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Executive Functioning

Tips for Parents Who Suspect Their Child Has a Learning Disability

Blog Type:  Learning Disabilities Date Posted:  Friday, September 14, 2018

teacher working with student

By Ann Andrew

Parents know their children better than anyone else and can usually sense if something isn’t quite right with them physically, emotionally, or academically. If you suspect that your child has a learning disability, then it’s very likely there is one. I know this from experience. As an elementary school student, my oldest son struggled in school, particularly with reading. An intelligent boy, I assumed his difficulties stemmed from some sort of learning disability. He was diagnosed with dyslexia in 2011 (my two other sons were subsequently also diagnosed with dyslexia), and since then I have devoted myself to helping students with language-based learning disabilities (LBLD). LBLDs fall under the broader category of specific learning disabilities (SLD), and dyslexia is the most common SLD, according to the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

"A child who read for 20 minutes a day is exposed to 1.8 million words a year."

Be Honest With Your Child

Your child knows they’re different. Don't try to hide what you know or suspect from them. A parent who keeps the information from them leaves the child feeling like the parent is ashamed of the child's learning difference. Your child will also benefit from speaking to a professional (neuropsychologist, school psychologist, therapist with a comprehensive understanding of LDs) once—or many times. Children need to have at least a basic understanding of the science behind how we learn to acquire language—read, and write. They need to hear from as many adults as possible that they are not “broken” or “dumb.”

Early Signs of Dyslexia and Other LBLDs

If you struggled to read (or do math or write), it's quite possible that you also have a learning disability that went undiagnosed. Parents with dyslexia have a 40-60 percent chance of having children with dyslexia—a clear early warning sign that your child may have an LBLD. Your hatred of a subject is probably borne from not being taught in a manner that was accessible to your learning style or disability.

Oral (expressive) language deficit: It’s a warning sign if you have a chit-chatting toddler who is making indecipherable sounds and words or seems challenged by learning new words.

Auditory (receptive) language deficit: Ask questions if a doctor has diagnosed your child with ADHD without addressing the possibility of an LBLD or an auditory processing disorder. Children with ADHD have the ability to process language, while children with an LBLD have a weakened ability in this area. Their slower processing of language impedes their capacity to comprehend spoken language. For these children, it is not an “inattention issue.” To complicate matters it's very common to see comorbidity (the presence of more than one distinct condition) of ADHD and dyslexia together.

Executive functioning deficits: Difficulties with attention, organization, and self-regulation are often comorbid with LBLD.

Social skills deficits: Often excused as “developmental delays,” social skills deficits can also be comorbid with learning disabilities. Ask your child’s preschool teacher if they play appropriately in school. Have they progressed from parallel to cooperative play successfully? Are they well liked by their peers or often misunderstood? Observe your child at school and see how other children interact with them in that setting. Children with dyslexia and other LBLDs can present symptoms of depression, anxiety, oppositional behavior, or disengaged behavior, in school and/or at home, which can be effects of being misunderstood or repeatedly asked to do something they do not have the skill yet to accomplish.

Facts vs Myths

Myth: Boys develop slower.
Fact: It’s not scientifically proven that one gender develops faster than the other.

Myth: We should wait and see what happens with our struggling children. “Teacher so-and-so is really good at helping kids who are struggling to read."
Fact: With early, intensive, and evidence-based intervention and instruction, children with dyslexia and other LBLDs can learn to read like their non-dyslexic peers.

Myth: Accommodations or modifications are sufficient for children with LBLDs.
Fact: Dyslexia and other LBLDs can be remediated. The longer you wait to obtain the diagnosis, the harder and more expensive it is to remediate. Accommodations or modifications without a diagnosis will not unlock your child’s potential.

Myth: People with dyslexia will never enjoy reading.
Fact: Many, many individuals with dyslexia love to read and are voracious readers. A child who reads for 20 minutes a day is exposed to 1.8 million words a year. These words help to foster a love of learning, the belief that you can dream big and achieve those goals, and confidence to make a smooth transition to college, employment, and independent living.

Parent To Do List

No two children share the same learning profile, so there’s no one-size-fits-all path to diagnosis and services. Based on my experience, here are my suggestions on how to navigate the special education landscape.

Initial diagnostic evaluations Obtain a full audiological and full vision evaluation (not a screening by the pediatrician or the school) prior to or in conjunction with any evaluation for LBLDs. Note that some advocates suggest that the child has the vision evaluation before any other testing. In addition, neuropsychologists can test for auditory processing issues and recommend a full audiological evaluation if they feel one is necessary.

If you are going to have your school district evaluate the child, be sure to put in writing that you are requesting the audiological evaluation for hearing and auditory processing be conducted by an audiologist, a vision and visual processing evaluation by an ophthalmologist, and a full neuropsychological evaluation by a neuropsychologist. This will give you a stronger opportunity to exercise your right to these types of professionals as independent evaluators if you feel the district fails to provide a comprehensive, accurate, and complete report for all areas of suspected need.

