Read Rise Fly Blog

Welcome to the Read Rise Fly Blog, a collection of essays, inspiration, and helpful information from Schenck School experts.

How Can I Help My Child's Grandparents Understand Dyslexia? (or Friends, Neighbors, Acquaintances?)
Peggy Webb Hendrix, Director of Admissions

This post was first published November 1, 2016.

My father still questions me about my son’s dyslexia, even though he was diagnosed sixteen years ago and has now graduated college.  I feel as though I’ve explained my son’s learning difference ad nauseum, but Dad still struggles to understand exactly what dyslexia means. It probably has something to do with the fact that I didn’t even tell my dad about my son’s diagnosis until I went to work at a special school for dyslexic children, and my son had already been a student there for two years!  I must admit that I was not at all forthcoming about my son’s learning difference!

But why wasn’t I more open?  Could it have had something to do with the fact that I was concerned about the stigma that I thought accompanied such a diagnosis?  (That actually couldn’t be further from the truth . . . many dyslexic students possess higher order thinking skills that allow them to be more successful in this global, fast-changing world than “traditional learners.”)  Perhaps I felt my father would think that my son wasn’t smart or wouldn’t be successful.  Maybe I was afraid that my child would be seen as lesser than his cousins in my dad’s eyes.

Of course that couldn’t be further from the truth.  My dad has always been keenly interested in my son’s progress, perhaps even more than he was with his other grandchildren.  He always asks about my son and remains closely involved in his life.  Yet his confusion about dyslexia still remains.

So what is the best way to talk with loved ones about your child’s diagnosis?  First, be direct and honest with them from the very beginning, when you first suspect that there is an issue.  Let them come along the journey with you . . .in fact, you will probably find that their support is invaluable to you as you come to terms with the diagnosis yourself.

Educate yourself about dyslexia, so that you know how to help educate others.  Read Sally Shaywitz’s book, Overcoming Dyslexia.  Learn about the truths and myths of this learning difference. Visit websites such as Dyslexia Help at The University of Michigan to learn as much as you can about ongoing dyslexia research.

And most importantly, become comfortable with the topic yourself. Once you have accepted the fact that dyslexia can be remediated and that dyslexics have much to offer the world, you will be a much better spokesperson. (See my earlier blog post entitled, “Does This Remind You of a Child You Know?” for discussion about the gifts that often accompany dyslexia.)  You will become your child’s best advocate by first understanding dyslexia yourself.  And you will be able to reassure those loving grandparents that with help, your dyslexic child is going to be just fine.

 

Reading Is Rocket Science: Part 2
Josh Clark, Head of School

This post was first published May 26, 2016.

Please do not read this.

 

Seriously, please stop.

 

Now you are just being rude!

 

 

For most of you, reading the above text was unavoidable. Even as your mind processed its content and understood its intent, you could not help but read it. For a traditional learner, reading itself seems an involuntary process, an innate neurological reflex. However, now trying reading the following:

 

هل بامكانك قراءة هذا؟

Different experience, huh? Assuming you are not familiar with Arabic, these symbols did not trigger any automatic processes in your brain. You did not involuntarily begin translating symbols into sounds and then piecing them into words, syntax and meaning. Though many of use do not realize it, reading is a veryinvolved process.

 

Reading Rope Model

 

Above is an illustration of how our brains create reading comprehension – if you remember from last week, I refer to it as the “Reading Rope Model.” It shows how reading comprehension is a result of two main components – Language Comprehension and Word Recognition – and how each component is further comprised of a series of subtasks. This week, I want to explore these two categories in more detail.

 

Language Comprehension

Whenever we interact with language, through print or the spoken word, our brain must process the input. From distinguishing between different sounds to using background knowledge to build context, our brains are constantly churning away. As you can see from the illustration, there are a number of subtasks associated with language, and I highlighted a few of my favorites below. You know you are a language nerd when you have “favorite” language processing subtasks.=)

 

Language Structure – Who is performing the action? Who is receiving the action? What is the main idea versus supporting information?

 

Verbal Reasoning – Is this literal or figurative? Does she really look like a rose? Is a “cat burglar” a furry kleptomaniac?

 

Literacy Knowledge – What are your expectations when reading a poem vs a science fiction novel vs a Wikipedia entry?

 

Word Recognition

When reading, our brains must take 26 symbols that can be combined into over 250 representations of just 40 speech sounds. It is no small feat!

 

Phonological Awareness – This is a person’s awareness that language can be broken into a series of sounds. This can be done on the sentence, word, syllable, and phoneme level.

Decoding – In the simplest of terms, decoding is the ability to assign a sound to a letter or letter patterns so the word can be pronounced correctly.

Sight Recognition – Because the English language is not without a sense of humor, many common words do not follow the decoding rules. Instead, our brain must recognize these group of letters and immediately match it to a word.

 

As you can see, reading might be mankind’s most impressive invention.

 

As adults who love, support, and are amazed by dyslexic learners, I think it is important we have this context.

 

Reading is hard.

 

The intelligence, effort, and resilience a Schenck student brings to the reading process is inspiring.

Dyslexia . . . it isn't just for kids!
Peggy Webb Hendrix, Director of Admissions

This post was first posted August 3, 2016.

I work with hundreds of parents in my role as admissions director for a school specializing in dyslexia remediation.  Many parents are understandably upset and concerned about their children’s futures.  They don’t know what to expect and are fearful about what impact dyslexia will have on their children’s futures.  Often parents have been very successful academically and they can’t understand why their children struggle so.

But there is another group of parents who are painfully aware of the challenges their children will face, because they faced the same difficulties in school.  These parents may not always realize it, but they are dyslexic themselves.   Oh, they may have never been diagnosed, but they carry the scars of years of underachievement, being labeled as “stupid” or “lazy,” failing to keep up academically, working harder than all their classmates with little to show for their efforts.  These parents are often especially worried because they know how very difficult school may be for their children. They had to suffer through school without remediation and their memories of school are incredibly painful.

I have often sat in my office talking with parents who have tears in their eyes because being in a school again is so traumatic. Many survived years of humiliation to rise above their challenges and become well-respected in their chosen careers. They were fortunate enough to find their way to fields that require visual-spatial or kinesthetic talents, such as engineering, architecture, music, entrepreneurship, medicine, art, acting and athletics.  Once they made their way through school, they were very successful at life.

What are some indicators that you yourself may be dyslexic?  If you have a dyslexic child, odds are pretty good that either you or your spouse is dyslexic as well.  Are you a poor speller or did you struggle with reading as a child?  Do you feel that you are a slow reader who rarely/never reads for pleasure?  Do you leave out words when reading or do you write in a disorganized way?  Do you ever read a passage and realize that you have no idea what you just read?  Do you have to read passages several times in order to understand what the author is saying?

If you answered yes to some of the questions above, you should consider the possibility that you are dyslexic.  In order to determine with certainty, you would need to obtain a complete psychoeducational evaluation.  If you learn that you indeed have dyslexia and you feel that your personal or professional life would be improved by remediation, there are many resources that offer help.  The International Dyslexia Association, or IDA, has branches throughout the country that can give you information about dyslexia and dyslexia remediation.  The Orton Gillingham Academy can help you find a tutor in your area that can help.  It is never too late to seek remediation.  Through remediation, your reading, spelling and writing skills will improve.  This can of course be of great benefit to you both professionally and personally.  You won’t have to worry about being able to read to your children, or draft an email or write a report.

