Learning Letter Article Archive
Past articles and reviews
College Board Changes Affect Students with Learning Disabilities
Parents take note: Starting September 2003, two important changes by The College Board which provides the SAT as well as the PSAT and AP tests will take affect changing how college’s view students with learning disabilities. Continue
What is a Learning Disability (LD)?
We recently sat down with Dr. Risa Tabacoff, founder of DAIC, for a discussion about the basic realities of learning disabilities; its definition and ramifications. -editor (MH)
MH- Dr. Tabacoff, could you briefly describe what constitutes a learning disability?
Dr. Tabacoff- Generally, a learning disabled person, as it is used in the educational system today, is someone who shows a significant discrepancy between their ability as measured by an IQ test or expected developmental norms and their school performance. Continue
How Your Child Learns Best-Friendly Strategies You Can Use to Ignite Your Child’s Learning and Increase School Success
How Your Child Learns Best is a groundbreaking guide for parents that combines the latest brain research with the best classroom practices to reveal scientifically savvy ways to improve your child’s success in school.
Written by Judy Willis, MD, MEd, a board-certified neurologist who is also a full-time classroom teacher, How Your Child Learns Best shows you not only how to help your child learn schoolwork, but also how to capitalize on the way your child’s brain learns best in order to enrich education wherever you are, from the grocery store to the car – a necessity in today’s “teach to the test” world.
By using everyday household items and enjoyable activities, parents of children ages three to twelve can apply targeted strategies (based on age and learning strength) in key academic areas, including:
• Reading comprehension
• Math word problems
• Test preparation
• Fractions and decimals
• Oral reading
• Reports and projects
• Science and history
• Reading motivation
Discover how to help your child increase academic focus and success, lower test stress while increasing test scores, increase class participation, foster creativity, and improve attention span, memory, and higher-level thinking.
How Your Child Learns Best shows how to maximize your child’s brain potential and offers something for every parent who wants the best for his or her child.
“At last we parents now have a reference that will help guide us in assisting our children’s growth and flowering. This book is what parents have been searching for and need now more than ever.” – from the foreword by Goldie Hawn
About the Author
Judy Willis, MD, M. Ed (Santa Barbara) a board certified neurologist and middle school teacher, has combined her training in neuroscience and neuroimaging with her teaching education and years of classroom experience. She is an authority in the field of learning-centered brain research and strategies derived from this research for use by parents and educators. Her articles connecting neurology and education have been published in numerous education journals. Paperback: 336 pages; Publisher: Sourcebooks, Inc. (September 1, 2008)
ISBN-10: 1402213468 ISBN-13: 978-1402213465
A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Overcoming Reading Problems at Any Level, -by Sally Shaywitz
Yale neuroscientist Shaywitz demystifies the roots of dyslexia (a neurologically based reading difficulty affecting one in five children) and offers parents and educators hope that children with reading problems can be helped. Shaywitz delves deeply into how dyslexia occurs, explaining that magnetic resonance imaging has helped scientists trace the disability to a weakness in the language system at the phonological level.
According to Shaywitz, science now has clear evidence that the brain of the dyslexic reader is activated in a different area than that of the nonimpaired reader. Interestingly, the dyslexic reader may be strong in reasoning, problem solving and critical thinking, but invariably lacks phonemic awareness-the ability to break words apart into distinct sounds-which is critical in order to crack the reading code. The good news, Shaywitz claims, is that with the use of effective training programs, the brain can be rewired and dyslexic children can learn to read. She walks parents through ways to help children develop phonemic awareness, become fluent readers, and exercise the area of the brain essential for reading success. Early diagnosis and effective treatment, the author claims, are of utmost importance, although even older readers can learn to read skillfully with proper intervention. Shaywitz’s groundbreaking work builds an important bridge from the laboratory to the home and classroom. 34 line drawings and graphs. Hardcover: 432 pages; Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (April 15, 2003)
*ISBN: 0375400125 From Publishers Weekly
Untangling the Myths About Attention Disorder
By PERRI KLASS, M.D. A version of this article appeared in print on December 14, 2010, on page D5 of the New York Times.
