“Help!!!! I Have a Low ‘OQ'”

I don’t know how to describe it in more clinical or scientific terms, but there are a bunch of kids I’ve assessed recently who seem to me to lack, “oomph.”

While “oomph” may be one of those words that are not currently in modern usage, I think it conveys an important issue that is not often discussed.

With a low level of “oomph”  the child comes across with low-energy and very little “push” behind them and the  tasks they are completing.  Typically, parents will be checking the box that says, “lacks sustained mental effort.”

With these children, I think of them as having a low “OQ,” a term I made up (i.e., “Oomph Quotient.”)

Let’s take Jamie, an 8 year old whose parents are worried about how he conducts himself in his day-to-day life.

When I meet Jamie I do my best to connect with him, but he’s not buying what I’m selling.  Giving me  blasé’ (“must I do this”) fist bump with a meager smile as a starting point, he conveys that he can’t wait to be out of there.

When the assessment starts I ask Jamie to write down three things that he likes to do.  Instead of writing,  he says something in a mumble like, “I don’t like to do too much – video games.”  (Nothing gets written down.)

Later, on a task where I have Jamie copy different shape and designs on the page and to put blocks together in patterns, he goes through the motions, but there is no attempt to correct himself when a design or block pattern is obviously wrong.

The sense is that the only thing on Jamie’s mind that matters to him is getting done with this annoyance so he can go back to his screen time at home or on the phone that his parents have given him on his birthday (with no strings attached).

It would be one thing if what was observed was unusual for Jamie, a function of not liking me or the assessment situation, but this occurs on a daily basis his parents are getting their buttons pushed by it.

In short, Jamie has a low “OQ.”

Certainly, many kids with a low OQ are diagnosed as  ADHD or “ADD”  and perhaps medication can give them a little bit more oomph, but my sense is that it is deeper than we are owning and understanding.

To my knowledge there is no easy fix to remedy a low “OQ.”

A good first step is to recognize it for what it usually is – a total disinterest in anything beyond what is giving the child pleasure (which usually comes in the form of a screen interaction).

Once it is recognized for what it is, honest conversations can take place between parent and child about what the low OQ means and how much of a problem it is.

Starting to link up very important messages that question the free access to screen pleasure would be a good next step.

The child has to start understanding the basic formula of “you give and you get,” as the child is typically stuck in “you don’t give and you still get.”

Copyright, 2021 www.shutdownlearner.com
Questions or topics email Dr. Selznick.  Not in the South Jersey area? For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email – rselznick615@gmail.com.


RIP Heroic “Salmon Swimmers”

                           “Salmon must swim upstream against the current or flow of the stream.”

Over the years, I have been sensitive to the impact that mentors or other inspirational figures have had on shaping me.  I have been particularly drawn to the “salmon swimmers,” those who go against the flow.

This week’s blog takes a departure from talking about children and their struggles, to acknowledge two giant salmon swimmers that recently passed away.  From totally unrelated fields, they each had a large impact on me, even though I never had the pleasure of knowing them personally.

The first was Dr. William Carey, a pediatrician from the Philadelphia area with an international reputation.

As noted in the recent obituary in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Dr. Carey was a champion of understanding a child’s temperament as a primary variable in terms of the child’s behavioral tendencies.

The obituary stated, “Dr. Carey pushed back against the assertions by medical professionals that unwelcome behavior in children could be traced mostly to brain function abnormalities.  He argued strongly against what he called the over-prescription of Ritalin (and other stimulants) to calm hyperactive children, including those with ADHD.”

As Dr. Carey said, “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.”

“Ways should be found,” he said, “to reduce the stressful interactions and to teach kids coping skills.”

In the same week, another hero I revered passed, the journalist,  Pete Hamill.

I became a huge fan of Pete’s columns during the Watergate era (yes, I’m that old) when he was a columnist for the New York Post (which was a very different paper than it is today).

Attending a high school in downtown Manhattan, we were allowed to leave the building during the lunch period and go wherever we wanted.

More often than not, I ended up in the local delicatessen (by myself, I might add) with my New York Post in hand.  That was my version of a slice of heaven – a Manhattan deli, the New York Post and Pete Hamill.  It didn’t get much better than that.

I was so enamored with Pete that I had the paper delivered  to my college, even though it arrived four or five days after its publication (probably by Pony Express) as a daily newspaper .

In my professional career, I have always thought of myself as a bit of a “salmon swimmer.”   While in no way comparing myself to these giants, among others they gave me fuel to go against the tide.

