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Handwriting Instruction in the Digital Age

Heard on The LDA Podcast

Dr. Nancy Cushen White, a clinical professor at UCSF and a certified instructor of teaching for the Slingerland Multisensory (Multimodal) Structured Language Approach, sits down to talk to us about dysgraphia, the cognitive skills writing uses, how handwriting can improve reading and spelling skills better than typing, recommendations for handwriting instruction, and much more!

Read the Transcript

Lauren Clouser, Host

Welcome to the LDA Podcast, a series by the Learning Disabilities Association of America. Our podcast is dedicated to exploring topics of interest to educators, individuals with learning disabilities, parents, and professionals to work towards our goal of creating a more equitable world. I’m here today with Dr. Nancy Cushen White. She is a clinical professor at UCSF. She’s a certified instructor of the Slingerland Multisensory (Multimodal) Structured Language Approach, and she’s here today to talk to us about handwriting and dysgraphia. So thank you for being here, Nancy.

Dr. Nancy Cushen White

Thank you for inviting me.

Lauren Clouser, Host

So to start off, could you explain dysgraphia and how it affects handwriting?

Dr. Nancy Cushen White

Okay, well, first of all, handwriting is partly a motor skill, but it’s more than that. So letter forms are stored and processed in working memory, and it’s the same letters that would be processed for reading and spelling, but they also play a role in handwriting. So the orthographic loop. Think of it as the mind’s eye where letters and graphemes are stored and processed in working memory in connection with the sequential hand movements performing the letters, the movement of hands and the fingers. Dysgraphia is impaired handwriting, and that can interfere with written spelling, but it can also interfere with the speed of writing as well as the legibility.

And dysgraphia may occur alone, with dyslexia, with an oral language difficulty, or with both. Dysgraphia, in addition to the impaired handwriting part, the part that deals with spelling is orthographic coding, and orthographic coding involves that same working memory we talked about for the same letters that are going to be involved in reading and spelling. But in addition to that, when they’re in working memory, we can manipulate them. So it’s like that mind’s eye, you’re seeing them, you can move things around in the short term, and then eventually that develops a permanent memory for those words so that you can access them.

But it’s not just the visual image of them, it’s in combination or connection or integration with their pronunciation and means. And then, of course, when the handwriting comes in, there’s the sequential movements for forming each of the letters. So when we’re talking about dysgraphia, we’re talking about motor skills. But people with dysgraphia may have problems with one or both. They may have trouble with the orthographic coding for spelling or with the planning, the sequential finger movements for writing or both.

Lauren Clouser, Host

That’s good to know. So there’s two parts. So could you talk a little bit more about the studies that support integrated handwriting instruction in K-12?

Dr. Nancy Cushen White

In 2016, Wolf, Abbott, and Berninger did a study on classroom instruction. There were two studies. The first study looked at first graders, and they taught manuscript handwriting letters, and that manuscript instruction was embedded within a multimodal approach for teaching spelling, reading and composing and composition. And the comparison group was just a business as usual. They also got manuscript handwriting instructions, but it was not systematically related to the other literacy activities. Both groups improved on automatic alphabet writing. The treatment group, however, improved significantly more than the control group from the second to the 9th month of first grade.

The treatment measures were dictated spelling, so they were writing spelling words and recognition for reading of word specific spellings among phonological foils. And then study two looked at those same first graders that received the systematic instruction along with the manuscript and gave them a second year of instruction still embedded within them, multimodal structured language lessons. And then there was another group who got cursive. So they had a year of manuscript, a year of cursive not embedded within. And the first group had two years. And the kids, not surprisingly, I suppose people who teach them, results are discussed in Mastering the Handwriting Format before introducing another format.

So those kids who had a year to learn it and then a year to practice it became much more automatic and they were able to use it functionally at higher levels than the students who only had one year of each. And these were not necessarily kids diagnosed with a learning disability. These were regular classrooms, just beginning 1st 2nd graders.

Lauren Clouser, Host

Well, and that already sort of answers my second question here. It’s a digital age now. There’s a lot more on computers and typing. So why is handwriting still important?

Dr. Nancy Cushen White

The orthographic loop involved that the sequential finger and hand movements for writing keyboarding does not. So, for example, there’s a study on students taking notes, and the question was will the students taking notes on the computer do better than the students taking written notes? And certainly from a personal point of view, when I heard that question, I thought I can type every word I hear, but I don’t have to be paying attention to do it. I might have to go back and then rethink the whole thing. But if I’m writing, I know I don’t have time to write every word. I actually have to think about what I’m hearing and decide what’s most important. So not only did they do better right after the note taking exercise when they were asked questions, but they did better later and in applying the information.

So in short, keyboarding is passive, a much more passive exercise. And what you’re doing with your fingers, it’s in a different place, but you’re doing the same movement with handwriting formation of each letter has a unique sequence of movements, and if it’s taught in a way that associates the name of the letter with what the letter looks like and that specific unique sequence of movements for forming each one, then that carries over to reading and spelling in ways that keyboarding cannot. Now I’m not going to throw away my computer.

There are still things that I will always do in that way. But I do recognize that a more recent study by Wiley and Rapp, it was the Arabic language, but it was a study on the effects of handwriting experience studying the modality effects typing, visual presentation, and writing. So with growing use of the Internet, cell phones, tablets, the question was how much time and resources should be spent on teaching handwriting, which is essentially what your question was. So Wiley and Rapp conducted the training study on 42 adults and compared the benefits of typing, visual presentation, and handwriting. And basically, the big idea was that handwriting is a productive use of learning time.

Handwriting practice, not the typing or visual tasks, resulted in a much better performance on reading and spelling tasks that were not specifically taught. So the implications are that a subject assigned to the handwriting practice group uses their knowledge of how to write to reinforce their spelling and reading of words. So the benefits of time spent practicing handwriting go far past just handwriting to letter recognition, word reading, spelling, categorizing, and memory.

Lauren Clouser, Host

This isn’t just for students with dysgraphia. This is also all students.

Dr. Nancy Cushen White

Right. The other thing about writing, once it’s written, you can look at it, you can analyze it, you can do something, and you can do that if you typed it also. But the question is, the cognitive strength that goes into the actual writing seems to be connected with deeper processing than just typing.

Lauren Clouser, Host

So how is handwriting useful? You touched on this as well, but throughout a child’s development, is it useful beyond just when you’re originally learning handwriting?

Dr. Nancy Cushen White

Well, Interestingly. I’m going to start at the top and then go to the bottom. But with teachers taking our training courses, there are teachers who feel for their lesson plans. They may have a template they can fill in, they may have something where they can type the lesson plan. But many of them feel that if they write it, actually write it, they learn it better, they understand it better, they think it through, and they catch mistakes or glitches that they might not catch if they’re doing it in those other ways. That’s not certainly true for everyone.

But if children learn handwriting is not functional unless it’s automatic. But nor is keyboarding really in terms of the automaticity and being able to use it functionally. So if students are not taught a way to make each letter and they make the letter a different way every time, then they’re not learning a sequence of movements that connects with the name of that letter and what the letter looks like. I’m not saying there’s only one way to form letters. There are many correct ways to form most letters. But learning one way is the only way to get to automaticity.

Lauren Clouser, Host

Right.

Dr. Nancy Cushen White

So starting off that way and in that study with Wolf, Abbot, and Berninger, in that classroom study, those children had a year to learn it. Every day they learned a few letters, they learned to read and write words with those letters. They continued practicing those letters, learned a few more. But every day, the handwriting instruction was integrated into the lesson from skills, learning something new to functional use of those skills. And as the year went on and they learned more and were able to do more, then the levels of functional use increased.

Then they had a whole other year in second grade to automatize and use the skills more so that then they were automatic. Many times cursive is taught, the letters are taught. Sometimes they don’t even teach the connections of the cursive letters. And then, well, you now know cursive if they aren’t required to use it, they’re not going to practice it enough for it to become automatic, right. Unfortunately, for better or for worse, there’s no substitute for practice. But you need to practice what you want to remember, which is why learning a an efficient sequence of movements for each letter that’s unique to that letter is so important.

Lauren Clouser, Host

So we’ve talked a lot about handwriting instruction, and it’s important. Would you be able to tell us a little bit about what the ideal handwriting instruction would look like in a classroom?

Dr. Nancy Cushen White

The best approach? Well, the approach that was used in that study, the approach that I’ve used most extensively is the Slingerland approach. But what’s important about it is that you’re teaching reading, writing, spelling, handwriting, and even oral language, all in an integrated way. So every lesson includes aspects of all of those because reading doesn’t occur in one spot in your brain. It’s a reading network, and the integration is the part that doesn’t always happen if there’s a glitch or a weakness anywhere along the way.

So teaching the letters for writing first that you’re going to use in spelling and in reading, just a few. So they’re getting lots of practice with that. Then more letters are added, more complexities in the words are added, the morphology comes into play. You’re teaching suffixes and prefixes to add to bases. You’re making kids aware of those meaningful units. You’re also emphasizing in spelling and in reading, not just the letter or saying what do you hear? But what is your mouth doing?

So if they’re trying to spell splash and they spell splash, then your word is splash. Say splash. Now say splash. Was that the same word? No. So you’ve already spelled the first two sounds. So if we’re using letters on a chart that can see that if not, say the first two sounds in the words, what’s the next thing your mouth does instead of just what do you hear? What is the next thing your mouth does? If they again say splash, that would be splash. Your word is splashed. Let’s say it slowly. Say SP, as you already did SP. What’s the next thing your mouth does when you’re saying that word and try to get them to stop. And when they feel that, oh, and they’ve already learned L how to write it, they’ve learned a key word for L, and they learn the sound L.

So then they’ve got it. They move on. That’s just emphasizing in both reading and for spelling, there’s a motor aspect. So in that orthographic loop for learning the patterns or in that working memory piece where you’re seeing the parts of the words that you’re working with, there’s also the motor aspect of the sequence of wounds performing them, and that’s connected to the memory. Sometimes it’s the kinesthetic memory that helps bring back the letter that you’re looking for in the retrieval process, whereas with the phonological loop, the motor aspect is connected to speech.

So it’s not just what does the letter look like? What do you hear? Those speech sounds are not just sounds, and that’s really important as part of that. But the units are getting larger and larger. So then those words with additional morphemes added are put into phrases, the phrases into sentences. And then you’re working toward dictation of paragraphs. And when you’re reading, you start again. You start with the symbol sound or the graphing phoneme.

Then you’re decoding words, but everything you’re doing… think of decoding and encoding as like addition and subtraction two sides of the same coin. Certainly spelling gets more complicated when there are multiple spellings, but there’s still a connection there. So we talked about the student who has dysgraphia who may have difficulty with having impaired handwriting. And then we also said that it could be spelling, it could be the sequential movements of handwriting itself, or it could be a combination of both. And this is an example of a student that had both difficulty with the letter formation and most certainly and very extremely with the spelling. He was in fifth grade. He was eleven years old. So he was in the fifth grade for the second time actually.

And when he was being tested, he was not being tested because anybody thought he was particularly bright, but because they felt he was a slow learner kind of across the board. And the psychologist said he was assessing him asked him one of the verbal absurdities questions, what’s wrong with the sun shining at midnight? He threw back his head and said, I need more information. What part of the world is it?

He actually ended up in a pilot special day class for students who were intellectually gifted with dyslexia. And he certainly fit the bill. But as you can see here, he had a standard score of 58 for word reading, a standard score of 57 for spelling. This is a kid who tests out as intellectually gifted when reading and writing were not required. So he had difficulty with both the handwriting and reading. And then five months later, this is what he was able to do. Now he still has a lot of words misspelled, but he’s improved. This is showing the words that he missed, in case they couldn’t tell. But his standard score has gone from 58 to 68 in five months.

He has a long way to go, obviously, but you can tell the qualitative differences in the spelling is that he knows now that every single syllable has to have a vowel sound, and he has represented a vowel sound in every single one of them. So whereas on the first one you couldn’t even tell what the words were supposed to be, now you can pretty much figure out what most of them are. And his spelling went up to the centers for 64, but still, I mean, that’s hugely below average, not to mention how much of a discrepancy between what he’s able to do intellectually and he hasn’t learned yet, but he was on his way.

And then this is a student who had even more difficulty with motor skills, even for non language tasks, even for just drawing the figures. And his spelling had a standard score of 63 and a spelling standard score of 62. But you can see from the errors that he made, he has visually similar letters like B, D has those issues. He has CK at the beginning of words. So obviously his orthographic memory is questionable because CK never comes at the beginning of a word in English.

But you see how in both cases they were giving everything they had to this task, and every one of them did their best to the very end. We stopped at the same point, but they didn’t know it at all. They put a line to show what they were told to do. If they had any idea what any of the letters could be spelled, they put what those were. And this was that same student five months later. So he still didn’t finish the marks. We didn’t teach him to make the marks, but he did teach him to write in cursive, so he was using that. And again, there’s still errors, but the quality of those errors are far different. And his standard score went from 63 to 104 in reading in five months, and from 62 to 88 in spelling.

This shows a 9th grader. This was actually in Dubai. It was a four week summer school, three and a half hours of instruction a day, and this was his attempt to write single words on the first day. This does not look like a 9th graders handwriting. It wasn’t manuscript, but you see, letter size relationships are off, the alignment is questionable, and there’s a lot of emphasis going to be put on morphology.

And he did not have a sense of the spelling of the bases or the prefixes, some more prefixes and suffixes than bases. But still and this was one month later where he spelled words that were of similar complexity, not exactly the same words. He still had some confusion between the base ‘sci,’ which means to know know, as in science or conscious, and a base ‘cise’ to cut. He still had some of that confusion there, but you can see him really working through using both the phonology and the morphology to spell.

This shows that even in those lessons that you’re teaching, not testing, you start with practicing those cursive letter connections that they’re going to need when they write words here. So you’re trying to prevent any errors or confusions that might occur, then practicing the phoneme graphene encoding, spelling. Here’s an example of a lesson where we practiced the connections that he was going to need in that lesson, and then we did some morphological awareness practice. Right. The main spelling of the prefix that means with her together, the Latin prefix that means with her together. Right. The base element that means to trust.

These were all things he was going to need later on in the lesson, and you see how that develops then into words and phrases. So always working from skills to functional use. And these are young adults in a pretrial diversion program for San Francisco Mentor Court. These were all students who had gotten themselves into difficult trouble, and they were given a chance of either jail time or literacy class. I don’t know if they decided they made the right choice, but the thing that was daunting to me was that it was only once a week for 2 hours, and I knew that they could learn it, but I just didn’t know if 2 hours a week was going to be enough to get them to move fast enough that they were going to be able to feel the progress.

So they started off with zero third percentile, 55 standard score, 20 years old for spelling and a year later, but with only 2 hours a week of instruction, there was a lot of improvement. So the standard score was 80 for spelling, the percentile as a whole number, 9th percentile. He still has mistakes, but the confidence, even in the writing, he’s using cursive. He’s using a lot of the things that he learned, and it shows me all of so many things he hasn’t learned yet that he still needed to learn. But motivation was never an issue there, and it wasn’t just because of the consequence.

