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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Are Parents Setting Kids Up for Failure by Pushing Too Hard for Success?

From the Parenting Blog "Shine" by Yahoo!

By Lylah M. Alphonse, Senior Editor (and Mom)
August 8, 2012

No matter your socioeconomic status, as parents you want your kids to have better lives than you do. But instead of launching a generation of happy young adults who feel driven to succeed, parents who are hyper-focused on doing everything "right" have created a country full of kids who are stressed-out, burned-out, and depressed.

"According to psychologist and author Madeline Levine, "Our current version of success is a failure."

Related: Stress Alters Kids' Genes, Study Finds

In her new book, Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success, Levine says that parents are preoccupied with "a narrow and shortsighted vision of success," and that we rely on our kids to "provide status and meaning in our own lives." It's a harmful combination, weighing kids down with serious issues -- "stress, exhaustion, depression, anxiety, poor coping skills, and unhealthy reliance on others for support and direction, and a weak sense of self," Levine says -- when we should be trying to teach them to be resilient and independent if we really want them to succeed in life.

When people are too caught up in finding the "right" way to parent, they can end up being physically present -- perhaps too much so -- but emotionally disengaged. "While you think you're giving your kids everything, they often think you are bored, pushy, and completely oblivious to their real needs," Levine writes.

A child's ability to succeed in life doesn't necessarily correlate to a parent's well-intentioned efforts anyway, says Bryan Caplan, a father of three and the author of Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think.

"Today's typical parents strive to mentally stimulate their children and struggle to protect their brains from being turned to mush by television and video games" pushing them instead to strive for academic success, he told Yahoo! Shine. "Yet by adulthood, the fruit of parents' labor is practically invisible. Children who grew up in enriched homes are no smarter than they would have been if they'd grown up in average homes."

But as parents push kids to succeed -- and try too hard to shield them from failure --their kids are soaking up the stress and increasingly unable to do anything without their parents' input.

"In the name of love, we parents have gutted our kids' sense of self-reliance and independence," David Arthur Code, author of Kids Pick Up On Everything," told Yahoo! Shine in an interview. "It's as if we run out in front of our children, removing every obstacle from their path, or else showering them with positive reinforcement if they stumble.

Sure, they feel safe and protected and loved -- for now -- but they never learn how to confront failures in childhood when the stakes are low, so when they become adults, they fold like a house of cards at the first adversity."

The result: A generation of kids and young adults who are afraid of failure, who engage in dangerous behavior in order to cope with stress they don't understand, or who don't know how to navigate life without their parents' guidance.

"The cost of this relentless drive to perform at unrealistically high levels is a generation of kids who resemble nothing so much as trauma victims," Levine writes. "They become preoccupied with events that have passed - obsessing endlessly on a possible wrong answer or a missed opportunity. They are anxious and depressed and often self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Sleep is difficult and they walk around in a fog of exhaustion. Other kids simply fold their cards and refuse to play."

The solution? Levine suggests that parents step back and re-evaluate what's important to them, create a new definition of success, and then focus on fostering resilience in their kids.

"How would you ever know if you were capable or not if you didn't have to opportunity to try, fail, and pick yourself up again?" she asks.

Levine says that parents who want to raise kids who can really succeed in life should focus on teaching them these life skills:
  • Resourcefulness. Teaching kids how to self-soothe, acknowledging that there may be several ways to solve a problem, and making them search for a solution slightly outside of their comfort zone can help kids learn how to make the most out of the situations in which they find themselves. That, in turn, helps them to be successful regardless of which path they take in life. But be patient -- children have limited resources, and it can take time to figure out what to do. It's tempting to try to rush them or, worse, save time by doing everything for them yourself.
  • Enthusiasm. "Without enthusiasm, kids are just going through the motions," Levine points out. One major parental pitfall is expecting your kids to automatically admire the same things you do. Instead of pushing your kids toward your own goals, observe their interests and remember that their aspirations don't have to be the same as yours.
  • Creativity. Academic excellence is all well and good, but some kids just aren't cut out for life on the Dean's List. The skills they learn from creative pursuits can help them learn how to think outside of the box, solve problems, and succeed in non-academic settings. Keep crafts within easy reach, Levine suggests, steer kids toward open-ended activities like reading and building with blocks, and offer plenty of positive feedback.
  • A strong work ethic. "In addition to focusing on effort, persistence, and discipline, do make sure to notice other components of a good work ethic like integrity or the ability to communicate and collaborate," Levine writes. Make sure that the work your child is expected to do is reasonable -- expecting a kindergartner to perform like a second grader just sets him up for failure and you for disappointment -- and be sure to show them that you can embrace hard work as well.
  • Self-efficacy. Along with having good self-esteem and self-control, self-efficacy -- the belief that we have a measure of control over what we do with our lives -- is crucial to success.
"Don't project your own anxiety as your child moves forward," Levine writes. Doing so prevents kids from pushing past existing boundaries and trying new things, and robs them of their ability to solve problems on their own."

"Don't project your own anxiety as your child moves forward. We do not have to choose between children's well-being and their success. Both are inside jobs. They are developed when kids are guided and encouraged to build a sense of self internally."

"We do not have to choose between children's well-being and their success. Both are inside jobs. They are developed when kids are guided and encouraged to build a sense of self internally," Levine writes. "Ultimately, it is only our children themselves who pass judgment on their success, or lack thereof, in their lives."

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Homework: An Unnecessary Evil?

From a Psychology Today Blog - The Homework Myth

By Alfie Kohn
November 26, 2012

Surprising Findings from New Research Challenge the Conventional Wisdom (Again).

A brand-new study on the academic effects of homework offers not only some intriguing results but also a lesson on how to read a study -- and a reminder of the importance of doing just that: reading studies (carefully) rather than relying on summaries by journalists or even by the researchers themselves.

Let’s start by reviewing what we know from earlier investigations. [1]

First, no research has ever found a benefit to assigning homework (of any kind or in any amount) in elementary school. In fact, there isn’t even a positive correlation between, on the one hand, having younger children do some homework (vs. none), or more (vs. less), and, on the other hand, any measure of achievement. If we’re making 12-year-olds, much less five-year-olds, do homework, it’s either because we’re misinformed about what the evidence says or because we think kids ought to have to do homework despite what the evidence says.

Second, even at the high school level, the research supporting homework hasn’t been particularly persuasive. There does seem to be a correlation between homework and standardized test scores, but (a) it isn’t strong, meaning that homework doesn’t explain much of the variance in scores, (b) one prominent researcher, Timothy Keith, who did find a solid correlation, returned to the topic a decade later to enter more variables into the equation simultaneously, only to discover that the improved study showed that homework had no effect after all [2], and (c) at best we’re only talking about a correlation -- things that go together -- without having proved that doing more homework causes test scores to go up. (Take ten seconds to see if you can come up with other variables that might be driving both of these things.)

Third, when homework is related to test scores, the connection tends to be strongest -- or, actually, least tenuous -- with math. If homework turns out to be unnecessary for students to succeed in that subject, it’s probably unnecessary everywhere.

