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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Connecting with Your Child

In today’s world of hectic schedules and electronic entertainment, it can be hard to find time and ways to connect with your child. I recommend carving play time into the schedule to improve your relationship with your child. Here are some tips for creating a special play time that will encourage an emotional bond:
1.     Turn off technology:  Make the play time an electronics-free zone. For 15 minutes, turn off your phone and give all your attention to your child. Make sure the child’s electronics are off too (no TV in the background!) and really focus in on the moment.

2.     Allow your child to lead the play: Kids are used to being told what to do. For this play time, allow the child to lead and make decisions that you, the parent, follow. This should be within necessary limits, such as maintaining safety and using one room of the house. Besides these rules, however, the child should have control over what happens in the play.

3.     Leave your “limitations” at the door: It is not uncommon for parents to tell me in my practice that they “don’t know how to play” and that this idea intimidates them. Some hesitation is understandable; it may have been a long time since you played! Luckily, your child knows how and will teach you if you let him or her. Try starting by reflecting what your child is doing or what a character is feeling. For example, “You’re working to build a big tower,” or, “The boy feels sad to say goodbye.” Focus on the child’s experience rather than your own hesitation and you’ll be much more able to be present for your child and understand the communication.

4.     Ask questions: In order to let the child lead, you may want to ask them in a soft voice how to respond. For instance, if the child is playing school and is the teacher, you might whisper, “What do I say next?” or “What kind of student should I be?” This gives the child the opportunity to be in charge and allows you to better understand the directives he or she is giving you.
Employing new guidelines for play can feel uncomfortable at first. However, if you are able to tune into your child’s play, you may find a whole new way of connecting and relating that far outweighs any initial discomfort.

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

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Preparing Students with Learning Disabilities for College

      By now, seniors have made their decisions about where they'll attend college next year.  The focus for many parents with children with learning disabilities tends to surround the academic transition to college.  Concerns about how to manage a more demanding course load, finding the best environment for studying, and how to access the needed resources on campus are common concerns that should be addressed early with your child.  However, there are other stumbling blocks that may come up that can derail a first-year student's success.  What are some things that parents can do now to ease this transition?

1.      Make sure the documentation the student needs is accessible, understood by the student, and is shared before classes begin with the appropriate staff in the disability services center. 

2.      If medication is being taken, can the student manage this without assistance?  Does s/he know how to obtain refills and how to contact the attending physician?

3.      Use the summer to develop independence with daily activities, such as getting up without help and doing laundry by themselves.

4.      How much financial independence does the student have?  Do they understand the importance of budgeting?  Will they get a part-time job to pay for expenses?  What effect will this have on their scheduling?

5.      Will the student need special arrangements for on-campus housing?  Depending on the nature of the disability, some colleges may be able to provide special accommodations.

6.      Discuss the social transition and challenges that they will face as new college students.  How will they go about making new friends and navigating new social dynamics that exist?

            Finally, parents need to remember that their roles are changing as their children begin college.  Privacy laws will keep them from having the type of access they have been used to receiving in secondary school.  Discuss the option of having students sign a waiver to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) so that the college has permission to disclose information about a child's academic records.  Taking this step can help relieve many of the concerns parents have about sending their children off to a new environment with significant independence.


Monday, May 12, 2014

End of Year Testing - It's Hard!

I spoke with a mom last week about the emotional “ramp up” her daughter was experiencing with learning issues and testing. It was a painful experience for this mom to watch, the family to endure and the daughter to live through. 

This is the time of year assessments come in every flavor imaginable: SAT’s, ACT’s, AP’s, cumulative final exams and so on. For many of our kids with learning issues, this is a tense time. With accommodations the “playing field” can be leveled to a large degree, but anyway you slice it, testing is hard for most who experience learning issues.

Strong Self Esteem Helps
How do we help our kids build self-esteem so that no test holds their emotional future hostage? First, as parents you can help your student build strong organization skills and good study patterns. This will go a long way to maintaining self-esteem. If a “tune up” is needed in this area, seek out resources such as a coach or tutor to put these important skills in place.

Parental Support During Testing
What can parents do during test time to make a difference? Here are some easy support activities for parents to engage in during testing taking season. Many can also be done through out the year to build resilience for the “push times”.
  •      Encourage the Use of Strengths.  When studying for a test, have your student learn in the best way possible for them. Is this a time for flash cards or an oral exercise? Knowing your best learning approach is key!
  •      Praise the Effort, NOT the Result.  Many parents have difficulty with this.  Challenges can be very demotivating a students work is only valued for the end result. What would be different if your student got used to praise for trying hard?
  •      Encourage Study Breaks AND Brain Breaks! Help your student do something different, but active, during a break:  a puzzle, cook something or take a walk. Switching off your brain, as when watching TV, is much less productive.
  •      Slow Down the Learning.   Draw parallels with lessons in other areas in your student’s life. The cross referencing of learning and experiences forces the brain to work with material in ways that will help with memory.
  •      Pay Attention to Your Student.   At this time of year, tensions can run high. A sure way to lower those tensions is to help your student feel listened to. If your student needs to talk, put down what you are doing and look them straight in the eyes! This simple act of really being listened to will lower tension levels even though it has nothing to do with the learning at hand
Signs of Worry
As parents we want to know when we should step in. Here are few key times to press the pause button and check in with your student to see if testing has become to much.
  •      Your student is self assessing with numerous negative comments directed toward themselves such as “I’m so stupid.”
  •      Loosing interest in friends, family and activities in a way that is withdrawn from otherwise normal activities.
  •      Grades are lower with an apparent lack of concern.
A steady attitude with positive reinforcement for your student will go a long way to helping them get through this test taking time of year. Keep the focus on your beautiful child who, under difficult circumstances, is doing their best. Your constant support, no matter what that “best” is that shows up, is critical.  Honoring the effort, and the human that is putting forth the effort, is the best starting point for any parent!