Note that school districts are required to administer a psychoeducational evaluation on request. Some may also perform a neuropsychological evaluation under certain circumstances. In a perfect world, your district would comply with all of your requests. However, few have the resources to provide the extensive testing your child may need.

You can request that the neuropsychologist observe your child over multiple days and in multiple settings (not just school), as well as attend the IEP meetings to present the report, discuss recommendations, and participate in the formulation of the IEP in the consent request. It’s unlikely that practitioners at large hospitals comply with this request, but some in private practice may.

Also, on the consent form for the neuropsychological evaluation or incorporated by reference as an attachment, document in detail all of your areas of concern—no matter how trivial they may seem. For example, a young child who doesn’t regularly turn when their name is called may have a social, hearing, or processing deficit.

From my personal experience, I recommend that your child have a neuropsychological evaluation administered by an independent neuropsychologist. Check with your insurance company to see if they cover these claims. Many will cover some, but not all, of the expense. In my opinion, this ensures that you are getting the full picture of whether or not your child is making progress, if your child has a disability, if so which one(s), how they should be remediated, at what pace you should expect results, etc.

To make sure that the evaluations are perceived as authentic and representative of the child’s entire presentation, urge private evaluators to observe the child outside of the clinical setting, collect input from the district, incorporate and correlate historical data points, provide exacting recommendations to the extent possible, and attend your IEP meeting to present the report, provide assistance during the eligibility determination, and participate in the IEP development.

Annual progress-monitoring evaluations Many schools will not conduct annual progress evaluations unless they are requested. Some evaluators will ask to see the child one year later to follow up. Schedule it on the day of the initial evaluation. Repeat key evaluations annually to cross check progress.

Tips for the IEP Meeting

Parents are the experts at the individualized education plan (IEP) meeting when it comes to their child, but to be credible we need to be aware of the laws, the academic standards, and the methodologies that will be effective for our child. Here are some tips for your IEP meeting.

  • If possible, bring an advocate to your IEP meetings.
  • It’s okay—even valuable—to record meetings.
  • Don’t sign anything except the attendance page.
  • Do not sign that you have received the meeting notes. You are not required to do so in order to obtain a copy. No matter what you write on the notes, your signature will be represented by the district as your agreement with the accuracy and completeness of what was written.
  • Follow up in writing. Keep records of all correspondence.
  • Invite your principal to attend meetings.

Key Components of the IEP For every accommodation on an IEP, there should be a corresponding IEP goal, which is designed to build the skill that is missing and thus replace the need for an accommodation. Accommodations are never a substitute for teaching.

How IEP goals are measured is one of the most critical aspects of an IEP. Without solid forms of measurements that are quantifiable and standardized in nature, any teacher can say a child is "making progress" while the student is instead floundering or even regressing.  

School district's can and do provide one-to-one special education instruction to students outside of school hours—even on weekends—in order to meet the needs of the student whose parents vigorously advocate.

If your child has met all of their goals and is within average range percentile-wise of grade level, then the IEP is working. Just because a child can see when we put glasses on them doesn't mean we can take away the glasses. It means we continue on the same path of intervention we were on to ensure the continued growth.  

The road for parents of children with a learning disability is very rarely smooth. It requires time, persistence, and patience. Your dedication is well worth the effort when you watch your child(ren) transform from struggling students to thriving, enthusiastic learners. Trust your gut and take action.

Related Resources:

About the Author

ann andrew headshot

Ann Andrew is a parent, educator, and advocate with a passion for helping students with language-based learning disabilities. Cynthia Moore, of Advocate Tip of the Day™, contributed to this blog post.]]>

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Tags:  ADHD auditory processing dyslexia awareness Executive Functioning expressive language IEP individualized education plan language-based learning disability learning differences learning disability neuropsychological evaluation oral language social skills specific learning disability

Project Based-Learning as a Tool to Boost Executive Function Skills

Blog Type:  Learning Date Posted:  Tuesday, August 14, 2018

steamworks at landmark high school

By Carl Gasowski

Walking into the STEAMworks Technology Department in the school where I teach, one might see a student working on a computer-controlled wood carving, or perhaps constructing and programming a drone, or maybe even composing and recording music. Aside from the common workshop and studio space that these students share, they also benefit from the experience of using hands-on, project based-learning as a means to develop and understand their thought process.

