Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The Importance of Early Hearing and Vision Screening

Almost every student we see here at The Yellin Center is given a vision and hearing screening. These are not meant to take the place of in-depth testing by ophthalmologists, optometrists, or audiologists, but are an important part of checking for anything that could interfere with a student's learning and school success. Children who can't see the blackboard clearly, who find text in books to be blurry, or who have difficulty hearing instructions from their teachers or classroom discussion, are at a disadvantage when it comes to learning. Most of the time, the students pass these screenings with flying colors -- but sometimes we note difficulties that warrant further investigation.

Our colleagues at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) note that screening for hearing loss should begin very early in infancy,  not later than the first month of life. Infants who do not pass this initial screening should have a comprehensive audiological examination not later than at three months of age. And interventions should begin by age six months, from appropriate professionals with expertise in hearing loss and deafness in infants and young children. Even infants who pass the initial screening should have the development of their communication skills evaluated at their well-baby visits starting by two months of age.

The importance of early screening for hearing issues was noted in a recent New York Times article by long-time health writer Jane Brody, who looked at the amazing technological advances in recent years that have enabled most children born with hearing loss to hear, speak, and learn together with children without hearing difficulties, albeit with extensive speech and language training and lots of hard work. The article notes that a new documentary, "The Listening Project"demonstrates the impact of technology, specifically cochlear implants, on the hearing impaired. The trailer for this film is quite compelling to watch.


Vision screening also should begin in infancy. The AAP guidelines note:
  • All babies should have their eyes checked for infections, defects, cataracts, or glaucoma before leaving the hospital. This is especially true for premature babies, babies who were given oxygen for an extended period, and babies with multiple medical problems. Another group warranting special consideration are babies with family histories of vision difficulties.
  • By six months of age - As part of each well-child visit, eye health, vision development, and alignment of the eyes should be checked.
  • Starting at about one year - Photo screening devices can be used to start detecting potential eyes problems.
  • At 3-4 years - Eyes and vision should be checked for any abnormalities that may cause problems with later development.
  • At five years and older - Vision in each eye should be checked separately every year. If a problem is found during routine eye exams, a child should see a pediatric ophthalmologist.




Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Tools to Inspire the Reluctant Writer

In an excellent recent article in Education Weekelementary school teacher Emily Galle-From discussed the enjoyment she got from teaching young children about writing. By encouraging her students to let their imaginations soar, to exercise their creativity, and to use a variety of ways to convey their stories - prose, poetry, correspondence, and artwork - her  students were able to express heartfelt thoughts and process complex feelings in ways that were meaningful to them.

Here at The Yellin Center, we know that many students find writing difficult. The reasons for this vary. Some students have trouble organizing their thoughts. Others find putting pen or pencil to paper - or keyboarding - problematic due to graphomotor or fine motor difficulties. Other students struggle with word finding or even reading their own work. Not surprisingly, when children find writing difficult, they are reluctant to write. However, the best way to become a better writer is to write.

We often recommend tools to help even the most reluctant writers to create and share their stories. These include:

  • Comic Creator, a website that allows students to create their own comic strips using pre-made images and speech bubbles. This writing format will allow children to express themselves outside the confines of traditional academic writing tasks and greatly reduces the amount of writing required to get their ideas out. It includes a variety of lesson tools for teachers of different grades.


  • Storybird, a free writing platform for creating and writing visual stories. This program is especially valuable for students with strong spatial skills as it includes high quality, artist-created images that young writers can use for inspiration.


  • StoryBoardThat, a storyboard platform that helps students develop visual literacy and presentation skills.


  • StoryJumper , a storybook creation platform where children can create, publish, narrate, and collaborate with friends to create a unique story.

We hope that one or more of these tools can be helpful to a reluctant writer you may know.



Friday, September 28, 2018

More Reasons for Sufficient Sleep, Exercise, and Screen Limits

Parenting is not an easy job. Parents usually know what their children should be doing -- getting plenty of sleep, lots of exercise, and having limited screen time, among other things -- but applying these goals to their children is not always easy.

A recent study reported in the British medical journal Lancet Child and Adolescent Health looked at 4524 children in the U.S., aged 8–11 years, to examine the extent to which these elementary age children met current recommendations set forth in the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth. These recommendations include getting 9-11 hours of sleep each night, at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day, and having less than two hours of recreational screen time daily.

The children in the study were evaluated using the NIH Toolbox for the Assessment of Neurological and Behavioral Function , which  looks at such components of cognitive function as Executive Function, Episodic Memory, Language, Processing Speed, Working Memory, and Attention.


The researchers found that just over one-half of the children met the sleep recommendations. 37% of the children met the limits on screen time, and only 18% met the physical activity recommendations. 71% of the children met at least one of these recommendations but only 5% met all three. Almost 30% of the children in the study met none of the three goals. The more of these goals the children met, the higher they scored on the NIH Toolbox Assessments. Children who met the goals for limited screen time and sufficient sleep (likely connected in their daily lives) scored roughly five percent higher on the NIH Toolbox parameters than did those children who met neither.

Hopefully, seeing the real, positive associations between meeting the recommendations for these behaviors and improved cognition may be enough to reinforce parental efforts to get their children to meet these laudable goals for sleep, exercise, and screen limits.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Choosing a College - Where to Start?


Your blogger recently spoke with the mother of a high school sophomore. Her daughter was starting to think about college and both she and her parents were concerned about how she would manage in college with her long-standing learning challenges.

