Monday, August 31, 2009

Learning Disabilities, Dyslexia, and Vision

In a joint policy statement dated July 27, 2009, “Learning Disabilities, Dyslexia, and Vision,” the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, and the American Association of Certified Orthoptists set out recommendations for identifying and treating dyslexia, a language-based disorder.

The statement went on to say:

  • While vision problems can affect learning, vision problems are not the cause of learning or reading problems, including dyslexia
  • Children with suspected learning problems should receive individualized, evidence-based evaluations and treatments
  • Most experts believe that “dyslexia” is a language-based problem
  • There is no valid evidence that children participating in vision therapy are more responsive to educational instruction than children who do not participate

What does this mean for parents and children?

Learning and reading are complex and therefore when problems are suspected, it is important that diagnostic evaluations consider all of the possible causes and contributors. Assessments need to be individualized, and not limited to one system, like vision or hearing. Of course this approach applies to any problem, not just learning. For example, if you have difficulty walking, you would never ask someone to just examine your knee, even though knee pain may be one of your symptoms.

As the parent of a child with complex learning differences, I know the frustration and the search for that “magic bullet” or “anything that might help." But we all have limited resources and so, it is important to make the best choices that we can based on the best information available. And the best evidence available is that eye exercises, behavioral vision therapy, or special tinted filters or lenses do not improve educational performance.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Homework Help

The August issue of Good Housekeeping magazine features a list of websites that offer free tutoring in a variety of subjects.

We also have come across a very helpful website sponsored by New York City's Public Libraries which contains information on a wide variety of academic subjects, links to study guides such as Spark Notes and Cliff Notes and standard reference works, as well as links to obtain live help from teachers or librarians. You do not need to be a New York resident or have a library card to use this site although some of the live help features do require residency in certain areas of New York City.

Now, if we only could find a website that gets students to actually sit down and do their homework!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Your Advocacy Backpack

Students heading off to college in the next few days have been packing their bags and loading the car with all sorts of items to improve their dorm room and their academic work. One item that is crucial to college success for every student, especially for those who need academic accommodations because of learning or attention difficulties, is something we like to call an Advocacy Backpack.

For students who don't need to arrange special accommodations with professors, or to deal with the college Disabilities Services Office, the Advocacy Backpack is a small to medium sized bag. What should it contain?

  • An understanding of how you learn best -- Do you follow a lecture better when you take notes, or when you listen and review written materials later? Do you tend to do your work at the last minute or are you someone who can break it into chunks and work on it over time?

  • A sense of what kind of work environment you need -- Can you work while your roommate plays loud music, or do you need a quiet spot to concentrate? Or maybe you are the one who needs music to study.

  • The recognition that ignoring a problem -- a late paper, a missed class, or an assignment you don't really understand, is only going to make things worse down the road.

If you are one of these students, you need to take steps to maximize your effectiveness and create a positive work environment. This may mean working with another student who likes to take notes, or arranging a living situation that is conducive to studying, or speaking to a professor about a difficult situation or assignment.

For students who have learning or attention difficulties that require assistance from the college's Disability Services Office, a larger Advocacy Backpack will be required. This backpack will contain all of the items for students without specific learning issues, plus some important additions. You will need:

  • Documentation acceptable to the school to provide you access to accommodations.

  • An understanding of Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, the two laws that give you specific rights to accommodations.

  • Contact information for the individuals in the Disability Services Office whose job it is to assist in planning your accommodations.

  • Information about what your school requires to set up special testing settings, such as quiet rooms or extended time to complete an exam.

So, have fun picking out a colorful quilt and a terrific study lamp. But don't forget to pack your Advocacy Backpack too.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Increased Physical Activity and Sleep Latency

  • Many children have difficulty falling asleep.

  • Active children tend to have less trouble falling asleep.

  • Children who tend to sit around a great deal have more trouble falling asleep.

Sleep latency refers to the amount of time it takes to fall asleep once you get into bed. Increased sleep latency, or difficulty falling asleep, is a common problem in childhood. Researchers investigating sleep latency in 519 normal 7 year old children recently published their findings in the July 24th issue of the Archives of Diseases of Childhood. The median values were 10 hours for sleep duration and 26 minutes for sleep latency. 54 children, 10.5% who reportedly had difficulty falling asleep, had a mean latency of 41 minutes. Sleep latency was longest during the summer. Increased physical activity was associated with decreased sleep latency while increased sedentary behavior was associated with increased sleep latency.

If your child is having trouble getting to sleep, encouraging more daytime physical activity may be helpful.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Dog Days

The heat of August has unleashed a number of references to the "dog days of summer" which got us thinking about real dogs and how they have also been in the news lately.

We recently came across a piece in the Claremont Ohio Sun about how giving elementary school students a chance to read aloud to therapy dogs has had a positive impact on the students' reading scores and confidence.

We looked a little further and learned that programs using dogs as reading companions for struggling readers have been put into practice in a number of communities, from Janesville, Wisconsin to Baltimore, Maryland.

