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dyslexia

Bridging Brain Research and Dyslexia Awareness

Blog Type:  Learning Disabilities Date Posted:  Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Submitted by Nadine Gaab, PhD., and Elizabeth Norton, PhD.

As scientists who study reading difficulties and developmental dyslexia, we hope that one day, we will be out of business. That is, we hope that one day, we will all understand the causes of reading difficulties, be able to identify children at risk early, know how to best diagnose a reading difficulty, and know which remediation strategy is best for every single child. Most importantly, we hope that one day all children will enjoy learning to read and reading to learn. We are not there yet, though.

Parents and teachers often ask us how our research can be translated into practice. We can promise you that we are working hard but we need more time to answer all your questions. So far, our research has given us some promising clues. For example, we have shown that preschool children who have a parent or an older sibling with dyslexia already show differences in their brain structure and function, even before they receive any reading instruction. These changes can also be seen in children who struggle with letters and certain pre-reading tasks in kindergarten. These findings suggest that children with dyslexia may have characteristic brain changes either from birth or that develop very early in life. This fact only underlines that identification and intervention need to happen as early as possible. In another area of research, our colleagues have shown that the brain basis of reading is the same whether or not there is a discrepancy between an individual’s IQ and reading ability. This will hopefully inform diagnostic criteria, and allow more children who have trouble reading to get intervention. These are just two of the areas we are learning more about through our research, and we always have more to learn.

In addition to continuing our research, we are working hard to share all the knowledge we have with the families, teachers, principals and the volunteers who work with us in these studies. We are creating an open dialogue that has mutual benefits for the research and the participating families, as well as informs clinical and educational interests. We are not researchers that waltz in to a school, collect data, and then return to an ivory tower. We are involved with our partner schools, teaching professional development sessions for the staff and brain awareness days for the children. We set up information booths at community events and frequently speak with parent groups and advocacy organizations. For families who participate in our studies, we provide reports of their child’s reading assessments and when necessary, referrals to schools and organizations that work with individuals with reading difficulties. We are doing our best to inform, to communicate, to translate and to disseminate our knowledge, and we will keep going until every child reads well.

Learn more: The Gaab Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital: http://www.childrenshospital.org/research-and-innovation/research-labs/gaab-laboratory The Gabrieli Lab in the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT: http://gablab.mit.edu/index.php/participate

nadine gaab headshot

Nadine Gaab, PhD., is an assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Boston Children’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School, Principal Researcher at the Gaab Laboratory, member of the faculty at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and faculty adjunct at Brandeis University.

elizabeth norton headshot

Elizabeth Norton, PhD., Gabrieli Lab in the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, READstudy and former Landmark School science teacher.

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Tags:  Boston Children’s Hospital brain structure and function Brandeis University developmental dyslexia dyslexia Elizabeth Norton Gaab Laboratory Gabrieli Lab in the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT Harvard Graduate School of Education Harvard Medical School IQ kindergarten Landmark School Nadine Gaab PhD pre-reading professional development reading ability reading assessment reading difficulties READstudy research siblings

Holden Caulfield and Me

Blog Type:  Social and Emotional Issues Date Posted:  Thursday, October 10, 2013

Submitted by Rachel Urbonas, Landmark School Senior, writing to the late J.D. Salinger after having read The Catcher in the Rye

Dear Mr. Salinger,

When I was first assigned your novel, The Catcher in the Rye, I was expecting another bland piece of literature said to be a ‘classic must read’ that I would have to force myself to interpret. However, I had no idea that this book (written before I was born) could paint such an accurate picture of my life. I felt an immediate connection towards Holden Caulfield, a mirror image of myself. Holden, struggling to feel like he belongs in the world, connected with me on a deep level. I was diagnosed with dyslexia at a young age, which made me feel like I was different – an outcast. I no longer felt like an equal to my friends and classmates. In my eyes, I was a lesser person and I didn't belong.

Holden tells his history teacher, he's trapped on “the other side” of life – a world which he feels he does not belong in. When I was younger, I struggled in school, I struggled with friendships and acceptance: always searching for a social group where I wouldn't be called stupid or retarded. The burden of needing to belong was always in the back of my mind. Years after being diagnosed, I was told I would be transferring into a new school for dyslexic children. I was terrified. I lost countless nights of sleep stressing over how I would not make friends and that I was still going to be an outcast. My whole life was about to change.

