Dyslexia May Be Behind Directional Confusion

Marson Nance’s wife doesn’t have to worry about him leaving her; she simply says his sense of direction is so bad, if he did go back to his parents on the east coast he’d probably end up in Nevada (where they live) anyway. When she tells him to turn left, he’ll always turn right.

Then it adds:

“The matter of left-right confusion, which is found in those who suffer from dyslexia…”

I think this article gets it wrong. From my experience it’s way too simplistic to say part of dyslexia involves confusion with directionality. What I’ve found is that there are plenty of folks with dyslexia who get confused around some words that indicate directionality, most notably “left” and “right.” That list could be expanded to be sure, but the point is the confusion lies with attaching the right meaning to a word, not direction per se. I have known plenty of people with dyslexia who are amazingly good at a sense of direction and space, while using landmarks or other visual anchor points. I’ve been with Alaskan commercial fisherman.

Of course there are people who really do have real impairments with directionality but that is a co-occuring condition with dyslexia sometimes, and other times it exists soley on its own.

Photo Credit: Samantha Contis

Vision Therapy to Address Learning Disabilities? One L.A. School Official Says ‘Scam’

I know there are well-meaning people who advocate for vision therapy as an effective way to treat certain aspects of learing disorders. As with most enterprises there are scams and a risk of over-selling. Certain kids need vision training. Most kids with reading problems will not however be helped with this approach. The most common reason kids struggle with reading is that schools do not teach them in a way that fits their cognitive profile of weaknesses (phonological processing and/or rapid naming) and strengths.

The problem in that regard lies within the colleges that prepare teachers of reading:

“Teachers in teacher training are not being taught in reading and reading instruction,” Handler said. “It has not been properly incorporated in teacher colleges, so they cannot teach children right…so they look for other reasons kids have problems [learning to read].”

“There is absolutely no evidence it’s helpful at all,” said Sheryl Handler, co-author of a 2011 joint technical report on vision therapy and reading disabilities that found vision therapy to be an ineffective treatment for learning disabilities.

A handful of other published papers, including an assessment by the American Academy of Ophthalmology, claim there is no valid proof that vision therapy benefits learning-disabled students.

Should We Teach Emotional Intelligence in Schools?

NY Times article on teaching “Emotional Intelligence.”

My initial thoughts on this article:

The field of teaching children such skills as self-regulation is promising. There’s some great research pointing to the value, cognitively and community-wide, of a kind of melding of neuroscience and very old techniques, such as mindfulness practice.

I have a ton of reservation however, about a quick jump on the bandwagon approach…not the least of which addresses the need to understand what is being asked of teachers. Teachers would need more than scripts; they’d need training in self-regulation and posess SEM themselves. The example in the article (about finding words to use in response to being yelled at by “mommy”) has potential value but puts a teacher dangerously close to some risk from at least a couple of angles, including properly assessing the risk for domestic violence from “arming” a child with the “correct phrasing.” This is a job for professional counselors as a general rule.

I also take issue with the idea that this furthers Dewey’s ideas of not having just vocational schools. That sounds a bit snobbish. Wouldn’t “vocational students” benefit from SEM too?

I hope that with enough time and training, schools would do much better at teaching a holistic curriculum, one that did more than teach to the cerebral cortex and slightly to the left.

From Good.Is 7 Things You Need to Know About Your Local Public School

From the article:

# 7. If your school believes that the purpose of public education is to prepare students to be well educated in order to take part in our democratic society, go to the head of the class! Does your school invite students to weekly town hall meetings? Do students have a voice in some decisions? Are teachers part of a collaborative team along with parents and administrators? If so, your children are better equipped to preserve, protect and promote our democratic way of life.

Using Mobile Screens To Make Reading Easier For Dyslexics

This is a fascinating article on a few different levels.