Five-Phase Production Process

In the STEAMworks Technology Department students move through the development of each project in five phases. They start by identifying what they want to learn about, including skills and content. Next, they brainstorm project ideas, select an idea to pursue, and begin the process of planning. During this phase, students are encouraged to sequence the steps needed to complete their project while researching the materials they may need and anticipating potential challenges. It’s a phase that can teach both the importance of simplicity and the nuances of complexity. The planning and design phase accounts for the bulk of their project and is ripe with opportunities for conversations about their thought process, strategies, and design choices. 

After completing their plans, students begin to visualize the fabrication of their products as they move into the prototyping or drafting phase. They might build a smaller model, test a concept for an individual component, or practice a technique before they move onto the building phase. During the building phase students get to see their ideas come to life. They can identify where their plan was successful and where it may have fallen short. Finally, at the completion of a project, it’s all about evaluating the process and the result. If additional drafts are to be made, then students assess where to make improvements.

Tangible Growth

Aside from planning and time management, moving through the whole process teaches patience, productivity, and perseverance. As an instructor on the sidelines of the process, the success and progression of student skills are tangible in the products that the students create, their awareness of the necessary steps, and their approach to challenges and obstacles.

About the Author

Carl Gasowski is entering his 14th year as a teacher in the Science and Technology Department at Landmark High School.]]>

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The Connection Between Executive Function and Social Communication Skills

Blog Type:  Learning Disabilities Date Posted:  Monday, May 11, 2015

By Linda Gross, M.A., CCC-SLP

Much has been written and discussed in recent years about Executive Function (EF) challenges faced by students diagnosed with a language-based learning disability (LBLD). Also in the forefront are conversations amongst educators, speech/language pathologists (SLPs), and neuropsychologists about interventions for students with social communication disorders (SCD). I have been privy to many of these discussions, and have read countless articles on these topics.  But my “real education” comes from my over 25 years of working with children and adolescents with both EF deficits and SCD.  Current research supports the notion that social communication skills can be impacted by EF deficits.

Cognitive flexibility, the ability to shift one’s thinking, is a component of EF. Consider the fast-paced nature of a social interaction that is filled with both verbal and non-verbal information. If a person has difficulty with cognitive flexibility, then social interactions may be compromised.

John (not his real name) is a student who teachers often refer to as “bright and readily shares his insights with his classmates”. However, teachers also describe him as “rigid and inflexible”.  He performs best with structure and predictable routinesJohn has been diagnosed with a LBLD, EF deficits, and a SCD. There are certain topics that John can provide a wealth of information about. He may come across as a “know it all” and does not recognize when others are disinterested. When a teacher or a peer provides an alternate view to his own, John may become argumentative. He often perseverates on his line of thinking and cannot shift gears. A student like John often perceives situations as black and white; he does not see the “gray.” 

This is an overly simplified example of a quite complex dynamic. Ultimately, we need to provide support with both executive function skills and social communication skills.  Rather than reacting in frustration to a “difficult” exchange, I encourage educators and parents to take a proactive approach. STRATEGIES (be sure to use specific language and provide clear expectations):

  • Teach cognitive flexibility and problem solving

“I understand that you didn’t edit your essay because I had asked you to make corrections in red and you didn’t have a red pen. What is one thing you could have done to get your homework done?” Help the student generate some possible solutions (e.g., borrow a red pen, use a different color pen and email the teacher about it, etc.). Use opportunities like these to teach/model problem solving. (Identify Problem->Generate 2-3 Possible Solutions->Consider Consequences->Make a Choice->Create a Plan)

  • Acknowledge, then redirect; avoid getting into a debate

“I know you want to keep talking about _____, but we have to move on.” “I know you are trying to be helpful, but Tim didn’t ask for your help.” “I know it bothers you that Jane is out of dress code, but you don’t need to comment on it. The adults will handle it.”

  • Tell the student how his words or actions make you/classmates feel

“I’m feeling frustrated because you’re not following my instructions?” “Jane felt embarrassed when you said she was out of dress code in front of everyone.”

  • Alert the student when there are going to be changes in the routine

“Tomorrow Mrs. Gross will be teaching this class so that I can attend a conference. She will collect your homework and help you edit your composition drafts.” “Friday’s class is going to be shortened due to an extended recess so we won’t be doing our usual warm-up activity.”

  • Identify and discuss the “gray”; not everything is “black and white” “I know that it’s officially springtime according to the calendar, but it is 30 degrees outside, so we need to wear our winter coats.”

To learn more about Linda Gross's work, check out the following links:

linda gross headshot

Linda Gross, M.A., CCC-SLP – Landmark High School Speech-Language Pathologist/Consultant and Landmark Outreach Program Adjunct Faculty

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Language-Based Learning Disabilities on the Homefront

Blog Type:  Learning Disabilities Date Posted:  Wednesday, November 15, 2017 Byline:  By Angela Timpone Gowans

father and son at table with list

This is part five of the five-part series, What Is a Language-Based Learning Disability? 

