Talking to Children about Their Learning Disorders

As we all know, children are very inquisitive and ask questions all the time.  Children with learning disabilities are often pulled out of their main stream classroom, attend after school tutoring, or receive accommodations and interventions within the mainstream setting.  Parents and schools are often quite good at identifying the needs of children; however, at times are at a loss of how to approach the topic to children.

How to talk to a child about his learning disorder:

There really is no easy answer as to how to discuss learning disorders with children.  This depends on the child’s age, maturity, and ability to comprehend and understand information.  If the child starts to ask questions about why he or she is being pulled out of class or receiving work different than his or her peers it is most definitely time to discuss this with the child.  What I would recommend is to focus on the positive.  Indicate that everyone learns differently and everyone has things that they are really good and things that need a little work.

One technique that I have used in my clinical practice to explain services to children is to compare it to other medical/health issues.  (e.g. if I told you that you had a vision problem you probably would go and get glasses; if I told you that you had a hearing problem, you might get a hearing aid; so you have a weakness with learning to read so we are going to find someone to help out with that).

If the child is older I always believe it is best to be proactive and inform the child before services begin.  Let the child know what will be happening with services and accommodations in the school.
Overall, it is always best to keep the child informed about services and accommodations.  Focus on the positive and remind the child that everyone learns differently.

Click here to learn more about learning disabilities.

Signs of a Sensory Issue and Who Can Help

Everyone (children and adults both) have sensory issues and concerns.  As adults, we often learn to avoid noxious sensory inputs that we find to be bothersome.  Oftentimes, children are unable to avoid the sensory concerns that they find to be bothersome.  These sensory concerns can at times have a significant impact on a child’s social, emotional, and academic functioning.  Parents and educators are often unsure of when to actually seek help or what help to seek.

Questions to think about your child’s ability to deal with sensory input include the following:

  1. Does he have trouble with bright lights?  (has to have sun glasses at all times outside)
  2. Does he hate being touched?  (avoids hugs and contact from others)
  3. Does she seek out constant contact from others? (always wants to be hugged)
  4. Does he talk too loudly or too softly?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, it may prove beneficial to have your child evaluated.  Pediatric Occupational Therapists are often well trained in the assessment and intervention of sensory concerns.  They can  often work with the child to develop tolerance to the avoidant stimuli while also providing accommodations within his or her environment that help the child.

It is important to always keep in mind that there may be other medical or psychological concerns evident.  If you suspect that there may be something in addition to sensory concerns, have a consultation with the occupational therapist in order to determine if additional assessments or interventions are needed.

Additionally, don’t rule out ADHD and many other very associated issues.  You can learn more by visiting a pediatric neuropsychologist who can pinpoint the best treatment strategy.

Click here to download your Sensory Processing Disorder Red Flag Checklist.

Learning Disabilities Demystified

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

5 Features of Learning Disabilities in Children:

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

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


The Sleep Discrepancy: How Much Sleep We Need and What We Actually Get

Sleep is incredibly vital to our everyday health.  The questions of why we sleep and in the manner we do (consolidated to approximately eight hours) has been accumulating and theories surround its “cleansing” and “restoring” properties have been coming to light.

Theories on Why We Sleep:

One theory suggests that sleep helps to clear our brains of unwanted toxins (Xie, L., Kang, H., Xu, Q., Chen, M., Liao, Y., Thiyagarajan, M., O’Donnell, J., Christensen, D.J., Nicholson, C., Iliff, J.J., Takano, T., Deane, R., & Nedergaard, M., 2013).

An additional theory hypothesizes that our brains have a limited capacity based on a 24-cycle which can only be restored through sleep (Nauert, 2010).  So, if we fall short an hour or two every night, you can imagine the cumulative effect on our cognitive functioning!

Why Are We Sleeping Less Than Before?

Nonetheless, the fact remains that we are all getting fewer hours of sleep than in generations before. Why?  Reasons can be explained by our longer work days that often continue well beyond the time we arrive home, easy access to distracting (albeit entertaining) modes of technology, more events and activities to attend, and an increasing academic workload for junior high and high school students, to name a few.

How Much Sleep Do We Really Need and How Much Are We Actually Getting?

In the school years (6-12), the recommended duration of sleep is between 11 to 12 hours.  Yet the incidence of sleep problems may be as common as 30-40% in children at any one time (Fricke-Oerkermann, L., Pluck, J., Schredl, M., Heinz, K., Mitschke, A., Wiater, A., & Lehmkuhl, G., 2007).  While likely to be transient and not in need of professional care, when the problem is persistent and clearly interferes with the child’s functioning, intervention is warranted.  It is best to begin with your pediatrician who can determine whether Melatonin (an over-the-counter supplement with sleep-enhancing properties), cognitive-behavior therapy, and/or a sleep study to rule-out medical conditions are warranted.

