How do we deal with our child’s learning challenges?

He was 2 years old when his speech began to decline. Fear enveloped my cousin as she realized that one of her twin boys was not developing as planned. A parent places their hopes and dreams into their children and when their child struggles, it hurts. One doesn’t want their child to struggle but to be happy, successful and content in life. Being able to accept the fact that one’s child is struggling academically or socially is very difficult and will often take a long time. It is okay to feel discouraged, or to cry, but there is hope.

Every child deserves hope for the future - overcome dyslexia and learning disorders at Therapeutic Literacy CenterAccepting and acknowledging that one’s child is struggling is the first step towards understanding and seeking help. The goal is not to diagnose one’s child, but to see the multifaceted issues that may be affecting your child’s self-esteem and confidence. Behaviors are often seen as an issue with a child’s motivation or how hard they try when these behaviors are more likely attributed to a learning challenge. People like to succeed. Have you ever met anyone that loved to fail? It is the same with our kids. No kid truly wants to fail at something, but when they do fail and can’t seem to get it no matter how hard they try, they may give up. The challenges they face are more than just motivation or bad behavior, they stem from actual learning deficits.

We have to accept that our children are not perfect, that sometimes they have real learning difficulties, and that there are resources and interventions that can help. From here we can tackle whatever challenges may come. A child knows when they are falling behind in class. They often wonder why it is taking them so much longer to complete assignments in class. “Why does everyone else get it and I don’t?” “It is too difficult. I am trying hard but it just isn’t working. I know that I am in the group that is not ‘smart.’” Confronting this head on and getting to the root of these feelings and learning challenges is so important. It is not about providing a label but rather figuring out the root of the problems. Labels can help to provide a child with an understanding of the challenges that they face. With that, it is very important that the negative stigmas attached to labels are eliminated.

Breaking through the stigmas that are attached to labels can be very beneficial for parents and children. Letting a child know that the reasons that they are struggling in class is due to a specific learning challenge that they have allows the child to move forward. It is more the way in which we deal and view the labels that matters. Diagnosing a child with dyslexia does not mean that they are incapable or unable to do everything that everyone else does. While giving your child a diagnosis of dyslexia seems scary, it can be helpful and beneficial. They can begin to understand their challenges more and learn about others who have overcome their difficulties. In fact, children and adults with dyslexia are very creative and have amazing talents. When a child is able to own the term and understand that they are amazing and so talented because they are dyslexic, and not the other way around, change happens.

When we acknowledge and identify the child’s challenge and we create a plan we create hope. A hope that your child will no longer view himself/herself negatively, they will embrace their differences and they will pursue their dreams!Your child deserves hope for the future - overcome dyslexia and learning disorders at Therapeutic Literacy Center

Back to School Brain-Boosters

It might be hard to believe, but school will be here before you know it (or maybe your kids have gone back to school already!). In any case, here are a few brain-friendly tips to keep in mind as everyone heads back to the classroom.

Back to school learning tips from Therapeutic Literacy Center1. Use a pencil! In our digital age, it’s often easier to grab a keyboard than an old-fashioned #2 pencil. Even more so because tablets, laptops, and other e-devices are becoming central to the curriculum in many classrooms these days. But research shows that writing by hand is important for brain development in the younger population and continues to help commit new information to memory for the older students.

For the young developing brain, it’s very clear that the benefit of handwriting in comes simply from the act of drawing letters. Research has found that when writing, the brain develops important connections as it integrates sensation, movement control, and thinking. Brain imaging studies reveal that multiple areas of the brain become co-activated during the learning of writing and the act of writing, as opposed to typing or just visually observing the practice. (1)

For older students, current research findings show that “Verbatim note-taking, as opposed to more selective strategies, signals less encoding of content,” (2) In normal talk, that means people with keyboards were more inclined to mindlessly transcribe everything they’re hearing as they type in their notes, instead of using their own words to formulate and record meaningful concepts. However voluminous the typed notes may be, the additional content isn’t necessarily more helpful when it comes to recalling facts and relating concepts.

2. Playgrounds before paragraphs (and in between too!).  A little time playing before diving into homework can do the brain some good! Studies show that aerobic exercise increases activity in the bilateral frontal cortex, which is linked with concentration and decision making. Exercise also increases blood flow to the brain, which promotes the growth of new neural pathways for learning!

As your child heads back to school, it’s important to understand and remember that even though they’re another year older, they might not be able to complete everything in one sitting. Most people’s attention spans aren’t very long, so it’s important to take breaks while doing homework. For younger children, they may find that 15-20 minutes is as much as they can take before they’re ‘tired’ or wanting to move on to something else. Take a mind and body break for a few minutes and then come back. For older kids and grownups, sitting for too long without stretching or relaxing will make you less productive than if you take a break every so often. So unless you’re in deep concentration, or ‘on a roll’, then taking a 15-minute break every hour is a good rule of thumb.

3. Get your dream on.  We all know that children are happier tend to behave better when they’re well-rested.   Children 3-6 years old need 10-12 hours and 7-12 years need 10-11 hours on average.  Sleep gives kids the energy they need to make it through the school day, but it’s also the crucial time when memories are reinforced.  Recent studies are showing that sleep is even more important for children than it is for adults when it comes to learning. One study showed that children who were taught a new skill and then slept 12 hours made additional improvements overnight, while kids who slept 6 hours or less made no improvements overnight. This and other recent reports have provided a better understanding for why sleep is so important. Not only does the brain ‘cleanse’ itself during sleep by clearing toxic metabolic byproducts (3) but it is becoming clear why sleep is so much more important for a child’s learning than it is for an adult. (4,5)

