What is DEVELOPMENTAL DYSLEXIA?

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

Dyslexia and The Brain

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

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

Signs of Dyslexia in Children

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

Dyslexia in School

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

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

Treatment for Dyslexia

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

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

How To Keep Your Toddler Well Behaved At A Family Function

Family FunctionAren’t toddlers so fun and adorable? You’re probably saying to yourself, “Well, most of the time!”

Keeping your toddler well-behaved at a family function can be extremely difficult, especially because you don’t want to unleash the “monster parent” in front of other family members.

Keep cool! Remember that your toddler is doing the best he or she can with the limited skills they’ve got. Tantrums, throwing items, hitting and talking back are all “normal” – these behaviors show that your child is curious and “independent (or at least that is what you tell your family).

This is true to an extent. Toddlers are at an extremely curious age. They always want to know how things work and will often try things out that aren’t exactly ok (e.g. seeing if their sister’s new fish can swim in the toilet).  It’s important to remember that communication at this age is tough. In the mind of a toddler, it’s much easier to throw their plate rather than try to say, “Mommy, I am done with my food.” It’s just not going to happen!  And finally, remember that they all want to be independent at this age. They are seeing what they can do by themselves, which often leads to frustration, anger and then the dreaded tantrum. Read more

School Conferences: 3 Topics That Must Be Discussed

Parent teacher ConferenceParent and teacher conferences are soon approaching.  This is an exciting time for parents, as it serves as the first means of identifying how their children have been progressing thus far in the school year.  However, too many times parents leave the conferences with more questions than answers.  This is a hectic time; teachers are extremely busy, as they have twenty some conferences to prepare for themselves, and parents are often in a rush and feel unprepared.  Here are several ideas and guidelines for making the most out of a conference.

It is important for parents to make the most of the fifteen or so minutes that are planned for the conference.  Teachers usually have an idea of what they want to discuss during the meeting, and more often than not, the focus is on the child’s academic work and behavior within the classroom.  Parents, please develop and write down an outline of what you want to discuss during the meeting.  Like any structured meeting, the agenda must be decided by both parties.  It is important to identify what the current concerns are, as well as what your (as parents) ideal outcome is from having the meeting with the teacher.  Read more

Head and Brain Injuries in Children

David HuffMany of you have probably seen the highlights about David Huff; he is a pitcher on the Cleveland Indians, who got hit directly in the head by a line drive from Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez a few months ago (http://sports.espn.go.com/new-york/mlb/news/story?id=5232792). Luckily, Mr. Huff was not seriously injured from this. However, many children are not as lucky and sustain a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) each year. Current estimates indicate that approximately 180 out of 100,000 children will attain a TBI during their lifetimes.

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Halloween Tips For Children With Sensory Processing Disorder

Halloween SPDHalloween parties, costumes, make-up, masks, trick-or-treating, and treats. This all sounds like fun to many children, but Halloween “fun” can be a sensory nightmare for children with sensory issues. Fortunately, there are ways to help make Halloween more enjoyable for the child who struggles with sensory issues.

SPD For Halloween Tip 1 – Exposure to Halloween early and often

Start early in explaining Halloween to your children to ensure a successful night. Repetition helps kids with sensory processing difficulties understand an event or holiday.

SPD For Halloween Tip 2 – Pick the right costume

  • Choose a non-scary costume
  • Let your child help select a costume. A bumblebee suit with wings and bobbing antennae may be too much to handle, but a silly shirt or a handheld prop might be perfect.
  • Try out the costumes, make sure they are a good fit.
  • Practice walking and sitting while wearing the costume.
  • Wearing a mask may be uncomfortable. He may prefer to hold the mask or just skip it. 
  • If costumed, make sure it’s something she can partially or fully remove so she doesn’t have to go home if she becomes uncomfortable.
  • If your child is not wearing a costume, make sure they know there is nothing wrong with them.
  • If your child is afraid of trick-or-treating and seeing others dressed up in costumes, stay home and hand out candy from the front yard or the doorway.  
  • Your child can wear his costume in safe and familiar environments such as the neighbors’ and relatives’ houses. 
  • Never force your child to wear a costume. If they do not want to wear one at all, that’s okay!
  • Experiment with face make-up as tactile exploration. However, bring baby wipes to remove it just in case.

 

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Top 5 Healthy Halloween Treats for Your Toddler

Halloween PizzaLadies and gentlemen, ghosts and goblins…the darkest, spookiest, goose-bumpin’ season has finally arrived! During Halloween season, there’s nothing scarier than the sight of your adorable toddler in his or her costume, running around with buckets full of candy. Lucky for you, they are still at an age where you can instill healthy eating habits in their little bodies without letting go of the Halloween spirit! Below is a list of some of my favorite healthy treats for Halloween which won’t lead to cavities and constant cravings for sweets.