Along comes a new study, then, that focuses on the neighborhood where you’d be most likely to find a positive effect if one was there to be found: math and science homework in high school. Like most recent studies, this one by Adam Maltese and his colleagues [3] doesn’t provide rich descriptive analyses of what students and teachers are doing. Rather, it offers an aerial view, the kind preferred by economists, relying on two large datasets (from the National Education Longitudinal Study [NELS] and the Education Longitudinal Study [ELS]).

Thousands of students are asked one question -- How much time do you spend on homework? -- and statistical tests are then performed to discover if there’s a relationship between that number and how they fared in their classes and on standardized tests.

It’s easy to miss one interesting result in this study that appears in a one-sentence aside. When kids in these two similar datasets were asked how much time they spent on math homework each day, those in the NELS study said 37 minutes, whereas those in the ELS study said 60 minutes.

There’s no good reason for such a striking discrepancy, nor do the authors offer any explanation. They just move right along -- even though those estimates raise troubling questions about the whole project, and about all homework studies that are based on self-report. Which number is more accurate? Or are both of them way off? There’s no way of knowing. And because all the conclusions are tied to that number, all the conclusions may be completely invalid. [4]

But let’s pretend that we really do know how much homework students do. Did doing it make any difference? The Maltese et al. study looked at the effect on test scores and on grades. They emphasized the latter, but let’s get the former out of the way first.

Was there a correlation between the amount of homework that high school students reported doing and their scores on standardized math and science tests? Yes, and it was statistically significant but “very modest”: Even assuming the existence of a causal relationship, which is by no means clear, one or two hours’ worth of homework every day buys you two or three points on a test.

Is that really worth the frustration, exhaustion, family conflict, loss of time for other activities, and potential diminution of interest in learning?

"...a headline that reads “Study finds homework boosts achievement” can be translated as “A relentless regimen of after-school drill-and-skill can raise scores a wee bit on tests of rote learning.”

And how meaningful a measure were those tests in the first place, since, as the authors concede, they’re timed measures of mostly mechanical skills? (Thus, a headline that reads “Study finds homework boosts achievement” can be translated as “A relentless regimen of after-school drill-and-skill can raise scores a wee bit on tests of rote learning.”)

But it was grades, not tests, that Maltese and his colleagues really cared about. They were proud of having looked at transcript data in order to figure out “the exact grade a student received in each class [that he or she] completed” so they could compare that to how much homework the student did. Previous research has looked only at students’ overall grade-point averages.

And the result of this fine-tuned investigation? There was no relationship whatsoever between time spent on homework and course grade, and “no substantive difference in grades between students who complete homework and those who do not.”

"There was no relationship whatsoever between time spent on homework and course grade, and 'no substantive difference in grades between students who complete homework and those who do not.'”

This result clearly caught the researchers off-guard. Frankly, it surprised me, too. When you measure “achievement” in terms of grades, you expect to see a positive result -- not because homework is academically beneficial but because the same teacher who gives the assignments evaluates the students who complete them, and the final grade is often based at least partly on whether, and to what extent, students did the homework.

Even if homework were a complete waste of time, how could it not be positively related to course grades?

And yet it wasn’t. Again. Even in high school. Even in math. The study zeroed in on specific course grades, which represents a methodological improvement, and the moral may be: The better the research, the less likely one is to find any benefits from homework. (That’s not a surprising proposition for a careful reader of reports in this field. We got a hint of that from Timothy Keith’s reanalysis and also from the fact that longer homework studies tend to find less of an effect. [5])

Maltese and his colleagues did their best to re-frame these results to minimize the stunning implications. [6] Like others in this field, they seem to have approached the topic already convinced that homework is necessary and potentially beneficial, so the only question we should ask is: How -- not whether -- to assign it. But if you read the results rather than just the authors’ spin on them -- which you really need to do with the work of others working in this field as well [7] -- you’ll find that there’s not much to prop up the belief that students must be made to work a second shift after they get home from school.

The assumption that teachers are just assigning homework badly, that we’d start to see meaningful results if only it were improved, is harder and harder to justify with each study that’s published.

If experience is any guide, however, many people will respond to these results by repeating platitudes about the importance of practice [8], or by complaining that anyone who doesn’t think kids need homework is coddling them and failing to prepare them for the “real world” (read: the pointless tasks they’ll be forced to do after they leave school). Those open to evidence, however, have been presented this fall with yet another finding that fails to find any meaningful benefit even when the study is set up to give homework every benefit of the doubt.


1.) It’s important to remember that some people object to homework for reasons that aren’t related to the dispute about whether research might show that homework provides academic benefits. They argue that (a) six hours a day of academics are enough, and kids should have the chance after school to explore other interests and develop in other ways -- or be able simply to relax in the same way that most adults like to relax after work; and (b) the decision about what kids do during family time should be made by families, not schools. Let’s put these arguments aside for now, even though they ought to be (but rarely are) included in any discussion of the topic.

2.) Valerie A. Cool and Timothy Z. Keith, “Testing a Model of School Learning: Direct and Indirect Effects on Academic Achievement,” Contemporary Educational Psychology 16 (1991): 28-44.

3.) Adam V. Maltese, Robert H. Tai, and Xitao Fan, “When Is Homework Worth the Time? Evaluating the Association Between Homework and Achievement in High School Science and Math,” The High School Journal, October/November 2012: 52-72. Abstract at http://ow.ly/fxhOV.

4.) Other research has found little or no correlation between how much homework students report doing and how much homework their parents say they do. When you use the parents’ estimates, the correlation between homework and achievement disappears. See Harris Cooper, Jorgianne Civey Robinson, and Erika A. Patall, “Does Homework Improve Academic Achievement?: A Synthesis of Research, 1987-2003,” Review of Educational Research 76 (2006): 1-62.

5.) To put it the other way around, studies finding the biggest effect are those that capture less of what goes on in the real world by virtue of being so brief. View a small, unrepresentative slice of a child’s life and it may appear that homework makes a contribution to achievement; keep watching, and that contribution is eventually revealed to be illusory. See data provided -- but not interpreted this way -- by Cooper, The Battle Over Homework, 2nd ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2001).

6.) Even the title of their article reflects this: They ask “When Is Homework Worth the Time?” rather than “Is Homework Worth the Time?” This bias might seem a bit surprising in the case of the study’s second author, Robert H. Tai. He had contributed earlier to another study whose results similarly ended up raising questions about the value of homework. Students enrolled in college physics courses were surveyed to determine whether any features of their high school physics courses were now of use to them.

At first, a very small relationship was found between the amount of homework that students had had in high school and how well they were currently faring. But once the researchers controlled for other variables, such as the type of classes they had taken, that relationship disappeared, just as it had for Keith (see note 2). The researchers then studied a much larger population of students in college science classes – and found the same thing: 

Homework simply didn’t help. See Philip M. Sadler and Robert H. Tai, “Success in Introductory College Physics: The Role of High School Preparation,” Science Education 85 [2001]: 111-36.