The fact that the the astrophysicist, Martin Schneps, who directs a laboratory at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, is also dyslexic is pretty cool. I know I sometimes roll my eyes at the over-emphasis on showcasing bright people with dyslexia. However, I still can’t help but feel good about some of these non-celebrities doing such advanced high level work and who happen to have dyslexia. It just blows apart the myth that dyslexia and intelligence are connected.

Even though the heavy preponderance and longstanding evidence that primary weaknesses of the “dyslexic brain” are in the lower rote aspects of language processing and not a visual impairment, there are obviously visual components to reading. This article correctly points to some interesting studies that I’ve seen before, which indicate that many people with dyslexia pick up information from peripheral vision faster than non-dyslexics.

I appreciate that Dr. Shneps is doing research on the effects of smaller screens on reading efficiency for struggling readers.

Personally I’m not a great fan of reading on a phone, but love to do so on my iPad.

Reading on an iPad has some other features though, not mentioned, besides a smaller screen than a laptop, that are very helpful to the enjoyment and ease of reading.

Being able to instantly get a definition or pronounciation of a word is helpful to be sure. Just the ease of jotting notes into a digital book, bookmarking and saving pages, makes applying and retaining what I read so much easier and more enjoyable.

From US News and World Report: Succeed in College as a Learning Disabled Student

Some pretty basic reminders for students with learning disabilities in college or about to start.

While this article has some holes, the take away should be that students need to have proper documentation of their specific learning disability. In all cases, even with the documentation in order, it eventually becomes even more important that you understand your own learning profile and what’s in the report so that you can advocate in an authentic way.

Written in 1996, this article written by Will Small still holds true and has some great ideas.

Online College Directory and Infographic

Interesting infographic (sorry though, slow loading I see) on Online University Learning.

Full article and directory here at OnlineCollegeCourse.net

It’s so fascinating to me to track the different attitudes and perspectives about having a learning disability. On one hand there is one that implies that having a learning disability somehow means you are brilliant in some way.” Paraphrased, that one may also be stated something like “Being dyslexic automatically means you have inherent talents that are caused by your learning disability.” Sometimes that perspective grows out of a well-meaning response to its opposite; that having a learning disability means you are dumb, unintelligent, stupid. Disentangling LD from IQ means just that: There’s as much incidence of dyslexia in people who score high on IQ tests and those who test low/lower. It has nothing to do with intelligence.

So what is it to be? Where and how do we advise and empower children who have real struggle because of LD issues? Do we focus on the rose and adjust their sights on the powerfully successful and wonderfully well-known celebrities of the LD spectrum? You know, Charles Schwab, Walt Disney, Agatha Christie. You know the list.

(But, as we know, roses have thorns.)

Or, do we focus on the risk and the turmoil of failure, by looking to the prevalence of illiteracy in the prison population or the stark reality that upwards of 60 percent of teens in treatment centers for substance abuse have learning disabilities?

Finally you have to land squarely in the middle of it all. It means we must be very mindful of both, and that somehow our children learn to step into an awareness of both. That doesn’t mean doing so unguided. Good care and proper timing are required. It doesn’t mean that we tell six year olds of the perils of drug use, anxiety or depression as co-morbid conditions or risks. Of course not. Yet, denial of a darker side, and overreliance on rosy pictures can in fact be a road frought with as much risk as being negative and without hope.

When we teach our children and teens, in developmentally appropriate ways, to know themselves, to stand in a mindful way, seeing their learning profile, with strengths and weaknesses, we help them progress further and into appropriate actions. True self-advocacy is based in a fierce self-knowledge. Learning when and why to challenge ineffective teaching methods is important, and is the result of this type of advocacy.

Over the years, I gotten so much mileage out of going over a pyscho-educational evaluation with students. It’s empowering and liberating to know the specifics of how one’s brain works. It turns out it’s quite helpful to understand what “rapid naming” or “phonological awareness” weaknesses means. When someone understands that their working memory is weak in the “phonological loop,” then creating an action plan to use a voice memo, or a Dragon app, to write things down, gains important traction.

