Tips for parents with children who learn differently.

Summary of talk by Claudia Koocheck,  Head of School at Charles Armstrong, in Belmont, CA, Friday, September 24th, 2010.

The first speaker of the 2010-11 PEN ( Speaker Series in San Francisco, Claudia Koocheck, focused most of her remarks on the role of parents whose children are learning challenged. She speaks from first-hand experience as Head of School at Charles Armstrong, a much respected Northern California independent elementary and middle school for students with learning challenges. One facet of her responsibilities is meeting with parents on a continuous basis giving them support while challenging them to move into new paradigms to support their children through the schooling process.

Parent’s reactions after learning a child has a learning challenge.

Ms. Koocheck talked about parent’s shock after discovering that their child has learning differences. It’s a hard fact to absorb and especially true when parents have specific goals for their children emanating from the time of their offspring’s birth. The child they pictured is turning out not to exist.Parents become confused and upset. Ms. Koocheck understands as she helps them walk a new and unexplored path.

Need for parents to change and grow as they help their children

One of the first steps in this journey is encouraging parents to think beyond themselves and their needs.  Now is the time to accept their children as they are and to put emphasis in collaborating with the teachers to achieve the best results for them.

Most parents want an academic path for their child. This step may be achievable but not in the traditional way. A learning challenged child’s brain learns differently which can mean some kids don’t test well.

Often parents lay the fault with the academic environment mostly because they don’t know how to help their child. Sometimes parents resort to hiring a tutor or a coach hoping these steps will solve everything. It does, in some cases, but not the total answer.

Fixed Mindset versus Growth Mindset

A Fixed Mindset from a parent or child derails progress. This behavior can be best expressed when a parent is focused on how good their child is academically or more tragically, when a child thinks he or she is stupid because they can’t master the traditional schooling process.

The goal for parents and learning challenged children is to develop a Growth Mindset, one that opens doors to new approaches. It is much more important for the child to learn something in a class than to get the best grades.  This means focusing on the process, not the results. It’s about effort, not about the outcome. The child wants and needs to enjoy learning. It may come from an unexpected way like a child drawing pictures to understand what they are learning. So be it.

Hints for parents:

  • Don’t ask “how was school?  Broad questions are difficult. Instead start with something small like “what did you learn in music today?”
  • Invest effort in helping the child discover and move from some skill they are good at. Movement, music, art can be an effective tool to help a learning challenged youngster learn.
  • Learning challenged children read information in a different way: through tone of voice, body language, etc rather than intellectual information. Ms. Koocheck gave an example of a child coming home from school, feeling sad and not having the words to say what is wrong. It may be that at school they realized as a result of the teacher’s behavior, not words, that they are different from everyone else. They are perplexed because but don’t know why.
  • Keep reminding your child that he or she is smart by asking, “how did you do that?” This question gives the child a chance to digest what he or she accomplished while experiencing the joy of sharing the success.  Note: the phrase, “great job” doesn’t have the same affect. In fact, it may have the reverse. It may not be a “great job” in the traditional way of mastery and learning challenged children know that!
  • Kids don’t know what they need until you show them. Give them options.
  • Children have a challenge asking for what they want.  To make her point, Ms. Koochek used the analogy of an adult deciding he or she will ask for raise and all the fears and hesitancies that come with that decision.  The same is for the child.  Be sure to provide a safe environment for the child to open up. Then ask: “what do you want to say to me?” Remember: it is the parent’s responsibility to teach their child how to address another and to ask for what they need.
  • After providing a safe environment consider these three possible communication tools to help a child share how they are feeling.
  1. Sticky notes: one with a thumbs up and one with a thumbs down.
  2. Face charts with many different emotional looks along with a description of each is each useful. Ask the child to point at the face on the chart that best describes how they are feeling at that moment.
  3. Ask questions.  Ask the child to raise their hand when the response is correct.

The goal is to get to the point where the child develops a sense of ownership. It will only happen in a safe environment.  Remember the learning challenged child comes from a sensorial point of view.  They read body language and tone of view before anything else.

