Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Homework 101

By Jenny Ann Frank, CSW 

"It's time to do your homework."
"But Mom, Dad..."

Sound familiar? For many parents, these words are heard from the month of September and last well into June. What can be done to maximize stronger work habits and minimize frustration for you and your child? Quite a lot.

School-to-Home Organization:
  •  Eliminate the risk of forgotten books/notebooks at school by asking teachers to check in with your child at the end of the day. For those children using lockers, hang a typed list on color paper reminding your child what to ask him/herself each day when packing up homework (see box, below, for example). In addition, a small index card could be taped on the cover of your child's planner.
  •  Advocate for a well-established communication system between home and school.

Homework Organization:
  •  Select a specified area for homework and necessary supplies. When completed, request that your child return all materials/supplies to their appropriate places.
  •  Help your child avoid avoiding homework. Work with your child on establishing rules on when and how homework will be accomplished. For example, should your child start with his favorite subject? Take a break after each assignment? How will your child know when it is time to return to work? (Verbal reminders, such as "Johanna, just a reminder that there are only two more minutes left in your break" and timers are very effective in reminding your child to return to work.) What stimuli is acceptable or unacceptable when studying? How homework is completed is equally important as completing it.
  • For weekend homework, encourage your child to begin on Friday evenings. This is invaluable. Not only is information fresh in their minds but it allows enough time to make contingency plans for forgotten books or purchasing materials for projects.
  • Ask yourself: "Are the teachers giving homework and instructions that suit my child best?" If not, don't hesitate to share concerns and ideas with the teacher.
  • If your child misses school, help your child be responsible for finding out the next day's homework. While there may be times your child cannot complete the homework without the classroom instruction, it is still good to have your child follow through by calling a classmate or emailing the teacher (if this option is available) during the day. This learned skill becomes very important by mid-elementary years and, certainly, by middle school. It further minimizes some anxiety when your child returns to school.
  • For children taking medication, ask yourself and your child if he or she is finding that the medication is working as optimally as possible. Work with your professional to determine if a change may be required.
Reinforce Learning

  • Become intimate with your child's areas of need (for example, organization, inattentiveness, comprehension, decoding) and help find appropriate techniques to enhance and reinforce learning. Locate professionals early in the school year at your child's school and/or in the private sector who can provide helpful strategies.
  • In general, study cards or index cards are easier than a study guide or worksheet. Have your child write words, thoughts or questions on one side and answers on the other. The act of writing out a card is one more opportunity to enhance learning by reinforcing memory.
  • Use the Internet to supplement and complement classroom materials.
  • For children having difficulty extracting ideas, build lists of words for your child from which to choose. Similarly, ask them to compare and contrast ideas. For those with writing challenges, there are several approaches: Have your child verbalize his or her ideas first. Use a word-web format or an old-fashioned outline using bullets before writing an essay. Encourage your child to refer to the list/chart/web/rubric and use a minimum of details (2-3 details for younger children; 4-10 details for older children).
  • Consider making board games, such as a bingo or lotto board, as another way to reinforce learning. An opened manila folder works great as a board, index cards can be used for questions and coins can be a player's pawn. It is inexpensive, simple and a great addition to family time!
  • Offer to give practice tests. After a few weeks of school, you will have a sense of a teacher's testing style. Practice tests that mirror the teacher's style offers your child the opportunity to "experience" what could be asked.
  • Consider a study group. For slightly older children, a study group of two or three can be very beneficial and make learning more enjoyable.

The ultimate goal is to provide your special learner with good work habits, to prepare and anticipate, to avoid unnecessary tardiness and to stay on task. Par for the course with teaching organization, homework and learning strategies is making a long-term commitment. The foremost rule is to find the best system for your child; frequently this will mean many trials before finding the best one. Parental assistance can go a long way in making your child feel a sense of accomplishment and progress while minimizing stress for all of you.

End of the Day Reminder

Before coming home, remind or ask yourself:

 To check your planner to see what
  1. homework and tests you have
  2. To pack everything you need to complete
    homework (textbooks, composition books,
    study guides, library books, folders)
    and study for upcoming tests
  3. What is inside the locker that should be
    somewhere else? (ie: old lunches, library books,
    tests needed to be signed by parents)
  4. Take home the knapsack, jacket and
    any other clothing/ sports gear.

Jenny A. Frank, CSW is in private practice in Westchester County, New York. Her practice includes family treatment of children with exceptionalities, individual counseling, parent support groups and parent coaching. She lectures and is published regularly on issues centering on children with special needs. She can be reached at JAFCSW@yahoo.com.