Remember, there is help out there.  A dyslexia diagnosis is just the beginning.

How do I talk to my child about his or her dyslexia diagnosis?
Peggy Webb Hendrix, Director of Admissions

This post was first published May 9, 2016.

I was so excited.  My son had just been accepted at a prestigious school for dyslexics!  Finally, he was going to get the help he needed.  The new school was going to teach him how to read!

But wait a minute . . . the new school.  Hmm.  Hadn’t really thought that through.  He was going to have to leave the school he had attended since the age of one in their mother’s morning out program.  The school his sisters had attended since the age of 3.

That wasn’t even the biggest issue though.  I was going to have to tell him he was DYSLEXIC.  My poor child was going to have, gasp, a label that would follow him for the rest of his life.  It took me back to the day when he was diagnosed, but at that time we were just so relieved to have an answer as to why this bright boy was struggling to learn his letters.  Now we were faced with a reality that he would follow him all of his days.

I must confess that I handled the situation badly.  I took the coward’s way out and waited until he had completed a summer program at the new school.  The summer program was lots of fun and he had a wonderful time.  Who wouldn’t want to go to a school like that?

You want to know the worst part?  He was only five at the time!  Imagine how hard it would have been for me had he been 10 or 12 . . . the age when children truly understand what is going on.

How in the world would I have been able to explain what was “wrong” with him?

Looking back on it, I realize that I robbed him of the chance to own his diagnosis.  I didn’t take the opportunity to talk with him about the truly wonderful skills and talents that so often exist in dyslexics.  A big part of that was probably because I didn’t understand these things myself.  I only knew that he wasn’t like his peers because he couldn’t read, and that seemed like a bad thing.

Since that time I have learned so much more about dyslexia.  I have met and worked with hundreds of gifted dyslexics.  Here at that school where I now work, I have become part of a culture that celebrates the unique talents that dyslexics bring to the world.  We teach children (and parents!) each and every day that dyslexics have “cool” brains that can problem solve in out-of-the box ways to create solutions to the world’s greatest challenges.

So when I am asked in my role as admissions director for that prestigious school how to tell children about their dyslexia, I encourage parents to talk openly and honestly about the challenges their children will face and the gifts they possess.  I hope that parents will feel proud of their dyslexic children because they have wonderful gifts to share with the world.  Proud parents create proud children.  Most children are relieved to learn that “it’s just dyslexia.”  And they can again feel like the smart people that they really are.

Reading Is Rocket Science: Part 1
Josh Clark, Head of School

This post was first published May 11, 2016.

I am no longer surprised when a brilliant student struggles with reading, writing, or spelling. After spending years studying the reading process, I am surprised more people do not have a difficult time.

While we were put us on this earth to see, to talk, and to hear, we were not put here to read.

Reading is a human invention.

Thousands of years ago, reading was the iPhone of its day, inviting the same kinds of controversies and cynicism. Socrates, the Father of Western Thought, believed reading would be the end of modern civilization. During Socrates’s time, a person’s intellect was judged by their ability to recite long passages from memory. He considered any system that converted ideas to sounds and symbols as “dumbing it down.”

Socrates did not understand that the reading brain is a marvel of human engineering.

When we look at single word, many different parts of our brain to come together at once for us to understand it. There is no singular lobe or cortex that controls it. Instead, reading is a neurological symphony, with different sections, made up of many individual instruments, simultaneously finding a perfect pitch. If even one chord comes too late, though, the sound is compromised.

For many students with dyslexia, this breakdown often manifests itself at the point of comprehension. The child with an above average IQ comes home with a pile of failed Accelerated Reader tests, and the teacher explains that she has a “comprehension problem.”

However, much like the symphony relies on many individual instruments to create one sound, comprehension is built by series of independent neurological tasks. This is why so many dyslexic learners do so well when they listen to books – they are able to bypass these rudimentary tasks and get to the more complex work of understanding.

To further illustrate this idea, below are two of my favorite representations of how reading works. The “A” shaped image is the Reading Acquisition Framework and the the other I refer to as the Reading Rope Model. Notice how both illustrations divide the tasks associated with reading into two large categories: Language Comprehension and Decoding / Word Recognition. Think of these as the brass or string sections.  Within these groupings, each box or thread represents a neurological task. They are the trombone or violin of the reading brain.

Lexicon Reading Framework Reading Rope Model

 

We will explore these sections in more detail next week. For now though, I hope the next time you read the newspaper or sit down with your favorite book, you listen for the tuba playing in your head.

My Child Is Empathetic
Peggy Webb Hendrix, Director of Admissions

This post was first published January 14, 2016.

 

As admissions director at a school for dyslexic students, I open my interviews by asking prospective parents to describe their children.  I always expect to hear heartfelt stories about struggles, frustration, lack of self-esteem.  What I have begun to really listen to, however, are the descriptors parents use when they talk about their children’s personalities and make-up.  These words and phrases are truly telling about the kind of people their children are growing to be.

The number one characteristic that parents use to describe their children is empathetic.  They say things like, “He’s always the one to look out for other children who aren’t included,” or “She is a friend to everyone.”  So often I hear parents say that their dyslexic child is “an old soul” or “wise beyond his years.”

This certainly holds true in our classrooms.  Here at our school, we ask children to do the very things that are the hardest for them, all day long.  They struggle to read, spell, and write.  The days are long and the work arduous.  What I was most surprised by as a classroom teacher, however, was the abundance of care and support that our students show for each other.

Before coming to us, our students were often forced to read aloud in front of others.  Pretty terrifying task if you can’t read.  There you are in front of all your peers, running the almost certain risk of humiliation.  Our children have learned school can be a very difficult place, full of pitfalls each and every day.

When I taught my reading groups, I was stunned to see that the most dysfluent readers were the first ones to volunteer to read.  Every time.  Even more surprising was the fact that their fellow students sat patiently while the “poorest” readers struggled through each passage.  If you’ve never listened to a struggling reader read aloud, you won’t know how very easily the meaning of a passage is lost.  Most of our children love to hear stories, but their patience while listening to their peers is very impressive, and the empathy they show is heart-warming.

Is empathy inherent in the psychological make-up of dyslexics?  I couldn’t say . . . I doubt it.  It is more likely that this empathy is a learned response to the world that has handed these children a dose of humility.  Dyslexics learn from a very early age that they struggle mightily with something that most people find simple.  Could this be the root of their strong empathy for their fellow humans?  Sounds possible to me. Pretty great people, wouldn’t you say?  The world is lucky to have them.

My child is dyslexic! Hooray! Now how do I talk to our school???
Peggy Webb Hendrix, Director of Admissions

This post was first published March 1, 2016.

The testing is finished, and you have your dyslexia diagnosis in hand.  Now you are ready to go to your child’s school and talk about the accommodations they have to provide, right?

I wish I could say yes, but the correct answer is, not so fast!!!  Mainstream schools usually are not prepared to provide services for your dyslexic child.  They may be overwhelmed with requests for special services, they may not have the resources to provide extra support, or they may be completely uneducated about what dyslexia means and have no idea what support your child will need.