 Top 5 Healthy Halloween Treats for Your Toddler 

 

  • Spooky Jell-O:  Make a package of orange Jell-O and use Halloween cookie cutters to make spooky creatures. Top it off with creepy crawlers and you’ve got yourself a non-fat treat. 
  •  Trick or Treat Alternatives: This year, take initiative in your neighborhood by giving healthier candy alternatives like animal crackers, single serve boxes of cereal, or individual 100 percent juice drinks. The more your toddler is exposed to it, the more likely they’ll choose it over candy! To top it off, you’ll make other parents very happy.  Read more

Zero Tolerance: Should 7 Year Old Boy Be Expelled From School For Bringing A Toy Gun?

A 7 year old boy in Florida last November was expelled from school for having a toy gun in his backpack.  A year later he is still expelled and everyone from the news to parent organizations are torn as to whether the Zero Tolerance Rule has gone too far or if it is appropriate.

Zero Tolerance Sign

Children naturally love to show and tell.  They find anything they can and “hide” it in their backpack.  Sometimes they take it out, sometimes they forget it, and sometimes they just decide to leave it there and play with it when they get home.  There are so many children with toy guns, and rarely do they just use their fingers to “shoot” during their imaginative games.  With nerf guns, dollar store plastic guns, water guns, chocolate guns, candy guns, and countless other varieties, where do we draw the line?  

If this is a family with a history of bad behavior and gun usage, then there may be some more power to the story. If this is a child with many psychological problems including behavioral and aggression, then we would have to discuss more. However, simply bringing a plastic toy gun to school and being expelled from school at the age of seven is a tough one.  Would it make more sense to give the parents the consequence for even buying it for him?  For not checking his backpack?  For negligence?  At least the kid would still be in school.     

What if he was ten and had that plastic gun?  I would ask the same questions.  If he is a kind and sweet seven-year-old or ten-year-old from a good family, would having a toy gun be so bad?  Many times adults take things out on the children instead of the parents.  Many times the adults are quick to punish without really trying to understand the underlying reasons behind a child’s actions.  

If a student brings a toy gun to school, should the parents be held accountable or not?

Should he still be expelled?

Share  your opinions in the comments on this story below:

Symptoms and Treatment of Childhood Depression

We all know when an adult is sad and depressed – they cry easily, prefer to be alone, and can verbally express their feelings. It is often hard, however, to identify depression in young children because it often mimics other disorders and concerns, including inattention, impulsively, aggression and learning problems. Some warning signs that parents and teachers should look out for include:

Symptoms of Childhood Depression:Depressed Boy

  • Easily comes to tears, feeling sad
  • Feeling worthless
  • Not interested in activities that used to be enjoyable
  • Irritable and often in a bad mood
  • Increase in aggressive and externalizing behaviors
  • Changes in sleep behavior (either sleeping more or less than normal)
  • Changes in eating behavior (either dramatic increase or decrease)
  • Decrease in energy and easily fatigued
  • Frequently turned away and neglected by peers
  • Decrease with academic performance
  • Difficulty staying still

As you can see, there are a plethora of symptoms of depression and every child who is depressed will express a variety of the above symptoms. If you notice changes with your child’s behavior and the onset of any of the above symptoms, the first thing that you should do is contact your child’s pediatrician. It is always important to identify whether or not there are medical concerns at the root of the symptoms. Read more

Back To School: Help your child defeat anxiety and go back strong!

Boy going to SchoolHealthy Expression:

Start by helping your child express their worries, fears, problems and more in the comfort of their own home. Give them your undivided attention and find a private space away from siblings if needed. Help them find the correct labels for their feelings, ideally in their own words. Many children enjoy using creative methods of expression (e.g. drawing pictures, writing in journals, creating social stories) while some are able to spell it out while relaxing at bath time or bedtime.

Validate & Empathize

Showing your child that you respect, accept and understand their emotions serves as a big boost to their self-confidence! Sometimes this is enough to give your child the relief they are seeking. All feelings should be accepted (but not necessarily all behaviors that are often associated with negative feelings). Rather than reassuring them that you will keep them safe, let them know that yes, these things are scary and you hear their true feelings. Let them feel your belief in them—how proud, positive and excited you are! Read more

How to Transition Your Special Need’s Child for the New School Year

parent teacher conferenceAs summer comes to a close, the transition back to school can be difficult for just about any child. After three months of fun with no real demands, children now have to attend to teachers for six hours and following a structured routine. Children with special needs and neurodevelopmental concerns are even more likely to face difficulty here, but there are numerous strategies parents and teachers can implement to ensure the transition goes smoothly as possible.

Preparing Your Child For The New School Year

Prior to school starting, it is important to sit down with your children and explain the changes that they will be experiencing soon. Prepare your child for the school year. Explain to him or her what the school routine will look like. Give your child a schedule of what the day will entail.

Getting Your Child Acquainted With The School And New Teacher

Next, bring your child to school to meet his or her new teacher, who should be able to give further preparation and reassurance for the coming year. If your child will be attending a new school, it is recommended that he or she take a tour beforehand in order to get acclimated to the layout and surroundings of the building. Read more