are eager to start reading easy chapter books.  (As an aside, this eagerness ends for the boys in the upper elementary grades where they shut–off to reading, but that’s another discussion.)

If you don’t get over the decoding hurdle within a reasonable timetable (by the end of first grade or so), this  challenge creates a bottleneck, frustrating all aspects of academic development, impacting the child’s basic sense of confidence and self-esteem.

What should you do if your child is not getting over the decoding hurdle?

First, have the child tested.  It is important to remember, though, that school testing is not concerned with the “decoding hurdle.”  That is not their job or their purpose.  Their purpose is determine “eligibility” or classification for special education.  Many children who are not yet over the “hurdle” are not viewed as eligible for special education.  So, you may need to seek private testing.

Following that testing, the likely next step is to have your child individually tutored by someone who knows how to teach decoding.  Most good decoding teachers know some version of the “Orton-Gillingham” related methodologies (e.g., Wilson Reading System, Barton Reading Program, SPIRE and others).

Typically, the child needs at least twice a week of the individual instruction over a significant period of time for the skills to start to be internalized and mastered..

Takeaway Point

If your child is not yet over the “decoding hurdle,” all  bets are off.

Don’t waste time worrying about other skills until you’re your child makes progress in this essential developmental task.

Copyright, 2021
Questions or topics email Dr. Selznick.  Not in the South Jersey area? For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email –

“The Number In Your Child’s Head”

Probably not a week goes by where I don’t hear stories of parents frustrated that their struggling child is not receiving any services.  At least in New Jersey, this is often because of the child’s overall FSIQ (i.e., Full Scale Intelligence Quotient).

Without being told this directly, a child is often ineligible for services because the IQ is simply too low for there to be a big enough discrepancy between the IQ and the weak reading, spelling and writing skills.

Federal special education code within IDEA (Individuals with Disability Education Act) makes no reference to the FSIQ:

Specific learning disability means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.

(ii) Disorders not included. Specific learning disability does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, of intellectual disability, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.

Regardless, in many states there seems to be a notion that each child has a number stamped in his/her brain that determines whether a child will be seen as eligible  or not for services.

One can almost imagine a long line of struggling children who are going to be either offered services or not.

Each child’s number is reviewed:

OK…kids…step forward…we need to check the number in your head.  Let’s see.  This one has a 92.  That score’s in the lower portion of the average range, the 32nd percentile…there’s probably not going to be much help for you.  Next up!  Here’s a 103.  That’s a little higher in the average range.  Maybe you’ll get something if your reading is bad enough.  Uh, oh, here comes a tough one, an 85 – that’s the 15th percentile. Sorry, not likely to be much help for you.  Oh good, here comes a 115, the 85th percentile.   You’re really smart.  I bet you’ll get help.”

Even though parents are not told this as bluntly or directly, the message for those on the lower side of the curve is, “We’re sorry, but state regulations are such that there has to be this very large discrepancy between the number that’s stamped in your child’s brain and his reading score. Otherwise, you’re just out of luck.”

In other words, a child is often held hostage to his/her IQ.

We need to face that no matter the number in the child’s head, struggling is struggling.

When a child is a weak swimmer struggling in in the deep end, we don’t just shrug and say, “oh well.”

We take the child to the shallow end and teach him how to swim.

Copyright, 2021
Questions or topics email Dr. Selznick.  Not in the South Jersey area? For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email –

“Just Use Spell Check…”

For a whole host of reasons that won’t be raised at the moment, writing is difficult to adequately assess, even though there are standardized measures that practitioners and education specialists use in the assessment of writing.

I would be willing to go out on a pretty significant limb to say that a vast majority of school struggling children maintain some level of  mild, moderate to severe problems with writing and spelling.

However, when parents raise the issue of writing/spelling with the school they are frequently told variations on the following:


  • “Spelling doesn’t matter – they can just use spell check.”


  • “Maybe the child has ‘dysgraphia’ and you should go to a neurologist or an O.T. (occupational therapist).”


  • “They can get ‘A.T.’ (assistive technology) and dictate into speech-to-text programs.”


  • “All that matters is that they express their feelings – that they write what they feel.”

Even though the motor-component of most children’s writing is typically an issue, I don’t think the results would be very different if the writing is  composed on a computer or through dictating software.

From where I sit and the kids I evaluate, the issue with their writing struggling has more to do with the child’s understanding of the concepts of writing and is less a matter of whether the child uses a pen/pencil or some type of assistive technology.

For example, today I gave 8 year old Logan a picture from a standardized test in which he was asked to write a paragraph to a story of the picture.  (Keep in mind, the picture has a lot going on.)

Logan was told the paragraph should have a beginning, middle and an end

Here’s what he wrote in about 20 seconds:

                        “I am gooing to hlep mom oops I dopd the eggs.”

If your child is struggling with writing, I wish I could offer an easy answer to “fix” the problem.

The reality is Logans of the world need a great deal of direct guided instruction starting at the basic, simple sentence level. Once the concept of a simple sentence is mastered and internalized, then somewhat more complex sentences can be taught and practiced.

This instruction would also focus on the concepts involved with punctuation.  There would be talk about why do we use commas, periods and capital letters?  What is their point?

Such an approach is the direct opposite of  the “just write what you feel” approaches.

It’s difficult work and there are no short-cuts.  Direct instruction practiced over time is the only ticket I know.

Copyright, 2021
Questions or topics email Dr. Selznick.  Not in the South Jersey area? For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email –

Bewildering Treatment Options

Treatment options and the range of professional recommendations can be bewildering, not to mention all of the “on the street” opinions.

Just like the parable of “The Blind Men and the Elephant, different professionals will identify a part of the “elephant” and recommend a treatment from their particular vantage point.

Recently a mom came in to discuss her struggling 8 year old daughter, Samantha, who had seen a number of different professionals.

“Since kindergarten we’ve been on this three year mission to help her,” the mom said.  “She just isn’t making progress and the gap is widening.”

“So, what was recommended?” I asked.

“We first saw an OT who felt there were ‘sensory issues’ and recommended that Sam should get Interactive Metronome Therapy.   Then someone told us about a colored lens treatment and we found a person who specializes in tinted lens, which she recommended for Sam.”

“An auditory specialist identified a ‘central auditory processing disorder’ and recommend that we go to her office for a year of computer training to address the ‘auditory issues.’  The neurologist we saw said she had ADHD and  wants her on medication.  Then there was the “train the brain” program offered at a nearby learning center.”

“I really have no idea what to do and am overwhelmed by all of this, not to mention how expensive it all is since it is out of pocket.”

Samantha’s story is like many I have heard. My best advice is to narrow down your range of “experts” and to trust your “parent gut.”

Ask yourself, does the recommended advice pass the “smell test” in terms of your major concern?

For example, if you are concerned about your child’s reading and are recommended to engage for a year with a type of metronome therapy, does that pass the “smell test?”

Is the child going to be reading better by the end of the treatment?

As close as possible, recommendations should match the area of concern.

To hit a tennis ball better, you wouldn’t go for swimming lessons.

Copyright, 2021
Questions or topics email Dr. Selznick.  Not in the South Jersey area? For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email –


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