Once again, you must be your child’s advocate.  The first step is to educate yourself by talking with others who have been a part of this process in the past. (See The Yale Center for Dyslexia for advice on whom to partner with as you prepare for your meeting.)  Seek out parents who you know have been through this before.  Talk with your child’s teachers to learn what they think about your child’s learning needs, ask the psychologist who did your child’s testing for referrals to other parents or education professionals who can talk with you, and chat with your pediatrician to learn what resources he or she may have.

If your child is in a public school, familiarize yourself with the difference between a 504 Plan and an IEP.  The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) provides protection for students with disabilities by enforcing Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  A 504 Plan provides accommodations for children who are placed under a 504.  An IEP, or Individualized Education Program, is a legal document that details your child’s learning needs and spells out the services the school will provide.  Kristen Stanberry, a writer and editor specializing in education, has excellent resources for parents seeking to navigate the waters of public school accommodations.

What sort of accommodations might you wish to secure for your dyslexic child?  Of course, all children are different.  In my earlier blog post, “What Psychoeducational Testing Can Reveal About Your Child’s Learning Profile,” I discussed the various types of issues that often accompany dyslexia.  If your child is dysgraphic (trouble with handwriting), you might ask the school to allow your child to type his/her assignments.  You might also ask for copies of the teachers’ notes or the services of a note taker.  Your child may have visual tracking issues, so make sure that he or she doesn’t have to copy from the board or bubble in a scantron form.  You might request permission for your child to use voice-to-text recognition software and a computer for writing assignments.  Request that there are no penalties for poor handwriting.

If your child has dyscalculia (trouble with math), you might ask permission for him/her to be excused from timed math tests or to be tested in another setting with no limitation on time.  In later grades, your child might benefit from the use of a calculator.  Many children learn best through the use of manipulatives, so ask if concepts can be retaught using a multisensory approach.

Your child may have processing issues, so an appropriate accommodation would be to have extended time on tests or abbreviated homework assignments.  Spelling issues are significant for dyslexics, so common accommodations are to reduce the list of spelling words and to refrain from deducting points for spelling in other subject areas.

Finally, reading accommodations include providing books on tape, allowing students to listen to texts when taking AR tests, and providing extra time for reading tasks.  Students should not be required to read aloud unless they have been permitted to pre-read the material.  An alternative might be to allow the student to read aloud to the teacher, rather than before the class. To assist in comprehension, you might ask that the child be allowed to talk over reading assignments in order to provide a comprehension check.

Make sure that you understand your child’s learning needs so that you have a good understanding of which accommodations will be most useful.  The list of potential accommodations is long!  For these suggestions and many others, visit the following sites:  Reading RocketsUniversity of Michigan Dyslexia HelpDyslexia Reading Connection and Bright Solutions for Dyslexia.

Once you feel that you have a good grasp of accommodations your child may need, it is time to schedule your first meeting with the school.  The Yale Center for Dyslexia has a wonderful outline for steps to follow in advance of this meeting.  You can ensure your best results by investing time before the meeting to be sure that you have all the information you will need to advocate for your child.

 

What Psychoeducational Testing Can Reveal About Your Child’s Learning Profile
Peggy Webb Hendrix, Director of Admissions

This post was first published November 5, 2015.

In my last post, I discussed the fact that there are many different issues that can interfere with your child’s learning.  I said that it is important to find out as much as you can about your child’s learning profile so that you can obtain the proper help.  A psychoeducational evaluation is critical to understanding exactly how your child learns.  Here, in a nutshell, are the pieces that make up a typical psychoeducational report:

  • Developmental History and Background Information: Your evaluator will conduct a lengthy interview with you to learn as much as possible about your child before working with him or her.  In addition to questions about developmental milestones, they will ask about family history of learning disabilities, ADHD, and more.
  • Observations During Testing: The evaluator will share their observations about your child’s abilities to complete assigned tasks, to process verbal and written information, and to pay attention.
  • Cognitive Functioning: The WISC IV or V is the most frequently used tool, but there are others that give you equally important information.  Examples of these include the DAS (Differential Ability Scales), the RIAS (Reynolds Intellectual Assessment Scales), and the Stanford Binet. Intelligence tests typically include a measure of a child’s intellectual strengths and weaknesses, as well as a measure of a child’s cognitive potential.
  • Oral Language Skills: This portion of the test addresses your child’s phonological processing, including phonological awareness (the ability to analyze sounds, segment words and blend sounds), phonological memory (the ability to hold information in short term memory), and rapid naming (the ability to efficiently retrieve phonological information from long-term memory).
  • Comprehension: Tests given here are designed to assess a child’s ability to understand words, word relationships, sentences, and conversational speech (receptive language).
  • Verbal Expression: These tasks are designed to assess a child’s ability to communicate feelings, perceptions, and ideas (expressive language).
  • Visual Processing & Visual-Spatial-Motor Integration: Your tester uses these instruments to evaluate your child’s skills, such as visual perception, discrimination, and memory on school achievement.  Difficulty with these tasks may mean that your child will struggle with letter recognition and number recognition.
  • Academic Achievement Testing: The report should also contain information about your child’s level of academic achievement as measured by tests like the WIAT (Wechsler Individual Achievement Test), the KTEA (Kauffman Test of Educational Achievement), and/or the Woodcock Johnson Tests of Achievement. Specific testing is given to address your child’s reading and reading readiness skills.  Also tested is your child’s ability to express himself or herself in writing and his or her mathematics skills.  This is an important part of the assessment, because it tells you whether your child is performing academically at the level one would predict, given his or her intellectual potential.  A discrepancy here is an indication that there are factors interfering with his or her ability to learn.
  • Behavioral and Emotional Functioning: Instruments in this portion of the test are used to assess your child’s social and emotional skills.
  • Summary: This is the portion of the test where your evaluator summarizes the findings, makes diagnoses, if any, and recommends future educational steps, as well as academic strategies and tips for educational interventions.

Once your child’s testing is completed and scored, the psychologist will sit down and review the results with you. This is your opportunity to learn just what issues are interfering with your child’s ability to learn.  Your child may be diagnosed with ADHD, a receptive and/or expressive language disorder, weak processing skills, dysgraphia (difficulty with fine motor skills and handwriting), dyscalculia (difficulty with math), poor working memory, or some combination of these.  Be certain to ask for details about what the diagnoses mean, and make sure that you receive information about ways to address each diagnosed learning disability. Ask about accommodations, such as extended time (if your child processes slowly or has dysgraphia which prevents them from completing work in a timely fashion), tests read aloud, seat placement at the front of the class, writing answers in the test booklet instead of bubbling in on a “scantron” form (your child may have visual tracking issues that make it hard to transition from a test booklet or chalk board to paper), having directions repeated (your child may difficulty with auditory processing), and reduced work load.

Remember, every piece of information about your child’s learning needs is important.  It can be daunting to hear about all of your child’s issues, but when you are armed with this information, you can begin to find the help your child needs to be successful.  If your psychologist recommends a complete speech and language evaluation or an occupational therapy evaluation, it is in your child’s best interests to follow that recommendation.  I know it feels like your child has been tested beyond belief, but the answers you receive will help ensure that his or her academic future will be as productive as possible.

