Archive for 'Dyslexia'

Apr 19

EdRev’s second keynote speaker on April 13, 2013 in San Francisco was Todd Rose, co-founder and president of Project Variability, This organization is dedicated to providing leadership around the emerging new science of the individual and its implications for education, the workforce, and society.  Todd is also a faculty member at the Harvard Graduate School of Education teaching Educational Neuroscience.

Todd Rose’s presentation was built around a premise of the need for society to change a belief, one that gives credit to the myth of the average person. Our education system is build on averages rather than supporting the different needs of the individual.

Click photo to see full size

Todd knows whereof he speaks. He was a high school dropout.  His education did not support his learning differences.  When he discovered that boredom, not laziness was the issue, ideas and the drive to create a different life emerged.

A high school dropout he accepted that he needed an education.  Perseverance at night school resulted in obtaining his GED.  A teacher in a community college gave him the encouragement and support and with hard work on his behalf  he graduated cum laude. He was accepted at Harvard. His initial experience at this institution gave him the feeling that Harvard’s process of education and his ADHD were at odds.  A Harvard professor challenged him, commenting that it wasn’t Todd it was the education system that was the problem.  Harvard did not nurture individual talent.  This gave him the drive to challenge Harvard. He began to focus on designing a new approach, away from the concept that our education is about a science of averages. His study promoted the need to find a way to evaluate individual talents, rather than comparing one individual to another individual.

Todd along with others have initiated Project Variability which focuses on the science of the individual, creating flexible environments. Its sole purpose is to bring to the public an awareness and new approaches to ensure a means of learning that lives up to our capabilities.

Todd offered the EdRev audience a challenge: start shifting.  The change is about a mindshift.  He asked this PEN membership who knows there is a problem with the education system to become a part of creating the solution.

He offered a first step involving one week of effort.

When there is a behavior, be it your child’s or your own, that needs correction find a context for making that change. Begin by asking yourself what is your default habit. State it and see what change you need to make. The goal is to allow your or your child’s true potential to emerge?  Consider:

  • What environment do you or he/she need?
  • What relationships are important?
  • Spell the information out for yourself or your child and put it into action.
  • Ask yourself what do you need to do to be ready for this change
  • How can you contribute to this?
  • Discover the first step.

Remember we can build technologies.  Ultimately, however, it’s not the technologies but individuals, parents and educators who need to take the responsibility to make this shift.  PEN membership knows there is a problem and that when solutions start to exist more will come.

Todd Rose has written a must successful book, Square Peg.

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Apr 19

On April 13, 2013 in San Francisco the 5th annual EdRev returned to the Giants Ballpark. It was a huge success. Parents Education Network, the producers of this model event, offered a wide variety of programming for those passionate about understanding, finding solutions, and resolving issues facing those with dyslexia, ADD/ADHD and other learning disabilities.  Students, parents, teachers and other were treated to a wide variety of new ideas, new technologies, new skills and much more. The energy at the event, gathering 2,000 people together, was very high.

There were two keynote speakers with a similar theme; the need for a different education process.

Sir Ken Robinson, an education and creativity expert and author of the New York Times best-selling book ‘Finding Your Element’ set the tone stating:

The challenge with the education system is a world-wide problem. One word describes the cause:   Conformity.  Currently the education process is based on the belief that everyone must conform to basic principles.  This denies the fact that we are all biologically different which means students are spending time on what they must do instead of what they can do.

A recent study has shown that 30% of students in 9th grade don’t finish the 12th grade. Many of these students end up in jail. The current solution is to pour more money into the correction system ($25,000 a year for an individual).   If that funding was redirected to the education system to address the learning needs of the dropouts, the costs to state government would decrease. Educating a student has the average cost of $10,000.  Cutting by half the number of dropouts from grade nine the net gain result in 10 – 11 years would be twelve Trillan dollars.

Sir Ken promotes three principles for an evolving education system.

1.  Diversity

Accept the principle that we are all different with unique talents.  We are different because we are biologically different.  Human life relies on diversity.  It is why human life is so interesting.  The reason the current education process is unsuccessful is its lack of focus on diversity.

2. Creativity

Creativity is at the heart of what it is to be a human being. The opportunity for each student to explore their creativity is essential. Our imagination gives us the ability to bring into mind what doesn’t exit.  Sir Ken asked us to remember that creativity is what has driven this country, the United States of America, to be successful.  It’s a national asset.  Now is the time to re-energize the education system allowing creativity which presents itself differently in different people to flourish.

We need an education system that supports students in finding what is their true talent, what do they love to do.  It will result in them defining who they are so they can discover a path that is satisfying and provide a lifestyle that supports their life.   The goal is to do something you have a natural talent for.  Something you get. It is time those administrators leading the educational process think differently.

In light of the above he offered a commemt about ADHD and the high % of students currently being diagnosed with ADHD. If students are required to sit and listen to boring things, don’t be surprised if they develop ADHD behavior.

3.  Life is organic, not linear

We can’t predict how a life will shape up. The key is following the passion that comes from creative exploration.  Keep the focus on what is it that you love to do.  It is the parent’s responsibility to help their child discover his or her talent, to encourage, support and expect it to go in different directions.  The path will not be linear. Remember, we compose our lives. It’s time to accept that one’s life is about diversity and being creative.


We have to press for a different education system. The academic world needs broad curriculum that embraces the fact that we learn differently.  We have to get governments away from trying to impose standardization.  Education has to be radically personalized so individuals can identify their special talents. There is no reason why students should do the same things every day. Conformity doesn’t work.

If you are teacher, parent or student take up the challenge and be the change you want to see. Collectively teachers, students, and parents are the ones who can change the system.  The movement is powerful enough.

And, don’t waste time on those who are stuck in the old model. They are never going to change.


Sir Ken Robinson’s new book is titled Finding Your Element:  How to discovery your talents and passions and transform your life.



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Apr 29

Parents Education Network presented its 4th Annual EdRev (Education Revolution) Event on Saturday, April 21st, 2012 at the San Francisco Giants Ballpark. It is amazing to me that no matter how much rain or fog we get during April, in San Francisco, somehow the sun comes out on EdRev day. A huge crowd, around 1,500 hundred (we  await the final count) showed up to learn more about dyslexia and ADD.  This blog focuses on the Keynote activities.

Up first was Safe Voices, a student  community within PEN that strives to educate, mentor and support students,  parents and teachers about the challenges and strengths of Learning  Difficulties (LD) and Attention Deficit Disorder(ADHD) Through this program LD  students discover that what they perceive as their greatest weakness, in fact, can become their greatest strength.  A  first step is learning how to speak up for what one needs and who one is.

At the Keynote, Safe Voices students were dotted amongst the crowd in the ballpark adjacent to first base.  Each had a  soap box and a microphone.  Each spoke up for themselves sharing short phrases which have been instrumental in helping them change their attitudes about themselves.  Phrases like:

  • If you teach me 1,000 times and I  don’t get it, who is the slow learner?
  • Learning different students think outside the box.  If they didn’t, what would the world would be like?
  • We own our differences, we accept them.
  • I am much more than my learning difference.  The only thing that matters is: I am who I am.
  • I get up on a box and am heard and am sparking a revolution in education.
  • And, so it went.

Jonathan Mooney, a much respected dyslexic who has no trouble in speaking up for himself,  took over as moderator. He posed questions to guest speakers, all successful dyslexics,  who have found careers that take advantage of their ability to think outside the box.  Joining Jonathan were:

Eric McGehearty CEO of Globe Runner SEO, a top-performing, Dallas-based SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and digital marketing firm. In an addition he’s an award-winning artist.  Filmmaker Leah H. Bell, produced the documentary Access Denied about the intersection of Eric’s life, art and dyslexia. His told us:  Nothing in school worked for me.  In Grade One I had a teacher who didn’t get  me. She shook me very hard.  I was very shy, very scared to interact. In middle school I began being an advocate for myself and my life began to turn around. I had suicidal thoughts until being
connected to people who supported me.