What About Teens and Sleep?

As I have mentioned in my previous blog: Teens and Sleep-How Technology Plays a Role in Restless Nights, adolescents are notorious for their poor sleeping habits and insufficient sleep.  While it is recommended that teens get 9 to 9.25 hours of sleep per night, the reality is closer to 7 hours on weekdays and 8.5 hours on weekends.  Clearly, these teens are not “catching up” on non-school days, creating an ever-increasing cumulative deficiency.  If you suspect that your teen is struggling with optimal sleep and is being negatively impacted as a result, first consider whether environmental factors (e.g., late-night cell phone use, late-night homework and study sessions, overscheduled nighttime activities, etc.) may be contributing and could be adjusted to make sleep a priority.  When this is not successful, recommendations are similar to those for school-age children and include speaking with your pediatrician about effective treatment options (Melatonin or other sleep-enhancing agents, cognitive-behavior therapy, and/or a sleep study to rule-out medical conditions).

To Summarize:

The fact is that our society is one that values hard work, grueling academic schedules, and an abundance of extra-curricular activities, which ultimately end up harming us when it comes to sleep.  It is time for the focus to be placed on sleep once again so that we are in a position to raise healthy adults who will pass on this wisdom.

Need help getting your family’s sleep on track?  Meet with our sleep specialist.

Teens and Sleep: How Technology is Playing a Role in Restless Nights

We are all familiar with the marked increase in media usage and availability over the last 10 years.  From televisions and computers to cell phones, iPads, and hand-held videogame devices, we all use technology.  All the time.

While we cannot argue with the convenience of these technologies, not to mention their entertainment value, there is a downside when it comes to our sleep.  In the sleep world, we call these devices “sleep stealers” because, as their name implies, time spent using these devices at night robs us of the optimal duration of sleep we really need.

Teens are frequently the subject of studies on this topic.  Likely because not only is a great deal of their lives are spent socializing but, let’s be honest, teens hate to go to bed early.  And, to some extent, rightfully so. There is an actual phenomenon of the sleep-wake cycle shifting in adolescence toward a later sleep time.

How Does Technology Use Affect Teen’s Sleep?

But nighttime technology use only adds to the struggle to get teens sufficient rest.  Recent studies revealed that 20% of teens are texting and 17% are making calls between 12am-3am.  20% are awoken in the middle of the night from an incoming text at some time, 9% several times per week, and 3% every night (van den Bulck, 2003, 2007).  If you add up the hours of lost sleep over the week, the result is staggering!

Aside from the obvious outcome of delaying sleep onset, what are the other effects?  Evidence shows that excessive nighttime technology use (>2 hours) can lead to increased arousal (cognitive and physiological), circadian rhythm disruption due to bright light, and decreased total sleep time (Cain & Cradisar, 2010).

So, what can you do to help your teen get the sleep they need?

  • Make it a house rule for everyone to put their technology in a designated place outside of the bedroom (e.g., the kitchen counter) prior to bedtime.  If children see that their parents are willing to adopt this practice, they may be more accepting of the routine.
  • If excessive nighttime technology is a problem and your teen is reluctant to give it up, pick an alternative nightly activity that can be done as a family, such as playing games, talking about the day, reading, etc.
  • Some teens and adults do need the television to fall asleep.  While I would not recommend someone starting this, it can be a difficult habit to break.  If this is the case, it is best to set a timer on the TV to automatically turn off after 30 minutes.  This will prevent night-time awakenings from noise and light.
  • Talk about the importance of sleep and make it a priority for the whole family.  If teens are aware of the negative impact that lack of sleep can have on their functioning (decreased attention, increased emotionality, weight control problems, etc.), they may be more motivated to make a change.

Read here for more strategies to help your teen make good decisions.

5 Ways a Speech Language Pathologist Can Help a Child with Autism

Having a child receive a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder can be a scary thing. The best thing you can do for your child is learn as much as you can about what to expect and how you can help in order to be the best advocate that you can.

