For Prospective Parents

If your child is struggling in school or has been diagnosed with a learning disability, ADHD, or auditory processing disorder, you probably have lots of questions. The information below is designed to provide some answers.

If you would like to speak to a professional about your child’s unique situation, please call us at 215.657.2200.

Click on a question and the answers will scroll down.
  • What are Learning Disabilities?

    Learning disabilities affect hundreds of thousands of children and adults around the world. In Federal law, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the correct term is “specific learning disability.” The official definition of a specific learning disability is “…a neurological disorder that affects one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using spoken or written language. The disability may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations.”

    Every individual with a learning disability is unique and demonstrates different combinations and degrees of difficulties. A common characteristic among people with learning disabilities is uneven areas of ability, “a weakness within a sea of strengths.” For instance, a child with dyslexia who struggles with reading, writing and spelling may be very capable in math and science.

    Generally speaking, people with learning disabilities are of average or above average intelligence. There often appears to be a gap between the individual’s potential and actual achievement. This is why learning disabilities are referred to as “hidden disabilities:” the person looks perfectly “normal” and seems to be a very bright and intelligent person, yet may be unable to demonstrate the skill level expected from someone of a similar age.

    A learning disability cannot be cured or fixed; it is a lifelong challenge. However, with appropriate support and intervention, people with learning disabilities can achieve success in school, at work, in relationships, and in the community.

    “Learning Disabilities” is an “umbrella” term describing a number of other, more specific learning disabilities, such as dyslexia and dysgraphia.

    For more detailed information, access the Learning Disabilities of America website.
  • Does Our Child Have a Learning Disability?

    If your child is anxious about going to school or is having difficulties learning to read, write, spell or do math and you have noted several of the following characteristics in your child, he or she may need to be evaluated for a learning disability. Most of us have one or two of these characteristics. That does not mean that everyone has a learning disability. A person with a learning disability usually has several of these characteristics that persist over time and interfere with his or her learning.

    Common characteristics of dyslexia

    Oral language
    • Late learning to talk
    • Difficulty pronouncing words
    • Difficulty acquiring vocabulary or using age appropriate grammar
    • Difficulty following directions
    • Confusion with concept words like before/after, right/left, and so on
    • Difficulty learning the alphabet, nursery rhymes, or songs
    • Difficulty understanding concepts and relationships
    • Difficulty with word retrieval or naming problems
    Reading
    • Difficulty learning to read
    • Difficulty identifying or generating rhyming words, or counting syllables in words (phonological awareness)
    • Difficulty with hearing and manipulating sounds in words (phonemic awareness)
    • Difficulty distinguishing different sounds in words (phonological processing)
    • Difficulty in learning the sounds of letters (phonics)
    • Difficulty remembering names and shapes of letters, or naming letters rapidly
    • Transposing the order of letters when reading or spelling
    • Misreading or omitting common short words
    • “Stumbles” through longer words
    • Poor reading comprehension during oral or silent reading, often because words are not accurately read
    • Slow, laborious oral reading
    Written language
    • Difficulty putting ideas on paper
    • Many spelling mistakes
    • Difficulty with proofreading
    • May do well on weekly spelling tests, but may have many spelling mistakes in daily work
    Other common symptoms that occur with dyslexia:
    • Difficulty naming colors, objects, and letters rapidly, in a sequence (RAN: rapid automatized naming)
    • Weak memory for lists, directions, or facts
    • Needs to see or hear concepts many times to learn them
    • Distracted by visual or auditory stimuli
    • Downward trend in achievement test scores or school performance
    • Inconsistent school work
    • Teacher says, “If only she would try harder,” or “He’s lazy.”
    • Relatives may have similar problems
    Common characteristics of Dysgraphia (Handwriting)
    • Unsure of handedness
    • Poor or slow handwriting
    • Messy and unorganized papers
    • Difficulty copying
    • Poor fine motor skills
    • Difficulty remembering the kinesthetic movements to form letters correctly
    Common characteristics of Dyscalculia (Math)
    • Difficulty counting accurately
    • May misread numbers
    • Difficulty memorizing and retrieving math facts
    • Difficulty copying math problems and organizing written work
    • Many calculation errors
    • Difficulty retaining math vocabulary and concepts
    Common Characteristics of ADHD—Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder(Attention)
    • Inattention
    • Variable attention
    • Distractibility
    • Impulsivity
    • Hyperactivity
    Common Characteristics of Dyspraxia (Motor skills)
    • Difficulty planning and coordinating body movements
    • Difficulty coordinating facial muscles to produce sounds
    Common Characteristics of Executive Function/Organization difficulties
    • Loses papers
    • Poor sense of time
    • Forgets homework
    • Messy desk
    • Overwhelmed by too much input
    • Works slowly


  • What is Dyslexia?

    Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability affecting 10-20% of the population. It causes people to have difficulties with reading, spelling, writing, and pronouncing words. Dyslexia is called a learning disability because it can make it very difficult for a student to succeed academically in a traditionally taught classroom.

    According to the International Dyslexia Association (IDA), dyslexia is "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.”  Dyslexia Association. (2002, November 12). Definition of Dyslexia. Retrieved from https://dyslexiaida.org/definition-of-dyslexia/.

    What are the signs of dyslexia?

    The problems displayed by individuals with dyslexia involve difficulties in acquiring and using written language. It is a myth that individuals with dyslexia “read backwards,” although spelling can look quite jumbled at times because students have trouble remembering letter symbols for sounds and forming memories for words. Other problems experienced by people with dyslexia include the following:
    • Learning to speak
    • Learning letters and their sounds
    • Organizing written and spoken language
    • Memorizing number facts
    • Reading quickly enough to comprehend
    • Persisting with and comprehending longer reading assignments
    • Spelling
    • Learning a foreign language
    • Correctly doing math operations
    Not all students who have problems with these skills are dyslexic. Formal testing of reading, language, and writing skills by a licensed psychologist is the only way to confirm a diagnosis of suspected dyslexia.

  • How is Dyslexia Supported?

    Dyslexia is a lifelong condition although with the appropriate help, many people with dyslexia can learn to read and write well.
    • Early identification is the key to helping individuals with dyslexia achieve in school and in life.
    • Most people with dyslexia need help from a teacher, tutor, or therapist specially trained in using a multisensory, structured language approach such as the Orton-Gillingham method. It is important for these individuals to be taught by a systematic and explicit method that involves several senses (hearing, seeing, touching) at the same time.
    • Many individuals with dyslexia need one-on-one help so that they can move forward at their own pace. In addition, students with dyslexia often need a great deal of structured practice and immediate, corrective feedback to develop automatic word recognition skills. For students with dyslexia, it is helpful if their outside academic therapists work closely with classroom teachers.
    Schools can implement academic accommodations and modifications to help students with dyslexia succeed. For example:
    • A student with dyslexia can be given extra time to complete tasks,
    • Teach students different ways to take notes, provide them with a “scribe”, or provide them with copies of teacher notes.
    • Modify work assignments appropriately.
    • Teachers can give taped tests or allow students with dyslexia to use alternative means of assessment.
    • Students can use their iPods or Kindles to read age appropriate books while listening to the words
    • Students can utilize speech-to-text software on their laptops for writing such as Dragon Naturally Speaking.
    For more detailed information, visit the International Dyslexia Association website.
  • What is Auditory Processing Disorder?

    Millions of children and adults have difficulty understanding spoken language. They are not deaf, autistic or have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder although they may seem unfocused, disorganized or distracted. They may have trouble following directions or continually ask for information to be repeated. While they might be labeled as misbehaving or assumed to have attention problems or other developmental delays, it is something completely different that is impacting their lives.

    People with auditory processing disorder (APD) have difficulty processing and interpreting auditory information because of deficits in one or more areas: decoding (hearing and processing different speech sounds), tolerance-fading memory (the ability to distinguish speech sounds from other background noise and short-term memory of speech), integration (the communication between the left and right hemispheres of the brain) and organization (the ability to store orally presented information in the brain). Some people will have deficiencies in just one category; others, in all four.

    Although children with auditory processing disorder have normal hearing, they have difficulty understanding and interpreting spoken information.

    APD is often confused with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). While both disorders involve the same area of the brain, they are very different. Children suffering from ADHD are distracted because they’re attracted to other stimuli in the environment, but children with APD are distracted because they cannot sort out what they are hearing. It is possible for a child to have both ADHD and APD, and children with APD also sometimes present with developmental problems in other areas, such as speech and reading.

    What are the symptoms?

    The most significant indication that a child may have APD is a consistent delay in response to a question or instructions, often combined with an inability to follow multi-step directions. They might regularly ask for information to be repeated or have difficulty saying specific letter sounds. In addition, they may be unfocused, disorganized, forgetful or easily distracted.

    How is APD supported?

    To support children who have difficulty distinguishing with decoding, they are taught to distinguish individual letter sounds, such as the difference between “m” and “n”.

    To support children who have difficulty distinguishing speech from other noises in their surroundings, children are desensitized to background noise through repeated listening exercises that gradually increase background noise.

    Children who exhibit short-term memory deficiencies may be able to improve it with memory training.

    Children with impaired organization can benefit from sequencing exercises.
  • What is Executive Function?

    The term Executive Function (EF) describes a collection of cognitive (mental) abilities that helps connect past experience with present action. We use executive function processes whenever we exert self-control over our thoughts, emotions, or actions.