 Article retrieved from: http://www.ncld.org/students-disabilities/homework-study-skills/homework-101

Image retrieved from: http://yespluskolkata.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/happy-homework.jpg

Common Warning Signs of Dyslexia in College Students and Adults

 By National Center for Learning Difficulties Editorial Team 

Have you always struggled with reading, spelling or writing and wondered if you (or an adult you care about) might have a learning disability (LD) such as dyslexia ? It’s never too late to seek help to discover whether LD is contributing to or underlying these problems. Dyslexia is a language-based processing disorder that can impact an individual’s ability to read, write, spell, and speak, as well as their social interactions and self-esteem. The following is a list of common warning signs of dyslexia in college students and adults. This list may describe struggles that have perplexed and plagued you for years!

Everyone struggles with learning at times. Learning disabilities such as dyslexia, however, don’t suddenly appear and features of LD are likely to have persisted over time. Be sure to reflect upon any struggles with learning you’ve experienced throughout your life as they might well point to characteristics of a yet undiscovered learning disability. The following list is a general guide, not a tool to identify dyslexia or other type of LD. Our Interactive Learning Disabilities Checklist is an additional resource to consider. Finally, be aware that some of the signs listed below also apply to Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) , which often co-exists with LD, as well as other learning disabilities.
For at least the past six months, I’ve had trouble:


  •  Distinguishing between words that look or sound alike.
  •  Understanding non-literal language such as jokes and idioms.
  • Picking up on non-verbal cues; participating properly in conversation.
  • Understanding directions/instructions.
  • Avoiding "slips of the tongue" (e.g., a rolling stone gathers no moths").
  • Summarizing the main ideas in a story, article, or book.
  • Expressing ideas clearly, in a logical way, and not getting bogged down in details.
  • Learning a foreign language.
  • Memorization.


  • Reading at a good pace and at an expected level.
  • Reading aloud with fluency and accuracy.
  • Keeping place while reading.
  • Using "word analysis" (rather than guessing) to figure out unfamiliar words.
  • Recognizing printed words.
  • Finding enjoyment and being self-confident while reading.


  • Spelling words correctly and consistently.
  • Using proper grammar.
  • Proofreading and self-correcting work.
  • Preparing outlines and organizing written assignments.
  • Fully developing ideas in writing.
  • Expressing ideas in a logical, organized way.


  • Picking up on other people's moods and feelings.
  • Understanding and responding appropriately to teasing.
  • Making and keeping friends.
  • Setting realistic goals for social relationships.
  • Dealing with group pressure and embarrassment, and unexpected challenges.
  • Having a realistic sense of social strengths and weaknesses.
  • Feeling motivated and confident in learning abilities at school and at work.
  • Understanding why success is more easily achieved in some areas compared    with others.


  • Organizing and managing time.
  • Navigating space and direction (e.g., telling left from right).
  • Accurately judging speed and distance (e.g., when driving).
  • Reading charts and maps.
  • Performing consistently from day to day.
  • Applying skills learned in one situation to another.

If several of these warning signs apply to you, don't hesitate to seek help from qualified professionals. If the outcome of an evaluation determines that you have dyslexia or some other type of LD, rest assured that with proper support you’ll be better able to succeed in school, the workplace, and in life. Print this article, check off the warning signs that apply to you, and share the list with your doctor or with another professional and ask for guidance about a formal evaluation. By taking this initiative, you’re advocating for yourself – a critical skill that will serve you well both personally and professionally.

Article retrieved from:

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Dyslexia: what’s it got to do with talking?

Written by Amanda Baxter
 (Communication Advisor for I CAN, the children’s communication charity)

My best friend at school had dyslexia (she still has). No, really, she does – it’s not just made up for this blog. She is funny, bright and full of good ideas but when it came to reading, writing and maths she found it really hard. Even now she loves reading but it takes her ages to read a book.  She can also find it tricky to put ideas in the right order. When she tells you a story she often gets the ideas mixed up so you’re sometimes not sure about the beginning, the middle and the end and who did what, to who and when.