7.) See chapter 4 (“’Studies Show…’ -- Or Do They?”) of my book The Homework Myth (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo, 2006), an adaptation of which appears as “Abusing Research: The Study of Homework and Other Examples,” Phi Delta Kappan, September 2006 [www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/research.htm].

8.) On the alleged value of practice, see The Homework Myth, pp. 106-18, also available at http://bit.ly/9dXqCj.

About Alfie Kohn

Alfie Kohn writes and speaks about behavior, education, and parenting. His books include Feel-Bad Education, The Homework Myth, and What Does It Mean To Be Well Educated? Kohn has been described in TIME Magazine as "perhaps the country's most outspoken critic of education's fixation on grades [and] test scores."

His criticisms of competition and rewards have helped to shape the thinking of educators -- as well as parents and managers -- across the country and abroad. Kohn has been featured on hundreds of TV and radio programs, including the "Today" show and two appearances on "Oprah"; he has been profiled in the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, while his work has been described and debated in many other leading publications.
CBS News Video: Do Kids Really Need Homework?
In this edition of "Assignment America," Steve Hartman meets a precocious 11-year-old in the 5th grade, Ben Berrafato, who eloquently compares homework assignments to slavery.

Monday, November 26, 2012

What Kids Need to Succeed: Drs. Helmus and Singer on Homework & Executive Functions

Unfortunately, the December 4th talk by NESCA's Dr. Ann Helmus and Architects for Learning CEO Dr. Bonnie Singer on executive function and homework has

So, we have added a second session, from 7:00 to 9:00pm on Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Save the date, and look here for additional details!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Writer Who Embraces Difference

From The New York Times - Books

By Charles McGrath
November 18, 2012

Andrew Solomon’s enormous new book, “Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity,” is about children who are born or who grow up in ways their parents never expected.

It’s a subject Solomon knows from experience. He was dyslexic as a child and struggled to learn to read.

As he described in “The Noonday Demon,” which won a National Book Award in 2001, he once suffered from crippling, suicidal depressions. And Mr. Solomon is gay, which made his parents so uncomfortable that as a teenager he visited sexual surrogates in the hopes of “curing” himself.

Related: Books of The Times: ‘Far From the Tree’ by Andrew Solomon (November 13, 2012)

Mr. Solomon, 49, is also different — different from most writers, anyway — in that he is independently wealthy and lives in baronial splendor in a West Village town house that once belonged to Emma Lazarus, who, though she wrote about those poor, huddled masses, was not among them.

The book party for “Far From the Tree” was held not in some editor’s cramped Upper West Side apartment, but at the Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where Mr. Solomon has recently been named a trustee.

Andrew Solomon, right, and his husband, John Habich,
with their son, George, at home in the West Village.

William Davis, the father of an autistic son and one of the hundreds of parents and offspring Mr. Solomon interviewed for the book, recalled recently that he was a little taken aback when Mr. Solomon arrived at his home in Pennsylvania in a chauffeur-driven car. “But Andrew has a way of eliciting your true feelings,” he said. “You just trust him. You immediately want to pour your heart out to him.”

He added: “He’s living in a different world from the one I’m used to, but it’s not a problem, because he doesn’t try to hide it. He’s not trying to be one of the guys. But you can tell he cares. You just want to hug him.”

Sitting in the kitchen of his town house, occasionally raising his voice over the strident chirping of a canary named Barack — who flew in the window one day, recognized a nice situation and never left — Mr. Solomon explained that “Far from the Tree” took 11 years. It stemmed from a 1994 article about deafness he wrote for The New York Times Magazine.

In the course of reporting it, he said, he realized that many issues confronting the deaf are not unlike those he faced as someone who was gay. A few years later, watching a documentary about dwarfism, he saw the pattern again.

Eventually the book grew to also include chapters on Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, disability, prodigies, transgender identity, children who are conceived during a rape and those who become criminals. His file of transcribed interviews swelled to 40,000 pages, and the version of the book he originally turned in to his publisher, Scribner, was twice as long as it is now.

He called in the services of Alice Truax, a freelance editor, and together with Nan Graham, editor in chief and vice president of Scribner, they whittled it down to 700 pages, not counting notes. In an e-mail Ms. Truax said that she rarely cut entire families but rather tried to compress their stories.

“Andrew and I were keenly aware of the cost of being involved in the project for the families who had participated,” she explained. “Many of them had given enormous amounts of not only time but emotional energy to the book, and we both felt strongly about honoring that as much as possible.”

Mr. Solomon said he included criminal children after deciding that society’s thinking on the subject hadn’t really advanced very much, even while it has on autism and schizophrenia. “We still think it’s the parents’ fault if a child becomes a criminal or that something creepy must have gone on in that household,” he said.

He included the children of rape because he discovered that their mothers shared a lot with all the other mothers in the book. “They feel alienated, disaffected, angry — a lot of the things a mother feels about a child with a disability.”

This kind of commonality, he went on, was something he discovered only while writing. “Each of the conditions I describe is very isolating,” he said. “There aren’t that many dwarfs, there aren’t that many schizophrenics. There aren’t that many families dealing with a criminal kid — not so few but not so many.

But if you recognize that there is a lot in common in all these experiences, they imply a world in which not only is your condition not so isolating but the fact of your difference unites you with other people.”

His other great discovery, he added, was joy. He had been prepared to encounter sadness in the families he visited; what surprised him was how much love there was. “This book’s conundrum,” he writes, “is that most of the families described here ended up grateful for experiences they would have done anything to avoid.”

Reviewing “Far From the Tree” in The Times, Dwight Garner said, “This is a book that shoots arrow after arrow into your heart.” But it’s also a frightening and disturbing book. Its chapters are a vivid catalog of all the things that can go wrong in giving birth to and then bring up a child, and also raise difficult ethical questions: whether it’s proper to give cochlear implants to deaf children or to subject dwarfs to painful limb-lengthening surgery, for example.

But Mr. Solomon said that working on the book had emboldened him and his husband, John Habich, to have a child, something he had been ambivalent about before. Their son, George, born to a surrogate mother, is now 3 ½.

“Forewarned is forearmed,” he said. “Some things, on some scale, go wrong in everyone’s life. I think I have perfectionist tendencies, but I know you can’t go into parenthood thinking, ‘I’m going to love my child as long as he’s perfect.’ Rather, it should be, ‘I’m going to love my child whoever he is, and let’s see how he turns out.’ ”

Mr. Solomon — the kind of parent who is apt to give dramatic readings of storybooks — added that being a father has also made him more forgiving of his own parents. “If you’re confronted with a child who’s different, you have to go through this long process of learning to accept and perhaps celebrate the differences in your child,” he said.

“The acceptance piece is hard. Part of what I learned from this book is that even for parents who do really well with these issues, it’s hard. It was hard for my parents, and that made it harder for me, but I no longer see this as an unacceptable and startling flaw.

I just see it as being the way it is.”

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The 15 Top Special Needs Documentaries

From the Friendship Circle Blog

By Mingy Dworcan
October 6, 2011

Looking for some great special needs documentaries or books? Have you tried going to your local library or gone online and been overwhelmed with the thousands of books written on the subject? We try and make your life a bit easier with the Special Needs Book & Video Series.

