Reading Assistive Technology

This week, we are welcoming a guest blog to our reading series. The team at LeafBridge of United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Cleveland are sharing information about low, mid, and high tech assistive technology resources that can help address your students’ reading needs.

Assistive Technology

An assistive technology (AT) device includes any item, piece of equipment, or product system used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of a child with a disability. AT devices should promote access to the curriculum and student achievement. AT services are necessary to assess, select, and instruct in use of the most appropriate AT. Part 1 of this blog series (Assistive Technology: Review IEPs Prior to Back-To-School) includes general information about AT. In Part 2, the LeafBridge team reviews some possible “Low Tech”, “Mid Tech,” and “High Tech” AT solutions for reading.

Reading Assistive Technology.png

Remember that individualized assessment (AT service) precedes choosing an AT device or tool. The following lists include EXAMPLES of AT for reading. The intent is to demonstrate a small snapshot of the MANY available options for reading AT. There are many other fine AT devices and tools available in addition to those identified in this blog. We intentionally placed the “cart before the horse” in this blog to help readers understand the importance of assessment to identify the most appropriate AT option for a student, rather than arbitrarily choosing from lists of AT. Please stay tuned to AT Blog Part 3 to review the assessment process for AT. The following products, manufacturers or vendors are meant only as examples. United Cerebral Palsy and LeafBridge Services do not endorse specific products and they do not have affiliations with the products, websites, or resources. Please note that vendors listed may not be the sole supplier for a product.

Low Tech Reading Assistive Technology

Resources for Printable Graphic Organizers for Reading

Highlighters

Book Holders

Enlarged or Modified Print

Mid and High Tech Reading Assistive Technology

Fonts:

Reading with Pictures

Audio and Digital Books

Software Programs and Apps with Multiple Reading Technology Features

Digital Recording Pen

Cameras

About the Authors

Rebecca Guenther, M.A, CCC-SLP is a speech-language pathologist with 14 years of school based, home and outpatient experience with a primary focus on children with complex disorders including cerebral palsy, autism, and rare genetic conditions. Rebecca has a passion for developing and implementing functional communication systems using a combination of both low and high technology augmentative/alternative communication systems. Rebecca is a leader in her field and has provided hands on training and professional in-services to her peers regarding Augmentative/Alternative Communication. Rebecca remains current in this ever-changing assistive technology field by attending professional conferences such as the Assistive Technology Industry Association Conference and Closing the Gap. Rebecca is proficient in programming multiple AAC devices from frequently used vendors such as Saltillo, Prentke Romich Company, Tobii-Dynavox, Pragmatic Organization Dynamic Display communication books, and multiple tablet applications. Rebecca serves as the Speech and Language Pathology Manager for the pediatric department at LeafBridge of United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) of Greater Cleveland. As manager, she coordinates speech therapy programming, leads Camp LeafBridge for Extended School Year summer programming and she coordinates feeding therapy services provided at LeafBridge. Rebecca travels the state of Ohio to conduct Assistive Technology Evaluations and Independent Educational Evaluations.

Amanda Stohrer, MS, OTR/L, ATP is an Occupational Therapist with extensive experience in providing care for children with complex disabilities. Amanda serves as the Occupational Therapy Manager for the pediatric department at LeafBridge of United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) of Greater Cleveland. As manager, Amanda coordinates occupational therapy programming for school-based services, outpatient therapies, fieldwork experiences, a functional skills program, upper extremity serial casting, and the LeafBridge Steps to Independence program for intensive intervention. Amanda is a RESNA certified Assistive Technology Professional and is highly skilled with transdisciplinary assessment for seating and mobility in collaboration with the assistive technology team at LeafBridge. Amanda earned a BS in Interdisciplinary Health Sciences in 2008 and then a master’s degree in Occupational Therapy in 2009 through Western Michigan University. Amanda has significant training in sensory integration, NDT, functional electrical stimulation, orthopedics, interventions for children with complex learning needs, and Cortical Visual Impairment (CVI.) As an adjunct faculty member for the COTA program at Cuyahoga Community College, Amanda facilitates the lab and lecture series for the course entitled "Techniques in Developmental Disabilities.” Amanda holds the Perkins-Roman CVI Range© Endorsement which demonstrates expertise in administering the CVI Range Assessment for Children with Cortical Visual Impairment. In addition, she earned Micro credentials in CVI Basics and the CVI Range. Amanda travels the state of Ohio to conduct Assistive Technology and Independent Educational Evaluations.

Laurene Sweet, PT, ATP, MEd, DPT is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and RESNA certified Assistive Technology Professional with 25 years of experience in outpatient clinics, schools, hospitals, an autism specialty program, and the Day Program for alternative school placements at UCP. She is the Manager of Specialized Services for LeafBridge. Laurene’s expertise in developing holistic programming for children with complex and co-existing disabilities emerged through cross training with other disciplines, continuing education, and direct experience. In 2007, she earned a master’s degree in Special Education with concentrations in Autism and Assistive Technology and advanced coursework in Functional Behavior Assessment. In 2014, Laurene published peer-reviewed clinical research in the Pediatric Physical therapy Journal. She manages the serial casting program at UCP to improve range of motion for children with ankle and foot deformities. Laurene coordinates UCP’s Day Program for children with complex learning needs and Cortical Visual Impairment (CVI). She holds the Perkins-Roman CVI Range© Endorsement which demonstrates expertise in administering the CVI Range Assessment for Children with Cortical Visual Impairment. In addition, Laurene earned Micro credentials in CVI Basics and the CVI Range. Laurene is a mother of a student with a Specific Learning Disability. She adopted two teenagers from foster care and is well-versed in Trauma Informed Care. Laurene travels the state of Ohio to conduct Assistive Technology and Independent Educational Evaluations.

Reading Comprehension Interventions

The ultimate goal in reading is for students to understand what they have read. Basic reading and fluency skills are essential in forming a strong reading foundation. But if your students can already identify words correctly and read at an appropriate speed, but cannot understand what they are reading, they likely need reading comprehension interventions. It is important that students understand important vocabulary words within texts as well as derive meaning from text as a whole. Below you will find intervention strategies to address reading vocabulary and reading comprehension skills.

Vocabulary Intervention

It is important that the student has the understanding of what the words they are reading mean. Reading vocabulary interventions focus on learning word meaning, word analysis, and understanding words in context.

Morphology

Students can often look at a word’s structure to give them clues about what it means. Students should be taught the meanings of prefixes, basewords, and suffixes to gain insight about what a word may mean.

Word Meaning Sorts

Students are asked to sort words into like categories. For example, this can include words that are synonyms that would be grouped together. Teachers can also integrate morpheme units into meaning sorts.

Comprehension Intervention

Finally, we want students to understand the concepts that have been presented to them in their reading. Reading comprehension interventions may include generating questions; graphic organizers; passage retell; Preview, Question, Read, Reflect, Recite, Review (PQ4R); or others.

Question Generation

Student generate their own questions about what they are going to read and use them as a monitoring tool once they begin reading.

Graphic Organizers

The teacher can make a graphic organizer to organize important information about a story such as characters, setting, the main problem, important events that happened in the story, the resolution, the main theme, etc. Graphic organizers can be customized to best fit the type of text the student is reading.

Passage Retell

Students read a passage and then retell what happened in the passage. Afterwards, they can re-read the passage to determine if the retell was complete and accurate.

Preview, Question, Read, Reflect, Recite, Review (PQ4R)

The student previews the text by reading the title and subheadings. Then they will create questions based on the information that they previewed. The student reflects while they read and pause to make connections and create mental images. After reading, the student will provide a retell of what they read. Finally, the student reviews the text, answers the questions that were previously made, and find any necessary clarifying information in the text.