Lauren Clouser, Host

If they didn’t, what are some small changes, if needed, that general education teachers can make to help students to reap the benefits of handwriting?

Dr. Nancy Cushen White

I think the most important piece is that all of us have to understand that handwriting is only functional if it’s automatic, because in so many studies that we didn’t talk about, the idea is if you’re having to put energy in, how am I going to make this letter? You can’t think even if you had an idea of what you wanted to say, you have to then focus on how do I make each letter? How do I spell? How do I organize it on all the things the handwriting can take care of, the organization, the spatial, and that sequence of movements, and then there aren’t so many things to keep in working memory.

So just teaching the letters, even teaching all of the letters without practice, with a few at a time for most kids isn’t going to work. It’s not going to get them where. And even kids whose cursive might be more legible at the beginning, it’s still going to be slower because they’re learning it. That was the reason, the importance of having those two years of instruction, two years of manuscript, and then two years of cursive that wasn’t done in the study, but that’s what it would suggest.

And so they go back to manuscript because it’s faster, even though it’s less. So practice makes permanent. I think that means what I’m saying is that’s not a little change, because it means every day in a day that already has so many demands on teachers’ time. But that time is so well spent because it can make such a huge improvement. But just teaching the writing without integrating it with why you use writing, that doesn’t get the kids where they need to be. They don’t assume it’s like teaching kids to decode and then they read a passage and they don’t use anything that you taught them because you didn’t teach them.

The purpose, I’m sure the teachers are saying, is assuming that you’re learning to do this. So when you reconnect text, you’re going to be able to decode words, but you have to guide them into that and give them that practice. So writing isn’t a thing that you do over here. And remember the literacy networks, both for written language and for, well, the language networks, the oral language networks, the written language networks are all connected even when you’re looking at the phonological loop, which is storing and working memory, verbal information. But the memory part that’s the strongest is often the articulation piece, which is motor. And with the orthographic loop, it goes to the motor for handwriting. 

Lauren Clouser, Host

Nothing exists in a bubble.

Dr. Nancy Cushen White

Unfortunately, right or not, it’s fortunate once you get all the pieces there to connect. But it takes time, definitely, and it can’t be done piecemeal, there always has to be the connections. So a comprehensive program, including all the language art skills, reinforcing each other and time to practice those skills. You can’t take shortcuts, but in the end it takes less time, but you just don’t know that until you get there. Very wise. Teacher Bets Lynn once said speed is not the road to success. Careful practice is the road to speed.

And I think that’s such an important thing to remember is if we try to get the kids to go faster than they can go functionally, meaning correctly, then it slows them down because they’re practicing mistakes they know. We call it ideal speed or optimum speed, which is as fast as you can do what you’re doing correctly and benefit from it. Say, if you read faster than you can comprehend, what’s the point?

Lauren Clouser, Host

Right.

Dr. Nancy Cushen White

Same thing with writing. If you’re going so fast that you don’t feel that sequence of movements and you don’t have control of your pencil, then you’re not learning something that you can use and you also don’t want to go so slowly that you’re not getting the full sequence of movements for the whole letter. Because there are a number of studies that show that teaching students the actual sequence of movements, talking about it, making it real to them, not just feeling it, but also being able to put words to it, helps them to connect in the studies that look at teaching letters to children, teaching them to write the letters at the beginning connects to reading. So once you’ve learned to write a letter, when you look at a letter even though you’re not writing it, the part of your brain that has to do with the formation of that letter is activated at the same time you’re looking at it and vice versa.

Lauren Clouser, Host

Well, this is a great conversation. Thank you so much for sitting down and talking to me about it.

Dr. Nancy Cushen White

Thank you so much for inviting me to talk to you and thank you for your thoughtful questions.

Lauren Clouser, Host

Thank you for listening to the LDA podcast to learn more about LDA and to get valuable resources and support visit ldamerica.org.

Key Conversations: Talking to Your Child About their LD

Heard on The LDA Podcast

How can parents and educators talk to their child about their learning disability? Dr. Rebecca Rolland, a speech language pathologist and educator at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Harvard Medical School, talks about the importance of having rich conversations with your kids, how these conversations can build resilience and empathy, and more. 

Read the Transcript:

Lauren Clouser, Host

Welcome to the LDA podcast, a series by The Learning Disabilities Association of America. Our podcast is dedicated to exploring topics of interest to educators, individuals with learning disabilities, parents and professionals to work towards our goal of creating a more equitable world. Hi, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us for the LDA Podcast. I’m here today with Dr. Rebecca Rolland, a speech language pathologist and education lecturer, who just recently published The Art of Talking With Children, a book focused on enhancing relationships with kids. So Rebecca, thank you so much for being here today.

Dr. Rebecca Rolland 

Thanks for having me.

Lauren Clouser, Host

So just to start off, could you give us a little bit of your background?

Dr. Rebecca Rolland

Yes, definitely. So I’m a speech language pathologist. And I teach, as you mentioned, at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, as well as Harvard Medical School. And as part of that work, I teach educational assessment, so focused on understanding language and literacy skills, and really, basically creating learning profiles of children. So integrating information about their math development, their psychosocial development, and their obviously reading and writing skills with their oral language skills. So I was trained very much to integrate oral language with reading and writing. And so that forms a big part of my work as well.

Lauren Clouser, Host

That’s great. So you’ve had some experience working to diagnose learning disabilities at the Children’s Hospital in Boston, I believe. So when you’re working with kids to test for a diagnosis, as somebody who studies language and is very conscious of language, is there any sort of certain language that you use when you talk with them to help them understand the process? I know that can vary by age and things too.

Dr. Rebecca Rolland

Of course, definitely. Yes, I do always talk to kids about the process. And I think that is so important. So many children I’ve worked with over the years really don’t necessarily know why they’re being assessed, or even have fears about it. They might have assumptions. For example, I’ve had kids say to me, Oh, I’m doing this because I’m probably not smart. Or even things like I’m doing this because I might have to leave my school if it doesn’t go well. So all the way from kids who do know a lot about it. So some children will say, Oh, I’m doing this so they understand how to learn, how to teach me better how I learn, and so on.

And so I really approach it with children from an empowerment perspective. So I think about helping educate children, and then actually helping them take lessons back that they can use even in their classrooms. So I’ll say to them, for example, that this is really about understanding how you learn and then how teachers, your parents, and so on, can help you learn best. So really kind of creating a map of your thinking process, and how all of the pieces work together. So I’ve also emphasized that we all think and learn differently, I think some kids think, you know, there’s some typical learners, and there’s some atypical learners. And I think it’s important to kind of break that stereotype or that assumption and recognize that really, there is a spectrum of learning. So I bring that up to children as well.

Lauren Clouser, Host

Absolutely, yeah, there really is this misconception of I’m just not smart, and things like that. So helping to explain that away is helpful. And it sounds like a lot of just being open with them about the process and being honest as well. So that’s great. 

Dr. Rebecca Rolland

Definitely.

Lauren Clouser, Host

So how do you go about discussing a learning learning disability diagnosis with your child, as a parent? Say they’ve just gotten this diagnosis and maybe they don’t understand it? What can a parent say that can really kind of start these conversations?

Dr. Rebecca Rolland

Definitely. Yeah. So I think it does depend on age. But I think the first part is really just to reflect on and kind of check in with your child about if they feel ready to discuss it. So I think sometimes, if we get a diagnosis, we want to leap in and kind of process it together with a child. But at the same time, it can be helpful to reflect first, what is your perception of that diagnosis? How much do you know about it? And it might be a time and opportunity to educate yourself a bit more before going into that conversation. Because sometimes there are a lot of misconceptions from the parent side as well. And so it’s really important to go in with a bit of facts and a bit of understanding so you can support your child.

So that’s one, and to really check in with your child. Do they want to talk about it now? That’s the first thing. I think the second thing is really to ask what they understand about the diagnosis to see what their perception is of it. I’ve been really surprised, some children really welcome a diagnosis. So for example, I’ve worked with kids who have been struggling with reading for several years, and they’ve, you know, gotten a very negative self perception. They think, oh, this is evidence that some kids have said my brain is broken or there’s something wrong with me and I don’t know what, so actually hearing okay, you have dyslexia and here’s what this research is about it. Here’s what the science says, and here’s how we can help you. It really does come as a relief to some kids.

To others, obviously, not so much. So they might find this to be quite negative. But I think one thing to keep in mind is that kids are really affected by the way we perceive and talk about their diagnoses. And same for the classroom and the teachers. So if we can create an environment where it’s normalized and talked about in terms of learning differences, in terms of supports, and so on, kids can really feel better to be open about it. I’ve even encouraged some students who want to, and where the teacher is open to it, to talk openly. One actually presented about their dyslexia diagnosis as one of their classes. So I thought that was really great, because he felt empowered to do that, and to educate his classmates as well.

Lauren Clouser, Host

Absolutely.  So there’s obviously a wide spectrum of where kids might be falling, whether they want to talk about it or not, could you give me an example of how you would approach a conversation with a younger student who might not have the skills to entirely understand their diagnosis yet, versus maybe an older student who maybe needs to focus more on like self advocacy?

Dr. Rebecca Rolland

Definitely, yeah. So for younger students, I really do think a little bit more concretely. And I think the younger the child, the more concrete you might want to be. But to really emphasize, you know, that there are certain things that can be hard for us, and certain things that can be easier, and everybody has those things. So you might look at a child and a book and say for you, you know, listening to a story might be really easy. Like, well listen to it, you can understand it really well. But sometimes these words on the page can be hard to read and ask them, you know, what happens to you when you read? So what do you feel like your brain is doing? And to get in that conversation with them?

Sometimes kids have said to me, oh, it’s like my brain gets stuck when I try to get to a word I don’t know. Or the words are floating, you know, something like that, like there are a lot of them who will have these kinds of comments and talk to them about the fact that there are strategies we can use to help you. And so there’s research, we know that we can actually teach you to read so even though this is hard for you now, there’s hope. So not to feel as though we don’t know. And that’s I think what’s great about dyslexia is that we do have such a large body of research to help. So I think that’s one thing.

But I do think even for younger kids, we can start thinking about self advocacy as well. So even saying, like when you don’t know something, or we don’t get to a word you don’t know, do you close the book? You know, can you raise your hand? What things can you do? And so even for a child who’s in first or second grade, we can start to think about those things. Obviously, as the child gets older, we can really talk more about, you know, what are the options? What’s working for you, can we transform some books into audiobooks? Can we use a scribe and so on? So there’s a lot more of that self awareness, but overall, I do think that self advocacy piece is really critical.

Lauren Clouser, Host

Definitely. Well, that’s a great point that you can start really young with self advocacy. And you know, it can get more complex as it goes on. But no, that’s a great point. So what is the importance of having these conversations with children about their learning disabilities? Are there any studies that support that these conversations have a beneficial impact?

Dr. Rebecca Rolland

Right. Definitely, yes, well, there’s a couple of things, for example, that we really know. So one is that children with learning disabilities are at risk for a lot of social emotional difficulties, including depression, anxiety, and low self esteem. And a lot of it has to do with this sense of locus of control. So they feel as though a lot is out of their control. And they don’t really know enough ways to cope. And so I think a lot of the research I’ve seen on this is really powerful in bringing back students that locus of control where it’s more internal, meaning that they actually can make a difference in their lives, they can make a difference in their reading or their writing, they can help themselves become better at school.

There was a really interesting study, actually, at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, that did a six year evaluation. And it really found that this study was really trying to teach children or students to empower themselves. And it really found that by empowering themselves by discussing the options, it improved their self esteem and reduced their stress and anxiety. And I think that is really key because we don’t always see how much these social factors inform how well students are doing. And then vice versa, how much that you know, student’s performance or their skills impact their self esteem. So I do think it can be either a positive spiral or negative one. And I think the conversations help turn it towards that more positive side.

Lauren Clouser, Host

That’s so true. And to expand on the social challenges that individuals with LD can face, can a parent start to have conversations that can encourage resilience and empowerment? And what would that conversation look like?

Dr. Rebecca Rolland

Definitely. Yeah, so I’ve been working a lot on these questions of how we can support resilience with students with learning disabilities and even conversation starters and questions you can ask And so I’ve written about some of them. But I can even suggest some now, for example, if a student is or your child is struggling with, you know, reading, say, and they say, Oh, I’m just terrible at reading, I’ll never get there, you know, I’ll never be able to read. So obviously, this is kind of catastrophic thinking and black and white thinking where it’s, you know, either good or bad. And so really to help them involves seeing a lot of those gray areas, seeing the nuance. So for example, well, is everything about reading bad for you? You know, what parts of reading are actually working for you?

And we know that, for example, a lot of students with dyslexia or other LDs may have very strong comprehension. So even though their decoding might not be completely adequate, they’re still able to get a lot out of the material. For others that’s not necessarily true. But to really find the nuance and to help your child find their strengths, even within the difficulties, is really important. And one question I often ask is, well, what else is true? So even if a child is saying, well, this is bad, this is bad, okay, well, what else is true? And something else positive might be true? Well, that might be difficult. But what else is actually positive?

Another thing I found very helpful is to actually help children visually chart their progress. So a lot of teachers would, you know, use these kinds of methods of oh, you’ve read this many books, you’ve done this, and I don’t suggest going that far. But I do think when we can check in with our child or children about, you know, how much more are you able to understand, how much more are you able to read. They really do find that often very empowering when they see that their skills are improving. So I do think that we can’t improve self esteem without actually improving skills as well. So I think if you can work on both of those, that’s the key to resilience, is helping children see their progress and set goals for themselves.

Lauren Clouser, Host

So some parents might not feel, or even educators may not feel like they’re equipped to start these conversations with their kids. What would you say to them? And what would you recommend getting these conversations started? Are there some good conversation starters?

Dr. Rebecca Rolland

Definitely, yeah. So I think one thing to recognize is that it’s very typical to feel fearful about this, because there is so much stigma. If you look at their most recent State of Learning Disabilities Report, it’s you know, it’s so surprising to me still how much we still often think about, for example, LDs are a result of laziness, or, you know, if a child just tries harder, they’ll recover, they’ll be able to do the work. So it’s just a matter of not trying hard enough. And these are just heartbreaking misconceptions, because they really do make it so difficult to feel as though we can have open conversations without blaming or without shaming. And so I think parents can realize just to break that stigma is a great start with kids.

So to really say, you know, this isn’t a result of you not trying hard enough, I know how hard you’re trying, I know that you want to do this, and to even start there and build a foundation of bonding with your child over it. Rather than feeling as though oh, this is really scary, or oh, you know, I shouldn’t talk about this. And the second thing, I think, is to realize that kids have so many emotions, often that they don’t talk about, because of the stigma and so many kids are longing to talk about these things, and they really just want to be heard.