The Special Needs Book & Video Series will be comprised of 5 posts:
In this post, we give you 15 of the best special needs documentaries available. Enjoy!

The Top 15 (In No Particular Order)

Autism: The Musical

Category: Autism

Autism: The Musical follows the extraordinary and innovative acting coach Elaine Hall, five autistic children, and their parents as they improbably, heroically mount a full-length original stage production. Through trial and error, tears and laughter, these incredible families learn to communicate their feelings in song and performance, finding solace and joy in the act of creating.

This spellbinding film offers a full-throated celebration of kids living with this increasingly prevalent disorder. It captures the individual personalities and problems of each child, from precocious Henry who talks a mile-a-minute about dinosaurs to Neal, a sensitive and articulate boy who nonetheless struggles to speak at all.

I Have Tourette's, But Tourette's Doesn't Have Me

Category: Tourette’s Syndrome

“I Have Tourette’s, But Tourette’s Doesn’t Have Me” is an insightful new family documentary that takes a candid look at the lives of several American children growing up with Tourette Syndrome.

In every school in this country, it’s likely that at least one child has Tourette’s, a neurological condition characterized by repetitive, involuntary vocal and motor tics that persist over time. Many parents and educators don’t recognize the symptoms, and often the disorder goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.

In this 30-minute documentary, over a dozen children ages 6-13 are interviewed about what it is like to grow up with Tourette Syndrome, what measures they are taking to control it, and the challenges they face in their efforts to be accepted into the social mainstream as a “normal” kid.

Normal People Scare Me

Category: Autism

Normal People Scare Me: A Film about Autism is a documentary film about autism, produced by Joey Travolta, older brother of actor John Travolta. The documentary initially began as a 10-minute short film co-directed by an autistic teenager named Taylor Cross, and his mother Keri Bowers.

Joey Travolta first met Cross at a program Travolta led teaching the art of filmmaking to children with special needs. He helped educate Cross about filmmaking, and the documentary was expanded into a feature-length film. It includes interviews with 65 people, including those that are autistic as well as friends and family. Cross asks them about their experiences with autism and how they feel about it, and elicits multiple insightful responses from his subjects.

I Can't Do This, But I Can Do That

Category: Learning Disabilities

Does having a learning disability mean that you can’t learn? Eight children prove that the answer is a definitive “No,” in this HBO Family documentary that takes an enlightening look at young people with a wide spectrum of learning differences. Interviews with kids and parents are inter-cut with scenes of the children engaged in activities that reflect their talents–painting, poetry, etc.

This 30-minute documentary takes an enlightening look at young people with a wide spectrum of learning differences; offering a compelling portrait of the ways in which these children are able to compensate by using their strengths to overcome their challenges.

From the Executive Producer, Sheila Nevins, and the director and producer, Ellen Goosenberg Kent of “I Have Tourette’s but Tourette’s Doesn’t Have Me,” this documentary is an inspiring account of children with learning differences who have discovered real abilities, and have learned to use their strengths to overcome their learning struggles.

A Mother's Courage: Talking Back to Autism

Category: Autism

Narrated by Oscar winner Kate Winslet and directed by Oscar nominee Fridrik Thor Fridriksson, this inspiring film follows one woman’s quest unlock her autistic son’s mind. Margret, whose ten-year-old son Keli is severely autistic, has tried a number of treatments to help her son. Consumed by an unquenchable thirst for knowledge about this mysterious and complex condition, she travels from her home in Iceland to the United States and Europe, meeting scientists and other experts, as well as other families touched by autism.

The stakes could not be higher: one in 110 children is diagnosed with autism every year, with boys outnumbering girls four to one. In her journey, she learns how the brains of autistic children differ from “normal” children and discovers new techniques that could offer a promising future for children with autism, including her son. She also connects with families of autistic children, who share stories of their efforts to help their kids interact with the world around them.

Educating Peter

Category: Down Syndrome

ACADEMY AWARD, Best Documentary Short. Peter Gwazdauska has Down Syndrome, and until this year he attended classes with children like himself. Educating Peter is the story of Peter’s first year in a regular classroom with normal children. The first week of classes in Mrs. Stallings’ third grade class is probably the most harrowing in the lives of many of these children. However after many tribulations and a great deal of planning, Mrs. Stallings, her students, and Peter grow to accept, trust and learn from each other.”

"You think that you’re teaching Peter things, but really Peter’s teaching you things. We might be teaching him stuff like how to do things, but he’s teaching us more how to think and how to react to other problems,” said Jill Fox, a classmate of Peter’s. This documentary is about the changes that take place over the course of the school year, as Peter, his classmates, and the teacher learn lessons that go far beyond their academic subjects.

Emmanuel's Gift

Category: Physical Disability

If you are born disabled in Ghana, West Africa you are likely to be poisoned or left to die by your family; and if not, you’re likely to be hidden away in a room; and if not, you are destined to spend your lifetime begging on the streets.

This is the story of one disabled man whose mission-and purpose- is to change all that forever. Narrated by Oprah Winfrey, the film chronicles the life of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, a young Ghanaian man born with a severely deformed right leg, who today, against incalculable odds, is opening minds, hearts and doors-and effecting social and political change throughout his country.

While Emmanuel’s message is vital: people with disabilities are valuable contributors to any society, his method is inspirational. Emmanuel begins his quest with a bicycle ride, over 600 kilometers, across Ghana with one leg-and continues to spread his vision with grit and resolve. He has been documented for over a year, with over 100 hours of powerful imagery.

The film includes original footage shot in Ghana, California, Oregon and New York, as well as photographs and other acquired film/video of Emmanuel’s early years. Through it all, they have created an intimate insight into the mind and heart of a visionary whose unforgettable journey transcends continents and cultures and becomes each of ours to share.

Wretches & Jabberers

Category: Autism

In ‘Wretches & Jabberers and Stories from the Road’, two men with autism embark on a global quest to change prevailing attitudes about disability and intelligence. With limited speech, Tracy Thresher, 42, and Larry Bissonnette, 52, both faced lives of mute isolation in mental institutions or adult disability centers. When they learned as adults to communicate by typing, their lives changed dramatically.

Their world tour message is that the same possibility exists for others like themselves. At each stop, they dissect public attitudes about autism and issue a hopeful challenge to reconsider competency and the future. Along the way, they reunite with old friends from the USA, expand the isolated world of a talented young painter and make new allies in their cause.

Misunderstood Minds

Category: Learning Disabilities

Misunderstood Minds is a captivating documentary that unreels like a topnotch drama–you’ll be on the edge of your seat while having a series of “aha” moments. The 90-minute production spends three years following five families with children who struggle with learning disabilities. One high-achieving boy’s strong memory masks his inability to read; the parents of a middle-school girl who has trouble focusing resist the solution (drugs). Not every story is a clear success, and one Boston teen slips through the cracks.

The learning-problem experts and teachers do a superb job making a complex subject (children have “expressive language deficiency” or an “output problem”) entirely understandable. Directed and produced by Frontline filmmaker Michael Kirk and narrated by Nightline correspondent Chris Bury, the show is powerful as it trains the lens on these quotable kids and their often-heartbreaking journey.

