Dyslexia – How Far We’ve Come!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014 - 17:30
  • Martha Burns, Ph.D

For most of the 40-plus years that the term “dyslexia” has been in existence, and although the diagnosis has long been considered a “learning disability,” it has been based on comparisons with average readers. Simply put, a child has been diagnosed with “dyslexia” if he or she is shown to have an IQ in the “normal” range but falls at or below the 10th percentile on standardized tests of reading for a specific age group. The cut-off has been arbitrary, often varying considerably from one setting to another. As a result, a child who falls at the 12th percentile might be considered a poor reader while a child falling at the 10th percentile would be diagnosed with dyslexia.

The technical term for that diagnostic approach is called “discrepancy criteria.” Stanislas Dehaene, in his book Reading in the Brain, succinctly explains that the diagnosis of dyslexia has thus depended “on the setting of an arbitrary criterion for ‘normality’ … [which] might lead to the erroneous conclusion that dyslexia is a purely social construction.”

Certainly, for those parents among us who have a child diagnosed with dyslexia, it is obvious quite early in the educational process that our bright child is not just behind in reading but dumbfounded by the written word. A child with dyslexia seems to struggle at every turn.

Psychologists, neurologists, and special educators have understood that as well and since the 1970s have assumed dyslexia has a neurological basis. In fact, the term “dyslexia” actually stems from the Greek alexia, which literally means “loss of the word” and was the diagnostic term used when adults lost the ability to read after suffering a brain injury. Dyslexia was a term adopted to confer a lesser (though still neurologically based) form of reading impairment seen in children. However, determining the neurological basis has been elusive until relatively recently.

The Search for a Neurological Basis

In the early attempts at researching the underlying causes of dyslexia in the 1970s there were no technological medical procedures available to study brain processes that might be involved in reading normally or abnormally. As a result, although the term implied that there was a neurological cause, the exact nature of the brain differences in children with dyslexia could not be determined.

Some of the early researchers believed that the cause was visual-spatial. Samuel Orton had originally thought that reading disorders in children were similar to “word blindness” in adults, caused not by a specific brain injury, but representing a maturational disorder based on delayed cerebral development of left hemisphere dominance. However, his theory could not be tested empirically and he and others became more aware over time that many children with reading problems seemed to have specific problems with other non-visual aspects of reading – specifically, sounding out of words.

Because of the inability to determine the neurological cause(s) of dyslexia, in some educational circles especially, it became synonymous with "developmental reading disorder" and the cause (neurological or perhaps otherwise) was deemed not important. Rather, the goal was to develop and test interventions and measure their outcomes without an effort to relate the interventions to underlying causation.

The problem with that approach, from a scientific standpoint, is that it is symptom based. Rather than getting at the root of the problem or distinguishing one child’s problem from another’s, the non-causative approach assumes that the solution to dyslexia depends on a specific teaching method. An analogy in medical science would be trying to treat all skin rashes with calamine lotion – it might make a person feel better no matter the cause, but it would be wholly inadequate for prevention of a virus like measles or treatment of a bacterial rash like impetigo.

Fortunately, just as medical science advanced our understanding of viral and bacterial causes of skin infections to allow for effective medical treatment, advances in neuroscience, buttressed by neuroimaging and brain electrophysiological technology starting in the late 1990s, have led to an emerging consensus about the causes of dyslexia and the most effective methods for remediating those causes. This neuroscience research has been accumulating from a variety of disciplines and is beginning to reveal a few underlying factors in brain development that can cause reading to be problematic. And the best news is that all of those processes are amenable to carefully designed training approaches.

What Happens in the Dyslexic Brain – and Why

In the early to mid-2000s, much of the available research on the underlying basis of dyslexia pointed to a primary problem with the phonological processing of speech sounds. The early research by Shaywitz (2003), Ramus (2003), and Vellutino, Fletcher, Snowling, & Scanlon (2004) – summarized in Stanislas Dehaene’s Reading in the Brain – identified problems with phonological awareness, the ability to segment words into their component speech sound components.

More resent research has delineated why that problem exists. For example, in 2012, Boets et al., using neuroimaging technology, found that in adults with dyslexia the brain connections between areas that represent speech sounds and a part of the left frontal lobe that is important for higher level processing of speech sounds is significantly hampered. In other words, they found that dyslexia is a problem accessing intact representations of speech sounds. Other recent neurophysiological research has indicated that disrupted timing of auditory processing, particularly in the range relevant to speech sounds, is a core deficit in dyslexia.[1]

Retraining the Dyslexic Brain

These consistent findings have led to an emerging consensus, well summarized by Jane Hornickel and Nina Kraus in the Journal of Neuroscience in 2012: namely that dyslexia is primarily an auditory disorder that arises from an inability to respond to speech sounds in a consistent manner. This underlying problem with perception of speech sounds, in turn, causes problems relating a speech sound to the written letter. Therefore, reading interventions for dyslexia should be most effective if they combine auditory perceptual training of speech sounds with exercises that require relating speech sounds to the written letter. And, in fact, neuroscience research bears that out.