4. Strawberries and Cream instead of Soda and Chips. A child’s body needs nutrition, not just food. And children have a higher metabolic rate, requiring more caloric intake than adults, so it’s vital that the calories they consume be nutritious. When nutritional needs are unmet because too many sugary and high-fat foods are replacing nutritious food, children will be unable to perform at age-appropriate levels. Their appetites may be sated but their bodies and brains are starved for essential nutrients. The best way to ensure they get the nutrition they need at home and as they head back to school is to provide them with readily accessible snack choices such as fruits, whole grain snacks, and dairy such as greek yogurt, cheeses and other whole foods – INSTEAD of the processed snack foods.  (6)

(1) Kersey AJ1, James KH. Brain activation patterns resulting from learning letter forms through active self-production and passive observation in young children.
Frontiers in Psycholgy. 2013 Sep 23;4:567:
(2) Ink on Paper: Some Notes on Note Taking:
(3) Sleep Drives Metabolite Clearance from the Adult Brain
Science 18 October 2013: Vol. 342 no. 6156 pp. 373-377:
(4) The sleeping child outplays the adult’s capacity to convert implicit into explicit knowledge
Nature Neuroscience 16 391–393 (2013):
(5) The Role of Sleep in Memory, Learning, and Health
(6) Nutrition for Children and Teens:

Lazy Is NOT A Diagnosis – Clues To “Lazy” Students

recently sat down with the parents of a high school student who has managed to barely get by in school. When we finished an in depth testing process we discovered he has a serious learning disorder. His parents told me with aching regret, that in the past, they had punished their son and taken things away because they had been told that his poor performance in school was due to “laziness and a behavior problem.”

Have you ever seen one of these kids that look lazy?

Maybe they always have their head on the desk. Others just never seem to be able to get started. Or maybe they just seem tired all the time, moving slowly, working slowly, barely able to muster any energy until it’s time for recess, P.E., or lunch. When asked about homework, they might say they didn’t have time, or didn’t have the right book, or maybe even say they just didn’t feel like doing it.

When teachers have gone “above and beyond,” done all they can do and the student doesn’t appear to be trying, lazy is often the only obvious conclusion left.

What we know about students is that if they could do the work, they would do it.

Not doing work is really embarrassing, and no student wants to be embarrassed.

So what is it with these lazy-like kids? A Learning Disorder usually has its root in one or more areas of inefficient processing or thinking, which are interrupting expected academic development.

Believe it or not, the developmental foundation for learning begins in utero. There is a developmental continuum that depends on each skill/ability building on the group that develops before it. If there is interference in this development, even at the earliest levels, it can affect school performance.

Let’s take a look at just one of these interferences.

Primitive Reflexes
The Central Nervous System is the control center for all development and learning. Its job is to facilitate a person’s ability to move well, speak fluently, play, and develop skills for living and learning.

Primitive survival reflexes, or automatic movements that occur without thinking, begin as early as 9 weeks in utero and are fully present at birth. These reflexes are necessary to help the baby with the birth process and with survival during the early months of life.

As the nervous system and the brain continue to develop after birth, new neurological connections are made and higher functions in the brain take over. The primitive reflexes are no longer needed and in fact, get in the way of the child’s thinking and learning if they remain active.

Remember, these reflexes are automatic (like a baby becoming startled or grasping your finger). They occur without thought.

Efficient learning depends upon more complex voluntary controlled movements and higher thought processes, so primitive reflexes need to become integrated and inactive. This should occur naturally by about 9-12 months of age.

When primitive reflexes are retained, they can cause neurological interference that affects motor control, sensory perception, eye-hand coordination, and thinking, producing anxiety and causing the person to have to work too hard and with less efficiency than would be expected. This is called neuro-developmental delay.

Dr. Lawrence J. Beuret, M.D., of Palatine, Illinois has developed an NDD checklist, clues that a delay may be occurring, which includes these risk factors:

Pregnancy and Birth:

  • Complications with pregnancy, labor,or delivery
  • Low birth weight (less than 5 pounds)
  • Delivery more than 2 weeks early or late
  • Difficulties for infant at birth: blue baby, difficulties breathing, heavily
  • Difficulties for infant at birth: blue baby, difficulties breathing, heavily bruised, low Apgar scores, distorted skull, jaundice


  • Feeding problems in the first six months
  • Walking or talking began after 18 months
  • Unusual/severe reactions to immunization
  • During first 18 months: Illness involving high fever, delirium, convulsions

Family History:

  • Reading/writing difficulties
  • Learning disorder
  • Motion sickness
  • Underachievers

The following learning challenges can be related to neuro-developmental delay:

  • Dyslexia or Learning Difficulties, especially reading, spelling and comprehension
  • Poor sequencing skills
  • Poor sense of time
  • Poor visual function/processing skills
  • Slow in processing information
  • Attention and concentration problems
  • Inability to sit still/fidgeting
  • Poor organizational skills
  • Easily distracted and/or impulsive
  • Hypersensitivity to sound, light, or touch
  • Poor posture, coordination, balance, or gait
  • Poor handwriting
  • Clumsiness/accident prone
  • Slow at copying tasks
  • Confusion between right and left
  • Reversals of letters/numbers and midline problems
  • Quick temper/easily frustrated/short fuse
  • Can’t cope with change/must have things a certain (their) way
  • School Phobia
  • Poor motivation and/or self esteem
  • Depression, anxiety or stress

Behavioral, self esteem and motivational problems are associated with this list.

Core Learning Skills Training
Movement is an integral part of learning. The kinds of movements needed for learning are intentional and controlled. For example, visually following an object with the eyes, holding a pencil, moving the mouth to form sounds and words, or kicking a ball all require intentional control of the muscles. According to Dr. Samuel Berne, O.D., “when this neurological control of the muscles follows an unconscious reflex instead of following intention, the movement pattern becomes confusing instead of becoming an automatic learned skill.”