Similarly to Holden's character, I hated change. It was as if everything I knew was being ripped away from my grasp and I could do nothing except watch. For self protection, I isolated myself from others – a similar tactic Holden used. Going into a new school as an eighth-grader was difficult. Everyone had known each other for years and I was just entering their world, alone. I spent countless days crying and beating myself up for things I couldn't change. I was mad at myself for being this way. I hid, staying clear of new people, pitying my own impairment.

I needed to grow up, to realize that feeling sorry for myself wasn't going to change anything. Holden faced the same fears. Holden envisions his superficiality of adulthood, believing that the world is filled with “phonies” or “shallow” people. Before I changed schools, I put myself into the same mindset just because I was angry. I thought it was other people's fault for being the way I was; therefore, giving me an excuse to isolate myself. Holden held on to his childish thoughts about sex and relationships as I held on to my childish thoughts that everyone should feel bad for me and let me slide through life just because of my dyslexia. I soon came to realize that my insecurities about my disability were what set me apart from others. All the self doubt and criticism pushed me to prove myself wrong. I found passion in writing. Even sending this letter to you contradicts something people said I could never do: write.

No one knows the outcome of Holden's decision at the end of the book; to stay and face his problems or run away. I was facing a similar dilemma; to let my disability defeat me or attack it head on. Now I see that my dyslexia is what makes me unique. I no longer think that I have to “belong” in a group or be categorized by my abilities and weaknesses. I no longer isolate myself from situations in which I feel uncomfortable, but attack them head on, ready for any curve ball thrown my way. I am able to say that I have experienced difficulties first-hand that most kids can never fathom. I now understand that being different is what makes people special. I will take this lesson with me, holding off judgments and keeping an open mind.

Thank you Mr. Salinger for helping me see that.

Sincerely, Rachel Urbonas

 

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Tags:  dyslexia jd salinger catcher in the rye

A Voice for Dyslexia

Date Posted:  Friday, April 4, 2014

Submitted by Deborah Lynam

One of the first things a parent discovers as we begin the journey to learn about dyslexia and to find resources for our children is that there are two distinct worlds. The first is that of the learning disability (LD) community — dyslexia conferences, LD workshops, webinars, and research-based discussions. We read the books, the research papers, and the educational reports. We begin to understand the brain-based science that shows proper intervention can re-wire a struggling reader's brain to more effectively activate its language centers. This is the world that brings us hope and offers our children solutions.

Unfortunately, often times our children are educated in a very different world, that of public schools. It is here where we encounter many roadblocks and have to maneuver around many obstacles. Often times we have to work with intervention teams that do not understand dyslexia and therefore leave our children to languish in inappropriate interventions for years before referrals to special education were made.

It is time for public schools in the US to catch up with the current research. Good things are happening across the country in private schools and intervention clinics focused on students with learning disabilities. Research based interventions are in use, and educators are knowledgeable about what strategies work and what techniques are effective. Yet it is so sad that in spite of this research, children have to spend six hours of each day in a classroom that is not in tune to their needs. This is wasted time. This is precious time lost.

In the state of NJ, like-minded parents connected to form Decoding Dyslexia - NJ (DDNJ), a grassroots movement driven by families of dyslexic children. The mission is to raise dyslexia awareness, empower families with information and resources to support their children, and inform policy-makers about dyslexia, and the need to identify, remediate, and support students with dyslexia in New Jersey’s public school system.

This mission is one that has clearly resonated with parents across the country… the movement is growing at an astounding pace. At the beginning of the new year just a few states had parent led DD Movements. However, things have expanded and now 20 states are active!

Decoding Dyslexia members are connecting and collaborating with professionals, therapists, teachers, and policy-makers in their states. We aim to change the way things are done in schools by encouraging families to share their stories. Individual stories, when shared in unison, have power and Decoding Dyslexia is encouraging families to find their voices.

The time is ripe for families across the country to speak up about dyslexia. There is currently a bi-partisan Congressional Dyslexia Caucus in place in Washington DC. Congress will be looking to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in the near future and states are adapting to the new Common Core Content Standards. We need to ensure that discussions on improving literacy programs for dyslexics are included on all fronts. As parents we need to insist that this gap between research and practice is addressed!

deborah lynam headshot

Deborah Lynam is a parent and member of Decoding Dyslexia – NJ

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Tags:  brain-based science Common Core Content Standards Congressional Dyslexia Caucus Decoding Dyslexia dyslexia dyslexia awareness Elementary and Secondary Education Act empower families ESEA IDEA Individuals with Disabilities Education Act intervention language center literacy policy makers public education remediate

Debate = Empowerment

Blog Type:  Learning Date Posted:  Thursday, May 14, 2015

Submitted by Caleb Koufman

landmark high school debate

When most people imagine the extracurriculars offered at a school for students with language-based learning disabilities​, such as dyslexia​, debate club is usually not among them. Just like any presumptions about their disabilities, though, students ​where I work as a teacher ​proved this one wrong, too.