After I returned from the grocery store for the third time that day because I forgot another essential ingredient for dinner, Dylan laughed and exclaimed, “Mom, I think your executive functioning is not working.” I chuckled and responded, “Yes, I think you are right. I need a better strategy. I need a list!”

My husband, Bob, and I have a saying, “Know your brain and use your strategies for success.” The motto is especially applicable for our children who have Language-Based Learning Disabilities (LBLD).

Information Is Power

After two of our sons, Tristan and Dylan had cognitive evaluations, we shared some of their test scores with them so they could learn about their cognitive strengths and weaknesses. We believe information is power, and the more one knows about themselves, the more power they have to guide their life path. dyslexia strategies checklist graphic

At our house, we use phrases like Language-Based Learning Disability, executive functioning, processing speed, social norms, dyslexia, learning differences, and expected and awkward behavior. These terms describe the different ways our brains are mapped, and they help our children understand their particular brains and the minds of others. We talk about learning differences, LBLD, and neurodiversity to promote understanding and empathy toward others and themselves.

Our mission as parents is to help our children develop into independent, confident, loving, and joyful adults. To guide them through the journey, we use practical strategies and systems to help them acquire the skills they need for a successful life. Practical strategies and systems can help not only children with LBLD but all kids.

Use Your Strategies

To help our children master tasks and skills at home, we use tactics similar to those applied in their classroom. For instance, at the beginning of the summer, I said to Dylan, “You need to go to tutoring at 1:00, but before you go you need to unload the dishwasher, fold the laundry, pick up your room, go for a bike ride, and read for 30 minutes.” My approach didn’t work for Dylan. Instead, Dylan remembered a strategy he learned at school and came to me with a written task list.dyslexia success graphic

Every day, Dylan wrote his daily tasks list, and when he completed them, he did a preferred activity like watching TV or playing a video game. Dylan’s list worked for both of us. Did Dylan need practicing? Yes, of course, every day, but by the end of the summer he independently added new items to his list and required minimal prompting to complete the tasks.

We help and encourage each of our children to use strategies to master new skills and overcome executive function weaknesses. We emphasize that practice and repetition are the keys to success. We openly talk about how some people need to work harder than others or how it might take longer to develop skills.

What success looks like varies from child to child and task to task. We shy away from making excuses for our children or allowing them to give up. We just keep using our strategies to work toward our goals.

 

About the Author

Angela Gowans is Landmark Parents' Association co-president with her husband, Robert. Robert and Angela live in Montpelier, VT, and Beverly Farms, MA, with their children Tristan, Landmark student Dylan, and Liam. Angela is an educational advocate, family mediator, and writer.

 

What Is a Language-Based Learning Disability? Five Part Series

This is part five of the five-part series, What Is a Language-Based Learning Disability?

Part One: What We Know About LBLD and Learning, by Bob Broudoflame
Part Two: Language-Based Learning Disabilities: A Primer, by Melody O'Neil
Part Three: Help Your Struggling Learner: Remediation Is a Key to Success, by Christine Ozahowski
Part Four: It's a Myth That Young Children Cannot Be Screened for Dyslexia, by Nadine Gaab, PhD
Part Five: Language-Based Learning Disabilities on the Homefront, by Angela Timpone Gowans

brilliance award winner icon Landmark360.org's post by Bob Broudo about LBLD and Learning won a 2017 Gold InspirED School Marketers Brilliance Award in the national competition that recognizes excellence in private and independent school marketing and communications.

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Language-Based Learning Disabilities (LBLD): A Primer

Blog Type:  Learning Disabilities Date Posted:  Thursday, October 26, 2017 Byline:  By Melody O’Neil

boy learning at table

This is part two of the five-part series, What Is a Language-Based Learning Disability? 

Language-Based Learning Disabilities (LBLDs) refer to an array of difficulties related to the understanding or processing of both spoken and written language. The number and severity of language difficulties can vary widely from person to person. LBLDs can affect the following areas:glossary

  • reading
  • listening (auditory processing)
  • oral expression/word retrieval (expressive language)
  • oral comprehension (receptive language)
  • written expression (spelling, grammar, and mechanics)
  • mathematics

When we talk about reading, we’re referring to three main areas: decoding (word attack/phonological awareness), reading fluency, and reading comprehension.