Over the past several weeks, we have been sharing instructional strategies to address different skills associated with reading: phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. You may hear instructional strategies referred to as interventions, direct instruction, or individualized instruction, among other terms. Next week we will post about accommodations that may address your student’s reading needs, and explain how they differ from intervention services.

Reading Fluency Interventions

Now that we have covered intervention ideas for basic reading skills such as phonological awareness and phonics, we are going to move onto the next area of reading: reading fluency.

Reading Fluency

Reading fluency refers to the ability to read text accurately and at an appropriate rate. Fluent readers are able to read orally with speed, accuracy, and proper expression. Reading fluency is important because it allows students to more easily derive meaning from text.

Reading Fluency Interventions

When choosing a reading fluency strategy, it is important to remember that the goal is for students to become better able to read with appropriate rate, accuracy, and expression. This means that we want to choose texts that students are able to decode, but not read fluently. We also want to ensure that students are getting immediate feedback about their skills throughout the intervention period. Students will need frequent practice with fluency. Several reading fluency interventions include: repeated reading, paired reading, and listening while reading.

Repeated Reading

During repeated reading, a student reads a short passage aloud to the teacher. If the student is unable to read a word correctly, the teacher provides the word, and the student repeats it. The student reread the passage at least three times until they are able to read it fluently.

Paired Reading

In paired reading, the teacher pairs the student with someone with similar or higher reading fluency skills. The students then read aloud to each other, taking turns reading by sentence, paragraph, or page as appropriate.

Listening While Reading

With this approach, a student works with a teacher. The student follows along while the teacher reads the passage aloud. The student then reads the passage aloud to the teacher who provides corrective feedback as needed.

The University of Oregon provides helpful information about reading fluency theory and practice. The Florida Center for Reading Research also shares research-based fluency resources. Understanding, Assessing, and Intervening on Reading Problems by Dr. Laurice Joseph is another quality resource that provides helpful information on reading fluency strategies to educators.

Next week, we will discuss the final area that students can qualify for special education under in reading: reading comprehension. Please join us as we cover how to address reading vocabulary and reading comprehension needs.

Focus on the Joy, Not the Struggle

Welcome to our Back-to-School Blog Series! This week, we are featuring a variety of professionals who are sharing their expertise to help make the back-to-school transition a little bit easier for students, parents, and educators. Jennifer Blankenship, of North Star Family Guidance, wrote today’s blog about how to keep the joy during the back-to-school transition:

It’s back to school time, and that means lots of videos of excited parents cheering for the school bus and memes of moms in pajamas with wine. But for families with children who struggle at school, the fall means the end to a relatively relaxing time without the stress of anxiety in the mornings, homework battles in the evening, and calls from the teachers during the day. You don’t have to wonder if this is the day that your child gets kicked out of preschool, of if your child has finally done enough to be expelled, or if there will be an angry child with a mountain of homework to wade through this evening (that you may or may not just end up doing yourself).

There is a lot of information out there for how to help with anxiety, keep your kids organized, and improve their emotional management skills (and I can help in these areas if you need it). But this blog isn’t about that. This blog is to remind you that even if you have an emotionally intense, behaviorally difficult child with poor emotional insight, you can and should still enjoy their childhood. Your child still deserves to experience all the joy and wonder that goes along with being a kid.

This is what I want you to hold on to: Your child is amazing, just as he is. Your child is absolutely delightful, just a she is. And I can promise you, he is doing the best he can. She is doing the best she can.

Even if the school year is made up of huge battles and small victories. Even if your child takes longer than you like to get ready in the morning. Even if you have the same conversation Every. Single. Day. Even if your child is getting “clipped down,” or “on red,” or getting dumb little sad faces on their daily progress reports.

You deserve to enjoy your child, even when the teacher is not particularly enjoying your child. Childhood is still short. You want to squeeze as much joy out of it as possible. So how do you do that?

Watch your child when she is really engaged in something that interests her. Really watch her. See her facial expressions, and intense concentration, and love of learning something new or doing her favorite thing. Watch your child when he is playing or having fun. See the smiles and hear the giggles. Get on your child’s level, sit on the floor and really tune in when she wants to tell you something. Give her your full attention, and notice her mannerisms and style of talking. All of these things make your child unique and precious.

Do those things on a regular basis, and especially when you are feeling overwhelmed with the struggles. Tune back into the delightfulness of your child.

Also remember these things:

You are your child’s Safe Place: If you get called in to the principal’s office, connect with your child first. Make eye contact. Smile even. Let him know you are on his side, even if what he did was clearly wrong. You don’t have to be angry or act angry just because the principal is angry. You have permission to parent your child differently. This does not mean that there aren’t consequences for the behavior. It just means that you can work it out together.

Be an ally, not an enemy: If your child is facing a mountain of homework, you have a choice. You can yell repeatedly to get working on it, or you can sit at the table beside him and offer some help-maybe even start by validating the feelings of overwhelm. If your child is really struggling with something, you can create a system with a bunch of rewards that he may never earn and consequences that he surely will, or you can sit down and have a problem-solving conversation about it. Kids have really creative ideas. Let’s trust that they know what is most helpful for them.

Allow room for grace: Have some grace for your child. If your child has intense emotions, struggles with anxiety, or ADHD, or social skills deficits, or learning deficits, they need a little extra grace. Whether diagnosed formally or not, if your child is having difficulty, have some grace. This grace should extend to teachers and administrators as well. Bonus points if you can even extend some grace to yourself. We are all just doing the best we can.

If your child’s struggles are becoming too much to manage, interfering with his or her success, or sucking the joy out of your family, please reach out today. I offer free consultations to talk about what might be helpful and to determine if we would be a good fit to work together.

About the Author

Jennifer Blankenship is a Licensed Independent Social Worker and Board-Certified Behavior Analyst with 20 years of experience working with children and families. Her private practice is located in Chagrin Falls, and focuses on children displaying off-track and difficult behaviors. Specialty areas also include twice exceptional students, children with Autism, and families living with anxiety related to food allergies. You can learn more about her practice at northstarfamilyguidance.com, email her at jennifer@northstarfamilyguidance.com, or call 724-813-2065.

Assistive Technology: Review IEPs Prior to Back-To-School

Welcome to our Back-to-School Blog Series! This week, we are featuring a variety of professionals who are sharing their expertise to help make the back-to-school transition a little bit easier for students, parents, and educators. Today’s post has been written by Rebecca Guenther, MA, CCC-SLP, Amanda Stohrer, MS, OTR/L, ATP, and Laurene Sweet, PT, ATP, MEd, DPT from LeafBridge.

As we gather school supplies and prepare our students for the upcoming school year, it is important to review and understand your student’s IEP. Assistive Technology is an area commonly misunderstood or underrepresented on the IEP. Consideration of assistive technology needs is required by IDEA and is based on the unique educational needs of the student. In this blog, we review the meaning of assistive technology devices, team members involved in assistive technology services, and how to obtain an assistive technology evaluation/assessment.

What is AT and how can it help?

According to Section 300.5 of IDEA, assistive technology (AT) device means any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of a child with a disability. In simpler terms, an AT device levels the playing field to help a student with a disability function at the same or higher level. Some examples of assistive technology devices for education include Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices, digital books with text to speech, adapted writing devices, a wheelchair, a switch accessible computer or tablet, and modifications for low vision just to name a few.

Where is AT listed in the IEP?