It is my job to encourage students to question lessons and provoke discussions in a polite and articulate nature​ despite whatever learning difference they may have.​ ​After persistent student requests, and a bit of uncertainty on the part of the faculty, senior faculty member Bruce Stoddard and I started a debate team as an extracurricular activity at the school.

Junior ​William Cassilly and Sophomore ​Kenneth Deluze comprised the first-ever​ debate team ​at Landmark School​. It was such a pleasure to witness any anxieties about debating melt during the initial speeches. Suddenly, finding their confidence, Kenny started slamming his fist onto the desk in front of him like a Manhattan courtroom lawyer as he accused the other team of conceding a point that they forgot to address, and Liam calmly and inquisitively cross-examined his opponent like a Southern legislator before making his final arguments during the final focus. ​

Despite what most people may think about students who inherently struggle with language, these students ​can be uniquely​ skilled at the most important aspects of debate.

​They value presentation and preparation and authentically appeal to judges. With strong verbal and logical reasoning, our debaters are able to diminish the effect of their learning disabilities and present a strong and confident demeanor at the podium. ​Despite their challenges with reading and writing, many of our students ​often ​have an affinity for compelling public speech and the ​new debate club allows ​them​ to realize this. ​ ​

The experience of learning how to debate requires acquiring new skills that are often outside of any student’s comfort zone. In general, most people dread public speaking. But debating also requires knowledge of how to take notes in shorthand and write persuasive cases that cite scholars, scientists, advocates, lawyers, judges, politicians, literature, and legislature. The most important part of debate, though, is the experience of confronting an intimidating challenge and succeeding. Debate is empowering to students, and we hope to watch the program grow in the future to incorporate more people with varying levels of experience.

This week we will be attending our​ third official debate at a competitive private school nearby. ​The topic is whether or not high schools, universities, and professional sports teams should ban the use of ethnic group images such as mascots and team names. There's no telling who will win or lose but the debate is sure to be inspiring, competitive, and the start of a new and exciting tradition.

caleb koufman headshot

Caleb Koufman is a faculty member at Landmark High School.

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Tags:  Caleb Koufman compelling public speech confidence debate debate club disabilities dread public speaking dyslexia empowerment exciting tradition extracurricular activities Landmark School language-based learning disabilities learning differences logical reasoning persuasive cases

Dancing in the Rain

Blog Type:  Teaching Date Posted:  Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Submitted by Amy Ruocco

andrew ruocco dancing

We are all faced with challenges in life, but how successfully we navigate through those challenges largely depends on how capable we view ourselves to be. Dyslexic children learn fairly early on that their peers are able to conquer tasks that are seemingly insurmountable to them. Even the brightest students find themselves shirking opportunities to participate in class for fear of being wrong or worse, different. Unfortunately, many of these students find themselves focusing all their energy on their weaknesses. Unless these children are allowed to also celebrate their strengths, they will find it hard to develop confidence in their own abilities.

Our son Andrew is a very bright, inquisitive, little guy, but not long after beginning first grade, we noticed his light was dimming. His love of school first turned into like, but after a while, it turned into dread. It wasn’t until Andrew began going to Landmark that we saw his light begin to return. Day by day, we felt our son was coming back to us.

One day after school, Andrew was especially eager to ask me something. As soon as he saw me he said “Mom, Landmark is having a talent show. Can I do it?” Of course, I said yes immediately. Naturally, I assumed he would choose to play the guitar, since he had been doing so since the age of four. However, when asked, he replied, “Nope, I want to dance.” “Dance, did he really just say he wanted to dance?” Since dancing was something Andrew would have previously avoided out of fear of embarrassment, I asked again for clarification. Of course, he confirmed that I had heard him correctly and began deciding what form of dance to perform. At that moment, I was both thrilled and scared to death. Here we were. Andrew was finally feeling at home again. He felt smart and liked and... happy. Although I feared what could happen if Andrew’s performance was not, shall we say, appreciated, I feared more what would happen if we did not support his decision.