In fact, Therapy Dogs International has developed a program called Tail Waggin' Tutors that uses trained dogs to work with school children. You can contact them to find out more about how to set up a program in your school.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Favorite Author

Every so often we plan to share a favorite author or book that can be helpful to parents or to students who are struggling in school. Sometimes we'll focus on a single book, other times on an author whose work is more wide-ranging or on a category of books. Happy reading!

Today we want to share one of our favorite writers -- Perri Klass, M.D. who is a Professor of both Pediatrics and Journalism at New York University. Dr. Klass has written books and articles on subjects ranging from Quirky Kids to knitting. Her columns for the New York Times Health Section are always worth reading. As a pediatrician, a mother, a daughter, and an avid knitter, she brings a wealth of knowledge and a strong dose of common sense to her writing.

Whether she is calming anxious parents or sharing her own experiences, we think you'll enjoy Dr. Klass' work.

Monday, August 17, 2009


For many families, the new year begins in September -- not January. Vacation is over, the days are just a bit shorter, and everyone's focus is on the start of school. One common problem faced by busy families is keeping track of school activities, projects, music lessons, sports practices and games and all the daily and occasional appointments and commitments of every member of the family.

One solution is to keep an on-line family calendar accessible to all the members of the family. Google Calendar or Cozi are both convenient choices that let family members access the calendar from a computer or smart phone. Both are free -- but require sign up.

For technophobes, there is always an old-fashioned paper hanging calendar, with plenty of room for notes and information. There are all kinds of these available for under $10.

Whatever approach you choose, make sure that everyone in the family has a plan to check the calendar on a regular, recurring basis, and to add their own appointments and deadlines (or have mom or dad help them). This will ensure that the calendar can be a useful clearinghouse for all family activities.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


We know that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that a student fit within a labeled category before receiving special support services in the public schools -- but that doesn’t mean we have to like it.

Learning and attention issues – as well as all other aspects of a student’s academic, social, and emotional well-being – are extraordinarily complex and consist of a number of distinct functions. When schools use labels like “learning disabled” or “ADD” to describe a student, they are using a vocabulary that is simultaneously too broad and not detailed enough to describe what is going on with a particular child.

Even more importantly, using an area of difficulty to label a student sends a message to both the child and those he encounters that this weakness is a fundamental part of who he is. Sam may have difficulties with certain aspects of attention, but he is also a gifted artist, interested in music, and has incredible story-telling skills. Sam makes friends easily and is a wonderful big brother. None of these strengths come through when Sam is described as “ADHD”. It’s a label that doesn’t really help – and can be both hurtful and inaccurate.

So, what can you do as a parent? Recognize the power of your words and think before you use an area of weakness to describe your child. Understand your child’s learning profile – his strengths as well as his weaknesses -- so you can work on strategies to improve his areas of weakness and build upon his strengths. And, remember to tell him that he's a terrific kid. That's one label that we do like.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Organizing for School

We are reminded by an essay in today’s New York Times that depending on where you live, the opening of school can be days – or weeks—away. But even for places like here in New York City where classes in public schools don’t begin until Wednesday, September 9th, the relentless drumbeat of ads for school clothing and supplies has been going on for weeks.

It’s not too late to think about what you can do to make this school year more organized and successful for your child – and less stressful for the entire family. We like the suggestions in the book The Organized Student by Donna Goldberg with Jennifer Zwiebel. It may be a new system of managing school papers, or a spot set aside as a “launching pad” for every family member to drop their stuff when they come home and pick it up again when they leave the house, or even the “lump check” that one student we know does every morning as he feels his pockets for his cell phone, keys, wallet and iPod. Even one step towards better organization, done consistently, can make this a better school year.

Monday, August 10, 2009

NYT on Textbooks in the Digital Era

Stacks of books

The New York Times has a good piece this week on the coming evolution of the textbook in the digital era.

The implications of the gradual shift from static, one-dimensional texts for classroom learning to dynamic, multi-faceted and ever-evolving platforms are huge for all learners and educators. Imagine a classroom where different levels of readers are all reading the same text - but the interface adapts to each student's individual style of learning. Built-in supports will be able to adjust text size and color for better readability; sections of text could be highlighted and converted into speech files with the click of a button; review tools can test a student's understanding of the material and review key segments if appropriate standards have not been met, all the while reporting to teachers and administrators who can then use the data to pinpoint interventions and support for those readers who are lagging behind.

While this scenario may still be years away from fruition, the momentum for a better, universal access to texts is building significant momentum.

Our partners at CAST (The Center for Applied Special Technology) have been at the forefront of the technology behind the digital textbook and have an assortment of programs underway to address the needs of all learners with a universal design for learning.

Welcome to The Yellin Center Blog!

Welcome to The Yellin Center for Student Success blog. We hope you'll check in with us often for news, reviews, articles, tips and more -- all about our favorite topic: learning.