In section 2 of the IEP, there is a box probing the question “Does the child need assistive technology devices and/or services?” This should initiate a team discussion for justifying why a student would or would not benefit from AT devices and/or services. Parents, as a part of the IEP team, should be involved in conversations and decision making surrounding assistive technology. Through an Assistive Technology Evaluation, the team explores possible AT solutions in any number of areas such as reading, self-care, writing, computer access, learning, and math. If AT devices and services are warranted, each device or service should be specified under section 7 of the IEP.

What are Assistive Technology Services?

According to Section 300.6 of IDEA, assistive technology (AT) service means any service that directly assists a child with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device. The term includes the evaluation of need, acquiring equipment, customizing and maintaining the equipment, coordinating with the IEP team, as well as training for the student and any other members of the student’s intervention team. Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology (QIAT), developed by focus groups and validated through research, indicates that “assistive technology assessments are conducted by a team with collective knowledge and skills”. Potential AT team members include parents, students, physical, occupational, and speech & language pathologists; intervention specialists; nurses; psychologists; vision specialists; and behavior specialists, just to name a few. No single specialist can be the expert across all areas of AT. Extensive resources are available on the QIAT website, including specific information about AT and the IEP process: https://qiat.org/indicators.html. Due to the ever-changing standards and availability of assistive technology, it may also be beneficial to include a RESNA certified Assistive Technology Professional (ATP) as a part of the IEP team. RESNA stands for Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America. You can identify a RESNA certified ATP in your area using the “Find a Certified AT Professional Tool” at https://www.resna.org/. You may also order a copy of RESNA standards for Assistive Technology on the RESNA website: https://www.resna.org/at-standards.

How do I request an AT assessment?

Referral to initiate the AT process typically comes from concern by an educational professional and/or a parent or team discussion about a student’s needs. The concern typically surrounds area of the student’s educational program in which he/she is unable to participate due to his/her disability. The following is a good resource from OCALI with information about initiating the AT process: https://www.ocali.org/up_doc/AT_Resource_Guide_5.pdf. It is helpful for parents to submit requests in writing, clearly stating the request and the reason for the request. The following resource from the Georgia Project for Assistive Technology includes legal mandates for Assistive Technology: http://www.gpat.org/Georgia-Project-for-Assistive-Technology/Pages/Legal-Mandates-for-Assistive-Technology.aspx.

Summary

IDEA 2004 requires that the IEP team consider the assistive technology needs of every child with a disability. Consideration for AT supports should be a thorough evaluation process completed by a team of professionals in order to asses AT needs across all content areas. Look for our next blog to learn more about assistive technology for reading.

About the Authors

Rebecca Guenther, M.A, CCC-SLP is a speech-language pathologist with 14 years of school based, home and outpatient experience with a primary focus on children with complex disorders including cerebral palsy, autism, and rare genetic conditions. Rebecca has a passion for developing and implementing functional communication systems using a combination of both low and high technology augmentative/alternative communication systems. Rebecca is a leader in her field and has provided hands on training and professional in-services to her peers regarding Augmentative/Alternative Communication. Rebecca remains current in this ever-changing assistive technology field by attending professional conferences such as the Assistive Technology Industry Association Conference and Closing the Gap. Rebecca is proficient in programming multiple AAC devices from frequently used vendors such as Saltillo, Prentke Romich Company, Tobii-Dynavox, Pragmatic Organization Dynamic Display communication books, and multiple tablet applications. Rebecca serves as the Speech and Language Pathology Manager for the pediatric department at LeafBridge of United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) of Greater Cleveland. As manager, she coordinates speech therapy programming, leads Camp LeafBridge for Extended School Year summer programming and she coordinates feeding therapy services provided at LeafBridge. Rebecca travels the state of Ohio to conduct Assistive Technology Evaluations and Independent Educational Evaluations.

Amanda Stohrer, MS, OTR/L, ATP is an Occupational Therapist with extensive experience in providing care for children with complex disabilities. Amanda serves as the Occupational Therapy Manager for the pediatric department at LeafBridge of United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) of Greater Cleveland. As manager, Amanda coordinates occupational therapy programming for school-based services, outpatient therapies, fieldwork experiences, a functional skills program, upper extremity serial casting, and the LeafBridge Steps to Independence program for intensive intervention. Amanda is a RESNA certified Assistive Technology Professional and is highly skilled with transdisciplinary assessment for seating and mobility in collaboration with the assistive technology team at LeafBridge. Amanda earned a BS in Interdisciplinary Health Sciences in 2008 and then a master’s degree in Occupational Therapy in 2009 through Western Michigan University. Amanda has significant training in sensory integration, NDT, functional electrical stimulation, orthopedics, interventions for children with complex learning needs, and Cortical Visual Impairment (CVI.) As an adjunct faculty member for the COTA program at Cuyahoga Community College, Amanda facilitates the lab and lecture series for the course entitled "Techniques in Developmental Disabilities.” Amanda holds the Perkins-Roman CVI Range© Endorsement which demonstrates expertise in administering the CVI Range Assessment for Children with Cortical Visual Impairment. In addition, she earned Micro credentials in CVI Basics and the CVI Range. Amanda travels the state of Ohio to conduct Assistive Technology and Independent Educational Evaluations.

Laurene Sweet, PT, ATP, MEd, DPT is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and RESNA certified Assistive Technology Professional with 25 years of experience in outpatient clinics, schools, hospitals, an autism specialty program, and the Day Program for alternative school placements at UCP. She is the Manager of Specialized Services for LeafBridge. Laurene’s expertise in developing holistic programming for children with complex and co-existing disabilities emerged through cross training with other disciplines, continuing education, and direct experience. In 2007, she earned a master’s degree in Special Education with concentrations in Autism and Assistive Technology and advanced coursework in Functional Behavior Assessment. In 2014, Laurene published peer-reviewed clinical research in the Pediatric Physical therapy Journal. She manages the serial casting program at UCP to improve range of motion for children with ankle and foot deformities. Laurene coordinates UCP’s Day Program for children with complex learning needs and Cortical Visual Impairment (CVI). She holds the Perkins-Roman CVI Range© Endorsement which demonstrates expertise in administering the CVI Range Assessment for Children with Cortical Visual Impairment. In addition, Laurene earned Micro credentials in CVI Basics and the CVI Range. Laurene is a mother of a student with a Specific Learning Disability. She adopted two teenagers from foster care and is well-versed in Trauma Informed Care. Laurene travels the state of Ohio to conduct Assistive Technology and Independent Educational Evaluations.

Key Strategies for Helping Your Child with Speech and Language Challenges

Welcome to our Back-to-School Blog Series! This week, we are featuring a variety of professionals who are sharing their expertise to help make the back-to-school transition a little bit easier for students, parents, and educators. Today’s post was written by Melissa Baker, owner and speech-language pathologist of Chagrin Valley Speech Therapy Services:

As a parent of a child with a communication disorder, you may be feeling that there is more you can be doing to help them improve their speech and language skills at home. You know that you spend the most time with your child and would like guidance as to how to help them make more progress and reach their maximum potential. As the school year is just beginning, you may be looking to your child’s school speech-language pathologist to provide guidance. After working in both public and private schools as a speech-language pathologist, I know the struggle of having a large caseload and not having the time to provide my students and families with as many ideas and strategies for working on their speech and language targets outside of their school day as I would have liked. However, when parents specifically requested help, I was more than happy to send home specific suggestions and homework that targeted their child’s goals. I would encourage you to contact your child’s speech-language pathologist at the start of the school year and ask for specific recommendations regarding how to help them at home. Most speech-language pathologists appreciate parents that will work with their child outside of the school setting as they know this will help them progress much faster. I’m also hopeful that this article will arm you with tools and strategies that you can start using now.

