Professional Development: Blog

The Science of Learning

June 11, 2018
When Symptoms Overlap - Differentiating Attention Issues

For children under the age of 18, ADHD is the most commonly diagnosed behavioral disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When a child is struggling with forgetfulness, fidgeting, careless mistakes, and sleep problems, ADHD is often the diagnosis, but there are many medical conditions that also cause these symptoms. When symptoms overlap, it can be a confusing time. An online search for symptoms like distractibility, impulsivity, poor attention, and more can return results for ADHD, auditory processing disorder, autism, and so much more.  It’s imperative you work with a trusted specialist to get a comprehensive evaluation when working towards a diagnosis for your child. Some children may have more than one condition, while others may be misdiagnosed. The intervention therapies differ drastically depending on a diagnosis, so understanding exactly what your child is facing is key to getting the right care in place. Read the rest of the article at   READ FULL ARTICLE

May 16, 2018
8 Issues (Other Than ADHD) That Could Be Causing Attention Problems

Hyperactivity, lack of attention, and/or impulsivity are commonly associated with ADHD in kids, but there are many other causes of those symptoms. It’s important to look at the full picture, which means having a solid understanding of what ADHD really looks like and what other issues could be causing a child’s attention problems. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a brain disorder marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.” Read the rest of the article at   READ FULL ARTICLE

April 26, 2018
Autism and Brain Plasticity: 2018 Research

Scientists are deep in the trenches discovering the factors involved in developing autism and how to effectively "retrain" the brain through intensive interventions.       Director of Neuroscience Education and Adjunct Associate Professor at Northwestern University, Martha S. Burns, Ph.D., recently presented a webinar that provides the very latest information about the brain’s role in autism and how to intervene for favorable results. The FACTS: 1. Autism is Highly Heritable This means that autism is frequently, but not always, passed down from one generation to another. Because of the complexity of the human genome (DNA set), gene mutations can also be responsible for a child developing autism even if autism does not run in his or her family.  2. Autism is Not Caused by IQ Deficiency Two-thirds of those diagnosed with autism possess average or above-average intellectual ability. 3. Genes Overlap We see a genetic correlation of autism with other disordered traits such as depression and ADHD. 4. Brain Connectivity Problems Precede Autism Autism does not create brain connectivity problems. Instead, autism stems from an underdeveloped cerebral cortex, the part of the brain responsible for relaying and interpreting messages. There may be other causes as well, such as protein synthesis issues or core brain area dysfunction. For example, a dysfunctional hypothalamus, which regulates sleep, may play a role in the development of autism. 5. There is Still Much to Learn About How and Why Autism Develops Since every child’s DNA is unique and complex, the causes of autism are difficult to pinpoint. The INTERVENTION: 1. The Earlier the Diagnosis, the Better Autism Spectrum Disorder begins to develop in utero. Auditory scans performed on infants show that auditory brain stem response is slower in those with Autism Spectrum Disorder. We may be able to use this information to start early, intensive intervention, which benefits children […]

March 7, 2018
The Little-Known Truths About Reading Aloud

Reading aloud is something usually associated with children or unsophisticated readers, a remedial technique to be phased out as soon as people learn to read silently. But a growing body of research suggests that reading out loud may actually have significant cognitive benefits — even for experienced readers. The recent study, conducted by researchers Colin Macleod and Noah Forrin at the University of Waterloo and published in the journal Memory, found that reading words aloud made them easier to remember compared to reading them silently. However, this doesn’t mean you should replace your entire library with audiobooks just yet. The study used four different experimental conditions to isolate exactly which elements were responsible for improved memory retention. The subject group of 95 students were asked to either read silently, read aloud, listen to recordings of other people reading, or listen to a recording of themselves reading. Memory retention was strongest when reading aloud directly, suggesting that the impact came not just from hearing the words, but also speaking them. This is because verbally pronouncing a word creates a memorable experience — a phenomenon the researchers call the “production effect”. The active cognitive process of encoding the word into speech also helps to encode it into long-term memory. Additionally, when it came to words heard through recordings, students were better able to remember those recorded in their own voice than those pronounced by someone else. According to the authors, this suggests that hearing one’s own voice provides a distinct stimulus of self-recognition, which also helps make the content memorable. These findings build on previous research demonstrating that the production effect’s memory boost relies on distinctiveness. In an earlier 2010 study by Macleod et al., this was shown to disappear when all the words in the study list were read aloud, as […]

September 27, 2017
How Fast ForWord Fills In Missing Literacy Skills in Autism: One Mom’s Story