The Fast ForWord Language and Reading interventions contain neuroscience-based exercises. They have been empirically tested in independent neuroscience laboratories and shown to have a rapid and significant impact on children and adults with dyslexia. The exercises have been shown to have a positive effect on the neurological processes that support reading and language as well.[2]

Our understanding of dyslexia has come very far in the past 40 years, with neurophysiological models developed in just the past five years explaining why letter-sound correspondence is so difficult for these children. Fortunately, treatment options have kept pace with the research, and children with dyslexia today have the potential to train their brains to overcome the learning difficulties that earlier generations were destined to carry with them for a lifetime.

References

Boets, B., Op de Beeck, H.P., Vandermosten, M., Scott, S.K., Gillebert, C.R., Mantini, D., Ghesquière, P.  (2013). Intact but less accessible phonetic representations in adults with dyslexia, Science, 342, 1251-1254. doi: 10.1126/science.1244333

Burns, M.S. (2012). Application of Neuroscience to Remediation of Auditory Processing, Phonological, Language and Reading Disorders: The Fast ForWord® and BrainPro Programs. In D. Geffner & D. Swain (Eds.), Auditory processing disorders: Assessment, management and treatment (2nd ed.). San Diego, CA: Plural Publications.

Dehaene, S. (2009). Reading in the brain: The science and evolution of a human invention. New York, NY: Viking Press.

Gabrielli, J. (2009). Dyslexia: A new synergy between education and cognitive neuroscience. Science, 325, 280-283. doi: 10.1126/science.1171999

Hornickel, J. & Kraus, N. (2013), Unstable representation of sound: A biological marker of dyslexia. The Journal of Neuroscience, 33, 3500 –3504. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4205-12.2013

 

[1] See Billet & Bellis (2011), Goswami (2011), and Lehongre, Ramus, Villermet, Schwartz, & Giraud (2011) summarized by Burns (2012).

[2] See Dehaene (2009) and Gabrielli (2009) for excellent summaries of the research on the Fast ForWord interventions for dyslexia.

Related reading:

Auditory Processing Skills and Reading Disorders in Children

How Learning to Read Improves Brain Function

 

 

 

Debunking Anecdotes – One Parent’s Journey Through a Maze of Misconceptions About Learning Disabilities

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 - 17:15
  • Joanne Gouaux

Debunking anecdotes about learning disabilities"If you read to them, they will read." That statement sums up what I believed when my first child began babbling and pointing to objects in his favorite board books. Blissfully optimistic, I eagerly began reading to my child as soon as he could keep his eyes open long enough to stare at the pages of a book, long before he began speaking in sentences. That was, of course, prior to kindergarten, when the reality of learning to read gallantly collided with my pie-in-the-sky perspective of what many tout as the “magic of reading.”

Kindergarten and the enchantment of learning to read passed by in a flurry. It was not so much magical, as it was dumbfounding. Yes, we were astonished and amazed, but not in the way we had originally anticipated. It seemed the joke was on us.

The summer between kindergarten and first grade was the beginning of what felt like a carnival tour through unfamiliar side shows - weird rooms with strange lighting, specialists with long professional titles, and a seemingly endless line of shenanigans. It was disorienting. Our son led us through a maze of experiences that felt strikingly similar to the hallway of mirrors, with odd distorted reflections of ourselves and confusing passages that led to people who would look at us and smile without the slightest idea how to help. Embarking on a quest to help our child discover his path to reading was mind-bending.

Our oldest child is a laid-back, happy go-lucky character, who beats to his own drum and finds tremendous humor in ambushing the "seriousness" out of the most mundane routines.  He is curious above all else, imaginative, and enjoys playing the part of family clown, in the best sense of the role.  He is a practical joker with a sensitive awareness of others’ emotions. He lives to laugh, and loves to make people smile.  His younger brother is much more serious and socially reserved at the present stage.

Along with two beautiful children, their father and I also share another unique genetic gem - each of us has a parent who is dyslexic. Born a generation apart on opposite sides of the country, both my mother and his father experienced demeaning treatment as a result of their inability to learn to read fluently in their early school years.

Their father and I are the eldest children of parents who firmly believed in the philosophy of "no pain, no gain" and the necessity of hard work without short cuts. We both excelled at individual sports such as swimming and distance running - that is to say that we knew how to buckle down and push through difficulties and discomfort, viewing struggles and setbacks as acceptable, normal parts of life.

I was a "good student" who "worked hard" while my husband was described by his mother and elementary school teachers as "never working to his full potential."  This particular statement speaks more to a guiding fiction commonly held by teachers, and compounded by parental expectations, than it does about a child's true potential. It also sets the stage for a cleansing of misguided anecdotes that fuel the misunderstanding of learning disabilities.