The day of the performance, my hands were sweating and my heart was in my stomach. “Please let this go well,” I kept telling myself. Andrew proudly stepped out on the stage and began to dance. The more he danced, the more I relaxed, because I knew that Andrew was truly confident and happy. He finally felt safe enough to put himself out there in front of his peers and fortunately, they did not let him down. The support Andrew received that day was absolutely amazing. In fact, I would call it life-changing and he would too.

No one is able to get through life without challenge. In fact, many times, the challenges we face allow us to discover our strengths. Children, however, need to be reminded that their challenges do not define them. When provided with the opportunity to also showcase their gifts, and feel the praise that comes from doing so, children will begin to experience themselves as capable. The byproduct of those experiences is confidence, which is an essential ingredient in the formula for academic and social success. Looking back now, I find it somewhat metaphorical that Andrew chose “Singing in the Rain” as his performance piece. While some would seek shelter from the storm, Andrew chose to “dance” in the rain that day.

amy ruocco headshot

Amy Ruocco is a Landmark School parent.

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Tags:  academic success bright students capable celebrate strengths challenge develop confidence dyslexia inquisitive Landmark School opportunity showcase gifts Singing in the Rain social success

Stress and Anxiety: An Overview and Strategies for Mitigation

Blog Type:  Social and Emotional Issues Date Posted:  Thursday, October 18, 2018

middle school aged boy showing stress

This is the first post in a five-part series about students, stress, and anxiety. The second article looks at a relaxation program for elementary and middle school students, the third discusses how a student learned to manage her anxiety, the fourth explores how mindfulness can reduce anxiety, and the fifth covers the relationship between language-based learning disabilities and anxiety.

By Jerome Schultz, Ph.D.

Most children will experience some form of stress or anxiety during childhood. Temporary stress and anxiety are normal and typically harmless, but more severe forms can have a lasting toll.

I’d like to use this blog as an opportunity to talk about what stress is, how it’s related to anxiety, and what happens to the brain and body during stress. I also want to differentiate between good stress and bad (or toxic) stress, how to use the former, and how to prevent or reduce the latter. Finally, I’ll offer simple but effective strategies that cost nothing, take little time, and have a powerful impact on mental health and learning in kids of all ages.

Most of my writing, webinars, and keynote addresses over the past decade have focused on the impact stress has on learning, emotions, and behavior in students from preschool (yes, unfortunately!) through college. I’ve come to believe that stress is one of the most important factors underlying efficient learning and also one of the most under-recognized impediments to successful and joyful learning (and teaching!). Teachers and parents both express their concern about an apparent increase in stress in children and young adults. This troubling observation is confirmed by recent research. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 32% of adolescents have been diagnosed with anxiety, and a little more than 8% have what’s regarded as a severe impairment. It has been my experience that when adults have a better understanding of this complex human reaction, they can teach kids how to recognize, reduce, and use stress as the fuel for success.

What is stress?

Stress is the reaction of the body and brain to situations that put us in harm’s way. The stressor may be a physical threat (e.g., a baseball coming quickly toward you) or a psychological threat (e.g., a worry or fear that you will make a mistake delivering your lines in a play or write a passage that won’t make sense to the reader). Stress, or more specifically, the stress response, is our body’s attempt to keep us safe from harm. It’s a biological and psychological response. When we’re under stress, the chemistry of our body and our brain (and, therefore, our thinking) changes. A part of the brain called the amygdala does a great job learning and remembering what’s dangerous, and it tries to help us avoid those things as we move through life.

How can stress be good and bad?

All human and non-human animals have the built-in capacity to react to stress. You may have heard of a “fight or flight” response. This means that when faced with a threat, we have three basic ways of protecting ourselves. We can run away (flee), stand firm (freeze), or try to overcome or subdue the threat (fight). When we have a sense that we can control or influence the outcome of a stressful event, the stress reaction works to our advantage and gets our body and brain ready to take on the challenge. That’s good stress; at the most primitive level, it keeps us alive. It also allows us to return to a feeling of comfort and safety after we have been thrown off balance by some challenge and overcome it.