Finally, an evaluation usually ends with an admonition to enjoy “the whole child.”  A child is so much more than a student . . . they are adored family members, friends, athletes, artists, problem-solvers, and caring, empathetic human beings.  The list goes on and on.  Just be sure to love them for who they are and continue to give them the all the caring and support they need.

(For more information on learning issues related to dyslexia, visit Understanding Dyslexia, by Emily Lapkin.)

Your Child Is Dyslexic. Now What?
Peggy Webb Hendrix, Director of Admissions

This post was first published November 21, 2016.

Your bright, verbal child (or your niece or nephew or neighbor) has been diagnosed with dyslexia. What do you do now, or what advice can you give to parents you know? Explore all the resources you can and learn as much as possible about dyslexia. You are your child’s best, and most passionate, advocate. When you understand the rewards and challenges ahead, you will be best prepared to ask for the help your child will need.

You might begin your dyslexia tutorial by reading some of the wonderful resources that have been written about the topic. Excellent reads include Overcoming Dyslexia, by Dr. Sally Shaywitz, Straight Talk About Reading, by Susan Hall and Louisa Moats, and Basic Facts About Dyslexia, by Louisa Moats and Karen Dakin.

Where can you turn for help? The Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators and The International Dyslexia Association offer wonderful resources for parents. You should also speak with the psychologist who conducted your child’s psychoeducational evaluation for suggestions of resources near you. Be sure that you understand the recommendations that your psychologist included in his/her evaluation. For example, does the psychologist recommend placement in a school that specializes in dyslexia remediation, or does he/she feel that your child may remain in his/her present environment with support?

If a specialized school is recommended, summer is a good time to begin researching your options. Call the schools in which you are interested and learn as much as you can about their admissions process. Find out how to sign up for a tour, keeping in mind that tours may fill quickly. Determine whether the school has an admissions deadline, or if the admissions process is rolling (i.e., spaces are filled as students apply, rather than by a pre-determined.) If the school maintains a rolling admissions process, make sure to complete your application as quickly as possible.

Remember that there is no “cure” for dyslexia. However, with proper remediation, your child can make progress and become a successful learner. Left unremediated, dyslexia can present a seemingly insurmountable barrier to your child’s academic success. Students with unremediated dyslexia often feel tremendous academic stress, experience intense frustration and suffer from low self-esteem. Advocate for your child, provide the resources they need, and your child will likely feel excited about learning again!

What Do You Mean It's Not Just Dyslexia?
Peggy Webb Hendrix, Director of Admissions

This post was first published October 6, 2015.

When my son was diagnosed with dyslexia, we were pretty devastated. But we overcame that hurdle with support from his teachers and tutors. However, we were not prepared to hear that dyslexia was not his only challenge. We couldn’t believe there were more barriers to his academic success. Wasn’t dyslexia enough???

So what other kinds of learning challenges often co-exist with dyslexia? We learned that there can be many related issues, including ADHD, verbal and visual processing issues, receptive and expressive language issues, and many more. There is a 33% overlap in reading and math difficulties. Dyslexia is not clear cut, nor does it typically occur alone without other issues. According to the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, “dyslexia is not a disorder with clear cut boundaries or with a single cause.”

What exactly are these co-morbid issues?  One disorder you may have heard a lot about is ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), a term with which most of us are familiar. We were very surprised when our son was diagnosed with ADHD.  He wasn’t hyperactive in any way . . . he was a dreamy child who loved imaginative play.  However, ADHD presents itself in different ways.  I learned that there are actually 3 types of ADHD:  the inattentive type only (my son!), the hyperactive/impulsive type, and the combined type.

In my job as admissions director at a school for dyslexic children, I often have parents tell me that they don’t agree with their child’s ADHD diagnosis, because their child can focus for long  hours on a Lego set or puzzle.  What parents sometimes don’t realize is that this need (and ability!) to hyper focus on a task of their choosing is actually a symptom of ADHD.  This becomes an issue in the classroom when this same child is asked to focus on a task in which he is not interested, such as a difficult academic assignment. When this happens, teachers often see avoidance behaviors, such as needing multiple bathroom breaks, trips to the school nurse for small ailments, and behavior that is distracting to classmates, as well as the child.

So what are some symptoms of ADHD?  If your child has the inattentive type of ADHD, he or she may daydream, make careless mistakes, forget things (including their shoes!), lose or otherwise misplace things, get distracted easily, or avoid tasks that require a lot of mental effort.  My son could never find his shoes, even though we set up an official shoe closet!  If your child has ADHD, hyperactive type, he or she may seem to be in constant motion, have trouble staying seated, or become physically active at inappropriate times.  Children with the combined type of ADHD are often impulsive and speak without thinking, have trouble taking turns, interrupt others, or call out the answer before the question has been completely asked.

If your child is exhibiting any of these symptoms and it’s interfering with his or her success in school, you should confer with your pediatrician or psychologist.  They can diagnose ADHD and suggest options that can help your child cope. One excellent resource for parents is a non-profit organization called C.H.A.D.D., Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, which offers a clearinghouse of  information and groups throughout the country that offer support and parenting tips.

What other issues may be interfering with your child’s learning? Your child’s psycho-educational report contains precious information about his or her learning profile.  Even if your psychologist sits down and discusses the results, you probably still have questions.  The amount of information is really a great deal to absorb, especially when you are trying to process the fact that you child does indeed have a learning disability.  I’ll be explaining more about psychological evaluations and other learning issues in my next post.  There is so much to know, and we are always discovering more about these challenging learning differences!

Where Did My Happy Child Go?
Peggy Webb Hendrix, Director of Admissions

This post was originally published September 9, 2015.

Until the age of 5, my son was a happy child. He delighted in the world and loved exploring it. His favorite activity was imaginative play . . . he concocted elaborate scenarios with himself at the center of the action. And what a vocabulary! He spoke like a little adult! Since a strong vocabulary is the greatest single measure of intelligence, we knew that he would soar academically once he got to school.

But at age 5, the stomach aches began. It became increasingly difficult to get him to school. When I tried to have him practice his letters at home, he became angry and resistant. My little boy, who had always delighted in stories, suddenly lost interest in any activity related to words.

This began to filter into the rest of his world. Always a happy, self-confident child, he became moody and teary. His delightfully sunny disposition had been replaced with one filled with fear and self-doubt. Where did my happy boy go?

Not long afterwards, his kindergarten teacher called me in. She was worried about the way he held his scissors (which I now know is related to motor planning.) She also said that he didn’t seem to be able to make the connection between letters and sounds.

My two older daughters had always excelled in school and I was certain that this was just a “boy thing.” With his exceptional vocabulary skills, I was sure he would come to love reading just as much as the rest of his family but at his own pace. His father holds a Ph.D. and I graduated summa cum laude. The die was cast, right?

Wrong. My son continued to struggle . . . in kindergarten! What in the world was wrong? He had the same kindergarten teacher that his two older sisters had, so that wasn’t the problem. Was he really so different from his peers?

As it turned out, the answer was yes and no. Most of the boys were soaring along, but one of his closest friends was struggling as well. One day I had the chance to talk with his friend’s mom. We had taken the boys to have lunch and play at a local fast food place, giving us a good chance to chat. I mentioned my concerns about my son, and she immediately began asking questions. Is he reluctant to go to school? Does he hate working with his letters? Is he resistant to pre-reading activities? Her questions were spot on!