Parents Know Everything, Right? There was a time in my late twenties when I was quite certain I knew exactly how I was going to raise my kids. I had it all figured out. So much so that I was already judging other parents. How could you let your kid do t-h-a-t? Oh, noooooo. Not in MY house. I had high expectations of myself AND my children. Of course, at the time, I didn’t yet have kids. It’s not until that bundle of joy is plopped into one’s lap that one realizes that parenthood is all about being a student. Our kids constantly globbering us with lessons. At some point, a very humbling admission occurs. We have a lot to learn. Special Kid Parenting Becoming a quick study of the nonexistent parental handbook is no easy task. That’s amplified when you have a kiddo with special needs or learning differences/disabilities. Depending on the special circumstances of the child, one might have to become an unofficial expert on all kinds of complicated subject matter. And given the number of struggling learners has risen exponentially in the last decade, many parents like me find ourselves needing to learn ALL about how our kids’ brains work, the intricacies of how they learn and how skills are broken down. As you can imagine, this can all be quite the challenge, so finding an intervention that makes navigating learning differences so much easier is extremely helpful. I Could Kick Myself We had a trusted practitioner in my son’s life suggest Fast ForWord about two years ago. It was more than a suggestion; it was “you must do this.” Problem was, at the time we were exhausted, depleted and didn’t have the bandwidth to consider anything new. We were five years into my son’s autism diagnosis […]

September 7, 2017
Fidget Spinners: Helpful for Attention or Not?

Along with smartphones and social media, fidget spinners are now somewhat of a punchline when talking about the habits of today’s kids. The small trinkets have been a consistent presence both on best-selling toy lists and in classrooms all over the country — to the frustration of many teachers who have banned or confiscated them. Of course, neither handheld gadgets nor teachers’ struggle against them in the classroom are particularly new. What’s novel about fidget spinners, however, is that they’ve been marketed not just as entertainment but as a tool to increase focus or relieve stress for people with autism, anxiety, or attention disorders. So do these toys really have therapeutic value, or are they just another trendy distraction? The answer is more complicated than you might think. For a long time, fidgeting behaviors like shifting in your seat, tapping your fingers, or twirling a pen wеre considered a sign of distraction, and children in school were constantly admonished to sit still. But the common wisdom had it backwards: fidgeting can, in fact, help to improve memory and concentration, though scientists still aren’t sure exactly how. A recent study by Julie Schweitzer found that children diagnosed with ADHD performed better on a cognitive assignment the more physical movement they exhibited during the test, while another demonstrated a similar correlation between movement and working memory. These results indicate that fidgeting could be a strategy to compensate for attention deficits by occupying understimulated regions of the brain. Even for those not diagnosed with ADHD, a simple physical activity like doodling may help to keep their focus from straying away from the main task at hand, as an earlier study has shown. Furthermore, better performance by students who take handwritten notes over those who take notes on their laptops suggest that incorporating physical […]

July 12, 2017
Meet Liza: A Clinician Determined to Help Students with Autism

 I sat down with Liza to hear her perspective on why Fast ForWord works so well for children on the autism spectrum, even if the child is not yet verbal.  Liza started by sharing a story about a young adult named Cory, whom she's known for many years, and who happened to also be at the center the day of the interviews!  What types of children do you work with here at your clinic? Most of the kids who are on the program here are on the spectrum. Some are completely non-verbal and others are on the higher end of the spectrum. They can express to us that their brains feel like scrambled eggs. We help give them a good, solid foundation with Fast ForWord. Tell me about your student, Cory.  Cory came to us right when we opened our original [speech and language] site. His mom is a fabulous special education teacher. I've known Cory since his mom was pregnant with him. After he was born, he was later diagnosed on the autism spectrum. He very quickly gained information from his mom because of her expertise, but there was that one piece missing. He has explained it to me that sometimes his brain felt like a scrambled egg. We had him start using Fast ForWord and the rest is history. How long have you been working with Cory? What does he want to do next? This young man has gone on to high school and graduated. He has done a very good job and is now coming back to volunteer at our center because he wants to give back. That is full circle for us. It’s been a 10-year journey with him.  We have so many success stories like him! You and I could sit here literally for a week if we went through all […]

June 13, 2017
Why Prosody Matters: The Importance of Reading Aloud with Expression

Reading aloud with expression is a foundational reading skill students should be developing between grades 1 - 5. It is pretty easy to recognize when someone skillfully reads aloud in an expressive manner. However, to effectively teach or assess this skill, a closer examination of its features, development, and relationship to other reading skills is needed. What is Prosody? Prosody, the defining feature of expressive reading, comprises all of the variables of timing, phrasing, emphasis, and intonation that speakers use to help convey aspects of meaning and to make their speech lively. One of the challenges of oral reading is adding back the prosodic cues that are largely absent from written language. Why is Prosody Important? Researchers have found strong links between oral reading prosody and general reading achievement. For example, after comparing students’ reading prosody in first and second grades with their reading comprehension at the end of third grade, Miller and Schwanenflugel (2008) concluded that, “early acquisition of an adult-like intonation contour predicted better comprehension.” Another study, which included more than 1,750 fourth graders participating in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), found a strong correlation between prosody and overall reading achievement (Daane, Campbell, Grigg, Goodman, & Oranje, 2005). How Does Prosody Impact Reading Comprehension? In the context of oral reading, prosody can reflect linguistic features, such as sentence structure, as well as text features, such as punctuation. Skilled readers pick up on these features, and respond to them when reading aloud, as when they pause briefly at relevant commas, pause slightly longer at sentence boundaries, raise their pitch at the end of yes-no questions, and lower their pitch at the end of declarative sentences. While punctuation provides some cues to prosody, young readers can be misled by it. For instance, they may pause at every comma, […]

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