On the other hand, bad stress occurs in a situation in which we feel we have little or no control over the outcome. We have a sense that no matter what we do, we’ll be unable to make the stressor go away. Body and brain chemistry become over-reactive and get all out of balance. When that happens, it can give rise to another protective mechanism—to “freeze” (like a “deer in the headlights”). We can freeze physically (e.g., become immobilized) or we can freeze mentally (e.g., “shut down”). In these situations, the stressor wins and we lose because we’re incapacitated by the perceived threat. Think about it this way:

Navy SEALs face high-threat situations. They also have skills to deal with just about anything that comes along. As a result, these men and women don’t have a lot of anxiety. Their coping skills give them a sense that they can handle anything that comes along. This makes it easy to understand their motto: "The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday." Kids who do not have (or who don’t believe they have) sufficient coping skills are often highly anxious.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety comes in many forms. It can be situational (that is, specific to one kind or class of worry, like traveling or being in social situations). Kids who have not had a lot of success in school may experience marked anxiety in situations in which they feel they will make mistakes, be ridiculed, or made to feel foolish in front of others. Children and adults who have been exposed to early trauma, extreme neglect or abuse (sometimes referred to as Adverse Childhood Events, or ACEs) are more likely to experience anxiety.

When the anxiety is specific to or triggered by the demands of being with or interacting with people and is characterized by a strong fear of being judged by others and of being embarrassed, it is known as social anxiety disorder (or social phobia). This fear can be so intense that it gets in the way of going to work or school or doing everyday activities. Children and adults with social phobia may worry about social events for weeks before they happen. For some people, social phobia is specific to specific situations, while others may feel anxious in a variety of social situations.

Anxiety can also be generalized (that is, a kind of free-floating sense of worry or impending trouble that doesn’t seem to be specific to one trigger or event). In its more serious form, this is considered a psychiatric disorder known as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

What’s the relationship between anxiety and stress?

Simply put, anxiety is a state of worry about what might be—as compared to stress, which is a reaction to what is. If you take the stressor (i.e., the threat) and subtract from that your coping skills, you get anxiety. Both stress and anxiety trigger the same chemical reactions in the brain, which does a really good job remembering negative experiences. If you worry all the time about something bad happening to you, that puts you in a state of chronic stress.

What’s the connection to stress and learning disabilities?

Stress and anxiety increase when we’re in situations over which we have little or no control (a car going off the road, tripping on the stairs, reading in public). All people, young and old, can experience overwhelming stress and exhibit signs of anxiety.

Children, adolescents, and adults with a learning disability, such as dyslexia, are particularly vulnerable to stress and anxiety. Often, it’s because they may not fully understand the nature of their learning disability. As a result, they may blame themselves for their own difficulties. Years of self-doubt and self-recrimination may erode a person’s self-esteem, making them less able to tolerate the challenges of school, work, or social interactions and more stressed and anxious.

For example, many individuals with learning disabilities have experienced years of frustration and limited success, despite countless hours spent in special programs or working with specialists. Their progress may have been agonizingly slow and frustrating, rendering them emotionally fragile and vulnerable. Some have been subjected to excessive pressure to succeed (or excel) without the proper support or training. Others have been continuously compared to siblings, classmates, or co-workers, making them embarrassed, cautious, and defensive. When students understand the nature of their learning disability, and how to use specialized strategies to experience success, stress and anxiety can take a back seat to competence.

How can students move from distress to DE-STRESS?

A little bit of stress is a good thing; it keeps us on our toes and gets us ready for the challenges that are a normal and helpful part of living in a complex world. Yoga, mindfulness activities, meditation, biofeedback, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), medication, and exercise are among the many ways that individuals (with and without dyslexia) can conquer excessive or debilitating stress. For the individual with a learning disability such as dyslexia, effectively managing and controlling stress must also involve learning more about the nature of the specific learning disability.

Competence instills confidence, and competence leads to success. When children, adolescents, and adults are able to develop a sense of mastery over their environments (school, work, and social interactions), they develop a feeling of being in control of their own destiny. Control through competence is the best way to minimize the negative effects of stress and anxiety.

What to DO?

Let me offer you a couple of simple, but effective strategies to minimize stress in school:

Hurdles and Helpers: Have students think of some task that they did well and examine the factors that got in the way (hurdles) and those that led to success (helpers).

Example: A student who successfully learned to scuba dive can be asked to think of the factors that got in the way, e.g., a fear of suffocation, and those that enhanced that learning, e.g. the thrill of seeing the wonders of undersea life. Have students apply that same analysis to the task at hand. What gets in the way and what will increase their chances for success?

stress meter

Difficulty and Competence Ratings: Have students rate (using a 1-5 scale) the perceived difficulty level of a task: 1= incredibly easy; 5 = “wicked hahd” (as they say up here in New England). Then have students rate their ability to do this task: 1 = “piece of cake”; 5 = “no way”. Enlightened teachers ask the student: “What can you or I do to make you think of this as a 'work zone' task?" (For example, level 3: a task on what I call “the cusp of their competence.”) This might mean putting pictures with the words, defining difficult words first, doing one math problem at a time, or having the information read to the student.