So I think even if parents don’t know what to say, even starting with just, you know, well, how are you feeling about it? Well, you know, what did it feel like to you to hear about this diagnosis? And to even model how it felt to you, you know, so I was kind of wondering what the difficulty was, and for me it felt a little surprising, but now I feel like I can help you better. To actually sort of verbalize those thoughts can really help bring you closer together as well.

Lauren Clouser, Host

Absolutely. Well it sounds like it kind of goes back to what you mentioned before too is that the parents can do some research ahead of time to sort of get any preconceived notions out of their head and be ready for that conversation as well to bring a more positive influence into the conversation.

Dr. Rebecca Rolland 

Exactly. And there’s some great websites out there. So I think that if you are just looking for information that is really helpful, just to really start, there’s Understood.org and other websites that I think are really great resources, if you’re not sure where to go.

Lauren Clouser, Host

Absolutely. So do you have any recommendations on what you should keep in mind when having these conversations so they don’t sort of turn into a one sided conversation or even confrontational?

Dr. Rebecca Rolland

Definitely, yeah. So I think the key is to really recognize that the back and forth is needed, so that we want to, I talked about an approach I called Rich Talk in my work, where we’re really thinking about what I call ABC. So the A is to just be adaptive. So to really think about in the moment, noticing a child’s moods, noticing their temperament, sort of when do they want to talk, when are they open to talking?

And B is that back and forth. So recognizing how much we are talking versus how much this is our child talking. And I think especially when talking about LDs that it is so important, because sometimes we don’t think about it. But a child may have a drastically different understanding of a diagnosis, for example, or of their challenges than we do. Sometimes, for some kids, especially younger kids, have no awareness that they were struggling with reading. So for them, they were doing fine. And I’ve seen this especially, for example, with multi age classrooms that you know, a child who is the youngest in a multi age classroom may not have any idea that their reading is below grade level or is, you know, is a problem or is a difficulty.

And so for them approaching that conversation looks very different for them. For example, a child who’s in fifth grade who has been really struggling with reading for three or four years. So actually recognizing and just saying to a child, well, how do you feel about your reading, but how’s it going for you these days, and letting that be an open conversation.

So having that back and forth is so important, to not just assume that we know what a child is thinking, and the theme, so the ABC, the C is actually child driven. So it is really to focus on what a child is worried about, what a child is thinking about or even excited about. And so for example, if a child feels like, oh, reading is just so difficult for me, Well, are there subjects that are more interesting? Are there formats that would be more interesting?

So really, to follow the line of your child’s motivation can be so important, and I often think, with parents about not necessarily becoming your child’s teacher, so a lot of times it feels as though the parents, you know, feel very anxious and feel, oh, I need to try to teach my child, I need to fix this. Whereas I think what can be so helpful and so important is just to say, well, let’s try to make this, whether it’s reading, writing, or any other type of schoolwork, a warm and bonding experience. So how can we make reading feel like an enjoyable experience?

And maybe that means the parent reading to the child, maybe that means taking turns reading, you know, maybe it means a variety of things. But I think to be a little bit flexible about that, and to not feel as though it needs to come from a place of panic, but can rather feel like oh, this can actually be you know, reading is a complex thing. And we can approach different aspects of it with a child.

Lauren Clouser, Host

Absolutely. How early can you start having these conversations with your children? Is there a right age? Or can you really start at any age?

Dr. Rebecca Rolland

Definitely, yeah. So I really think you can start at any age, obviously, I would think, you know, a child probably should be experiencing some difficulties or something like that before you have this conversation. But I really do think conversations about how we think and learn differently can start even before a child has any kind of diagnosis. If a child is just learning to read and is a typical learner, you can have these conversations and talk about, you know, well, yeah, some words are hard for you.

And even some words are hard for me to read, you know, and actually, what’s really funny is we, my family, I actually have two kids, ages five and 10. And we start together to play the spelling bee, which is a New York Times like an online game where you come up with words, there’s like six letters, and you come up with words. And it’s actually been really interesting, because as part of that we talked about, you know, do you know that word? Well, you know, I don’t know that word, even sometimes, well, your dad doesn’t know that word, you know. And so I think to recognize that we’re all growing and learning and even some adults, you know, have challenges with certain aspects of things or don’t know everything about language is really important, I think, for kids to hear.

Lauren Clouser, Host

Do you have any tips for getting adolescents to open up in these conversations? Sometimes, you know, they might not be as open?

Dr. Rebecca Rolland

Definitely. Yeah, so I’ve definitely seen that. And I do think, sometimes I found a lot of success and talking with parents about supporting kids to start with something they feel good about. So this might been actually helping your child or inviting a child to teach you something that you authentically don’t know about. So oftentimes, we may start wanting to probe or wanting to get more answers out of a child. And sometimes that can be really frustrating, obviously, because the child shuts off further and doesn’t want to speak. So I think if you kind of flip the situation a bit, and give that control back to a child, and also offer them a sense of mastery.

So allow them to teach you, you know, is it a basketball move? Is it something about a video game? Allow them to kind of show you something, maybe it’s something very active, so you actually go outside and do something together. That can be a really a way of opening up a conversation before you start talking about anything specific. It just gives the child back the sense of control and the sense of showing you, you know, here’s something I’m proud of, here’s something I can do. And so then you can move on, you know, just talk about things that might be a little bit more challenging. Sometimes I really get the sense that we focus a lot of times on deficits without starting with, well, let’s see what your strengths are. Yes, there are obviously challenges. And we’ll talk about those too.

Lauren Clouser, Host

Absolutely. Would you be able to tell us about what you’ve been working on lately? And tell us a little bit about your book?

Dr. Rebecca Rolland

Definitely. Yeah. So I’ve been really excited about this book, because it’s actually out now in the US, but it’s going to be out in, I think, 11 international territories as well. So it’s being translated into Chinese and Spanish and Japanese and other languages. So I’m really excited to get this message out to educators, parents and related professionals. So that’s really what I’ve been working on. And especially what’s been interesting to me is I’ve been doing professional development based on the book as well. So actually working on how do you develop empathy, for example, in students through conversation, how do you develop kindness, confidence, and so on? And I’m working, especially with teachers, to think about how does this integrate within a curriculum, because obviously, these things can feel very abstract and big. So I think it’s really important to actually say, well, let’s actually sit down and figure out how these things make sense within the context of a state or local curriculum as well.

Lauren Clouser, Host

Absolutely. Well I’d love to expand on educators and creating empathy. Do you have any conversation starters, or any tips for educators, maybe to help other students who don’t have an LD to sort of have empathy and understanding for somebody in their classroom who does have a learning disability?

Dr. Rebecca Rolland

Yes, definitely. So I think, I think a lot about that, especially in how to make an environment and a culture where everyone feels welcome and supported. And the first thing I really do is draw a lot from principles of Universal Design for Learning, which is, you know, I don’t know how many listeners are familiar with that. But it really is a method of learning where we open up the way that we access curriculum, the way that students respond to it, and the way that students are actually engaging with it.

So for example, you can allow students to, for example, write a poem about something, you can have them record something, you can have them, you know, use a video to respond. And I like to do that as part of an exercise in empathy, because I start there. And then I really allow students to talk about, well, what was the experience like for you? Well, how do you think you learned best? What is hard for you? Why did you not choose the other option?

And actually having students, whether they are typical learners or whether they have LDs, talk about that, it really opens us up to a conversation to say, yes, all of us have our own unique ways of approaching things, we have our own unique ways of responding. And it’s really exciting and interesting to celebrate those differences. So I think that’s what’s so key is to create an environment where we feel glad that there are so many different ways of responding that there are people with different strengths with different challenges in the classroom. And that I think, creates a really strong foundation for empathy.

Lauren Clouser, Host

Absolutely. Well, and how can our listeners follow what you’re up to and connect with you?

Dr. Rebecca Rolland

Definitely, yeah. So I have a website, which is just rebeccarolland.com. Two C’s in Rebecca and two L’s in Rolland. And so they can find me there. I also have a weekly newsletter, where I’ve been writing tips and sort of suggestions and things like that we can find on my website as well. And obviously, you can look for my book, if you’re interested in reading that, which is available through all the major bookstores.

Lauren Clouser, Host

That’s great. Well, is there anything that I didn’t touch on that maybe you wanted to talk about, or any last notes for us to end on?

Dr. Rebecca Rolland

Yes, I guess one thing I would say is, it’s interesting that I wrote this book before the pandemic. But I think now, especially given so much isolation, so much anxiety, stress, and burnout of students and teachers, I think that the importance of these conversations, it’s kind of more now than ever. And so I really do think that even if you can start small and try out a few of these conversations and conversation starters, I think it’s so important for students at the start of the year.

Lauren Clouser, Host

That’s a great point. Well, thank you so much. This was such a great conversation.

Dr. Rebecca Rolland

Oh, thank you. I really appreciate it.

Lauren Clouser, Host

Thank you for listening to the LDA podcast. To learn more about LDA and to get valuable resources and support, visit ldaamerica.org

Early Identification and Evaluation

Heard on The LDA Podcast

In this episode, Dr. Vincent Alfonso, psychologist and Professor in the School of Education at Gonzaga University, discusses why early, accurate identification is so important, what developmentally-based evaluations typically entail, how early a child can be identified with an LD, and why universal screeners for learning disabilities are so essential. 

Read the Transcript:

Lauren Clouser, Host

Welcome to the LDA podcast, a series by The Learning Disabilities Association of America. Our podcast is dedicated to exploring topics of interest to educators, individuals with learning disabilities, parents and professionals to work towards our goal of creating a more equitable world. Hi, everyone. Welcome to the LDA Podcast. I’m here today with Dr. Vincent Alfonso. He’s a licensed psychologist, Professor in the School of Education at Gonzaga University, and the second vice chair of LDA’s board of directors. Vinny, thank you so much for being here.

Dr. Vincent Alfonso 

My pleasure. As always, thanks for asking.

Lauren Clouser, Host

So to start off, could you tell us a little bit about your experience in early identification?

Dr. Vincent Alfonso 

Absolutely. It was really something that area I kind of fell into, I was looking for work after completing graduate school, and I worked in a school district for a couple of years after, a K-12 School District. And then the school district I was at we actually entered what’s called austerity, which is just a fancy name for layoffs, and people needed to be cut. And so they cut my hours, and I really wanted full time work. So I called upon some colleagues, some friends actually who I had gone to graduate school with who had entered the early childhood world, early childhood education, especially children, young children with suspected disabilities. And that was, and then it just was all on the job training.

And I learned, basically, by doing. I had really not assessed or evaluated any young children. But boy, did I learn fast. And then it became became a passion for me, I mean, not only in practice, and assessing, evaluating, you know, hundreds and hundreds of, you know, 2, 3, 4 year olds, but also then starting to write scholarly writing on early childhood assessment, evaluation, intervention, and so on. So I do have a fair amount of experience working with young children, it is from the past, but I still believe that much of what what I learned in the past and by continuing to read, and learn as a lifelong learner, I think that I’m pretty well tooled to talk about early childhood education and identification intervention and so on.

Lauren Clouser, Host

So LDA advocates for early intervention, could you tell us why early, accurate identification is so important?

Dr. Vincent Alfonso

So let me, you know, I think we can think about multiple challenges in life, physical, mental, you know, otherwise psychological, medical disorders and so on. Almost all science that’s related to health related fields indicates that the earlier the better, right? So the earlier we identify Alzheimer’s, the earlier we identify different cancers, the earlier we identify anything, including learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities, developmental delays, the earlier we intervene, the higher the probability of success, whatever success means, but typically, we’re probably not going to prevent certain things from happening, but we can certainly ameliorate whatever people are feeling and experiencing. And maybe, you know, in some cases, we will be able to take care of whatever the issue is.

Certainly, I think when we intervene with students, children who are learning how to read, the earlier we do that we do absolutely increase the chance of those students learning how to read and then being successful online. So there’s research that’s been out there now for decades and continues to accumulate that early intervention works, at large. And that’s why we  need to continue to advocate for policies for funding, for bipartisan support of early childhood education and intervention in the United States. Some people argue that Head Start was not successful, I would argue that it was and is, and probably one of the most successful early childhood education programs in our country. It’s had ups and downs over the decades, but it’s still there. And then when we talk about IDEIA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act is a continuation of federal laws and regulations that began in 1975. For children, students suspected of having some kind of learning challenge or behavior challenge that precludes them from learning subject matter, reading, writing, math, speaking, written language, that we are absolutely clear that early works. The earlier the better. And I’m very optimistic that we’ll continue to gather more research, and also advocate through organizations such as LDA, and others, for young children.

Lauren Clouser, Host

Absolutely. Well, and you said early, how early can somebody be identified as having a learning disability or be evaluated?

Dr. Vincent Alfonso

So I am probably a little bit more conservative in my thinking about this than some others. I think that…so learning disability, it’s a learning challenge, right? So it’s like reading, it’s writing, it’s math. Well, if you haven’t been in school, it’s pretty difficult when you haven’t been exposed to academic matter. And I’m very passionate about young children not being too exposed to academic matter very early on. I think that there are other domains, developmental domains that are as important, if not more important, such as self regulation, attention, behavior, healthy behavior, independent functioning, and so on. I think those are all as important, if not more important. But in our country, we have really, in my opinion, I think, rather than helping our young folks learn, I think we’ve kind of taught them how to be anxious, and that we pushed a little bit too hard for early academics.

Having said that, I think that what we can do instead of racing or kind of going too fast in diagnosing or classifying learning disability, what I do believe in wholeheartedly and I think this goes along with early childhood education intervention, is we need to be screening every young person, student, child, even as early as, let’s say two or three, and continuing on a regular basis, and identifying those young folks who are struggling and having some challenges, and then reallocating resources to and for those children, those students. And I think we would be in a much better situation if we were able to do that. So I’m a big fan, a big supporter of universal screening, developmental screening. I mean, we have babies and young infants, toddlers, they’re all screened for hearing and vision and all kinds of potential medical challenges, so I think that that’s what we should be doing for all of our kids very early on, and involving the family, involving caretakers, and working with the families, especially families that come from low resource environments, in really helping them understand the developmental status of their children, why we’re doing what we’re doing, what they can expect, how is this going to help them help their children and then as they navigate through the educational system in the country.

So, you know, the more direct answer is, we really should be screening and doing the developmental screenings as early as possible and on a regular basis to determine which of our children need help early on. If you’re talking about a learning disability, an actual disability, you know, I think if there’s a history of trauma, or if we have chromosomal data, that, you know, maybe a young person has Down syndrome or fragile X or one of the other chromosomal disorders, then,  I think we know a lot that those folks are going to have some learning challenges and may actually eventually be classified as having an intellectual disability, or maybe a learning disability.