Including Samuel

Category: Inclusion

Before his son Samuel was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, photojournalist Dan Habib rarely thought about the inclusion of people with disabilities. Now he thinks about inclusion every day.

Shot and produced over four years, Habib’s award-winning documentary film, Including Samuel, chronicles the Habib family’s efforts to include Samuel in every facet of their lives. The film honestly portrays his family’s hopes and struggles as well as the experiences of four other individuals with disabilities and their families.

Including Samuel is a highly personal, passionately photographed film that captures the cultural and systemic barriers to inclusion. The film has been screened at universities, national conferences, public television stations and independent theatres across the country. Including Samuel has also been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered, Good Morning America, as well as in the Washington Post and the Boston Globe.

Darius Goes West

Category: Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy

Darius Goes West is an acclaimed independent documentary film (it won more than 28 awards!) about the first ever cross-country trip of fifteen-year-old Darius Weems, who has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, the world’s primary genetic killer of children. The goal of Darius and eleven college-age young men is to reach Los Angeles and convince MTV’s “Pimp My Ride” to customize Darius’ wheelchair. Together they learn about friendship, and the simple joys of living in this heartfelt and educational true-life story.

Not only does Darius Weems bravely face his own inevitable fate with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), but through his unflinching humor and his extraordinary laugh, he sparks a revolution in the lives of everyone who crosses–and then shares–his courageous path.Part revolution, part revelation, this film proves to people of all ages how life, even when imperfect, is always worth the ride.

Her Name Is Sabine

Category: Autism

An intelligent, moving and beautiful portrait of Sabine, a 38-year-old autistic woman, filmed by her sister, the famous French actress Sandrine Bonnaire.

Through personal footage filmed over a period of 25 years, it is revealed that Sabine’s growth and many talents were crushed by improper diagnosis and an inadequate care structure. After a tragic five-year stay in a psychiatric hospital, Sabine finally finds a new lease on life in a home together with other young people living with similar mental and emotional illnesses.

This very intimate film also sends an urgent message to a society that still does not know how to properly take care of its citizens with physical and psychological disabilities.

Loving Lampposts: Living Autistic

Category: Autism

As autism has exploded into the public consciousness over the last 20 years, two opposing questions have been asked about the condition fueling the debate: is it a devastating sickness to be cured or is it a variation of the human brain just a different way to be human?

Loving Lampposts: Living Autistic takes a look at two movements: the recovery movement, which views autism as a tragic epidemic brought on by environmental toxins and the neurodiversity movement, which argues that autism should be accepted and that autistic people should be supported. After his son s diagnosis, filmmaker Todd Drezner, visits the front lines of the autism wars to learn more about the debate and provide information about a condition that is still difficult to comprehend. This film is a great learning tool.

Dakota's Pride

Category: Down Syndrome

Dakota’s Pride is a heartwarming documentary about a father’s search for the truth about Down Syndrome. Tough questions are posed to and answered by a noted Harvard physician, and parents of children with Down Syndrome. The answers are surprising and inspiring.

In addition to being informative, this documentary celebrates the successes that have been and can be achieved by individuals with Down Syndrome. Dakota’s Pride has been aired on PBS and is a must see for anyone. This family-friendly director’s cut has 45 minutes of bonus track footage, and ten extra minutes of running time.

A Moving Journey: ABC 20/20

Category: Cerebral Palsy

ABC News correspondent Bob Brown profiles the remarkable Bill Porter of Portland, Oregon. Born with cerebral palsy, Porter nonetheless became a door-to-door salesman in Portland, struggling up to 10 miles a day on foot while selling household products for the Watkins Company.

Friendly and persistent, in time Porter became the top grossing Watkins salesman in the United States. His story was told in the 2002 TNT cable movie Door To Door, with actor William H. Macy as Porter and Kyra Sedgwick as Porter’s friend and assistant, Shelly Brady.

Free Talk 11/27: The Road To An IEP

An Invitation from Commonwealth Learning Center

The road to an IEP can be long and frustrating, and without help, many parents get lost in the confusion. Abby Hanscom will provide a detailed description of the IEP process. She will also examine many reasons why parents may seek to get services for their child, the steps that are followed, the special education laws that govern the process and, perhaps most importantly, the planning and execution of the IEP.

Presenter: Abby Hanscom, Director of Student Services
                     Westwood Public Schools

When:         7:30pm, Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Where:       Commonwealth Learning Center
                     220 Reservoir Street, Suite 6
                     Needham, MA 02494

RSVP for this free event by calling 1-800-461-6671, or email info@commlearn.com. For directions, please call at 781-444-5193, or visit our website. Look HERE for more information.

About Abby Hanscom

Abby Hanscom has a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from the University of Massachusetts, a Master’s degree in Special Education, a Master’s degree in social work from Boston University, and a CAGS in Educational Administration from the University of Massachusetts Boston. In addition, she serves as an adjunct faculty member at Lesley University.

About Commonwealth Learning Center

Learning Differently. Teaching Differently. Succeeding.

Established in 1988, the Stratford Foundation Inc is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization supporting the Commonwealth Learning Center, Professional Training Institute, and Commonwealth Learning Online Institute. Our mission is to be a valuable educational resource for the community through one-to-one instruction and multi-sensory professional development.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Mindfulness and ADHD

From CHADD - Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

By Mark Katz, Ph.D.
November 16, 2012

Can simple mindfulness practices, when mastered, help adults with ADHD reach their goals, manage their emotions, and enjoy more productive lives?

Indeed they can, says Psychiatrist Lidia Zylowska, M.D., and she should know.

A California psychiatrist recognized nationally for her expertise in both adult ADHD treatment and mindfulness training, Zylowska helped create UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Program for ADHD (MAPS), an eight-session mindfulness-based treatment model for adolescents and adults with ADHD. She also led the first study of mindfulness training in ADHD.

Initial outcome results are promising. A majority of participants reported decreased ADHD symptoms, decreased anxiety, depression, and stress, and an improved ability to pay attention under distracting conditions.

Additional studies are planned with more stringent controls to corroborate these findings; for example, a replication study is currently being conducted at Duke University by John Mitchell, Ph.D. Zylowska’s MAPS model was also recently piloted with eight-to-twelve-year-old children with ADHD, with positive results.

Mindfulness and Attention

What does it mean to be mindful? "It’s about being less distracted and bringing our attention to aspects of the present moment," says Zylowska. "It is also about having an open, nonjudgmental attitude when mindfully observing what is."

It sounds simple, but it’s not. As with learning any number of new skills, mindfulness involves practice. But with practice comes mastery, and with mastery, a variety of benefits follow. Research shows that simple mindfulness practices not only reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and attentional difficulties, they can even help us regulate our emotions.

Through mindfulness people with ADHD develop "meta-awareness," the ability to not only be aware of their attention, but to monitor and remember where it goes. The ability to notice where our attention wanders actually increases our ability to redirect it to where we want it to be.