Behind the heavy curtains of any storied carnival there is a place where the magician's tricks and illusions are unveiled. Tricks distract the audience into believing in the illusion that everything is exactly as it appears. Popular anecdotes are like tricks as they provide the illusion of control for well-meaning adults. In truth, most anecdotes are obstacles to early intervention and parental advocacy:

  • Practice makes perfect. Trying hard and failing despite honest attempts over and over again is painful and can be fruitless without the proper interventions and support system.
  • No pain, no gain. Demanding or telling a bright child who is struggling to read to "try harder" is counter-productive and causes intense anxiety and stress which undermines their self-concept, damages trust, and leads to unnecessary suffering by all.
  • Hard work always pays off. Having to work harder and longer than anyone else in your class is exhausting and humiliating, especially when it is not the most efficient way to learn.
  • He/She just needs more time. Children with learning disabilities only become independent learners when their underlying challenges are adequately addressed. Nothing will change without proper identification and support.

Our own child heard demeaning statements from a teacher who referred to him as smart, but lazy, and took away recess and free time as punishment for not completing writing assignments. Other teachers said he just needed more time to grow and suggested another year in the same grade.  Both our son and his grandparents were identified as dyslexic, but only with the help of an advocate.  Advocates are not limited to parents. Advocates can be teachers, family members or anyone with a meaningful connection to a child, or adult.  

Teachers and parents play a unique role in helping to identify learning disabilities. Identification requires a willingness on the part of both parties to objectively seek root causes of a child's difficulty and to work with the child to find strategies and solutions for their success. An analogy that captures the interdependence of this relationship is that of two people in a row boat: the teacher and the child, or the parent and the child. Each one has an oar and they each must row to move the boat forward. If only one person rows, the boat will go around in circles and go nowhere. Telling the child to row harder is equivalent to "try harder" and it only makes the boat go around in circles faster. We must respect the child's effort, celebrate their small successes, and encourage them to keep going while picking up our own oar and getting in a rhythm with the child's natural pace.

Children who receive help with their learning disabilities learn to successfully work smarter, not harder. In the long run, they can develop the ability to advocate for themselves. These are skills that last a lifetime. As parents, we have a unique opportunity to observe our child's struggle, and validate their experience by acknowledging their efforts, allowing them to trust their own instincts as well as trusting us.

If there is one message I wish to share with fellow parents, it is this -- do not allow well-intentioned anecdotes from our past, other parents, teachers, or administrators to belittle or dismiss your child's experiences, or to plant doubt in your own parental abilities. Every child has the right to a free and appropriate public school education. Children need additional help getting access to the right resources, but help exists, even if it is difficult to find at first. Children deserve a fair start in life, and someone to hold their hand through the carnival of unexpected oddities. With any luck, you may even come out of the "fun house" laughing at the ridiculous experience, all the while realizing that neither of you were ever broken in the first place, but rather a little lost, and in need of some light and map to navigate the road less traveled.

Joanne Gouaux discovered Fast ForWord after her 7-year-old son, Carter, was diagnosed with dyslexia. We will share Carter’s academic story in an upcoming post.

Related reading:

Girl Brains and Boy Brains: What Educators and Parents Need to Know
What Every Parent Should Know About Their Baby’s Developing Brain

 

Keep Learning This Summer - Four Must-Watch Webinars for Teachers

Tuesday, June 10, 2014 (All day)
  • Alexis Hourselt

Must-Watch Webinars

School’s out for summer! While it’s a great time to relax and reset before the start of the next school year, it’s also a great time to catch up on professional development.

This summer, check out some of our most popular webinars on topics to help your students.

Comprehension: Going Beyond Fluency

Although fluency is important for reading success, it is not sufficient. Students must also actively work to make meaning out of the texts they read. In this webinar, Dr. Timothy Rasinski shares some of his favorite approaches for helping students engage in texts meaningfully and productively. Watch now.

How the ELL Brain Learns

What does the latest research reveal about the ELL brain? In this session, Dr. David Sousa provides an overview of how the young brain acquires the first language, and then looks at how trying to learn a second language affects brain development. Learn about the challenges that ELL students face when learning both conversational and academic language simultaneously and explore ways to help them. Dr. Sousa also debunks some misconceptions about ELLs and English language acquisition. There are some surprises! Watch now.

Use Brain Science to Make Dramatic Gains in Special Ed

This session features Dr. Martha Burns and special guest Kelly Winnett of Blount County, AL. Dr. Burns shares the latest research on the brain and learning (especially in students who struggle) and Mrs. Winnett shares how the Fast ForWord program has helped her students in special education make tremendous growth (AYP!) - in some cases moving learners from non-readers to readers and from non-verbal to verbal. Watch now.

