How to Talk to Teens
If you have a teenager in the house, you know that sometimes it is challenging to talk with them. One moment they are people of few words, while other times they display lots of emotion that can erupt in outbursts. They enjoy testing boundaries and often trust what their friends say more than what the adults in their life tell them. When a teen has ADHD, these patterns can be heightened. So, what is a parent, or someone who works with teens, to do? I found this article from ADDitude magazine helpful. I'll share a few of the tips here; for the rest, click through to the full article. One tip I really appreciated was to share specific praise rather than global praise. For example, rather than saying, "You're a great writer," it is much more meaningful to tell the teen something explicit, like, "I appreciate that you took the time to research your topic well and find compelling evidence for your thesis." I think any of us appreciate thoughtful compliments that show we are really paying attention to others. Along these same lines, I also liked the advice to ask instead of ordering. It looks like this: rather than ordering a student to get their biology project finished by Sunday night, ask them what their plan is for getting it done. If they respond with something like, "I have it under control," ask what specific steps they will be doing. If it seems like they are stalling or hedging, offer to help them write down a plan they can follow. For more along these lines, I highly recommend Dr. Dan Siegel's book Brainstorm.
Making Homework Easier
No one likes homework, but it's a part of life for most students once they hit middle school. Homework can be especially tricky for students with ADHD or executive function struggles, and I advise parents to take an active role, in conjunction with myself or another academic support person, to set up systems and tools that will work for students and then scaffold the help as the school year goes on. That might look something like this: 1. During the first few weeks of school, show or remind students how to use their planner. Either use the one from the school or find one that is a better match for your student. Sit down with them each night to cross-reference their planner with the online school portal or teacher web sites, if your child's school uses them. 2. Ask not only about homework due the next day, but also homework due in a few days or the next week. Check to see if any long-term projects have been assigned or if there is a test or quiz coming up. 3. If your child isn't writing down complete information (they wrote the name of the book to read, but not the page numbers) help them figure out strategies to find the missing information. This might be emailing their teacher, texting a friend, or looking at the school's online portal. Remind them that getting all the information the first time will save time having to hunt it down after school. 4. Ask your child to keep a timer as they work on each task and record how much time it took them to do a particular task. This will give you both a good idea of how long things take. You may want to be in the vicinity for the first few times they do this so you can monitor their focus, especially if they are younger. Once you have a baseline, you can help them understand how to plan their time. The planner can now be used not just to write down what is due and what is upcoming, but also to block out time for tasks based on how long they take. This begins to take the guess work out of how long homework will take and makes planning easier, especially for long-term assignments. 5. Follow up about assignments that were supposed to be turned in. The online portal helps with this. When I work with a student, I track what is turned in and if it is turned in on time or late. Then I can talk with the student about what might have happened if an assignment is late, and come up with strategies with the student to help curb late assignments. 6. After a month (or perhaps longer, based on your sense of the student's needs), you can start to back off of checking in with all of these things daily. Maybe check in three times a week. If you start to notice slipping, go back to daily. A couple of notes about this. First, I hear from many parents that when they try to do these kinds of things with their child, their child balks. If you don't already have me on your team, this would be a good time to call me up and see if I could help. Or, see if there is someone at your child's school who could offer assistance. Having another adult in the mix can really help. Second, many parents say they don't want to do too much hand-holding. I often say that if a student doesn't do something it is often because they don't really know how, but don't want to admit it. Teaching them how to manage their time and plan ahead can be a good first step, and knowing when to help and when to leave them on their own is not an exact science. It can take some trial and error, and it often takes longer than you might expect. I am happy to support you with figuring out when to be involved and when to let go.