I couldn’t believe how insightful she was . . . it was as if she had been a fly on the wall in my home as I tried to work with my son. How did she understand so much about what we were going through?

My friend began to talk with me about dyslexia. She told me that dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence. In fact, many dyslexics are very bright. It doesn’t necessarily involve reversing letters, although reversals are fairly common with dyslexics. Sometimes it is accompanied with weak visual perceptual skills, so it is hard for children to cut or color with the lines. Dyslexics struggle with sound/symbol relationships and are reluctant to learn their letters. (This was starting to sound very familiar!)

Her older son had attended a special school for dyslexics, The Schenck School. She talked about the wonderful progress he had made as a result of the remediation he received at the School. And now she was about to send my son’s friend to the School as well because, as I was about to learn, dyslexia has a strong hereditary component. With one dyslexic in the family, there was an excellent chance that there would be more. She recommended that we schedule a complete psychoeducational evaluation so that we could learn exactly what was going on with my son.

I have to admit that when the results were in and we had a dyslexia diagnosis, we were pretty devastated. We were afraid that our son would never finish school and that he would struggle his entire life. We worried that he would never be successful in a career.

We went straight to The Schenck School where we learned that, with remediation, dyslexics can be very successful in life. We also learned that another benefit of remediation was the return of self-confidence. My son was fortunate enough to have a wonderful tutor for the remainder of his kindergarten year and went on to attend The Schenck School for first through third grades. His confidence returned, he became an excellent self-advocate and is now highly successful in his career in sales.

In my role as admissions director for The Schenck School, I hear this same story day in and day out from parents. Many tearful hours are spent in my little office as I console parents who fear for their dyslexic children’s futures. I share with them my own story about my little boy who had his struggles but became a happy, successful adult. I repeat the phrase I hear over and over again from our outplacing parents: “I have my child back!”

I have heard parents say they don’t want to label their children so they are reluctant to have testing done. They cling to the hope that their child will outgrow dyslexia, and that it is probably developmental. Dyslexia is not developmental. Your child will be dyslexic for life. But with remediation, he or she can lead a rich, productive, successful life.

If you are wondering whether your child is dyslexic, consider this list of “red flags for an emerging reading disorder.”

Preschoolers should be able to:

  • Produce rhyming words
  • Divide words into syllables
  • Divide sentences into words
  • Discriminate rhyming words
  • Delete roots, syllables, and phonemes
  • Substitute phonemes to form new words
  • Identify phonemes by their positions in words (beginning, middle and end)

Six-year olds should be able to:

  • Write words
  • Write sentences
  • Blend sounds together
  • Decode nonsense words
  • Segment words into syllables
  • Identify sounds and letters

Children in second – fifth grades should be able to:

  • Spell well
  • Have appropriate handwriting
  • Enjoy reading and writing
  • Have appropriate or strong written expression
  • Have appropriate or strong reading strategies
  • Recall sight words quickly without much repetition
  • Comprehend reading material on or above grade level
  • Read accurately: Decode words on or above grade level

If your child struggles with these age-appropriate skills, your next step is to call your local psychologist and set up a psychoeducational evaluation. Ask your pediatrician or school psychologist for recommendations.

Finally, if the diagnosis is dyslexia, get busy and obtain good remediation for your child. See my earlier blog post, “Your Child is Dyslexic: Now What?” for suggestions on how to proceed. Don’t despair if there is no special school for dyslexic remediation in your area, there are many other resources to help.

Enjoy your dyslexic child. Explore the world through his or her eyes. Dyslexic children’s brains are remarkable and they experience the world in different ways . . . they can be counted on to express extraordinarily complicated thoughts and arrive at solutions in unique and creative ways, often possessing higher order thinking skills. Have fun with your amazing child!

Unexpected Gifts
Josh Clark, Head of School

This post was first published May 4, 2016.

 

Albert Einstein did not speak until he was four years old. At the age of five, he became ill and was bedridden for weeks. As a gift, Einstein’s father gave him a small, silver compass. He imagined the young boy charting the seven seas, his bed morphing into a pirate’s ship with Albert its captain. Instead, though, its mechanics fascinated Albert. Why, no matter which way he pointed the compass, did the arrow always point the same direction?

The gift sparked Einstein’s fascination with gravitational pull and not cannon balls or hooked-handed adversaries. For his father, it was quite unexpected.

School was a constant struggle for Richard Branson. At the age of 13, Richard’s parents withdrew him from the Scaitcliffe School in Surrey before he failed out. He transferred to Stowe School, a boarding school in Stowe, Buckinghamshire, England. Again facing academic peril, Branson dropped out at 16. On his last day, his headmaster, Robert Drayson, told him he would either end up in prison or become a millionaire, with an emphasis on the former.

Today, Virgin Group holds over 200 companies in 30 countries, and Branson is one of the most successful entrepreneurs of all time. To his schoolmates, his success was quite unexpected.

In my own life, I have come to cherish the unexpected. When I was in 6th grade, I failed Language Arts – we called it English at the time. My spelling was atrocious. When I began my career as a sixth grade Language Arts teacher, no one was more surprised than my 11-year-old self. Now, as the headmaster of a school for children with dyslexia, I’ve learned to love the unexpected.

The International Dyslexia Association defines dyslexia as

a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.

Whenever I present on dyslexia, I always begin with this definition and zoom in on the word “unexpected.” To me, it is the most important term in the 78-word definition. Children with dyslexia are bright, creative, agile thinkers. They can build cities in their minds, synthesize divergent concepts, and solve complex problems. We are so impressed by their aptitude that we are surprised by their struggles with sounds and symbols. It is so unexpected.

As parents, we all build road maps for our children, and rarely do they include struggles in school. However, as Einstein, Branson, and countless other notable dyslexics show us, there is power in the unexpected.

School is back in session, and children are excited for the new year!
Peggy Webb Hendrix, Director of Admissions

This post was first published September 1, 2016.

That’s a true statement, right?  After all, those long summer days have begun to stretch into sameness. Beach vacations are over, and the pool just doesn’t seem quite as exciting as it did in June.  New school clothes and backpacks have been purchased, and the promise of good times with school friends looms large.

But not every child is eager for school to begin again.  If your child is dyslexic and not getting the help he or she needs, the school bell signals another year of fear, worry,  and frustration.  Fear that reading aloud will clue classmates in to the struggles your child faces.  Worry because your child’s peers are racing ahead while his progress seems slow or non-existent.  Frustration that no matter how hard your child tries, it just isn’t enough to keep up.

Now is the time to seek help.  If you suspect your child has a reading problem, you are probably right . . . in my experience, a parent’s intuition is uncannily accurate.  However, it can be so tempting to hope that this year will be different, that last year’s teacher was right that your child’s struggle really was developmental.

Please know, however, that the problem is almost never developmental.  If your child is a struggling reader, call a local psychologist to schedule a complete psycho-educational evaluation.  With a diagnosis in hand, you will be prepared to seek the help your child needs. With proper intervention, she can become a successful reader.

Just think what a wonderful feeling it will be when the school bell rings again, and you know your child can enter that school building remediated and ready to take on the world!

