Strategies to Improve Homework Success

boy doing home workAfter a busy day, the last thing you want to do is fight with your child about finishing his homework. Turning in an assignment or performing successfully on a test should feel like a great accomplishment for you and your child, not a constant battle. Every child prefers different organizational and environmental strategies to help him focus and stay on task; and different strategies may work in different days depending on the child.

Homework Seating Tips:

• Exercise ball: By replacing a typical chair with an exercise ball, the child automatically receives more input to their body. He is now required to keep his feet flat on the floor, his shoulders down and relaxed, and his trunk erect with his muscles constantly firing as he keeps hjs body in an upright position. This extra input gives him increased attention and focus during fine motor and tabletop activities.

**Note: Exercise balls used as a chair are not appropriate for children who have poor postural control and weak core muscles, as this will cause them to focus on keeping their body stabilized on top of the ball, as well as on the task at hand. This may lead to rushed or sloppy work because their attention is on the exercise ball, noton their homework. Talk with an OT or PT if you have questions about the best seating for your child. Read more

Navigating Speech & Language Difficulties in the Classroom

The relationship between language skills and academic performance is well-documented by research. Speech and language skills are critical to successfully navigating the classroom, from following directions to verbally expressing ideas to building relationships with peers. For children with speech and language difficulties, these everyday occurrences can feel daunting, and at times, can become roadblocks to success.

Children with speech and language difficulties often require individualized assistance to succeed in a classroom setting. For teachers, this presents a challenge amidst very demanding schedules and class sizes of thirty or more students, each with varying needs. Any hand-tailored strategy can easily be applied in a one-on-one setting, but within an entire class of students, it’s not always so easy.

This blog is dedicated to teachers and educators, in hopes of offering practical strategies that can be readily incorporated into the classroom on any given day despite the rigorous demands of a school schedule. Natural opportunities to encourage speech and language are threaded throughout each day, and my hope is to shed light on these moments. Additionally, I hope to offer guidance in troubleshooting those more challenging moments, and in the end, see our students with speech and language difficulties thrive in the classroom setting.

Is it a Speech & Language Disorder? Discerning the Red Flags:

A handful of students in your classroom may already be identified as having a speech and language disorder. Other students, however, may remain undetected. Here are common red flags to identify speech and language difficulties within the classroom:

Speech Red Flags In The Classroom:

– difficulty following directions that are spoken or read

– difficulty comprehending a story that is spoken or read Read more

Gifted Children And What It Means To Be Advanced

gifted childI was asked to write a blog on giftedness in children – specifically, how to access it and how to ensure that a child with cognitive strength is able to reach his or her potential. This has proven to be a hard topic to write about. I don’t like the term “giftedness” for several reasons, but before I divulge those, I need to discuss what it means to be “gifted.”

A quick review of basic statistics is necessary in order to understand how we assess children has demonstrating superior ability. Traditionally, when we think of giftedness, we are thinking of a child’s IQ score. The vast majority of IQ scores used standard scores. A standard score is a statistical term in which a score of 100 is solidly average (50th percentile) and a standard deviation (the spread of scores from the mean of 100) of 15. In layman terms, scores between 85-115 are considered to be average.

When you are talking about giftedness, we see scores with at least two standard deviations greater than the mean (meaning an IQ score of 130 or higher). So, gifted children are those children that have IQ scores of 130 or higher. Pretty easy to identify, right? Wrong. One of my major critiques of giftedness is that parents and some academic folk rely way too much on the overall IQ score to determine if a child is gifted.

What Are IQ Measurements For Children?

The current gold-standard IQ measure, the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, Fourth Edition (WISC-IV) came out in 2003. On the WISC-IV, children attain a Full Scale IQ score, which is comprised of several factors: verbal reasoning and comprehension, nonverbal reasoning, immediate attention and memory, and processing speed. Here lies one of the concerns in assessing giftedness. Which score should one use? Read more

10 Tips To Get Your Students To Sit Quietly In Class/Circle Time

Girl Sitting LearningIt can be hard to get children to sit still in circle time or at a desk. Ideally, we can take the time to see why a child may be having trouble. For those that are young, fidgety or distracted, we need to know they are not doing it to bother us, and we need to have strategies to help them be more attentive. Remember, some children can sit still longer than others. Others children need to fidget or move because their nervous systems just are made that way.

Here are some ideas and strategies for assisting restless kids:

#1-Use a visual cue. For example, if the teacher is reading Spot, the children can hold beanbags, and every time the teacher says Spot’s name, the children have to toss the beanbag into the bucket. This keeps him attentive!