If none of that exists, then we’re probably talking about kindergarten, we can start to see maybe some signs, but again, development is rapid early on. And there’s lots of changes that take place from three to four, four to five, five to six years of age. And so, you know, I’m personally not so comfortable with classification or diagnosis of a learning disability at a very young age. At the same time, if we have some clear data, or the data is absolutely clear that there is disability, then I would never want to not provide or have that student receive the services that is his or her right to receive as part of a free appropriate public education. So long winded answer, sorry, but it’s just not that simple. And there are people out there who think that everything is simple and this is not. And so that’s what I would say, developmental screening early on, follow the young folks who are having difficulties and having challenges, intervening. And then if they continue, if we’ve provided them with lots of interventions and they continue to have difficulties, and we do a more comprehensive evaluation, and we find that there is enough evidence for weeks for meeting the criteria for a learning disability then, by all means, I think we should follow through with that as well.

Lauren Clouser, Host

When you mentioned a developmental screener, does that differ from a typical screener? Is that because they’re younger? Could you touch on that one a little bit?

Dr. Vincent Alfonso 

So for me, developmental screener covers, which probably should be a comprehensive developmental screener, although that might sound like not exactly clear either. But when I mean a developmental screening, I’m talking about multiple domains of functioning. So I mean, certainly you could do a vision and hearing screening, right, that would be screening as well. And that would be obviously, assessing, evaluating sight and hearing, but what I’m talking about is, you know, typically, it’s like five big domains including either cognitive or pre-academic, speech language, or sometimes it’s called communication. We’d have motor functioning, gross motor, probably fine motor as well. Something called adaptive behavior, which is you know, independent functioning and becoming more and more autonomous as students age, and then social emotional functioning as well, so interpersonal skills some people want to call it social emotional learning, that kind of thing.

There are many commercially available comprehensive developmental screeners and evaluations. In fact, many of the tools that we have that are comprehensive have a screener built into the instrument so that you give a subset of items in each area that constitutes the screener part. And I think screeners are great, especially if they have good properties, psychometric properties, and also that they provide meaningful information. You know, I think that screeners can be administered pretty quickly. And you don’t have to use a commercially available one, I mean, I’m also very supportive of local norms and local screeners. So in other words, you know, a team of professionals in a school district can develop one on their own, administer it and see how it works in their district, because, you know, there’s this old saying that all politics is local, well, all education is local too.

So back to those commercially available ones, they do have these built-in screeners so you can do the screening. And then if you find that some of the kids have some challenges going on, then you can use the same instrument and go further and have a fuller evaluation in each of those areas and use the same instrument. So you have a lot of consistency, I think, built into that. So I’ve done both. I’ve used commercially available ones, I’ve used ones that the district came up with, and so on. Here’s the challenge, and what I found, and maybe it’s not true anymore, but it’s kind of clear that it is.

First of all, we don’t do it. Many, many places across the country, and many school districts don’t do screening, they don’t do developmental screening, and they certainly don’t do these thorough kinds of screenings. There are some that do, and the challenge there is that they don’t follow up. So okay, we’ll do the screening, we’ll collect the information, the data, but then it kind of sits somewhere, and there’s not a follow up or follow through. I think the ones that actually do the follow up or follow through probably have the greatest probability of success in helping these young folks be successful in learning. You know, even if they continue to have difficulties, we’ve been able to work with them early enough so that there isn’t a domino effect. Because sometimes, maybe more than sometimes, if we don’t intervene early and students are continuing to be promoted socially or otherwise, but they’re not doing well, there’s a greater probability that they’re going to be turned off to school, and they’re not going to like school. And then it’s like the hole gets deeper and deeper. And then that makes it more and more difficult to help. And then it’s not uncommon for students with learning disabilities to also have social emotional challenges because of that, so again, the earlier the better. We know what to do, I just don’t always understand why we’re not doing it. 

Lauren Clouser, Host

Did we always know that we could identify LD this early? Is there, could you touch on some of the research that has been surrounding early identification?

Dr. Vincent Alfonso

Sure. So I mean, you know, it’s really not that long that we’ve even had IDEIA, or, you know, really the former, the precursor, which was 1975. So if you think about it, you know, what are we, 45, 47 years into free appropriate public education. And it wasn’t until 1986 that we were looking at the toddler ages, three to five, and it wasn’t until 1990 that we were looking at birth to three. So we have not been inclusive until really pretty recently. And so we kind of know other than Head Start, and then Early Head Start, we really weren’t, again, in my opinion, paying that much attention to the youngest members of society, and I think we’re paying a lot more attention now. And that’s a great thing.

And Part C of the federal law and regulations IDEIA addresses early childhood, and there’s a child find component to it, and so on. So, I think we’re much more attune to young children and what’s going on. But we’re still we’re still learning, I think there’s a veritable, just incredible amount of recent research and data from neuropsychology, neurology, and other fields that is really providing us with insights into how the brain develops, and the plasticity of the brain, and so on, and so forth. And also a great amount of research on, you know, low resource environments and poverty and how environmental factors, toxins that are in our land and in our water, and so on, so forth, that, you know, might be having a negative effect on the young brain development, and so on. So, you know, there’s a lot more attention. And, not that this is always only about money, but if we invested in early identification, early intervention, and so on, we would be, as a nation, saving, not millions, but billions of dollars.

Because, again, it’s not just education and school, but this is also the developing body. This is medical, physical, right? It’s everything, and then the payoff down the road, because the longer we can keep kids in school, enjoying school and learning, then we increase the probability that they’re going to contribute to society by finding work and so on, so forth. So it’s kind of common sense. Just makes a lot of sense to me, and to many other people. And I am optimistic and very glad that we are as a nation investing in young kids and young children and their families. And I think we just need to keep doing that. Integrate the research and the science and also having a very, very humanistic approach. I mean, families must be involved. They must be involved in the early education of their kids.

Lauren Clouser, Host

Absolutely. So what are some signs in younger children that may indicate a learning disability? I know you mentioned it can be hard before they enter an academic setting. But in your experience, what are some signs that can maybe lead to a learning disability diagnosis later down the road?

Dr. Vincent Alfonso

Again, it is difficult to say. Again, I think doing good screenings early on, and multiple domains of functioning, seeing how a particular child compares to other children his or her age. You also want to know if you can sense or pick up…I guess one of the biggest signs would be speech language challenges, delayed language. I think that’s a big one. Certainly, you know, motor. Really, all the areas of functioning we see that there’s some kind of delay going on. And certainly, I think if there’s one area of delay, that’s one type of situation, right? If there are multiple, then you have another situation, right. And so, do I have hard data on that? No.

But again, common sense if there’s a delay in one developmental domain, but all the other domains are okay. You know, let’s intervene in that developmental domain. Let’s see what happens over time. But if you’ve got, you know, a young person who has multiple areas of developmental delay, you know, we want to pay very close attention to that child. And, again, I just think it’s, we as a nation are used to bringing our young children to the pediatrician, right? They get their early shots and vaccines and so on. And we’re checking their hearing and their sight and everything well, why aren’t we checking early learning, behavior, social emotional, and so on. So I think if we can engage in that, make that part of our culture and our society, the way that we work with our young people, I think we’re going to be much better off. Yeah.

Lauren Clouser, Host

Would you be able to speak a little bit about the difference between the possible signs of a learning disability or ADHD or behavior that’s just developmentally appropriate for a child?

Dr. Vincent Alfonso

Yeah, it’s another challenging question, and especially for young parents, you know, parents who it’s their first child, or, again, families from low resource environments, and they may just not have a good understanding, but it could be for anyone, right? You know, your first time parent, you have no idea what to expect, there is no book. There’s no book on parenting, necessarily what to expect and so on. I know there’s that famous book, like what to expect in the first year or something. But I think I get really passionate about this, because I think, some, maybe more than some, professionals working with young kids just have too high of expectations.

And, you know, I worked in preschools for a long time. And I can tell you stories all day long about being a child advocate and engaging in what we call the consultation, but I was just like fighting other professionals, who I thought were just trying to make kids do things that’s not natural for them. We had something called instructional naptime. And I was like, I’m really not sure what’s instructional about napping, and why we’re forcing our kids to nap. Because all that does is set up a fight with the kids, or battle with the kids. Other things, like, we’re sitting around the table and it’s circle time, one of the kids wants to stand up, instead of sitting down. “Oh, you must sit down.” I’m like, this is not the army. It’s things like that that make me absolutely wacky, you know?

And why do I bring those up, because I think what’s developmentally appropriate, I mean, kids want to play, they want to roam around, they want to do what they want to do. I’m not saying it should be that they can do anything that they want to do, but there should be some, within reason. So at young ages, many disorders, if you will, or challenges that might be indicative of different classifications or disorders, it’s very hard to tell early on, so I think it’s observation. We believe in a multi-source, multi-method, multi-setting assessment paradigm, right? So you want to see the kids in different locations, different settings, you want to talk to different people, you want to assess them via different methods as well. And then, you know, gather all the information and the data.

And I also think it’s very critical to be communicating with professionals from other disciplines, right? So I’m a psychologist, a school psychologist, but speech language pathologists are absolutely essential with young children, also having a physical therapist, occupational therapist. You really do need a full approach too, especially when someone is a young person suspected of having these challenges and difficulties rely a lot on the teacher and the parent. If they’re, if they’re concerned, we need to start to ask them questions and see what’s going on. But it is very common for us, as a society, adults in society, to kind of have these rigid rules about how children should be behaving and what they should be doing and not doing. We apply the rules to young kids, we don’t apply them to ourselves. It’s true, little, little pedestal talk there.

Lauren Clouser, Host

What is a developmentally based evaluation like, and what can a parent or caregiver expect that process to be like?

Dr. Vincent Alfonso

I think they vary, it depends on where the assessment or evaluation is taking place. It could be at the child’s home, could be in a preschool or daycare or nursery or in different settings. It’s best if the parent or the caretakers are around, in my opinion, and takes part in the process, multiple domains are assessed. If you can, we used to do at times, where you’d have psychologists, a speech language pathologist, and maybe one of the motor professionals, you know, fine or gross, in the same room, because oftentimes we’re looking at the same kinds of things. So you could have an arena-style assessment, there’s play based assessment, there’s all kinds of different ways of doing it.

But I think involving the family, gathering information from the family, having the family a part of the process, multiple domains of functioning, using good, sound instruments, then writing a report that’s parent friendly, or caretaker friendly, that’s very clear about the interpretation of the child’s functioning or performance, I should say. And then having written recommendations that are doable, feasible, very clear to the parents and to any other adults who are interacting with the young child. So I think, you know, it’s something that I really enjoy, I greatly miss it. And sometimes I hear what’s going on in the field and it makes me sad. Either we’re not doing good evaluations, or we’re not doing them at all. You know, we don’t always involve the families and the families have to be involved, as much as possible. So I think that’s probably a good overview of what that would be like.

Lauren Clouser, Host

Well, to expand on that a little bit, we’ve touched on universal screeners why they would be so important, and the importance of following up on those screeners and tracking those kids. What needs to be changed to make these early, accurate identifications easier and more likely?

Dr. Vincent Alfonso

Well, I’m gonna say it’s probably really good educational leadership. I think that school districts, superintendents, and principals really need to believe in early identification and working with families that have young kids, and then that universal screening. I mean, I just think it needs to be in place, you know, it’s done at a certain time of the year, and this is the team that does it, it really is an investment. And it’s not, it’s clearly not a big investment, in my opinion, and the payoff, if you will, in so many ways, it’s so big, it’s so large. But it’s like, any kind of changes…first of all, change is usually met with resistance.

So, you have that, and then even if you do have some consensus or critical mass of people, then there’s all other kinds of challenges that are there, but I have no doubt that universal screening needs to be a part of the educational, the fabric of the school, or the educational entity, you know, it just, it needs to be a part of the routine, just like taking state exams or national exams or graduation pictures or whatever it is, right? It needs to become a part of the educational routine. And, you know, I want to believe that most people want this. I think that especially now after, and still, certainly affected by COVID 19, and the pandemic, and then you turn on the TV or the radio, and now there’s the trifecta of, you know, COVID, the flu and RSV, and, I mean, so you have a lot of a lot of that. And we may be…I mean, who knows, we may be in for a rough winter, in the country. So what’s my point? My point is that it’s very difficult, right?

Education, our schools, our teachers and other people working in schools, they’re the real heroes, in my opinion, and certainly many others, but they’re the unsung heroes. And I think that it’s very challenging to change the culture to include universal screening. I mean, there’s been a lot more, like universal Pre-K. And I think as the government and our US Department of Ed continues to support early childhood education and prevention, I think it’s going to get better and better. But I just have no doubt that we need to do early, regular screening and intervention to help those kids but also to alleviate the pressures on the systems later on, because they only become greater and greater. And it becomes more and more difficult to help those students enjoy school and see the benefits of continuing in school. Otherwise, there’s a likelihood of dropping out. And then other challenges that are much bigger in life. 

Lauren Clouser, Host

Thank you so much for sharing your expertise and your experience. And I think we had a great conversation as well.

Dr. Vincent Alfonso  

I appreciate the time and the questions, it makes me think. I hope I was clear and certainly happy to follow up if anyone has questions or if there’s a need for a follow up podcast or whatever, happy to help and hope people find some of this information at least thought provoking. Even if people get angry at least, at least there’s an emotional reaction, right? So I appreciate the opportunity to help out.

Lauren Clouser, Host

Thank you for listening to the LDA podcast. To learn more about LDA and to get valuable resources and support, visit ldaamerica.org

Discovering Dyscalculia with Laura Jackson

Heard on The LDA Podcast

When Laura Jackson found her daughter had dyscalculia, she learned as much as she could about the SLD for six years. After her difficulty finding resources, she created a website and blog called Discovering Dyscalculia to help others to find the information she didn’t have at the time. 

In this episode, we sit down with Laura to discuss her family’s journey, how dyscalculia affects far more than just math class, strategies for math instruction, advocacy, the importance of community, and much more!

Read the Transcript:

Lauren Clouser, Host

Welcome to the LDA podcast, a series by The Learning Disabilities Association of America. Our podcast is dedicated to exploring topics of interest to educators, individuals with learning disabilities, parents and professionals to work towards our goal of creating a more equitable world. Hi, everyone. Welcome to the LDA Podcast. I’m here today with Laura Jackson. She’s a writer, advocate and mother of a child with dyscalculia. Laura, thank you so much for being here.

Laura Jackson 

Yes, it’s my pleasure.

Lauren Clouser, Host

So to start off, could you tell us just a little bit about yourself?

Laura Jackson 

Yes, as you said, I am a mom, I have two daughters, a preteen and a high schooler. And our oldest daughter is dyscalculic. We discovered this about six years ago, when she was in elementary school. So we live in the Seattle area in the Pacific Northwest and a couple years ago I quit my job and have been pouring myself into work supporting families and individuals with dyscalculia.

Lauren Clouser, Host

Amazing. So for our audience who may not know, could you tell us what dyscalculia is?

