School work at every level – from learning how to attend at circle time to Calculus – brings the challenge of new expectations, novel information and the synthesis of ideas and instruction into concrete and abstract action. The learning curve is unique to each learner. Yet, there are norms and ranges of ability. When a learner puts in effort yet struggles with a specific set of skills over time or consistently avoids a task, it could be a sign of a learning disorder/difference. Having a learning disorder/difference (herein after used interchangeably) means that a child has difficulty in one or more areas of learning, even when overall intelligence or motivation is not affected.
According to the CDC, some of the symptoms of learning disorders are:
- Difficulty telling right from left
- Reversing letters, words, or numbers, after first or second grade
- Difficulties recognizing patterns or sorting items by size or shape
- Difficulty understanding and following instructions or staying organized
- Difficulty remembering what was just said or what was just read
- Lacking coordination when moving around
- Difficulty doing tasks with the hands, like writing, cutting, or drawing
- Difficulty understanding the concept of time
Examples of learning disorders include:
- Dyslexia – difficulty with reading
- Dyscalculia – difficulty with math
- Dysgraphia – difficulty with writing
The CDC goes on to state, “Children with learning disorders may feel frustrated that they cannot master a subject despite trying hard, and may act out, act helpless, or withdraw. Learning disorders can also be present with emotional or behavioral disorders, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or anxiety. The combination of problems can make it particularly hard for a child to succeed in school. Properly diagnosing each disorder is crucial so that the child can get the right kind of help for each.”
Dyslexia is one of the most common learning differences. According to the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity, it affects 20% of the population and accounts for approximately 80% of learning differences. Yale goes on to point out that “dyslexia is an unexpected difficulty in reading in an individual who has the intelligence to be a much better reader. While people with dyslexia are slow readers, they often, paradoxically, are very fast and creative thinkers with strong reasoning abilities.”
According to the Journal of Medical Genetics, dyslexia is among the most common neurodevelopmental disorders with a strong genetic component.
If you suspect a learning disorder, the most important first step is to support your learner’s journey to understanding their strengths and challenges. Obtaining evidence-based evaluations and intervention creates a path of self-knowledge and incremental achievable goals. What’s more powerful than knowing how your own brain works?
Here are some reputable evidence-based resources to keep in your cue:
- The International Dyslexia Association offers a wide variety of resources for home and school, learning opportunities for parents and professionals, as well as connections to research.
- The Florida Dyslexia Association serves the state in a similar fashion.
- The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity not only serves this same role but also connects students with peer curated tips for learning, opportunities for advocacy, cutting edge research and a library of success stories from the famous to the famous in their families – chefs to space scientists. A top-notch site.
- The University of Michigan Center for Dyslexia is a comprehensive resource for families, professionals and people with dyslexia across the life span.
- The Lucy Project | Miami The Lucy Project advocates for children who struggle to read and provides full and fair access to evidence-based literacy intervention. By offering free in-school programs and affordable out-of-school remediation with highly-trained educators, we are committed to making literacy accessible to all.
Here in Miami’s Jewish Community, we have day schools that directly address dyslexia and other learning differences.
In the wider community, the McGlannan School is dedicated to students with dyslexia.
Several programs of evidence-based intervention are available to families. They emphasize growing attention, pattern recognition, visual processing, memory and visual timers for self-regulation. Some of the most well-respected evidence-based interventions are available in the school-based programs listed above as well as through certified reading specialists in the community.
Here are links to well respected evidence-based interventions:
- The Wilson Reading System® (WRS), and the professional learning certifications associated with it, were developed and established in the 1980s to serve the learner with dyslexia. Some 25,000 teachers in schools across America have achieved WRS Level I Certification.
- Organ Gilingham is combined direct, multi-sensory teaching strategies paired with systematic, sequential lessons focused on phonics.
- Linda Mood Bell Learning pioneered programs to develop the sensory-cognitive processes that underlie reading and comprehension. In particular, the programs Seeing Stars and Visualization and Verbalization are on point for learners with dyslexia.
- Audio books, IBooks and Learningally.org offer tools such as visual tracking and larger fonts.
- Online-stopwatch.com offers visual clocks/timers for creating an awareness of time and understanding task chunking and breaks.
- No Red Ink isolates grammar and convention skills for reading.
- Handwriting Without Tears is an excellent resource for different sensory modalities for recognizing letters and handwriting skills.
- IXL.com isolates grade level skills for literacy, math and science.
- Reading Naturally helps build reading comprehension and fluency.
- C8 SCIENCES c8sciences.com Developed by neuroscientists from Yale University, C8 Sciences’ ACTIVATE program is designed to enhance memory skills, improve the ability to pay attention, and boost other cognitive skills for children with ADHD, autism, executive function disorder, and other cognitive deficits. The company’s program for home use — made for a computer or a mobile device — combines cognitive function games with a 20- to 30-minute exercise program, three to five times a week.
- Interactive Metronome is an evidence-based training neurotherapy program used by more than 20,000 therapists and doctors. IM is proven to improve cognition, attention, focus, memory, speech/language, executive functioning, comprehension, as well as motor and sensory skills
- BRAINBEAT brainbeat.com is the home version of Interactive Metronome. It is a computer-based cognitive trainer that uses a metronome-like tool, along with a headset and hand gear. Kids have to clap in rhythm while “conquering different animated worlds.” Kids participate in fourteen 20-minute sessions in which they listen to beats, clap hands, and “receive instant, measurable feedback through scoring, sounds, and light cues.” Research suggests that keeping a precise beat — called neuro timing — may be important for focus, working memory, and language processing skills.
Great thanks to the excellent reading professionals in our community who contributed to this collection of resources, especially Bianca Senker and Eileen Ginsberg.