"Even when lost in the moment, with mindfulness you usually won’t stay lost too long," says Zylowska. "You’ve trained yourself to become more aware of your attention, and so you’ll be better able to recognize these moments so that you can shift your focus should you choose to do so."

Mindful Self-Coaching

While external strategies often play an important role in helping adults with ADHD successfully reach their goals, the practice of mindfulness focuses on strengthening internal resources, or our "mindful self-coaching voice." This voice is based in having a curious and nonjudgmental attitude, especially when observing one’s ADHD patterns.

Zylowska observes that people with ADHD often have little difficulty embracing a curious mindset. Many, however, have lived lives burdened by negative, self-critical thoughts about themselves and their capabilities. It’s not easy to immediately switch to a non-judgmental mindset, but people who have struggled their whole lives with ADHD can indeed make the switch. As with other mindfulness tools, says Zylowska, this kinder, gentler attitude with oneself (and in turn with others) takes practice.

By mastering the skills outlined in the eight-step MAPS model, adults with ADHD learn how to use their mindful self-coaching voice to successfully navigate through their day. "A mindful self-coaching voice is supportive, compassionate and encouraging, void of self-criticism and harsh personal judgments," says Zylowska. "At the heart of mindfulness training is acceptance."

"A mindful self-coaching voice is supportive, compassionate and encouraging, void of self-criticism and harsh personal judgments. At the heart of mindfulness training is acceptance."

For people with ADHD who have spent years trying to will away their troublesome ADHD characteristics, and who have spent just as much time beating themselves up when unable to do so, the notion of acceptance comes as a welcome relief.

Zylowska observes that through mindfulness training, people with ADHD can learn to accept themselves and to embrace their strengths and their challenges. The acceptance then forms a basis for increasing ability to make a positive change.

Zylowska finds that when adults with ADHD learn to become mindfully aware they are less driven by outside distractions or by inner reactions. They also learn to have better self-regulation skills. They become better able to notice an impulse arising without acting on it. They also gain skills in managing strong emotions. She says this can turn frustrating experiences into moments of empowerment.

Improving Self-Regulation Skills

During his keynote presentation at the 2010 CHADD conference in Atlanta, Russell Barkley, Ph.D. spoke of self-regulatory strength as a limited resource pool. The more we’re called upon to control and regulate ourselves, the more likely we are to deplete our self-regulatory fuel tank.

This may help explain why people who have to work much harder than others to manage their emotions and control their behavior can feel so depleted after a day at school or at work.

"The more we’re called upon to control and regulate ourselves, the more likely we are to deplete our self-regulatory fuel tank. This may explain why people who have to work much harder than others to manage their emotions and control their behavior feel so depleted after a day at school or at work."

Replenishing that self-regulatory tank is thus important for people with ADHD, says Barkley. But how do we do that? One way, says Zylowska, is through mindfulness training.

Even brief moments of pausing and taking a few deeper breaths can interrupt the stress response and help us to recharge. In addition, meta-awareness and mindful self-coaching can improve self-regulation skills, or shift the way we respond to stressful or taxing situations.

We can, for example, more readily notice emotions that can potentially overwhelm us and deal with them more compassionately and also proactively.

We can also become better at catching ourselves acting out of an impulse, such as interrupting someone who is speaking, so our communications become more effective. This can turn frustrating experiences into moments of empowerment.

Mindfulness is ADHD-Friendly

Zylowska is the first to acknowledge that helping people with ADHD spend more time in the present sounds counter-intuitive. After all, it’s time spent in the present that often prevents people with ADHD from attending to future goals.

In actuality, though, being more aware of the moment is very different than being stuck in the moment. It’s this increased awareness that actually makes it easier to choose where to focus our attention, says Zylowska.

Zylowska finds that people with ADHD can benefit from mindfulness practices simply by incorporating these practices into their day. For those wishing to do so, she wrote a guide describing eight easy-to-follow steps, each explained in detail in her recently published book, The Mindfulness Prescription for Adult ADHD: An 8-Step Program for Strengthening Attention, Managing Emotions, and Achieving Your Goals (Trumpeter Books, 2012).

Material is drawn directly from UCLA’s MAPS model.

Steps one through three provide tools for training attentional control skills and for focusing on the present moment. Steps four through eight provide tools for learning how to observe and manage thoughts, feelings, and actions. Steps are arranged in sequential fashion. Skills taught in step two, for example, build upon skills mastered in step one.

Zylowska recommends spending one to two weeks mastering the skills in one step before moving on to the next. One to two weeks is a recommendation, however; she encourages people to go at their own pace. The book also includes a free audio CD of guided meditation instructions that correspond to specific exercises.

Readers who wish to exchange ideas on mindfulness and ADHD may visit the book's Facebook page. Zylowska is scheduled to present an institute on mindfulness and ADHD with colleague Mark Bertin, M.D., at CHADD’s upcoming international conference in San Francisco.

The Eight-Step Program in Mindfulness for ADHD

Here is an overview of the mindfulness training program developed at UCLA by Lidia Zylowska, M.D.
  • Step 1 - Become More Present: Attention and the Five Senses
  • Step 2 - Focus and Wandering Mind: Mindful Breathing
  • Step 3 - Direct and Anchor Your Awareness: Mindfulness of Sound, Breath, and Body
  • Step 4 - Listen to Your Body: Mindfulness of Body Sensations and Movement
  • Step 5 - Observe Your Mind: Mindfulness of Thoughts
  • Step 6 - Manage Your Emotions: Mindfulness of Emotions
  • Step 7 - Communicate Skillfully: Mindful Listening and Speaking
  • Step 8 - Slow Down to Be More Effective: Mindful Decisions and Actions

About Dr. Mark Katz

A clinical and consulting psychologist, Mark Katz is the director of Learning Development Services, an educational, psychological and neuropsychological center located in San Diego. He is a contributing editor to Attention magazine and a member of its editorial advisory board, a former member of CHADD’s professional advisory board, and a recipient of the CHADD Hall of Fame Award.

The Brain in Numbers, Colors and... Wow!

November 17, 2012

An amazing picture by Dwayne Godwin and Jorge Cham from Ph.D. Comics. Click HERE for the full-size image just published at the Scientific American site. Definitely worth seeing in its hi-res glory!

Dwayne Godwin is a neuroscientist at Wake Forest School of Medicine. Jorge Cham draws the comic strip Piled Higher and Deeper at www.phdcomics.com.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Demographics isn't destiny. Vocabulary is destiny.

From the Core Knowledge Blog

by Robert Pondiscio
October 8, 2012

“There is strong evidence that increasing the general knowledge and vocabulary of a child before age six is the single highest correlate with later success.”

There’s a must-read piece in the New York Times by Ginia Bellafante about language, poverty and academic achievement. The article is ostensibly about the controversy over admissions to New York City’s specialized high schools, including Stuyvesant High and Bronx Science.

But Bellafante wisely traces the problem back to its origins and the systemic advantage of growing up in a hyper-verbal upscale Manhattan home.