    Executive function abilities help us perform activities such as:
    • Planning
    • Organizing
    • Strategizing
    • Paying attention to and remembering details
    • Managing emotions
    • Managing time and space

    Children develop executive function processes over time with the help of their parents and the other adults in their lives. When adults teach children to use self-control, to control their emotions and behavior, and to solve problems, they are helping their children to develop strong executive function skills. These skills are thought to be the strongest trait of a person’s psychology in predicting outcomes, even more so than IQ. Executive functions affect:
    • School performance
    • Occupational achievement
    • Relationship satisfaction
    • Overall happiness and quality of life

    How Does Executive Function Affect Learning?

    In school, at home, or in the workplace, we're called on all day, every day, to self-regulate behavior. Executive function allows us to:
    • Make plans
    • Keep track of time and finish work on time
    • Keep track of more than one thing at once
    • Meaningfully include past knowledge in discussions
    • Evaluate ideas and reflect on our work
    • Change our minds and make mid-course corrections while thinking, reading, and writing
    • Ask for help or seek more information when we need it
    • Engage in group dynamics
    • Wait to speak until we're called on

    What Are the Warning Signs of Executive Function Problems?

    A student may have problems with executive function when he or she has trouble:
    • Planning projects
    • Comprehending how much time a project will take to complete
    • Telling stories (verbally or in writing), struggling to communicate details in an organized, sequential manner
    • Memorizing and retrieving information from memory
    • Initiating activities or tasks, or generating ideas independently
    • Retaining information while doing something with it, for example, remembering a phone number while dialing

     

    How Are Problems with Executive Function Identified?

    There is no single test or even battery of tests that identifies all of the different features of executive function. Educators, psychologists, speech-language pathologists, and others use a variety of tests to identify problems. Careful observation and trial teaching are invaluable in identifying and better understanding weaknesses in this area.
  • What Are the Warning Signs of Executive Function Problems?

    A student may have problems with executive function when he or she has trouble:
    • Planning projects
    • Comprehending how much time a project will take to complete
    • Telling stories (verbally or in writing), struggling to communicate details in an organized, sequential manner
    • Memorizing and retrieving information from memory
    • Initiating activities or tasks, or generating ideas independently
    • Retaining information while doing something with it, for example, remembering a phone number while dialing

    How Are Problems with Executive Function Identified?

    There is no single test or even battery of tests that identifies all of the different features of executive function. Educators, psychologists, speech-language pathologists, and others use a variety of tests to identify problems. Careful observation and trial teaching are invaluable in identifying and better understanding weaknesses in this area.

    What Are Some Strategies to Help?

    There are many effective strategies to help with the problem of executive function challenges. Here are some methods to try:

    General Strategies

    • Take step-by-step approaches to work; rely on visual organizational aids.
    • Use tools like time organizers, computers or watches with alarms.
    • Prepare visual schedules and review them several times a day.
    • Ask for written directions with oral instructions whenever possible.
    • Plan and structure transition times and shifts in activities.

    Managing Time

    • Create checklists and "to do" lists, estimating how long tasks will take.
    • Break long assignments into chunks and assign time frames for completing each chunk.
    • Use visual calendars at to keep track of long term assignments, due dates, chores, and activities.
    • Use management software such as the Franklin Day Planner, Palm Pilot, or Lotus Organizer.
    • Be sure to write the due date on top of each assignment.

    Managing Space and Materials

    • Organize work space.
    • Minimize clutter.
    • Consider having separate work areas with complete sets of supplies for different activities.
    • Schedule a weekly time to clean and organize the work space.

    Managing Work

    • Make a checklist for getting through assignments. For example, a student's checklist could include such items as: get out pencil and paper; put name on paper; put due date on paper; read directions; etc.
    • Meet with a teacher or supervisor on a regular basis to review work; troubleshoot problems.

    For additional information, click on the following links:

    Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities:
    Read article

    Young Dyslexic Students Struggle to Get Reading Help: View video

    LD Online:
    http://www.ldonline.org/article/24880/

    National Center for Learning Disabilities & Executive Functioning: Read article University Center for the Development of Language & Literacy at the University of Michigan:
    http://dyslexiahelp.umich.edu/spread-the-word

    Learning Disabilities Demystified: Dyslexia Toolkit

    Know Your Child's Rights! A Series of Seminars on Special Education Law
    Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia

    Dyslexia Workarounds: Creativity Without a Lot of Reading
    A growing list of entrepreneurs, politicians, writers, actors and medical professionals struggle with dyslexia but work around it. The Wall Street Journal's Melinda Beck, breaks down the latest research.
    http://m.us.wsj.com/articles/a/SB10001424127887324020504578396421382825196?mg=reno64-wsj

    Dyslexia Doesn't Define Me: Piper Otterbein at TEDxYouth Conference
    View video