Becoming a Better Learner
In my recent reading I came across this article in the Harvard Business Review that got me excited. It says we can all learn how to become better learners, and that our ability to learn is not about intelligence, but rather having the right strategies. The article outlined three of those strategies. The first is setting SMART goals. You can learn about these in detail in a blog I wrote here. The key is having goals that are reasonably achievable and specific. I've also written about the second strategy, which is to use metacognition, or to think about thinking. When students critically reflect on what they are learning or reading, and ask themselves if they really understand it, they do vital work that can help them make decisions about re-reading or asking for help. Finally, students who learn well reflect on what they learn. I've talked about this as a strategy to help students see how they might make different decisions. The article advocates stepping back and reflecting on the day's lectures or reading assignments. Sometimes perspective comes when we remove ourselves a bit.
The Orton-Gillingham Approach
Last week I talked about the signs of dyslexia. Now I'd like to explain how the Orton-Gillingham approach works and why it is so fantastic for dyslexic students. O-G is what I use with many of my students, even ones who are not diagnosed with dyslexia, but have other reading, writing, or spelling issues. The O-G approach was developed by a neuropsychiatrist and an educator. As a result, it is grounded in theory and best practices, and it was created with the intention to teach dyslexic students in a way that would make sense for their brains. One of the important pieces of O-G is that it is multi-sensory, which is vital for dyslexic students. This means it addresses learning through visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile methods. Students might manipulate tiles or cards, they will say letter sounds aloud, they will trace words with their finger in sand or on a bumpy surface, or they might do arm motions to help remember sounds. Something I really appreciate about the O-G approach is that it is explicit. Students are told, repeatedly, why they are learning what they are learning and they are told exactly what they are learning so it is clear. There is a lot of built-in review as well, to make sure students are grasping the concepts. I also like that it is structured, yet it is also flexible enough for me to use with many different students and adapt it to their individual needs. Further, it is sequential and cumulative, so that each skill builds on the previous one and students begin to have a map of our language that they can follow. I just submitted my paperwork to apply for the associate level certification in the O-G approach. I was observed by a fellow this year and did 100 hours of instruction with students, in addition to more than 60 hours of classwork. I hope to be officially certified at the associate level in October. If you have any questions about O-G and how it helps dyslexic students, please let me know.
The Signs of Dyslexia
Parents ask me often if there are tell-tale signs that a child may have dyslexia. Here are some red flags to watch for. 1. Difficulty at an early age processing or producing language.2. Student has an early speech and language impairment.3. Struggles with learning letters and the sounds they make.4. Problems learning and memorizing number facts.5. Trouble rhyming and manipulating sounds.6. Visually similar words are confused.7. Student guesses the word from the initial letter.8. A slow reading rate, and oral reading and sounding out of words is labored.9. The student is a poor speller.10. Student confuses vowel sounds.11. There is a family history of dyslexia.12. Issues with expressing oneself in writing, and with using proper conventions.13. Poor handwriting. Although the common understanding of dyslexia is that students with dyslexia read backward, this is not actually true. Those with dyslexia have different brains, and their deficit is with phonological processing, or manipulating our language, not with seeing the words. Dr. John Gabrieli, a professor of brain and cognitive sciences, puts it this way: dyslexia is the "consequence of a brain organization that is not optimal for reading." However, many students with dyslexia do write letters like b, d, j, g, h, p, and q backward. If your child is reversing letters, that isn't a reason to immediately worry. Check to see if other items from the list above are present as well. Additionally, dyslexia exists on a spectrum. Some students can read, but struggle greatly with spelling and writing. Not all of the items on the list have to be present for it to be dyslexia. If you notice your child falling behind his or her peers and struggling with items on the list, it is likely time to ask your school to have your child tested, or to pursue testing outside of the school. I have helped parents navigate this decision and I can give you advice on how to proceed and connect you with resources. You will definitely want your child to be diagnosed by a trained professional who does educational testing. While someone may suspect a student has dyslexia based on the list above, a test by a professional is important. If your child is diagnosed with dyslexia by such a professional, they may qualify for accommodations at your school, as well as on standardized testing, which can make a big difference for your child. If you have questions about dyslexia not answered here, please feel free to reach out. This short TED Ed video is also an excellent resource.