“It is difficult to overstate the advantages arrogated to a child whose parent proceeds in a near constant mode of annotation. Reflexively, the affluent, ambitious parent is always talking, pointing out, explaining: Mommy is looking for her laptop; let’s put on your rain boots; that’s a pigeon, a sand dune, skyscraper, a pomegranate. The child, in essence, exists in continuous receipt of dictation.”

Low-income homes? Not so much.

Bellafante describes a conversation with the founder of the Ascend Learning Charter School network, which serves largely low-income black children in Brooklyn. “I asked him what he considered the greatest challenge on the first day of kindergarten each year,” Bellafante writes. “He answered, without a second’s hesitation: ‘Word deficit.’”

 "The greatest challenge on the first day of kindergarten each year? Word deficit.”

She cites the now-familiar (hopefully) Hart and Risley study that demonstrated profound deficits in the number of words heard by children growing up in poverty in the first years of life.

She also cites E.D. Hirsch’s observation that “there is strong evidence that increasing the general knowledge and vocabulary of a child before age six is the single highest correlate with later success” [my emphasis].

In short, demographics is not destiny. But vocabulary just might be.

Note that Hirsch cited “general knowledge AND vocabulary.” Before we convert early childhood education into extended vocabulary enhancement exercises with word lists to be memorized, it’s essential to understand how big vocabularies are created. We don’t learn words through memorization, but by repeated exposure to unfamiliar words in context, and general knowledge is context.

My Core Knowledge colleague Alice Wiggins uses the example of the unfamiliar word “excrescence.” You probably don’t know what it means, so here it is in a sentence:

“To calculate fuel efficiency, the aerospace engineers needed an accurate estimation of excrescence drag caused by the shape of plane’s cabin.”

Not helping? Here’s another:

“Excrescences on the valves of the heart have been known to cause a stroke.”

After two exposures, you might have a vague understanding of the word. Another sentence enables you to check your understanding, or refine your definition.

“The wart, a small excrescence on his skin, had made Jeremy self-conscious for years.”

By now, you probably have a pretty solid understanding of what an excrescence is. One more sentence should verify it.

“At the far end of the meadow was what, at first glance, I thought a huge domed building, and then saw was an excrescence from the cliff itself."

I never gave you the definition, or asked you to look it up. But you figured the word excrescence means an abnormal projection or outgrowth.

This is an accelerated example of how we acquire new words: by intuitively guessing new meanings as we understand the overall gist of what we are hearing or reading. But critically, think of all the words and knowledge you already had that enabled you to learn the new word. You know about engineers and strokes and warts. You didn’t have to stop and wonder what “fuel efficiency” and “aerospace” and “self-conscious” mean. You’re already rich in knowledge and vocabulary and you just got a little richer.

A child without that background knowledge hearing the same sentences would not learn the knew word and would fall a little further behind his more verbal peers. Thank or blame the insidious “Matthew Effect.” Bellafante’s excellent piece makes the same point implicitly with its description of the three-year-old child who understands what an upholsterer does and that the piece of furniture in his apartment is called an “ottoman.”

“All of this would seem to argue for a system in which we spent ever more of our energies and money on early, preschool education rather than less,” concludes Bellafante.

Yes, but let’s be VERY clear: What is needed to close the verbal gap is not just preschool. Not even “high quality” preschool.

What is needed is high-quality preschool that drenches low-income learners in the language-rich, knowledge-rich environment that their more fortunate peers live in every hour of every day from the moment they come home from the delivery room.

Robert Pondiscio, Director of Communications at Core Knowledge®,
speaks about the fundamentals behind the Common Core State Standards
at the 2012 Author Event for NYC Educators in New York, N.Y.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

What Kids Need to Succeed: Executive Functions and Homework

A Special Presentation by NESCA Director Dr. Ann Helmus and Dr. Bonnie Singer, CEO of Architects for Learning

After a long day at school, even the most organized and capable students may find it challenging to settle down, finish their homework and get it to where it needs to go.

Parents face the daunting task of providing support while attempting to determine what actually helps their children succeed.

In this complimentary talk, Drs. Helmus and Singer will discuss the ways in which executive functions influence students’ ability to tackle their homework, introduce an effective model for helping students of all ages manage it successfully, and explore how parents can nurture their children’s planning, organization, and self-monitoring skills so necessary for long-term academic success.

When:    7:00 – 9:00pm, Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Where:   Architects for Learning
                    160 Gould Street, Suite 203
                    Needham Heights, MA 02494

This presentation is free! Seating is limited and advance registration is required. RSVP to Olivia Miller at Architects for Learning, by calling 781-235-8412, Option 2 or by email to office@architectsforlearning.com.

About the Speakers

Bonnie Singer, Ph.D., CCC-SLP is the CEO of Architects for Learning and an expert in language, literacy, and learning. Her research focuses on developing teaching methods that help students organize their approach to performing complex tasks and take charge of their own learning.

Ann Helmus, Ph.D. is the director of NESCA (Neuropsychology and Education Services for Children and Adolescents).

Her expertise lies in evaluating children challenged by learning disabilities, neurological disorders, attention deficits, and weak executive function skills as well as providing consultation and training to public and private schools.

Dyslexia Untied - Reading Disabilities: 50 Useful Apps For Students

From Learning Link Technologies - Judy Hanning's Blog

By Judy Hanning
October 22, 2012

Learning disabilities in children can be difficult for teachers and parents to cope with, especially with talented children. New technology can always be used to assist in teaching children, even children with disabilities.

This article outlines some awesome apps for iPad which can help children – with or without learning disabilities – how to read. These apps cover a broad range, from writing and spelling to reading. They really make the learning process fun and interactive.

Whether you’re the parent of a child with a reading disability or an educator that works with learning disabled students on a daily basis, you’re undoubtedly always looking for new tools to help these bright young kids meet their potential and work through their disability.

While there are numerous technologies out there that can help, perhaps one of the richest is the iPad, which offers dozens of applications designed to meet the needs of learning disabled kids and beginning readers alike.

Here, we highlight just a few of the amazing apps out there that can help students with a reading disability improve their skills not only in reading, writing, and spelling, but also get a boost in confidence and learn to see school as a fun, engaging activity, not a struggle.

Helpful Tools

These tools are useful for both educators and students with reading disabilities alike, aiding in everything from looking up a correct spelling to reading text out loud.

Speak It!: Speak It! is a great text-to-speech solution that can allow students with reading disabilities to get a little help with reading when they need it.

Talk to Me: Talk to Me is another text to speech application. It can be used to read words out loud as they are typed, which can help students to better correlate the letters and words with how they’re pronounced.

Dragon Dictation: Dragon Dictation works in reverse of the two apps we just listed. Instead of reading text out loud, the application writes down spoken text. For students who struggle with writing, it can be a great way for them to jot down ideas or get help learning.

Dyslexic Like Me: Explaining dyslexia to a child can be hard, but this application can make it a little easier. It’s an interactive children’s book that helps students to understand dyslexia and become empowered to overcome their learning disability.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary: If spelling is a problem, it’s always a good idea to have a really great dictionary on hand. This app from Merriam-Webster can provide that.

Ditionary.com: If Dictionary.com is your go-to place for definitions and spelling help, this app can be a great way to bring that functionality to your iPad or iPhone.