LBLD, Dyslexia, and Related Disabilities

An individual diagnosed with an LBLD often has the specific diagnosis of dyslexia. Dyslexia is a phonologically-based reading disability that results in difficulty decoding words accurately, which affects reading fluency and then reading comprehension. struggles of LBLD graphicNot all people diagnosed with an LBLD have dyslexia, although the majority will. It may be that their basic decoding and reading skills are intact; however, they may struggle with other areas of language processing and written or verbal expression. These difficulties may include:

  • dysgraphia, a disorder that affects spelling, punctuation, and handwriting
  • dyscalculia, a disorder that affects someone’s number sense, math reasoning, and ability to process math facts
  • executive functioning, which limits one’s capacity to initiate and complete tasks, stay organized, manage time, and plan
  • a language disorder (formerly called mixed receptive-expressive language disorder) that affects written and oral comprehension and expression

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), central auditory processing disorder (CAPD), and anxiety disorders are often seen as comorbid, or commonly occurring diagnoses for people with LBLDs.

Understanding the Cognitive Profile

big picture thinkerAn extremely important piece in defining and diagnosing an LBLD includes looking carefully at the individual’s cognitive profile. A person with an LBLD is going to have difficulties in reading, writing, listening, and speaking, despite having average to above-average cognitive ability, specifically in the areas of verbal comprehension, visual-spatial abilities, and fluid reasoning or problem solving. Although the LBLD individual may have somewhat lower working memory and/or processing speed, they have an overall strong ability for reasoning, problem solving, and “big-picture thinking.” They are bright, visual, and hands-on kinesthetic learners who tend to struggle more auditorily (listening).

 

Next Steps

If you feel that your child/student is struggling at school and suspect that they may have an LBLD, the first step to take is to have either psycho-educational testing (done through the public school system) or neuropsychological testing (done privately). Testing will provide information regarding current levels of cognitive, academic, and language functioning. This will also help with making recommendations regarding possible next steps to take and services that may be needed. Most importantly, continue to encourage your child/student, understand they are struggling, and remember that support is available for all types of learners. 

 

About the Author

Melody O'Neil Landmark School AdmissionsMelody O’Neil is Associate Director of Admission at Landmark School

 

 

 

 

What Is a Language-Based Learning Disability? Five Part Series

This is part two of the five-part series, What Is a Language-Based Learning Disability?

Part One: What We Know About LBLD and Learning, by Bob Broudoflame
Part Two: Language-Based Learning Disabilities: A Primer, by Melody O'Neil
Part Three: Help Your Struggling Learner: Remediation Is a Key to Success, by Christine Ozahowski
Part Four: It's a Myth That Young Children Cannot Be Screened for Dyslexia, by Nadine Gaab, PhD
Part Five: Language-Based Learning Disabilities on the Homefront, by Angela Timpone Gowans

brilliance award winner icon Landmark360.org's post by Bob Broudo about LBLD and Learning won a 2017 Gold InspirED School Marketers Brilliance Award in the national competition that recognizes excellence in private and independent school marketing and communications.

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Tags:  dyslexia language-based learning disability dyscalculia dysgraphia Executive Functioning language disorder decoding reading fluency word attack phonological awareness

Executive Function 101: Balance

Blog Type:  Teaching Date Posted:  Wednesday, May 2, 2018

This is the fifth post in a five-part series about Executive Function. Each post includes downloadable templates to use at home and in the classroom. The first article is about managing time, the second addresses managing materials, the third discusses managing information, and the fourth achieving independence.

Effectively managing time, materials, and information offers students independence and ultimately provides balance for life inside and outside of school.

Helping students balance academics, sports, after-school activities, employment, and hobbies should be an ongoing priority for parents and teachers. They should encourage students to communicate their needs to parents, teachers, coaches, and employers and to self advocate. Doing so will help them become independent in all areas of their lives.

Download the Daily Life Balance worksheet.  Brainstorming a list of priorities and managing a calendar are critical components in achieving balance. Andrea Meade, assistant dean of Students at Landmark High School, points out that “identifying personal traits and habits helps students prioritize work accordingly. For instance, some students are more productive with homework completion immediately after school, while others work more efficiently later in the evening after engaging in physical exercise. I also suggest that students tackle easier tasks when they are tired.” Meade points out that “approaching students with empathy is also a key to helping them manage time, materials, and information. These are new skills for most students and mastering them and seeing the rewards takes self control, mindfulness, and time.” Robin Day-Laporte, Head of Landmark High School's Study Skills department, embeds tips on stress management through exercise, healthy eating, adequate sleep, down time, and positive personal relationships throughout her lessons.

daily life balance worksheet tearoff
Download the Daily Life Balance worksheet.

Tips

  • Be realistic.
  • Review priorities.
  • Encourage healthy, fulfilling habits.
  • Foster supportive and positive relationships.
  • Seek guidance from teachers, parents, coaches, employers.

 

"Teaching our students to understand their learning style is very important to gaining independence and developing self-advocacy skills. Students should be active in their learning and use the supports available to them."— Suzanne Crossman, Director of Transition and Guidance at Landmark High School

 

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Executive Function 101: Independence

Blog Type:  Teaching Date Posted:  Monday, April 23, 2018

This is the fourth post in a five-part series about Executive Function. Each post includes downloadable templates to use at home and in the classroom. The first article is about managing time. The second addresses managing materials, the third addresses managing information, and the fifth finding balance between school and extra-curricular activities.

executive function templates room cleanup
Download the Room Clean-up and Daily Checklists. 