How do I talk to my dyslexic child about his/her diagnosis?
Peggy Webb Hendrix, Director of Admissions

This post was first published May 9, 2016

I was so excited.  My son had just been accepted at a prestigious school for dyslexics!  Finally, he was going to get the help he needed.  The new school was going to teach him how to read!

But wait a minute . . . the new school.  Hmm.  Hadn’t really thought that through.  He was going to have to leave the school he had attended since the age of one in their mother’s morning out program.  The school his sisters had attended since the age of 3.

That wasn’t even the biggest issue though.  I was going to have to tell him he was DYSLEXIC.  My poor child was going to have, gasp, a label that would follow him for the rest of his life.  It took me back to the day when he was diagnosed, but at that time we were just so relieved to have an answer as to why this bright boy was struggling to learn his letters.  Now we were faced with a reality that he would follow him all of his days.

I must confess that I handled the situation badly.  I took the coward’s way out and waited until he had completed a summer program at the new school.  The summer program was lots of fun and he had a wonderful time.  Who wouldn’t want to go to a school like that?

You want to know the worst part?  He was only five at the time!  Imagine how hard it would have been for me had he been 10 or 12 . . . the age when children truly understand what is going on.

How in the world would I have been able to explain what was “wrong” with him?

Looking back on it, I realize that I robbed him of the chance to own his diagnosis.  I didn’t take the opportunity to talk with him about the truly wonderful skills and talents that so often exist in dyslexics.  A big part of that was probably because I didn’t understand these things myself.  I only knew that he wasn’t like his peers because he couldn’t read, and that seemed like a bad thing.

Since that time I have learned so much more about dyslexia.  I have met and worked with hundreds of gifted dyslexics.  Here at that school where I now work, I have become part of a culture that celebrates the unique talents that dyslexics bring to the world.  We teach children (and parents!) each and every day that dyslexics have “cool” brains that can problem solve in out-of-the box ways to create solutions to the world’s greatest challenges.

So when I am asked in my role as admissions director for that prestigious school how to tell children about their dyslexia, I encourage parents to talk openly and honestly about the challenges their children will face and the gifts they possess.  I hope that parents will feel proud of their dyslexic children because they have wonderful gifts to share with the world.  Proud parents create proud children.  Most children are relieved to learn that “it’s just dyslexia.”  And they can again feel like the smart people that they really are.

Does this remind you of a child you know?
Peggy Webb Hendrix, Director of Admissions

This post was first published July 7, 2015.

I was lucky enough to have a visit today from one of my former students. She is an extraordinary young woman ... accomplished in academics and athletics, a very successful college student, personable, articulate, intellectually curious, empathetic beyond words, and dyslexic. However, when I first met her, she was timid, unsure and unhappy. Her educational experiences from early on had convinced her that she was stupid, she would never go to college, she needed remedial math because she clearly didn’t get it (she turned out to be a gifted math student), and she had no potential.

The people who said these things to her had clearly never met her mother.

When my student was diagnosed with dyslexia, her mother immediately educated herself. She read every book on the subject, she talked to every one of her patients who was dyslexic, and she looked long and hard to find resources in her community that could help. She became what every dyslexic child needs . . . an advocate. This mom, a busy physician, devoted much of her time trying to make things better for her daughter. She talked with her daughter’s school about accommodations; she went to bat with teachers over all the red marks on her papers because of spelling errors; she asked for extra time and for oral testing. But as so often happens in many schools, she was denied the help her daughter needed. “Your daughter just isn’t trying hard enough, she isn’t smart enough, she is clearly working to her potential and isn’t capable of more, if we give her accommodations it isn’t fair to the other children.”

But my student’s mother was an unstoppable force. She refused to accept what these people had to say about her daughter; rather, she became even more determined to find help for her child. She found a wonderful tutor in her community who began the work, and then learned that there were schools devoted to the remediation of dyslexia. Tireless champion that she was, she made sure that her daughter found a place in our school. I should mention, however, that our school was over an hour away from their home. Undaunted, this mother found a way to make it work. She drove her daughter on some days, and on some nights the girl spent the night in town with her grandmother. Her daughter even came to school on a day that was so icy that most of the other children in school were absent!

Meet another unstoppable force . . . her daughter. The one who never wanted to miss a single day of school. In the beginning I was especially concerned about this student because she so clearly lacked confidence in herself academically. She was fearful to answer questions and was reluctant to ask for help. But she was the hardest working student I have ever known. No assignment was too much, even though she was usually working in the car on the hour-long ride home or studying at 6 a.m. on her way to school. I came to learn that this young woman personified persistence. She was doggedly determined to learn everything that she could. Through encouragement and praise, she came to realize that she actually had tremendous potential. She became an excellent math student, one of the strongest in the grade. She studied harder than anyone and made exceptional marks. Most importantly, she became secure in the fact that her dyslexia was a gift.

That’s what our dyslexic children need to understand. Their brains function differently. Their problem-solving skills, strong work ethic, intellectual curiosity, impressive verbal skills and out-of-the-box thinking make them extraordinary people whose worth will be recognized and valued in the workplace. Traditional academics may always be a bit difficult for them because they are required to memorize information. But when they encounter situations that allow them to learn experientially, find solutions to problems and think creatively, they will soar. They need advocates to encourage them and help them find these strengths within themselves. Not every child can attend a special school for dyslexics, but there are resources within many communities that can help.

So just how do you go about becoming your dyslexic child’s advocate? Begin by reading everything you can so that you can understand your child’s academic challenges. I recommend starting with Overcoming Dyslexia, by Sally Shaywitz, M.D. Dr. Shaywitz and her husband, Dr. Bennett Shaywitz, are co-directors of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity. The Center’s website contains much helpful information, such as a good explanation for what dyslexia actually is as well as suggestions for how to talk with your child about his/her diagnosis. The parents’ section includes information about signs of dyslexia, suggestions for parents of dyslexic children and perhaps most importantly, excellent advice for those parents planning for their first meeting with their child’s school after diagnosis.

There are many other wonderful resources, including PBS Resources for Parents of a Dyslexic Child which includes such items as a reading list for parents, books written for children about dyslexia, and web sites such as All Kinds of Minds and Misunderstood MindsReading Rocket’s Top Ten Resources for Dyslexia is another good source of information. The International Dyslexia Association offers a wealth of information for parents and educators.

Now that you’ve become an expert, where do you turn for help? If you’ve done your research, you know that your child will require remediation in order to achieve his/her true potential. But where do you look to find help? You could begin with your state chapter of the Academy of Orton Gillingham Practioners and Educators. The dedicated folks there will be happy to help you find an Orton Gillingham tutor who can work with your child, no matter their strengths or weaknesses. The Orton Gillingham approach is a scientifically research-based method for the treatment of dyslexia. The Academy will also help you locate a specialized school for the remediation of dyslexia if you are interested in pursuing enrollment. Keep in mind that OG is only one method of remediation . . . there are other good ones as well. Just be sure to investigate your tutors to make sure that they are fully trained and have a proven track record of success.

Become actively involved in your local chapters of The Orton Gillingham Academy and the IDA, and become members of the national associations. You will be kept apprised of legislative efforts regarding dyslexia remediation at both the national and state levels, and you will have access to on-going research about dyslexia. At your local chapters, make a point to become acquainted with fellow parents because they can be a tremendous source of guidance and support. Ask for help and you will realize that you and your child are not alone; some sources report that dyslexia occurs in as many as one out of every five people!