New Science of Learning for Your Struggling Readers

Dr. Martha Burns discusses the ability of neuroscience to profoundly impact education. Hear how the science of learning has guided the development of breakthrough technologies to enhance underlying memory, attention, processing and sequencing abilities in struggling students. Watch now.

Related reading:

Summer Learning Programs, ELLs and the Achievement Gap

How to Create an Effective Summer Learning Program

 

The iPad® and Student Engagement: Is There a Connection?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014 (All day)
  • Carrie Gajowski

iPads and student engagement

When students at ACS Cobham International School (UK) got iPads, Richard Harrold saw an opportunity. As an assistant principal at the lower (elementary) school, he had been hearing glowing reports from other educators about students seeing remarkable gains when using iPads. Were the gains real? And was the effect due to something special about the iPad, or were students just responding to the newness of the technology?

Harrold decided to find out. With the help of his school’s “Project i” team, he launched a formal study with 1 stand 2 ndgraders to see if they would experience the same increases in engagement and understanding that he had been hearing about from other educators.

Harrold's study confirmed the benefits of iPads in schools:

  • iPads benefit learners of different ages, sometimes in different ways
  • iPads have special benefits for learners in the very early grades
  • The iPad makes typing easier for 1 stand 2 ndgraders

More generally, results indicated that:

  • iPads improve student engagement
  • “iPad buddies” collaborate more
  • iPads boost perseverance

The effects discovered were more than a reaction to a fun, new “toy.” In fact, to ensure that their results were not due to a honeymoon period, the team delayed the study until learners had been using their iPads for a full eight months.

These findings are exciting, especially for learners requiring intervention. Struggling students can be harder to engage and may have trouble enduring learning challenges. Giving them the opportunity to use an iPad-based intervention can motivate learners to persevere and achieve.

In a time where “grit” is getting a lot of attention as a key indicator of future success, anytime that perseverance goes up – as with iPad use – educators would be wise to take notice. But don’t rule out the appeal of classic technologies. Early-grade learners would still rather read a bound book than an ebook on iPad.

References:

Harrold, R. (2012). Measuring the Effect of iPads in the Classroom. The International Educator.Retrieved from: http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/74482139/measuring-effect-ipads-classroom

Harrold, R. (2012). The iPad Effect: Leveraging Engagement, Collaboration, and Perseverance. The International Educator. Retrieved from: http://www.tieonline.com/view_article.cfm?ArticleID=100

Related reading:

10 Big Benefits of Using iPads in Schools

Inspiring Students to Dream, Learn and Grow

 

Teach More Vocabulary, Faster, Using the Power of Morphology

Tuesday, March 4, 2014 (All day)
  • Norene Wiesen

morphology

You can teach your students 10 vocabulary words the usual way – one at a time – or you can teach them 100 vocabulary words with little extra effort. The second approach seems like the obvious choice, and in Dr. Tim Rasinski’s recent webinar, Comprehension – Going Beyond Fluency, he makes the case for greater adoption of the accelerated approach.

Going Beyond Fluency

Rasinski is known as a passionate advocate for teaching fluencyas a bridge to reading comprehension. But there’s more to comprehension than just fluency. Vocabulary plays a big part as well, and Rasinski talks about how to teach students “the meaning of words,” knowledge that is not only practical for everyday and academic life, but is also required by the Common Core.

Teaching Morphology

Morphology is a technical term that refers to the part of a word that carries meaning. It’s the Latin root “spect,” for example, in words like “introspection” or “spectacle,” that signals not only a commonality in spelling but also a kinship in meaning.

Knowing that “spec” means “look” makes it relatively easy for a student to understand (or figure out) that “introspection” means “to look inward” and “spectacle” means “an eye-catching occurrence.” The list of words built on the root “spec” is long, and by learning just one root, a student knows or can more easily interpret the meanings of many new words.

Rasinski calls this the “generative” or “multiplier” effect of morphological vocabulary study: the fact that Latin and Greek roots, prefixes, and suffixes have a one-to-many correspondence that dramatically increases access to vocabulary. And it’s not just Rasinski’s opinion that this approach gets results. Research has shown that during the early grades, morphological knowledge is a better predictor of reading comprehension than vocabulary levels.

Faster Learning

The more you do something the better you get at it. It’s how the brain works – practicing a skill rewires the brain to perform that skill more efficiently and effectively the next time. The online Fast ForWord®intervention program has the capacity to give students much more intensive, targeted practice in most aspects of reading – including morphology – than other programs or methods. That’s because Fast ForWord delivers nearly 35,000 learning “trials” in the same amount of time that other software programs deliver just over 5,000 trials. The result is often significant learning gains for even the most struggling students.

Rasinski hands the webinar over to Cory Armes, who demonstrates Hoof Beat, an exercise in Fast ForWord Reading 4 that develops morphological skills such as recognizing and understanding Greek and Latin roots, suffixes, and prefixes. It also works on word analysis, synonyms, antonyms, analogies, and more. With a fun video game style format that keeps students engaged while challenging them with in-depth practice.