Laura Jackson

Yes, you probably recognize it on an IEP or just in conversation as it’s usually termed a specific learning disability with an impairment in math. Or people might call it a math learning disability. I know I have a lot of parents who will reach out to me and say, ‘my child has a math learning disability, but I don’t know if they have dyscalculia.’ And just to clarify, yes, as of how things are right now, that is dyscalculia. So it’s known as a learning disability, which I have a little qualms with the term ‘learning.’ Because I think it kind of implies that it just impacts individuals when they’re in school. But having a learning disability in math impacts so many different areas of life, and it’s also something that you have or that you struggle with your entire life. So it’s a real difference in how not only they work with numbers, but how they experience and visualize numbers. So it impacts math, yes, but it impacts really everything involving numbers in life. 

Lauren Clouser, Host

Yeah, and I’d really like to dive into that with you later. But first, I wanted to talk about how you learned about dyscalculia when your daughter was diagnosed, right? Could you tell us a little bit about that process?

Laura Jackson 

Yeah, so my daughter was in third grade. And she was really struggling in math class. And I remember I had a conversation with an old friend, who I actually just got done interviewing a couple hours ago, she had a math learning disability. And she mentioned that to me, and I thought, ‘what is a math learning disability?’ I just didn’t know much about learning disabilities in general. And I had a lot of misconceptions about what a learning disability was, so it wasn’t on my radar. But after our lunch together, I looked up ‘math learning disability’ on Google and found the Understood.org website. It wasn’t quite as robust as it is now. But I found just all the signs and symptoms of dyscalculia. And I remember just being shocked, like, wow, this describes my daughter.

And I hadn’t really even pieced together all the different parts of math at that point that were difficult for her. What was standing out was that on the multiplication drill every Friday, she just could not get past the one times tables. And it seemed funny because she loves school. She’s very articulate, she was doing really well and everything else. And the teacher said to me, I don’t know what’s going on. But she’s trying 10 times as hard as everyone else, and not getting what we’re talking about in math and multiplication. So that was kind of my first clue of what was going on.

And so from that search, one thing led to another and I started just gathering any information I could. I met with the school, but they didn’t know anything about it. And their suggestion was let’s wait till next year and see what the teachers have to say. And the more I read, the more I thought well, that’s not going to work, that’s actually not going to help her to just put it off. So that’s when I started the process of getting an evaluation at school. And it was also recommended to me that we had a private evaluation done. And both of those confirmed that, yes, she was dyscalculic.

Lauren Clouser, Host

That’s really great that you were able to find some resources and recognize that this shouldn’t be put off, the longer often that people wait to get diagnosed the trickier it can get. 

Laura Jackson  

Yes, absolutely. Yeah. 

Lauren Clouser, Host

And I wanted to talk a little bit about the resources that you found a couple years ago, are there a lot of resources out there for dyscalculia?

Laura Jackson  

Well, there’s a little more now. But I will tell you, I think I checked out…we lived then in Seattle, at that point, so a big city, extensive library system. I checked out all the books on dyscalculia, and there were two of them. So I read those. And then it was really hard at that point. This was about six years ago, it was really hard to find information. Nobody at school knew anything about it. There were people that were kind of familiar with our kid’s struggles in math, but they didn’t really understand what that meant, or what to do about it. So it was a lot of hours of looking online. I did at that point, find some books by Ronit Bird out of the UK.

I remember it being very expensive, because I started at that point ordering books off of Amazon. And you know, they’re like $40 books, $60 books, just not something readily available for people. So I started just reading everything I could and growing my own library because it wasn’t available at the public library, and no one that I knew knew much about it. So that was where it started, was basically growing my own library of books.

Lauren Clouser, Host

Wow, there really isn’t as much out there. I mean, especially if you look at resources for dyslexia, you’re gonna find so much more than dyscalculia. So that’s just huge. All the different outlets you had to go through to get just a couple of resources.

Laura Jackson

Yes, yes. I found a couple of YouTube videos. There’s a TEDx talk in Denmark with Line Rothmann, which you probably know about, and I’m trying to think I think there might have been another one, but there wasn’t…I wasn’t finding as much. Looking back, I did find some early work of my favorite dyscalculia expert, which who is Brian Butterworth in the UK. He’s a professor at the University College London. And I have since now found some videos that were available back then. But for some reason, they just weren’t coming up when I was looking. So yeah.

Lauren Clouser, Host

So what are some common signs of dyscalculia? I know that you mentioned with your daughter in particular the teacher even noticed that she was trying 10 times harder and it just wasn’t clicking for her. So what are some signs that parents can look out for?

Laura Jackson

Yeah. So that struggle or inability, like we mentioned, of not being able to learn the times tables. Also with that she struggled….we would have tears over flashcards, you know, working on simple addition and subtraction. She was able to do addition by counting up, but just couldn’t make the connection with subtraction and didn’t understand the concept, and couldn’t imagine something being ‘taken away or minused.’ So those were some of the signs. Now looking back, I can see that there were signs as early as kindergarten, a real lack of interest in working with numbers. And she would spout off these number sequences that sound fun, they sound kind of playful. And they were off, like missing numbers.

She was not able to count backwards reliably. She could do sections, but if you had to cross a decade line, like 21, 20, 19 like couldn’t do that. In first and second grade she started…the teachers said you know, I think she could use some extra pullout help. So she had two years in second and third grade of small group extra instruction and still wasn’t making progress. So extra help and still not tracking.

She really struggled with not being able to read an analog clock, she can now she’s 15. But for years, and I thought it was just, I remember yelling at her one day, ‘doesn’t the school teach you how to read a clock?’ You know, I had my own problems and just didn’t know what was going on. And not only reading  a clock, but then being able to calculate the time. So if I say we’re going to eat in 20 minutes, she wouldn’t know what that looked like or what time that would be. And vice versa.

One big sign that I did not recognize early on, but is a real clear likelihood of being dyscalculic, is that inability to subitize. So I didn’t know that when she looked at a dice that she couldn’t automatically see there were three, or four, or five dots on it. So she was in her mind counting each one. And that’s why it took her a little while with dice when we played games to say, oh, that’s five. And I didn’t realize that. And she was terrible at Connect-4, the game where you drop the coins in, because she could not see that she was getting close to four, she didn’t know there were…she’s just dropping in things until it filled up. So that was a sign that I learned later. But I know other parents don’t usually notice that, like I had a mom in my workshop, she said, Well, my son told me that when he’s setting the table, he doesn’t just look over and see that there’s four glasses on the table. He actually counts 1, 2, 3, 4. And she had no idea that that was going on.

So my daughter counted on her fingers. And I know there’s people who like to debate whether that’s okay or not. But I think what I’ve learned is when that’s the only method available that can be assigned as dyscalculia. Not that you count your fingers, we all do that. But when that’s the only way they can add something up. It can be assigned struggles with left and right. And I know that can happen with dyslexia too, but no sense of direction. And oh, man, it’s just everything related to numbers like you think about the addresses on the street and how you know, you’re getting closer to your house because the numbers? Well, those numbers are so random to her. They’re just out of nowhere, and she can’t remember the sequence of telephone numbers. Remembering dates, dates are very confusing. I could really probably talk for an hour on that. But that just gives you a few.

Lauren Clouser, Host

Yeah, definitely. Well, and if you wouldn’t mind expanding to it doesn’t just impact a math class. Like you said, there’s some real world examples. Can it impact other subjects? What are some other things that it can also impact other than just math?

Laura Jackson

Yeah. So measurements, so my daughter has always struggled being in the kitchen. We use some tools, some visual measuring spoons, and cups now from Welcome Industries. And they give her a picture of what the item is instead of the fraction. But anything to do with measuring amounts or estimating…I share a story in my book of calling out across the house like a year ago saying, hey, how many chicken nuggets do you want for dinner? And she had to come into the kitchen because she doesn’t know that she eats about 8 to 10. Like she just…she had to see the actual pile and said ‘oh, about that much’ because she didn’t know, she didn’t have a number attached to that amount.

Her other classes, we have to notify all her teachers. So in social studies, so much of that is around numbers and like she doesn’t have a sense of like, when is 1751? Like she doesn’t have: ‘Oh, yeah, that’s you know, this is hundreds of years ago or that was a few years ago, or this is when my grandparents were alive.’ Like, she has no sense. And it’s also hard for her to remember numbers when they don’t have a context. So I looked at her social studies quiz recently, and this was in middle school. And half the questions were, what year was this built? How long is this river? When was the birthday of this person? Like half of it was numbers. And it was unfair because she really knew the curriculum. Like she could tell you why that landmark was important, even though she couldn’t tell you when it was set up. So that’s some things in social studies is that sense of time, of dates.

In all her classes she struggles with time and having to ask when is lunch? When is this happening? Because when she looks at the clock, it takes her so long to calculate first what time it is now. But if the teacher says in 20 minutes, it’s hard for her even still to be like, what will the clock say when it is 20 minutes? She’s in theater right now in high school, totally confused about upstage, downstage, left, right. She’s like, ‘Mom, I don’t know my left and right, and now we’re turning it around. And the left and right are opposite of what it is for me on stage.’ So that’s a nightmare. That comes up.

The other thing I forgot to mention early on is, so memory for numbers. So dyscalculics, they may spend a whole lesson and you think that they really got it, and you come back in the next day and the teacher is just flabbergasted because it seems like they haven’t remembered anything of what they just learned. A student will study and study and study, cram for a test, go in and fail miserably. They can’t hold on to these concepts that, in reality, don’t make sense to them yet. And so, you know, the parents are flustered, like, did you not study? Or that’s what you get for cramming. And it’s like, no matter if they studied every day for a month beforehand, they might go in and not remember.

We’ve experienced that a lot with our daughter, and she would sometimes just sit and wait, she would just and the teacher would say what are you doing? You’re not doing anything, She’s like, I’m waiting for the answers to come. Because in her experience, the numbers would come and go, like, sometimes the answer would be there. And sometimes it wouldn’t. And she didn’t know how to control that or make it appear when she needed to. So that’s one of the reasons the multiplication tables, memorizing those, it doesn’t stick. And the amount of memory they have for numbers is very small. So when we’re requiring that they learn and memorize as much as everyone else, they’re at a real disadvantage. And they have to, we have to really pare down what is required to be memorized.

And that’s kind of getting into the teaching methods, but just being aware that their capacity for memorizing anything related to numbers and quantity is very limited. It may be fine in other matters, you know, other subjects, but in math, the other subject that is really impacted is science. So they can do really well and a lot of aspects of science. But think about how much of those science classes have measuring and make you do calculations. And so those students who you may notice, they’re doing really well on all THESE tests. And then THESE tests, they’re doing terrible. What is it on those tests that they’re not doing well at? My daughter is in biology right now. And she told me, I totally understand the material, but she bombed this worksheet quiz, and it was all measurements. And we’re in the process of getting a copy of it, because I want to see it, because she probably understood the concept, but she makes a lot of errors when it comes to the calculation. So yeah, those are some other areas, at least for students.

And then if you think about adults, you know, reading and understanding spreadsheets at their work, or graphs, is very complicated. Driving, calculating distances, calculating time and distances, like you hear of adults where they have these jobs, they have to drive from place to place and they have meetings and it’s just a nightmare. And then you think about money, like all these aspects of money, understanding amounts and decimals and the calculations of it. In our country, our 10 cent dime is smaller in size than the five cent nickel. Just even that is confusing. And we don’t understand why can’t you remember that’s a nickel, and it’s like well, it’s very confusing.

Lauren Clouser, Host

That was great because you know, a lot of people just assume oh, it’s just math calculation. But you know, it really impacts anywhere that there’s numbers, which is probably more places than we realize in our day to day.

Laura Jackson

Yeah, and in my parent workshop, the first week is just understanding and the homework is that week to just notice how many places that numbers show up in your life, or calculating or amounts. And it’s just so fun hearing all the stories, they come back not even realizing the different places in their life where these things happen. And then trying to see it from the point of view of their dyscalculic, you know, spouse or child or whatever. Yeah, it’s, it’s very enlightening,

Lauren Clouser, Host

Yeah, that’s huge. So how did you decide on which learning approach worked best for your daughter, whether it was at home instruction or any sort of online tutoring?

Laura Jackson  

Yeah, it was a real trial and error. We got an IEP and I remember just breathing a sigh of relief, because getting her tested was very difficult because she was doing so well in her other classes. And so the school was hesitant to test her. So it was a real push to get her evaluated. And I was so tired by the time we finished, and it was about like a year long process between the two evaluations. And I thought, well, now we’re all good to go. But the hard thing is the teachers had no idea how to teach a kid with dyscalculia. And the special ed teacher was really lovely and warm and willing to learn. But she had so many kids. And it was such a steep learning curve. So I was feeding her like Ronit Bird books that I would find, hey, do you think we could use this? And she was looking for curriculum online, I was too. We didn’t find anything specifically for it.

So for two years, that was our way of being, and that even included a separate school district where she received more time in special ed than the first one. But still, nobody knew how to teach her. So by the time she was in sixth grade, I thought we can’t keep guessing, like this is just not working. And by that point, I had been reading and learning and I found some methods of teaching coming out of the UK. And I met up with well, let’s see, I started with Ronit Bird’s online ebooks. They were hands on, she understood the unique nuances of dyscalculia. And so in our state, we have the option of part time enrollment at school. So what we did is we did math at home in the morning with this curriculum, and then I dropped her off at middle school for the rest of the day. And we have done that for the last three years. Pandemic year, there was one pandemic year where she was home, or we homeschooled, so she took a lot of online classes, basically online learning, and then math at home.

So I got some help from Emerson House, which is a school in the UK. And there’s also one in Virginia. And they really focus on students with dyscalculia, dyslexia, and dyspraxia. I got some help from them. And the methods were, I want to say there’s a method to the madness, there’s actual ways to think about learning for dyscalculics when you understand what are the unique challenges? And what are those gaps that they have that most students don’t have? So I think about her learning structure, and there’s like pieces of bricks missing and mortar missing, and we have to go back and start at the foundational level and fill in those gaps. And so that’s what we’ve been doing. We did it all through middle school for her.

And it was pretty exciting, because a few, you know, within a month of doing it, and I will back up and say I’m not a math person, I am not a teacher. I’m just a desperate mom looking for help for my kids. So I really just approached math class, like, let’s learn this together. I wasn’t teaching her. We just were like, let’s see how your mind works. And let’s find a way to understand math in a way that your mind works. And so we followed through Ronit Bird’s ebooks, and then we used Jane Emerson and Patricia Babtie’s book The Dyscalculia Solution, and just worked through those. And it was so exciting because she started saying to me, Oh, I’m ready for math class today, or I’m excited to do math class today, I love doing this math with you, mom. And she was also having these breakthroughs where these mathematical concepts that never meant anything to her were suddenly making sense. 