Finally, talk to your child about the gifts that come along with dyslexia. Help him/her understand that dyslexic brains function in a wonderful way and that his/her problem-solving skills, strong work ethic, intellectual curiosity, impressive verbal skills and out-of-the-box thinking make him/her an extraordinary person whose worth will be recognized and valued in the workplace. Traditional academics will always be difficult for them, even with remediation. They will have to work harder than anyone else. But when they encounter situations that allow them to learn experientially, find solutions to problems and think creatively, they will soar. They need advocates along the way to encourage them and help them find these strengths within themselves.

And take heart . . . you have an exceptionally gifted child in your care. Don’t listen to people who tell you your child is lazy or unmotivated.   Keep looking for solutions that can help them become the extraordinary people they are destined to be.

Like my former student who came to see me today and reminded me just how extraordinary dyslexics can be when someone believes in them.

Dedicated to Dana and Mary Elizabeth

Listen to Your Inner Voice
Peggy Webb Hendrix, Director of Admissions

Listen to your inner voice . . . 

You know that little voice that speaks to you and causes you to worry around the edges? The one you try to ignore because it probably means there is trouble in “paradise?” 
Consider these statements I’ve heard parents make:


I know in my heart that my daughter is struggling with reading, but all of her teachers say that she’s so smart they know she’ll catch up in no time . . .


My son is having a hard time reading, but he’s probably just a late bloomer . . .


I know my son is bright, but I hear him crying at night after he’s gone to bed because he feels dumb . . . 


I’m suspicious that my daughter’s many ailments are just an excuse to avoid school.  She says she’s really sick, but she often talks about how hard school is for her compared to her friends . . . 


Have you ever had thoughts like these? Wondered whether your child really would catch up? Had a feeling that school was really tougher for your child than you realized? 


You’re not alone. Many parents who have sent their children to our school for dyslexic children have tried to ignore thoughts like these. I know I did.  My son had such strong verbal skills that I thought the psychologist was wrong about his learning difference. I didn’t believe the expert! Talk about denial!
But you know that there is good reason to listen to that inner voice. I suspect that it has never failed you before. If you have that nagging sense that you need to do something about your fears for your child, now is the time to act. As Sally Shaywitz says, “Dyslexia robs our children of time.” Without proper intervention, dyslexic children will never catch up to their peers.  
Follow that instinct and have your child tested. The information you will receive is not scary. Rather, it will provide a roadmap for you to follow as you plan the next steps for your child’s education. You will feel much better once you put those action steps into place, and your child will flourish because of it.
 

What is Neurodiversity and What Does it Have to Do with Dyslexia?
Peggy Webb Hendrix, Director of Admissions

What if dyslexia was thought of as a strength or advantage and not as a disability?   


In fact, that dyslexia is a strength is exactly what some researchers are finding. According to “The Upside of Dyslexia,” a New York Times article written by Annie Murphy Paul, researchers have determined that many dyslexics possess skills that are “superior to those of typical readers.”  Today’s research is leading people to look at dyslexia in a different way, “not just as an impediment, but as an advantage, especially in certain artistic and scientific fields.”

The Times article reported on one set of experiments in which Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers Gaid Geiger and Jerome Lettvin found that people with dyslexia possess sharper peripheral vision than typical readers. These findings have been replicated by later studies and suggest that the brain processes information from either the central or the peripheral visual field. If you are very good at processing information from the center, you may be a good reader, but you are not as skilled at recognizing information at the periphery. In other words, dyslexics can take in a scene as a whole, something researchers call the “visual gist.”  

But what are the implications for the dyslexic in terms of career choices? Folks with dyslexia are found in every profession, from medicine to law to science. However, it has been noted that there are high concentrations of dyslexics in fields like art and design. According to the New York Times article, the Laboratory for Visual Learning (located in the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) is looking at the advantages dyslexics possess in “visually intensive branches of science.” Matthew Schneps, director of the lab, says that “scientists in his line of work must make sense of enormous quantities of visual data and accurately detect patterns that signal the presence of entities such as black holes.” Schneps has done a second study in which dyslexics were able to make use of the information in photographic images while typical readers were not.

Dyslexia is typically referred to as a learning disability, but experiments such as these suggest that “in some situations . . . those with dyslexia are actually the superior learners.”  Of course the struggle of dyslexics to read, write, and spell is significant, but it is important to understand the special aptitudes they possess in order to build on their strengths.
 

My Dyslexic Summer
Josh Clark, Head of School

 

Part 1: The Spelling Test

My summer began with an email and a spelling test.

My son was in first grade. Through the course of the year, his passion for reading ignited, and we watched as he plowed through Magic Tree House to Dog Man to Diary of a Wimpy Kid. His comprehension was strong. He hated reading aloud, however, and when persuaded, he often substituted “the” for “a” “were” for “was” or skipped words completely. At other times he would struggle with a word far less complex than the one preceding it. Not wanting to pathologize my own child, I dismissed my concerns and promised myself to stop bringing my work home.

Then came the email:

“When you have a few moments, can we discuss his spelling?”

It was right under my nose, and it was classic - textbook even - reversed letters, jumbled sounds, over-generalized spelling patterns. Over the last ten years, I have seen spelling samples like this hundreds if not thousands of times, and yet when it was my son, it was like seeing if for the first time.

Part 2: The Surprise

As I muddled through my own guilt and embarrassment - I mean, I do this for a living! - my wife and I sprang into action. Ellen Hill at the School worked with him, we scheduled testing, and enrolled him in the Schenck School summer reading camp. I knew a summer filled with early mornings and school work would not be welcome news; I braced myself for a June filled with tears and stress.

Two days into camp, I found myself being rushed out the door because “we can’t be late, daddy!” He LOVED it! I have told countless parents about the School’s transformative powers and have seen their effect in many students’ faces. To experience it as a parent, however, was humbling.

At the end of summer camp, I sat down with his teacher to hear her impressions. She confirmed what I knew - we needed to continue with testing and tutoring and know that we may be at The Schenck School for third grade. The “thank you" I reached for was drowned by my tears. I was not crying because my son is likely dyslexic and may attend The Schenck School - I am actually thrilled about both. I cried because in just four weeks this teacher knew my son so well and had made him feel great about what had been so hard.

Part 3: The Brain

With my son in mind, I boarded a Boston-bound plane with Schenck School principal Foster Soules for a once in a lifetime professional opportunity. We spent the next week at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the lab of Dr. John Gabrieli, one of the world’s top dyslexia researchers.

We witnessed functional brain imaging, sat in lectures for hours, and learned even more about the deep complexities and individualization of dyslexia. In the last 15 years our understanding of the reading brain has advanced exponentially, leaving us with more questions than answers.

The information reminded me of seventh grade social studies. For centuries, early western explorers searched in vain for a northwest passage - a shortcut through North or Central America to the Asian spice trade. No such path existed, and yet explorers still found their way across the continent. Though their journeys were difficult and at times disheartening, they discovered a “new world” along the way.