The ultimate goal to mastering executive function skills is achieving independence. This gives us the liberty to take on new challenges and thrive.

Once students have been introduced to the skills and strategies to manage, and in some cases, overcome executive function deficits, the goal is to push them to become independent learners. First and foremost, students achieve independence when they understand themselves, their strengths, weaknesses, foibles, and learning style. The next step is to take all of this information and make adjustments to best manage time, information, and materials, and to ultimately be a confident and effective self advocate

Tips

  • Practice new skills.
  • Build time into the day to reflect, update, prioritize, plan, review.
  • Refine skills to suit your learning style.
  • Know yourself.
  • Self advocate for your needs.

Support at Home

Most experts agree that families and guardians must listen to their students struggling with executive function deficits. They should encourage their students to master skills for school and home and practice them regularly. Robin Day-Laporte, the head of the Study Skills department at Landmark School, said, “As students encounter more opportunities for success and failure and as time passes and they grow up, their executive function skills are strengthened. Failure is okay—it appropriately challenges the brain and a child's character. Opportunities to fail help a child to develop problem-solving skills and build resiliency. "And as it relates to helping a child grow, develop, and eventually transition out of high school, I encourage parents to know their children, to watch and listen to figure out what they love and what truly brings them joy, and then to honor and cultivate that. If a child genuinely loves what they are doing, they are motivated. And motivation is a key component of executive functioning."

 

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Executive Function 101: Materials

Blog Type:  Teaching Date Posted:  Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Materials for school

This is the second post in a five-part series about Executive Function. Each post includes downloadable templates to use at home and in the classroom. The first article is about managing time, the third addresses managing information, the fourth achieving independence, and the fifth finding balance between school and extra-curricular activities.

Managing the countless print and digital materials for school and work can be overwhelming, but a simple process and plan will help.

Setting up systems to manage paper materials (binders, dividers, reserve folders, portfolios, etc.) and electronic materials (naming and storing files and folders, submitting work through course management platforms such as Google Classroom and CANVAS) are skills that should be taught in ALL subject areas to help students tackle academic and extracurricular responsibilities and to learn productively. Not all students can figure this out on their own, so it's important to takePrepared for class the time to teach these habits and reinforce them in all courses.

"We use cueing and guiding to get students to use the tools at their disposal. For example, I might say, ‘Based on our agenda, what materials will we need for class today?’ Relying on Landmark’s Teaching Principles™, we model effective strategies across all academic subjects and provide opportunities for our students to practice skills until they become automatic—second nature."    —Deirdre Mulligan, Elementary Science/Social Studies Department Head/Elementary•Middle School Training Coordinator

Tips

  • Set up binders, tabs, and pockets for each class.
  • Write down key words in an assignment notebook, and mark off tasks. Use a clip to identify current day/week.
  • Build time into the day to “clean and sort” these materials.
  • Use color coding.
  • Make daily and weekly checklists and review them throughout the day/week/month.
Ready for school checklist
Download the Ready-for-School Checklist and Reminder List.

 

 

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Executive Function 101

Blog Type:  Teaching Date Posted:  Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Executive Function Backpack calendar watch
Executive function deficits are very common among young people, especially those with ADHD, dyslexia, and other learning differences. These challenges show up as weaknesses in getting and staying organized, managing time, planning and prioritizing, and initiating tasks. Sound familiar? It should because many of us, whether we’ve been diagnosed with a learning difference or not, experience these challenges on a daily basis. Landmark School offers an effective model that delivers skills and strategies across the curriculum to improve executive function deficits. We're sharing some of their lessons in this series for parents, teachers, and students to implement at home, school, and beyond. The result of effective executive function skills leads to healthy, productive habits—life skills.

What Is Executive Function?

According to Patricia W. Newhall in her text, Language-Based Learning Series: Executive Function: Foundations for Learning and Teaching, “Executive Function is the brain’s ability to coordinate the cognitive and psychological processes needed to initiate, sustain, monitor and adapt the behaviors and attitudes required to achieve a goal” (2012, p.2).

Skills for School. Skills for Life.

Students with executive function deficits need to be taught skills to get and stay organized. These skills include managing time, materials, and information. Mastery of these skills leads to independence and ultimately provides balance for life inside and outside of school. Primary among the “what” and “how” of executive function strategies is to help students understand themselves as learners. This is called metacognition, and it’s what makes  students successful—it’s a key ingredient to the secret sauce. Because the recipe is slightly different for each student, it's important to expose them to a variety of skills so they can determine which ones work best for them. We hope this series and the tools and strategies included for download help your student succeed in school and beyond. The series is posted in the following installments:

The following members of the Landmark School faculty contributed to this series, sharing tips, templates, and years of experience that parents, teachers, and students alike can use to help boost executive function.