As recently as 2002, an international group of leading neuroscientists found it necessary to publish a statement arguing passionately that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder was a real condition.In the face of “overwhelming” scientific evidence, they complained, A.D.H.D. was regularly portrayed in the media as “myth, fraud or benign condition” — an artifact of too-strict teachers, perhaps, or too much television.In recent years, it has been rarer to hear serious doubt that the disorder really exists, and the evidence explaining its neurocircuitry and genetics has become more convincing and more complex.Even so, I’ve lately read a number of articles and essays that use attention (or its lack) as a marker and a metaphor for something larger in society — for the multitasking, the electronic distractions, the sense that the nature of concentration may be changing, that people feel nibbled at, overscheduled, distracted, irritable.But A.D.H.D. is not a metaphor. It is not the restlessness and rambunctiousness that happen when grade-schoolers are deprived of recess, or the distraction of socially minded teenagers in the smartphone era. Nor is it the reason your colleagues check their e-mail in meetings and even (spare me!) conversations.“Attention is a really complex cognitive phenomenon that has a lot of pieces in it,” said Dr. David K. Urion of Harvard, who directs the learning disabilities and behavioral neurology program at Boston Children’s Hospital. “What we’re specifically talking about in kids with attention deficit is a problem compared to age- and gender-based peers in selective attention — what do you glom onto and what do you ignore?”Moreover, the disorder occurs along a broad spectrum, from mild to extreme. Boys are more likely to be hyperactive and impulsive, girls to be inattentive. (One reason many girls don’t get an official diagnosis is that those with the inattentive form may be well behaved in school, but still unable to focus.)“There’s a lot we still don’t know,” said Bruce F. Pennington, a professor of psychology at the University of Denver and an expert on the genetics and neuropsychology of attention disorders. “But we know enough to say it is a brain-based disorder, and we have some idea about which circuits are involved and which genes.”Imaging studies of people with attention deficits have shown a consistent pattern of below-normal activity in the brain’s frontal lobes, where so-called executive function resides. And scientists are focusing on the pathways for dopamine and similar neurotransmitters active in the circuits that pass information to and from the frontal lobes.Low levels of activity in specific circuits may help explain the seeming paradox of using stimulants like Ritalin to treat children who already seem overstimulated. In many children with A.D.H.D., these drugs can help the circuits function more normally.“If you have a deficit in dopamine, it’s harder to concentrate on goal-oriented behavior,” Professor Pennington said. “The psychostimulants change the availability of dopamine in these same circuits.”Although recent research has identified environmental factors that may increase the likelihood of developing the disorder, it is thought to have a stronger genetic component. Dr. Maximilian Muenke, chief of the medical genetics branch at the National Human Genome Research Institute, said that among identical twins, if one has A.D.H.D., the second has an 80 percent chance of having it as well. (Among fraternal twins, the comparable figure is 20 to 30 percent, the same as for any siblings.)Dr. Muenke’s group published a paper last month identifying a gene, LPHN3, that is associated both with the disorder and with a favorable response to stimulants. But no one thinks that just one gene is responsible; just as attention is a complex phenomenon, so are the genetics of attention deficits.When I asked Dr. Muenke whether genetic studies could someday play a role in treating the disorder, his reply was cautious. He spoke of eventually predicting which children will respond to specific medications, sparing families the frustration of switching from one medicine to another with no relief. He sounded more hopeful about the long-term prospects.“I truly believe in the long run we will be able to develop personalized medicine for a child with A.D.H.D.,” he said, adding that when the specific underlying cause or causes are known, “this child will have a very specific treatment, whether this treatment is behavioral treatment alone or medication,” and the medication will be tailored to the child.Perhaps eager to make clear that A.D.H.D. is far more than a metaphor for the distractions of modern life, scientists love to point out examples that date to well before the term was invented.Dr. Urion invoked Sir George Frederick Still, the first British professor of pediatric medicine, who in 1902 described the syndrome precisely, speaking of a boy who was “unable to keep his attention even to a game for more than a very short time,” and as a result was “backward in school attainments, although in manner and ordinary conversation he appeared as bright and intelligent as any child could be.”Dr. Muenke brought up “Der Struwwelpeter“ (“Slovenly Peter”), the 1845 children’s book by Heinrich Hoffmann, which contains the story of “Zappel-Philipp,” or “Fidgety Philip.” (One English translation was done by Mark Twain, that great chronicler of boys.)The circumstances of modern life can give rise to the false belief that a culture full of electronics and multitasking imperatives creates the disorder. “People have this idea that we live in a world that gives people A.D.H.D.,” Dr. Urion said. Of course one shouldn’t drive and text at the same time, he continued, but for “a harbor pilot bringing a huge four-masted sailing vessel into Boston Harbor, paying attention was a good idea then, too.”