  • Don’t correct the children’s homework.  If you do the teacher will never know where the child is struggling.

Dyslexic Simulation Process

As part of Ms. Koochek’s presentation she suggested parents learn what it feels like to be a dyslexic.  The Northern California Association of the International Dyslexic Association offers a dyslexic simulation process where parents can demystify themselves. The next simulation is Saturday, Oct. 16, 2010, 9:00 am-12:00 pm at the San Francisco Day School, 350 Masonic Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94118.  For more information go to


Ms. Koochek had much more to say.  In summary, she encouraged teachers and parents to foster resilience in the child. The desire end results are 1) self motivation, 2) self direction, 3) self advocacy, 4) emotional well-being, 5) social connections and skills, 6) self awareness 7) Self control.

And, parents, remember, applaud teachers and their efforts. They want your kids learning and you happy.

Recommended books

Ms. Koocheck gave high marks to two books:

  1. Mindset, The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck, (2006), Random House Publishing Group, New York.   It describes how kids perceive themselves.
  2. Brooks, Robert and Goldstein, Sam (2003), The Power of Resilience: Achieving Balance, Confidence and Personal Strength in Your Life.  New York Contemporary Books/McGraw Hill.

Books: dyslexia, hyperlexia, child development etc.


This blog provides a list of books that specialists in dyslexia, hyperlexia child development and other relevent  topics have recommended or have written.  I am continually adding titles to this list as I find them on-line or when attending talks.  So, do revisit this blog. While I have not read all those listed I do include a brief description of each book.  Hope this information is helpful to you.

Integration of Infant Dynamic and Postural Reflex Patterns: Svetlana Masgutova. This title may sound intimidating.  However, it is worth spending time  with this information.  About four years ago I discovered the work of Svetlana and her associates. Through her we unearthed the fact that some of my reflexes (like crawling on my stomach) were not properly developed when I was in utero or during the first three years of my life.  Svetlana Masgutova’s  Neuro-Sensory-Motor and Reflex Integration Method for Children and Adults increased my ability to both read and comprehend. I strongly recommend that anyone with a dyslexic, hyperlexic, autistic, aspergers child research this approach. Changes occur. And, I recommend that this be one of the first steps to take with a dyslexic/hyperlexic.  I can say that having my reflexes now functioning at full capacity changes much for me in my ability to read and comprehend.

Smart Moves: by Carla Hannaford. I have used many of the approaches that Ms. Hannaford recommends with very positive results. Some of them are:

  • Dietary awareness, drink enough water, less sugar intake, etc
  • Help the brain to perceive events less stressful by doing physical exercises
  • Create a less stressful environment for people with learning difficulties

Brain Gym: Paul E. Dennison (a dyslexic) and Gail E. Dennison. This book outlines in easy to understand form activities for Whole Brain Learning. This approach was very helpful to me in mastering some of my dyslexic characteristics.

Visualizing and Verbalizing: For Language Comprehension and Thinking: Nanci Bell. Ms. Bell is one of the founders of Lindamood Bell. This company has an excellent assessment process to determine dyslexia and hyperlexia as well as programs to improve dyslexic and hyperlexic conditions. I took the Visualizing and Verbalizing course – seven weeks, five days a week, four hours a day and moved my comprehension skills from Grade Three level to Grade Nine.  This outfit is very professional.

Overcoming Dyslexia: by Sally Shaywitz.   This book has been out for sometime and is considered an important resource by most.  Most of the findings are based on research.  I have heard Dr. Shaywitz speak several times. She has followed several dyslexics from a young age to maturity.  Her focus is very scientific.

The Schwab Learning Website,, lists six books that a parent, Darla Hatton, thinks is most useful for others suddenly faced with the challenges of dyslexia, be they a parent, teacher or dyslexic.