The dyslexic brain experiences reading in much the same way. The short-cuts and automaticity traditional readers enjoy do not exist. Instead, these letters and sounds must discover a new path across mountains, plains, and rivers of neurons. It can be cumbersome and inefficient. However, unexpected journeys can lead to the most important discoveries. Just ask Albert Einstein, Richard Branson, or Andy Warhol.

Part 4: The Banana

I returned from MIT overwhelmed and exhilarated. I could not wait to share what I learned with the Schenck School community and consider its implications on our approaches. I was also ready for a short reprieve from dyslexia. The topic had consumed my intellectual and emotional energies, and I was ready for a break.

My wife was visiting a friend in Washington D.C., and I had planned “Camp Daddy.” My kids and I were going to wear ourselves out in our new home town. We set out in the mornings and did not return until early evening, making our way through splash parks, Lego Land, the World of Coke, the Tellus Science Museum, and more. On our last day we visited the High Museum of Art. There was a temporary Andy Warhol exhibit, and I could not wait to show my children my favorite artist.

The exhibit was amazing - bright, dramatic, and interactive. The kids loved seeing Campbell Soup on the walls and wanted to know why that angry man was so colorful (Chairman Mao). As we walked through the gallery, I could not help but wonder what kind of mind could be so creative. As we looked at original sketches and notes and flipped through the many biographies in the gift shop, I remembered. Warhol always did poorly in school, with his struggles most evident in his spelling. “Vedio” for "video," “pastic” for “plastic.” His mind had to make unexpected and difficult turns to find its way. Warhol was dyslexic, just like my son might be.

I learned so much from my summer with dyslexia. My understanding as a professional and practitioner grew, but more importantly, I began to experience it as a parent - an understanding I did not know I was lacking.

 

 

 

 

Back to School Tips
Kelly Moore, MA, MFT School Counselor

 

Congratulations, parents! You have survived the first days of school! We all know transitioning back to school comes with a host of mixed emotions, and getting back into a routine can be tough on the whole family. However, we also know that children do better when they know what to expect!  I’m going to harp on the power of preparation and establishing routines for a minute.

Children know how to follow routines gain much more from their school day. When consistent daily routines are developed at home, anxiety is reduced, and children are able to put more of their energy into what’s being taught in the classroom, which then allows teachers to maximize learning! Don’t worry if you haven’t developed a plan yet or if it has taken some time to work out the kinks in your routine.  It’s never too late to establish structure. If structure is needed now, it always will be needed. It’s not something that goes away. The good news is that structure can be introduced at any time! It’s just like having a good plan—and a good plan can be put in place at any time. Here are sample starting points to establish a Back to School Plan:

  • Structure yourself: Ask yourself, “Do I play a role in preventing mornings and evening routines from running smoothly?” Maybe you need to set the alarm for 15 minutes earlier. Maybe you need to designate 5:00 - 7:00 p.m. as a “non-technology” period -- meaning your kids have your full attention, and you are not to distracted by checking text messages and email so that you can keep the bedtime routine as smooth as possible without technology distraction. Are you allowing everyone some buffer time in case of unexpected events, or if a task that usually takes five minutes all of a sudden takes fifteen minutes one day? I will be honest with you. My poor planning is often the cause of an emotional trainwreck at my home. If I can get my ducks in a row, I’ve won half the battle.

  • Decide what the expectations are: What do you expect your kids to be able to do in the morning? What do you expect them to do in the afternoon or before bedtime? What tasks do you expect them to do independently, and what tasks require support from you? Be specific. Map it out for them. Look at trouble areas (also known as “expected meltdown moments”) and ask yourself if your expectations are realistic. The good news is  that parents can be transparent when the plan needs some tweaking!! You and your kids are all in this together -- figuring it out and being flexible!

  • Introduce structure in the best way to help your child: For younger kids, you might need a lot of visual prompts such as stickers, pictures, posters, or checklists. For older kids, you might have to have a family meeting where you sit down and talk with them about what you expect and what needs to happen.

  • Small changes: It might not be realistic to think that in seven days, morning and bedtime routines will be well-oiled machines. Instead, you could pick the time of day that proved to be the most challenging last year. Start there. Make it a problem-solving discussion. For example, you could say, “We had a hard time last year, and it didn’t work well for anyone. How are we going to make the mornings better this year?” Be explicit about your child’s role and the tasks you expect them to perform. Or, if getting ready for bed was the issue for your child in the previous school year, focus on what bedtime is going to look like from now on. Invite cooperation. Ask them questions like, “What’s hard about getting ready for bed? What can we do differently to make it better?”

  • Be positive: Parents, you are often your child’s “barometer” for feelings. In most given situation, they will likely look to you and gauge how you’re feeling before recognizing their own feelings. If you are stressed and worn down, they will likely feel stressed and worn down. Make a point to model positivity!

I am sending you my most sincere support as you embark on this new school year with your family! Remember to ask yourself, “What can I do to help our day a little smoother, so that my child is most available for learning?” 

  • advice
  • back to school
  • routine
Hope Is Not a Strategy
Peggy Webb Hendrix, Director of Admissions

 

Our human resources director here at the School tells me this all the time, and it has taken me a long while to understand the wisdom in this statement. I am always hoping for things: I hope the year will go well, I hope we have a large number of openings so that we can help more children, I hope that cutting-edge brain research continues to inform our understanding of the dyslexic brain, I hope, I hope, I hope . . . .

But my HR director is absolutely right.  Hope is not a strategy! Hoping that the year will go well doesn’t help to make it so. Plans, actions, strategies . . . those are the concrete steps needed to actively ensure that my year will be successful. I can hope all I want, but if I don’t do the necessary leg work and lay the groundwork for success, the result will simply be serendipitous. If I am successful, it’s just the result of good luck!

The same can be said at the beginning of the year for parents of dyslexic children. “We had a wonderful teacher last year who really understood my child. I hope we are as lucky this year.”

Or “my child did a lot of reading over the summer. I hope her struggles are minimal this year.”

Hope truly is not a strategy. The good news is that there are concrete steps parents can take to plan and strategize so that the year is a positive and productive one for your child.

  • If you are just beginning to wonder why your child struggles to read, go ahead and schedule a psychoeducational evaluation for your child. If your child is dyslexic, identify resources, programs, and tutors to help remediate your child’s reading deficiencies.

  • If you know your child is dyslexic, make sure to line up tutoring for the coming school year.  We recommend two one-hour sessions per week, with an Orton-Gillingham trained professional.

  • Schedule a meeting with your child’s school now, at the beginning of the school year. Make sure that accommodations are in place for your child, i.e., extended time, pull-out reading instruction, no penalties for spelling errors, reduced spelling lists, etc.
  • If you plan to pursue an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for your child this year, begin to pull together resources that will help you. Be sure that you understand your child’s rights. Understand what accommodations you need to request (these are found in your child’s psychoeducational evaluation). Enlist the help of a public school advocate if you think you need more support in your quest for the services your child needs.

  • Consider applying to a specialized school if your child needs more support than your current school can provide. Talk to your psychologist and obtain recommendations, and contact your local or the national branch of the International Dyslexia Association or the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators. They can give you contact information for specialized schools in your area.


Hope the sun shines, the temperatures are fair, and your team wins.  But don’t leave things to chance that you can control. Make plans, strategize, gather your resources, and help your child have a good school year!