Tracy Johnson, was not diagnosed with dyslexia until college age. Her story is notable a) for the many hurdles she had to overcome, b) for persevering and c) being willing to work harder than most college students do.  She was recently featured in the HBO documentary, Journey  into Dyslexia, Great Minds Think Differently. In grade school, Johnson was diagnosed as “learning disabled,” a label that stuck through high school and a failed try at community college. The education system broke down for her as the label didn’t identify her LD. Then, her self-esteem plummeted. Tracy realized she was dyslexic when she was cleaning classrooms for a living. Now, she is an enrollment advisor at Eastern University. 

Steve Walker is a self-taught dyslexic, engineer and entrepreneur who founded and is now President & CEO of New England Wood Pellet LLC. A true visionary, Steve has been a leader in promotion of renewable energy policy for biomass thermal technologies at the state, national and international level. He, too, is featured in Journey into Dyslexia. Steve told us that if an ally had been around to help him when he went to school he would have been a doctor.  Instead, he stared at the clock.  When he had to write the letters on the yellow paper with lines he was stumped. In high school he couldn’t read the math questions. Instead he developed low self-esteem.  To make matters worse his mother told him if he didn’t go to college he would work in the factory. Well, now, he owns factories and has ended up hiring people who gave him a rough time.  Yes, he said, I had a lot of anger.

Each of these speakers and moderator have different backgrounds, but there are common threads in themes and solutions they see and some are outlined below.

  • The education system needs to be re-engineered. The system is not serving more than 20% of its population. Dyslexics need to take  the lead. We have to look at where does the education system break down? Teachers don’t know how much these 20% really know because their processes can’t give their LD students away to explain. Vocational training and all activities involving creativity needs to re-instated. The Special Ed’s focus of fixing a  dyslexic’s shortcomings needs to flip to support what LD students can do best, refocusing on the positives. School must be the time to find out what you are good at.  Innovation and creativity go hand in hand.  LD students need to learn how to be a leader feeling capable of listening to different points of view.   Remember there is no normal.
  • Communication. Dyslexics have many different dimensions. Vision is how we see it, not what we see.  Learning how to communicate ideas is what a dyslexic’s life wants to be about: communicating the vision, getting my team to go with me. This means dyslexics need to understand concepts to be successful.  Communicating a vision is central to success.  Dyslexics always want to grow as a person,
  • Parents must assume an advocate role to support and care for their LD student.  Listen and explore what the child really needs. Go from strength of your LD child.  Don’t let the education process drive your decisions. Find a school where your child fits, where they can excel.  Leave your ego at the door , which means let go thinking your child has to go to a fancy school. Your concern ought to be: how do I make my kid’s lifetime experience a positive one.
  • Dyslexics are often artists, starters, builders, teachers. Finding a way to leverage these talents is the challenge not only for parents and teachers but also dyslexics. A successful artist who has dyslexia and who has a dream to help others may not always be successful as an administrator, which requires a lot of busy work.  Dyslexics need to sell their team on what he or she needs. One goal is to get to the point where you have no fear of shouting out from the door: How do I spell this word?  Dyslexics need to learn how to back off if someone is trying to make them be someone they aren’t.
  • Leveraging growth after school. Taking what seems to be a menial job can open doors.  a) Steve was working in a factory. The engineers were all struggling with how to solve a program. One night he had a  great idea and stayed up all night solving their problem.  That’s when he turned around. He started his own company at 18 – a lawn mower company.  Tracy was cleaning school rooms to make a living. She kept thinking, there is something wrong here.  I am as smart as some of these students. One night watching the Cosby Show, Tracy learned about dyslexia. The light went on, and she kept going. She re-iterates we need the right, light soil.



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Mar 22

Dr. Andrew Weil’s Health bulletin reported today on a recent study confirming the value of meditation.

I, too, find that meditation helps keep me grounded which supports good results for overcoming the negative attributes of dyslexia and hyperlexia.   Here is an excerpt of what Dr.Weil shares.

The benefits of regular meditation are well known – the relaxation response it engenders can result in lower blood pressure, decreased heart and respiratory rates and can even level out mood swings. New research from UCLA suggests that the long-term practice of meditation leads to beneficial brain changes called gyrification, a “folding” of the cerebral cortex, that are believed to promote and enhance the speed at which the brain processes information. The cerebral cortex is the outer layer of brain tissue that is key to memory, attention, thought and consciousness. The UCLA team compared MRIs of the brains of 23 long-time meditators to 16 controls matched for age, sex and whether they were left or right handed. The meditators had used various meditation modalities for an average of 20 years. The investigators reported that the MRIs showed higher levels of gyrification in the brains of the meditators than were seen in the controls’ brains; they also found a correlation between the number of meditation years and the amount of gyrification. The study was published online on February 29, 2012 by the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

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Feb 16

In early February, Parents Education Network presented a lecture, DYSLEXIA: Translating Scientific Progress into Policy and Practice – It’s Time.  The speakers were two world experts on reading and dyslexia:  Dr. Bennett Shaywitz is a pioneer in the application of functional brain imaging for the study of reading and dyslexia in children and adults. Dr. Sally Shaywitz has devoted her career to helping children and adults with dyslexia; her research provides the basis for understanding the disorder. Together, they originated a widely accepted model of dyslexia that emphasizes the strengths seen in people with dyslexia. In addition, they are the founders of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity.

At the outset of their talk they introduced the evening’s theme:  the need for national legislative policy to address the issues common to dyslexics. The Shaywitzes are convinced that until there is public policy on the dyslexic condition, dyslexics will be marginalized.  Issues that emanate from comments like:

  1. Tests show my son is dyslexic but the school doesn’t acknowledge it because he falls in the average range – even though the discrepancy is huge.
  2. I was told my daughter was too bright to be dyslexic.
  3. My child’s school doesn’t believe in dyslexia.
  4. I am fighting to have an evaluation for my child.
  5. Now, as a dyslexic adult, anxiety affects every part of my life.
  6. I need to take the LSAT test but they won’t let me use my prior evaluation so I
    can be given accommodations. I just don’t have the money.

There is good news.  Initial steps towards developing public policy have now been taken. The Shaywitzes are part of that momentum.  First bit of history.  Two decades or more ago the Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted. Congress intended a broad range of people, including those who are dyslexic, to be protected by the law. The Shaywitzes feel that both United States Supreme Court and testing agencies (like the College Board and the National Board of Medical Examiners) have chosen to interpret the ADA in a way other than as Congress intended. In the case of dyslexia, they have interpreted it to only those who are severely limited for coverage by the ADA— a seeming disregard of the spirit and intent of the ADA and scientific evidence pointing to the absolute need for the accommodation of extra time for people who are dyslexic.  These situations are what the Shaywitzes and others are now working to correct.

Dr.Sally Shaywitz’s presentation moved to content for this public policy. To begin is the definition of dyslexia.  The Shaywitzes have an unusual twist in defining dyslexia.  Unusual because it focuses on the positive. To them dyslexia is an unexpected difficulty in reading,  unexpected in relation to: intelligence, motivation, educational status and professional work.  Why?  Because dyslexics are most often very successful in these categories.

Their studies at Yale have shown that there is a relationship to intelligence (IQ) and reading. While they are linked for dyslexics they are not “talking” to one another. Dyslexics can be very bright and at the same time struggling with reading. This fact, they claim, is scientific validation about dyslexia which needs to be disseminated to all phases of the education process in the US.  And, I found it interesting to hear that dyslexia is both found in every nationality and it lasts. Dyslexia doesn’t go away. It can be managed but doesn’t completely correct itself.  (From a personal point of view, I have found this to be true.)

Most dyslexics have a high IQ.  However, they have a neurobiological disruption in the neural systems in the brain which affects their ability for rapid reading.  Instead, they suffer the result of extremely slow and effortful reading. This means that their cognitive ability indicates they have the capability to master complex and very difficult conceptual material within a college and graduate or professional school curriculum even though they experience such impaired reading fluency. Interestingly, this is not necessarily the case for an average person with the same reading difficulties.

So, a one sentence definition of dyslexia, according to the Shaywitzes is: dyslexia can be conceptualized as an encapsulated weakness resulting in slow reading surrounded by a sea of strengths. It is the sea of strengths in thinking and reasoning that, together with the accommodation of extra time, allows a slow-reading but good-thinking  dyslexic to succeed. The accommodation of extra time on test levels allows the hardworking dyslexic to access his strengths and demonstrate his knowledge.