By the same token a child or teen that moves from there (or in reverse order..better yet) to seeing their cognitive strengths is just as important. I remember a student who saw that her visual memory for icons and pictures was superior. She was delighted and it helped her to deal with her equally low scores in auditory working memory.

What happens when people are given truth about themselves? It takes the self-limiting and self-critical judgements out of the picture. Well, maybe not take them away completely, but it limits them, and begins the shift into accountability and strategizing. When you stop telling yourself you’re stupid (and sometimes, telling yourself “I’m brilliant” is a mask that covers up the fear of the opposite), you can become more free to work hard, take risks, to try different approaches, and to be more compassionate with your own self. Aren’t those the qualities we want for ourselves and our kids?

For most people, having a learning disability means enduring all sorts of crappy experiences in school. That’s six hours per day for many kids. Putting up with the transient but nonetheless ‘shamingness’ of this type of struggle is what the Buddhists describe as effectively dealing with Dukkha, the appearance of suffering in daily life.

When you deal more directly with that reality, you’re more able to experience and be open to the good stuff and, dare I say, even the joy of learning and living.

A wonderful example of that was Vedran Smailovic, the cellist from Bosnia who played in bombed out places of Sarajevo (former Yugoslavia) during their siege. While acknowledging the cruelty of the bombs and war (the images of the bombed out buildings), yet not giving up his capacity for hearing and playing beautiful music, he became a worldwide inspiration. Images of him playing his cello surrounded by bombed out buildings are striking.

Giving your attention only to the dukkha is giving that too much power. To live in denial of it, does the same.

From the poem “A Brief for the Defense” Jack Gilbert writes:

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.

And, he continues:

There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta…

We must admit there will be music despite everything.

The 30th Pacific Rim International Conference on Disability and Diversity, Hawaii Convention Center, Honolulu, Hawaii will be held on May 19 & 20, 2014. For more information email prinfo@hawaii.edu, or call 808 956-7539. Please visit www.pacrim.hawaii.edu. Proposal submission starts on September 1, 2013.

Pacific Rim International Forum on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, May 17, 2014, Hilton Hawaiian Village, Honolulu, Hawaii. Email prinfo@hawaii.edu, or call 808 956-7539. Visit our website at www.pacrim.hawaii.edu.

The mission of the Imagination Foundation is to find, foster and fund creativity and entrepreneurship in children around the world to raise a new generation of innovators and problem solvers who have the tools they need to build the world they imagine.

If you haven’t seen this yet, it’s an inspiring and on-going story of a developing non-profit dedicated to fostering creativity in children. It’s also about a cool young kid who inspired the whole enterprise with his cardboard boxed fun arcade.

In a time where arts, music and project-based learning are in short supply, it’s great to see organization like this.

On the last day of summer, filmmaker Nirvan Mullick went to buy a door handle for his ’96 Corolla. He pulled into a random used auto parts store in Boyle Heights, where he met Caine Monroy, an enterprising 9-year-old boy who had taken over the front of his dad’s auto parts store with an elaborate arcade made from recycled cardboard boxes. Caine asked Nirvan to play his arcade, offering 4 turns for $1 or 500 turns for a $2 Funpass. Nirvan bought the Funpass.

Goals of The Imagination Foundation

1. Instill Creative Thinking as a Core Skill and Social Value
Give kids the tools to develop as creative thinkers who can take on the jobs of the future, seek innovative and resourceful solutions, tackle social issues and find happiness.

2. Give Kids Opportunities to Create and Learn Based on their Passions
Help children find and develop their passions through play, hands-on learning and supportive communities. Design scalable Project-Based Learning programs that can be used by a wide range of communities.

3. Foster a Community of Creative Makers
Develop an engaged community (local and global) of young makers, parents, storytellers and educators who can share with, learn from, and inspire one another.

4. Introduce Social Entrepreneurship at a Young Age
Show kids how their enterprising spirit can have a positive impact on their community and how they can change the world for the better.