All of these signs are classic of dyslexia. Dyslexia is defined as ‘a specific learning difficulty that has a neurological origin’ (International Dyslexia Association). In other words, it comes from the way the brain processes information and it means that people with dyslexia have difficulties taking in and making sense of how written words work. It isn’t related to overall intelligence, but it can have an impact on children’s learning and self confidence if the right support isn’t available early on.
Being able to read and write relies on a good understanding of how sounds go together to make up words (phonological skills).Underlying dyslexia are difficulties with this phonological awareness and processing. Phonological awareness is made up of a set of skills that allow us to know about how words work. These skills are:
  • Hearing words that rhyme and being able to think of real or made-up words  that rhyme
  • Identifying which sound words begin with
  • Knowing the sounds that make up a word and being able to sound these out (segmenting)
  • Putting the sounds together to make a word (blending)
  • Knowing how many syllables make up a word (e.g. cat = 1, lemon = 2, computer = 3)
  • Being able to substitute sounds at the beginnings and ends of words to make new words
Most children develop these skills without them being taught but some children will need some extra help. These abilities will affect children’s reading and writing skills and also the way that they learn and store words in their mind.
There are also lots of other signs associated with dyslexia but, as an advisor for I CAN, the children’s communication charity, we’re best placed to talk about the language impact! (Other factors are very important, but we’re not experts in those areas so we’ll leave it to them).

What should I do if I’m worried?
  • Think about when they started to talk and how they are doing with their talking and communicating now – is everything going as you would expect? You can use a Progress Checker www.talkingpoint.org.uk to find out how they’re doing for their age.
  • Talk to your child’s teacher or keyworker and see how they’re doing generally. What are they doing well with? What do they find harder?
  • Talk to us at I CAN Help, our enquiry service where parents or professionals can have a free, confidential call-back from a speech and language therapist. We can talk about your concerns and find you more support, if you need it. www.ican.org.uk/help
  • Find out more: go to www.talkingpoint.org.uk and the British Dyslexia Association www.bdadyslexia.org.uk.
What can I do to give my child the best start?
  • Sing songs and nursery rhymes with your child – this will give them lots of experience of hearing rhymes and different rhythms.
  • Play games like I Spy that let your child identify and tell you the first sound of a word
  • Clapping out the number of syllables in a word. This gives your child more information about the word and how it’s made up.
  • Sort objects into different categories e.g. ‘things we wear’ and ‘things we eat’. This helps children know more about the words and objects and can help them build up their vocabulary.
  • Play listening games with your child: you can find more for different ages at www.talkingpoint.org.uk or by looking at our Early Talkers activity resources at www.ican.org.uk/bookshop. Playing games will support your child’s ability to tell the differences between sounds, which is a vital skill for learning to read and write.
Will my child grow out of dyslexia?
The short answer is ‘no’ but with the right help and support you can help them to live with it and learn strategies that will help them. Getting the right help, right from the start means that they have a much better chance of being able to achieve what they want.

Did I tell you that my best friend is a rocket scientist? No, really, I mean it – she is an engineer, has a PhD and has worked for NASA. It hasn’t always been easy but with support at school and university she got there.  She still thinks Hairy McLairy doesn’t make sense because she can’t hear the rhyme; but she can build a mean rocket.
Try these activities at home:

Rhyming game from Toddler Talk

What’s the aim? Finding out about words that rhyme

How to do it?
Introduce the idea of rhyming by saying that “rhyming is when words sound nearly the same”.  Give examples by saying “Cat and hat, they rhyme. So do mat, fat, rat and sat”.
After you’ve given lots of examples say ‘Let’s think of something that rhymes with “house”. Encourage your child to by giving them ideas of words that might rhyme and saying them next to each other, e.g. “House and mouse – they rhyme. What about house and dog? They don’t.”
Some children may take quite a while to learn about rhyming. If it’s too difficult just yet, come back to this activity later.

Too difficult?
Sharing books with your child, especially with lines that rhyme is a really useful way of finding out about rhyme. When you come across rhyming words, point them out “Oh look, those words rhyme – bee and sea”.

Too easy?
Ask your child to come up with new words to rhyme with a word that you say, e.g. “how many words can you think of to rhyme with four?” It’s fine to include made-up or nonsense words in the list.

Further information:
Any parent with a question or concern about their child’s communication, can contact the I CAN Help Enquiry Service for a call or email from a speech and language therapist – visit www.ican.org.uk/help
For information and resources to develop a child’s communication skills, go to www.ican.org.uk/bookshop or  www.talkingpoint.org.uk
For information on dyslexia, check out the British Dyslexia Association http://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/

Article retrieved from: http://www.motherandchild.co.uk/blog/blog/dyslexia-whats-it-got-to-do-with-talking/

Image retrieved from: http://raisingchildren.net.au/verve/_resources/todd_toddler_reading.jpg

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Michael Merzenich: Growing evidence of brain plasticity

Reading is Not Easy Because Reading is Not Natural

January 2, 2013 by Geoff Nixon
Why Reading Is Not Natural

Reading is not natural, but speaking is. These simple facts, however scientifically sound, are some of the most difficult for both educators as well as parents to grasp.