We know that speech-language pathologists have limited time with your child and generalizing their skills into the natural environment is so important. As their parent, you’re the person who spends the most time with them and this makes you an ideal teacher. I’d like to start with strategies for children with language-based challenges and will follow it with strategies for children with speech sound/articulation challenges.

Limit Screen Time

For children with language impairments, there are many ways that you can expand and encourage language development during everyday activities. One of the biggest ways you can help your child is to encourage less screen time. According to Healthline.com, researchers from the National Institutes of Health just completed a study on 11,000 9-and 10-year-olds in the United States and found that children who used screens for more than two hours a day got lower scores on thinking and language tests. Excessive amounts of screen time can also lead to other health concerns like obesity, disrupted sleep, and depression. For younger and elementary-aged children, it’s recommended that if they are using tablets or phones, that you are sitting with them and interacting with it as well. Some apps such as My PlayHome and Toca Boca apps are great for modeling vocabulary and language concepts. As your child is playing these apps, you can talk about what is happening, ask open-ended questions, label vocabulary, give and follow directions, etc.

Read to Your Child

My second recommendation to build language skills it to read to your child. Reading daily to your child helps to build their vocabulary, comprehension, concentration, and enhances creativity and imagination. A tip would be to find wordless books and talk about the pictures, guess what might happen next, and build a new story each time you read it. Lastly, narrate what you are doing as much as possible. Remember to use sentences that are 1-2 words longer than what your child is currently producing. For example, if your child is saying “doggy run”, you can model, “Yes, the dog is running”. For more ideas for using this strategy during a variety of daily activities, please see this handout from Super Duper Publications: https://www.superduperinc.com/handouts/pdf/227_LangExpExt.pdf

Target Speech Sounds

For children with speech sound/articulation challenges, there are many ways that parents can help at home. If you know the sounds your child is having difficulty producing, find books in the library that target these sounds. When reading these books to your child, sit facing them and have them watch your mouth as you produce the sound. Try to overenunciate the sound so that they are hearing it and seeing it. For a list of books that target each speech sound, please visit the following website:https://sopecreeklibrary.typepad.com/lupu/books-to-practice-speech-sounds.html You can also practice the target sounds/words from the book in the bathroom mirror. Your child will enjoy the time with you, and you can be silly by making funny faces too!

Practice Speech Everywhere

Practice their target sound while in the car, waiting at the doctor’s office, out for a walk in the neighborhood, or while grocery shopping. Find words with the target sound as you are driving, or label items on the grocery store shelves. Look around the house and see if you can find items that have the targeted sound. Even practicing just 5-10 minutes each day can make a huge impact on developing the motor plan needed to make the sound more automatic. If you make practicing part of your daily routine it becomes a habit. For example, brush your teeth, practice your words, read a book, and go to bed. You can find words, phrases, sentences, and reading passages for each sound at the following website: https://www.home-speech-home.com/speech-therapy-word-lists.html. For children who need pictures, you can go to Google images and find pictures with the targeted sound. There is a website for sharing teacher created materials called www.teacherspayteachers.com. This website has many free and low-cost articulation and language materials that you can use at home as well.

Speech/Language Assessment

If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, it’s always best to consult an ASHA certified speech-language pathologist for a thorough assessment. You can find a list of providers in your state by going to https://www.asha.org/profind/. I hope the ideas and strategies supplied in this article empower you to help your child’s communication skills soar. Please contact me at chagrinvalleyspeech@gmail.com with any questions. Have a great start to the school year!

About the Author

Melissa Baker is the owner and speech-language pathologist at Chagrin Valley Speech Therapy Services, LLC (Link). She has been practicing pediatric speech pathology for over twenty years. At the beginning of her career, she worked in the public schools helping children with complex communication disorders. For nearly fourteen years, she was the Speech Therapy Department Supervisor at Monarch Center for Autism (link) in Shaker Heights, Ohio. In October 2016, Melissa opened my private pediatric speech therapy practice in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. She serves children ages 3-22 with speech, language, and augmentative communication needs. She specializes in working with children with autism, but also has a passion for helping children with articulation and language disorders. Melissa provides speech and language assessments and treatment, social skills groups, camps, parent trainings, and Independent Educational Evaluations (IEE) (link). She is currently accepting private pay clients and can be reached at 440-972-3670 or chagrinvalleyspeech@gmail.com. You can learn more about her services by visiting www.chagrinvalleyspeech.com.

Executive Function… Can It Just Function?

Welcome to our Back-to-School Blog Series! This week, we are featuring a variety of professionals who are sharing their expertise to help make the back-to-school transition a little bit easier for students, parents, and educators. Today’s guest blogger is Haley Dunn, owner and counselor at Bella Vita Counseling.

Does your child forget to bring their homework home? Or maybe the homework made it home, but the science book came home instead of the history book. Do they easily lose track of time? Do they have a bunch of papers shoved in their backpack, but they swear they know where everything is and ‘it’s organized’?

If you answered, ‘Yep, sounds like my kid.’ Then they might have executive functioning issues. But what really is executive function?

The brainy stuff:

  • Working memory: Our working memory helps us hold on to information and use it.

  • Impulse control (self-regulation): Our impulse control helps us think before we act; helps us with emotional regulation.

  • Flexible thinking: Flexible thinking helps us ‘shift gears’ and think about things in different ways.

What does that mean to you as a parent of a student with executive functioning issues?

Executive functioning skills do not develop linearly, so it can be difficult to figure out when it is typical versus an issue affecting their daily functioning. Some concerns you may have noticed in your student:

  • An inability to pay attention

  • Losing track of time or getting hyper-focused on an activity

  • Regulating emotions- BIG emotions and reactions

  • Initiating tasks or getting easily distracted by other tasks

  • Overall organization and planning

If your child is experiencing some of these symptoms there are ways to help support and better develop their skills at home.

How can I help my student?

Visual schedules are one way to help manage time and expectations. They allow students to see all the necessary tasks for the morning, what to place in their backpacks or the schedule for after school. Visual schedules are a great way to prompt students, keep them on task and hopefully reduce frustration for the student and the parent. For ideas click here.

Other great ways to help your student organize and stay on task are: using a backpack with multiple compartments, timers (especially visual), or organizational apps on the phone (such as Evernote), etc. There are many way to help develop executive functioning skills and there are different suggestions depending on the skill you are looking to help them improve. For a full list of ideas click here.

Is this typical? How do I sort that out?

It is important to note that some executive functioning skills may be developmentally appropriate, such as, a teen who has trouble managing their time or remembering their homework or adolescent that is very emotional. If your child is having persistent trouble in these areas and it is affecting school and home life then it might be more than just their age or development.

Well, does this mean my child has ADHD?

Maybe, but executive functioning impairments can cross into many different learning issues and mental health areas, so it is important to speak with a professional about your concerns. School psychologists can help you get started on the necessary supports your child will need at school, such as an IEP or 504. Look to professionals, like a mental health counselor or psychologist, outside of school to help with identifying symptoms, to work on skill building and symptom maintenance.

About the Author

Haley Dunn is a licensed professional counselor and is the owner of Bella Vita Counseling in Beachwood, Ohio. She is passionate about helping teens with learning differences, ADHD and autism find individual success at home and school. You can learn more about Haley by visiting her Psychology Today page: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/haley-dunn-beachwood-oh/460836

School Refusal: Just a phase? Or is it Anxiety?

Welcome to our Back-to-School Blog Series! This week, we are featuring a variety of professionals who are sharing their expertise to help make the back-to-school transition a little bit easier for students, parents, and educators. Today’s post is written by Katie D’Fantis of Inner Harmony Counseling:

Does this sound like a typical school-day morning with your teen?