What do we know about reading and reading ability? The Shaywitzes reminded us that we as human beings evolve to speak, not to read.  Every society has a spoken language.  We are hard wired to speak, not read. In fact, there are many societies that  con’t read. Reading is not natural. It has to be taught.  It is acquired. Print has meaning because it represent letters and then words.  Letters, lines and circles, have taken on meaning when they link to the spoken language.  Writing is a way of reporting language with visible marks.  To translate the written words, the word is dissected through the use of a phoneme, a smallest unit of speech.  These phonemes become building blocks of language.  The challenge for a dyslexic is retrieving the sound. Sometimes a dyslexic may retrieve the sound which is next to the letter in question resulting in he or she saying the wrong word: eg eat, instead of cat. In other words readers have to be able to pull each word apart and then blend the sound. For dyslexics, attaching a letter to a sound is very difficult.

Dr. Ben Shaywitz focused his comments on the neurobiology of dyslexia pointing out that the better the neural system works in the brain, the more fluent the reader.  His research proves that dyslexics neural systems differ from skilled readers. Brain imaging (MRI) has made it possible to observe that there is a neurobiological difference between dyslexic and non-impaired readers: not in intelligence, but in the systems that allow readers to read rapidly. This fact reinforces that dyslexia is real.  In other words, what has been replicated is the fact that dyslexics have an inefficient functioning of neural systems for skilled and fluent reading.  Dr. Ben Shaywitz continued by explaining there are three areas of the brain that are affected. All are found in the left hemisphere of the brain:  two in the back brain (responsible for integration, phonology, orthography, semantics etc.) and one in the front brain (executive functioning).  These differences  hold true for dyslexic individuals from many languages.

Dr. Ben Shaywitz. also mentioned that there are systems in the brain that help compensate when the left brain is not functioning.  Even though these other brain tools improves the speed of reading accuracy, comprehension does not improve.  The typical reader’s brain develops in the left side of the brain by sounding out the words. This is not the case with dyslexics.  They compensate by memorizing. (which, in my case, can mean that I generally do not hold the information for a long period of time.)

Dr. Ben S.  summarized his comments by stating that brain imaging has taught us that dyslexia is real and caused by an inefficient functioning of the neural systems.  However, he was quick to point out, that, at this point, there is no imaging process to diagnose a dyslexic.

The following is a list of some of the contents that the Shaywitzes feel are important
for inclusion in national public policy.

  • a clearly outlined definition of the word dyslexia, along with what it means to a
    dyslexic individual, be they a child, adolescent, young adult or adult.
  • a reflection of the scientific progress and approaches in the dyslexic condition.
    It must include the fact that dyslexia is real, is an unexpected difficulty and
    support this statement through the data of the clinical proof.
  • the reasons behind the importance of accommodations for dyslexics when taking tests, along with the requirement that this opportunity become mandated through public policy.

Now, I am going to focus on a few comments the Shaywitzes told the gathering about how we, the public can get involved in assisting in the dyslexic public policy process. Recently there has been a bipartisan caucus in the House of Representatives organized to support the public policy on dyslexia.  This is spearheaded by Representative Pete Stark (D) from California and Representative Bill Cassidy MD, (R) from Louisiana.  If you live in Rep. Pete Stark’s district send him an email through his website Go to contact/public comment supporting the importance of this endeavor. Similarly, if you are from Louisiana and live in Rep. Bill Cassidy’s district, go to

In addition, Congress is considering the ADA Restoration Act right now. If you want to make a difference, you can help by writing (email) to your Congressional  Representative or Senator.  Tell them you do care and you very much want to see dyslexia included in the ADA Restoration Act.

There was a great deal of content in the Shaywitz presentation.  I strongly recommend a visit to their Yale website. to learn more.  I also used this Site to help me as I was writing this blog to clarify some of the information that we heard at the lecture.  In fact, I used some of the language on their site as the articles are very clearly written and most helpful.

If you are interested in more details in the dyslexia public policy effort read the following two articles posted on the Shaywitz website.

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Jan 31

Ben Foss, Executive Director of Disability Rights Advocates, was a recent guest lecturer at Parents Education Network in San Francisco. This talk provided some advice for parents who are stymied by the schools systems when they are being an advocate for their child and his or her learning challenges.

Mr. Foss is a dyslexic, a fact that was identified early in elementary school.  His parents were his advocates with theresult of him being placed in special education classes. His nonverbal, picture-based intelligence was found to be in the superior range. His greatest difficulty was written language. In middle school he was  mainstreamed into regular school classes where he was able to develop his strengths, all the while hiding his dyslexia. Law School pushed him to the breaking point. He could no longer hide the fact that he was dyslexic. Thus began a journey of self- discovery that ultimately led him to become an activist in the field of disability rights.

Mr. Foss recommended five steps parents and their child can take with the school systems.

1.    Identify the issues.

It’s important to get a profile of your child. Engage your child and find out where their issues lie. Outline what are the approaches that give your child difficulties. Look for markers. Is the school too demanding for your child?  Remember, your responsibility is to support your child, be your child’s advocate. State your goals to solve this issue.

2.       Empower the child

1.       Check to be sure the child wants to stay in the school.  Engage the child on the child’s terms asking them what they want.

2.       Sit with your child and teach them why a test is important.

3.       Describe to your child how their attitude affects how well they will do in school work.

4.       Teach them to stand up and be independent, speaking up for themselves.

5.       Explore all forms of technology with your child to see where there is a tool that makes the child independent.

3.       Know the law.

Early in your child’s education process find out the requirements for the SAT, the nation’s most widely used college admission exam.  While the date of that exam for your child may be ten years away, the documentation that you keep will have a major impact on the conditions under which your child takes this test. The goal is to serve the child while not having to engage the law in the process. While it’s important to  have the law the goal is to resolve the issue without having to use the law force. Mr. Foss recommends you consider the law a bodyguard that never does anything but looks menacing. And, remember:  document, document, document.

4.       Engage the school.

Be an advocate for your child at the school. And, have your child learn how to advocate for themselves at school. Let them show the school administration and teachers that they want to become independent.

As a parent, advocate for the accommodations you feel your child  needs. Remember, your child wants to keep up with fellow students.  That fact is very important to them. Accommodations can make that possible.

Mr. Foss described his story about creating a device which made him independent.  After Stanford Law School he joined Intel and created the Intel reader which takes text and reads it aloud.  Now he could access the written word much more easily. Mr. Foss commented that there are many similar products now available.  He said some   kids resist using this machine because of their concern that they are not learning in the same way as their classmates. The goal is to help them see that they can learn faster with the technology.  Sometimes this helps them overcome the embarrassment of using the machine.

5.       Fine Tune your approach.

1.       Remember:  teachers don’t think about your child.  Most just want the learning challenged kids to be sent to special education classes. This means the teacher will just have to deal with the “regular” student.

Re-examine your strategy with your child.  Make sure it includes discovering how to help them overcome their internal monologue that tells them they are the black sheep.  If you ignore this behavior, it will  stay with them.  Parents must make overcoming this attitude part of  your strategy with your child.

2.   Know the law.
There are two critical laws that protect students in education.

  •  Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This law prohibits discrimination in ANY program that receives federal funding.
  • “504 Plan” It’s an individualized assessment and plan.  This plan must reasonably accommodate your child’s specific learning disabilities so that his/her needs are met as adequately as the needs of students without disabilities. Examples of reasonable accommodations:

– Extended time

– Preferred seating in the front of the classroom

– Access toassistive technology.

  • “IDEA”  Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.  This Federal law applies
    exclusively to education and provides special education to ensure that the tudents benefit from their education. There are stringent requirements: eg:
    the student must qualify under a “specific learning disability. Contained in IDEA is the IEP Plan, (individualized education plan) which states the education must meet the needs of each student’s unique learning strategies.

Parents must request assessment for school evaluation in writing.

