Learning Disabilities and the Impact on Families

When children have learning disabilities, the impact can extend far beyond the classroom. Often these students and their families also experience significant amounts of stress and anxiety due to the academic struggles. As a result, the family dynamic can suffer. However, most of the research and remediation focuses only on the learning challenges.

After seeing at least half of her clients get upset when receiving feedback from their child’s learning evaluation, Dr. Deborah Waber, neuropsychologist and Learning Disabilities program director at Boston Children’s Hospital, realized that the impact on families is not fully appreciated or addressed. She and her colleagues developed a survey to screen for quality of life problems stemming from learning disabilities. Questions address anxiety, frustration, and the effect on family activity. For more information on their findings, see https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/06/180628120039.htm.

At Learning Associates, we look at more than academic records in our evaluations. We ask clients to share information about their child’s self-image, attitude toward school, and relationships with peers. Families are given Conners rating scales to screen for attention, behavioral, social, and emotional issues. This holistic approach allows us to truly understand each child and make appropriate recommendations. We also make referrals to other professionals when necessary. Our advocacy work is designed to reduce the stress on the family by getting the proper support services in school.

Self-advocacy

Most individualized education programs (IEP) are formulated and modified without the active participation of that individual – the student. Of course, this wouldn’t be appropriate for very young children, but older children can add valuable input to these discussions while also learning important skills.

At Learning Associates, we encourage older children to attend the post-evaluation conference along with their parents. In doing so, we promote self-advocacy by teaching the students about their individual strengths and needs. Hearing this information directly from the professionals who assessed them makes the student a stakeholder in this process and also allows them to ask questions and provide feedback. It also empowers these students once they return to the classroom. They have a better understanding of what they need and are better able to communicate these needs. These valuable skills transcend the classroom and will also benefit them in the workforce and life in general.

In a report on fostering self-advocacy and self-determination, the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) offers specific steps that educators, policy makers, and communities can take to empower students with learning challenges. For more information, please go to: https://www.edutopia.org/article/prioritizing-agency-students-disabilities.

 

What Happens to Autistic Students Once They Graduate?

Much of what we hear about autism relates to younger children and teens. Educators, parents, and advocates have worked to raise awareness and make elementary school, high school, and some colleges accessible to autistic students. Programs and supports within schools have been developed to serve these students who tend to achieve academically, but struggle with social skills.

But, what happens once they graduate? In recent years, this question has become a focus of educators, private companies, non-for-profit groups, and public agencies. Their partnerships and collective funding have created programs to increase employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Fortunately, employers have begun to understand both the value and needs of autistic people in the workplace.

Microsoft has been at the forefront of this initiative from its direct Autism Hiring Program to its Autism Empowerment Kit, which provides employers with recommendations and resources for providing support and accommodations in the workplace. Most recently, Microsoft has partnered with University of Illinois to create the Accessibility Lighthouse Program to provide a pathway for autistic students to pursue careers in the STEM (science, technology, math, and engineering) fields. Social skills training will be designed to teach students how to apply for jobs and prepare for interviews. The University will also build a digitally accessible classroom using Microsoft tools. For more information on the Accessibility Lighthouse Program, see https://cs.illinois.edu/news/microsoft-and-university-illinois-launch-accessibility-lighthouse-program.

For more additional information and resources:

www.autismspeaks.org

www.ncld.org

https://workplaceinitiative.org/

Twice Exceptional Students

Most people are not familiar with “twice exceptional students” who have superior abilities in some academic areas and learning difficulties in others. The concepts of “gifted” and “learning disabled” are often viewed as mutually exclusive. Thus, this group of students can be very difficult to identify and serve properly.

This is how the National Education Association has described “The Twice Exceptional Dilemma”:

Students who are gifted and disabled are at risk for not achieving their potential because of the relationship that exists between their enhanced cognitive abilities and their disabilities. They are among the most frequently under-identified population in our schools. Twice-exceptional students present a unique identification and service delivery dilemma for educators. Often educators, parents, and students are asked to choose between services to address one exceptionality or the other, leaving twice-exceptional students both under-identified and underserved in our schools.

These students tend to fall into three categories:

  1. Students identified as Gifted who demonstrate high intellectual ability and potential. When they do struggle, they can be seen as underachieving or lazy; however, an undiagnosed learning disability is often the cause of their poor performance. This can result in behavior problems and frustration.
  2. Students identified as Learning Disabled where the focus is placed primarily on what they can’t do. Learning challenges overshadow strengths, so the gifts are not explored or addressed in academic services. These students may end up bored in special education classes and act out as a result.
  3. Unidentified students who appear average and tend to work at grade level. Their abilities and disabilities mask each other so they are not screened for special services. They tend to stay in general education classes which don’t address their learning strengths or deficits.

Twice exceptional students are difficult to identify because their intelligence can enable them to compensate for their disabilities. However, their disabilities hinder their achievement and performance. Many are not identified until high school, if at all. Gifted students with learning disabilities may perform at average levels which can obscure the need for either specialized service. Without proper identification and services, they cannot reach their full potential.