  • Getting your teen out of bed and to school on time is a chore.

  • There’s so much arguing on school-day mornings that you often give up or feel like giving up.

  • You’ve lost track of how many days of school they’ve missed or how many times you’ve called them in late.

  • Your teens distress and refusal to go to school has caused you to be late for work most days.

As a counselor who works with older teens 16 years and up, I’ve seen the difficult effects school refusal can have on the teen and their parents.

Possible Causes of School Refusal

Sometimes school refusal is in an attempt by the teen to avoid something unpleasant. Maybe a test they didn’t study for or a class they’d prefer to miss. Sometimes school refusal is a temporary issue such as when school starts back up after summer or winter break. It’s common for worries to flare up then but once the teen gets back into a routine, the worry usually decreases.

Sometimes school refusal isn’t just full school days missed but multiple days tardy, leaving school early, or numerous trips to the nurse. It’s important to note that anxiety in kids and teens typically manifests in somatic symptoms, such as a stomachache or a headache. It’s important to make an appointment with your teens pediatrician to be sure there isn’t an underlying medical issue that needs attention.

When tardiness, leaving class, or school refusal become an ongoing issue, this may point to the presence of a diagnosable disorder such as generalized anxiety disorder.

Let me start by saying that this article is not intended to help you diagnose your teen. In our “WebMD world” today, it’s important to remember that diagnosing should be left to a licensed professional who administers a diagnostic assessment in person. The purpose of this article is simply to help you gain a basic understanding what generalized anxiety may look like.

So what does generalized anxiety disorder look like in teens?

Teens who are struggling with anxiety may have difficulty concentrating, experience muscle tension, may often feel irritable or on edge, fatigued, or may have difficulty falling or staying asleep. When I talk to teens who have missed multiple days of school, they often share that they feel completely overwhelmed by the piles of work that need to be made up. And the fact that they may already be flunking the class doesn’t help to motivate them; it simply creates an even more pronounced feeling of helplessness. You or I may think “Well, what’s the problem? Just take it one assignment at a time!”, but anxiety doesn’t work that way. Anxiety only allows the teen to see the enormous, daunting pile of work in front of them in its entirety and not the smaller, more manageable parts.

Your teen needs coping skills and strategies to manage the feeling of being overwhelmed, help with that feeling of helplessness, and support for all the ways anxiety affects other aspects of their life. Do them (and yourself!) a favor and talk to them about their willingness to work with a therapist. Email or text them the link to www.psychologytoday.com. Tell them to type their zip code in the “Find a Therapist” search option, scroll through the pictures and bios of the clinicians in their area until they find someone who works with teens with anxiety and who seems like they’d be a good fit. And if your teen doesn’t jive with the first counselor they meet, don’t make them go back. Help them find a counselor that they feel comfortable with and who seems genuine and trusting so they can start moving towards a life where school isn’t plagued with anxiety and you can begin to feel hopeful for smooth and steady school-day mornings with your teen.

About the Author

Katie D'Fantis is an LPC, an EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) clinician, and the owner of Inner Harmony Counseling in Brecksville, Ohio. She works with older teens and adults and specializes in helping those who struggle with anxiety, depression, PTSD, grief/loss, self-esteem, codependency, relationship and communication issues. For more information about Katie’s practice, visit https://www.ihcounselingohio.com/, call 440-630-0126, email katie@ihcounselingohio.com, or find Inner Harmony Counseling on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ihcounseling.

What Does Anxiety Look Like in Kids? Well, a Lot Like Anger.

Welcome to our Back-to-School Blog Series! This week, we are featuring a variety of professionals who are sharing their expertise to help make the back-to-school transition a little bit easier for students, parents, and educators. Today, Georgie Gray, social worker and owner of Georgie Gray Counseling, will provide us insight into anxiety in young children:

We all know what anxiety is... right? It’s one of those concepts that seems straightforward until we try to define it. We might say it is worry or stress, and that is true. But what does it really mean, and what does it look like in day to day life?

Maybe for you it’s dreading an important meeting at work or feeling the constant pressure of making your paycheck cover your expenses. These thoughts and feelings might color the background of your daily life, dulling everything else, and making you short-tempered and irritable.

This is exactly what happens when kids feel anxious. Anxiety, stress, and worry come from different sources for kids but the result is the same: anxious kids have less room for the good stuff of life because dealing with stress takes so much energy.

So, what does anxiety look like in kids? It looks like a tantrum about how you didn’t say, “good morning” the right way. It looks like rigid rules about how to correctly pack one’s backpack before school. It looks like bedtime battles, quick tempers, and tears. In other words, anxiety in kids often comes out as irritability and anger (very much like adults).

The difference is, adults are better able to name what is happening (“I’m so stressed about money”) and take steps to cope, like making a budget, venting to a friend, or exercising, for example. Kids just don’t have the insight and experience (yet) to feel help themselves feel better.

There are several things parents can do to help:

Behavior is Communication

Understand that children’s behaviors are their way of expressing themselves (not just their words). Anger and tantrums are your child’s ways of saying, “Things feel terrible inside me right now.” Try not to get caught up in your own worries (like: “My kid is manipulating me”). Let go of the idea of figuring out why your child is behaving the way he is, at least for the moment. Focus instead on the goals of helping your child feel better right now, and supporting him in learning new skills for feeling better in the future.

Problem-Solve

Problem-solve with your child about the things he seems to struggle with most. For example: “It seems like packing your backpack stresses you out. Is there anything we can figure out together to make that easier?” Collaborate on solutions. Offer your support and guidance. If your child feels that you are on his team, he may be able to offload some of his stress, and his behavior may improve. Together try to come up with strategies for coping with anger the next time your child is upset. For example, taking slow, deep breaths; squeezing a stress ball; listening to music; or running, jumping or dancing to use up nervous energy.

Talk about It

Invite your child to talk about what is on his mind. Avoid putting your child on the spot or asking too many questions. Instead, just spend time near your child, doing things you both enjoy. Talking about emotions makes people—kids and adults—feel vulnerable, so take care to honor the signals your child is giving about his comfort level. Set yourself up as a good listener, not a good advice-giver. You’ll get much further that way. Side-by-side activities often work best for conversations like these, such as riding bikes together or driving in the car; things feel less intense when there is no chance for eye contact, and when the talk feels more spontaneous.

Show Support

Use your body language and attention to convey that your child is enough, just as he is. This is a powerful message, and the more we send it to our kids the better they will feel. When kids believe that their parents love them, warts and all, they feel less afraid to try new things, and to make mistakes (often what kids worry about most). Send your child a “you’ve got this” look, or touch his shoulder to let him know you’re there, you support him, even with all his big and hard-to-understand feelings.

Empathize

Most important of all: try to have empathy when times are tough. Try to see your child’s tantrums, irrational behavior, tears, and drama through a new lens, the lens of anxiety. Though you may never know exactly what feelings are underneath your child’s behavior, empathy goes a long way toward making things better. After all, when you’re frantically trying to get out the door in the morning for that dreaded work meeting, doesn’t a kind word feel better than somebody sternly saying, “it’s not that big a deal, pull yourself together!”? I know it does for me.