If a student says she has very little ability to do the task, but she has in fact done equally challenging tasks in the past, the teacher can pull out samples of similar, yet successfully completed work. By setting what I call “competence anchors” in this way, the student may approach the new task with an “I can” mindset. If so, this increases a sense of control, decreases anxiety and moves the student in the direction of success.

I hope that my comments here reflect both my concern about the impact of stress in the lives of kids, as well as my optimism that this “demon” can be tamed, its energy harnessed, and used to move kids from an “I can’t” frame of mind to “I can do this!”

 

About the Author

jerome schultz headshot

Jerome Schultz is a clinical neuropsychologist, author, and speaker who has provided clinical services to families, and consultation and staff development to hundreds of private and public schools in the U.S. and abroad during his 35 year career. He is the author of Nowhere to Hide: Why Kids with ADHD and LD Hate School and What We Can Do About It. Follow him on Twitter@docschultz.

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Tags:  anxiety dyslexia general anxiety disorder language-based learning disabilities learning disabilities social anxiety stress

Connected Letters, Connected Thinking: How Cursive Writing Helps Us Learn

Blog Type:  Teaching Date Posted:  Saturday, August 22, 2015

cursive writing on paper

By Judy Packhem, M. Ed.

Cursive writing is an endangered species these days. Left out of the Common Core State Standards, cursive is now seen as inconsequential, and even obsolete, by some in the education community.

This is distressing to me, and it should be to all of you who care about educating our children, especially children with dyslexia.

There is ample reason to justify the teaching of cursive writing, beginning with the scientific evidence.

Your Brain on Cursive Writing

The development of the functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) machine made it possible to see activity in the brain and pinpoint which parts of the brain are being used during critical functions such as thought, speech, and writing, among others.

Brain mapping, as it is called, shows that during cursive writing both the right and left hemispheres of the brain are active. This is something that is not present either while keyboarding or writing in print.

Cursive writing is much more than an obsolete mode of writing. It is connected to our thought processes, to our retention of learning, and to our creative selves.

This right-left brain synergy, when both sides of the brain are used simultaneously, promotes improved language and memory functions. Some brain researchers go further to say the more we integrate the logical (left) and intuitive (right) sides of our brain, the greater our skill at innovation — the ability to analyze problems and solve them with out-of-the-box thinking.

Researchers studying Albert Einstein’s brain found that the right and left hemispheres of his brain were uniquely well connected. I’ll let you connect the dots on that one.

From Essays to Note Taking:  Why Writing by Hand Is More Powerful

There are two compelling studies that prove the superior benefits of handwriting versus keyboarding for learning.

Educational psychologist Virginia Berninger, who studied the writing composition of children in grades two through five, found that the students “consistently did better writing with a pen when they wrote essays.”

Compared to the students that typed on a keyboard, the students who hand wrote their essays were able to compose at a faster rate and they produced longer essays. They also wrote more complete sentences than the keyboarders and their essays expressed more ideas.

Another study by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer looked at college students taking lecture notes on laptops versus longhand in notepads. Students who took notes on computers produced a lot more notes, but the quality was poor. The typed notes tended to be mindless transcription of the lecture. The handwritten notes, while less lengthy, resulted in deeper learning and longer retention.

A week after viewing the lectures, the college students were given 10 minutes to review their notes and were then given a test. Students with handwritten notes performed significantly better on both factual and conceptual questions.

While computers may make it easier to take lots of notes, they may bypass the deeper thinking that needs to occur for effective note taking and, consequently, learning.

Benefits of Cursive Specific to Dyslexia

The International Dyslexia Association (IDA), in its handbook, recommends the use of cursive handwriting. This “reinforces a multisensory approach to reading and spelling.”

Diana Hanbury King, founding fellow of the Academy of Orton-Gillingham, published books and articles citing the benefit of cursive handwriting for dyslexics.

“In the case of dyslexics, there are several reasons for insisting on cursive. To begin with, in cursive writing, there is no question as to where each letter begins – it begins on the line. The confusion with forms is not merely a left and right reversal as with b/d and p/q; it is also an up down reversal as with m/w and u/n; hence the uncertainty as to whether a letter begins at the top or the bottom. Second, spelling is fixed more firmly in the mind if the word is formed in a continuous movement rather than a series of separate strokes with the pencil lifted off the paper between each one.”1

The connected letters in cursive result in increased writing fluency (speed and smoothness). The flow of cursive means your pen — along with your thoughts — doesn’t stop moving.