Because of this widespread belief otherwise, the process of learning to read, write, and interpret text is seen as something that all children should just do. Rather than simply expecting reading to be learned on its own, reading intervention should be the norm, not the exception.

Why Speaking Is Natural

The human brain is hardwired for speech. From our earliest days, humans of all backgrounds and cultures will begin making speech sounds. These “coos” slowly evolve into words and, eventually, sentences. By the age of 16 to 24 months, most developmentally and neuro-typical children will form basic sentences regardless of any intervention or instruction by mom or dad. Basically, his or her immersion in language is enough to ensure that the human baby will acquire speech (Moats & Tolman, 2009).

Why Reading Is Not Natural

On the flip side, the process of decoding that speech is not a natural process for the human brain. This very fact is evidenced by the dozens of human cultures who have rich oral traditions and yet lack a written system of recording those traditions. And even in our culture, reading is a relatively new skill certainly for the broad population. Even in the 1600’s, 200 years after the invention of the printing press, only 30% of the population was literate.

And so, not surprisingly, while there are parts of the brain dedicated to understanding and expressing language, there is no reading lobe. Reading is not one of those natural skills we are born to do.

And unfortunately, reading is not easy – reading and writing involve several steps. First, the reader must be able to recognize the phonemes or the individual sounds inside words. Next, he or she must understand what is known as the alphabetic principal, or the written coding of those phonemes, a process which varies from culture to culture. Then, once acquired, these skills must be applied to written text in a rapid and fluent manner. This ability depends on the reader possessing a strong vocabulary as well as understanding the basic syntactic and grammatical rules of their language. Finally, the reader must also comprehend the words they have read by thinking critically about them and applying them to their own experiences and their understanding of the world. This final step is one that takes 8-16 years to develop after a young child initially learns his or her ABCs (Lyon, 2000).

Why We Need Intervention

Because reading is an unnatural, multi-step process, the only way to teach children and adults to read and comprehend what they are reading is through direct, individualized instruction and routine intervention. This translates to teachers and parents taking time to specifically address individual gaps in any of the above-mentioned steps. For many children, the only way to learn the decoding and comprehension process inherent in reading skills is through targeted work that many educational systems and programs lack.

If your child needs extra reading help, consider trying one of Gemm Learning’s individualized reading programs.

Article retrieved from: http://www.gemmlearning.com/blog/uncategorized/reading-is-not-easy-because-reading-is-not-natural/
Image retrieved from: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-kHFZQ2GwKx4/Th4e8MS2_iI/AAAAAAAABL4/PFegyze4U18/s1600/34_x600_books__child-reading.jpg

Disliking School and Losing Confidence: The Matthew Effect and Your Child

January 16, 2013 by Geoff Nixon

Somewhere between second and fourth grade, parents and teachers begin to observe a very noticeable difference among kids when it comes to both their academic performance and their feelings about school. Usually, the two go hand in hand. Youngsters who perform well in school find it enjoyable while those who struggle academically often dislike school. Makes sense, right? The question is, which comes first: a child’s poor academic performance or his disdain for school? Psychologist Keith Stanovich says it’s the latter and pinpoints literacy issues as the main culprit for academic failure in the early primary grades and beyond.
Stanovich was the first to coin the term “the Matthew Effect” as a way of illustrating the negative psychological effects a child experiences as a result of struggling to acquire literacy. The term has its origins in scripture, namely the verse in Matthew that reads, “For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath,” or in layman’s terms, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Although you can probably think of a dozen different ways that this adage can apply to our daily lives, the way it impacts young school children is of particular concern.
What is the Matthew Effect?
At some point during the early elementary years, students have to make the transition between learning to read and reading to learn. Those students who have yet to learn to read fluently begin to lag behind as more and more subject matter content is delivered through textbooks. They suddenly find themselves struggling not just in the area of Language Arts but in Science and Math as well, subjects that they may have otherwise excelled in had they not been required to read a textbook in order to learn the information. Unfortunately, once students begin to fall behind, some of them never catch up. That’s why it’s imperative that parents learn to recognize the signs of the downward side of the Matthew Effect, so that they can intervene to stop the cycle of failure and defeat that many elementary children experience.