"What's the best college for students with learning disabilities?" this mom asked, clearly hoping that I would give her the names of a couple of schools on which they could focus. Instead, I gently pointed out that she was asking the wrong question. Certainly, there are colleges whose primary mission is to work with students with learning and related challenges. These schools, such as Landmark College in Vermont, may be a good fit for a student whose learning issues are significant and who have needed extensive support in high school.

There are also schools and programs for students who cannot manage a traditional college curriculum -- or cannot manage it without additional preparation -- and who may be best served by a "transition to college" or vocational and life skills program. These include places like VIP at New York Institute of Technology, Threshold at Lesley University, or Thames Academy at Mitchell College;  each of them can provide important benefits to certain students.

But while the young woman in question has needed and received supports and accommodations in school, her grades and standardized test scores are solid and she has several interests that could be the basis of a future course of study and possibly a career. I suggested that this family start by identifying colleges that offered strong programs in their daughter's areas of interest. Did she want a program where she could pursue her interest in environmental science? Did she want a school with excellent music and theater departments where she could build on her skills with the cello or follow up on her starring role in her high school's musical? Is she an athlete? Or did she want a school that encouraged study abroad experiences for its students? Or maybe she just wanted a strong liberal arts curriculum where she could explore across disciplines and decide her direction later.

Only after considering what kind of school she wanted, using these criteria, as well as such things as location, size, cost, and admission requirements, would it make sense for this student to carefully consider whether the schools on the lists she had created offered meaningful accommodations and options for academic support. There are more than 4,000 two and four year colleges in the U.S. By working with her guidance counselor, using online tools, and visiting some of those schools that seem of interest, this family can develop a list to serve as a starting point. Then it would make sense to look intently at the commitment of each potential school to serving students with disabilities. All colleges must comply with the ADA - the Americans with Disabilities Act - but many go well beyond their legal obligations. What can a student expect from a college, and how can a student and her family determine what a college offers?


It's been a number of years since your blogger co-wrote Life After High School,  but the guidance offered on how to select a college that can meet a student's needs is still timely. Another resource is the K&W Guide to Colleges for Students with Learning Differences.





Hopefully, this family will find that they can help their daughter make choices that both celebrate her strengths and support her challenges. I've asked them to keep me posted.




Friday, September 14, 2018

The Importance of Waiting

We often suggest that the teachers of students with whom we work take a moment to pause after asking a question in the classroom. This gives all students -- not just those who may struggle with retrieving information from their long-term memory -- a chance to process the question, consider the answer, and come up with the right words to respond. Even just a few seconds can make a big difference to a student with memory issues or expressive language difficulties or even just a student who is a bit shy.

Sometimes, the silence that ensues can be uncomfortable for students and instructors alike. However, according to Professor Bob Kegan of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, it's important for teachers to resist filling the silence by repeating the question or even providing the answer. Professor Kegan explains, in an excellent video that can be accessed on the Instructional Moves website, that making waiting time part of the class discussion and explaining to students why you are doing it, helps avoid confusion and emphasizes the value of time to think before responding.

It's worth trying this in your classroom.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Resources to Prevent Suicide

September is National Suicide Prevention Month and a number of organizations are working to get the word out about resources available to those struggling with depression and other mental illnesses. Suicide is a serious health issue for young people. The national organization Active Minds, which has chapters at more than 600 colleges and high schools, notes that suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students. It is important to keep in mind that a majority of mental illnesses start between ages 14 and 24, so reaching out to young people is of critical importance. Active Minds works to raise awareness of mental illness and to remove the stigma from seeking help. An excellent report from NBC News highlights their impact.


Active Minds isn't the only organization working in this important space. The National Institute of Mental Health has issued a booklet, available in multiple formats, with frequently asked questions about depression, geared for college-age students.

In addition, NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, provides awareness events, works on public policy issues like insurance parity for mental health and funding for mental health research, and helps to educate patients and their families. NAMI also has a national help line. Parents may want to look at a chart NAMI has created that depicts the impact of mental illness on the 20 percent of young people who live with a mental health condition and lists warning signals that require intervention and/or referral to a mental health specialist.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Back to School Tips for Families

The late August heat wave has made it hard to be outdoors, so we've had extra time to catch up on our reading. We've encountered lots of back to school information that we want to share with our readers.

For New York City Families

New York City public schools don't begin classes until after Labor Day and we know that every year there are students who don't have a school assignment as the first day of classes approaches. The folks at InsideSchools.org have a helpful guide with tips on what to do if your middle schooler still needs a place at this late date. They also offer information on how to contact the NYC Department of Education and its various offices for other school related issues that can arise at the beginning of the school year or later in the term.

Navigating the Start of School
Our colleagues at the American Academy of Pediatrics have an excellent set of suggestions on their HealthyChildren.org website for making the first days of school go more smoothly, especially for younger children. They cover topics ranging from travel to and from school -- on foot, by bus, and even by bicycle. They have tips for how to handle bullying and the best ways to develop good sleep and study habits. And they link to more detailed articles on many of these subjects. It's worth reading.

School Supplies
We've always liked the suggestions from Wirecutter, and they have an extensive list of suggestions for back to school items for all ages, including backpacks, writing instruments, organization tools, electronics, and art supplies. They also have recommendations for laptops for college students. 

Dressing for School Success
Scholastic has some practical suggestions for what young children can wear to school that will enable them to be both comfortable and independent. For older students, parents might want to check out whether their child's school has a dress code, and work together with their child to make sure that they can express their personal style in acceptable ways. And both students and parents should keep in mind that the saying "dress for success" has a real basis in scientific research.