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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What is Filial Therapy?

I recently had the pleasure of attending a training by Risë VanFleet, PhD on Filial Therapy, and I came away very excited about the method. Developed by Drs. Bernard and Louise Guerney, Filial Therapy is an approach that helps to facilitate change in the child and family through strengthening the relationships between parents and children.

When children are having behavioral or emotional difficulties, play therapy is often recommended as a developmentally appropriate way to work with children in a therapeutic setting. The use of play allows the therapist to learn more about how children see their world, how they learn, how they express their feelings, and allows for growth in mental and social capacities. Many types of play therapy include the therapist working directly with the child, which can have many benefits. In Filial Therapy, the therapist teaches the parent how to conduct play sessions with their children in a certain way, thus including them as an integral part of the process. 

The benefits of such an approach are numerous. First, it empowers parents who have felt uncertain about how to help their children. Because parents already have a history and bond with their children, they can better report on changes in the play and interpretation of what transpires in the sessions. In addition, the bond between parent and child is strengthened, which allows the child to use skills after therapy ends and prevents many future problems. Additionally, in this model, all children are included in the process, which allows siblings the opportunity to express how they feel rather than focusing on just one child.

If you are considering therapy for your child, you may want to ask a clinician in your area about Fililal Therapy. If you are want to know more about how Filial Therapy or other types of play therapy might help your family, please give me a call. I look forward to speaking with you!

Emily Herber McLean, LPC is a child and family therapist at The Center for Psychological Services. To learn more about her practice, visit www.centerpsych.com.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Developing Your Child’s Ability to Self-Advocate

     Saturday night, while sitting on the back deck at the shore having dinner with my parents, my sister, and my 10-year-old son, the topic of dyslexia came up.  Here’s how: Jess was having trouble understanding the plans we were making for later in the week.  He calmly and even with humor, expressed his confusion and I, in laughable exasperation exclaimed, 
     “Your dyslexia is driving me crazy!”  Not my finest moment as a mother, but one that met with laughter from Jess and confusion from his grandparents and aunt.  
     My mother asked, “What does that have to do with dyslexia?”  
     My sister said, “Dyslexia is basically when you see and write letters backwards, right?”           My father (a psychologist himself) replies, “Yeah, and the words look like they are jumping around on the page.” 

     This is a misunderstanding of dyslexia that I often hear non-clinicians and people unfamiliar with the condition purport.  Based on outdated information, it fails to appreciate that dyslexia is a language-based learning disability that affects far more than the association of letters and sounds, though that very deficit is at its center. 

     Here is the remarkable part of the story, as I prepared to set them all straight as to the nature of dyslexia as we now understand it, Jess (the 10-year-old), chimed in.  “That’s not right.  I have dyslexia and I don’t do that [write letters backward].” Well, as you can imagine, that got everyone’s attention.  Jess went on to explain that he has trouble with reading, but not just reading.  He can’t always find the words he needs to express himself, he has trouble remembering things people say to him, it is hard for him to understand a concept or sequence described in a purely verbal way without benefit of a context or visual reference.  The words he did this with were more basic and perhaps, quite frankly, more eloquent for they reflected his actual experience.  He then went on to explain that the parts of his brain that process the language he encounters when reading are different than the parts the rest of us non-dyslexics use.  He pointed to his head, “my brain uses this part and this part and your brain uses this part on the other side.”  He used a visual aid and everything!

   The conversation, as you might imagine as a parent, then shifted away from the dyslexia itself to Jess’ ability to explain it.  We call this self-advocacy: one’s ability to articulate how they function so as to get what they need to function well. 

     As the parent of a child with a learning disability you have probably learned how to advocate for your son or daughter.  You have worked to educate teachers about your child’s learning style and concomitant needs.  You have explained his or her strengths and weaknesses to your friends and family, articulated the functional impact of his learning disability to your school district, intermediate unit, or insurance company in order to secure the services he or she needs to thrive.  Perhaps you have even hired a professional advocate to fight on your child’s behalf.  You have seen, first hand, the benefits advocacy by an adult on behalf of a child can reap.

     So imagine how profound your child’s ability to advocate for him or herself can be.  Within the classroom, it allows her to tell the teacher when she does not understand something so that the teacher has the opportunity to explain it in a way your child does understand.  She can ask for more time to finish a test or reading assignment when she needs it without feeling embarrassed about that need.  It enables her to negotiate use of technology in the classroom so that she can write more clearly (or legibly), or in a more-timely manner, or go back and add to her work once her initial draft is complete.
How does the ability to self-advocate develop?

Not by chance, I assure you.  Jess’ explanation of dyslexia was the result of years of conversation about dyslexia in general and its specific impact on him, both the positive and the challenging.  Learning about other people with the disorder, particularly famous ones like actors and athletes helped normalize his impression of dyslexics so that he sees himself as being in very good company.  Each time we encounter another famous person who identifies as dyslexic, Jess’ community grows.