5. Use Storytelling to Celebrate Exceptional Kids and Inspire Communities
Find, document and share amazing stories of creative kids like Caine to inspire wonder, possibility, and engagement

Meet Jack, my friend and former student

Recently, the National Center for Learning Disabilities website published an interview with new high school freshman, Jack. NCLD interviews Jack, who is dyslexic, as a real success story. And while that’s true, there’s a story and history to Jack becoming so well-spoken and such a good self-advocate.

I was Jack’s literacy specialist during his 3rd grade year and again in fifth grade. As the article/interview notes, he was always a great “puzzle” kid. He’d create the most inventive Lego designs I’d seen in a while. He always had a good thirst for knowledge. In addition, he was lucky enough to have parents who saw the better in him and I’m sure that helped as well. Jack always displayed a sensitive and generous nature, but there’s two other qualities I noticed in Jack that I’m sure have been an integral part of his success.

1. He had a willingness to trust his own judgement.
He seemed to trust his own sense that besides the Orton/Slingerland styled reading and spelling training I was giving him, I was interested in his overall well-being and his “mindset.” I suggested to him once, that he would enjoy and benefit from talking on the phone with some stranger (to him) from back in CT, who was also dyslexic and knew a fair bit about computers and how technology can help. The stranger was Richard Wanderman, founder and previous owner of this site, LD Resources, and a friend and colleague of mine. I had a hunch that if Jack was willing, he’d benefit from hearing some advice and story from someone who’d been through some of the same angst and struggle. I knew instinctively that hearing from someone who’d lived through the disentangling of intelligence and reading speed would be a good thing. Jack and Richard did speak on the phone one day from my office, because Jack was willing and open to the experience even at a young age. They did have a pretty cool conversation about the benefits of word processing and other similar subjects.

2. Jack’s willingness and particular type of fearlessness.
As fifth grade got underway, I suggested to Jack that he do a presentation to his class on dyslexia and how it affected him personally. At the time, I think he was having a little bit of internal struggle about using his laptop to help him through some of the novels being read and for writing. He wanted his peers to understand why these tools were useful and necessary for him. He thought the presentation idea was pretty good. So, he made this awesome multi-media presentation to his class and the administrators who saw it were duly impressed. His peers got it, his social status went up actually, and his teacher was thrilled.

So glad to see Jack’s continued to move forward and set examples.

Right on Jack.

Photo courtesy of University of Vermont

I think Steve Jobs, who famously did not go to Stanford (nor actually complete coursework at Reed College where he enrolled) hit on some key ideas concerning intelligence and what may lead to real learning and innovation. He believed that intelligence was in part the ability to make connections between ideas and practices that may not be obvious. He further suggested, strongly, that one of the best things someone can do in order to develop those capacities is to go out and have loads of different experiences. He reasoned that if innovation was part of what you’re after, then having the same experiences as everyone else will just lead to all the already predicable places and thoughts.

Recently Stanford University published a study that showed the importance of letting students get involved with experimenting with projects and having real experiences with the subjects of what your studying, before ever reading a text about it, or even watching videos beforehand.

A new study from the Stanford Graduate School of Education flips upside down the notion that students learn best by first independently reading texts or watching online videos before coming to class to engage in hands-on projects. Studying a particular lesson, the Stanford researchers showed that when the order was reversed, students’ performances improved substantially.

Whatever discipline you’re teaching; reading, writing, science or social studies, the more and varied experimentation and hands-on experiences you and your students have, the more likely you can make connections between ideas, and the more possible it will be for you to come up with novel solutions to problems. Learn to bake bread, go for hikes, learn to use a navigation device (maps included) paint, visit a third world country and see real poverty (some of this is for upcoming college and grad students), listen to varied music or better yet, learn to play an instrument.

Here’s a link to more info on the Stanford Study, published early this summer.

Here’s a link to seven speeches by Steve Jobs, some of which concern innovation and intellignce.