This characteristic of cursive writing is shown to be especially beneficial for many struggling learners with processing speed deficits or language difficulties like dyslexia and dysgraphia.

Cursive writing is much more than an obsolete mode of writing. It is connected to our thought processes, to our retention of learning, and to our creative selves.

 

Resources

  1. King, D. (2001). Writing Skills for the Adolescent. Cambridge, MA: Educators Publishing Service.

About the Author

judy peckham headshot

Judy Packhem, M. Ed., of www.shapingreaders.com, is a reading specialist/ consultant and dyslexia therapist with certifications from the International Dyslexia Association and the Academy of Orton-Gillingham. She helps struggling readers of all ages become successful learners. Related:

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Tags:  brain research college cursive dyslexia handwritring research science

Making Time to Create Change

Blog Type:  Learning Disabilities Date Posted:  Tuesday, October 6, 2015

By Nicole Mitsakis

"You have to do the right thing...You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result." Mohandas K. Gandhi

The quote above explains the very personal and passionate commitment I have to establishing Decoding Dyslexia in Massachusetts (DD-MA) as a relevant and effective means to improve the school experience of students with dyslexia. The struggle for my own child’s positive outcome in a public school was a work in progress, full of frustration and stress. DD-MA is a constructive outlet that allowed me to take some action.

or me, one of the most relevant opportunities was on June 17, 2015, when I testified before the Massachusetts Education Committee to share why dyslexia legislation is so necessary (HB 463 and SB 312). DD-MA has worked with neuroscientists and legislators to initiate legislation that will guide public school policy makers to better outcomes. What I’ve learned about the legislation process is invaluable, but the most important lesson I have learned is that by taking steps and creating the opportunity for others to join in those steps towards change, Massachusetts is closer to a result that would benefit all public school students struggling with dyslexia. As a new parent in the Landmark community, I’d like to share the mission of Decoding Dyslexia MA.  

Who is DD-MA and what do they do?

Decoding Dyslexia Massachusetts  (DD-MA) is a grassroots movement to raise awareness of the research-based interventions that are effective in overcoming dyslexia and opening the doors to academic success. We aim to influence families, educators, and legislators and our motto is: Make time to create change or the time for change will never be now.  

Together, committed parents and professionals have joined us over the few short years since our beginning in 2013. I am grateful to all the parents, professionals, legislators, and dyslexia experts that I have had the privilege of meeting and learning from on this journey. The process of advocating for any child with a disability is difficult and it’s even more challenging when that disability is often not acknowledged or supported appropriately.  DD-MA allows me to direct my energy in a positive way to create better outcomes. Below is a list of a few highlights accomplished by our group:

  • Meeting with neuroscience researchers at the McGovern Institute of Brain Researchers to promote dyslexia awareness
  • Advocating as part of the National Decoding Dyslexia Network in Washington D.C.
  • Dyslexia awareness lectures with Dr. Nadine Gaab, Dr. Elizabeth Norton, Dr. Stephanie Gottwald, Dr. Matthew Schneps, Dr. Roberto Olivardia and other experts
  • Documentary movie showings (both The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia and Dislecksia the Movie) with panel discussions for Dyslexia awareness
  • Providing our 1700+ followers with an active place to learn about and discuss dyslexia
  • Engaging Massachusetts families in legislative or community action that will improve outcomes for students with dyslexia

There is still work to be done!

massachusetts dyslexia advocates

The current legislation includes two bills as drafts in the Joint Committee on Education, HB 463 and SB 312. At the Hearing, DD-MA families were accompanied at the hearing by experts like Dr. John Gabrieli and Elizabeth Norton of the McGovern Institute of Brain Research at MIT, Dr. Charles Haynes of MGH Institute of Health Professionals, and Dr. Roberto Olivardia, Harvard Medical School. Many members of the International Dyslexia Association also signed a joint letter submitted as testimony. Though the hearing is past, testimony can be submitted by anyone who wants to offer their opinion and story to the Joint Committee on Education. I encourage all families who are experiencing the challenges that come with dyslexia—academic, financial, social, and emotional - to contact legislators to support legislation.

Can you make time to create change?