Once identified, twice-exceptional students need programs and instruction to address both of their exceptions. According to the National Education Association, “The ideal fit for a twice-exceptional student and his or her educational environment is one where both the student’s giftedness and disability are evenly accounted for through appropriate education and services.”

Throughout my career in education, I have worked with twice exceptional students in different capacities. I have evaluated these students to identify their individual strengths and weaknesses. I have advocated for the unique services needed by these students and have provided school placement guidance. My work as an IECA member has also involved workshops and presentations on twice exceptional students. In addition, I have made presentations to the New Jersey Association of Independent Schools (NJAIS), Westfield Parent-Teacher Council, and Delbarton School on this student population. For more information, please contact my office. Resources for parents can also be found at www.understood.org.

College Acceptances 2017-2018

College acceptance season is always a time of celebration at Learning Associates and this year is no exception. After many months of hard work, test-taking, meetings, writing and re-writing essays, our clients are finally able to enjoy the rewards of their labor. It is with enormous pride that we share this list of acceptances with you:

University of Aberdeen, American University, Amherst College, University of Arizona, Auburn University, Bard College, Bennington College, Bentley University, Boston College, Boston University, Bowling Green State University, Bryant University, Bucknell University, Butler University, California Institute of Technology, Carleton College, Carnegie Mellon University, Case Western University, Cazenovia College, Centenary College, University of Chicago, Clark University, Clemson University, Coastal Carolina University, College of Charleston, College of Holy Cross, College of William and Mary, Colgate University, Colorado College, University of Colorado, Columbia College – Chicago, Columbia University, Connecticut College, University of Connecticut, Cornell University, Curry College, Dean College, University of Delaware, Denison University, University of Denver, Dickinson College, Drexel University, Duke University, Duquesne University, University of Dundee, Eckerd College, Endicott College, Fairfield University, Fairleigh Dickinson University, Fordham University, Furman University, George Washington University, Georgetown University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Gettysburg College, Goucher College, Green Mountain College, Grinnell College, Hamilton College, University of Hartford, High Point University, Hobart William Smith Colleges, Iona College, Ithaca College, James Madison University,  Johnson & Wales University, Kalamazoo College, Kenyon College, Lafayette College, Lehigh University, Loyola University Maryland, Lynn University, Marist College, University of Maryland, Marymount Manhattan College, University of Mary Washington, University of Massachusetts, McDaniel College, McGill University, Miami University of Ohio, University of Miami, Michigan State University, University of Michigan, Middlebury College, Mitchell College, University of Minnesota, Mitchell College, Monmouth University, Moravian College, University of New Hampshire, College of New Jersey, New York University, Northeastern University, University of Notre Dame, Oberlin College, Pennsylvania State University, Plymouth State University, University of Pittsburgh, Pratt Institute, Princeton University, Providence College, Quinnipiac University, Ramapo College of New Jersey, Reed College, Rice University, University of Richmond, Roanoke College, University of Rochester, Rutgers University, University of Scranton, Seton Hall University, University of South Carolina, Southern Methodist University, University of St. Andrews, St. John’s University, St. Lawrence University, Stonehill College, SUNY Albany, SUNY Binghamton, Susquehanna University, Swarthmore College, Syracuse University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Vermont, University of Tampa, Temple University, University of Texas, Tufts University, Tulane University, United States Military Academy, Ursinus College, Villanova University, University of Virginia, Wake Forest University, Warren Wilson College, Washington & Jefferson College, Wentworth Institute of Technology, Wesleyan University, University of Washington, Western New England University, University of Wisconsin, Wittenberg University, and Yale University.

College Fit – What It Isn’t

“One size fits all.”  When I see a sign like that I doubt it. More likely “One size fits none.”

This question of what will fit is surely appropriate when matching a student to a college, where it’s far more expensive to be mistaken than when choosing clothes. Come to think of it, when considering College Fit, maybe shoes are a better metaphor than clothes.

  • When I settle in after a long day I might choose house slippers, to help me relax and forget my stresses.
  • My daily shoes are supportive and comfortable. They take me through a busy day or an easy one. I know they’re right as soon as I slip them on.
  • Saturday mornings bring running shoes to move through my day efficiently, even if I am just running errands. I want that extra bounce to feel effective.
  • For a hike in the mountains I might tolerate some discomfort in return for ankle support and traction. Achievement is the goal, and too much comfort is not the order of the day.

When measuring a student for College Fit, it is critically important to accurately assess the student’s character and aspirations first. Sometimes the great challenge for families is to strip away expectations, ignoring the winds of college fashion that blow through high schools. Does the young person show signs of stress and anxiety – then what might be an appropriate college to slip into? Is the student efficient and effective, more workmanlike than brilliant, but not a striver – if so, what strengths can be reinforced at college where diligent focus will be highly rewarded? Is the college applicant a relentless and happy climber – what tools will be needed?