In order for comfortable learning to occur, basic physical skills such as balance and being able to use both sides of the body (right-left and upper-lower) together in a coordinated fashion must be in place. With stimulation through specific kinds of movement activities, primitive reflexes can be integrated so that the neurological and motor systems are more available for higher level movement and thinking tasks.

We frequently have students who have great difficulty maintaining good posture while sitting in a chair. At first glance, it looks like a motivation or attitude problem, but our work with reflex integration and core learning skills training has shown us that these students simply don’t have the muscle control to do what is asked with any consistency.

What Can Be Done
In a clinical setting, we have developed a program called Core Learning Skills. It focuses on the integration of five primitive reflexes that are core to efficient learning and functioning. It also includes activities for vestibular stimulation, motor development, visual skills development, attention awareness and control.

As students participate in Core Learning Skills Training, we see that they begin to appear more mature, motivated, and attentive because they are no longer battling inefficient movement patterns and are gaining automatic motor control.

In a classroom setting, there is a series of movements you can use with your students. These can take as little as 5 minutes and help prepare the brain for learning. While these are not specifically for reflex integration, doing these movements will give students greater focus and ability to use the skills they have in a more efficient way.

The program is called Brain Gym by Paul Dennison. You can find this resource at

Becoming a Successful Student
Being a successful student involves many skills. When a child is struggling in school and a little extra support isn’t making enough difference, it is likely that there is something in the developmental learning skills or underlying processing skills and such a learning disorder is interfering with academic success. In most cases, these skills can be developed so that efficient and comfortable learning can take place.

Smart but Struggling – How to Help a Child with Weak Learning Skills

Smart but Struggling: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense!

Recently, we have had parent after parent calling and saying virtually the same thing:

“My child is bright. He’s a good kid and wants to do well, but he’s struggling in school. He doesn’t qualify for help but he tests below state standards. How can this be?”

What most people don’t know is that about 30% of the children in school today have some degree of difficulty with reading or learning. In spite of caring teachers, supportive parents, good intelligence, and motivation, many students experience academic frustrations as a result of weak or inefficient underlying reading and/or learning skills.

If a child doesn’t qualify for special help at school, does it mean there’s not a problem? Only about 5-9% of children are formally diagnosed with learning disabilities, so that leaves roughly 7 million students who struggle but don’t qualify for help.What to do your child struggles with reading or learning because of weak underlying reading or learning skills.

What does it look like for these kids?

Aaron was a very bright high school senior who wanted to go into pre-med in college. He was at the top of his class in physics and chemistry, but close to failing English and History. He had such weak auditory processing skills that listening in class was exhausting. His teachers reported that he often fell asleep during lectures. Aaron’s poor auditory processing also affected a key skill for sounding out unfamiliar words when reading. He could read, but not well, so he often failed to complete reading-related homework assignments. Because he could do well in some areas, people often misunderstood and thought that he was not trying hard or not motivated.

Mark, at 12 years old, was outgoing, friendly, and confident—that is until it came to school. Mark was a terrific athlete and built fantastic Lego structures. He got As in math except for word problems but was beginning to fall behind in his other classes. Mark was a very poor reader. He’d been able to compensate pretty well up until 7th grade, but the reading and writing demands in junior high were becoming too much to keep up with or talk his way out of.

Kelsey could read well but struggled to completely comprehend what she read so her test scores were inconsistent, making it look like she wasn’t studying. Her biggest challenge was with math, which made very little sense to her and caused her a great deal of anxiety.

How can my bright child have so much trouble in some areas? 

When smart children and teens struggle in school it is perplexing and frustrating to all involved. They often excel in some areas, but do very poorly in others.

  • Sam knows all the baseball stats but can’t memorize his math facts.
  • Keely is a smart and savvy soccer player but gets poor grades on tests.
  • Casey is witty and clever, but can’t follow 3 directions.
  • Michael excels in math but reads slowly and laboriously.
  • Justin can focus on video games for hours, but gets distracted immediately when reading or writing.

Comfortable, easy learning requires strong underlying learning skills. These include such things as:

  • Body and attention awareness and control
  • Memory
  • Auditory and visual processing (how the brain perceives and thinks about things we see and hear)
  • Phonemic awareness (the ability to think about the sounds in words and critical to success reading)
  • Language comprehension
  • Processing speed
  • Logic and reasoning, strategizing, and mental organization and flexibility.

Children who struggle in school typically have real strengths and weaknesses within their underlying learning skills. Since different types of tasks or activities are supported by different sets of learning skills, these students can easily show perplexing inconsistencies in their performance.

Our child is getting tutoring. Why aren’t things changing?

Using the analogy of a tree to represent learning, you can think of academic skills as the top of the tree and underlying learning skills as the roots and trunk. If the root system, or the underlying learning skills are weak the top of the tree, or the academics will be affected.

Traditional tutoring works at the top of the tree with the weak academic skills. This may be helpful to students at the moment but is a bit of a “band aide” approach as it is not addressing the real cause, or root, of the problem and will not provide a permanent solution.

So Does My Smart Child Just Have to Live With this?

The Good News is that the brain can change. While weak or inefficient underlying learning skills are not likely to self-correct with time, discipline, or even tutoring, the brain can be retrained to process information more effectively. Underlying learning skills can be developed through specific and intensive training so that underachieving and struggling learners can gain the success and independence they are capable of and deserve.

Students Who Used To Struggle

  • Aaron went through an intensive summer program to increase his auditory processing and reading skills. His energy, stamina, and confidence for listening, reading, and writing improved greatly. He is now in college with a pre-med major.
  • Mark went through a program to develop his phonemic awareness so that he could learn and use phonics for reading and spelling. His visual skills for reading were also developed so that he didn’t have to feel disoriented and overwhelmed when he looked at a page of text. Mark is now functioning well in a private high school and playing quarterback on the school football team.
  • Developing underlying processing and language comprehension skills has helped Kelsey to become much more consistent in her test scores and much less afraid of math. She can now understand and follow directions in class and do her math homework independently.