Armes goes on to present statistically significant results from several studies of students using the Fast ForWord program, including increased reading achievement for elementary learners, improved comprehension for secondary learners, and over 2 years of improvement in reading grade level for ELLs.

The Nitty Gritty

Check out the full webinar and get all the rich details:

  • How many words students can learn weekly by traditional direct instruction;
  • How many words students can learn over the course of their K-12 education by traditional direct instruction;
  • How many words are in the English language (HINT: it’s probably more than you think);
  • How Fast ForWord develops vocabulary through morphology (see the product in action);
  • How – and in what grade – teachers can start teaching morphology to accelerate vocabulary learning; and
  • The details of Rasinski’s 5-day plan for using morphology to teach vocabulary.

If you’re not yet using roots, prefixes, and suffixes as a mainstay of vocabulary instruction – or if you’d like to explore how technology can help – don’t hesitate to watch the webinar. Your students will thank you…someday.

Related reading:

5 Fluency and Comprehension Strategies That Every Reader Can Use

Squelching Curiosity: How Pre-Teaching Vocabulary Stifles Learning

Right vs. Left Brained + Autism, APD, ADHD Neuroscience and More

Tuesday, February 4, 2014 (All day)
  • Carrie Gajowski

Visionary Conference 2014

Are some of us “left-brained” and some “right-brained”? Dr. Paula Tallal will be presenting in person (and online via webinar) on this exact topic during our upcoming annual  Visionary Conferencein her session “Hemispheric Dominance: Myth or Reality?”   The conference offers ASHA CEUs and will be 2 days of the most up to date information on the brain, the Fast ForWord/Reading Assistant programs and what’s coming down the line (did someone say iPad®?).  You won’t want to miss this event – best of all, it’s both online and in-person.

New Brain Research

In addition to Dr. Tallal’s presentation, we are fortunate to have Dr. Martha Burns on board with us sharing the latest research on the brain and learning. Dr.  Burns will kick off the conference on Friday morning with a professional development session that will focus on the latest findings related to disconnection patterns associated with communicative-cognitive disorders of CAS (childrens apraxia of speech), APD (auditory processing disorders), ASD (autism spectrum disorders), and dyslexia – as well as the genetics of neuropathology, cognitive challenges after concussion, and evidence-based interventions. To start us off on Day 2 on Saturday, Dr. Tallal will weigh in on the half-century old debate about brain hemisphere dominance with new evidence.  If you have ever seen Drs. Burns and Tallal present, you know that these sessions are not to be missed!  

What’s Happening with Fast ForWord in Australia? Singapore? Brazil?

We are excited to announce that some of our international partners will be joining on Friday, February 21 st, to participate in a discussion panel.  We will have a combination of newer and long-time providers who all share the same enthusiasm about providing the programs in their respective countries with their own unique models.  If you ever wondered how our programs are implemented in other countries, this session is for you.  Countries to be represented are Australia, Singapore and Brazil.  

Evaluation Before and After?

Three of our clinicians based here in the United States will share and discuss best practices in their evaluation protocol for use of and placement in the Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant Intervention Programs.  We will hear from Dana Merritt with Merritt Speech and Language and from  Julie DeAngelis and Summer Peterson with Scottish Rite Language Center.

Product Training & News

Additional sessions will address interpretation of MySciLEARN learner progress data, integration of other commercially available programs with Fast ForWord intervention, what’s on the horizon for the Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant products (exciting developments!),  and much more.    

Be There or… Join us Virtually! 

If you’ve been to an onsite Visionary Conference with us before, then you know how energizing the event is going to be.  As in past years, we are offering a virtual option if you can’t be with us in person.  For 2 full days, we will be broadcasting the conference live.  It will feel like you are there with us!  Virtual attendees will receive copies of the presentations and ASHA Participant forms before the start of the conference.  Enjoy the conference from the comfort of your own home!

ASHA CEUs offered – whether you are on-site or virtual…

We are planning to offer up to 1.4 ASHA CEUs for the entire conference – whether you are onsite with us or virtual (pending ASHA review).  We can also offer partial credit if you can’t attend the entire conference.   Contact Carrie Gajowski at  cgajowski@scilearn.com if you have any questions.

If you’ve never been, don’t miss out – it’s the highlight of the year! 

Related reading:

Left vs. Right: What Your Brain Hemispheres Are Really Up To

What New Brain Wave Research Tells Us About Language-Based Learning Disabilities

 

Remediation vs. Accommodation: Helping Students with Learning Disabilities Succeed

Tuesday, January 28, 2014 (All day)
  • Norene Wiesen

helping students with learning disabilities

Meeting the needs of students with learning disabilities can be a challenge. Students newly identified with a learning disability are likely to need immediate help to fully benefit from the curriculum, and this help often takes the form of accommodation. But for maximum long-term benefit, educators need to address the learning difficulty at its core, remediating it with a carefully targeted, intensive, individualized intervention.