The IEP meeting is to involve the student, parents, administrators and teachers. The discussion will focus on:

1.       Present level of performance

2.       Goals and objectives for student

3.       Services required to achieve goals

4.       Measurements of success

5.       Progress reports
Discussion of services (“placement”).  There is a strong presumption in the law that students should learn alongside the general education students.

Parents remember:  document, document, document.  Year after year be sure to have a folder with summaries of all the discussions and other pertinent information.  You will need it when the S.A.T. time comes to get accommodations for your child.

Should the above fail, here are some organizations to approach for help:

  1. Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund:   In Northern California 510
    644 2555.
  2. National Center for Learning Disabilities:  “IDEA” parent guide.

3.   Wrights Law:

4.  U.S. Department of Education – Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative

**  note: this website, although thorough and accurate, is highly technical

If you have taken or will take standardized tests:  LSAT (for legal),  GMAT (for  medical) , and MCAT (for business), Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) is interested in speaking with you.  They ask: Why must dyslexics pay thousands to re-certify on high stakes testing?

Here is a link to “youtube” to learn more:

If this project intrigues we suggest you contact DRA to find out more about their intentions and to help in their efforts to end this discriminatory practice or  510 665 8644.

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Jan 26

In early January, 2011, Parents Education Network (PEN) held their annual workshop featuring five PEN students with learning challenges who have been successful in gaining acceptance to different colleges and universities throughout the US. All of them have one or more learning challenges including dyslexia, ADD and audio processing.  The event was chaired by Eli Kersh-Oliva, program director for PEN which includes coordination of the SAFE Program*.  He posed questions and the following summarizes some of panel experiences.

Which colleges/universities are you attending?

  • University of Southern California
  • Mills College
  • Walla Walla
  • University of Iowa
  • Community College

When did you decide you wanted to go to college?

  • In  Grade V11
  • In Junior year in high school
  • When I was a little kid
  • When I knew what I wanted to study: fashion
  • After a gap year

Things they considered when choosing a college.

  • wanted a small school because I needed one to one attention.  And, wanted a well rounded
    liberal arts education.
  • applied everywhere, was good advocate for myself, looked to see what fit me best, looked for a person who would invest time with me.
  • looked for a small college and structured LD (learning difference) programs.
  • took a gap year after high school and then chose a community college.  I am not sure where I want to focus my education and need good learning support.
  • I have a passion, fashion, and that propelled me to be interested in college.

When did you disclose you had a learning difference?

  • Wrote about it in my application and then weeded out schools who weren’t interested.
    Checked out LD resources and asked what accommodations they offer. During the application process I was worried about losing my parents support at home as I have to have everything read to me. I also use Kurtzweil, a speech reader software. I chose Whitman where the Dean told all my professors about my learning challenge.
  • I wasn’t afraid of disclosing my learning difference.   If they aren’t willing to both help me and give me accommodations then I knew it was not the right school for me.
  • I went to a small school before Mills to gain confidence that I could be an advocate for myself.  Then, I was ready to apply to Mills.
  • At a community college you don’t have to jump through hoops for LD support.  I also use
    the Intel Reader.
  • I mentioned my learning difference in my application.  At Iowa State they are very helpful and take the extra step to be sure I am successful.

What special technology do you use and/or how did you build community at school?

  • I use Kurtzweil, they gave me double time for an exam which I take in another room and am given a calculator.
  • I have available through the college an I-Pod, Kindle, Intel Reader and Pens that record what is being taught.
  • At college we created community:  Learning Styles Coalition.  We are involved in Project Eye to Eye, a national program developing a coalition of mentoring programs for students labeled with learning disabilities. Now, fifteen of us are mentoring in the Walla Walla Schools.
  • I am in a large university (USC) and they have an extensive learning department.  Every class has a note taker and their notes are put on-line. We have a silent commons where kids who have learning disabilities can go twenty-four hours a day. Right next to it is the Writing Center where there are TA (technical assistants) in many fields to help us.  I get help with grammar from them.
  • In my college there is no assistive technology so I work with TA’s and professors and have
    extended time for exams.
  • At Mills there is a large population with learning disabilities.  I feel very comfortable talking about my issues.
  • At my community college there is very little LD community.  My friends who are LD and ADHD are my friends and we help each other.
  • I get extra time and I take classes (like sewing) to balance the academic work.   There  isn’t much community, except with my friends.

What are the differences between high school and college?

  • Time management is a big issue.  In school we were in class from 8:15 to 4 pm.  In college we may have only two classes a day.  I had to find a place where I could study.  And, I really learned to be a self advocate.  My Mum did most of that in high school.
  • At the beginning of each semester I offer to take my professors to coffee and tell them about my learning difference and what I need.
  • In high school I had close relationships with my teachers.  In college if you fail he won’t be there for you.  It’s up to you in college.  It’s very important to get the teacher in line with you.  Make sure they know your name and that you are trying.
  • In high school there was very little curriculum choice whereas in college you choose what you want to study. It’s very important to be passionate about what you choose to learn.
  • In college you have to take the entire experience in your hands.
  • Parents absence is a big change.  Those struggles makes you stronger, a better advocate for yourself.  A planner is essential.  Write it all down.
  • In college you are a face in the crowd.  To achieve you need to know the things you are good at and vice versa.  College can be a big change.
  • I learned you have to go to office hours and talk about the test with the professors. You can raise your grade by keeping in close contact with your professor.  And, be sure to get a reader if you need one.
  • Communicating in college with your class mates is very important.
  • Find people who study like you do.

Think back to your freshman year, what stands out as most important?

  • Self Advocacy is most important.  Parents, ask yourself, have you prepared your
    child to be a self advocate?
  • Take a light load in the 1st semester.  It’s a lot just to start college.
  • Make sure the professor cares about you.

What did your family do for you when you were in school?

  • I started to do panels in grade 7.
  • I did role playing with others to learn how to be a self advocate.
  • My parents called a teacher to tell them that I was coming to ask for something and asked that they give me space and listen to my request.
  • I learned to advocate for myself.
  • I was the black sheep of the family.  I never took my parents seriously.  I learned by being in a LD community.   Safe Voices, a project of PEN, taught me how to advocate.

Summary Comments:

  • Self advocacy is the key.
  • Check out who is the person in each class who sits in the front row.  They are generally a “know it all”. Get into their study group.  I don’t always disclose about my learning challenge at the outset with those groups. If there is a creative aspect I ask to do that.
  • Professors can be creepy.  They have brains but mostly no facial expressions. So get to know them.  If they deny you what you need, go to the administration and ask for intervention. Before you go, send the professor an e-mail with the request.  Once you have the denial written down, take it to the administration and ask for intervention. That ends that. Remember it’s your right to have accommodations.
  • Parents: let your kids make mistakes.
  • Students: have a good time at college, don ‘t study all the time.  Don’t let parents affect your thinking so that you lose your perspective.  Make friends with those who have similar study patterns.
  • In high school I was lost and only thought about girls.  In college I found my passion. Don’t worry about motivation, find the passion.
  • Gap year is a good way to become re-invigorated.

*SAFE (Student Advisors for Education) is a student community that strives to educate, mentor,
and support students, parents and teachers regarding the challenges and strengths of LD and ADHD students.  This unique group of teens is passionate about learning differently, pursuing
their fullest potential and spreading awareness of their capacity for academic and life success.

This blog is written by Ann Farris, a dyslexic/hyperlexic.


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Jan 03

In early December PEN (Parents Education Network) hosted two speakers from the Abbey Neuropsychology Clinic,  Richard D. Abbey, Ph.D., Clinical Neuropsychologist and Diana Barrett, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist. Their focus  was three complex issues: Depression, Anxiety and Learning. I was impressed with the ease that these two specialists shared the podium as they imparted their expertise. A more detailed background on both speakers can be found at the conclusion of this blog.

They began their morning talk with a focus on depression, advising us that it appears differently with children and adults.   For a child, irritability is a key element.  They become very edgy and display a lack of interest in something that they previously very much enjoyed, walking away from any involvement with it or others. Whereas a tip the speakers provided to indicate whether an adolescent might be in a depressed state is sleeping till noon or complaining about a tummy ache. These are safer ways for an adolescent to express depression.  If there evolves a pre-occupation with poetry whose topic is life threatening, it could mean the adolescent is exploring the possibility.  The challenge for a parent is discovering whether the comments are simply anxiety which interferes with a child’s functioning or whether the issue comes from a depressed state.