Parents, do you have questions raising your child with learning issues? You can raise confident capable kids despite learning issues. Reach out for answers to your most perplexing questions today!

Becky Scott

Friday, May 9, 2014

5 Tips for Improving Visual Processing

About 1/3 of the children we help through Easyread have eye-tracking or other visual weaknesses that prevent them from fully progressing. Even after we have improved their poor phonemic skills, issues like eye-tracking or convergence can impede these students reaching their full reading potential.

We often prescribe a 10-day course of exercises to help this, which are incredibly effective - if you're interested, please get in touch for more information.

However, there are simpler activities that are both fun and good for visual function development. Here are just five suggestions.

1. Ball sports. Sports involving hand-eye coordination will help develop this fine motor skill including eye-tracking function. Consider tennis, badminton, volleyball, or even just tossing a bag of beans back and forth!

2. Walk the plank. Get your struggling learners walking on a beam of wood - or eve just draw a line with chalk on the sidewalk and practice walking on that line without stepping out of it. This exercise helps gross motor skill development also.

3. Easyread Eggi or Tetris. Both of these online games involve sustained periods of practicing following moving objects with the eyes only -- no moving your head!

4. Let's go fly a kite. Without looking into the sun of course (!), tracking a moving object like a kite is good workout for the same eye muscles used in reading.

5. Connect the dots. Dot-to-dot drawing activities are good practice at both visual function skills and writing.


Sarah Forrest is a Reading Specialist for Oxford Learning Solutions, publishers of the Easyread System - an innovative online program for struggling readers and spellers. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Appreciating the Child You Have

One of the greatest challenges to parents of children with learning disabilities is acknowledging and addressing their own grief. As much as they love their child, he or she is not who they expected.  To fully value the child they have, it is necessary to grieve the child they lost.  In working with families where a learning disability is present, this is a factor that is often overlooked and that when successfully addressed can create a profound change in the system. 

I recently read the following inspirational essay by Emily Perl Kingsley, the mother of a child with Down Syndrome, that describes this experience so beautifully.  I share it with you here:

When you're going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip - to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland."

"Holland?!?" you say. "What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy.  All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy."

But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met. It’s just a different place. It's slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around.... and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills....and Holland has tulips.  Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy... and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned."

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away...because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.

But... if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things ... about Holland.

So I ask, did you plan a trip to Italy and arrive in Holland?  Have you come to value the sweet smell of tulips yet?  To enjoy the peacefulness of the canals?  Appreciate the windmills? I do hope you have.  If not, perhaps it is time to ask yourself if you are pining for Italy, and if so to think about the steps can you take to appreciate the wonders of the land that you now inhabit.  It’s okay to be sad about a missed trip to Italy while still relishing in the wonders of Holland.
Go give your child a hug, and get one back!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Benefits of Pursuing Neuropsychological Evaluations Outside of Your School District

Many parents that have struggling learners in their households have the option of requesting that the public school district test their child to determine the causes of the learning challenges.  These evaluations can help to determine if the underlying causes of the problem is a learning disability, ADHD or other diagnosis that impacts learning.  Although these assessments are free of cost to families, I have found that the testing is often poorly administered, very limited, and I have even heard of school districts altering scores.

But Why Would The Public Schools Purposely Provide Poor Testing?
When a student is diagnosed with a learning disability, ADHD, or other diagnosis that impacts learning, the public school district is required by law to provide “reasonable accommodations.”  In addition, if they are unable to provide the needed services, they have to pay for a child to be schooled in an alternative setting.  Furthermore, the district often has to provide transportation to and from this facility.  With the many cut backs, administrators do not want to allocate the money for a single student.

How Can You Find the Right Testing Professional?
There are no standard procedures or materials to be administered, and testing professionals can have a range of credentials.  Therefore, be sure to do your homework and interview prospective candidates.  Ask about their training and also request references.  Talk to other parents that have already pursued outside testing and ask them about their experiences.  In addition, ask local learning specialists if they know of any testing professionals that they would recommend.

Although pursuing and outside evaluation can be costly, I can assure you that a comprehensive, well-written report can provide the causes of the difficulties as well as recommendations on the needed services so that you can maximize your child’s potential.

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.