I remember one day, we were building numbers. So one main thing with dyscalculics is not having a sense of numbers, not having a grasp on what makes a number a number. And how, as Professor Butterworth would say, they don’t understand numbers as sets. So teaching to…and it seems so basic, if you’re not dyscalculic you’re like, ‘well, of course,’ but when you’re dyscalculic it’s confusing. It doesn’t make sense. So, we were building the numbers with these different tools, Cuisenaire rods and dot patterns. And she got stuck. She built one through 10. And then she was like, how am I going to build, you know, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15? And I just was quiet. And she sat there for a minute. And she’s like, oh, there is a 10 in each of these numbers, plus an additional number. And she was 12. And she is just realizing this fact that we all kind of take for granted, but she had to experience it hands-on to see what that meant.

Because one of the things with dyscalculics is they don’t understand the idea of numbers as sets, and then other sets inside those sets, so that numbers are made of other numbers basically. So we had a really great, I would say, experience learning together. And we would get help from different places, but it’s really, you have to be okay with them forgetting and redoing it and being like that’s okay. Hands-on. Not requiring much memorization if at all, and learning through games and experiences and not drills, quizzing worksheets. So that’s what we have found to be most successful, and it’s really coming out of a small group out of the UK. The people I follow are Brian Butterworth and the late Dorian Yeo, Jane Emerson, Patricia Babtie, Steve Chinn, Ronit Bird, they actually all know each other. So funny. But those are the people I follow and that I have found materials that really understand the dyscalculic mind and how to help them gain that sense of number.

Lauren Clouser, Host

It’s really great to have. So how can parents advocate for their child with dyscalculia? I mean, you just advocated every step of the way. It was yes, we need an evaluation this year, to: this is what dyscalculia is, you know, it was almost a combination of educating and advocating at the same time. Lots and lots of work. How do you recommend that parents can even start that process? It seems really intimidating.

Laura Jackson 

Yeah, I think it is. I feel like being in just this field of learning disabilities and differences, so many parents do find themselves in that role, even though they don’t want that role. I didn’t want that role. I’m not a controversial type of person, I don’t like to rock the boat. And now I’ve had to become very comfortable with rocking all kinds of boats and, you know, irritating people, for my child. And so it is hard. It’s not fun. I think finding community and others who are doing the same. So that’s some of what I am doing now is trying to build community. But I remember when I first started out, I remember looking around and just being like, well doesn’t anyone know anything? And I don’t even know how to navigate the school system. And so, a friend said, Oh, I think you should call this person. And I texted this mom out of nowhere, who had a daughter with dyslexia, and she had navigated the school system.

So it was just a really awkward text. Hi, my name is Laura. And I need help. And she was great because she helped me figure out how to navigate the school system. And she didn’t know about dyscalculia. But she knew how to get evaluated and how to get that process going. And several years ago we couldn’t afford tutoring, and there was some tutoring offered out of the Emerson House. And so we just had to kind of think creatively, I talked with them. Rob Jennings was there, and he’s with the Dyscalculia Network. And we kind of worked out, okay. Well, could you tutor me so that I can teach my daughter? So we did that and just kind of tried to think outside the box of ways of how I could get that help because I needed help. And then, to help navigate the school system, I would say I’m not necessarily the best. I mean, I tried for two years and the school couldn’t get what we needed.

And I jumped ship, because I’m just like, I don’t have time for that. But we’re back in the school system now. And, you know, continuing that advocacy, and also teaching our daughter to advocate for herself. So especially as she’s older, helping her have a voice is really important. And takes the pressure off me as a mom, but I think it will help her because that’s what’s needed going forward. So I guess to answer your question, see if you can find community. And I mean, that’s what you guys are doing with LDA. You’re providing education, resources. Hey, there’s people out here who call on my workshop I have, and I say, Hey, call your LDA advocate in your state, because they’re going to know some resources that you haven’t heard about. And I’ve done that in our state. And our representative, you know, had some names of places you could get evaluated that I didn’t know about. So yeah, find your community. Because you’re not alone. And it really helps you feel encouraged or bolstered, like, you can do this.

Lauren Clouser, Host

Absolutely. That’s really true. So in your experience, what are some of the strengths of individuals with dyscalculia? We talked about a lot of the weaknesses, but have you noticed any strengths that have come out of this?

Laura Jackson

I love that question. Because I really feel like that is one of the keys to supporting students with any kind of learning difference is to see the areas that, in my class I call it like, places where they shine, like seeing those places where they are excited, they’re interested, they’re really good at. And when you think about growing or developing as a person, like focusing on those things are so much more important than looking at the places of struggle and trying to fix those. So I love that question. And when my daughter was 10 I remember her standing on the front porch, and we were really right in the middle of…I think she had just received her diagnosis in the private eval. So we had already finished the school eval. And I remember she said to me, I know what happened, mom. She’s like this little body, 10 years old. And she said, my creative artistic side is so big in my brain, and it has just taken up all the room, and there’s just not space for the math. She’s like, it pushed the math out. And I love that, because that was kind of, I mean, maybe that happens in the brain. I don’t know. But I think other areas are developing.

And we need to pay attention to those. I think, for my own daughter, and so many of the parents I talk with, they’re really surprised. They’re so focused on the struggles, and most of them have multiple learning differences. And when you ask them, What does your kid really love? What are they really good at? Oh, some really cool stuff comes out, you know? So I think of my own daughter. She’s highly artistic, very creative. She thinks outside the box for new possibilities. So her problem solving skills, critical thinking are through the roof. And I think she’s had to really use those because she’s in a math class. It’s completely confusing. And she has to think, creatively, how am I going to figure this out?

She’s very empathetic. So kids with other learning differences or struggles, she’s like, the first one to be like, Oh, I wonder what’s going on for them. And then I also see a lot of resilience to things that have not always come easy. And so she’ll stick with something for almost too long. She was doing an assessment with Dr. Schreuder at Dyscalculia Services this summer and she took four times as long as the assessment was, and then we realized, when she saw the problem, instead of just looking at it and quickly being like, oh, that’s beyond my level, I should move on, which was the instructions from Dr. Shreuder. She looked at that, and she was like, I’m gonna figure this out. And she was gonna figure that out. So there’s a real resilience there, which is awesome. In this case, we didn’t want her to be so resilient.

But just in general, yeah, there’s always those things to look for in your kid. And I think by noticing those I talked about in my workshop, when you can notice those, those actually lower their anxiety about who they are and how they’re doing. And then they can actually handle things like the difficult math better when they’re lifted up in these other areas. So I love that question. 

Lauren Clouser, Host

That’s great to think about. So what advice do you have for other parents who have a child with dyscalculia? You’ve given us a lot with education and advocacy. But do you have any other general advice?

Laura Jackson

Yeah, I think do what you can to just understand. It can feel really overwhelming. Like, when you don’t understand how someone can’t see numbers the same way. It’s very hard to imagine if you have a friend who’s colorblind, it’s really hard to imagine that they don’t see the colors that you see. And when they put together their outfits, and it’s a little bit off to you, it’s hard to imagine what that is like for them that the colors don’t look the same.

So I think about the same way of being curious with your kid when they’re showing a difficulty. It’s more helpful, I’ve found, to get curious, like, Hmm, what? Why is that a tricky thing? And you will probably figure out why instead of, I think I’m a very quick to fix kind of parent, and I have to slow myself down so much. But instead of seeing a problem and then saying, Oh, well, this is how you solve it. This is how you fix it. Just forget the solving and just be curious, like, what is their experience with this? And how do they view the world differently?

An example from a few years ago, it seemed like my daughter was never tracking when something was happening. So like an upcoming event. And she was always asking about it. And I thought I’m just going to do a family calendar on the wall. That makes a lot of sense. Calendars make sense to me, I love a good spreadsheet. That girl never looked at it. Meanwhile, my other daughter loved the calendar on the wall, she loves knowing what’s happening. But my dyscalculic daughter told me she’s like, I never looked at that thing. Because I can’t understand what it’s saying. It doesn’t make sense to me how the week is laid out in this grid.

And instead of pushing her on that, we ended up having a conversation of wow, okay, so those planners they give you at school that everyone encourages you to use and this will solve all your problems, that’s actually not a great fit for you, is it? She’s like, No, I don’t get it. It doesn’t make sense. So then we had this conversation, what would make sense if we need to plan ahead and you want to have an idea of a week? How would you think about that? She ended up trying her own schedule planner in her mind and how she thinks about it. If a teacher says to her, this is due on 11/25 she has no idea what that is, so she asked her teacher ‘could you tell me this is due next week?’ She can imagine that and she has her own planner that draws out what a week looks like to her. So I think just being curious with your kid and then trying to be understanding of…you don’t have to do what I did, where I bought like every book on dyscalculia and read for six years, but there’s a couple books you could read just to have a basic sense of it. And just feel like you understand a little bit more and that will help your kid immensely. It will also help you in your frustrations with them because it can be very frustrating. So yeah, slowing down, being curious, and trying to understand the deeper stuff going on.

Lauren Clouser, Host

That’s great advice. Would you be able to tell us about Discovering Dyscalculia, your website, and all your resources that you have available?

Laura Jackson 

Yeah, a few years ago, like I said, I quit my job, and we moved out of the city, but close enough for my husband to commute. And I started reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, and started writing from that book. And I didn’t know what my next career job was going to be. I knew it needed to be something to help provide for our family. But I didn’t know. So I started blogging, I was writing for the book, for the Artist’s Way book, doing my morning pages every day, it’s like three pages, long hand, all your thoughts.

And then I started a blog, so Discovering Dyscalculia started as a blog. And I was really just processing our own experience. But also I kept running into people who were curious but didn’t know anything about it. And I thought, I bet I’m not the only parent. And when I was looking, I remember furiously typing in like, you know, that was when mom blogs were big…but dyscalculia mom blog, math disability, mom blog, I couldn’t find any. And so I thought, if I was looking for that, surely some other parent is looking for it. So I just started blogging on there about our story and different experiences.

And one thing led to another, an editor from GHF Press found my blog, and I reached out and said, Would you write a book? And I thought, well, that’s crazy. But I thought I should just say yes. Because it looks like a need, and someone’s going to pay for me to do that. Yeah, let’s do it. And so that was a really good experience of just kind of putting it all into a story, really like our experience. And so then from that came, I’d find a new resource, so then I would share it on there, or people were asking, like, What books should I read? So I’m like, Oh, I’ll put together a book list.

And then last year, I started teaching workshops for parents on Zoom, just parents who were like, I need help. So that’s how it started, at first a blog. And then now just more, and then I started having teachers reach out to me, and then I started having dyscalculic adults saying, where’s this stuff for us? You know, so it’s kind of a community. I sent out a weekly email, just educating on dyscalculia. And I’ve just pulled back to monthly, because I have some other things in the works. But it’s a very interactive group, they always reply with their own stories. I love getting stories from people, really every week, I’ll have a new story from someone somewhere in the world about their story. And so many of them say, I thought we’re the only ones or I don’t know anybody else. So the real goal would be just raising that awareness. You know, I mean, if it’s 5% of the population or possibly up to eight, that’s a lot of people that need to know that others are out there. 

Lauren Clouser, Host

Absolutely. Well, and like you said, you know, not everybody’s available to do that six years of research and ordering those books is expensive. So, it’s great that you’ve compiled all these resources that you didn’t have.

Laura Jackson

Yeah, I think I wrote that in the cover of the book of this is the book that I wanted to find and that wasn’t available. So I wrote what I would’ve wanted.

Lauren Clouser

Yeah. That’s amazing. Well, Laura, thank you so much. This was a great conversation. I think people are gonna get a lot out of it. And hopefully, it’ll continue to raise awareness about dyscalculia. 

Laura Jackson

Thank you for what you guys are doing. You guys have been putting out a lot of great talks and webinars. And it’s just all the hardships of things and how there hasn’t been much information I have started saying when someone is looking for information, I’ll be like, we haven’t found that YET. It’s always yet, because it’s growing and there is such a growing interest. And so many people are discovering that there’s a reason that they’ve struggled with math and numbers. And so I feel really excited and hopeful about the future for this field. And so yeah, thank you guys for what you’re doing as well.

Lauren Clouser, Host

Thank you for listening to the LDA podcast. To learn more about LDA and to get valuable resources and support, visit ldaamerica.org

Empowering Rebel Talent: A Talk with Denise Brodey

Heard on The LDA Podcast

2023 Harrison Sylvester Award winner Denise Brodey is an LD & ADHD advocate, author, senior contributor to Forbes writing about disability, equity, and inclusion, and the founder of Rebel Talent, an organization that provides support to individuals with ADHD and/or learning disabilities that are struggling in the workplace.

Denise shares some of the most common issues individuals with LD & ADHD seem to face in the workplace, the importance of neurodiverse voices in media, and the future of disability inclusion in the workplace. Hear more from Denise and find resources at: elephants-everywhere.com

Read the Transcript:

Lauren Clouser, Host

Welcome to the LDA podcast, a series by The Learning Disabilities Association of America. Our podcast is dedicated to exploring topics of interest to educators, individuals with learning disabilities, parents and professionals to work towards our goal of creating a more equitable world. Hi, everyone. Welcome to the LDA Podcast. We’re here today with Denise Brodey. She’s a senior contributor to Forbes, founder of Rebel Talent, author of The Elephant in the Playroom and winner of the 2023 Harrison Sylvester Award. Denise, thank you so much for being here with us.

Denise Brodey

Oh, thank you so much. And thank you for the award, it’s so meaningful to me because I have watched LDA and used your resources for so long as a mom and then became much more of an adult advocate, an advocate for adults and young adults. So I’ve watched your growth, and I am just thrilled. 

Lauren Clouser, Host

We’re really proud to be able to honor you with that. And thank you so much for all of your work that helps to serve adults with learning disabilities and ADHD. So to expand on that, would you be able to share some of your background with us, who you are and what you do?

Denise Brodey

Sure. So first of all, I’m a journalist at heart. I grew up running to the mailbox, that’s how old I am, to get magazines like Glamour and Self, and the latest copy of, believe it or not, Newsweek or Time, and those were discussed at the dinner table. And so I always always wanted to be a magazine editor, and I was for 25 years. So I went to college. And the first thing I did after college was join a national women’s magazine. And it was love at first sight, you know, lots and lots and lots of hard work. But I find that storytelling and connecting with people and understanding science, I’m mainly a health, medical and now business reporter.

So I write for Forbes, and I am an author of a book called the Elephant in the Playroom. And that was all about the storytelling of 41 families. And after that experience, I really understood not only from a personal perspective with my son, who was diagnosed with learning differences and childhood depression, as a five to seven year old-ish, I’d say you know, it’s hard to to diagnose. I really understood the value of hearing other people’s stories. And that’s where the words “the elephant in the playroom” came from, because I always wanted to talk about what nobody was talking about. And that’s a lot. So, storyteller at heart I would say. I am now working on a second book, which is The Elephant in the Office, and that’ll come out next year. It’s very similar. I watched the growth of my son’s generation, and my daughter’s generation, millennials and Gen Z, and how incredibly proud and forward-thinking they are of being different. And so this book addresses that directly from their point of view, which I think is really important for businesses to understand.