About the Author

Georgie Gray, MSSA, LISW-S, is a therapist in private practice with over 20 years’ experience working with children and families. She works primarily with families with children ages 10 and under, and specializes in anxiety, depression, peaceful parenting, attachment, and trauma. Georgie’s work is home-based, not office-based, because of the unique opportunities that provides for understanding families’ issues and needs. You can contact Georgie by phone (216-225-3859) or e-mail (GeorgieGrayCounseling@gmail.com). For more information about her practice, visit her website: www.georgiegraycounseling.com

5 Tips to Help to Help Ease Back-to-School Anxiety

Welcome to our Back-to-School Blog Series! This week, we are featuring a variety of professionals who are sharing their expertise to help make the back-to-school transition a little bit easier for students, parents, and educators. Today’s post was written by Allison West Kaskey of West Counseling and Consulting:

Returning to school after summer break can cause increased anxiety for children. Transitions can be especially difficult for children with anxiety, autism spectrum disorders and ADD/ADHD. This can be a stressful time for the child, parents, and the entire family. It is normal to feel anxious during times of change and transition. However, if anxiety is interfering with your child’s ability to return to school or to perform his or her daily activities, here are a few tips on how to ease the back to school anxiety:

Encourage your child to share their fears

Ask him or her to be specific and allow them to be the expert and problem solve. For example, “If _________happens, what could you do?” or “Let’s think of some ways you could handle that situation” or “What has worked in the past, when you felt this way.”

Create a routine

Ease your child back into a school routine by waking up, eating, and going to bed at regular times, and gradually limiting screen time on devices. Continue everyday activities as normal. To involve your child ask him or her to help plan school lunches for the week and pack their backpack in advance together. If your child would like, have them pick out their outfit for the first day or the week.

Develop a plan and reward system

Discuss the schedule for the week ahead and allow your child to plan an activity and/or reward that they will look forward to each day or each week. For example, allow your child to pick out a snack every day after school, choose a game to play, or t.v. show to watch each evening. Then at the end of the week, allow your child to plan an outing of their choice, for example going for ice cream, to the zoo or to see a movie.

Teach and practice coping skills

Here are coping skills to use when your child is feeling nervous, such as journaling, artwork, or using methods such as How to Do Calm Breathing, Developing and Using Cognitive Coping Cards or Creating a Worry Box (see links below).

Remember: Easing anxiety is a process

It takes time to adjust to a new schedule. Be patient. It is normal for children to have trouble for a week or two after a break or the start of school. Each day can bring new challenges. This is especially true for older students, who are navigating new classes, different teachers and schedules.

When to seek professional help

There are some warning signs that your child may need some extra help. Here are a few: If after a few weeks you see your child is still struggling, not wanting to go to school, finding it difficult to perform normal activities, feeling increasingly anxious at nighttime seek help from a professional.

Links:

About the Author

Allison West Kaskey is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor and Educational Specialist. She has over 20 years of experience in the helping profession. She has worked in a variety of counseling and higher education settings with a wide range of roles. Her specialization is in working with clients with disabilities, specifically clients on the autism spectrum. She is the owner, counselor and consultant at West Counseling and Consulting in Richfield. She provides individual, couples and family counseling and consulting. For more information about Allison’s practice, call (216) 532-3168 or visit her website at: https://www.westcounselingandconsulting.com/

The Wilson Reading System

Now that we have discussed what structured literacy is, this week we are going to focus on a specific program, the Wilson Reading System. This program is commonly used in northeast Ohio, and it is the program our school psychology practice uses.

The Wilson Reading System

The Wilson Reading System is an intensive reading intervention that is based on Orton-Gillingham principles. It can be used with individuals who are in the 2nd grade or higher who have significant basic reading skill deficits and are not making appropriate progress with reading decoding and/or spelling skills. This often includes students who have been identified as having a specific learning disability in reading and those diagnosed with dyslexia. This program uses a systematic approach to directly teach students the structure of the English language, including syllable types, morphology, sight words, vocabulary, and reading and listening comprehension skills. As students work their way through a highly structured program, they become better able to fluently decode and spell words. It is recommended that students receive hour-long tutoring sessions at least twice a week.

To teach the structure of the English language to students who are not making adequate progress with their current reading intervention, need more intensive literacy instruction, and/or have a language-based learning disability (like dyslexia), every lesson includes instruction in:

  • Phonemic Awareness

  • Decoding and Word Study

  • Sight Word Recognition

  • Spelling

  • Fluency

  • Vocabulary

  • Oral Expressive Language Development

  • Comprehension

Level I Wilson Reading System Certification

Wilson certification is a very rigorous process. Tutors with Level I Certification have successfully completed training for the first half of the Wilson Reading System program (Steps 1-6). Training includes attending workshops, in-person and on-line classes, and a practicum. Through all of this theoretical and practical training, instructors learn about phonology, orthography, morphology, reading fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension in great detail. Wilson refers to professionals who have completed this level of certification as Wilson Dyslexia Practitioners.

Level II Wilson Reading System Certification

Those who have completed the Level I Certification may choose to continue their education by getting Level II certified. Educators with Level II Certification successfully complete workshops, on-line courses, a practicum with an individual student working on steps 7-12, and a practicum with a group of students. This training provides a greater understanding of the Wilson Reading System. Wilson refers to professionals who have completed this level of certification as Wilson Dyslexia Therapists.

How to Choose a Provider

When looking for a provider, it is important to work with someone who has been certified in the Wilson Reading System to ensure that they are following the program as intended (with fidelity). They should also have availability to meet with your student for hour-long sessions at least twice per week. While some individuals may have some familiarity with the program, the certification process is very rigorous, so you can be sure that the professional you are working with has both the theoretical understanding and practical experience to provide Wilson Reading System intervention effectively.

Join us next week as we move from basic reading skills to reading fluency interventions.

Structured Literacy Programs: Instructional Elements

Last week, we discussed the teaching principles of structured literacy. This week, we will discuss the instructional elements that are taught to students participating in structured literacy programs.

Phonology

Phonology is the study of the structure of spoken words. One of the key elements of phonology is phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness is the ability to distinguish between sounds in words, segment sounds in words, blend sounds in words together, and manipulate sounds in words such as sound deletion. These are foundational skills to strong reading and spelling skills.

Sound-Symbol Association

Once a student is able to manipulate sounds in spoken words, the next step is to master the ability to map sounds (phonemes) to written letters (graphemes) known as the alphabetic principle. In structured literacy programs, students are taught to match letters to sounds which is essential in reading and match sounds to letters which is essential in spelling.

Syllables

Structured literacy programs teach students the six syllable types in the English language. Knowledge of the syllable types allows the student to know the appropriate vowel sound for reading and spelling. Not only are the six syllable types taught, rules of how to divide words into their syllables are also taught to facilitate reading and spelling of multisyllabic words.

Morphology

Morphemes are the smallest unit of meaning in the English language. Prefixes, suffixes, and Latin and Greek base words are all studied for reading, spelling, and meaning. Knowledge of morphology facilitates reading, spelling, and knowledge of the meaning of complex words.

Syntax

Syntax is the set of rules that dictate the function of words in a sentence and the appropriate sequence of those words. This includes the rules of grammar, sentence structure, and the mechanics of written language.

Semantics

Semantics is related to the meaning of language. From the beginning of a structured literacy program, instruction in the comprehension of written language is incorporated.

Both the teaching principles and instructional elements of structured literacy programs are based on the Orton-Gillingham Approach. Some of the most popular programs based on the Orton-Gillingham Approach are the Wilson Reading System, Barton Reading Program, and Lindamood-Bell Program. In Northeast Ohio, one of the most commonly utilized structured literacy programs is the Wilson Reading System. At Achievement Advantage, our tutors use the Wilson Reading System for our intervention services.

Join us next week as we give an overview of the skills that the Wilson Reading System explicitly teaches, how the program works, and qualifications you should look for in an instructor.