For more information or to get or stay involved: Decoding Dyslexia MA wesbite DD-MA on Facebook

nicole mitsakis headshot

Nicole Mitsakis, Landmark Parent and DD-MA Co-Founder & Director of Operations

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Tags:  Decoding Dyslexia dyslexia dyslexia awareness dyslexia legislation Gabrieli Lab in the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT Landmark School making change National Dyslexia Awareness Month Nicole Mitsakis

Meditation Is Happening in School

Blog Type:  Learning Disabilities Date Posted:  Wednesday, April 8, 2015

By Amy Ballin, LICSW, Ph.D.

In college, I first tried meditation with the hope that it would ease my stress. I went to a workshop and learned how to meditate.  It seemed easy enough.  I understood that all I had to do was repeat a word or phrase over and over again in my head and that was mediation.  So, I started a meditation practice.  After two weeks, I decided it did not work and never thought about meditation again until seven years ago when I attended a workshop at the Benson Henry Institute of Mind Body Medicine.  It was at this workshop that I understood what did not work in my previous attempt and how meditation can be life altering.

After learning the science of how meditation changes cell structure and gene pathways and reading the research that reports dramatic changes in stress levels, increased focus, and improved health and relationships,  I started meditating with a commitment to do it every day for at least ten minutes for a minimum of eight weeks before I judged it. I kept to my commitment but after about four months I stopped my daily mediation.  What happened after that was amazing.  I noticed a change in the way I responded to people and events.  I was more on edge than I had been when I was practicing meditation.  Things happened in my day that got me more upset.  I was less able to let bad things go and move on.  I went back to the Benson center and started my practice again.  I am more patient with my children and husband and I feel overall better able to handle disappointments, anger from others and other stressful situations.  In addition, some chronic health problems have disappeared.  So I now know from first hand experience that the research is true.

My colleagues in the counseling department and I are introducing the practice of the relaxation response to Landmark students.  We know that students with LBLD tend to have higher rates of anxiety compared to the typical education population.  It is with this information along with the high level of anxiety that we see with our students that we are implementing this practice.

Recently I got a call from the nurse saying a child had a stomachache.  He has been practicing meditation at home and wanted to come to my office to meditate.  We did a ten-minute meditation. He went back to class and stayed in school for the rest of the day.  The stomachache disappeared.

The science on the benefits of meditation is clear and from my own experiences and those of others that have tried it, it seems that a daily practice of the relaxation response is highly beneficial. We look forward to bringing this program to our students.

amy ballin headshot

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Tags:  Benson Henry Institute of Mind Body Medicine chronic health problems counseling dyslexia focus health Landmark School Landmark School Outreach Program language-based learning disabili LBLmeditation mindfulness mindfulness education mindfulness workshops stress in education

Learning with ADHD

Blog Type:  Learning Date Posted:  Monday, January 26, 2015

By Edward Hallowell, M.D., Ed.D. 

Learning with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is difficult, at best. I know because I have both ADHD and dyslexia. A phrase that I have come up with that I think best exemplifies what it is like living with ADHD is that it’s like “having a Ferrari engine for a brain with bicycle brakes.” The good news is that there are ways to strengthen these bicycle breaks to help stay on track and manage those Ferrari engine-like thoughts.

With the New Year steadily underway, there has never been a better time to take charge and evaluate what works best in trying to provide guidance to those with ADHD or, if you yourself have ADHD, finding the measures to take that work well for you. What has helped me most to overpower my ADHD began when I was in first grade. My teacher, Mrs. Eldredge, made it a point to make her students feel safe—whether they had ADHD or not—to inquire about anything. By eliminating fear, she allowed me to believe that I could be as successful as I wanted to be. I have carried this notion with me throughout my life and have instilled this belief in the patients, both children and adults, that I work with today. Having a confident mindset to take on any task will make you unstoppable. Another tip to help stay on track is to follow a schedule. Everyone needs structure, especially children, but for those who have ADHD, schedules and rules are as essential as maps and roads are for drivers. Without them, these kids can get completely lost.

With encouraging teachers and setting an organized, well-defined schedule, students will not only be more productive,  but also more excited to succeed.

dr. edward hallowell headshot

Dr. Hallowell is a child and adult psychiatrist, author, speaker, and leading authority  in the field of ADHD. Founder of the Hallowell Centers in New York and Boston. but also more excited to succeed.

 

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Tags:  ADHD adult psychiatrist attention deficit hyperactivity disorder child psychiatrist confident mind set Dr. Edward Hallowell dyslexia eliminating fear guidance Landmark School language-based learning disability Ned Hallowell student productivity student success

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