ADHD and learning Difficulties: Assembling a Team

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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.



PEN: Learning Specialist’s Panel in San Francisco

First of all let me tell you a little bit about PEN. The acronym stands for Parents Education Network, PEN, a coalition of parents collaborating with educators, students and the community to empower and bring academic success to students with learning and attention difficulties.  If you live in the San Francisco Bay area and have children with these challenges, this is a lively group, well worth your time and energy.

PEN offered it’s last Speaker event of this season on Friday, May 14, 2010.  A panel of high school learning specialists shared their experiences of working with high school students who have learning and attention challenges.  The panelists and the institutions they represented were:  Susan Coe Adams, Marin Academy; Constance Clark, Immaculate Conception Academy: Karen Houck, Drew School: Denise Olivera, Gateway High School and Charles P. Roth, Bay School of San Francisco.  This is a summary of their points of view.

This discussion focused primarily on Grade Nine, though there were references to high school students in general. All of the schools are college preparatory.

Admission:  Some schools require documentation on the prospective students learning or attention challenges.  One school distills the documentation and develops a learning profile on challenged children. They have the student confirm the information on the learning profile and then the student takes it to his or her teachers as part of a self-advocacy program.  Some schools have workshops on study skills, how the brain works and time management at the beginning of Grade Nine to help the students integrate into high school.

Parents when interviewing a school would be best served by first checking the school’s website to see if the profile of the school fits their child.  Go to admission open houses and be sure to visit the resource center.

At the interview these are some questions that might be asked.  a: what services are offered including information on a resource program. b. what are the qualifications of the resource program staff.  c. how do teachers teach: lecture, visual aids etc. d. how is the child assessed: projects, homework, tests. e. How many students have learning issues? f. Can a student have a waiver for a subject?  g. how many students leave because of their learning difference. h. Ask  for contact information of parents who have kids with similar issues. Be sure to make a list of your questions and give them to the admissions director.

Most of the panelists felt that students with ADD or ADHD would be best served if they were given psychological testing. In similar kind, most of the panelists felt that a dyslexic student and their teachers would benefit from the information gained from an Educational Therapist.

 1.        Support systems: 

 Some schools have programs where Grade 12 learning or attention challenged students support the incoming Grade Nine students with like situations. This program seems very supportive especially for those Grade Nine  students who more recently learned about their challenge and are  embarrassed by it.  Peer support seems effective. 

Grade 12 students also mentor in chemistry and writing.  Learning how to plan and organizing material is often top on the agenda.

Learning specialists help students become advocates for themselves.  Some schools run training programs for this purpose.

 2.    Homework:

All of the panelist’s schools have homework which can vary from 2-3 hours for students with no learning or attention challenges. This can mean almost double the time for the challenged students.

Learning specialists need to re-inforce with the student that they will have to work harder. 

Some parents choose to have tutors help with homework. Others look to Books on Tape.   Parents and their kids need to plan how homework will be accomplished.  Some parents use bench marks. 

Most schools post homework on-line.


Yes, they are useful tools. Parents need to control their use at home so that     homework time is strictly homework. One solution offered was having the student in the kitchen doing homework.

3.   Parents access to teachers, supervisors etc

One person in the school needs to become the central connection with parents. Information can be garnered from the Resource Specialist overseeing each grade level, sometimes a care team. Other sources are E-mail,weekly meeting of faculty to discuss students who are facing problems. 

One advisor has each of his challenged students send an e-mail once a week to his teachers checking if he is up to date with all his assignments.

4.  Most panelists seemed to agree that it is not realistic for a school to provide the following for learning and attention students:  modification of the curriculum, tutors, direct services, therapy, daily communication with parents about homework.   Remember: these schools are all college preparatory.

5.  Parents can support their children by a:  helping them become advocates for themselves, b. make sure they understand how they learn, c. provide a safe environment and build confidence finding ways for the child to be successful, d. encourage them to join support groups for themselves eg: SafeVoices for students, or Project Eye to Eye:

Challenges learning and attention students need to master during high school so they can be successful.  a. Executive functions:  planning and organizing material, handling effectively a daytimer. highlighting b. making transitions, c. finding ways to deal with dense text books, d. self advocacy, e. how to approach long projects.

 Book recommended:  Primal Teen, Barbara Strauch

Comment:  If I were a parent with a child who has recently discovered he or she is dyslexic I would be both grateful for this panel discussion and perhaps overwhelmed at the task before both the child and the parent.