What are the Signs of the Matthew Effect?
Although every child is different, there are some general signs of the Matthew Effect that all parents should be aware of. These include:
  • Resists new things, no longer a learning risk-taker
  • Anxiety over assignments, homework, tests
  • Suddenly dislikes school
  • A drop in grades or standardized test scores
What Can I Do to Help?
If you notice signs of a negative spiral and are worried that it may be impacting your child’s academic success or emotional wellbeing, rest assured that there are steps you can take to turn the proverbial ship around and get your child back on the path to calmer waters. That doesn’t mean there is a one-size-fits-all solution, however.
While some experts argue that retention is the answer, the data doesn’t clear show that retention makes a difference.  Most parents turn to tutoring to help their children cope, but tutoring does not address the source of declining confidence and skill that is at the heart of a downward trend.  The best answer is grade-level remediation (either at home or school, but ideally both!) that gets at the source of confidence erosion, the reading or learning delays that are undermining performance at school.  Fast ForWord software by Gemm Learning is one such program.
Nearly everyone agrees that something must be done, though. Crossing your fingers and hoping that your child catches up with his peers simply isn’t an option.

Article retrieved from: http://www.gemmlearning.com/blog/uncategorized/the-matthew-effect-your-child/

Image retrieved from: http://thewellorganizedwoman.com/files/2011/12/children-reading.jpg

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Mistaking OCD For ADHD Has Serious Consequences

Article Date: 28 Dec 2012 - 0:00 PST

On the surface, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) appear very similar, with impaired attention, memory, or behavioral control. But Prof. Reuven Dar of Tel Aviv University's School of Psychological Sciences argues that these two neuropsychological disorders have very different roots - and there are enormous consequences if they are mistaken for each other.

Prof. Dar and fellow researcher Dr. Amitai Abramovitch, who completed his PhD under Prof. Dar's supervision, have determined that despite appearances, OCD and ACHD are far more different than alike. While groups of both OCD and ADHD patients were found to have difficulty controlling their abnormal impulses in a laboratory setting, only the ADHD group had significant problems with these impulses in the real world.

According to Prof. Dar, this shows that while OCD and ADHD may appear similar on a behavioral level, the mechanism behind the two disorders differs greatly. People with ADHD are impulsive risk-takers, rarely reflecting on the consequences of their actions. In contrast, people with OCD are all too concerned with consequences, causing hesitancy, difficulty in decision-making, and the tendency to over-control and over-plan.

Their findings, published in the Journal of Neuropsychology, draw a clear distinction between OCD and ADHD and provide more accurate guidelines for correct diagnosis. Confusing the two threatens successful patient care, warns Prof. Dar, noting that treatment plans for the two disorders can differ dramatically. Ritalin, a psychostimulant commonly prescribed to ADHD patients, can actually exacerbate OCD behaviors, for example. Prescribed to an OCD patient, it will only worsen symptoms.

Separating cause from effect

To determine the relationship between OCD and ADHD, the researchers studied three groups of subjects: 30 diagnosed with OCD, 30 diagnosed with ADHD, and 30 with no psychiatric diagnosis. All subjects were male with a mean age of 30. Comprehensive neuropsychological tests and questionnaires were used to study cognitive functions that control memory, attention, and problem-solving, as well as those that inhibit the arbitrary impulses that OCD and ADHD patients seem to have difficulty controlling.

As Prof. Dar and Dr. Abramovitch predicted, both the OCD and ADHD groups performed less than a comparison group in terms of memory, reaction time, attention and other cognitive tests. Both groups were also found to have abnormalities in their ability to inhibit or control impulses, but in very different ways. In real-world situations, the ADHD group had far more difficulty controlling their impulses, while the OCD group was better able to control these impulses than even the control group.

When people with OCD describe themselves as being impulsive, this is a subjective description and can mean that they haven't planned to the usual high degree, explains Prof. Dar.

Offering the right treatment
It's understandable why OCD symptoms can be mistaken for ADHD, Prof. Dar says. For example, a student in a classroom could be inattentive and restless, and assumed to have ADHD. In reality, the student could be distracted by obsessive thoughts or acting out compulsive behaviors that look like fidgeting.

"It's more likely that a young student will be diagnosed with ADHD instead of OCD because teachers see so many people with attention problems and not many with OCD. If you don't look carefully enough, you could make a mistake," cautions Prof. Dar. Currently, 5.2 million children in the US between the ages of 3 and 17 are diagnosed with ADHD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, making it one of the most commonly diagnosed neuro-developmental disorders in children.

The correct diagnosis is crucial for the well-being and future trajectory of the patient, not just for the choice of medication, but also for psychological and behavioral treatment, and awareness and education for families and teachers.

Article retrieved from:

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