Suzanne Crossman, director of Transition and Guidance
Robin Day-Laporte, director of the Landmark High School Study Skills Department
Andrea Meade, assistant dean of students, Landmark High School
Deirdre Mulligan, Elementary Science/Social Studies Department Head/Elementary•Middle School Training Coordinator
Melody O'Neil, associate director of Admissions

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The Special Relationship Between Language-Based Learning Disabilities and Anxiety

Blog Type:  Social and Emotional Issues Date Posted:  Tuesday, March 19, 2019

girl and mother at table anxiety learning disability

This is the fifth post in a five-part series about students, stress, and anxiety. The first article is an overview of anxiety, the second looks at a relaxation program for elementary and middle school students, the third discusses how a student learned to manage her anxiety, and the fourth explores how mindfulness can reduce anxiety. By Helene Dionne, Ph.D., and Laura Polvinen, LICSW

"I tried very hard to be normal…I tried to hide as much as I could…You think you go day by day…but…it’s like every day is a full lifetime. And it’s like, 'Oh my god! I have to get through this...the amount of anxiety, stress, and fear is enough to fill a lifetime...it is just so stressful…once I go to bed, it is like the end of my life…' "(Cole, 181)

As a student with a language-based learning disability (LBLD), Cole knows better than most what it means to live with anxiety.  Indeed, the literature reports that rates of anxiety are significantly higher for students with learning disabilities (Alesi, Rappo & Pepi, 2014). While the reasons for this remain unclear, students with LBLD connect their increased stress level to a number of factors. The difficulty of performing daily school tasks, as Cole describes, may certainly trigger a constant state of hypervigilance. Emily, 18, shares the same worry. Teachers “would go around the room and have us read. I remember chewing on my sleeves because I was so nervous about being picked,” she said. The acute sense of being different, described by many of our students as beginning in kindergarten or first grade, often tightens the grip of that anxiety. “I was so self-conscious about my learning and comparing myself to other kids…I would put myself down because I felt I was not as smart as the other kids,” recalled Emily. That anxiety may lead to school refusal (Kearney & Albano, 2004, 2008).  Many students with LBLD also describe an intense preoccupation with friendships. “Once I started having problems in the classroom, I became more shy, and I focused so much on having friends…even as a 6 year old, I was worried about socializing...,” added Emily. That worry may spread to social anxiety: “As I got older...I would get anxiety about getting anxiety. I would not want to go to social events...in my freshman or sophomore year, I could not even eat at the cafeteria,” she said.

Academic Support and Anxiety

School interventions to address the LBLD may have a negative impact on students’ sense of self and their peer interactions, thus increasing their anxiety. Whether from teachers’ inappropriate comments, as Jessica, 15, recalled: “[I had] constantly been told…that I was either not trying hard enough and I was not going to do anything with my life,” or the ​effect of instructional approaches, even if well intentioned and effective.“Getting taken out of class, taking tests in separate rooms, and having an aid walk up my way more often than she would to other people…things like that single you out…I guess seeing that made [other students] think that there was something wrong with me, and they wouldn’t think that I could play sports with them, or do the same kinds of arts and crafts…just because they thought I was different,” Mike, 18, shared.

What Can Parents Do to Help?

Parents reading this might be getting anxious just thinking about their child’s potential for developing anxiety! The truth is that parents are invaluable advocates and resources for their children with anxiety. Here are some helpful “dos” when it comes to helping your anxious child:

  • Parents should educate themselves on their child’s disability and its impact on learning. At times, students with LBLD can look as though they lack motivation, are lazy, apathetic about school, avoidant, defiant, or even just angry. Knowing more about their disability will help you understand what you see in terms of behaviors with regard to school. Then, explain the learning disability to your child. It is the first step in countering the thought that they are not smart enough to succeed, a conclusion that students with LBLD often draw from their repeated failures in school.
  • Parents can be their child’s advocate with the school system to develop an educational program that will lead to more successful learning and emotional well-being. This is an essential issue that will require significant commitment and resiliency as a parent.
  • Parents will need to nurture a relationship beyond and despite the tension caused by school demands. Many children with LBLD will require daily help with homework. You will likely help them stay organized, plan, and break down the work into more manageable units. This level of organization can help keep anxiety under control as well.
  • Amid all of this tough work, it is important that you maintain an ability to play with your child, appreciate the many sides of their personality and abilities in life, and enjoy one another. To this end, encourage your child to engage in interests to develop a sense of competency in other areas of their life: physical, artistic, dramatic, musical, scientific, or technological.
  • Examine the thoughts and emotions leading to your own reactions as you are helping your child with school-related tasks: anxiety about deadlines or test performance for your child, visualizing your own fears about the future, embarrassment about repeated failures, etc. Your ability to remain calm and model calm under pressure is more likely to foster a similar attitude in your child.  