Weighing the Options

In the real world, remediation is typically a time- and personnel-intensive undertaking, and without simultaneous accommodation, students with learning disabilities may continue to experience an ongoing cycle of failure. However, an over-reliance on accommodation can sap a student’s motivation to learn how to perform without accommodation.

Typically, then, educators find themselves balancing intensive intervention with accommodation and fitting the combination to the individual learner. Finding the point of equilibrium is a process that involves both informed decision-making and trial and error.

Dr. Dave Edyburn, a leading expert in assistive technology for students with learning disabilities, recommends that reliance on accommodation should be based in part on a student’s age. Younger learners, for example, whose job is focused on learning to decode and building reading fluency, might need less accommodation for reading. A 4th grader who still struggles with decoding, on the other hand, urgently requires greater accommodation to be able to comprehend and benefit from the curriculum.

Regardless of the degree of accommodation a student receives, effective and intensive intervention should remain a priority. One option for addressing a learning challenge at its core is  Fast ForWord software. At a biological level, Fast ForWord actually helps learners build new neural connections to support more efficient information processing and learning. It’s also been proven to help learners with  dyslexia and  auditory processing disorder, improving their ability to pay attention, process information, and remember what they have learned. 

In some cases, completing one or two Fast ForWord products is all it takes for a learner to test out of special education. For other learners, the Fast ForWord program can be the difference maker in staying out of special education altogether. In many districts, any students referred for a learning disability in language or math are required to use Fast ForWord before undergoing further testing. One district saw a 30% drop in special education referrals.

Solid Gold

When it comes to student learning, any tool or technique that helps has a potential role to play. Many students need accommodation and should rightfully receive that help as guaranteed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). But the gold standard for students with learning disabilities will always be effective remediation. Learning disabilities may not be “fixable,” but they can often be overcome.

References:

Edyburn, D.L. Assistive Technology:  Getting the Right Supports for Your Student.  Retrieved from:   http://www.ncld.org/students-disabilities/assistive-technology-education/assistive-technology-getting-right-supports-for-your-student

Related reading:

What New Brain Wave Research Tells Us About Language-Based Learning Disabilities

Improved Auditory Processing With Targeted Intervention

What the Common Core Standards Mean for Special Education Students

Tuesday, January 21, 2014 (All day)
  • Hallie Smith, MA CCC-SLP

common core and special education

The Common Core standards are considered challenging for general education learners - and they’re meant to be. But given that challenge, many educators wonder what it means to hold special education students to the same standards. These are students, after all, who have already been performing well below grade level on standards that in many cases are weaker than the Common Core standards that replace them.

Meeting High Expectations Under the Common Core

How are educators expected to get these underperforming students to proficiency with the Common Core standards? A document on the Common Core State Standards Initiative website, “Application to Students with Disabilities,” outlines the supports and accommodations required for special educations students, including:

Standards-Based IEP

The Standards-Based IEP guides instructional planning for students with learning disabilities. It outlines an individualized learning experience matched to student needs and appropriate accommodations, and sets annual goals aligned with grade-level academic standards.

Instructional Supports & Accommodations

Instructional supports and accommodations that must be provided students include:

  • Additional support in the classroom (e.g., students have access to a special education teacher in the mainstream classroom)
  • Varied instructional approach (e.g., incorporating technology into math instruction, or using writing as a mode of inquiry and learning)
  • Access to assistive technology (e.g., text readers or sign language) 

Qualified Teaching & Support Personnel

Students must receive high-quality, evidence-based instruction and support, delivered by qualified teachers and specialized instructional support staff. Some experts predict that the role of special education teachers will grow under the Common Core as they support general education teachers in understanding how to scaffold their teaching to fit the needs of different learners.

Controversy

There are parents and educators who argue that holding students with learning disabilities to the same academic standards as general education students is unrealistic and unfair – for reasons of ability or practicality. Some parents of students with severe cognitive disabilities, for example, prefer that their children focus on life skills over academic skills, reasoning that life skills are more valuable for their children in the long run. 

Others are more concerned about accurately measuring the performance of students with learning disabilities than they are about the standards themselves. For one thing, special education students may require 30 to 40 more days of instructionthan general education students to learn the same material. If all students have the same number of instructional days, special education students would likely find themselves being tested on material they had never been taught. 

Then there’s the added challenge of agreeing on a common set of accommodations, such as assistive technologies that could be built right into the tests. Some experts argue that students need to able to use the equipment they're accustomed to using every day in the classroom rather than encountering unfamiliar technology at test time when the stakes are high. 

Computer-adaptive tests are also a concern because they adjust the difficulty of questions based on how a student performs on previous questions. The feature is intended to accommodate the full range of learners taking the test, but special education advocates worry that students with learning disabilities may end up being served questions below their grade level if they have a string of a few incorrect answers. 