Prizmo: With Prizmo, users can scan in any kind of text document and have the program read it out loud, which can be a big help to those who struggle with reading.

Flashcards for iPad: This app makes it easy to study words, spelling, and other things that young and LD readers might need help with.

Soundnote: Using Soundnote, you can record drawings, notes, and audio all at once, balancing reading-based skills with those that are auditory and visual.


These apps help teach the fundamentals of reading, writing, and spelling to any young learner, but can be especially helpful for those who are struggling.

Alphabet Zoo: Alphabet Zoo is a great tool for helping young readers to recognize letter sounds. Using text and pictures of animals, kids can build their reading skills while having fun.

Find the Letters HD: A favorite of special education teachers and psychologists, this app asks learners to find letters and numbers in a coloring grid. It helps build skills in spatial positioning, depth orientation, form discrimination, and concentration and attention.

First Words Sampler: Preschoolers with a reading disability can get a head start on improving their skills with this app that teaches them about letters and words using fun graphics and sounds.

Montessori Crosswords: Embrace the Montessori method by using this app to help youngsters improve their spelling and reading skills through engaging phonics-based exercises.

Read & Write :Students can practice reading and writing letters using this application. Users can trace letters, learn letter sounds, and get illustrations to go along with each part of the alphabet.

Sound Literacy: With a portion of the proceeds from this app going to the Dyslexia Association, there’s no reason not to sign on. Even better, the app is incredibly useful, employing the Orton-Gillingham method to help students recognize the spellings of English phonemes.

weesay ABC: Using pictures, words, and sounds, this application makes it easy for young students to practice and learn their ABCs.

abc PocketPhonics: This app is a great tool for teaching reading disabled students the fundamentals of letter sounds and shapes.

The Writing Machine: By correlating pictures and words, reading text, sounding out letters, this tool helps students develop early literacy abilities with greater ease.

WordSort: One of the top educational apps out there, this game helps kids to learn how to identify parts of speech, like nouns, adverbs, and verbs, as well as emphasizing grammar skills.

ABC Phonics Word Families: Using analogy phonics (or word families) this application teaches young learners to see and hear the patterns of commonality in a set of words. With flashcards, spelling words, scrambled words, and games, this app is a must-have for helping students.


These excellent iPad apps can be a big help to reading disabled students who need a little extra support when trying to read.

Blio: Blio offers all the same features of any basic e-reader, and also a few things that make it unique. Through synchronized highlighting and a serial presentation view, the app helps those with reading disabilities make sense of the text, something many other similar apps don’t offer.

Read 2 Me: For those who have difficulty reading, apps like Read 2 Me can be a godsend. The app comes complete with an entire library of texts, all of which can be read out loud.

Read2Go: If you use DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System) books in your classroom, Read2Go is one of the best and most accessible ways to read those books on iOS.

AppWriter: Designed with reading and writing disabilities in mind, this text editor for iPad integrates numerous accessibility features into standard text editing functionality.

Audiobooks: Sometimes students with reading disabilities might just want a break from reading books the old fashioned way. That’s why this amazing collection of free audiobooks can come in handy, offering access to classics like Romeo and Juliet andTreasure Island.

Bob’s Books: Bob’s Books uses phonics-based interactive games to help kids learn how to read. Activities will help young learners to sound out words, spell, and make connections between letters and sounds.

iStoryTime: There are numerous titles to choose from in the iStoryTime series, all of which allow kids to have the book read to them or to get help reading it themselves.

MeeGenius! Kids’ Books: MeeGenius is another series that’s perfect for practicing reading skills. Those with trouble reading can use illustrations and helpful word highlighting to get help, or just have the book read to them until they’re confident enough to do it on their own.

Reading Trainer: While this app is designed to help average readers boost their reading speed and ability, it can be useful to those who struggle as well, as many of the skills taught can help just about anyone become a more confident reader.

See Read Say: This application will help to ensure that young learners are familiar with all of the Dolch sight words (the most common words), using games, activities, and tons of practice.

Stories2Learn: Why use existing stories to help troubled readers when you can build your own? This application lets you develop your own text and audio stories, including messages, topics, and other things that can help keep kids interested.

eReading series: The eReading series from Brain Integration LLC, helps young readers at all levels of proficiency learn about topics like Greek Mythology andGulliver’s Travels. Users can have the book read to them, or practice reading without the help, too.


For those with reading disabilities, sometimes writing can also be a trying task. Here are some apps that can help teach, assist, and make writing more fun.

iWrite Words: Named by The Washington Post as one of the best apps for special needs kids, this game-based program helps youngsters learn to write their letters through a fun and engaging setup that uses illustrations and animations to keep things interesting.

AlphaWriter: Using Montessori-based learning methods, this application helps kids to learn how to read, write, and spell phonetically. It also teaches lessons on consonants and vowels, letter sounds, writing stories, and much more.

Sentence Builder: Through this application, elementary school children will learn how to build grammatically correct sentences, with a special focus on using connector words.

Story Builder: After kids are done learning how to build sentences, they can move onto this app which combines those sentences into one coherent story, complete with illustrations.

Writing Prompts: Having trouble thinking of things for students to write about? This app removes that roadblock and offers up numerous ideas for short writing assignments.

Idea Sketch: This mind-mapping app can help learning disabled students make sense of their ideas and organize them in ways that they can easily translate into written work.

Storyrobe: Teachers and students can build and share their own unique stories through this application. Integration with YouTube and email makes it easy to share and revise, too.


These applications can be excellent tools for improving spelling skills.

American Wordspeller: Looking up a word in a dictionary isn’t that simple if you have no idea how to spell it. This app removes that problem and employs a method that lets you much more easily pinpoint how to spell just about any word.

Word Magic: Created by the parents of a five-year-old, this app for young learners help kids learn words and how to spell them correctly. It uses lots of positive reinforcement, rewards, and fun pictures to keep things interesting to learners.

Typ-O: Poor spellers can rejoice over this great application that help you spell words correctly in any typing-related program on your iPhone or iPad.

A1 Spelling App: This application is a great way to help poor spellers begin to learn the correct spelling of common words, increasing difficulty as kids master words.

iSpell Word: iSpell Word is designed to help kids learn the spellings of simple English words. It uses games to teach, with each level of the game employing more difficult words so kids are always challenged.

Jumbline: If you’re looking to make reading, writing, and spelling into a game, this app can help. It’s full of word games that ask players to use speed, smarts, pattern recognition, and spelling skills to win.

Spelling Bee Challenge: Kids can have fun taking part in a mock spelling bee using this application that boosts both spelling and vocab skills.

Word Fall: In this educational game, words fall from the sky and players must collect letters to form basic words.

WordLadder: This highly challenging word game will get older readers thinking about how words are spelled and how they can be connected and changed to form new words.

ACT Spell: Developed especially for learners with disabilities and special needs, this tool helps develop motor control, word recognition, spelling, and reading skills.

Word Wizard: Lauded by The New York Times, this word-focused app lets kids hear the sounds of letters and words through a movable alphabet while also engaging them in spelling practice and games.