When you encounter challenge with regard to school tasks or anxiety, remember that threats and angry demands are counterproductive and typically lead to the opposite result because your child becomes more anxious, feels misunderstood, and is resentful. Of course an LBLD diagnosis paired with anxiety is tough on parents; no parent ever wants to see their child struggle. Still, parents and their modeling of managing the disability and anxiety will be key to the child’s success and development of resilience.

What Can Kids Do to Help Manage Their Anxiety?

Procrastination and avoidance are the “go to” responses for students with anxiety, and they are typically automatic and unconscious.  Unfortunately, it leads to the child’s increasing fear since the fear is never “faced.” There are different ways of countering this tendency. Here are some strategies to use with your children.  

  • Help them learn how to manage their homework load. This may involve decisions about the order in which to tackle the assignments (from easy to difficult, or the opposite, or according to class order). Also break down the task into manageable units and have the student praise themself for completion.
  • Change the perception of their LBLD so that they see it as a manageable issue.  Kids with LBLD develop self-defeating thought processes that prevent them from even attempting work. With help, your child can learn to identify those thoughts and counter them. Whenever she made a mistake, Rose’s mind would spin out of control: “ I am so dumb, I will never be able to learn this, I will not go to college, and I will end up working at McDonald’s for the rest of my life.” She would rip up her work, and walk away.  When the self talk changes, then the behaviors can change, too. Encourage children to talk to their anxiety and help them form positive responses like, “I can do this, I’ve been able to before” or “I can try this and then ask for help if I’m unsure.” As Emily says, “When you are thinking and putting yourself down, like that I am dumb…you notice…” Instead, students can remind themselves that they are smart, that they succeeded before and can again.
  • Encourage their use of distraction to shift the thought process.  Students with anxiety often get stuck in a “hamster wheel” of worried thoughts. At times there is no using logic to get out, and distraction can be a useful technique to calm the anxiety.  Nicole, 17, said she likes “to go outside so I can feel not trapped or [I] listen to music and tune out to the beat of the song.” Jessie, 10, an elementary student prefers to “... watch funny Youtube videos or look at a picture of my dog to help distract my brain...that puts it back on track.” 
  • Support their practice of breathing exercises, mindfulness, and muscle relaxation to counter the anxious mindset and calm the fear response (Harvard Medical School, 2018). Jessie shares, “When I worry, I use my calm app to listen to rain sounds and practice breathing.” A high schooler notices “muscle relaxation…[for] when you feel you have the body symptoms…helped a lot with anticipatory anxiety I had before public speaking or if I had a race…it helps your body relax...it helps your head.” Students who take part in mindfulness at the start of each day at school notice that they are able to reset or take a quick “nap” to quiet their mind before class and that they can tap into this feeling before a test, or when their worries flare up.  
  • Remind students to reach out for support. Sometimes anxious feelings are so strong that students need to talk to a trusted adult or peer to practice one of the strategies above, or have validation that their worry makes sense, but it still does not need to be taking over.  Students who are really feeling stuck and might need adult support could find it helpful to take a walk or get a drink, as an additional way to reset the body so that the mind will reset, too.
  • Lastly, it is worth mentioning that anxiety may be so overwhelming that students cannot access their internal resources and help themselves. A medication evaluation may be indicated and make a significant difference in making them more able to take advantage of other therapeutic strategies.  

In a world where we are being told that anxiety is at pandemic levels for youth, we know that our students with LBLD are well versed in what it is like to live with both a learning disability and anxiety. Despite these challenges, they can go on to be resilient, creative adults with fulfilling lives.

  1. Denotes student’s name (changed for anonymity) and current age.

References

Resources

About LBLD

Franklin, D. (2018).  Helping your Child with Language-Based Learning Disabilities: Strategies to Succeed in School and Life with Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Dyscalculia, ADHD and Processing Disorders. New Harbinger Publications, Oakland, California 94609.

About Anxiety

Recommended Website

Apps for Breathing/Mindfulness/Relaxation

​About the Authors

Helene Dionne

Dr. Helene Dionne has been the director of counseling services at Landmark School since 2003, after working for 25 years in the mental health world, in hospitals, outpatient clinics, and private practice.

Laura Polvinen

Laura Polvinen is the counseling team leader at Landmark’s Elementary Middle School. A Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker, she has spent the past 10 years working with children and families with needs ranging from trauma, chronic illness, traumatic brain injury, anxiety, depression, ADHD, and learning disabilities.

 

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