So, while the new PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments are being designed up front to accommodate special education students – rather than having accommodations tacked on as an afterthought - many educators remain skeptical.

Raising the Bar for Special Education

Many educators see the implementation of the Common Core standards as a historic opportunity – at last – to give students with learning disabilities access to the same academic rigor and high expectations as mainstream students, as mandated by IDEA. 

Only time can tell how special educations students will fare under the Common Core. As with any large-scale shift in K-12 education practices, there are loud and persuasive voices on both sides of the issue and a lot of folks in the middle who are simply moving forward with the adopted standards and aren’t sure how things are going to turn out.

But at Scientific Learning, we know – because we’ve seen it again and again with our own eyes – that the majority of students with learning disabilities are capable of much more than they and others realize. Committed educators, a correct diagnosis, and an appropriately targeted intervention can be all that’s needed for dramatic learning gains.

References:

Application to Students with Disabilities,Retrieved from: http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/se/cc/

For further reading:

Common-Core Tests Pose Challenges in Special Ed.

Tech Assistance in Testing Poses Practical Issues

Common-Core Tests in Works for Students With Severe Disabilities

Parents question Common Core curriculum changes

Related reading:

"What’s in the Common Core, but Missing in Your Curriculum” Webinar by Dr. Martha Burns

Teaching Reading in Science Class: A Common Core Trend?

Improved Auditory Processing With Targeted Intervention

Tuesday, November 5, 2013 (All day)
  • Martha Burns, Ph.D

Improved auditory processing with targeted intervention

Last week’s blog postended with the mention of a new (2013) peer-reviewed study showing that Fast ForWord Language v2improved auditory processing in children with auditory processing disorders (APD). The study also provided evidence that the children’s brains rewired themselves during the eight-week study to more closely resemble typical brains. Today I want to go deeper into these findings.

To understand what brain changes the researchers found it is helpful to explain first how the brain actually goes about the task of perceiving speech. The first job the brain has to tackle when one person is listening to another person speak is to sort out the speech signal from the other sounds in the environment. That, of course, is the problem we have when listening to someone at a loud party. But that is also a challenge in most classrooms. Children, as we know, have trouble sitting perfectly still and younger children especially are often fidgeting and scooting their chairs around as well as whispering to children nearby. Add to that noise that comes from outside the classroom like hallway noise and playground noise, which even the best teacher cannot control, and a classroom can be a very noisy place. Part of maturation of the brain is the ability to learn to filter out irrelevant noises. But children must learn to do this and many with APD find that a real challenge.

It is not clearly understood why some children develop this capacity to filter speech from noise fairly easily and others do not, but audiologists do know that the problem can be traced to specific regions of the brain, especially regions of the brainstem. These regions can be tested through a process referred to as auditory brainstem response, or ABR. This test allows researchers to measure brain stem responses to sound through use of electrodes placed on the scalp. ABR is a critical measure of sound processing because it provides information about how well the auditory pathways to the brain from the ear have matured and how well they are functioning. In the study at Auburn University, a specific kind of ABR was used that has been shown to be especially helpful in diagnosing APD in children with language-based learning problems. It is called BioMARK. Using this procedure, the researchers could objectively measure whether a specific intervention not only improved listening skills but also whether it changed the brainstem response to speech.

To test whether auditory processing disorders can be improved though targeted intervention, the researchers at Auburn identified four children with APD using a battery of auditory processing, language, and intelligence tests that they administered before and after eight weeks of Fast ForWord Language v2.  They also used BioMARK testing before and after Fast ForWord to determine if the actual brainstem response was affected by the intervention.

Their results were very exciting. The children who completed all of the before-treatment tests, eight weeks of Fast ForWord Language training, and all the post-treatment tests plus BioMARK showed marked improvements in their auditory processing skills. For example, the children showed improvements in a test designed to assess listening to competing words (like we have to do when two people are talking to us at the same time) as well as deciphering words that are not very clear (like listening on a cell phone when there is a poor connection). They also improved in skills like listening for sound patterns and remembering complex sentences. And, important to teachers and parents, one of the children showed marked improvement in a measure of nonverbal intelligence as well as ability to follow complex directions.

Those results alone were remarkable after just eight weeks of intervention. But the most compelling part of the research was the finding that the BioMARK results also changed significantly in the children. And the changes were positive, meaning the children’s brain stem responses resembled typical children, those who do not have any evidence of auditory processing disorders affecting language skills and listening. In other words, the eight weeks of Fast ForWord resulted in what brain scientists call “neuroplastic” changes in brain function. And the changes occurred specifically in regions that are very specific to and important for accurate listening and language processing.

References:

Abrams, D.A., Nicol, T., Zecker, S.G., &Kraus, N. (2006). Auditory brainstem timing predicts cerebral dominance for speech sounds. Journal of Neuroscience, 26(43), 11131-11137.