Many children cope with their underachievement by putting on an attitude of not caring and resisting help from parents, teachers, and clinicians at a learning or tutoring center. Success can change bad attitudes, though, and gradually, as the foundation of underlying processing/learning skills got stronger, students become more confident and engaged. Here’s one child’s thoughts:

“This has also made me a better person. I am now a more thoughtful person. Before I came I got bad grades. Now I have improved in all subjects. My grades before were Ds. Now they raised to As and Bs. It makes me feel special to be known as a smart kid to other people.”  Brett…5th Grade

Pediatricians help identify learning disabilities in children

As many as 20% of people in the United States have a learning disability and in 2007, an estimated 2.7 million children aged 6 to 11 years were affected. Learning disabilities often prevent children from reaching their full potential. They can have difficulty learning to listen, speak, read, spell, write, reason, concentrate, solve mathematical problems, and organize information. They may also experience difficulty mastering social skills or motor coordination.

Learning difficulties are frequently associated with and complicated by attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). For affected children, learning difficulties are not merely a source of frustration. Left untreated, these children may develop low self-confidence, poor self-esteem, and have increased risk of developing psychological and emotional problems.

Learning disabilities are complex problems with complex etiologies that are not yet fully understood. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities, including reading disabilities and dyslexia, frequently go undetected, misdiagnosed, or mistreated in children. Sadly, even in cases where learning disabilities are recognized, most children have already been experiencing years of academic difficulty in elementary school.

However research in brain function and learning has shown that learning and attention challenges can be permanently corrected. The American Academy of Pediatrics policy states that “early recognition and referral to qualified professionals for evidence-based evaluations and treatments are necessary to achieve the best possible outcome.”
Family Physicians  identify learning disabilities
The role of the child’s physician in identifying and managing a learning disability is one of vigilance and support. The child’s parents and educators may not fully recognize the symptoms of a learning disability in their children and it may be the child’s pediatrician that is first to suspect and inform parents of available resources for assistance. Some parents may already suspect that their child may harbor a learning disability and turn to the child’s physician for guidance. In any case, the child’s physician is an important partner with the family and educators in the diagnosis, evaluation and treatment for the child.

It is not the role of the pediatrician to diagnose learning disabilities but instead to inquire about the child’s educational progress and be vigilant for early signs of learning disabilities. Even if there is no apparent delay in speech or language development, a family history of learning difficulties should alert parents and physicians to this possibility in the child. With enhanced awareness of the pediatric community on early detection and referral we can do away with the traditional scenario in which the child must show persistent poor academic achievement for years before referral, assessment, and remediation. Early recognition and referral to qualified professionals means more effective treatment for more children.

Therapeutic Literacy Center:
Current neuroscience shows that learning “disabilities” do not have to be permanent. The brain exhibits enormous plasticity so the cognitive skills involved in reading and writing can be improved. (More about Plasticity)  At the Therapeutic Literacy Center we specialize in the cognitive processes behind learning to read, write and spell. Auditory and language processing, phonological awareness, visual memory and critical thinking can be strengthened, often significantly, in a relatively short time given intensive targeted instruction. Our network of clinicians, psychologists, and neuropsychologists have studied how children learn, and applied that research to Therapeutic Literacy Center programs and instruction. Through carefully researched and consistently effective methods, we help clients to develop control over their thinking processes to make sense out of reading, spelling, written language and math.

Recognize the many faces of Learning Challenges

What’s Really Going on When Smart Kids Struggle in School and Drive Their Teachers and Parents Crazy?

Smart kids who struggle in school aren't lazy. They have underlying problems, and we can help - Therapeutic Literacy CenterIf it just doesn’t make sense, then you, like many others, may be missing some vital information about the learning process.  The stories below are some of the Many “Faces” Of Learning Challenges.  They look different on different kids, but the thing they have in common is this:  Something is breaking down in their processing of information.  Fortunately, there is hope for children since the skills they are lacking, the skills they need can be taught, built, or re-trained.

Chatting with friends and making jokes gets Mark through his day at school. Of course, his teacher is extremely irritated with him for constantly disrupting the class with his talking and his jokes. And she cannot understand how such a smart boy can refuse to do his work and get very little accomplished during the day.

The truth about Mark is that he is very intelligent, but he can’t read very well. His intelligence gets him by; he can read enough to sometimes get answers right, to sometimes get parts of assignments done. Unfortunately, he can get just enough done to make it look like he can do it, so when he doesn’t, he looks unmotivated.  Mark’s teacher thinks he has Attention Deficit Disorder.  In reality, he is dyslexic. He can’t do the work so he finds other ways to entertain himself.

He’s getting Fs in 4 th grade. Mark’s mother sees how hard he tries at home, but even she is frustrated because Mark can’t seem to get any of his homework done without her there helping every minute. Dad is mad because he thinks Mark could do better if he tried harder. And Mark just wants to give up. No matter how hard he tries, he still can’t manage to make the grade.

Sports is the name of the game for Josh. He’s good at them all and brags about going to college on a sports scholarship of some kind. Secretly, though, Josh is pretty worried. He can’t seem to make the grades in school and the football coach is talking like he might not be able to continuing playing.

Josh puts on an attitude of not caring, but deep down he’s humiliated and embarrassed. How can he be so good at every sport he tries and be so lousy at school?

His dad thinks he’s just lazy. ” Maybe, that’s it,” Josh thinks. I mean why else would it take him so much longer to read the darned history assignment and then still not have a clue what it’s about. Math is OK, but he always seems to forget to do some of the problems, and English, forget it! How’s he supposed to read a whole chapter and write an essay on it every night? He can’t think of a thing to say when he gets ready to write. Maybe he’s just stupid. Maybe he should forget about college. His parents are going to ground him anyway if he gets one more F.
Josh is one of those kids who can read, write, and do math, but just can’t seem to “pull it all together” to get his work done with any consistency.

