Month: October 2022

“‘Fix-It Talk’ vs. ‘Skill Talk'” (#LD #Dyslexia #ADHD)

I spend a good deal of my professional life assessing children in an attempt to identify their profile of strengths and weaknesses.   Once a child is assessed, I do my best to explain the data to the parents in straight-forward, non-jargon terms.

The part of the process I like the least is the question that inevitably arises: “Well, how do we fix it?”

The reason I don’t like this question is that I rarely know the answer.  I never think of kids needing to be fixed – they’re not car engines.

One suggestion would be to change your mindset.

“Fix-it language” suggests something is broken.  “Skill-language” leads to a productive understanding of what skills can be targeted,  which then leads to taking appropriate next-steps.

Really, almost all of the concerns you have as a parent can be framed in skill language, such as, “We need to work on the skill of organizing your backpack…or ‘the skill of comprehension,’. .. or ‘the  skill of sharing with others…or ‘the skill of waiting your turn.'”  All of these skills can be directly taught and practiced, as can most others you can name.

Takeaway Point

Better questions to ask than, “How do we fix it,” might be, “So, what do we do next?” “What skills are we targeting?”

Whether it be in the social/emotional realm or the academic, focusing on specific skills helps the child and the parents get their mind around what to do next and away from a “fix-it” mindset.

Copyright, Richard Selznick, Ph.D.  2022,

To Contact Dr. Richard Selznick for advice, consultation or other information, email





Why Ask ‘Why?'” (Part II)


Frequently, I hear from parents that they just want to know “why” something  is taking place (e.g., a behavior or a learning problem) .  As I hear their question, I understand they are seeking a “diagnosis,” such as ADHD or dyslexia.

For many parents when they get the diagnosis, they find comfort in it, believing that they have gotten to the root of the problem.

As we discussed last week, (“Why Ask ‘Why'”) the concern of of “why” is that the answer is highly speculative.

Related to this, I would like to offer a couple of quotes from Dr. William Carey, the late, renowned pediatric researcher from CHOP.

“‘I think the current diagnosis of ADHD is a mess and has been wildly overdone.  It blames a variety of symptoms entirely on the child’s brain, and ignores the child’s environment and the interaction with it.’”

The assumptions that the ADHD symptoms arise from cerebral malfunction has not been supported even after extensive investigations.  The current diagnostic system ignores the probable contributory role of the environment, presuming  the problem is supposedly all in the child.” 

“The questionnaires most commonly used to diagnose ADHD are highly subjective and impressionistic”

“The label of ADHD, which is widely thought of as being beneficial, has little practical specificity and may become harmful.”

Parents may feel a degree of comfort relative to getting a “why,” but I can’t shake Dr. Carey from ringing in my ears.

Copyright, Richard Selznick, Ph.D.  2022,

To Contact Dr. Richard Selznick for advice, consultation or other information, email




“Why Ask ”Why?” (Part I)

Brett, age 8, has difficulty behaving in his third grade class.  Frequently calling out, pushing on line and at times being rude to the teacher and other kids, his parents have been called in for the “meeting” to discuss Brett and his behavior.

They are told by the school, “We’re not doctors so we don’t know why he’s doing these things, but we think you should see a neurologist.”

The last statement is code language.

Here’s the translation – “We think Brett has ADHD and needs to be on medication.”

The parents come to consult with me about Brett, even though I am not the kind of doctor the school has in mind.

Brett’s mom says, “We just don’t know why he does these things.  If we only knew why, then it could be fixed.  Maybe it’s his anxiety or his sensory issues.”

I can’t help myself pushing back.  (It’s my own disorder – “Pushback Disorder,” I believe it’s called.)

“The problem with the “Why” question is it’s all speculation,” I say.  “Even the best neurologists are using subjective rating scales and history to determine things like ADHD.  So it becomes a “weight of the evidence” diagnosis.   Usually there are a number of variables interacting at the same time, not all of which are in the child’s head.”

“So how do we fix it?”  (A question I get all the time, but still wriggle around trying to answer it.)

“Well, they’re not car engines.  Nothing’s broken.  So there’s no fixing it. Rather than speculate, try and stay with the facts that are observed.  What happened first, second, third?  How did the adults respond?  What were the consequences?  Before starting on medication, which might be helpful for Brett, let’s get a sense of the basic facts of the behavior ”

Takeaway Point

Back in the day there was a popular TV Show, “Dragnet,” where the main detective would say, “Just the facts, Ma’m.”

Stay with the facts.  “Just the facts, Ma’m.”

Copyright, Richard Selznick, Ph.D.  2022,

To Contact Dr. Richard Selznick for advice, consultation or other information, email




Sibling Rising

Jacob is an endearing 8-year-old child, well-liked by teachers and other kids.  Playing a variety of sports, he is frequently seen as a team leader by coaches and peers.

There is one problem, though, eating at Jacob.   Even though he is now in third grade, he still can’t read, spell or write, causing him considerable embarrassment.  Worse than that, his younger first grade sister, Ava, is easily reading chapter books and you can bet she is letting him know.

While the evening ritual of Jacob’s mom practicing his reading fluency takes place, Ava sits close by with a pretty challenging book that Jacob would be unable to read.  Subtly (or not so subtly) Ava shows off in a, “Ha Ha, look what I can do” manner, which totally galls Jacob.

Put simply, Jacob has to fight the urge to not punch Ava out (and sometimes that doesn’t work out so well).

Jacob’s mom does her best with statements like, “Now Jake, no need to get upset.  We’re all good at different things.  Just look at how you did in baseball last week.” This falls on deaf ears and the mom’s well-intended words don’t make the slightest dent with him.

Takeaway Point

I wish I had a straight-forward solution for you, but as far as I can tell much of this taking place is baked in the sibling cake. There is the constant jockeying for positioning that goes on and this is just one more example in the mix.

The best advice I would have would be to try and reduce the opportunity for embarrassment, by separating the siblings during the times of  homework and reading practice.

Beyond that, put your feet up and forget about it.

Copyright, Richard Selznick, Ph.D.  2022,

To Contact Dr. Richard Selznick for advice, consultation or other information, email



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