Girl leaving for college

Navigating College with Autism

More than ever before, higher numbers of teens with Autism are attending college.  Reasons for this increase are related to enhanced recognition of the condition (and therefore diagnosis) as well as greater access to early intervention services which we know creates better outcomes later in life.  Autism or not, the transition to college can be challenging.  Leaving home for the first time and adjusting to a completely new environment is nothing short of overwhelming.  Despite the expected challenges, students with Autism are finding success in college and beyond, with just a little extra attention to their needs.

The following tips will help this transition:

  1. Girl leaving for collegeWhen selecting a university, it is important to consider a number of criteria about the university itself, including: campus living options (single room or double), campus and student population size, class size, community supports, technology, transportation, and learning center resources.  Schedule a visit to see the campus and get your questions answered.  The right fit between a student and school can make all the difference.
  2. Develop life skills needed to live on campus: reading maps and navigating directions, accessing public transportation, managing money, doing laundry, organizing time, and making or purchasing healthy meals.
  3. Work with a tutor to help create a good study schedule and habits.
  4. Work with a counselor to help manage anxieties and depression, to provide encouragement in building social supports, and assistance in maintaining a balanced, healthy, and fun lifestyle.
  5. Know yourself and how to self-advocate.   For example, request that bright lights in your room be replaced, wear headphones to block out noise, avoid larger-class sizes, and do not overwhelm yourself with an excessively rigorous schedule.
  6. Ask for help.  Do not be afraid to reach out in times of need.  Rather, know your supports and use them.
Child getting tutored

What Makes A Good Tutor?

It is quite common for a child in elementary school and junior high school to have an academic tutor. Parents often ask us what we recommend for a tutor. What characteristics, what training is needed, etc. It is impossible to give a patented answer for these questions. The characteristics and qualities of the tutor really must be dependent upon the concerns presented by the child.

If a child presents with a learning disability such as dyslexia, it is vital that the tutor have specialized training in an intervention for that issue. Remedial support to keep the child ‘afloat’ in class simply will not cut it. If the tutor indicates that they utilize a specialized approach to tutoring, parents should always ask the individual if they are certified in that approach. The certification will at least provide the bare minimum standards that the individual received quality training.

If the child does not present a learning disability but is struggling with learning concepts and material in the classroom, it would be recommended that he or she work with a tutor that actually knows the curricula. The first place the parents should turn is the school. Many times teachers within the school provide outside tutoring or at least the school can provide a list of tutors that they would recommend.

If the main concern is a nightly battle between the parents and the child, I have made the recommendation of hiring a high school student to come and spend an hour or so a day with the child to help with homework. This way the stress of battling with your child is taken away.

Packed tutoring programs may be beneficial for retention of skill sets. These might prove best to be implemented over the summer.

Overall, the type of tutoring and amount of intervention needed truly depends on the child as well as what the concern and need for intervention is.








Strategies and Resources for Your Child’s Writing Disorder

Writing disorders can make every day school tasks like taking notes, writing assignments into a planner, and completing written work very challenging for students.  Nonetheless, this does not mean that it should hold a child back from learning to be a great writer.  There are many resources available to help assist students become proficient writers and the following is a list that children and adolescents in our clinic have found helpful:

  • Assistive Technology Devices that may be available in your child’s school:

    • Word Processor
    • Dictation (e.g., Dragon Naturally Speaking programs)
    • Co-Writer Word Prediction Software
    • Inspiration Software http://www.inspiration.com/
  • Classroom-based accommodations:

    • Reduce overall written work load
    • Copy of teacher notes and outlines
    • Focus on one writing skill at a time until the child masters it
  • At home:

    • Encourage free writing about your child’s favorite topic
    • Help them talk out key points to cover and reinforce the organization format taught in school
  • If legibility of writing is a concern, a trial of Occupational Therapy can help with fine motor control and coordination.

Writing is a vital skill that should never be out of reach for any child.  For additional strategies, please visit: http://www.ldonline.org.  For information about your child’s rights and standards in public education, please visit: Idea.ed.gov.



Tips For Getting Your Child To Focus

Feeling frustrated that every time you turn your back, your child has once again escaped the kitchen table so nicely decorated with math workbooks, spelling words and other scattered assignments? Practicing these tips to enhance focus and attention will foster greater independence with homework completion and other tasks that require a calm body and mind.

1. Recognizing on- vs. off-topic thought content

One way to regain focus and attention is through gaining insight into the nature and content of our thoughts. If we are supposed to be doing math homework, our brains need to be thinking of math-related topics. This is called on-topic thinking. If you are doing math and thinking about what you are going to eat for dinner or your next Lego creation then you are experiencing off-topic thinking as these thoughts are unrelated to the task at hand. Getting refocused is as simple as switching your thoughts to support on-topic material. If you see your child glazed over, doodling, or getting up to engage in an alternative activity, call their attention to their thought process, have them recognize if they are on- or off-topic, and encourage them to think of thoughts that would support on-topic thinking.