Math makes Amanda want to cry. In fact, most nights, she does end up in tears when her dad is trying to help her get through her homework. It just
doesn’t make sense. And it takes forever. She feels like she’s trying really hard, but those numbers and signs on the page just don’t make sense. She manages to get her homework done with her dad’s help, but when test time comes around, it’s all over. She’s gotten in the habit of hiding her tests so her parents don’t know she’s gotten another failing grade.

Amanda hates math and she’s beginning to hate school as well. All she really wants is to have friends, but somehow that doesn’t seem to work out very well either. Whenever she makes a new friend, they end up in some kind of a misunderstanding. Amanda doesn’t even know what happened, but her new girlfriend quit hanging out with her. Somehow, whether its math class or talking to other kids in the hall, Amanda finds herself confused or saying the wrong thing. Even when she tries her best, people make fun of her and her teachers and parents think she’s not trying.

Amanda’s real learning challenges stem from her auditory processing.

Her poor listening skills make math hard because she misses some of the important information the teacher is explaining. She can get by in other classes because she can fill-in the gaps by re-reading the chapter, but she’s completely lost in math. Too much has been missed along the way.
Amanda misses information in conversation as well, so she says the wrong thing or misinterprets what other people say. She’s always getting her feeling hurt and getting defensive so other kids don’t really want to hang out with her.

Regular kids, with average to above average intelligence are sitting in class, day after day, frustrated and misunderstood by their teachers, parents, classmates, and even themselves. They want to do well in school. They know they should be able to. But somehow, they just can’t seem to do it.

  • Why does it take them so long to finish their work?
  • Why do they have hours more homework than other kids in their class?
  • Are they just stupid? Must be, since everyone else seems to be able to do the work more easily.

Surprisingly, these kids exist in every classroom in every school. They might be good at hiding it, but they are suffering nevertheless. Somehow, no matter how good they are at other things, reading or math, or some other aspect of school just isn’t working out for them as well as it should.

The 4 Groups of Learning Skills

Easy learning is built upon a continuum of neurodevelopmental learning skills that start with reflexes in utero and continue developing to the highest levels of thinking. We think of that continuum in four basic levels:

  • Developmental or Core Learning Skills – Learning, or information processing, is actually stimulated by movement. It begins in utero with movements triggered by reflexes. When babies are born, these reflexes begin to go away, or become integrated, as higher levels of thinking begin to take over. Integration happens through trial and error movements and gradually intentional movement. Physical movement and exploration is critical to developing visual skills and becoming internally organized.People often think of organization in terms of planning and organizing time, projects and materials, but internal organization is needed in order to sit in a chair or walk across a room without bumping into things.
  • Processing Skills – Processing skills is the second level in the learning skills continuum. These include such skills as memory, attention, visual processing (how we think about information that we can see or imagine), auditory processing (how we think about information that we hear, such as the sounds in words or the tone of voice our friend is using), language processing, and processing speed ( how quickly we can think about and respond to information). Learning challenges in any of these areas will cause the learner to have to work longer and harder than they should.
  • Executive Function Skills – Executive function is like the brain’s CEO. This is the part of the brain that guides our behavior and attention, that helps us plan and reason and solve problems. Students are notorious for putting long term projects off to the last minute. But the bottom line is it takes a number of sophisticated executive function skills to plan out and execute a project.If a student looks lazy, unmotivated, or disorganized, the real culprit may weak executive function skills.
  • Academic Skills or higher learning skills – The highest level on the continuum is academic and higher learning skills. Success in this arena depends upon a solid base of skills in the levels below. People of all ages learn how to compensate for their challenges, but compensating is hard and inefficient. The supporting skills must be in place in order to learn new information easily.

As you see, learning challenges are very broad. They look different on different kids, but the thing they have in common is this:

Something is breaking down in their processing of information.

Learning is all about processing incoming information – whether it’s a toddler picking up a cracker and finding out that it breaks in his hand or a 12th grader doing calculus. When students that you know are struggling in school, when you are tempted to write it off as lazy, or attention, or immaturity, take a closer look. There are dozens of skills that may not all be working together to make learning easy.

The Good News: All those skills can be taught, built, corrected. There is REAL hope for all those kids.  Therapeutic Literacy Center in Solana Beach offers assessments for learning problems including dyslexia and auditory processing disorder.  They have the staff expertise and proven programs and exercises for developing underlying “mental tools†needed for success.


Homework doesn’t have to be a battleground- 3 ways to restore peace

End the Homework battle - explore 3 ways to bring peace back to the family and get homework done in a reasonable amount of time.

I hear it and witness it time and time again.  In fact I used to live it.  ‘Doing homework’ often turned into a battle of wills and power struggles complete with drama, stress, raised voices, and ….ugh!!!  Almost every parent has experienced the homework battle at one time or another. For some it’s a daily occurrence that leaves the parent or child or both in tears. In most cases, it doesn’t have to be this way.

It’s not about winning the homework battle – it’s about Ending the Homework Battle.

In this article, we will explore 3 ways to bring peace back to the family and get homework done in a reasonable amount of time.

1 – Establishing Routines and Structure

Humans are creatures of habit. If we create good habits and routines around homework, there will be much less argument and negotiation.

Designate a set time when homework will be done. This will solve a multitude of problems. As an example, if the child knows that everyday from 3:45 – 4:45 is homework time, it will become a part of the everyday routine. If it’s “what we always do,” pretty soon, no one expects anything different.