May they rest in peace.

Copyright, 2020 www.shutdownlearner.com
Questions or topics email Dr. Selznick.  Not in the South Jersey area? For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email – rselznick615@gmail.com

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 https://shutdownlearner.com.


“Bound By Law”

Quite often  (even in these Covid times) I  hear misinformation and misunderstanding from professionals and parents alike regarding children’s issues and the school’s response.

Maybe it’s my advancing years, but I find my crankiness meter rising as I hear the misinformation passed along.  Much of my professional mission (both with parents live and through the blogs and books) is to try and dispel these notions.

There may be a tipping point, though, where I am pushed over the edge.

Or as the Beatles said in one of my favorite songs, “It’s all too much for me to take.”

As an example, a mom recently insisted that the school was “bound by law” to accept my recommendations and findings regarding her 12 year old daughter  who clearly had  a variety of “issues.”

Sometimes in this work I feel like some version of the Grim Reaper as I try to bring a dose of reality into the situation. Recognizing that I am not a special education attorney, I respectfully told the mom, “No, they are not. They are not bound by law to accept my findings.”

As an  outside professional evaluating children, it is my job to evaluate the child, determine what is going on (from my perspective) and guide parents in what I call, “next step thinking.”

That is, they need to be informed what they should do next based on the findings.

While there are some relatively objective tests given to the child within the assessment, much of what is concluded is based on an interpretation of the test findings.  In other words a professional such as myself is offering a professional opinion,  with the operative word being “opinion.”

This opinion isn’t always objective in a “yes-no,” “has it – doesn’t have it” determination.  There are many variables or shades of gray that go into the ultimate conclusions.

In other words, there is no blood test or x-ray to comment on any reading, attention, writing or emotional issues that are concerning with the child.  This is as true for dyslexia as it is for ADHD/ADD.

Ideally, schools should take the findings  of the outside assessment into consideration in terms of what they offering the child relative to accommodations and interventions, but that is different than being required to accept them.

There are plenty of questionable methods or treatments that are promoted through advertisements, television and other media that are not supported by any research or clinical experience.

If the school gets a report recommending such an approach, is the school required to follow it?

No.  They are not.

The only time (as I understand it) where the school is required to follow a recommendation is when there has been a due process, special education hearing.  If the hearing finds that the child is not receiving an appropriate education, then they are bound by law to follow the recommendations of the hearing and the outside professionals.

Takeaway Point

Schools should consider the findings of reputable outside professional evaluations, but they are not required or “bound by law” to follow them.

Copyright, 2020 www.shutdownlearner.com
Questions or topics email Dr. Selznick.  Not in the South Jersey area? For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email – rselznick615@gmail.com

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 https://shutdownlearner.com.


Not Eligible For Services

In last blog post I talked about Jackson, a child who was struggling with basic concepts of math, such as time, money and simple fractions.

I had intended to build on last week’s blog, but instead I need to take a different direction in terms of Jackson.

Jackson was recently evaluated by the school’s special education team.  In contrast to decent reading and decoding scores, severe problems were noted with the different mathematic tasks given to Jackson, with scores clustering around the 5th percentile.  In short, Jackson was drowning with any math functions and was clearly in need of support in the form of patient, remedial instruction offered in a small group format on a regular (daily) basis.

From my point of view, looking at the data derived from the special education team, it was a “slam dunk” that Jackson should be classified with a learning disability.

That’s not the way it went though. When Jackson’s parents went in to review the special education assessment, the team said they were not classifying Jackson. No help or accommodation would be coming his way.  After the meeting the case was to be closed.


Very simply, Jackson’s IQ wasn’t seen to be high enough.  Effectively, he was being punished for an intelligence score that fell in the middle to high 80’s of IQ (around the 15th percentile), in spite of the fact that there were other scores om the IQ test that showed Jackson could demonstrate at least average potential in some of the sub-domains that were assessed.

Here’s the issue as I see it.

Each state interprets federal special education code in its own way.  In the state of New Jersey, a learning disability is determined by:

A specific learning disability can be determined when a severe discrepancy is found between the student’s current achievement and intellectual ability in one or more of the following areas: (1) Basic reading skills; (2) Reading comprehension; (3) Oral expression; (4) Listening comprehension; (5) Mathematical calculation; (6) Mathematical problem solving; (7) Written expression; and (8) Reading fluency

So, for the lucky ones who fall in the upper portion of the bell-shaped curve of intelligence, say with an IQ of about 110 or more (around the 75th percentile), there is likely to be a “severe discrepancy” determined and the child will get help.