 2. Deep breathing and muscle relaxation activities

If your child is having a hard time sitting still and attending to their homework, a family conversation at dinner, or on a directive, encourage them to engage in these fun activities:

Deep breathing. Encourage your child to take 10 deep breaths. This will slow breathing, cancel out other “noise” and regain attention to the here and now.

-Following deep breathing, encourage your child to do a series of tightening and loosening of their muscles 10 times (this can be a body scan, going through the muscles one by one to tighten and then loosen, or squeezing the whole body tightly and then releasing after 10 seconds)

-Whole body listening. Making sure that the body is calm will aid in focus and attention to the task at hand. Feet are calmly on the floor, hands are calm and not fidgeting, eyes are looking at the material, mouth is closed unless it is their turn to speak, ears are listening, and brain is thinking about on-topic thoughts.

3. Setting a timer

This will increase autonomy over homework and reduce parental frustration as the timer is an objective tool that the child can refer to keep them on task. You can set the timer for various increments of time and it can also provide options for necessary movement breaks. You can set the timer to delineate the amount of time needed to focus on work and/or set the timer for a series of movement breaks that may help the child get through longer tasks. For example, if your child has 45 minutes of homework, you can have the child do 10 minutes of work with a 5 minute break, 10 minutes of work, 5 minute break, etc. this will allow your child to get through their work with the intention of getting a chance to move around so that homework doesn’t seem daunting and their “breaks” give them a chance to refocus.

4. Repeat directions.

Encourage your child to repeat back directives to ensure that they have heard your message. Make sure that your child is engaging in whole body listening to really encourage focus and attention. Redirect your child into whole body listening if they are not to ensure that they are focusing on your message.


Strategies and Resources for Your Child’s Reading Disability

Approximately 3-6% of school-aged children struggle with a reading disability.  This begins to impact students as early as kindergarten and continues to create difficulties across subjects as the child progresses through school.  At NSPT we are frequently asked for recommendations to help students with reading difficulties, both in the classroom and at home.  Below is a list of resources that we have compiled:

Previously known as the Illinois Branch of the International Dyslexia Association, ERI provides information about the diagnosis, research-tested treatments, parent support groups, and community events.  They also keep an up-to-date list of certified tutors in the Chicagoland area.

Bookshare is an excellent online collection of audiobooks, with over 225,000 titles.  Acceptable documentation of the child’s diagnosis (see website for details) grants students free access to download books for use on a variety of electronic devices.

Another option for gaining access to audiobooks, Learning Ally offers features such as highlighting text, play back controls, adjustment of speed and tone of voice for each student’s preference and easy bookmarking.

  • Multi-Sensory Programs

Widely accepted as the gold-standard in reading remediation programs, multi-sensory approaches teach phonics and fluency in a unique way by calling upon the action of various brain systems.  The following have demonstrated effectiveness:

  • Orton-Gillingham
  • Lindamood Phoneme Sequencing Program
  • Wilson
  • SLANT
  • Earobics

Your child may also have the right to the following:

  • Classroom-Based Accommodations
    • Test directions and/or items read aloud
    • If not read aloud, check for understanding of directions
    • Extended time

For more information on your child’s rights within the public school system, please visit Idea.ed.gov.



Math Disability Strategies and Resources

Is your child struggling with math?  Do they have a hard time memorizing basic math facts, solving word problems or making sense of equations?  Approximately 3-5% of school-aged children are estimated to have a Math Disability.  With evolving teaching practices, electronic applications and online resources your child should not have to suffer without help.  The following can help your child become more successful and confident in math:

Math apps and online programs:

Classroom-based accommodations:

  • Graph paper to help with organization.
  • Use different colors for columns in solving equations (e.g., green is where to start, etc.)
  • Chunking can make an unmanageable amount of work manageable.  Play with the presentation of problems and/or break assignments into smaller pieces.
  • Teach common words in problems and create a list to refer back to.
  • Break down problem-solving into steps and do not proceed until a step is mastered.
  • Create a visual reminder for solving equations.

Incorporate multisensory techniques:

  • Make your own flash cards, each one unique.  Review two or three of the most troublesome at a time and fold in with new problems.
  • Clap while counting.
  • Use manipulatives for visual, hands-on learning.

For more information about Math Disability and its remediation, please visit: http://www.dyscalculia.org/.  For information about your child’s rights and standards in public education, please visit: Idea.ed.gov.


How Do I Know if My Child Has a Reading Disability?

Reading Disabilities are estimated to occur at a prevalence rate of 5-10%.  A disability, which is a more chronic struggle with reading without early identification and intervention, must be differentiated from the child who demonstrates a slower process in the normal developmental curve of reading development.  A disability will not resolve with repeated practice, extra attention, or the passage of time.  Below are a few clues to help figure out if there really is a disability.

Clues that Indicate Your Child May Have a Reading Disability:

  • Your child has difficulty with basic rhyming.
  • Your child has always been slow to learn the alphabet and maybe even numbers.
  • Your child struggles with sound-letter associations.
  •  Your child’s writing is illegible.
  • Your child likes to be read to but never wants to read.
  • Sight words, despite repeated practice, are easily forgotten by your child.