Ideally, you want to have homework time be the same time everyday. Determine the time with your child. Does she need a snack or a little down time before she starts? How much time will that take?

Look at the child’s needs, the typical amount of time homework takes, and the family activities. Then if at all possible, designate the same time everyday for homework. If this is not possible due to parents’ work schedules or other activities, create a weekly schedule where the homework time may vary from day-to-day, but there is a designated time each day of the week.

Stick to your designated homework schedule. Don’t let anything take priority. Do not schedule appointments or take phone calls during this time. Nothing gets priority over homework during the set homework time!

Children are often guilty of saying, “I don’t have any homework today.” This may or may not be true. Sometimes, students forget their materials, forget to write down their assignments, conveniently forget, or just find it easier to say they don’t have homework.  Whether the child has homework or not, the designated homework time is for homework.

If the child has no homework from school, homework time should be spent studying for spelling tests or other upcoming tests, working on long-term assignments and book reports, doing free-reading, or writing in a journal. This preserves the homework time routine and helps remove the temptation of saying there’s no homework when there in fact is.

Many schools, particularly middle schools and high schools have classwork and homework available on the school or class website, or have instituted a ‘Homework Hotline’ which provides parents and students with the homework assignments in case they are unsure of what was assigned for the day.

At the elementary level, having another family from your child’s class that you can call to check on what the homework assignment is when there are questions can be very helpful.

2 – Set the Stage for Success

Set up a specific space for studying. The space should be:

  • Well-lit
  • Quiet
  • Free from distractions
  • Clear of clutter
  • Stocked with all of the materials needed.

Having a clear work space with all necessary materials at hand, such as pencils, ruler, and lined paper reduces the need to get up and waste time or get distracted looking for materials.

Determine and create the space together with your child. The more your child is involved in the process, the more he “owns” it. Stocking his own desk with his materials can be fun and motivating.

3 – Avoid a Power Struggle

Getting Started with a Homework Routine

From the time children enter the first grade, they are expected to do homework. If your child is very young, setting up a homework space, time, and routine will be quite easy. If you stick with it throughout your child’s schooling, making minor adjustments each school year, the structured, standard routine will help you avoid many homework battles.

If your child is a little older, or even a teenager, creating a new way to approach homework will not be accepted as easily. However, it can and must be done if getting homework done is a battle in your home.

At a calm and neutral time, not in the midst of a homework conflict, sit down with your child and discuss and plan the new homework routine.

As a parent, you are in charge, and complying with the homework routine is not an option, but the child should feel heard and should be involved in the process of developing the routine. Here’s an example of how you as a parent might approach the child:

“Trying to fit homework in and get it all done has been pretty hard for us as a family. We are going to make some changes that I believe will help us all.”

“Together, we are going to decide on a specific time and space that will be for homework. Nothing will get in the way – no phone calls, no video games, no appointments. We will all honor this time.”

“Once we decide on a time and space, I’m going to ask that we all try it for two weeks, exactly as we plan, with no complaining. Then, we will sit down and talk again and decide if we need to make any adjustments. This is something that we are going to do. It’s not going to be an option, because it’s my job as your parent to help you be successful. But your ideas are important and we’ll keep adjusting to make sure it’s really working for you.”

This kind of approach lets children and teens know that while this is not negotiable, they are a part of the team.

What’s Next?

There will of course be ongoing challenges even after you’ve started with the above steps.  Reinforcement and continued support are critical to keeping the momentum and preserving the peace.

Implementing the routine

Now that your homework routine is established, don’t argue or negotiate on it.  Stay calm and objective.

Set up a specific space for your child to do their studying and homework. Well-lit, quiet, and stocked with all supplies needed.When your child whines or pleads that just this time, she needs to make an important call to a friend during the homework time, calmly say, “This time is for homework only. You can make your call at ____ o’clock.”

To help with interruptions from phone calls, a part of your homework routine may include turning all phones, including cell phones on silent. Instant Messenger type services on the computer should be turned off during homework time. Set-up these parameters in advance.

For younger children, or those who have trouble comprehending time or shifting activities, try using a timer. About 15 minutes before homework time is to begin, set the timer for 12 minutes and let the child know that when the timer goes off, he is to clean up whatever he is doing and immediately go to his homework space. If the child tries to argue or complain, calmly say, “I’m sorry you’re in the middle of that, but the timer went off. It’s time to move to your homework space.”

Calmly and consistently reinforcing the routine keeps you from having to get upset or be the bad guy.

Continue to Set Clear Guidelines and Reward Children for Following Them

Kids often think that watching TV, playing electronic games, chatting with friends online, or using their cell phones are their rights, their entitlement.

We need to re-frame their reality. Their job, as kids, is to get an education and become well-adjusted, productive adults. Our job as parents is to help them get there.

So here are the rules:

  • Students go to school and do their best.

  • They follow the homework routine at home.

Watching TV, playing electronic games, chatting with friends online, using their cell phones, etc. are privileges that are earned by following the rules, or by doing “their job.”

Teachers and parents must actively notice and praise students for doing their job. It’s a hard and time-consuming job that children have. It needs lots of recognition from everyone involved.

So your child is becoming a reader!

As your child is becoming a reader – you want to be prepared for the changes so you can make it a positive experience for child and family.

It might never occur to some families to prepare themselves for their child becoming a reader.  What happens to a family when a non-reader becomes a reader?  The answer to this question seemed so obvious!  The family is overjoyed, proud, delighted. Of course!  But when a non-reader becomes a reader, it’s important to understand that the dynamics and relationships in the family may undergo changes — and to be prepared for those changes.As your child is becoming a reader - you want to be prepared for the changes so you can make it a positive experience for child and family.

At the Therapeutic Literacy Center, we work with children and adults with a variety of learning disabilities and a varying degree of severity. Our goal for students is always that they will leave us comfortable, independent learners.