College fit is an art that begins with a clear eye on the student. Searchable data found on the web alone is no more likely to create a great College Fit than shopping unfamiliar shoe brands on the internet by size and color is likely to be satisfactory.

Larry Blumenstyk, CEP

© 2017

college

Defying Dysfunction in College: Preventing Failure-to-Launch Expert Executive Function Panel

Disorders in executive functioning interfere with student success in college, both academically and emotionally. The result is that many successful high school students become part of the “failure to launch” statistics.

Larry just returned from the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA) conference where he moderated a panel of experts who shared how higher education programs are coaching students and teaching them strategies for success. The distinguished panel included Jacqueline Jewett, Mitchell College, Managing Director of Student Relations; William Presutti, Fairleigh Dickinson University, Director, Regional Center for Learning Disabilities; Kevin Mayne, Landmark College, VP for Enrollment Management; Maria Bacigalupo, Curry College, Program for Advancement of Learning (PAL); Stefano Papaleo, Lynn University, Director of Admissions.

The experts presented information to help consultants understand how to differentiate among programs when providing guidance to families.

They explained how to identify at-risk student profiles, and provided detailed examples of coaching and scaffolding. They also discussed the elements and nature of executive functions, accommodations, and supports.

Larry provides college admissions coaching to students of all academic profiles.

Tech4Learning

Assistive Technology for Math

Many parents and professionals know about Assistive Technology tools, such as audio books or text to speech that help students who have difficulty with reading or written language. But did you know that Assistive Technology tools can also help students who struggle in math?

Our comprehensive learning evaluations detect various learning challenges, including dyscalculia which causes difficulty understanding number concepts or using mathematical symbols and functions. Our recommendations are tailored to each student’s specific needs. While calculators and manipulatives can help, there are also equation solving tools that are helpful for algebra, digital graphic organizers for problem solving, and graphing tools. Other students have handwriting problems that cause them to misalign columns or resist writing out their work, all leading to errors and unhappy teachers. For these clients, we suggest graph paper and Assistive Technology tools, such as math notation tools for equations, digital drawing tools for geometry or trigonometry, text to speech, and dictation to help them work around those handwriting issues that affect their performance in math. We have many grateful clients who have overcome their math difficulties by implementing our strategies.

For more information, look at the excellent article on Assistive Technology for Math at www.understood.org. If your child or student struggles in math, please contact us to schedule a learning evaluation. We will pinpoint the root cause and provide customized solutions.

Student reading a book and writing an essay

Do You Edit College Essays?

That is a question I am often asked and yet I hesitate to answer. Maybe I should just get used to answering “Yes!” first, but I often feel the need to explain.

What stops me from just saying yes? Well every person who might ask me knows plenty of folks who can simply check spelling and grammar. In fact, that may be all they do. Editing itself is not the highest skill I bring to the table. Not commas, not capitalization, not matching tenses or pronouns correctly. What is uniquely available from a professional college admissions consultant is context, the ability to look at the essay as an essential component of a larger process.

By the time a student is writing essays, I have learned much about the young person who is about to commit themselves to paper. I know what is on the student’s transcript and in the student’s brag sheet. We have talked about the teacher recommendations the student will seek and why those teachers were chosen. There may have been an Interest Inventory completed and the student hopefully has academic or vocational aspirations. I know what activities have most engaged the student during high school. I know the students’ standardized test scores. Additional testing, beyond SAT or ACT might have been shared with me. I know a thing or two about the colleges on the student’s list – I’ve checked my available resources, and it’s very likely I’ve visited the colleges in person.

When the student starts writing, I am not focused on the editing part at first. I am focused on the concept. I ask myself, “how will this essay advance the candidacy of the student?” I test the work for its authenticity – does it likely dovetail with what will be in other parts of the application. Will the student who is revealed in the essay sound like the same young person described by the high school counselor, teachers, and others. Does the essay add to the integrity of the application?

When this is right, I start on the routine editing that every high school student needs in order to, “reveal the character of the applicant in the writer’s own authentic voice.” The goal is to have the student jump off the page for the admissions reader.

Do I edit college essays? You decide.

Larry Blumenstyk, CEP

education, elementary school, learning and people concept - group of school kids sitting and listening to teacher in classroom from back

Why Kids Shouldn’t Sit Still in Class

As a society, we know how important exercise is to our physical health. We are well aware of the physiological benefits including strength and overall fitness. For students who have trouble with focus and attention, the value of physical activity is widely known to special educators. Specific programs such as Brain Gym and How Does My Engine Run? incorporate the premise that movement improves learning.

Now researchers are focusing on how physical activity helps all children learn better. The idea of sitting still all day is not only counter-intuitive; it’s counterproductive. As standing desks have become an office norm, shouldn’t we rethink this idea in the classroom? Short activity breaks implemented throughout the school day are showing real promise in terms of academic performance. Physical activity can help reset the brain in preparation to learn and, therefore, should no longer be limited to gym class and playground time. Donna De La Cruz examines this issue in an interesting New York Times article: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/21/well/family/why-kids-shouldnt-sit-still-in-class.html.