What Are Processing Disorders?
Some students struggle with processing disorders, and these are lesser-known learning disabilities that can show up in conjunction with dyslexia and ADHD, or even be missed because they are improperly diagnosed as other learning disabilities. The most common types of processing disorders are visual and auditory processing disorders. Visual processing disorders affect a student's ability to process information through their eyes, and can cause issues with seeing an object's position in space. This can impact reading and math because both subjects rely heavily on being able to understand symbols (numbers and letters, for example). One way this might manifest is when a student has trouble distinguishing between the letters p and q when reading or writing. Auditory processing disorders affect a student's ability to understand and analyze what they hear. It is not a hearing disorder, but rather a problem with the way the information is processed in the brain. This can affect phonological awareness: isolating the sounds of letters and then understanding how they work together in words. Students may also have trouble understanding the differences between the sounds of letters. This article from LDOnline explains visual and auditory processing disorder in much more depth, and provides information about common interventions. Another type of processing disorder is language processing disorder. Students may exhibit difficulty putting their thoughts into words, or may have a hard time understanding what people are saying. Issues here include social issues (for instance, when students do not understand their peers or have trouble expressing themselves), written expression problems, or struggles understanding lectures. This article in ADDitude Magazine outlines language processing disorder in greater detail. If you suspect your child might have an auditory or visual processing disorder, ask your school for an assessment, or reach out to a private evaluator. Speech therapists are a good place to begin for suspected language processing disorder. You can also begin intervention right away with a tutor. The Orton-Gillingham approach I use can help students with visual and auditory processing disorders, and writing and study skills help can assist students with language processing disorders. Please reach out to me if you think your child might have a processing disorder so they can begin to Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash.
What is dyscalculia?
Last week I covered dysgraphia and this week I'd like to talk about another learning disorder that isn't as well known: dyscalculia. Dyscalculia affects a student's ability in math. This can include simple math like adding or subtracting as well as larger math concepts and abstract math. Like dysgraphia, this disorder is not as well studied or understood as dyslexia, but it is believed around 5 to 10% of the population may have dyscalculia. Both ADDitude Magazine and Understood.org have great lists of signs to look for, as well as in-depth articles about the disorder. Here are a few of the signs:● student has trouble connecting the number 5 with the word 5 and/or 5 objects as a quantity.● recalling math facts and times tables● counting money and making change● understanding concepts like the meaning of biggest and smallest● trouble telling time with an analog clock● struggling to recognize patterns or number sequences If you suspect your child might have a learning disorder in math, ask your school psychologist or a neuropsychologist for an assessment. They will conduct various tests and evaluate your child's academic performance in math. Accommodations for dyscalculia can include more time on tests, the use of a calculator, breaking up complicated multistep problems into smaller pieces, and targeted tutoring to fill in math concepts the student struggles with. If you feel your child may need math support, please reach out to me. I have two excellent math tutors on staff who could help. Photo by Roman Mager on Unsplash
What is Dysgraphia?
Dysgraphia doesn't get as much attention as dyslexia and ADHD, and it also is not well-studied, so the prevalence is not as well known. But estimates say 5–20% of the population have some type of writing deficit. Dysgraphia affects writing, and it can show up in different ways throughout a student's lifetime. In earlier grades, it may manifest as lower fine motor skills that make gripping and using a writing utensil difficult. Therefore, it is often noticed when a student has slow and illegible handwriting. A student with dysgraphia may write at a slant, have irregularly sized letters, or write so large they run out of space on their paper. They often have trouble staying within the lines. As a student ages, and as writing tasks increase in difficulty, their disability can affect their ability to put their thoughts into written words. Older students with dysgraphia may struggle with grammar, spelling, and difficulty organizing their thoughts when they have to write them. They may show increased avoidance of writing tasks as well. This can affect their work both when they have to produce writing, such as a creative story or essay, and also when they are asked to take notes in class or when reading. As this article in ADDitude Magazine states, "attempts at remediation and 'more practice' alone are not enough – accommodations and other modifications are necessary." Helping a student with dysgraphia involves a dual approach:1. providing them with strategies that will help their handwriting improve or that will help them organize their thoughts so they can write essays 2. advocating for appropriate accommodations Students with dysgraphia benefit from extra time on writing assignments, being able to provide evidence of their knowledge orally, being provided lecture notes and the ability to type notes in class, and also the use of voice-to-text technology. My approach with students with dysgraphia is to help them become comfortable with the various ways one can organize one's thoughts before writing (word webs, outlines, pictures, post-it notes) and then helping them become comfortable with dictating. We will also review grammar and discuss how to advocate for themselves when they need extra time or lecture notes from their teacher. Photo by Angelina Litvin on Unsplash
Why to Pursue Testing
During the 20 years I've been working with students, I've spoken many times with parents who are unsure if they should pursue testing for their child. Most often, they fear the diagnosis that will label their kids with a learning disability, and the perceived trouble that will follow. I like to challenge that notion. First, I encourage those who are neurotypical to not view neurodivergence as something terrible that needs to be cured or overcome...this leads us into ableist territory. Rather, it is better to view learning disabilities as neutral, something the student will need to manage and work with, and, given the right supports and opportunities, they can manage well. This article in Educational Leadership explores this in greater detail. Having said that, I also want to point out that if a student is diagnosed with a learning disability, they do not need to be defined by it. Second, viewing a diagnosis as something awful or sad is not helpful to the student. Yes, it may happen that they experience bullying or feel different because they have ADHD, dyslexia, or a processing disorder. I understand the inclination to want to protect your child; that's a natural reaction. At the same time, it is impossible to protect students from these things, and one of the best things we can do is to find out what is happening for them and do what we can to help. With greater knowledge comes greater success. When students are tested and then receive a diagnosis, it helps them understand why they have struggled. Rather than asking them to do work that doesn't match their abilities, causing unnecessary frustration and stress, we can start from what we know and then provide them tools and supports to help them succeed. If they do not know what is causing their struggle, they will have little ability to find the right help. It makes me think about the book Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. In it, Ally, a 4th grader, constantly feels stupid because reading and writing are so hard. She sees her classmates read and write with ease and she can't understand why it is so difficult for her. She engages in all kinds of avoidance tactics so that she doesn't have to write. Finally, her teacher assesses her and suspects she has dyslexia. He provides after-school tutoring that helps her begin to feel more confident and explains to her what dyslexia is and how it affects students. Sure enough, by the end of the book, she feels much better about herself. I know that getting the school to provide testing is often an uphill battle. And private testing is not easy or inexpensive. And yet, it can mean a world of difference to a student. If you suspect your student may need testing, I encourage you to pursue it.
If you'd like to learn more about dyslexia, or tap into resources for parents of students with dyslexia, here are some excellent organizations and websites. International Dyslexia Association: Based in Maryland, this organization provides fact sheets, infographics, and other information; links to providers in your area who assess or tutor students; and webinars and conferences. Orton Gillingham Academy: links to schools and providers who offer reading instruction, links to resources, and scholarly articles about dyslexia. This is the organization through which I received my training. Understood.org: a site not only dedicated to dyslexia, but other learning differences as well. Extensive information on how to navigate school services, IEPs, assistive technology, and what rights your child has under IDEA. Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity: Excellent information, access to research, toolkits on advocacy, and robust resources.