For students with more severe reading disabilities, the road from being a dependent learner to an independent learner may bring with it some unexpected emotions or challenges. The following is a summary of some of the emotional issues that can challenge a child becoming a reader; the process of going from non-reader to reader. If families are aware of these, it may help make the way smoother and more efficient.

1.  Growing Independence
An individual who is a non-reader (or very poor reader) may, by necessity, become dependent on parents, siblings, or spouse to negotiate the world of print for him/her. As reading becomes easier, the help sometimes feels hurt by the new reader’s growing independence. Being aware that this may occur, helps the family to celebrate the changes instead of feeling threatened by them.

When a child is a non-reader, parents often do the reading for them or get books on tape for them so that they can still continue to participate in grade level curriculum at school. As these children begin to read, they must be encouraged to gradually take over more and more of the reading themselves, at the same time keeping in mind that reading will require a great deal of energy for awhile.

2.  Fear of success
An issue that we sometimes see with students either at the very beginning of their program, or as they are becoming more capable with reading and writing, is the fear of success. We have had students, both children and adults, who, while they truly desire to become independent readers, are fearful of the changes they might bring.

One very bright nine year-old non-reader expressed that he was afraid to learn to read because it would change him into somebody else. He might not be himself anymore. Maybe people wouldn’t like him or be willing to help him anymore. We took things very slowly. We encouraged him that we would never want to take away his thinking style; only give him tools that would make things easier. Gradually, he was able to get over that barrier and began to read.

Another, more common fear of success that we have seen with children and adults seems to happen a little later in the program when they actually have gotten to the point that they have some fairly solid tools for reading and writing. These students have expressed the concern that if they can read or write, people won’t help them anymore. They might be expected to do things that are too hard or too long. Just saying they can’t is often a more comfortable solution than facing the possibility of being overwhelmed.

To help students to begin to use their skills without becoming completely overwhelmed, it is helpful for parents to “share” the reading with them. Parameters can be set up such as: The child has to start reading at the top of each page or the beginning of each section, but is allowed to stop and switch with the parent when he gets tired.In this way, the student is using his skills, but the parent is still doing the bulk of the reading. As the child becomes more competent, the parameter could be changed so that the child reads a paragraph and the parent reads two, or the child and the parent alternate reading paragraphs or pages. As they become more comfortable and reading takes less energy, children become more willing to take over more and more of the reading.

3. Changing Expectations

Some students are so used to being non-readers or dependent readers that they continue to view themselves that way, even as their reading begins to develop and they’re becoming a reader. Family members, also, are used to thinking of the student in this way and may help perpetuate the low expectations. When an individual in a family has traditionally not been able to read or write, other members of the family take over those functions for him/her. The family members learn that they need to read menus, write checks, read signs, and/or give a tremendous amount of assistance on reading and writing homework. It is not uncommon for family members to continue performing these functions, and for the individual to continue to expect that, even after he has begun to develop tools that will allow him to do these things for himself.

We see this issue most often in the area of homework. Children are used to having a great deal of help and having someone “right there” with them while they do it. They may be used to using their reading or writing difficulties as an excuse not to do homework at all. Using their new skills can be time and energy consuming at first, and because working independently is a change, many children rebel against it. The students may continue to use “old habits” to get out of their work, or get someone else to do it for them. Old habits die hard for family members, too.

Parents are used to protecting their children from failure and poor self-esteem related to homework. The coping strategies that families develop are important and valuable, but must be let go of as the child’s academic abilities increase.We find that that is hard sometimes for parents to shift their view of their child from being severely reading disabled to being able to do some parts of their homework on their own. This is especially true because children often rebel most about becoming independent and doing their work at home. It is critical that as individuals are able to do more, they be allowed and expected to do so. This is the only way that their skills will really become independent tools for them, and even more importantly, that they will begin to view themselves as competent learners.

Turning Homework Over To The Student: Encouraging Independence
Adopt the motto that Homework is not an Option. It is not a personal issue. It is not a relationship issue. It is simply what school children do. It is not an option, so whether or not to do it does not bear argument or discussion.

  • Make homework as routine as possible. Have a specific time and place for homework to be done.
  • Find out from the teacher exactly what your child can be expected to do independently. Help your child get started if needed but have him complete the assignment on his own. Be available to help, but work with your child on asking you very specific questions as opposed to saying, “I don’t get this.”
  • Reinforce your child’s attempts at independence with praise and social or tangible rewards if necessary.
  • Calmly but firmly insist that the homework be completed. (If the amount or difficulty is reasonable, work with the teacher to make daily homework appropriate to your child’s independence level). Help your child understand that if he is procrastinating on his homework, he is choosing to give up play or TV time. However, parents do not need to choose for their own time to be wasted as well.
  • If your child is very dependent on your presence in order to work, wean him/her away from this by setting a timer and coming in to check on him every 5 minutes at first; then gradually increase the time. Or, have the child do one item with you, then complete the section on his own. He may come to you to get started on each new section as needed.

What happens to a family when a non-reader becomes a reader?
…With patience, firmness and encouragement, the parents get out from the homework burden.

…The individual becomes a more productive and confident student or worker.

…The relationship between the past non-reader and his/her family becomes less dependency-based, perhaps opening the door to some exciting new ways of relating.

As your child is becoming a reader be prepared for the changes in your family

Recognizing that a Learning Disability is not Lack of Motivation

Sometimes Parents Get the Feeling That Their Child’s Struggle With Homework Is More Than Just Lack of Motivation or Laziness.  

In fact, their child may be getting good grades. But the parents’ gut feeling is that their child is working too hard, that there may be some kind of learning problem.

How do you know if you’re overreacting or really need to get help?