Often depression comes when there is a problem with learning. This causes emotional issues. Ask yourself the question: are the emotional issues out of control?  Or is depression causing a learning problem? It is clear that when a child, adolescent or adult is depressed, this state interferes with other and important daily functions.

The frontal lobe of the brain is where Executive Functioning (ie: skill building) occurs. It can be one of the first segments of the brain affected by depression or anxiety. Kids who can’t keep information being taught in their mind are offering a good clue that this skill is not working well.  Perhaps the school teachers are unable to track the child’s reading skills which can result in their teaching approach not matching the way the child learns. When a student hears from a teacher: “try a little harder”  or, “we just told you” when they are not doing what is being asked, more than likely the child/adolescent internalizes, “I am stupid.”  This can lead to depression.

There is another clue:  Is the student taking a long time to accomplish a task, especially if there is sequence of tasks to accomplish with the project. This inability can lead to the student getting caught up in right and wrong.  And, then they begin to say to themselves if I can’t do it perfectly I am not going to do it at all.  Their anxiety becomes dominant.

These are some questions the speakers provided to begin assessing whether your child/adolescent is experiencing anxiety or depression:

1. Is anything significantly different in any domain of your child’s life?

2. Is their day to day functioning different from the norm?

3. Does the child have a problem reading aloud. Do they lose their place, skipping
words or replacing words?

4. With Executive Functioning: is there a switching of letters and numbers? Can they sort out a lot of information being taught? does their attention keep varying?

5. Are you concerned that your child may not be safe?

There are solutions/interventions to these tell tale signs:  A few are listed below.

1. Professional emotional and learning assessments to diagnose what is happening with your child.

2. Cognitive Behavior Therapy. The process focuses on solving problems concerning dysfunctional emotions, behaviors and cognitions:  I looked up the word “cognitive” on Wikipedia for a definition. It refers to the following skills: attention, remembering, producing and understanding language, solving problems, and making decisions. The speakers had some good news about the effectiveness of Cognitive Behavior Therapy confirming that 75% of the time there is some kind of improvement with anxiety and depression.

3. Medications:  The speakers did not spend much time on this topic. They did comment that kids on medication do seem to have a working memory problem.  This is a controversial issue which has been discussed at PEN many times.  See former PEN and Emotion blogs within my various blogs for more information.

3. Reading interventions.  The speakers cautioned parents to undertake due diligence before taking action.  Some therapies only look at a part of the problem – which may or may not be appropriate for your child.  For an overview the speakers recommend using the National Reading Panel.

4. Executive Functioning Coaching.  The need for this skill may not present itself until college level.  When it does, coaching is very important.  Each person needs to learn
how to plan, how to live with goal oriented behavior.

5. Software:  These speakers were promoting the use of a Pulse Pen.   It records what is being said and relieves the need for the listener to take notes.  They also mentioned the Intel Reader which was discussed in more detail in the previous PEN blog.

6. Cogmed:  This process helps improve working memory, expand attention and executive functioning.

7. What to do at home:  Adjust expectations of your child:  Set realistic goals. schedule free time along with time with you, the parent.  Have a listening ear, find a way to bring up the topic you want to discuss or to hear more about from them.

8 School:  School placement is very important.  See previous PEN blogs on this topic.

These speakers gave me a giggle when they said:  We have never spoken to a parent who didn’t think that they were right.  A part of me, Ann, who is writing this blog and is not a parent, sees that part of needing to be right in myself.  It takes time to undo that belief. If you, as parent are so challenged, give yourself time to learn more about the topic. Yes, I know sometimes that’s a difficult step for a parent to take. Our ego can make it difficult for us to accept there is a learning challenge. Your goal is to keep the best interests of the child to the fore. Here’s a sobering comment made by the speakers. There is evidence now that if one parent experiences depression, the risk for the child developing depression goes up. So, if you as parent experience the same issues as the child, the speakers said it helps the child if the parents also do the interventions.

The speakers urged the parents to go to gatherings, like EdRev in San Francisco, a yearly event produced by PEN which occurs at the Giant’s Baseball Park.  Here parents can intermingle with hundreds of other parents and learning specialists and Depression, ansietydiscover ways to increase their knowledge base on the issues facing their child.

Remember, the brain is neuroplastic, it can and does change!


The speakers were:

Dr.Richard Abbey is a clinical neuropsychologist who specializes in assessment,  diagnosis, and treatment of ADHD, learning disorders, and other neurocognitive and emotional conditions. Prior to opening the Abbey Neuropsychology Clinic in Palo Alto, Dr. Abbey was a clinical faculty member at Stanford University School of Medicine/Lucille Packard Hospital. His areas of specialty include ADHD (and non-medication based interventions for ADHD), learning disorders, pediatric brain tumors, autism, and treatment of neurocognitive deficits.

Diana Marchetti Barret, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist who assesses and diagnoses  learning disorders, developmental disorders (e.g. autism, aspergers), mood disorders, and ADHD. Dr. Barrett completed post-graduate work at the University of Utah Neuropsychiatric Institute and post doctorate training at Stanford University School of Medicine, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Dr. Barrett also has specialty training in Motivational Interviewing, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, non-medication treatment for ADHD, and Pivotal Response Training (PRT) for Autism Spectrum Disorders.

The speakers can be reached through:  Abbey NeuroPsychological Clinic located in Palo Alto, CA.  They offer ccomprehensive neuropsychological evaluations for infants, children, and adults.

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Dec 01

Ben Foss,  Executive Director of Disability Rights Advocates, was a recent guest lecturer at Parents Education Network in San Francisco.  This talk provided some advice for parents who are stymied by the  schools systems when they are being an advocate for their child and his or her  learning challenges.

Mr. Foss is a dyslexic, a fact that  was identified early in elementary school.  His parents were his advocates with the  result of him being placed in special education classes. His nonverbal,  picture-based intelligence was found to be in the superior range. His greatest  difficulty was written language. In middle school he was mainstreamed into  regular school classes where he was able to develop his strengths, all the  while hiding his dyslexia. Law School pushed him to the breaking point. He could no longer hide the fact that he was dyslexic. Thus began a journey of self-discovery that ultimately led him to become an activist in the field of disability rights.

Mr. Foss recommended five steps parents and their child can take with the school systems:

1.       Identify the issues.

It’s important to get a profile of your child. Engage your child and find out where their issues lie. Outline what are the approaches that give your child difficulties. Look for markers. Is the school too demanding for  your child?  Remember, your responsibility is to support your child, be your child’s advocate. State your goals  to solve this issue.

2.       Empower  the child

a.       Check to be sure the child wants to stay in the school.  Engage the child on the child’s terms asking them what they want.

b.       Sit with your child and teach them why a test is important.

c.       Describe to your child how their attitude affects how well they will do in school work.

d.       Teach them to stand up and be independent, speaking up for themselves.

e.       Explore all forms of technology with your child to see where there is a tool that makes the child independent.

3.       Know the law.

Early in your child’s education process find out the requirements for the SAT, the nation’s most  widely used college admission exam. While the date of that exam for your child may be ten years away, the  documentation that you keep will have a major impact on the conditions under which your child takes this test. The goal is to serve the child while not having to engage the law in the process. While it’s important to have the law the goal is to resolve the issue without having to use the law force. Mr. Foss recommends you consider the law a bodyguard that never does anything but looks menacing. And, remember:  document, document, document.

4.       Engage  the school.

Be an advocate for your child at the school. And, have your child learn how to advocate for themselves at school. Let them show the school administration and teachers that they want to become independent.

As a parent, advocate for the accommodations you feel your child needs . Remember, your child wants to keep up with fellow students.  That fact is very important to them. Accommodations can make that possible.

Mr. Foss described his story about creating a device which made him independent.  After Stanford Law School he joined Intel and created the Intel reader which takes text and reads it aloud.  Now he could access the written word much more easily. Mr. Foss commented that there are many similar products now available.  He said some   kids resist using this machine because of their concern that they are not learning in the same way as their classmates. The goal is to help them  see that they can learn faster with the technology.  Sometimes this helps them overcome the embarrassment of using the machine.

