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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Fearless Parenting Despite Learning Disabilites!

The dynamic between kids and parents is powerful. When it is used to its best advantage it moves mountains.  Kids with learning issues need their parents to be:
  • Confident
  • Optimistic  
  • Compassionate
  • Well informed about their child's learning disability
They also want their parents to:
  • Understand where they are challenged
  • Trouble shoot compensatory strategies 
  • Advocate in a big way for their ability to succeed
One of the best ways a child with a learning disability learns to thrive is by watching their parents handle their issues effectively and confidently. Have you jumped right in when it comes to the learning issue in your family? I know it can be a very scary thing to jump right in….

How Can You Do This?
Get to know your "total package"
  • The good to the challenging
  • The ins and outs 
  • The difficult parts and the easier parts 
Knowing the whole picture is a powerful tool in helping a person with a learning disability put their best foot forward. You need to learn about:
  • Disability rights in school, in the community and in the workplace
  • Reasonable accommodations
  • School procedures
  • Support networks
  • Neuropsychological assessments
Doing these things will help find answers to perplexing questions so you or your child can create a successful and fulfilling life.

I Know First Hand:
You see, I know first hand how scary it can be to “jump right in” around raising your child in a world that likes to put people into boxes. “Focus on your strengths,” I kept saying to our youngest son who had awful learning issues. AND “Know your weaknesses so they don’t surprise you and get you down when you’re not looking,” I would say. And you know, as well as I do, that there is a whole lot more…

Let Me Help:
I am living my dream of helping parents who have kids with learning issues.  I compassionately coach parents, individuals and young adults with learning disabilities to take a hold of their dreams by:
  • Using their strengths to counter balance weaknesses
  • Know their weaknesses and use compensatory strategies to ease the times they can't side step a difficult task.
  • Know their passions & unique talents that can help find places they can shine!
Let’s talk… This is important stuff… I am looking forward to hearing from you!
The Navigator's Way - Living Well with Learning Disabilities!


Monday, October 21, 2013

The Top 4 Ways Kids Learn through Play

As a play therapist, one of the most common questions I hear from parents is, “How does play help my child?” The truth is that there are so many ways children learn through play that it would be difficult to list them all! Here are the top 4 ways children learn through play:

1. Using all Senses to Explore: 
When a child engages in play, they eagerly explore their world in a multifaceted way. If you’ve seen a child with a new toy, you’ve seen this discovery process. Typically, the child visually inspects a toy while using their hands to feel the object. In younger children, the toy commonly enters the mouth for a taste as well. The toy may be hit to hear what sound it can make. All of these experiments provide information for the child to take in about the toy and its potential for different uses. 

2. Accessing Imagination: 
When children play pretend, they learn what it is like to take on a different persona and imagine how it might feel to be someone else.  This is key for building empathy. They may explore what it might be like to be a chef, a doctor, a teacher, a parent, or another role. These experiences give them the opportunity to develop their own self-concept.  In addition, it allows them to see alternate paths for themselves.

3. Problem-Solving on their own Terms: 
During play, a child will likely encounter problems within the activity or around the logistics of play. For example, how do you build a bridge out of blocks that will connect the couch with the coffee table that will also support the people that need to cross? Allowing space for a child to solve his or her own problems provides tools for doing so in other situations and promotes self-esteem and independence. 

4. Experiencing Social Cues to Build Skills: 
Children playing together will inevitably create times of harmony and times of chaos. As children navigate the play, they learn how to share toys, take turns, experience disputes, and resolve the conflict. Each action will have a reaction, and when a child is motivated to continue playing with their friend they learn that their decisions and behaviors will impact how long they are able to play. Although children sometimes benefit from adult input (especially guiding questions that help them resolve the situation rather than telling them what to do), children are generally able to create their own resolutions, learning important social skills in the process.

The next time your child is stuck, consider what elements of play could be infused to improve their learning. Would a multi-sensory approach allow for better understanding of the problem? Would playing pretend improve their understanding of the assignment? Find regular times to include play in your routine and see how your child responds.

Best, Emily

Emily Herber is a child and family therapist at the Center for Psychological Services.

Friday, October 18, 2013

College Preparation Strategies for Students with Learning Disabilities

When it is time to apply to colleges, many students with learning disabilities regret that they didn’t begin the preparation process sooner.  In fact, planning for college should commence freshman year in high school.  Here is a checklist that can help students to create possibilities and maximize their higher education options.  