Children with severe learning disabilities are routinely targeted in our schools for resource and special education services. There are, however, many students with less noticeable difficulties that seem to “fall through the cracks.” The results of their work aren’t so far out of range as to raise a red flag in the classroom.

Child struggling with homework because of learning disabilities - Therapeutic Literacy CenterOften a student with a mild learning disability is able to maintain decent grades through hard work and determination, but they have to put in much greater effort and time than those without learning disabilities.

Although it may be difficult for the classroom teacher of 30 students to recognize a child’s mild learning problems, an involved parent can. Many children with a learning disability DO need extra help, but they don’t qualify for special programs.

Parents of these children say that being in the classroom or helping them to do their homework was the real key to realizing the extent of their child’s struggle and led them to seek diagnostic testing. They were aware that their child spent extra time on homework and that reading and spelling skills were deficient, but they didn’t know what skill level was grade appropriate. Seeing their child in the context of the classroom prompted them to get the necessary help for their child.

One parent noted that if you can spare an hour a month to have lunch with a friend or go shopping, then you can spare an hour in your child’s classroom or with them as they do their homework. The time spent would not only be fun, but could be invaluable.

Many students with mild learning disabilities have the perseverance and drive to put in the extra time and effort necessary to make it through school and maintain good grades in the process. They can do it, but how much more enjoyable could their educational experience be if their needs were met early on?  If you suspect your child may have a learning disability, get in touch with a professional who can formally assess their existing skills and where deficits are presenting real challenges for your child in the classroom and beyond.

Therapeutic Literacy Center in Solana Beach offers assessments for learning disabilities as well as programs and exercises for developing underlying “mental tools” needed for success.

Strong Executive Functioning Independent Children

Develop Your Child’s Independence

Strengthen executive function skills for better planning, organization, and self-management

Strengthen executive function skills for better planning

Kids will be kids– But we want our kids to be kids who can focus, think, plan, organize, and make good decisions. This includes having self-control, and evaluating and learning from their mistakes!

Ultimately, we want kids to be kids with the benefit of great executive function skills … or in other words, we want them to be independent!

Executive Function skills are the frontal lobe functions of the brain that develop throughout childhood and into early adulthood. Because the frontal lobe is the last to develop in our brains, major growth in executive function occurs in the teens through the mid-twenties.

We can BUILD your students’ executive function skills at school and home with consistent and intentional instruction throughout the day.

A student with strong executive function skillsA student with strong executive function skills can:

 • Focus and sustain energy and attention

• Determine what is relevant and screen out what is not

• Use mental control to start, stop, adapt, plan & organize

• Anticipate what will be needed for a given assignment

• Manage time, materials, and space

• Evaluate & Solve problems



Are you Building or BEING their Executive Function?

Helicopter Parents

Well-meaning “helicopter” parents hover over their struggling learners and guide them every single step of the way.   They provide an amazing safety net, but they may also be keeping their kids from exactly what they want most for them – to become independent.

In their desire to help students be successful, parents and teachers may inadvertently take on the role of the student’s executive function.

“Great Teacher,” Wrong Kind of Help

Teachers who give very explicit, detailed instructions of exactly what to do on a project or assignment, or who tell students exactly how, when, and what to study for a test, are often viewed as wonderful teachers. Their students thrive with the structure, and everyone feels great, until the next teacher comes along who isn’t as detailed, and the students don’t know how to think for themselves.

What Students Need

What students really need is to build their own executive function skills so that they can think, plan, organize, and manage themselves.

Instead of telling students every step they need to take (being the executive function), shift your language to engage students in a dialogue that encourages them to think for themselves . Here’s what this might look like:

BEING the students’ executive function: “ You have a book report due in two weeks. You need to pick a book that has 80 pages, and read 10 pages every day.”

BUILDING Executive Function: “You have a book report due in two weeks. Let’s create a plan for getting the book read and the report done without stressing out at the last minute.” Then engage students’ thinking through questions such as:

  • What are the things you have to do to complete this project? (pick a book, read, write)
  • How much time do you need for each part of the project?
  • How long of a book should you choose? How many pages will you need to read everyday?

These questions are the kinds of things that we, through our executive function, ask ourselves. As students get more adept with this self-questioning process, you will be able to make your questions broader so that they are engaging more of their own executive function.

  • What questions do you need to ask yourself as you plan out this project?

Executive Function as Like a Mental Dialogue

If you think about how you make decisions, plan out your week, or tackle a problem or project, you will see that it usually involves a combination of visualizing, and talking through things in your mind. Visual and verbal inner language are two key components of working memory and executive function that can be developed in students at school and home.

Taking the time to help children and teens improve their inner dialogue and visualization skills has a big payoff in retention, comprehension and greater independence.

Developing Visualization

  • Encourage students to visualize their day to improve time concepts and management
  • Guide students in visualizing and dialoguing exactly what written instructions on assignments are asking
  • Teach students to visualize test questions and all answer choices before choosing a response
  • Before packing up for the day, have students visualize and verbalize what materials will be needed for their homework
  • Guide students in visualizing each step in a project or sequence of events
    •  Have them look up (to engage visual modality) and imagine each step on a specific spot on the wall or in the air in front of them
    • Have them point to and describe the image
    • Enhance key points in the image with such things as changing the size, adding color or humor, or connecting images in some way

Where Do We Fit In?

A primary function of the schools is to teach academic skills and content areas to students – to expand their knowledge and their ability to apply it. When students struggle, it can be very challenging for all- student, parent, and teacher, in spite of efforts to modify curriculum and accommodate learning differences.

At the Therapeutic Learning Center, we identify and develop the weak underlying learning/processing skills that provide the critical foundation for learning but are not generally taught. While there is no overnight solution, most learning and attention challenges can be dramatically improved or completely corrected.

To learn more, or to schedule a free consultation with Executive Director and Education Specialist, Maria Bagby, call 858) 481-2200.