#2-Use carpet squares or bean bag chairs. Space the kids out so they are not on top of each other!

#3-Some kids can not sit unsupported (and unless you are super strong in your core, you can’t, either!). Make sure you identify these kids, and lean them against the wall, let them lie down, or give them a chair with feet on the ground.!

#4-Have the kids stand up, sit down, get involved with the story, and listen for some name or place in the story to stay attentive.

#5-Use a checklist so that kids follow and check off as things are said or done.

#6-Use multi-sensory teaching strategies. March around while doing multiplication tables, have the children stand up while speaking, and develop fun routines during the day to that will get the kids moving around. Read more

All You Need To Know About Learning Disabilities

How common are Learning Disabilities?

LD Boy

Learning concerns are one the most common neurological issues that children and adolescents present with. It has been estimated that approximately 20% of the general population in the prevalence rates indicate that 6% of the general population meet the necessary diagnostic criteria for a diagnosis of a specific learning disorder.

How are Learning Disabilities Defined?

There is great debate regarding how to accurate define, classify, and diagnosis learning disorders. Traditionally, it was assumed that a specific learning disorder exists when there is a significant discrepancy between a child’s ability (IQ, cognitive functioning) and achievement (performance on standardized reading, mathematics, and written expression tasks). However, there have been recent changes within the USA regarding how to classify and diagnosis learning disabilities. Currently, categorization of a child’s learning disability is based upon a multi-tiered process involving early identification and intervention. This multi-tiered process based approach is labeled Response to Intervention (RTI).

What are the Pros and Cons of RTI?

Researchers who are in favor of the RTI Model of learning disabilities argue that a combination of interviewing and behavioral observations are sufficient for identification of problems as well as to determine appropriate interventions. The RTI Model is most beneficial for children who have emotional or behavioral disorders that result secondary from a defined environmental factor, such as: inappropriate or inconsistent reinforcement or punishment. Read more

11 Ways to Increase Your Child’s Speech Fluency

Parents play key roles in modeling healthy ways to communicate in everyday situations. By knowing what to do inBoy on phone your own talking during certain scenarios, you can transition highly disfluent times to be more successful conversations. In doing this, you will be teaching and reinforcing healthy conversational skills during daily activities. The following conversational suggestions are not meant to replace therapy, but to compliment your child’s individual treatment plan.

11 Tips to Increase Speech in Your Child

  1. Use eye contact. Eye contact is a great conversational tool for many reasons. When you are modeling eye contact while your child is talking, you are communicating that you are listening. By using eye contact when you are talking, you are showing your child that watching someone’s face when they talk is important. In a peer situation, your child will be better able to hold his conversational turn with sustained eye contact (especially if he “gets stuck”) because other children are less likely to jump in and finish for him. The best way to elicit eye contact from your child is to model it yourself and to reinforce it when you notice it (“Great job watching my face while you told me about that!”) as compared to asking the child to “look at you.” Read more

How to Get Your Child Interested In Reading

Sitting in a cozy spot, sipping hot chocolate, and reading a good book sounds like a perfect January activity to me. On the other hand, children who do not like to read might find this idea rather boring. While it can be intimidating for a child to sit down with a book, there are many alternative activities that are fun and enticing while still offering reading practice.

Fun Reading Activities:

• Many kids love playing on their parents’ electronic devices. Educational apps that enforce reading skills exist at a low cost:

A Great App for Beginning Readers: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/abc-pocketphonics-letter-sounds/id299342927?mt=8

A Sight Word App: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/see-read-say/id322313775?mt=8

• Have a family game night with board games that require reading to play (e.g. the cards in Sorry, Outburst Jr., etc.)

• Read simple instructions to cook a fun item or assemble a toy. You may need to create step-by-step instructions at your child’s reading level for them to read. Read more

What is DEVELOPMENTAL DYSLEXIA?

DyslexiaDyslexia is one of the more common conditions to affect school age children. It is estimated that between 5 and 10% of children between the ages of 5 and 20 meet criteria for the disorder. The definition of dyslexia is an inability to read; however, while this is a disorder that is very easy to define, it can be difficult to diagnose and treat. Reading is an intimate and essential skill in our school systems. Children are taught to read in first and second grade; but by grade three they are expected to acquire new information from what they read and children who have difficulties in reading will begin to suffer in all subjects if left untreated.