At times, differentiating between a disability and other factors (e.g., attention, motivation and interest, or behavior) can make accurate identification difficult.  An evaluation can help tease apart any related factors that may be impacting your child’s success.  If you are concerned with your child’s reading development, you can request an evaluation through our Neuropsychology Diagnostic Clinic.  We have clinicians trained in the diagnosis and assessment of reading disabilities and are able to provide efficacious recommendations to best help your child.
Click here to read about signs of a reading disability across grades.


The Basics of a Math Disorder

Mathematics is much more than adding and subtracting.  In reality, there are several factors and components that compose a child’s mathematics achievement.  Children’s mathematics skills are found to develop in a hierarchical fashion.

Stages of mathematics development:

  • The first stage of mathematics development is observed in young children and consists of skills such as understanding of one-to-one correspondence, classification, seriation, and conservation.
  • After theses skills are developed, children are able to learn addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.
  • Finally, after these skills are developed, advanced skills such as algebra and geometry are able to be learned.

Teachers can watch to see if these skills are developing as they should be.

Once teachers have identified a child as struggling with mathematics, one or more of the following factors would likely need to be addressed:

  • Visualspatial skills
  • Linguistic abilities
  • Working memory

Visualspatial skills are necessary for aligning numerals in columns for calculation problems, understanding the base ten system, interpreting maps, and understanding geometry.  Linguistic skills are needed when performing word problems, following procedures of how to carry out operations, understanding math terminology, and knowledge of math facts.  Working memory capabilities are used for the manipulation of numbers and operations.

From here with a plan from the teacher and/or a neuropsychologist, the student can get back on track with his or her math skills.

Click here for more information on Learning Disorders.

Learning Disabilities Demystified

Learning concerns are one of the most common neurological issues with which children and adolescents present.  It has been estimated that approximately six percent of the general population meet the clinical criteria for a diagnosis of a learning disability.  The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (American Psychiatric Association, 2013), which is the guide book for psychologists and psychiatrists that provides information regarding diagnostic information, indicates that there are several essential features of specific learning disabilities in children.

5 Features of Learning Disabilities in Children:

  1. Persistent difficulties learning basic foundational academic skills with onset during the early elementary years.  The manual indicates that these foundation academic skills include: reading of single words accurately and fluently, reading comprehension, written expression and spelling, arithmetic computation, and mathematical reasoning.
  2. A child’s performance is well below average for his or her age.
  3. Learning difficulties are readily apparent in the early school years in most individuals.  That being said, there are some instances in which the concerns are not fully evident until later in the individual’s academic life.
  4. The learning disorder is specific in that it is not attributed to other factors such as intellectual disability, socio-economic status, medical conditions, or environmental factors.
  5. The deficit may be restricted only one academic skill or domain.

Prior studies have indicated that learning disorders are more common in males than females.  There are several long-term consequences associated with learning disorders in which the individual never receives any intervention, including:  lower academic achievement, higher rates of high school dropout, higher levels of psychological distress, higher rates of unemployment, and lower incomes.
Data has indicated that children with learning disabilities are often at risk for a variety of co-existing conditions including ADHD and social-emotional concerns.  Click here for more information on learning disabilities.


How to Explain a Language Disorder to a Teacher

Of all the categories available under IDEA law, language impairments are often one of the most difficult to understand. It is not a surface level issue and is often lost in the shuffle. Explaining what a language disorder is and how it will impact your child to a teacher can be tricky. Here are some tips.

How to Explain a Language Disorder to a Teacher:

  1. Language disorders come in a wide variety of cases. Each child will present differently and as an advocate, you need to do your best to describe your child’s needs specifically. Language disorders can impact a child’s ability to verbally express themselves efficiently, effectively and with appropriate grammar. It can result in difficulty understanding sentences, following directions, asking/answering questions or in a number of other impairments.
  2. Enlist the school Speech Language Pathologist. Ask for help in explaining the disorder to the teacher and ask for ideas. Discuss options for adjustments and supports for your child like a visual schedule, repetitions of the directions or having him repeat the direction back to the teacher to ensure comprehension. Many school districts or state programs have materials and resources that can educate teachers on strategies to ensure better classroom learning.
  3. Remind the teacher to notice how your child interacts socially. Teachers will be able to identify a child that is isolating themselves from peers secondary to trouble communicating with them.
  4. Discuss the difference between listening, understanding and attending. One of the biggest complaints of teachers will be “He’s not listening to me!” As often as not, your child does not understand the direction provided and is not complying simply because he does not know what is required of him. It can be very frustrating to have difficulty communicating effectively and patience will go a long way.
  5. Know your child’s IEP or 504 plan and take the opportunity to discuss it with the teacher. Be specific about the types of services and accommodations he will receive and what they will look like in the classroom.

Remember, be proactive and provide as much information up front about your child and his diagnosis to avoid potential difficulties. Refer to this page from the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities for 8 Tips for Teachers who have students with speech and language issues in the classroom.