High School Freshmen
  • Start now with college prep courses.
  • Study hard and aim for good grades. It does matter!
  • Become involved in activities.
  • Get work experience and begin saving money for college.
  • At your IEP meetings, start to become your own voice, your own advocate.
High School Sophomores
  • Take the PSAT in the spring for practice.
  • Stay on top of your academic work. Seek help if needed.
  • Get involved in your community.
  • Register for an SAT/ACT prep course or take online practice exams for free.
  • Start researching colleges.

  • Take the PSAT in the fall for practice.
  • Register for an SAT/ACT test in the spring.
  • Continue to study hard and get good grades.
  • Prioritize the factors most important to you in a college or university (i.e. size of school, location, class size).
  • Make a preliminary list of colleges of interest.
  • Attend college fairs and high school visits.
  • Visit schools and ask your top questions.
  • Contact your school district’s vocational rehabilitation counselor – get retested.
High School Seniors
  • Explore majors that match your skills and interest, but know that it is perfectly NORMAL and okay NOT to know what major you want. Take advantage of career exploration programs offered through your high school and local colleges.
  • Clarify application and financial aid deadlines for each school.
  • Register for the October SAT/ACT.
  • Learn how to build a college essay.
  • Visit and interview at various schools.
  • Submit applications to more than one school.
  • Keep working hard in your classes. Grades still count.
  • Complete the FAFSA (financial aid application).
  • Make your final college choice.
High School Juniors
By getting an early start on the college process and following the suggestions outlined in this blog, students with learning disabilities can create possibilities and craft an outstanding college application.  If you need one to one guidance, feel free to contact me for an individualized approach.
All the best, David

David Carson, LD Coach and Mentor
David Carson is coach and mentor for students with learning disabilities and is also the author, of the Survival Guide for College Bound LD Students.  

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Guiding the LD/ADHD College Student toward Success

            Despite seeing first-hand the success that students with learning differences and/or ADHD can have when they make the transition from high school to college, I am very troubled by the statistics for the LD/ADHD population as a whole.  In light of these statistics that show students with diagnosed learning differences and ADHD complete college at a lesser rate than those without disabilities, it is important for students with college aspirations to develop strategies for success.
            One reason students with learning disabilities and ADHD may struggle in college, even after being successful in high school, is that the laws protecting them change.  While students in high school are protected by the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA), once they become college students they are no longer granted the types of entitlements that IDEA guarantees.  For example, individual counseling, tutoring and one-on-one aides are no longer required to be provided to the student upon entering college.  Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504, which is a civil rights law, colleges and universities, are not obligated to provide services which are considered unreasonable and may alter course requirements. Some examples of services or accommodations that may be difficult to obtain in college, even if they were not in high school, include access to study guides, additional time to complete assignments and projects, and alternative assignments or assessments.  Students should also not expect their requirements for reading assignments or the length of assignments to be altered.  For the first time in their lives, it is incumbent upon the student to disclose any disability, provide necessary documentation and request services.  Some research indicates that less than 25 percent of students who attend post-secondary institutions share information about their disability with the schools, a situation that leaves many of them vulnerable to failure.
            Still, there is hope.  Some ways that high school students can prepare themselves for this transition include:
·      Challenging themselves academically when they are in high school so there is a better understanding of what they can do at the college level.
·      Learning to explain their difficulties and how it affects their performance before they get to campus. 
·     Disclosing their learning differences, even if they think they may want to give their courses a try without the use of accommodations.  If a student has already been approved for special testing accommodations, for example, it will be easier to activate them once the student decides to utilize them.  Otherwise, the process can take some time, and the student continues to struggle in the meantime.
·     Establishing a relationship with the support services staff on the college campus.  Many students who complete their degree programs do so in part because of the special relationships they had established with the support staff.
·     Participating in dual-enrollment programs with local colleges that allow students to take a college course, often on the college campus with college students, while still in high school.  Participating in college courses provides an opportunity for students to know success while also learning the differences between high school and college, all while establishing relationships with faculty and academic support staff. 
·      Researching which professors are most likely to be supportive of students with learning differences once they have matriculated.
·      Investigating the possibility of obtaining waivers or substitutions for certain curricular requirements.
·      Requesting preferential seating, a planning agenda, and additional planning and study time.
            Upon choosing to matriculate, LD/ADHD students must continue to use these strategies and be open to implementing new ones in order to enhance the likelihood of earning a degree and setting themselves up for success upon graduation.
Thanks, Kristen
Kristen Tabun,
Director of College Guidance
Woodlynde School