Lauren Clouser, Host

We’ll definitely be looking for that one to come out. So you had mentioned that you like to report on the stories that aren’t always told, or on topics that aren’t always talked about. So when did you decide to become an advocate for individuals with ADHD or learning disabilities?

Denise Brodey

I didn’t ever think of myself as somebody with learning disabilities, even though I had so many, which is nuts. I grew up in a family of two therapists. Both will tell you, oops, we missed those. We didn’t notice Denise as having some issues. I was a girl in the 80s. And like so many women today are finding out, well, if you were quiet, and you got good grades, and you were generally what they would call compliant, and you weren’t getting a huge amount of trouble, that was your way of advocating for yourself was to just be quiet, take up not too much space and do the best you could. Right? 

And then I had my own family and I watched my son really struggle with noise sensitivity and anxiety. And I started to look at him and think that’s me. He’s doing all of the things that I do. And I get it. And that’s when I became an advocate for younger people and moms, and moms understanding what’s going on so that there wasn’t this silly conference call over bad behavior or, you know, not handing in homework, it was how do we get to the root of this problem that is not necessarily my son, right? Or my daughter or his classmates, it may be you, the teacher, or it may be me, the parent, and we have to figure out how to be advocates for him, because he’s too small to do it for himself. And so those were, those were the early days of saying, I have to take this into my own hands, because I saw how different he was in different atmospheres.

When he felt comfortable he was amazing, and articulate and interested and curious and so much fun. And such a sweet person. And when he was anxious or things made him nervous, or things were too loud, just like me as a kid, he clammed up. And nobody got to know him. And that was so similar to me. So, you know, I went along this route of learning about other parents and sort of chasing after them saying, ‘excuse me, but what do you do about medication?’ or ‘Excuse me, would you mind sitting with me at Starbucks?’ and that was my, you know, many forays into just like, grabbing people here and there. And as a reporter, I was a good listener to people’s advice. And then I would go online and research the heck out of it, right? So my advocacy really comes from my son, but also then recognizing myself in him and saying, hold on a second. 

There was nobody talking about learning disabilities, and when there was no one talking about ADHD and women and when I say nobody, maybe behind closed doors. There was a lot of conversation about depression and anxiety, and dyslexia, maybe, but the combination of LD and ADHD and sensory issues, those were not on the menu that I had anyway. So I began to advocate for people to just talk openly about their diagnosis. And then, you know, this is sort of long and short, but basically, I got to where I am now, which is, it’s everybody’s choice as to where they want to be talking about their learning disability and their potential issues, and their anxiety and their mental health. But as long as they can somehow put words to it, and figure out how to advocate for themselves using their own non-medical terms, that’s where I am now. That’s my sort of very long journey towards you know, be yourself and learn how to advocate whatever way you can.

Lauren Clouser, Host

Right, right. So many people have your same journey of being a personal advocate, either for yourself or their child, and then realizing that they don’t want anybody else to have to go through all the research and things that they went through. So it’s amazing that there’s so many parents out there who, once they’re done advocating for their children, they go forward, and, you know, make sure everybody else has these resources.

Denise Brodey

Yeah, and that’s a big change. That’s a big change that I’d say in the last five years. That people have said, I can’t watch this happen anymore. And I think they had their own journey where they felt too demeaned or not as successful as they possibly could, and they took it upon themselves to get more training. That’s new, and it’s a really exciting place.

Lauren Clouser, Host

Yeah, definitely. So could you tell us a little bit about Rebel Talent, how you came to found it?

Denise Brodey

Sure. So one of the things that I did, as a writer was say, how do I write for the business world? And how do I talk to business people because mostly they were talking about compliance or legal issues, the ADA. And I queried Forbes, and I said, I’d like to talk about people with learning disabilities who are really not recognized and spoken about in the third person in the business world. And I said they’re talented, but they’re also rebellious. And then I said, they’re Rebel Talent, of course, and the woman on the other end of the phone, the editor was like, I don’t really know if this is gonna work.

And I said, Okay, well, why don’t we just go with I write about disability and inclusion for the business world, and that I want to speak in a first person voice. And so that’s really where I started. I said, let’s see what will fly. And I became the first contributor at Forbes to write about disability and inclusion from a very personal point of view, and constantly not using press releases or medical experts necessarily, but doing a 180 to talk to the people who were in businesses who were secretly making their way successfully up the ladder, or HR people who secretly knew this is what’s going on. And so I felt like all of those people were extremely talented, and rebellious. And I wanted first to write about them.

And then I said, it’s not enough to write about them. I’m getting letters saying, How can I do this at my company? How can I create connections and conversations? And my first thought was, well, let me research where that’s being done. And there were very few places that that was actually being done.

And that’s when I said, there’s a need for rebel talent, there’s a need for ERGs, employee resource groups, for affinity groups, for HR groups, for basically any kind of group that was talking on Facebook, to have those conversations in businesses and among leaders. And I was struck by the idea that only 2-3% of people from an EY study revealed, even in leadership circles, revealed their disabilities, physical or non-physical. So that meant that while we all lauded Richard Branson or Charles Schwab, where were the women? There weren’t any in leadership circles. Where were the people with mental health concerns and learning disabilities? They must have been there, pretty quiet, right? And that’s where the idea of ‘let’s infiltrate,’ and probably right around when the pandemic started, I had just started saying, let’s have these conversations.

And it worked out really, sadly, perfectly timed, because when people start talking about their mental health, they also bring up different ideas, different issues with struggling with focus, and brain fog and menopause. And so it was a natural opening for me to say, I will put together focus groups for you, I will create impact reports for you, I will do the research within your company to make it a business priority. And that’s what Rebel Talent does. But despite all the data out there, what Rebel Talent comes down to is conversations and connections, and interpersonal research shows you learn the most when you meet and talk face to face with someone who is an ally, an advocate, who will admit to some of their issues may have even come out and disclosed that they have dyslexia or ADHD. But they don’t necessarily have to, they simply have to enter the conversation with someone who doesn’t know anyone like them. And it turns things around. So that’s what we do.

Lauren Clouser, Host

So sort of turning that culture of things that are taboo, or, you know, that can even be harmful to disclose in a workplace into something that’s a little more of an everyday conversation and something to embrace.

Denise Brodey

Right. I even recently have said, let’s not talk about mental health. Let’s not talk about even the specific labels of dyslexia or dysgraphia, or whatever, or autism, let’s talk about people trying to do their best work, reaching the goals that you want them to reach. How do you support them, what are the mechanics of the team and the team dynamics? How does the leader adjust and become more flexible, and how do you meet in the middle? If you notice, none of those things talk about accommodations, right?

It’s simply goal setting. And that’s what managers are supposed to be doing in the first place. And that’s what business leaders want, is to reach goals. So it’s so obvious that it doesn’t happen, right? People think, oh, I’ve got to deal with this. You know, I’ve got to have this secret group with this outing, or an icebreaker every morning, how’s your mental health? You know, and I think to myself, no, just like, how’s it going? Does your phone work? Is there anyone in your house sick? Do you think we’re gonna make this goal? Why not? How can I help you? You know what my favorite pumpkin pie recipe is? And, you know, the stress of my in-laws. Those are the classic ice breakers, right? Like, what’s everyone making to whatever, during the pandemic, those kinds of things.

And I’m thinking to myself, all of that is really the same as talking about mental health. And all that leads us to ‘how do I reach my goals?’ And how do I maintain my focus, my sleep, my working memory for all that’s going on under such stress? How do I talk about my stress? How do I manage people who bother me at work, because I have quirks and they have quirks. How do I manage difficult conversations? Again, all of that is allowing for conversations about being a rebel talent, or being an advocate for yourself. But it doesn’t include a lot of terminology. And that’s really where I’ve ended up post pandemic. And I think a lot of people are with me.

Lauren Clouser, Host

It just sounds like a really human approach.

Denise Brodey

Yeah, I also get to interview so many people who give me examples of things where they said, and I’m sure coaches feel this way too, where they said, so I went into my boss after I talked to you, and I just wrote down the 10 ways I work best. And I said, could you write down how you work best, and it seemed really awkward, but they did it. And now we’re doing great. You know, so I think it can be so obvious to skip over the human part of it. But the other part that I also see is people have a sense of humor. And when you start talking like a person, you can laugh about the things that happen. And your boss isn’t so uptight, and has something funny to say, and so I have the benefit of hearing all the positive stories and the human things that people do that actually work, because that’s how I write and that’s the way I approach my business. And I’m hoping that just rubs off on the world.

Lauren Clouser, Host

I definitely want to touch on that a little bit more, you had said that you were getting some letters from people asking for help in their workspaces. Are there some common challenges that you sort of saw over and over again, that people were facing in the workplace?

Denise Brodey

Yeah. I also get calls from people who want me to also do big data business analytics, right? Or go through pages and pages of spreadsheets, like I did for the Valuable 500, which is a group of Fortune 500 companies that have come together to stop exclusion, right? And even with those big data sets, and everything else, what it came down to was: have you said anything? Avoidance is a really big issue. People will avoid saying things, they’ll talk around them. And I say, have you straight up said: ‘what if I just didn’t have meetings before 9am.’ So that came out. The other one is lack of collaboration.

This came up a lot in the Valuable 500 and other places I work in business. There are people in your business who aren’t talking to their competitors or other people who are, let’s say, creative directors or line managers. If all those people spoke together and collaborated within a company, even just once a quarter, they will learn so much about each other and problem solving. So again, finding resources wasn’t so much about the outside consultant. The answers were there from people working in other departments, but the cross-collaboration, that cross-pollination, someone will write me to say, ‘well, how do you do that?’ And again, it’s the same.

I mean, it sounds so silly. But if you ask you say, would your department like to have an informal lunch with my department as we welcome people back to the office? This is a time of serious change. And that brings me to my final point, there’s avoidance, there’s lack of collaboration. And also there’s lack of flexibility. And people lean a lot on transparency, ‘oh we’re very transparent here.’ And we like to make sure everyone is well, you know, it’s understood that they have the resources. Right? But what if you were, again, just sort of not avoiding things, collaborate, and then give people the ability to talk in any terms that they needed to get the resources they need? It’s really like, it’s connecting, it’s collaborating. And then I’m trying to think of the best word for it…it’s just over-communicating. You know, maybe you asked once, but you didn’t ask a second or third time. Those are the biggest problems, and they’re a very human problem. And they don’t revolve around technology or anything else.

Lauren Clouser, Host

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So, in addition to your work with Rebel Talent, you’re also a senior contributor to Forbes. So you touched on that a little bit, you write about diversity, equity and inclusion. So could you speak on why it’s so important to have neurodiverse voices in media?

Denise Brodey 

Yeah, the amount of difference in people and how little it shows up in media is astounding. And my number one job is to say, okay, I need people of all ages, I need people of different colors. I need people with different levels of experience, I need people from different fields, because the media is so much more trustworthy when we’re not spouting something that comes from a government statistic or a big press release. When the real voices come out, and there’s a nuanced report, it may take four or five stories to get people to buy into what you’re saying, or to understand that this is a complex issue. But in a clickbait-y world…even if you have, you know, 10 ways to talk about your neurodiversity, right?

If you’re only looking at that world after that headline from the point of view of one voice, someone who may not even understand neurodiversity, and they’re calling them an expert, that’s not going to get you very far. It’s just, you’re spinning your wheels. For the American public to hear real stories and to have the depth of knowledge to call out someone in an interview to go ‘hold on a second, really?’ or to take all the knowledge that they have accumulated and match it up with the research, that’s a depth of understanding that neurodiverse people bring to the world that is so valuable. We’re making so much more progress every single time people tap into different kinds of minds, all kinds of minds. And the great thing is that it’s out there, you know, the good and the bad is that it’s out there forever, so anyone can find it. And even though some of the lines are maybe made for businesses and big websites, I think I’ve seen that the good stories get passed around. And they make their way into the universe in a different way when there are different voices in them.

Lauren Clouser, Host

Because it reaches a wider audience, the audience is there. 

Denise Brodey 

Yeah, and the audience trusts people. And not to toot my own horn, but I’ve had people call me and say, I want you to write this story. Because you got it. You got it when you wrote about BestBuy or you got it when you wrote about Microsoft. And you said, Well, they’re gonna they have a 7% rule, which is basically 7% of their company has a disability, right? And they basically said but that’s not good enough, right? And I was the reporter, among many others who said, that the mainstream media might have just said people try for 7% disability inclusion. But what we said was, they know that’s not good enough. And here’s all the cool ways they’re doing more.

So that’s a very specific example of getting trust, because people who follow the news know that neurodivergent people are underemployed. And even when you say, wow, employment has risen so much for neurodivergent people, it’s still really, really bad. There’s way too many people who are not employed. And that’s why it’s so important to put that context to build that trust. So that’s just how we move forward in this country. 

Lauren Clouser, Host

Well, moving forward in this country kind of leads into my next question, you had written a 70 page report on progress in Global Business Disability Inclusion. So I was just curious, from your perspective, do you believe that there’ll be more of an effort in disability inclusion in the workplace in the next few years? And if so, what does this mean for adults with ADHD and LD?

Denise Brodey

I think there’s an openness right now. And we need to take advantage of that openness, it doesn’t come with a guarantee that things are going to change, because honestly, the people in charge are still the same people. So if you don’t have diverse people at the top, you have to really be forward thinking about how are we going to take this moment when everything is in flux and take advantage of it. And I feel really positive about the opportunity. But I caution that we can’t squander it. And I caution that everyone not think that leadership starts the ball rolling, that it seems to me change starts in the middle, and change starts at the bottom, and protests, and unions, and efforts to say: I don’t like this hiring process.

The growth of gig workers and entrepreneurship, all those things will play a role in changing rules. So will generations who won’t put up with sacrificing their entire lives for their jobs. So it’s going to be a group effort, and it’s not going to come from the top. I’m weary of that description. I really am. I encourage anyone to take part in any way that they can and change. And know that whether they’re advocating, or passing on LDA resources, or simply opting out of the workforce because they’re too stressed because they’re neurodivergent and they’re raising neurodivergent children to say, well, whatever I do, my small part, in the middle or at the bottom, is really setting an example that I need to take care of myself first. That it’s not all about leadership and what leadership goals are. It’s, again, back to the human thing.

I have a friend who I haven’t spoken to in a million years as a good example and she wrote that she took three months off from her job on LinkedIn, she wrote this and, she would be going looking for a new job, once her son was back, or I think was her son or daughter was back, you know really feeling better, and that she’d really struggled with leaving her job. And she was putting it out there, full disclosure, that soon she would need a new job. And this is why she left. And it was just brilliant. And it got passed around everywhere. And I see those every day on LinkedIn. And that’s not…she was somewhere in the middle. I mean, I wouldn’t say she’s the top of the pile, but I wouldn’t say she’s an entry level person whatsoever. And so for her as a manager, and as someone who had to manage to write that all on LinkedIn, that’s a beautiful example of one person, it makes a huge difference. And she was sitting right in the middle of a very messy middle. Right?