If you’re not smart enough, forget about it.

The main IQ test used by special education teams is the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (5th edition) or WISC-V.  It was originally developed by David Wechsler back in the 1940s.  Anything I’ve read or known about David Wechsler suggests to me he would not be happy to see his test used in this way to ultimately deny a child like Jackson from getting the help he desperately needs.

Sadly, that’s how the test is often used now.


Not in the South Jersey area? For a free 15 minute consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email – contact@shutdownlearner.com.

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Explaining #Dyslexia at Dinner

My wife and I were out for dinner with another couple, both of whom were in the medical field with lots of years of experience.  They were curious about my recently presenting as a keynote speaker at the Decoding Dyslexia conference in Utah.

“So, Rich, what percentage of the population do you think are dyslexic,” my friend asks, “and what is dyslexia, exactly?”

(We get a glimpse inside Rich’s head as his anxiety shoots up and he thinks the following:)  (“Ugh.  I’ve been in this field for 30 years and have written three books related to dyslexia and I still don’t know the best way to explain it to people.  You would think I’d have a ready answer by now.  What a field!  Why can’t I be Dr. Sally Shaywitz – she wrote the bible on dyslexia. I bet she would have a ready answer.  Should I start to get my routine about ‘smooth road and rough road kids’ and that the dyslexics are on the rough road?  Well, that’s not going to explain anything.  Just drink more wine and start talking about Trump – that gets everyone going. Maybe they will forget about dyslexia.”)

Rich answers, “Probably about 20 to 30% of the population is dyslexic.”

My friend responds, “Really, I had no idea.  That’s a lot of people reading upside down or however they read with dyslexia, but what is it exactly and what causes it.”

(Back in Rich’s head.)   (“Seriously, why can’t you just answer the question?  Man, you  spoke  at a dyslexia conference two weeks ago – the people at the conference even said they liked you – well, maybe they were just being polite.  You can’t start talking to people about ‘decoding’ and ‘oral reading fluency,’ and  no one wants to hear about ‘phonemic awareness’ or ‘sound segmentation.’  I mean, come on. You don’t want to put them to sleep at the dinner table.  Don’t you have some type of elevator speech on dyslexia somewhere in this head of yours?  Just get to the point.  Jeez.  You have problems, man.”)

“The best way I can explain it is reading inefficiency – like, about 70 of the population reads smoothly and effortlessly.  They just are on a smooth road since first grade.  (“There you go again with your smooth road and rough road.”)  The dyslexic kids are not.  They can’t handle big words like ‘porcupine’ and ‘institute.’  Words like these get all jumbled up and they misread them like ‘pricopinney’ for porcupine and ‘instate’ for institute – that sort of thing.”

My friend asks, “So, are they seeing the words wrong?”

(Back in Rich’s head as he does his mental tap dancing.)   (You’re back in the weeds again are you?  It would be much easier if you just said it’s a reading problem, but then what about the spelling and the writing.  You should have gone to dental school like your parents wanted you to do.  The dentists don’t have to fumfer, mumble and tap dance like you do.  And they make a lot more money too! What is your problem????)

“So, what do you all think about Trump’s week?”


For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email – contact@shutdownlearner.com.

To receive free Dyslexia Infographics and updates, go to: www.shutdownlearner.com.

That Place on the Bell-Shaped Curve

There is that place of the bell-shaped curve that is always challenging for schools and clinicians.  I call it the “zone of no zone.”  It’s that area of the curve that technically falls in the “average range,” yet is problematic from a functional point of view.

A quick overview of the scores may be helpful.

For most psychological and educational tests, standard scores of 100 are right in the middle average (50th %ile).  Scores that fall to the lower portion of the average range hover around the score of 90 (which is the 25th %ile).  The 25th % ile means that 75% are better than you on any given task being measured.

From the school’s vantage point, most kids falling in the low 90’s typically are not classifiable, that is they are not viewed as being eligible to receive services in special education.

That is they are “average.”

Yet, from the parents’ point of view they see this “average” child struggling on a day-to-day basis and they feel at a loss with their child not receiving any extra attention at school.

Compounding this challenge is the confusion that can arise when an outside professional “diagnoses” a child as having a learning disability such as dyslexia even with the scores from the outside evaluation falling in a similar range.