5.       Fine Tune your approach.

a. Remember: teachers don’t think about your child. Most just want the learning challenged kids to be sent to special education classes. This means the teacher will just have to deal with the “regular” student.

b. Re-examine your strategy with your child.  Make sure it includes discovering how to help them overcome their internal monologue that tells them they are the black sheep.  If you ignore this behavior, it will stay with them.  Parents must make overcoming this attitude  part of your strategy with your child.

2.   Know the law.  There are two critical laws that protect students in  education.

“504”  – Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This law prohibits discrimination in ANY program that receives federal funding.

  • “504 Plan” It’s an individualizd assessment and plan.  This plan must reasonably accommodate your child’s specific learning disabilities so that
    his/her needs are met as adequately as the needs of students without
    disabilities. Examples of reasonable accommodations:

– Extended time, preferred seating in the front of the classroom, access to assistive technology.

  • “IDEA”  Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.  This Federal law applies
    exclusively to education and provides special education to ensure that the
    students benefit from their education. There are stringent requirements: eg:
    the student must qualify under a “specific learning disability. Contained
    in IDEA is the IEP Plan, (individualized  education plan) which states the education must meet the needs of each student’s unique learning strategies.

Parents must request assessment for school evaluation in writing. The IEP  meeting is to involve the student, parents, administrators and teachers. The discussion will focus on:

1.  Present level of performance

2.  Goals and objectives for student

3. Services required to achieve goals

Measurements of success

Progress reports, Discussion of services (“placement”).
There is a strong presumption in the law that students should learn alongside the general education students.

Parents remember:  document, document, document.  Year after year be sure to have a folder with summaries of all the discussions and other pertinent information.  You will need it when the S.A.T. time comes to get accommodations for your child.

Should the above fail, here are some organizations to approach for help:

  1. Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund:   In Northern California, 510
    644 2555.
  2. National Center for Learning Disabilities “IDEA”  parent guide.
  3.   Wrights Law:
  4.   U.S. Department of Education – Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.
    note: this website, although thorough and accurate, is highly technical


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Nov 06

Parents Education Network (PEN) hosted members of the Northern California Branch of the International Dyslexia Association (NCBIDA) as they presented the latest version of Experience Dyslexia® a popular learning disabilities simulation. This hands-on experience was initially developed in the 1980’s by the California State Board of Education. Subsequently the process was taken over by NCBIDA. Over the years the content has been updated several times.

The simulation gives the participants an opportunity to discover some of the challenges and frustrations faced by people with dyslexia. As a reminder, dyslexia is a language-based learning disability.  The International Dyslexia Association further defines it by stating the condition refers to a cluster of symptoms which result in people having difficulties with specific language skills, particularly reading.  Spelling, writing and pronouncing words can also be challenging.

Experience Dyslexia® provides an opportunity for non dyslexic-parents, teachers and others – to immerse themselves in the inner turmoil world of a dyslexic.  Six  learning stations each with a different focus give insight into the lives of individuals with dyslexia.  The participants were warned in advance that this simulation was created to be stressful and in some cases fatiguing and emotional. The intention is to offer a true experience of the challenges a dyslexic experiences with the goal of enabling the participants to become more empathetic with the dyslexic student or adult.

What follows is a brief summary of the focus on each station.

Station 1: Learn to Read simulated a beginning reading problem.  The participants were asked to associate visual symbols with sounds to identify words and comprehend the story.  I was the leader of this Station.  There was only one individual in the more than sixty who was able to master the process. At the conclusion participants in each group offered a short assessment of the experience.  They were amazed at how difficult reading was. Some of the words they used to describe the experience were frustration, fear, embarrassment and more.

Station 2: Listen to Me simulated an auditory figure-ground problem. Participants put on a head set and listened to a CD to discriminate between important auditory information (figure) and non-essential background “noise” (the ground) while filling out a worksheet.  For some dyslexics this noise becomes intensified and hearing almost impossible.

Station 3: Write with Mirrors simulated a visual-motor and writing problem. Participants are asked to trace and draw while viewing their work through a mirror.  This simulates the difficulty some students have with fine motor skills for handwriting and the frustration that can occur when students realize their written work is not up to par.

Station 4: Name That Letter simulated a letter-word identification problem. Several letters, r, b, d, g, p, q can be read in the reverse by dyslexics. Participants were asked to read a mirror image of a poor quality copy of a story discovering what it feels like when they have trouble learning to correctly name the letters and associate them with their correct sound.

Station 5: Write or Left simulated the experience of a copying and writing problem which is caused by the lack of automaticity in letter formation.  Clues that this issue is manifesting are slow and laborious writing and frequent self correction when writing. Participants were asked to complete tasks using their non-dominant hand.

Station 6: Hear and Spell simulates an auditory discrimination problem.  Participants are asked to spell a list of words which are dictated three times.  Each time there is a different voice distortion which makes it difficult to clearly hear the words.  This task simulates what it might be like to have a weakness in auditory processing.  For some people with dyslexia it is difficult to remember the number and sequences of sounds within a word.

By the end of the evening this group of parents, teachers and others were exhausted but grateful. Thankful they had some insight into a dyslexic’s challenges.  Nancy Redding, the host for the evening,  reminded us that no two people with dyslexia are alike.  And, she commented that dyslexics are often creative, intelligent with vision and hearing. It’s the areas of language where the dyslexic seems to struggle.

At the conclusion a few of the comments by the participants about the experience were:

  • I understand students better
  • I feel frustrated
  • I am exhausted.
  • I wanted the “teacher” to shut up
  • I wanted to cheat and look at my neighbors paper

The Experience Dyslexia® — A Learning Disabilities  Simulation kit can be purchased.

The kit includes: Inventory of materials, facilitator’s introductory and final summary scripts, dyslexia fact sheets, individual station instructions, scripts, worksheets and two CDs.

Additional material that the purchaser would need to buy separately are mirrors, pencils, CD players, listening centers/headsets.  The cost of Experience Dyslexia® is $275 plus shipping.

The kit can be used repeatedly for teacher in-service trainings and parent education programs.  It might be a good investment for your school or organization.  Contact NCBIDA at

Simulation Workshops:  Experience Dyslexia® — A Learning Disabilities Simulation can be presented by the NCBIDA to interested schools or organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area. This cost is $400 for groups of 30 – 60  participants.  Requests should be submitted 6 weeks in advance of your desired date.  Contact:

Finally, a 2008 study from researchers at Southeastern Louisiana University (SLU) using materials from the NCBIDA simulation clearly showed that participation increased awareness of dyslexia among teachers-in-training. The simulation has been shown to be an effective teaching tool.

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Sep 28

Listen to audio version of blog

The 2011/12 Parents Education Network lecture series in San Francisco began with a bang, a powerful bang.  The lecturer, Dr. Leyla M. Bologlu, shared advice that made my heart sing.  She underscored the importance of good, thorough evaluation for both ADHD and learning difficulties stating that the faster the parents take action the better.  It is now proven that early intervention can impact neurological change. The goal is to ensure that the child has a healthy psychological life as he or she goes through the challenges of the learning process.

Some clues: A child exhibiting behavioral issues is a flag that the problem could generate from  a brain-based neurological issue. (A dyslexic has different neurological pathways.)  Or a child exhibiting executive functioning shortcomings as a result of the brain’s inability to manage learning activities may be experiencing ADHD.

Dr. Bologlu gave a graphic description of the brain’s development. The infant brain is relatively smooth.  As the child grows and develops the complexity of bumps and squiggles on the brain increases from experience and exposure.  This description had me wondering how physically crisscrossed is my brain from my dyslexia and hyperlexia.  It wasn’t until I was in my forties when I learned i am dyslexic and in my sixties when I discovered that my real issue is hyperlexia meaning I had trouble in imaging words which are essential for reading and aural comprehension.

The lecture moved on to many types of specialists.  At the outset is the need for parents to identify a competent evaluator who is comfortable embracing specialists in several different fields with discreet skills to address particular shortcomings.   Dr. Bologlu reminded us that kids want to do well.  The adult team needs to discover what is holding them back, what skill set they are missing and sets in motion the steps necessary to improve the ability of the child to learn.