King, C., Warrier, C.M., Hayes, E., &Kraus, N. (2002). Deficits in auditory brainstem encoding of speech sounds in children with learning problems. Neuroscience Letters 319, 111-115.

Krishnamurti, S., Forrester, J., Rutledge, C., & Holmes, G. (2013). A case study of the changes in the speech-evoked auditory brainstem response associated with auditory training in children with auditory processing disorders. International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology, 77(4), 594-604. doi: 10.1016/j.ijporl.2012.12.032

Wible, B., Nicol, T., Kraus, N. (2005). Correlation between brainstem and cortical auditory processes in normal and language-impaired children. Brain, 128, 417-423.

For further reading:

Learn more about BioMARK

Related reading:

Dyslexia, Auditory Processing Disorder, and the Road to College: Maria’s Story

What Makes a Good Reader? The Foundations of Reading Proficiency

 

Why Auditory Processing Disorders (APD) are Hard to Spot

Tuesday, October 29, 2013 (All day)
  • Martha Burns, Ph.D

Why auditory processing problems can be hard to spot Does this ever happen to you? You ask your child to do something simple, and he or she says, “huh?”  For example, you might say something like, “Chris, time to get ready for school: go upstairs, get your shoes, grab your homework (we worked really hard on that last night) and shut your window because it looks like rain.” And your child acts as though he didn’t hear a word. 

Often teachers describe a child like this as having poor listening skillsbecause the same thing will happen in class—except that in school the child misses important assignments, fails to follow instructions on tests, or is unable to learn information when it is presented orally. What is going on here?

Parents or teachers may assume that a child is deliberately ignoring them when they ask to have instructions repeated or miss important information in school. But audiologists, who are specialists in hearing, have identified a specific reason for these listening problems. They refer to them as auditory processing disorders, or APD for short.

APD is not a hearing loss and not an attentional problem, although it can often seem as though the child is not paying attention. Rather, with APD a child has trouble figuring out what was said, although it sounds loud enough. All of us suffer from this problem when we are trying to listen to someone talk in a very noisy room, like at a party where a band is playing very loudly. We know the person is speaking—we can hear their voice—but we can’t easily discern what they are saying. Sometimes we try to read the person’s lips to figure out what they are talking about. But after a while it gets so hard to listen we just tune out or leave the situation. Now, imagine you are a child and speech always sounds muddled like that. The child’s natural instinct, just like yours, is just to stop listening. As a result, children with APD often achieve way under their potential despite being very bright. And in some cases, the children may have speech and/or language problems as well.

Audiologists have been able to diagnose auditory processing problems for many years. The recommendations for school intervention with children with this disorder have been largely compensatory, such as “seat the child at the front of the class, right in front of the teacher” or “amplify the teacher’s voice with a microphone and provide the child with a listening device to hear the teacher’s amplified voice more clearly than other noises in the room.” Specific, targeted interventions like Fast ForWordare a more recent development.

Although Fast ForWord Language and later Fast ForWord Language v2 were specifically developed to treat temporal sequencing problems associated with specific language impairment, and the programs have been successfully used as a clinical intervention for auditory processing problems for fifteen years, specific peer-reviewed case studies on auditory processing benefit from these programs has been lacking. That changed in April of this year (2013) when researchers at Auburn University, a leader in the study of APD, published controlled research in International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngologyon the benefits of intervention with children diagnosed with APD. The researchers not only found that Fast ForWord Language v2 improved auditory processing skills, and in one child language and cognitive skills as well, but they found evidence of what scientists call “neuroplastic” brain changes in the children with APD after the program as well. This means that the children’s brains were rewiring themselves and getting better at auditory processing at the same time.

I will discuss the study in detail in next week’s blog post. If you’re not already a subscriber, you can sign up hereto have the next blog post delivered to your inbox.

References:

Abrams, D.A., Nicol, T., Zecker, S.G., &Kraus, N. (2006). Auditory brainstem timing predicts cerebral dominance for speech sounds. Journal of Neuroscience, 26(43), 11131-11137.

King, C., Warrier, C.M., Hayes, E., &Kraus, N. (2002). Deficits in auditory brainstem encoding of speech sounds in children with learning problems. Neuroscience Letters 319, 111-115.

Krishnamurti, S., Forrester, J., Rutledge, C., & Holmes, G. (2013). A case study of the changes in the speech-evoked auditory brainstem response associated with auditory training in children with auditory processing disorders. International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology, 77(4), 594-604. doi: 10.1016/j.ijporl.2012.12.032

Wible, B., Nicol, T., Kraus, N. (2005). Correlation between brainstem and cortical auditory processes in normal and language-impaired children. Brain, 128, 417-423.

Related reading:

Auditory Processing Skills & Reading Disorders in Children

What New Brain Wave Research Tells Us About Language-Based Learning Disabilities

 

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