Here are five areas in which a licensed speech pathologist can help a child with Autism:

  1. Communication – Regardless of whether your child uses sign language, pictures, or words to communicate, a speech pathologist can help a child with Autism learn a functional way to express his needs and wants.
  2. Understanding Language – It can be scary to live in a world where you don’t understand what is said to you. A speech pathologist can aid your child with Autism in comprehending and understanding language.
  3. Social Skills – A speech pathologist can help teach a child with Autism to use communication appropriately with others, whether that means teaching how to touch and look at others when speaking or learning skills to make friends.
  4. Feeding – Mealtimes are a critical part of family and social interaction and a speech pathologist can help your child with Autism eat a wider variety of foods safely and effectively for adequate nutrition.
  5. Safety Skills – Being able to recognize and avoid dangerous situations is a skill that a speech pathologist can help teach your child with autism to keep him safe!

All parents want what is best for their child and a speech pathologist can help your child with autism gain the skills to overcome the daily challenges he may face. To learn more about the steps to take after receiving an Autism diagnosis, click here.

Click here to visit our Chicago Autism Clinic.

How ADHD Impacts Your Child’s Social Skills and Friendships

ADHD is a neurobiological disorder that can affect your child’s ability to regulate his behavior and observe, understand, and respond to his or her social environment.

Does your child…

  • Often have problems getting along with other children (i.e. sharing, cooperating, keeping promises)?
  • Struggle to make and keep friends?
  • Tend to play with kids younger than him?
  • Become upset, aggressive, or frustrated easily when they lose a game or things don’t go their way?
  • Have difficulty following directions and rules?

Peer relationship issues tend to be a common problem area in children with ADHD. Children with ADHD tend to act in a way that provokes negative reactions from peers, and can become a target for teasing.  The hallmark symptoms of ADHD, such as hyperactivity and impulsivity, can be the main culprits to blame! These children tend to live in the NOW… meaning what they can achieve right now is what is important! The consequences, like losing friends and being left out the next time, are overlooked. Social skills (i.e. sharing, keeping promises, expressing interest in another person) have NO IMMEDIATE GRATIFICATION. These kiddos then have difficulty understanding the concept of building friendships based on these learned skills.

What can you do to help?

  • Practice social skills at home and when you observe your child playing with other children.
  • Avoid activities that require complex rules for success and a lot of passive time (i.e. choosing an infield vs. outfield position in T-Ball). They can become bored and distracted easily.
  • Keep groups small.
  • Discourage play with aggressive peers.
  • Experts have found more positive social interactions when there is less competition – this causes emotional over arousal, increased disorganized behavior, and frustration.
  • Make sure you are modeling appropriate social behavior at home.
  • Encourage friendships – invite kids over to your house and keep the play structured and supervised
  • Work with your child’s teacher and involve her in the process.
  • Enroll in social skills training class or contact a professional if more help is needed.

Sources:
Taking Charge of ADHD, Revised Edition: The Complete, Authoritative Guide for Parents  By Russell A. Barkley




Questions to Ask Your Pediatrician When You Suspect a Developmental Delay

Pediatricians oftentimes only have fifteen to twenty minutes with a child and family during a wellness visit.  Most of that time would bequestions to ask your pediatrician when you expect a developmental delay used to ensure the medical health of the child.  It is imperative that time also be spent on ascertaining information regarding the social, emotional, and behavioral development of the child.  I always recommend that parents bring with them a list of questions that they have regarding their child’s development.

Questions to Ask Your Pediatrician About Your Child’s Development:

  • Ask the doctor questions about his or her language development.   Is the child meeting necessary developmental milestones with regard to his or her speech and language?  Are there any concerns that might be addressed through speech and language therapy? Read more

What to Expect After Neuropsychological Testing

The process of going through a neuropsychological evaluation can be tiring and time consuming.  This process is long-starting fromWhat to expect from neuropsychological testing concerns brought up by the teacher, sharing the information with the pediatrician, getting a referral, meeting with the neuropsychologist, having the child participate in the comprehensive evaluation, and meeting at the end for feedback.  This process may take weeks or months to fully complete.

It is important to understand that the neuropsychological evaluation is really the start of the process.

The focus of the evaluation is to provide information and diagnostic clarification about what is going on with a child’s behavior or learning.  Once the evaluation is completed, the entire process of help and change begins. Read more

How Can a Neuropsychological Evaluation Help My Child?

A neuropsychological evaluation can help a child in multiple ways.  The focus of the evaluation is to provide information for parents about why a child is struggling with regards to his or her academic achievement, social engagement, and/or emotional regulation.  Parents will bring their children in for a neuropsychological evaluation when they have concerns about their performance in any of the above domains.

What is the goal of a neuropsychological evaluation?

The goal of the evaluation is to provide diagnostic clarification based upon a set of symptoms that the child exhibits.  This information is attained through the following ways:

  • Parental interview
  • Parental and teacher report
  • Behavioral observation Read more