Is ADHD a reading disability?

Over the course of my career, I have mentored teachers, advised parents, and instructed students that ADHD is not a reading disability.  And, while the name is all wrong (it is not a deficit of attention), it has to do with variable attention, especially having to do with interest levels, not reading.  A different part of the brain, I say. Not really impacting decoding or encoding of words.  More having to do with executive functions and impulsivity.  img_7044

But, in fact, ADHD  can severely hamper reading in the same way it interferes with other interactions where a brain loses interest.   Students reading large amounts of “boring” text such as in a high school or college textbook may struggle to maintain focus and thus, may not comprehend the reading material. Many people with ADHD do not read a lot, especially when it comes to less interesting material.  This can be a problem. As I have repeated frequently, reading, in its most basic form is a technology to learn information.  People who do not read need to use other technologies to learn information. Audio assisted reading is a good work around for this issue.



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Stanford study on brain waves shows how different teaching methods affect reading development

Stanford Professor Bruce McCandliss found that beginning readers who focus on letter-sound relationships, or phonics, increase activity in the area of their brains best wired for reading.   The article is from May, 2105, but very relevant.



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The Vocabulary Gap

For a longimage time we have been aware of the reading gap for dyslexic children and how  children who struggle to acquire reading skills fall further and further behind over time unless they receive effective intervention.

Over the past five years,  we have allocated more time for reading fluency practice in order to help students better “automatize” reading skills.  Together, with structured language teaching (Orton-Gillingham) our assumption is that when students increase their reading accuracy and speed, reading will be less arduous, they will read more, and thus increase their reading skill to become readers.

It is important to remember, however, that reading was never the end game.  For most of our population reading has been a very efficient technology to use to learn new information.  Reading is an important tool that most students use to increase their vocabulary.  Many students with dyslexia have weaker vocabularies, in part, because they Do not read enough.  Originally, they may have been diagnosed with a reading disability, but over time they have become “vocabulary disabled”.  img_0903Whereas, their oral language may have been acceptable in first or second grade, it has not kept pace by eighth grade.

I think more emphasis needs to be placed on helping students increase their vocabulary, particularly in middle and high school.  One way to do this is through “audio reading” (i.e. listening).  When done with fidelity audio reading can provide students with multiple exposures in context.  And, They can listen to literature well beyond their reading level! I was talking with a knowledgeable educator recently who said that her school used limited audio assisted reading because they did not want students to use it as a crutch. I completely disagree. Audio reading should be introduced in elementary school so that students are comfortable using it by middle and high school.



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NPR series on dyslexia, part 1

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Audio assisted reading: some listen fast


Cliff Weitzman

After the latest technology surge that rippled through our school I thought that many more students who struggled with reading would listen to printed words more.   The technology was accessible on nearly any device, virtually all books and PDFs could be read, and the cost was  not prohibitive.

But, my students were not rushing to use audio assisted reading devices.   Sure, they listened some, but I thought there would be a glacial shift and it was not happening.  Apparently, students need to be taught how to “listen” and also need to practice these skills in order to do it efficiently.  “Reading”, while not hugely efficient for dyslexics, is still familiar and what they know.  Many students were subtlety resistant to learning these new listening skills.  As with all skills, these listening skills needed to be practiced so that students become proficient.

Last week, Cliff Weitzman, a scholar in residence, at Brown University, visited Hamilton and spoke to Middle and High School students about listening to printed material at faster speeds, as much as 400 words per minute. He believes that if students practice listening to “reading material” their ability to listen and comprehend at faster speeds improves, sometimes dramatically.   As listening becomes more efficient students “buy in” increases.

Students need to be exposed to audio assisted reading in elementary school while they are still improving their reading skills.  They need to understand why teachers are teaching these skills and how it will help them as they progress in school.  And, students need to practice listening regularly.





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Impulsivity is not all bad…

Has anyone ever told you that you were impulsive?

“Impulsivity has been variously defined as behavior without adequate thought, the tendency to act with less forethought than do most individuals of equal ability and knowledge, or a predisposition toward rapid, unplanned reactions to internal or external stimuli without regard to the negative consequences of these…

“hmmm…I might add that impulsivity can strike at the most inopportune times. Can be embarrassing. Some people think kids are more impulsive than they used to be…maybe some adults are more impulsive, too…I am somewhat of an authority on impulsivity and not only because of the students I work with.image

A few years ago at a fifth grade graduation, I told a story about how I learned to whistle with my hands in the summer after my sixth grade year. What I did not share at the time was how I tortured a sweet elderly white haired 6th grade teacher, named Mrs. Daze. I am sure I nudged her closer to retirement. It sounds utterly bizarre to me now, but sometime around March or April of my sixth grade year, I was starting to get the hang of whistling with my hands. And, in the middle of class a whistle would ring out. What was I thinking? True, there were 35 students in the room. And, I was in the back row. But, whistling in the middle of math class? You guys would never do that, right?