Dyslexia and The Brain

There has been a wealth of information published on this disorder since first conceptualized nearly a hundred years ago. What researchers have essentially concluded is that we don’t have a formal reading center in our brain. Rather, we utilize language and speech areas to make sense of written words. Thus, any disorder that affects language systems can impact reading. In fact, in adult stroke patients, there is an unusual condition called alexia (can’t read) without agraphia (can’t write), which means that a person could write a sentence but be unable to read what they had just written. Through the advent of neuroimaging, we have been able to trace the pathways that lead from the visual perception of written text to the decoding of that text for meaning and have a pretty good understanding of how children with dyslexia read (or don’t read) differently than normal children. We have not been as successful in figuring out the cause of this disorder.

The current thinking is that our visual system is built to recognize objects from a variety of different angles because we are creatures that move in the world. For instance, if I turn a chair on its side, it won’t take you longer to figure out it is still a chair. However, letters and words need to be identified in the same orientation and in the same order if they are to have meaning. The visual system, therefore, “cheats” by funneling letters and words over to the language centers for processing instead of in typical object recognition centers. If this process occurs correctly, most children will be able to read as early as five years of age. If they don’t funnel this information correctly to the left side, they will continue to treat letters and words just like objects in the environment. For instance, a child might see the word “choir” but say the word “chair” since they are visually so similar in appearance. However, their meaning is quite different and clearly comprehension is going to be affected if many of those errors occur.

Signs of Dyslexia in Children

Some of the common signs of dyslexia in younger children can be the omission of connecting words (i.e., in, an, the, to, etc.), taking the first letter or two of the word and guessing, or converting words that they have never seen into words that they already know, even when the meaning is quite different. I hear often that parents become worried because their child reverses letters and, while this does occur in children with dyslexia, it is also a fairly common phenomenon with children who are learning to read, particularly with letters that look similar (i.e., b and d). Thus, it often does take a trained professional to differentiate children who are poor readers or who are developing slowly or in a patch-like fashion from children who actually have dyslexia.

Dyslexia in School

One of the challenges with this condition is that many of the schools have gone to an RTI Model (Response To Intervention) for reading. This means that they wait to see how a child responds to a normal classroom and if they fail, they move them to additional services, and if that fails, they move them to further intense services. Failing that, an evaluation is ordered. In real life, this means that many children are not evaluated properly for several years and by that time there are major gaps in their learning and acquisition. We do know of several methods for remediating dyslexia, although they often involve multiple hours a week of tutoring on a one-on-one basis and some school systems are simply ill-equipped to provide those types of services for children.

Most children that we see here at the clinic with dyslexia are bright and capable children who become increasingly frustrated with school because they are unable to bring their intellect to bear on many of the activities they are asked to perform in the school system. Even subjects in which they find much enjoyment are limited in terms of their ability to access the material because so much of it is done through written form. They often look poor on standardized reading and math testing; but because they are bright they can usually “muddle along” just enough to escape attention until they have fallen several years behind by middle school.

Treatment for Dyslexia

Fortunately, several treatment methods have been developed over the years that lead to a “normalization” of the reading system within the brain on imaging studies and to a dramatic increase in reading scores on educational tests. Only a trained professional can determine if your child has a developmental delay, dyslexia, or some other condition that is impacting their reading; but these are often critical evaluations to get done early since the remediation process can take 12 to 24 months.

I have evaluated hundreds of children for this condition and seen rather dramatic improvements when these children are placed in evidence-based programs for even a short amount of time. I urge all families who have children who struggle with reading to at least get a consultation with a trained professional to determine an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment planning.

Promoting Speech and Language Development During Summertime Fun

Making the most of Summer vacation    

ScrapbookPlay-dates, pool parties and trips to the beach – it’s summer vacation! Sure, we delight in seeing our kids enjoy the leisurely bliss of summer break, but will all the fun come at the expense of our children learning? How can we help our kids make developmental progress and stay on target for school in the fall?  In spite of all the relaxation and play, summertime has potential to be an incredibly enriching opportunity. After all, who ever said that learning can’t be entertaining? In fact, fun experiences are often the very best occasions for your child to learn.

Here are a few tips to keep your child learning throughout the summer:

Plan family outings!  Talk about where you will go, and what you will see there. Whether you visit a museum, the zoo, or a scenic park, a family outing will provide a multisensory experience to enrich your child’s development. Describe what you see during the outing, and introduce your child to new vocabulary words in the process. Read more

Secret Summer Tricks to Help Your Child Enjoy Reading

Kids reading in a fieldSummer can be a crazy time for families.   Kids are excited to be away from school work and educational activities, yet 30 minutes of reading a day is still recommended.  Reading can be reinforced through fun everyday summer activities.  Below are great tips to get you started!

Family reading activities (different activities for different ages):

  • Act out story after reading a book
  • Write grocery lists with your children before going grocery shopping
  • Play restaurant at lunch- create menus for the “customers” Read more