Structured Literacy Programs: Teaching Principles

Last week, we talked about interventions that address phonological awareness and phonics needs. While these types of interventions are helpful to many students, the majority of students with a specific learning disability in basic reading and students with dyslexia need a very specific form of intervention to remediate deficits in the areas of word identification and decoding/encoding. This comes in the form of structured literacy. Although there are many structured literacy programs that research has proven to be effective, they all share the same teaching principles which are discussed below.

Systematic and Cumulative Direct Instruction

Structured literacy uses a systematic approach to explicitly teach students how to decode words using a specific scope of material that is covered in a specific sequence to ensure that concepts build on each other in a meaningful way. A systematic approach ensures that the concepts are taught following the logical order of language with the easiest and most basic concepts being taught first before progressing to more difficult concepts. Cumulative instruction means that each portion of the program reviews and builds on the concepts taught previously. With this type of intervention, a child practices a wide range of reading skills that build on each other over time, helping students read more effectively. This means that students work on skills like phonological awareness, sound to symbol association, syllables, and morphology. Each skill is broken down and each component is directly taught to the student with frequent repetition and opportunities to practice the skill to the point of mastery.

Diagnostic Teaching

Diagnostic teaching means that both the informal and formal data that is collected during instruction is utilized to drive subsequent lessons for the students. Both observation and more formalized assessment measures are used to determine which skills the student has mastered to the point of automaticity and which skills should be targeted for further instruction.

Immediate Feedback

Feedback is another important component of structured literacy programs. Because students are working individually with an instructor or in a small group, they are provided immediate feedback throughout the program. This allows the instructor to ensure that students are correctly applying skills and that errors are immediately corrected.

Multisensory Approach

Structured literacy programs use a multi-sensory approach to help students grasp reading skills. This means that the students use of all their senses (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile) to reinforce the systematic sequence of skills that they are learning. Some examples of this are writing letters or words in the air, in sand, or in shaving cream.

The teaching principles outlined above are key elements to what makes structured literacy effective. Next week, we will discuss the instructional elements that are integral to structured literacy programs.

Interventions for Basic Reading Skills

In our last post, we discussed the components of an evaluation to determine the presence of a reading disability. This week, we will cover how to match appropriate instructional strategies to the results of an evaluation.

The National Reading Panel determined that there are five main skill areas that are necessary for reading: Phonemic/Phonological Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, and Comprehension. Interventions should be developed to align with these main areas and the strengths and weaknesses identified within a student’s evaluation. The most foundational skills should be remediated first or in conjunction with other skill areas because students need to form a strong foundation before we can expect them to complete more complex reading skills.

The five areas identified by the National Reading Panel fall within the different eligibility categories for specific learning disabilities on the Evaluation Team Report (ETR). The ETR indicates that a student with a reading disorder may fall within the following special education categories: Basic Reading Skills, Reading Fluency, and Reading Comprehension.

This week we will focus on instructional strategies that will address the Basic Reading Skills category.

Phonological Awareness Intervention

Phonological Awareness is the most foundational skill related to reading, but it often gets overlooked. It refers to an individual’s awareness of the sound structure of oral language. Depending on the individual’s age and needs, intervention might include rhyming, sound matching, sound blending, and sound segmenting activities.

Phonics Intervention

Phonics is the next skill related to basic reading. It refers to correlating sounds with letters or groups of letters. Phonics intervention might include teaching letter to sound correspondence, high frequency sight words, syllable patterns, etc.

There are several resources that provide fun, engaging research-based activities to address these areas. For example, the Florida Center for Reading Research provides free printable activities based on grade level. Additionally, the University of Oregon also provides information about underlying reading theory and instructional strategies. Understanding, Assessing, and Intervening on Reading Problems by Dr. Laurice Joseph also provides helpful information about strategies that educators can use to address basic reading needs.

Providing these types of intervention in a small-group within a classroom setting can help remediate basic reading skills deficits, especially for those students who may have a mild reading disorder or simply need to fill in some skill gaps. However, many students with more significant reading concerns need a more intensive intervention program.

Next week, we will discuss structured literacy programs, which take a multisensory approach to systematically teach reading skills that students. These types of intensive intervention programs often work well for students with dyslexia and other basic reading skills deficits.

Evaluation for Specific Learning Disorders in Reading

Since we have covered basic information about Specific Learning Disability in Reading and Dyslexia, now we can talk about key components in diagnosing these disorders. There is no one assessment battery to diagnose dyslexia. When choosing your examiner, make sure to go with someone who specializes in learning disabilities. While there is no one test that can diagnose a learning disorder in reading, there are several specific assessment areas that should be examined, and an experienced examiner will be able to choose quality tools to gain information about those areas. The following areas should be considered in all evaluations if you or your child has difficulties with reading.

Phonemic/Phonological Awareness

Phonemic/Phonological Awareness refers to an individual’s awareness of the sound structure of oral language. This skill is measured by examining the client’s ability to manipulate sound. For example, assessments may require clients to identify sounds in words, rhyme, delete sounds from words, etc. While this may seem like a basic skill, it is foundational to reading, and many people who have deficits in phonological awareness have subsequent reading difficulties.

Rapid Automatic Naming

Rapid Automatic Naming (RAN) measures how fast a student can scan an array of visual symbols and encode a phonological response. This is usually measured by clients naming letters, numbers, colors, or other symbols as quickly as possible. This type of task measures the efficient retrieval of phonological information and executing a sequence of operations quickly and repeatedly, which is required when decoding unfamiliar words.

Alphabetic Knowledge

It is also import to assess a client’s sound-symbol correspondence skills. This can be accomplished by measuring the ability to associate sounds (phonemes) with specific letters (graphemes).

Word Identification

Word reading automaticity and decoding accuracy are both important components of word identification. Not only is it important that a client can identify real words, but it is important that they can decode nonsense words as well. Assessing nonsense word reading can be a more accurate measure of decoding words since it is unlikely that the client would have had opportunity to memorize these words. In addition to being able to read phonetically decodable words, an assessment for a specific learning disorder in reading should also evaluate a client’s ability to identify irregular words (sight words).

Reading Fluency

Reading fluency is a measure of how quickly and accurately a client can read. Timed tests are given to see how many words an individual can read within a specific time. Often assessments use word lists, sentences, and/or paragraphs to measure reading fluency.

Reading Vocabulary

Reading vocabulary measures a client’s ability to know what individually read words mean. This is an important task that contributes to overall reading understanding.

Reading Comprehension

Reading comprehension is a person’s ability to understand what they have read. Appropriate reading comprehension assessments will look at how students are able to read a variety of text types and answer both literal and inferential questions about the text.

Listening Comprehension

Gathering information about a client’s listening comprehension skills is important so we can compare scores from listening comprehension and reading comprehension subtests. If reading comprehension is weak while listening comprehension average, it gives us a clue that reading comprehension is likely the issue as opposed to broader comprehension concerns.

Executive Functioning

Executive functioning skills are directly related to an individual’s ability to regulate their behavior in order to achieve a goal or complete a task. Working memory, inhibition, and attention all play a part in our ability to read well and should be evaluated if there are concerns related to any of these areas.

An appropriate evaluation will provide insight into an individual’s strengths and weaknesses. Once you are able to identify a student’s area of need, you can plan how to address it. Next time, we will discuss how to match what is found in an evaluation to appropriate intervention services.

Misconceptions About Dyslexia

In our last blog, we shared an overview about what dyslexia is. This week, we will talk about what dyslexia is not. There are many myths and misconceptions about dyslexia and reading disabilities in our society. If we are able to identify those myths and educate others about them, we will move towards being able to provide better services to our students with dyslexia. In our school psychology practice, we commonly hear the following misconceptions about students with dyslexia.