The path Dr. Bologlu recommends to identify the learning challenge includes.

1.       Obtaining a clear statement from the school with details of what seems to be going on/what are their concerns?  If it is you, the parent, who is recognizing there is an isuue, ask for a meeting at the school to check out your hunch.

2.       The next step is identifying a highly qualified educational therapist ( with a master’s degree) who knows and works with a battery of tests available and has experience with children of your child’s age. Tests include:

  • Administration of cognitive tests  (not an IQ test)
  • Academic achievement tests
  • Other screenings/tests including but not limited to: Slingerland,  Levine,  language development/auditory processing, phonological awareness, visual-motor integration etc.

3.       Specialized testing includes:

  • Speech & Language Evaluation (be sure the tester has at least an master’s level education)
  • Occupational Therapy:  These evaluations and treatments are specific to motor
    development, sensory-motor integration and nonverbal weaknesses.
  • Psycho-educational Evaluation:  Be sure the consultant has a PhD in clinical psychology.  The evaluations involve IQ testing, achievement tests, behavioral
    questionnaires, social/emotional testing.
  • Psycho-educational Evaluation.  Be sure the consultant has a PhD in clinical psychology.  The evaluations involve IQ testing, achievement tests, behavioral questionnaires, social/emotional testing.
  • Neurpsychological Evaluation.  This can include testing for intellectual skills  (IQ testing), as well as congnitive functioning ability which may involve testing for skills in a) language (expressive/receptive), b) visio-spatial/visio-perceptual function c) memory, d) attentional systems, e) executive functioning, f) fine and gross motor functioning, g) sensory integration and more.

The Educational Therapist oversees the testing process.  When she/he receives the assessments from other specialists, she/he draws conclusions and makes recommendations to the parents.  The Educational Therapist must provide the names of the suggested treatment providers – more than one for each type of service.  In addition, the Educational Therapist should make contact with all of the treatment providers recommended to outline the reason for the referral, the treatment focus and the number of sessions per week needed.

Additional appropriate support may include:

  1. behavior support in the classroom and at home
  2. sensory motor support – handwriting
  3. executive functioning skill support (study skills, breaking down large assignments)
  4. medication management.  I found it interesting that Dr. Bologhu’s point of view on medication is that it may help with behavior but not with the core issue.

At the conclusion of this lecture the President and Co-Foundter of PEN, Dewey Rosetti, when thanking Dr. Bologlu for her remarks commented:  If only we had had this kind of information ten years ago, what a difference it would have made!  I agree and am just grateful that teh PEN lucture series exists so parents now have the information to take reasoned steps with their child’s learning challenge.



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Jul 19

Hyperlexia:  My journey to understanding the condition.

Most parents whose children have a learning challenge look at me with a blank stare when I mention the term Hyperlexia. The same seems to be true with the professionals working in the learning disability field.

Why am I concerned you may ask. I am hyperlexic and I don’t want youngsters (or oldsters, as a matter of fact) to be mis-diagnosed or partially diagnosed as I was twenty years ago. It frequently happens.  When the tester or the learning disability specialist isn’t aware of hyperlexia they lump the child or adult into the dyslexic category. Why?  Both hyperlexia and dyslexia are conditions that affect reading.

Let’s review. Dyslexia means one has a hard time reading words, sounding them out and probably has a poor vocabulary. On the other hand, hyperlexia describes an individual who has difficulty comprehending what they are reading because the individual is not capable of imaging the words they are reading.

Here’s an example.  If someone says: the cat has a pink tail that wiggles, a hyperlexic sees the words but not the images of the cat. Imaging gets much more challenging with complex words.

I was diagnosed as dyslexic twenty-five years ago when in my forties. The testing office said there was nothing that could be done.  I began searching. I discovered quite quickly that I had mastered sounding out words, reading words, and knew I had an excellent vocabulary. It made me wonder.  Why am I a dyslexic?  No one had a response.  I decided that the problem was psychological and embarked on several years of inner exploration.  And, I was advised to remove refined sugar from my diet.  Both the psychological work and the elimination of refined sugar improved my condition some.

In my mid-sixties I attended a lecture given by Nanci Bell of Lindamood-Bell who described the differences between dyslexia and Hyperlexia.  I knew immediately that I was Hyperlexic. Yes, comprehension was my problem. Testing at Lindamood-Bell revealed I had Grade Three reading comprehension skills (and I graduated from the Yale University Drama School).

Parents:  here are some tricks that we, hyperlexics, use to mask our condition:

  • When we are talking with another and we don’t understand what is being said we change the subject, or we ask questions hoping that we will get it.
  • We talk in generalities.
  • We don’t remember what we see or hear and get the person to describe the scene again.
  • We use a word, phrase or sentence hoping we are close to what is being demanded.
  • We take a long time to get a word.  I find people get impatient waiting for me to say what I know so I will jump in with a phrase praying I am close rather than waiting for the word to come.

Skills a hyperlexic has that makes expressing ourselves difficult for us:

  • We are very good at FEELING the whole picture of what is going on in a situation. These feelings can be difficult to verbalize sometimes because:
  1. We don’t safe in describing what we see.
  2. There is so much jumbled in our brain and feel we must rush so we make up phrases.  e.g. “There are one too many few.”  This was a phrase I said to a waitress when a teenager meaning –  there are too many of us and too few chairs.  This strange way of expressing myself began happening frequently. My parent began calling them Annisms.

Once I discovered the accurate diagnose I took three steps.

  1. I signed up for the verbalizing and visualizing training at Lindamood-Bell.  It was very difficult to learn how to image but I moved myself from Grade Three to Grade Nine reading comprehension level.
  2. I worked with the Masgutova Method to correct my reflexes that were not functioning correctly. An individual’s reflexes are developed while in utero and during the first three years of life.  I discovered that twelve of mine were not operating at optimal level (e.g.) I was unable to crawl when lying on the floor – my left side reflexes did not work.  I decided to combine my emotional issues with the reflex corrections. It was an arduous process but my reflexes corrected over a year and a half.
  3. Simultaneously I worked with a friend weekly on reading, utilizing the Lindamood-Bell techniques.  It was a painstaking process. Once my reflexes corrected themselves, my emotional behavior balanced itself and I became a more confident as a reader.  My friend was truly a saint.

In summary, comprehending what I read is still challenging. I have to be bold asking my friends to give me an image or images to describe a word they used when the meaning isn’t clear to me.

I hope my experience with Hyperlexia gives you some tools as you help your child or yourself with reading or aural comprehension. My wish is that the term Hyperlexia becomes a common phrase in the learning disability lexicon.  And, parents, when having your child tested be sure the testing officer is skilled in testing for hyperlexia.

For more information on my experience check out the article I wrote which is posted on this website.

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May 11

During EdRev at the Giants Baseball Park in April, 2011, Parents Education Network (PEN) invited two specialists in social learning, Dominique Baudry, MS.,ED and Jahna Pahl, MA to present a seminar.  Their topic, The Art of Friendship, focused on tools a youngster, especially between the ages of 8 and 13, needs to embrace to be successful in building friendships.

These skills can be very challenging for kids with learning differences and ADHD especially those who are “hard-wired” for science.  Because these kids aren’t wired to notice, accurately interpret and respond to the “soft stuff” (the social stuff) that happens between people they need to learn how to “play the social game. Effective social behavior involves thinking about another person when you are with them. It also requires paying attention to how your words and behaviors are causing the other person to respond to you.  It might mean adjusting what you are doing to keep them comfortable with you while you are together.

One student defined a friend as someone who she sees every day.  There was no mention or indication of interaction. Our seminar leaders provided this definition:  A friend is someone you have shared interests with, you do things with, someone you spend time with outside of school building shared experiences. Friends care about each others’ feelings, don’t hurt each other on purpose, and work at fixing it if feelings do get hurt.  There is a give and take in the friendship.