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

How Stress Affects Literacy

One very common but often overlooked cause of reading problems that can hold a child back from achieving full literacy potential is stress. Stress often goes hand in hand with other common causes of difficulty like a bad sight-reading habit, poor short-term memory, or weak auditory processing. But sometimes, stress can stand on its own as the only thing responsible for derailing early literacy achievements. But everyone gets a little stressed now and then, right? 

How Much of a Factor Can it Really be?
To understand how that is, we must first look at the neurological processes that the brain undergoes during both the reading task and stress response. Reading is a complex task for the brain to perform, involving every lobe of the cerebrum. Your brain has to activate its visual processing, auditory processing, motor processing and a whole lot in between! It’s no simple task and because of that, it qualifies as a higher brain function.   

Stress Responses are Instinctual: 
Stress, on the other hand, is a very instinctual, automated brain function.  Stress triggers chemical reactions in the body that are designed to protect us from danger. For example, our brain elevates the hormonal levels of adrenaline and cortisol to give us the burst of energy we need to escape a tricky situation. Our higher brain function decision-making area deactivates and the very basic brain stem takes over in order to decide whether to fight, run, or freeze. The analytical function of the cerebrum is reduced by 60% or more. All non-essential body functioning shuts down to conserve energy - this definitely includes reading!

Stress and Reading are Incompatible:
You can see that the two processes are essentially incompatible. When the stress response is misapplied to non-life-threatening situations, like reading, higher brain functioning still shuts down and the reading process becomes virtually impossible.  And yet learning to read can be one of the most stressful activities of a child's life. It is very demanding and often involves a lot of "public" failure. A failure can feel public when a child is sitting on the sofa with a parent and getting stuck on the word, was, yet again. The symptoms of a stress pattern like this are fairly obvious: strong negative emotions to reading, coupled with an apparent ability to read satisfactorily at moments which can downgrade into a spiral of stress when making reading mistakes.

How Can We Disable the Stress Response to Reading?
In order to disable this stress response to reading, a structured learning environment that uses “scaffolding” techniques must be created.  It is essential to present the child with small, achievable tasks.  You can do that by reducing the task into small parts or giving far more assistance than is normal in a conventional setting.  For instance, you might:
  1. show a child a word and ask him to select which one it is from three options that you provide. 
  2. decode the word and ask the child to blend it. 
  3. agree to read every word longer than 5 letters, if the child does the rest.
Encouragement should be liberally given as the child slowly advances through attained goals. Once a good level of self-confidence has been reached, the stress response is disabled and good learning progression can start up again.

By, David Morgan

David Morgan is Managing Director of Oxford Learning Solutions and creator of the Easyread System. Easyread is a computer-based program that helps children with dyslexia, auditory processing disorder and highly visual learning styles improve their reading and spelling through Guided Phonetic Reading techniques.

David Morgan is also the founder of the not-for-profit site: www.HelpingEveryChildtoRead.com

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Listen to Your Children

"I have the idea here (points to brain). I just can’t get it to come down through my arm and out my hand onto the paper.” 

Spoken to me by an eight-year-old third grader named Darren in the fall of 2000, it was the most applicable description of dysgraphia that I have ever heard.  Throughout the years I have used it often when talking with parents.  While the research into brain function and physical development may be meaningful, it is this quote to which they truly relate, the words conveying what their own child has perhaps been unsuccessfully trying to express. 

As parents it is so important to listen to our children, to hear the message beyond the words or the frustration. But this can be difficult to do, particularly when we become caught up in our own frustration, concerns, and upsets about the challenges we see our child confronting.  I will address this specific issue in future blog entries, but for the time being will pose these questions to you, the reader: 
  • What can you do in your family to enable your child to communicate what they are experiencing?What opportunities are you providing for their self-expression either verbally or nonverbally?  
  • How well are you listening to what they are saying?
As a diagnostician I pose these questions to parents as part of the evaluation process, challenging them to think deeply about the experiences their child is trying to convey to them as well as those that the youngster has been unable to share either due to inability or fear.