Visual Issues

We often hear people express that students with dyslexia have a visual processing issue that causes reading difficulties. However, we now know that dyslexia is a language-based disability. This means that things related to language processing, such as phonological awareness and sound-symbol skills, are impacted by this disability.

Letter and Word Reversals

Related to vision, many people also believe that dyslexia causes people to reverse letters and/or numbers. While some individuals do reverse their letters, it is only a small percentage. The primary issue is not that an individual with dyslexia sees or writes letters and words backwards, it is that they have language-based difficulties.

Cognitive Deficits

Another myth is that dyslexia means that individuals have cognitive deficits. In fact, many bright, even gifted, students can have dyslexia. Cognitive skills are usually not negatively impacted by dyslexia. Instead, specific skills related to language processing negatively impact reading and spelling skills.

Can’t Learn to Read

Another major misconception is that people with dyslexia can’t learn how to read. It is important to know that with proper intervention services, accommodations, and assistive technology, many students are able to make great strides in learning how to read.

In our following blog, we will address various components that go into conducting a thorough assessments for specific reading disorders.

What is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a term used to describe a Specific Learning Disorder in Reading that expresses itself in a specific way. Dyslexia has been defined by the International Dyslexia Association 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.”

Unlike oral communication, reading and writing are not natural processes. Over time, humans have created symbols that correspond with sounds as a way to communicate through writing. A variety of areas of the brain are affected by dyslexia, and we can see brain-based differences between those with and without dyslexia. As we see in the definition above, dyslexia is neurobiological in origin, which essentially means that individuals with dyslexia have brains that function in a way that causes difficulty with these skills.

Dyslexia occurs in people from all backgrounds and is not indicative of cognitive deficits. In fact, many bright students are diagnosed with dyslexia. However, certain skills such as phonological awareness, identifying letter sounds, decoding words, and spelling are often impacted.

Dyslexia is a fairly common diagnosis. According the International Dyslexia Association, around 6-7% of school-aged students qualify for special education services under the category of specific learning disability. Of those students who qualify with a learning disability, 85% have primary disabilities in reading and language processing. Of course, people experience differences in severity of dyslexia, and not everyone who has dyslexia qualifies for special education. The International Dyslexia Association has estimated that up to 15-20% of people in the United States exhibits some symptoms of dyslexia.

Our understanding of dyslexia and other reading disorders is constantly evolving as more research is being done in the area. While we have come a long way in our understanding of dyslexia, there are still many common misconceptions about it. Next week, we will address common misconceptions we hear about dyslexia in our school psychology practice.

Specific Learning Disability in Reading

If you and your child’s educational team suspect that they have a reading disability, the team will conduct an Evaluation Team Report (ETR) to determine if the student meets the definition of a student with a disability, as outlined in the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). In this step, the team will also have to decide which disability category is most appropriate based on the results of the ETR. Should the data support that your child has a reading disability, they would qualify under the category of Specific Learning Disability.

Specific Learning Disability has been defined by the Ohio Department of Education as:

“a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. Specific learning disability does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, of intellectual disability, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.”

The Specific Learning Disability category is further broken into more detailed parts based on which exact skills the evaluation shows as an area of need. In the case of reading, your child may qualify under basic reading skills, reading fluency, and/or reading comprehension.

When we look back at our last blog about the five main areas of reading, we can see that they all fit within the ETR categories.

Reading Skills Matched to ETR Reading Disability Categories

Reading Skills Matched to ETR Reading Disability Categories

Basic Reading Skills

Both phonemic/phonological awareness and phonics can be considered basic reading skills. If your child has qualified under basic reading skills, this means that they have difficulty understanding and manipulating sounds in our oral language and/or have difficulty recognizing sound-symbols and common letter patterns when reading. This leads to issues with learning basic reading skills, such as accurately identifying words.

Reading Fluency

If your child has qualified for special education services in the area of reading fluency, this means that they have difficulty reading quickly and accurately with appropriate expression.

Reading Comprehension

Both reading vocabulary and comprehension skills falls under the reading comprehension category. If your child qualifies for special education in this area, it means that they have difficulty deriving meaning from text.

Next week, we will continue our discussion about reading disabilities by discussing dyslexia and its unique characteristics.

Important Areas of Reading Instruction

In 2000, the National Reading Panel, consisting of members of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHC), published a major study, which indicated there are five main areas that should be focused on to teach children how to read efficiently: Phonemic/Phonological Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, and Text Comprehension.

Five Main Skills for Reading: Phonological Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, and Comprehension

Five Main Skills for Reading: Phonological Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, and Comprehension

Phonological Awareness

Phonemic/Phonological awareness refers to the capacity to identify and manipulate phonemes (the smallest unit of sound) in oral language.

Phonics

Phonics refers to correlating sounds with letters or groups of letters in an alphabetic writing system. This included recognizing letter-sound correspondences as well as common spelling patterns.

Reading Fluency

Fluency refers to the ability to read quickly and accurately with appropriate expression.

Reading Vocabulary

Reading vocabulary refers to understanding the meaning of read words.

Reading Comprehension

Reading comprehension refers to deriving meaning from written text.

All of these skills build upon each other. For example, we need to have an understanding of the building blocks of oral language before we move on to learning phonics. If we can’t apply alphabetic principals automatically, we likely will not be able to read fluently. We need to be able to read words fluently to be able to identify them and understand the vocabulary. And if we don’t understand the words we read, it will be very difficult to derive meaning from a text. While these skills increase in complexity, students often work on various skills at the same time.

In our upcoming posts, we will explore how these five areas relate to reading disabilities, psychoeducational assessments, and instructional strategies that can help students who need additional support in reading.

Answering Subjective Test Items

Last week we covered strategies to use during objective assessments.  During this blog post, we will review strategies to use during subjective tests.  While taking an objective assessment, the answer you choose can be right or wrong, subjective assessments rely on your instructor’s interpretation of what you have written to determine if you know the material.  Subjective test items can include essay or short answer responses.

Preparation is key in completing essay questions and short response.  Start your studying early so that you can not only recall information easily, but also apply it.  When you take the exam, you will want to implement previewing, planning, writing, and reviewing skills.

  • Previewing.  When you get your assessment, make sure to give yourself a few minutes to preview it.  Look over the test to see what is being asked of you and estimate how much time you have on each item.  If there are multiple essays to complete, consider which one you would like to answer first.  This will likely be the one that you feel you can complete most easily.  Then carefully read the prompt, underlining key words and phrases to gain a thorough understanding of how to complete the question.  If there are multiple components to the question, make sure that you consider each part.

  • Planning.  It is also important to give yourself time to plan your response.  Begin by writing a brief outline of your response.  Refer back to the question to make sure you’re addressing everything you need in your outline.  Also think of some specific examples you can include to strengthen your points.

  • Writing.  Make sure that you address the question within the first paragraph.  Following your introductory paragraph, each paragraph needs to start with a topic sentence.  Your goal should be to answer the question directly with as much information as possible to demonstrate your understanding of the topic.  Leave nothing to inference.  Make sure to define terms you use and support any statement with facts.

  • Reviewing.  When you plan how long you have to answer each item, remember to allow for time to review your responses.  Once you have completed all essay items, go back and read through your answers, checking for appropriate capitalization, punctuation, spelling, and content.  If you are running out of time, it is always better to have a partial response than leaving it blank so that you may receive partial points.

Now that we’ve discussed skills and strategies to increase your chances of success in an educational environment, we will transition to discussing specific disorders that individuals may have cause difficulties in school.

If you’re utilizing all of these study and time management strategies and you continue to struggle to achieve at a level that is equal to your effort, there may be something more going on. Next, we will discuss specific disorders that can explain underachievement in an educational setting.