Warning signs:

Kids who say:  nobody talked to me at school today.  Or, are the ones who read a book for recess are giving a message. They are challenged by the prospect of connecting with others.  Our social learning specialists encourage these youngsters to see that it’s important to be near other people, and to check out what that group is doing.  Most often friendships start out as an acquaintance – maybe in a workshop, or the school room. Moving to friendship takes time, repetition, and regularity.

Advice for  teachers:

 Be sure your student knows how to be an effective listener.  Encourage them to watch the other’s body language and facial expressions while listening to the tone of voice. An effective listener speaks and responds to what the speaker is communicating through their words and through their non-verbal communication.  This way the person who is speaking feels listened to. 

Skills of conversing.  The challenge for “rigid thinkers” is learning how to be a flexible thinker, someone who can bend and shift and change their ideas. This can mean letting go of being attached to your own idea.  ‘Rigid thinkers” have few options, everything is black or white. They might even use the phrase, “that’s the rule”.   Those are the kids who struggle the most and are the ones who tend to be “over reactors”.  Teach them how to assess the importance of the issue is:  is it a big one, or a small one? Who thinks it is big or small?  Remind the student that no one really cares who wins or loses but others will remember who had the temper tantrum. 

Skills of entering a group.  Kids sometimes need to be taught the rules of how to come into a group and how to leave it. Point out that when everybody in the group is quiet and a noisy person joins them, the group will likely become annoyed.  Encourage the student to take time before approaching a group.  Figure out the group energy first. Then, help them learn how to match that energy before entering the group.  

Staying connected with a group conversation if you are not really interested can be challenging for the student.  Suggest they ask a question or make a comment. There are two kinds of questions which our speakers have named:

  • World Wonder, such as “How tall was your hotel?” World Wonder questions ask for facts about the world or the things in it. 
  • Social Wonder, such as “Did you like the place you stayed on vacation?  Or, Did you have fun?  .In other words, Social Wonder questions ask about the thoughts, feelings and experience a person has.    

Boredom:  Teach the student how to handle boredom in a class by asking an interesting question. The key is learning how to fake it, to pretend interest.  Remember, everyone experiences boring moments every day.  Our kids need to learn how to tolerate them, how to make the most of them while staying connected to the other people they are with when the boredom occurs.

Finally, I found it interesting that several kids attending this seminar had no fear of asking questions as they shared their complex challenges of making friends. 

For more information contact:   

            Dominique Baudry –

            Jahna Pahl –

Thanks to Jahna Pahl who provided additional insight for this blog.

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May 02

During EdRev sponsored by Parents Education Network (PEN) at the Giants Baseball Park one of the seminar discussions focused attention on The Future of the Special Education Services in the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) who are transitioning from Youth to Adulthood.

The two leaders were: 

 Cecilia Dodge:  Assistant Superintendent for Special Education, San Francisco Unified School District

Juno Duenas, Executive Director, Support for Families

At the outset the speakers provided a brief outline on the approach being taken at SFUSD.  Their Special Education Services are guided by a US federal law, IDEA  (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).  This legislation indicates how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services to children with disabilities. It addresses the educational needs of children with disabilities from birth to age 18 or 21 in cases that involve 13 specified categories of disability. All States have elected to accept federal funding under IDEA.

Six Principles on which IDEA was built are:

  • Free and appropriate public education
  • Assessment
  • Individualized Education Program (IEP)
  • Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)
  • Requirement of parent participation
  • Procedural safeguards to ensure rights of children with disabilities and their parents will be protected.

 With this background, the speakers focused their presentation on the needs of a child who will be transitioning out of high school into the work force. They recommended that parents look at this transition process utilizing the following five-step outline.

  • What are the child’s goals for the future? 
  • What skills does the child have?  What skills do they need to pursue his or her goals?
  • What support and services will they need to pursue these goals?
  • Where should your child receive these supports and services and who should provide them?
  • How can a parent ensure that the plan for the child is being implemented?

The speakers commented that if a youth has an IEP, then, by age 16 the IEP should include transition planning.  Juno Duenas, Executive Director, Support for Families, informed us that her organization provides training for parents in the process of transition which also includes strategies to include the youth in this transition planning, ensuring the youth is leading their transition plan by providing input.

At this point, the attendees formed two groups to outline their recommendations for SFUSD. A format was provided:   How do you feel about the topic of transition? 

Some of the comments were:

Relating to the heart: 

  • Kids need to be invested in the process of transition.
  • SFUSD needs to provide employment choices for those who don’t know what they want to do. 
  • Parents, themselves, need to do goal setting.  Be a role model.  Show your child what you see doing when you are older and outline the skills you need to acquire to make that happen.
  •    Provide an environment which sets the student up for success.
    • Let the student/son or daughter  know that if they need you, you are here for them.   Give them space to explore to be sure they have a place to be happy.
    •  Remember fear goes with the unknown.  As a parent, work with your kid to expand the potential of opportunities.  Be careful not to say “no” too often. 
    • One teacher commented that she has a fear for one of her students because her student’s goal is to be a stripper.

 Relating to the Head:   What does your youth need to know and/or what additional questions do you have that would helpful to us in our planning at SFUSD?

  • Make unknown known.
  • Provide the necessary skills for what their heart wants.
    • Recommend that parents let go so their kids can have their head to explore and go for it.
    • Concerns: 

                               How will a supervisor or boss relate to our child?   Perceptions are at issue.

                               Disclosure:  How much do students need to tell future employers? 

                               If students are given a right they have a responsibility.  How do we re-enforce this?

 Relating to Hands:      What ideas do you have for SFUSD to improve the transition to adulthood?   What ideas do you have about community partners?

  • Let the students run the IEP rather than the professionals. Currently students speak the least at the IEPs. 
  • Provide means to assist the student to determine their likes and dislikes.  Students need to learn hands-on skills:  eg vocational
  • Offer more vocational and workablility opportunities.
    • Providing the family with links to organizations and services that the child is interested in.  Parents don’t have the time so school needs to do it. 
    • More mentors and, of course, a common theme, more funding
    • Develop links for networks including social networks: eg  Twitter, Facebook.

I found this seminar very useful.  As I am not involved with the school education process my only connection is through the press.  The details provided by the leaders of this seminar and the feedback from those attending has given me a different frame of reference.    

Contact Info:

            Juno Duenas,  Support for Families of Children with Disabilities (SFCD): 

                        phone:  425 282 7494, e-mail


            Cecilia Dodge:   San Francisco Unified School District SFUSD

                        Phone:  415-379-7697, e-mail:

Note:  Juno Duenas reviewed this blog before posting and added information to make the description more complete and accurate.  Thanks, Juno.

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Feb 09

Recently Kathy Johnson author, speaker and educational consultant, (,)  wrote this book review of my book, The Other Side of Dyslexia.  I feel her comments caught the spirit of this book. The review follows:


Ann was a director of the opera-musical theater program at the National Endowment for the Arts when she discovered she had Dyslexia. She writes in this book about her journey of self-discovery to being able to read.

When I first opened the book, I was delighted by what I saw inside – unlike any other book, each page has colorful simple pictures with the words below. It conveys what she has in her mind: pictures and emotions; less words. My immediate thought was how authentic it is. To get into the mind of a person with learning disabilities, you must go beyond just words, as words have different meanings and understandings.  Although in the main part of the book, Ann does not specifically describe the trainings and therapies that she has used to help her, she references them in the end. Anyone who would like to follow a similar path can.

The journey included many therapies that I have used as well, including Brain Gym, Energy Medicine, eye exercises and watching diet. Yet for her, the emotional and spiritual journey helped unlock the physical stress that held her back.  Today she is able to use words much better for both her reading and writing.

This book was written primarily for dyslexics so that they can read about someone like them. She gives hints as to how to read it, and the print is big so that people can have an easier time with the words. It is also for the non-dyslexic to understand what can happen in the mind and body of another human. We are after all, unique. One thing I have learned is that we don’t know how other people see, hear or feel unless they tell us. Ann does an excellent job of that!

I highly recommend this book to people who have learning disabilities as well as those who teach, care for, and love people with LD. Enjoy!

Written by Kathy Johnson, []

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Jan 14

Following the definition of dyslexia I, Ann Farris, describe the value of removing refined sugar from my diet improving both my dyslexic and hyperlexic condition.

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