Now, don’t misunderstand. I was not a trouble maker, a bit impulsive, perhaps, but not a bad kid, and in fact, a good student. At any rate, Mrs. Daze would look at me with an incredulous look on her face, and say, “Jonathan, WHAT are you doing?” . To be honest, I was almost as surprised as she was. I could not give her a good answer. I guess I wasn’t thinking…about those negative consequences.

Thankfully, there is no permanent record of Continue reading

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A novel idea-reenvisioning school culture to be a place where EVERYONE learns

imageTraditionally, schools have largely been seen as institutions where children (students) attend daily in order to receive knowledge from trained adults (teachers). Mostly, the discussion centers around what students need to learn and how to teach them. So, if a school has well trained adults it will be a great school, correctimage?  Great schools should be places where everyone views himself or herself as a learner.  To be sure, teachers need to know their craft, and they need to directly teach students. But great schools should be safe, yet stimulating and challenging environments where everyone learns: students, parents, teachers…administrators.  By learning themselves, adults are reminded how hard learning can be and they become better role models for children.  Last week, I was talking with a seventh grade boy and his parents after they had just had a successful parent teacher conference. I reiterated to the boy in front of his parents how proud I was of him. He was beaming.  The parents were very proud, too. Then the father looked at me and said, “I graduated in December”. I looked at him, momentarily hesitating, not knowing how to respond.  He clarified, “I just received my bachelor of science.”

“Congratulations,” I said. “Still learning”, I am thinking.

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Just ask a 1st grader

I have spent my career observing, listening to, and talking with children and adolescents who have learning

Aging gracefully😬

Aging gracefully😬

differences.  To be sure, many of these young people have a toxic mix of neurological anomalies that can make learning in school challenging. And, yet, I am equally impressed by a child’s ability to identify the problem.  I met a 5th grade boy recently who said,  “all books are awful, except picture books”.  Dyslexic? Probably. Another middle school boy articulated, “my classes are boring, I am always thinking about other things”. ADHD? Possibly. Another middle school girl recently bombed a math test.  Her teacher felt she knew the material, but for some reason, froze during the exam. The teacher requested the student to come see her. When the student came in to see the teacher the teacher had the student retake the test and the student improved dramatically.  Anxiety? Seems likely.

In all three of these cases: dyslexia, ADHD, and anxiety, the students had an instinctive sense about why they were having difficulty.  They could describe the difficulty even though they could not name it.  All of which suggests that if we ask kids where they are having difficulty and listen to their answers we can better understand their learning experience.


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Don’t underestimate the power of inspirational people

This Friday, March 4, 2016, polar explorer, Ann Bancroft will visit The Wheeler campus in Providence, Rhode Island  to talk with students and teachers.  Then, in the evening she will be honored by receiving The Hamilton Life Achievement Award at the 22nd annual ‘Mind Your p’s and q’s” celebration.

Ann Bancroft is one of the world’s preeminent polar explorers.  Among other accomplishments,  she was the first woman to cross the Arctic by dogsled to the North Pole and the first woman to do the same across Antartica to the South Pole. You can read more about her at the The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity.

Ann has dyslexia.  Her dyslexia made school extremely challenging, and yet her supportive family and willingness to take risks enabled her to accomplish amazing goals and, even, her wildest dreams.

On the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity website, in referring to Ann, they state,

“They often ask if she would change anything about her life if given the opportunity, and her answer is always the same. “I don’t know anyone with dyslexia who would change,” she says. “It’s been a great asset. My dyslexia and my challenges through school were the absolute perfect training for an expedition. Expedition people are all about one step in front of the other and not going very fast, just doing the hard work. What better way to get the work ethic than by having a learning difference?”

Truly, when a Person perseveres through an adversity such as having a learning difference in school, it is inspirational.


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How ‘Audio Assisted Reading’ can benefit students

Tuesday evening, February 23rd, 7-8:00 pm
Wheeler School GCA Building

imageSpeaker William Keeney, English Dept. Chair at Delaware Valley Friends School in Paoli, Pennsylvania, will explain why an audio assisted reading program might be appropriate for students middle school and above, how to identify who will benefit the most from such a program, and some of the pragmatics of implementing such a program.

Parents will learn how to assess whether their child could benefit from audio assisted reading and practical steps toward training the students in its use and specific advice on how to successfully move students toward independent use of these very valuable tools.

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