The Schwab Learning Center offers this list:

Parenting a Struggling Reader: by Susan L. Hall and Louisa C. Moats. Their book explains how school systems work along with practical guidance

Wrightslaw: from Emotions to Advocay: by Pam Wright and Pete Wright.  I haven’t read the book but from experience with my dyslexia and hyperlexia, there is much credence in giving focus to emotional issues as part of the process of handling both conditions towards a positive result.

One Word at a Time: by Linda G. Tessler.   A dyslexic’s story:  She’s a PHD and dyslexic.

Dyslexia Wonders: by Jennifer Smith.  It’s a child’s point of view.

Instructions and Assessment for Struggling Writers: edited by Gary A. Troia. It describes several best practices for teaching writing.

Other sources offers these book on dyslexia:

Dyslexia in the Workplace : Diana Bartlett, Sylvia Moody (Paperback, 2005)

Dyslexia for Dummies:  World of Dyslexia says:  this books indicates how to spot the signs and get the proper treatment. This friendly guide shows parents how to identify the signs of dyslexia, choose among dyslexia treatment options, and find an individualized education program for their child. They’ll also find practical tips on assisting with homework, helping a child build self-esteem, and easing the transition to high school and college.

100 Ideas for Supporting Children with Dyslexia : Per World of Dyslexia: this book provides one hundred excellent techniques to support the learning development of dyslexic children. This handy paperback guide includes lists that range from identifying the needs of individual pupils and their learning styles to developing pupils reading, writing, numeric and communication skills

How to Reach and Teach Children and Teens with Dyslexia: World of Dyslexia says this book is a comprehensive, practical resource giving educators at all levels essential information, techniques, and tools for understanding dyslexia and adapting teaching methods in all subject areas. Over 50 full-page activity sheets that can be photocopied for immediate use and interviews with students and adults who have had personal experience with dyslexia. Organized into twenty sections, information covers everything from ten principles of instruction to teaching reading, handwriting, spelling, writing, math, everyday skills, and even covers the adult with dyslexia.
Patricia Oetter, an OT Therapist, during a lecture at PEN (Parents Education Network in San Francisco) re-iterated several times her concern that boys in our school systems are lacking experiences they need for development.  The reason? It seems the schools learning systems are focused on a girl’s point of view.  As a result the experience of risk is diminished, an important component for young boy’s growth. She recommended three books that are helpful in raising boys:

Raising Boys by Steve Biddulph and Paul Stanish

Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys by Dan Kindlon and  Michael Thompson,

The Trouble with Boys: A Surprising Report Card on Our Sons, Their  Problems at School, and     What Parents and Educators Must Do, by Peg Tyre

Primal Teen by Barbara Strauch  At a recent PEN speaker’s panel this book was highly recommended by a Resource Specialist.

Update as of 9.10.  At a recent PEN Speaker Series discussion, the speaker Claudia Koocheck,  Head of School at Charles Armstrong, in Belmont, CA recommended these two books for parents of children with learning challenges. 

  1. Mindset, The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck, (2006), Random House Publishing Group, New York.   It describes how kids perceive themselves. 
  2. Brooks, Robert and Goldstein, Sam (2003), The Power of Resilience:  Achieving Balance, Confidence and Personal Strength in Your Life.  New York Contemporary Books/McGraw Hill.

 Update:  11.10   I attend a talk by Katherine Ellison whose new book, Buzz, has just been published by Voice, Hyperion, New York. The topic:  Attention Deficit Disorder.  I highly recommend it.  There are excellent explanations of the challenges and useful solutions she discovered with her son who is ADD.  Ms. Ellison is also ADD.

Dr. Daniel Korb, a developmental and behavioral pediatrics specialist recomends books by Carol Gray.  These social story books describe a situation, skill, or concept in terms of relevant social cues, perspectives, and common responses in a specifically defined style and format.

Finally, I am continuing to evolve this site, including incorporating dyslexic and/or hyperlexic information that others have to share.  Yes, I am looking for your ideas.  Send them via the Comments below.


Information on this blog is intended to complement, not replace, the advice of your own physician or health care professional.