Herein lies the force of an accurate diagnosis.  Vocabulary is a very powerful thing.  From identification of a learning disability, comes understanding and a sense of being able to manage and even master the challenges it brings.

The first step toward raising a child who can advocate for himself comes from letting him know the nature of his reading difficulty.  The second is giving it a name.  Time and time again I see students who are relieved to learn that there is a name to explain why reading is hard for them.  Giving a child the facts about dyslexia gives her power to understand it and to regard it as a part of who she is rather than something that is wrong with her.  It is this latter belief that children come to possess when they are in the absence of accurate and factual information about why learning is hard.  The third ingredient is being positive while working and speaking with your child about dyslexia.  Though reading is hard for him as may be verbal expression or tasks that rely on working memory, he may possess remarkable creativity, outside the box thinking, or originality.  The fourth is recognizing that this is not one but many, many conversations over many years. What a first grader can understand and articulate about how she learns is enhanced by what a fourth grader can understand and that even more so in seventh, ninth, and eleventh grade.
So, as I always say, keep on talking with your child.  And remember, make sure you are always listening too!

Jennifer Jackson Holden, Psy.D. is managing director of the Paoli, Pennsylvania office of the Center for Psychological Services. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

How “Slow Writing“ Helps Kids Write Fast

"Slow writing," an exercise dreamed up by British English teacher David Didau, has been circulating on teaching blogs over the last few months. 

Here’s how Didau himself describes it:

So "slow writing" isn't what you think it might be. It's not, at its core, about teaching children to take their time when writing, but rather helping children learn to plan ahead before they even start. The beauty of this idea is that it actually helps speed up what is often a laborious process for struggling writers. On their own, they will often either take hours to write a single paragraph, or resort to the path of least resistance: short, simple sentences that leave much to be desired!

But if you can explicitly guide them, rather than just asking them to be more creative on their own, then they themselves will be amazed at how quickly they can produce good work.

And then, with practice, they need the guidance less and less. At that point, the process of crafting interesting sentences becomes automatic for them.

This, of course, sounds strangely like the Guided Phonetic Reading technique we use in Easyread. Maybe that’s why I like the idea of “slow writing” so much…!

Read more at Didau’s blog, here.

DSCN0462Sarah Forrest is a Reading Specialist for the Easyread System, an online tutoring service that uses innovative literacy techniques to help struggling learners with visual learning styles, dyslexia, auditory processing weakness and more. www.easyreadsystem.com

Sunday, July 13, 2014

5 Ways to Play More This Summer!

Most blog posts this year have been about making good decisions, getting ready for testing or reducing fear and anxiety; all issues that many with learning issues can relate to.  Not this post!  This post is about PLAY!  Summer fun!  There is NO AGE LIMIT for play.  It is REALLY good for ALL of us.  In fact, a lot of research has been done on play.  And guess what?  We all, especially our kids, are getting less and less play. This is really awful! 

Play, especially Outdoor Unstructured Play, is critical for important developmental reasons:
  • Learning and maintaining the desire and ability to explore.
  • Learning and maintaining the ability judge risk taking.
  • Development of fine and gross motor skills
  • Input of vast amounts of basic knowledge about the natural world.
Research shows playtime is shrinking in kids life due to an earlier and earlier academic focus, excessive screen time (both TV and computers) tired parents, unsafe neighborhood play places and elimination of school recesses.

Darrell Hammond from kaBoom!, a company that creates multi sensory play grounds, says active and balanced play helps kids to thrive. Other experts tell us attention spans increase if playtime is integrated into the learning day and fidgeting can be an indication that there isn’t enough physical activity in a child’s day.

What can you do to encourage outdoor unstructured play? 
First get out of the house and out of their way! Kids will engage in this kind of play naturally. You might hear, “I’m bored” at first. That is A OK! If you let them solve their own dilemma soon they will be engrossed in imaginative play or made up games.

To facilitate play:
  • Provide longer periods of playtime – 45 minutes to an hour of uninterrupted play to allow creative and imaginative play to develop.
  • Provide a variety of out door play materials beyond what nature provides: water, chalk, clay maybe even mud!
  • Don’t squelch risk taking! If there is true danger, by all means intervene. Remember kids LEARN how to take risks and understanding risk taking serves us all well.
  • Recognize the value of messy, rough and tumble and nonsense play!
  • Take an interest in their play by asking questions and getting involved. Get involved on their level – do no directing! For example put on a funny hat and march around with your kids. Don’t change their play to be your play.
Outdoor play helps our kids learn to be creative and innovative while experimenting with socialization. They are also building self-confidence, self-esteem and self-efficacy. This is a lot of value packed activity that has everything to do with playing and nothing to do with academics. 

Enjoy your play filled summer!
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
The NavigatorsWay.com