I think of Darren often, he made a lasting impression.  So did his family, because they came to me already asking these very questions.  The younger of two boys, I have always felt that Darren was very fortunate to have a mother who recognized early on that something was amiss and a father who was wise in listening to his wife.  At the time Darren’s mother, Becky Scott, was a full-time homemaker with good instincts about her son and the valuable sense to follow her gut and pursue an independent psychoeducational evaluation when her concerns were not initially shared by Darren’s school. (More about this in the future too.) 

In the process of evaluating a child I ask parents to think about their instincts. 
  • When did they first feel that something was amiss?  
  • What was that something?  
  • In what ways did they try to effect their child’s development and how did it go?  

The answers to these questions provide me, the clinician, with a wealth of information, creating a map of development that provides precious insight as to the earliest and ongoing behaviors or characteristics that emanated from the child’s learning style.
  • What are your instincts telling you about your child?
  • What words or behaviors has your child been using to show you that he or she is struggling?
Hopefully now I’ve got you thinking.  In the coming months I will talk more about how you can develop skills in listening to your children and to one another.  These very skills will support your ability to identify and address challenges created throughout a family when a student is struggling to learn.

Thanks, Jennifer
Jennifer Jackson Holden, Psy.D.
Clinical and Educational Psychologist
Center for Psychological Services
Paoli, Pennsylvania

610-647-6406, ext 3

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

What are Reasonable Accommodations, and What are the Different Options?

As a learning specialist and educational therapist parents continually ask me about “reasonable accommodations.” They often want to know what this term means and how they can get a list of the various options. Please note that, offering a definitive list of reasonable accommodations for students with learning disabilities is a difficult thing to do, as adaptations must be tailored to address the specific deficits of each student.  

What is a Reasonable Accommodation? 
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 both use the term “reasonable accommodation” to represent the modifications or adaptations resulting in equal access or improved accessibility to buildings, programs, and academics. They provide changes to traditional means so that students’ disabilities do not impede the learning process.  For example, if a student has deficits in fine motor control and their penmanship is labored and illegible, a reasonable accommodation may provide a copy of the teacher’s notes.  Consequently, this student’s disability will not get in the way of learning lecture-based content. 

Who can Initiate Reasonable Accommodations?
Any student with a qualified disability or their legal guardian/parent can request a meeting that can result in reasonable accommodations. Please note that the disability must be documented by the school or an outside source and the results must be presented at the meeting.

What are Some Common Reasonable Accommodations?
Here is a list of general options.  However, it will be your school's special education committee that decides which options will provide the necessary accommodations.
•     Provide preferential seating where visual and auditory distractions are minimized.
•     Supply a copy of the teacher’s or another student’s notes.
•     Offer a scribe for classroom writing assignments and testing situations.
•     Allow the use a tape recorder or a Smart Pen.
•     Offer books on tape through organizations such as Learning Alley or Bookshare.
•     Supply a reader for testing situations.
•     Grant time and a half or double testing time.
•     Offer testing in a distraction free location.
•     Permit the use of a calculator during testing.
•     Provide assistive technology such as speech to text, word prediction, and text to speech software
•     Provide extended time for homework assignments.
•     Offer modified in-class and homework assignments.
•     Provide handouts and homework assignments with fewer problems on each page.
•     Reduce amount of homework.
•     Offer no penalty for incorrect spelling on classroom writing assignments and tests.
•     Allow the student to write directly on the test and avoid scan-trons.
•     Provide a computer with a word processor and spell check for written assignments and tests. 
•     Simplify and reword questions on language loaded assignments and tests.
•     Break projects into organized, manageable activities with clear expectations and deadlines.
•     Provide a foreign language substitution, waiver or exemption.
•     Offer reminders to write down and turn in assignments.
•     Check for understanding by asking the student repeat back what they heard.
•     Provide short breaks when needed.

If you are interested in pursuing reasonable accommodations for a student at your local school district, you will have to contact them to learn about  their step-by-step procedure.  Make sure to put all requests in writing and also indicate that you wish to tape record the meeting.   This blog post is intended to provide an overview of reasonable accommodations and is not legal advice. 

If you have any thoughts, ideas, comments, or stories please leave a comment below.

Cheers, Erica

Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to www.goodsensorylearning.comwww.dyslexiamaterials.com & www.learningtolearn.biz