A learning disability like dyslexia is not a broken bone that shows up on an x-ray yielding a “yes” or “no” as to whether the child has it or not.  There are so many variables that go into making the decision, tilting the diagnosis in one direction or the other.   Some of these variables are not quantifiable such as whether one or the other parent struggled with same issues or was previously diagnosed.   It’s an example of a non-quantifiable piece of information that adds to the story and needs to be factored in to the ultimate conclusion.

In most clinical assessments there is an interplay of the quantitative and the qualitative.  With special education assessments, the ultimate eligibility decisions are almost exclusively quantitative in nature.

Takeaway Point

If your child is falling out in that “zone of no zone,” that is the lower portion of average,   the likelihood is your he will be struggling even if viewed as technically average.  While the “average” child will not likely be viewed as eligible for special education, if you can, try and take action in your own hands.

You know your child better than any clinician or special education team.  Seek help, whether or not your child is officially “diagnosed.”

Get good tutoring and professional guidance on what you can do at home.

There’s no gain in waiting.

For a free 15 minute consultation with Dr. Selznick, email contact@shutdownlearner.com.

To receive update blogs, announcements and other rantings, go to: https://shutdownlearner.com.

“Task Analysis:” Going Old School (Once Again)

There are a number of old school concepts in education that I don’t hear much about any more that I think still apply.  “Task analysis” is one of them.

Years ago as part  my special education course work task analysis was frequently mentioned. (OK, it was many years ago, I admit.)

With task analysis, the idea is that any end point task that you want someone to master should be broken down into sub-tasks to help the person move along a continuum toward mastery of the skill.

For example, teaching a cognitively impaired child  to brush his teeth successfully was the classic example used to illustrate task analysis.  Most of us take brushing teeth for granted, thinking it’s no big deal.  We don’t tend to consider how many sub-tasks and steps are involved (e.g., taking cap off the tooth paste, squeezing the tube properly, holding the tooth brush in one hand, etc.) to get to the endpoint.

Recently a mom talked to me about how her son was struggling in youth football.  There were the usual explanations offered – he wasn’t paying attention or trying hard enough. For this child, there were other explanations.  He was simply too confused and overwhelmed on the field.  Sports like football can be quite confusing for a lot of kids. They have trouble with the sequences and the rapid decision making.  (In fact, some time ago I worked with a Division I college football player who could have made it to the pros if he had the ability to keep the play sequences straight.)

In other words, the boy needed the task broken down into more manageable steps and sequences for him to master.

My guess would be that if we task analyzed much of what we expect our children to master (like playing football, comprehending a story, making a sandwich or getting out the door in the morning), we’d see that there were many small steps involved that we may not have considered.

Take Away Point

If you see your child struggling with a task, analyze the sub-tasks.  Try and break the task down and back it up.  Practice at easier levels and then lead up to mastery of the task.

I know my wife’s still trying to do that with me in terms of learning how to make the bed properly!

Frankly, I don’t think she’s broken it down enough.


Adapted, “School Struggles, Richard Selznick, Ph.D.,  (2012), Sentient Publications

Direct Instruction?

A mom called this week to talk to me about the school district offering a computer program (“Orton-Gillingham based, was the claim) that was providing “direct instruction.”  The mom questioned whether the program was “direct instruction,” as the school was telling her it was.

Listen, if I get a tennis ball machine to feed balls to me, that can be very valuable for improving my game, but it’s called “PRACTICE.”  When the tennis instructor breaks down the skills for me, shows me how to do a skill, watches me hit, and gives me feedback, it’s “Direct Instruction.”

Related to the issue of direct instruction vs. practice, parents will also be told that their child is slated to receive “in-class support.”  In-class support may involve direct instruction, but this needs to be clarified, as chances are the in-class support is of the “don’t-let-the child-drown in the deep end of the pool” variety.  That is, a lifeguard is  close by in the deep end of the pool with the child, but not teaching the child to swim.  That is usually what “in-class support” involves.

Direct instruction involves the teaching of specific skills in a structured, sequential manner, with one skill being directly taught to mastery, leading to the next skill to be taught.

As a side point, while it is nice if the child is given one-on-one instruction, direct instruction can also be delivered in a small group (ideally, no larger than four in a group).  A tennis teacher can do a fine job directly instructing in a group.

Takeaway Point

Practicing on the computer with a program that has been designated as “evidenced based”  (aren’t they all) or that has the elements of, say an Orton-based program, may be very good for your child to do as an activity.  It is not “direct instruction.”  Chances are “in-class support” isn’t either.




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