So I mean, you can throw as much data as you want at the world. You can try and change legislation. And there are great people doing that. But that’s also a bit of a privilege to be able to do that. And so if you don’t have the privilege to opt out of a job, or you don’t have the privilege of having someone else to help you find the best therapist, or whatever it is, at least sharing that knowledge with your peers…and peer advocacy is a whole other discussion. I think that will be changing the world a lot.

Lauren Clouser, Host

I like how it’s not set in stone, it’s something that we have to work for. I really liked that message.

Denise Brodey

Yeah, I mean, you just can’t take it for granted. I don’t take anything for granted. I think mostly I’ve learned that through the pandemic, but also by watching my kids and knowing that they lived through, you know, they went to college, they worked their butts off. And they came out the other side and everything had changed. So they’re 24 and 26. So they’re living it, and I watched that generation. I would just add one last thing, the way we really can create change in the future with these terrible unemployment numbers and the lack of understanding for accommodations, those kinds of things, is to listen to younger generations, is to make this an intergenerational issue.

Lauren Clouser, Host

Yeah, definitely. Well, and is there anything else that you wanted to touch on that maybe I didn’t ask? 

Denise Brodey

Not really. I mean, I hope I didn’t sound too negative. I think I’m trying to come from a place of learned helpfulness, you know?

Lauren Clouser, Host

No, I think that’s a really good perspective. And I mean, obviously a lot of learned experience has helped to shape that. 

Denise Brodey

Right. Yeah. I mean, I call it learned helpfulness. Because obviously Martin Seligman was you know, learned helplessness. That’s what ruled, right? Like, everyone learned, oh, I’m too codependent, I’m this. It’s like, okay, let’s just change the conversation to learned helpfulness. If we could all do that we’d be better off. And people who are ADHD, they love helping people. It’s one of their traits, it’s what they can do. They love researching things. They love helping people. They’re very empathic and they know a workaround like nobody’s business. So yeah, learned helpfulness.

Lauren Clouser, Host

Definitely, I like that. So Denise, where can people find your work and connect with you or follow you? 

Denise Brodey 

Sure. I’m reluctantly on Twitter @dbrodey. I am definitely at elephants-everywhere.com. And that’s where you can sign up to get a newsletter and you can read my blog. You can find my Forbes stories and my other stories that I write. If you’re a business, you can find some of the business case studies and the people that I work with and in the future you’ll be able to find a lot of downloads and one-sheets that help other people at that mid-level who are sort of really focused on managers and managers talking about the elephant in the room or the elephant in the office.

Lauren Clouser, Host

That sounds great.

Denise Brodey

Oh, sorry. And I’ve said this since I wrote my first book, but if you put “elephant” in the subject line of your email to me on LinkedIn or anywhere, I know that you’ve heard this podcast or you’ve heard me talk about elephants, and that you have an issue that you really just don’t know where else to turn. I’m happy to find you a resource.

Lauren Clouser, Host

That’s fantastic. Well, Denise, thank you so much for being on this podcast. And again, congratulations on the 2023 Harrison Sylvester award. It’s definitely well-deserved.

Denise Brodey

Thank you. Thank you so much. It was great talking to you and I can’t wait to meet you.

What is NVLD?

Heard on The LDA Podcast

Dr. Jessica Broitman and Dr. Jack Davis explain the challenges individuals with a nonverbal learning disability face,  helpful strategies and accommodations, and how they’re part of a team working to get NVLD into the DSM.

For more information on NVLD, visit The NVLD Project. 

Read the Transcript:

Lauren Clouser, Host

Welcome to the LDA podcast, a series by The Learning Disabilities Association of America. Our podcast is dedicated to exploring topics of interest to educators, individuals with learning disabilities, parents and professionals to work towards our goal of creating a more equitable world. Welcome everyone to the LDA Podcast. I’m here with Dr. Jessica Broitman and Dr. Jack Davis. They’re both coauthors of “Nonverbal Learning Disabilities and Children: Bridging the Gap Between Science and Practice.” So thank you both so much for being here. 

Dr. Jack Davis

Welcome. 

Dr. Jessica Broitman 

It’s a pleasure. 

Lauren Clouser, Host

So just to start off, could you guys give our audience just a little bit of your backgrounds?

Dr. Jessica Broitman

So I’ve been involved in nonverbal learning disorders for about 25 years, something like that. 20 something years, Jack a little longer than me. I’m sure he’ll tell you about that. And I’ve been very interested in understanding everything I could about it, where it comes from, how do we treat it? What are the best techniques for working with kids? How do we understand how to research it? And my background is that I’m a psychoanalyst, and I’ve been in practice for many years in that world. And this was a shift for me into being very involved in working with families who have children who have learning disabilities, which led me to the Nonverbal Learning Disorder Project, the NVLD Project, where you met me.

Dr. Jack Davis 

I started out as a school psychologist, and its clinical training, and worked a lot of different places. But where I came into contact with NVLD was through Byron Rourke, who’s one of the godfathers of NVLD, and went to some of his workshops and got interested. And then I wound up running a school for kids with learning disabilities. And as typical, it was primarily for dyslexic kids, because that’s what everybody knew the most about. But I started hearing stories about kids who are being dumped in toilets and trash cans and bullied and started to take a closer look at those kids and tried to build kind of a subroutine program for them, and got involved with the predecessor to the NVLD Project. And I went to a bunch of their conventions and presented about what we were doing and have kind of stayed with it ever since. Just because there’s an underrepresented group and part of our schtick has been trying to get the word out there about these kids.

Dr. Jessica Broitman

So we started trying to get agreement on a definition, which turned out to take us 10 years to get the main players around the world who are studying this disorder, to finally agree on a criteria for research. Because we realize that unless we were all talking about the same thing, and researching the same things, we couldn’t really make any conclusions about what worked or didn’t work. And we’ve gone on to write many, many books since that first book that you’re referring to, I think we’re on five books and a bunch of chapters in other books with collaborators around the world.

Lauren Clouser, Host

So I know you just mentioned that it took a while to get the definition of NVLD down. So just so we have a starting point to jump off of, what is the definition of a nonverbal learning disability?

Dr. Jessica Broitman

Well, it’s a neurologically based learning disorder, that we now can tell you that we believe it affects 3% of the population. One of our most recent research work with Amy Margolis was on prevalence and trying to actually figure out how many kids in the world or at least we now know, in North America are likely to have it. And it’s about 3% of the population, which was astounding to us, we had assumed it was much less. And it was very compelling to realize so many people were affected by it. 

And what kind of challenges that our kids have are visual, spatial, organizational and executive functions, academic, motor, and social skills, but not social skills in the same way that you think about it for kids on the autistic spectrum. And we consider the visual spatial and the executive function deficits the primary components of NVLD. And just to give you a little bit more of fleshing out what it might look like, the motor deficits could be poor coordination, some early balance problems and difficulty with graphic motor skills. And we think of it as a spectrum disorder. So they can have mild symptoms of some of these categories, and not so mild symptoms of others and it can be really quite different from child to child. And you can also have some of these characteristics, but not to the extent that it causes a functional impairment. So you might not actually be eligible for any kind of accommodations or modifications, even though you have some of these characteristics. 

And there are a lot of strengths. And I want to make sure to mention what they are. These kids have great verbal skills, they very frequently have very early speech and great vocabularies. They can be early readers and have good early spelling skills, especially with rote learning skills, where there’s factual things that you can recall outside of necessarily understanding the context, they can have fabulous memories, they can remember all kinds of details almost perfectly from stories, and then express themselves and tell you all about it in great detail or quite eloquently. And sometimes, they’ll get those early reading skills, spelling skills, and the challenges don’t necessarily come up too much later in their life. 

But the deficits or the challenges are usually in the visual spatial reasoning area, they have a lot of problems with visual recall, image formation, spatial perceptions, and executive functions. Sometimes they’ll have problems with awareness of where they are in space bumping into people, not knowing how close to stand to someone. They’re often seen as messy eaters, sometimes they’ll just, they don’t always quite know where they are in space. graphs and charts are frequently problematic for them. Their math skills are often a little bit difficult for them, they have trouble with fractions, especially geometry and word problems. And you see a lot of difficulties in their executive function skills, decision making, planning, initiation, priority sequencing, emotional regulation, problem solving, impulse control goals, there can be quite a bit of a challenge in that particular area. And sometimes in language, even though they are very eloquent, they may have trouble understanding the sophistication of pragmatics of language. So you might see kids not quite understanding jokes, what you’re saying, humor, it can be a bit of a problem.

Writing, in terms of handwriting, can be a problem. Their reading comprehension can be a problem, especially in more advanced work. And sometimes there’s quite a bit of social skill deficits with understanding nonverbal communication, transitions, novel situations, social judgments, social interaction, peer relations, reading social cues, test instructions, and interpretations. And those idioms, humor and sarcasm are not usually easy for them to pick up. And gross motor skills, you might say that they have problems with throwing balls, riding bikes, doing things in gymnastics, or fine motor skills, scissors, shoelaces, pencils, things like that, you might see problems. And some of our kids have problems in the sensory modes, with hearing, taste, tactile, smelling, they just may tend to have more sensitivities to sensory issues.

Lauren Clouser, Host

Okay, so that sounds like there’s a lot of components that can make up NVLD. So how can you recognize or how can somebody recognize that maybe this is NVLD? What are some signs that you could pick up on either in the classroom or at home? And how does this differ from another learning disability? I know there’s a lot of overlap with other learning disabilities. So how do you differentiate it?

Dr. Jack Davis 

One of the things that’s a little bit different about NVLD, especially apart from ADHD and autism, is it was really found, discovered…whatever we do with these things, through neuropsychological assessment, not behavioral observation. And so one of the difficulties we’ve had, especially getting it working together in the DSM, is the DSM is a behavioral disorder book, not a neuropsychology book. So we’ve been trying to translate the neuropsychological data into things that could be observable behaviors. And that’s the stuff that we worked on to submit to the DSM. We’ve submitted one draft to the DSM, got some feedback and we’re collecting some more data. 

Again, the core is the visual spatial. And you can see that within early development, usually the first person who comes into contact with NVLD kids are an occupational therapist or physical therapist, because they’re the ones that notice where the difficulties are. Keeping track of and organizing things to the executive function, their rooms can be a little messy at times, or they can seem a little bit obsessive because they can’t remember where things are so they have to put them in the same place all the time. So that can confuse things sometimes. One of the reasons they tend not to get diagnosed or found out early on is because the executive function demands, so the kinds of math and executive function demands that they have difficulty with often don’t occur until fourth or fifth grade, where dyslexic kids usually get screened in kindergarten or first grade if if we do it right, which we don’t usually. And, as Jessica was saying, the idioms of pragmatic language are tough, advanced reading comprehension skills, and from summarizing, bringing things together, kind of that sort of piece visualization. These kids aren’t visual thinkers. 

You can see some social skill stuff, and there’s still some disagreement. Some people will still kind of put NVLD on the autism spectrum, not people who are NVLD people, but people who are autism people, we tend to think of it as coming from different causes. You know, that’s one of the things about neuropsychology is you’re really looking at the underpinnings of the behavior, not at the behavior. And so when we look at autism, you know, we usually think of theory of mind difficulties, kind of putting themselves in the person of somebody else. Whereas with NVLD, we tend to think of body language and being able to track visual spatial facial features and the way that they get miscommunicated. 

And also a way where they have difficulty with pragmatics because they’re so easy to tease, you know, what you say is what they hear. And if you do it with a tone of voice or a roll of the eyes, they don’t pick that stuff up. And that can get them in trouble and get them teased a lot. And then, probably not different than a lot of kids with nonverbal, dyslexic or ADHD issues is they tend to suffer secondary emotional issues, they get anxious because they don’t know what’s going on, they get depressed because they fail, they can have reduced self esteem. And so like pretty much everybody else, it would be nice to find earlier ways to identify these kids. So they don’t have three or four years of struggling under their belt before we understand what’s going on for them. But I think those are probably some of the things that parents could observe. And hopefully talk to pediatricians, and pediatricians are frontline on this stuff. So we’ve, we hope we get things out to them as well, if they have time to read about something that’s not measles, or you know, sore throats. Because if we can get these kids out early, we can stop some of the secondary socio emotional consequences. 

And just one last thing about it is, the other thing that we’re working on, the whole group, the Columbia group is working on, is really seeing it as a developmental disorder not a learning disability, because it’s more than just can’t do math or can’t do handwriting, there’s all these other things that impact the child and family and impact the child in school and wherever else the child goes, where the child goes the child goes with them. Right? So that sort of thing. That’s sort of a quick, another quick review of what Jessica said…

Dr. Jessica Broitman

We wanted to give you a developmental look, though, of what these kids might look like at various stages of their life. So if that’d be okay, we’ll take you through some ideas that we have about it. And it’s also a disorder that has a lot of comorbidity with it. I know Jack wanted to mention that.

Dr. Jack Davis

Yes, the comorbidity rate, our best guess of the comorbidity rate with ADHD, if you looked at the different studies, is somewhere between a third to two thirds, which is a fairly significant level of comorbidity. These kids develop diagnosable anxiety disorders usually 10 to 15% of the time, obviously, math disorders, because that’s part of the thing so that they can qualify under specific learning disorders format frequently.

Dr. Jessica Broitman 

So when you look back at a child with NVLD, and again, we have to remember that there’s no one way to have NVLD, every kid is going to have a different set of strengths and weaknesses. But in general, when you look back, what you hear people say about their kids when they’re infants is that they never moved, all they did was talk. You know, there’s many stories that you hear about house proofing, and child proofing your house like crazy for not because the kid never moved, they were essentially sedentary. They did not explore physically, but they did it by asking questions, talking about things, pointing, shouting, and very early verbalization. However, there’s a great deal of discrepancy between the early verbalization and how precocious they seemed, and their motor development. So they often would be the kid who would not go to baby gym, who was not going to do much puzzles, not play, not do coloring books, no drawings that’s going to be pretty notable. 

As they go on into early school schooling, they’re going to, you’re going to start to notice math problems first, that’s the most common thing that we’ll see. And certainly, by later schooling, it really becomes apparent often in the very early years of schooling, it’s mostly about memorization and rote. And they can do fine as we mentioned during that time, but as it becomes more complicated, and we have to put more things together and understand the kind of mathematically dimensional components to it, it gets a lot more complicated. And by third grade…

Dr. Jack Davis 

Simple stuff, I mean, just, you know, putting the numbers where they’re supposed to go and that’s kind of the disorganization around too many numbers. And they can become a little overwhelmed and distracted by that sort of stuff as well. 

Dr. Jessica Broitman

So by third grade, fourth grade, you’re starting to notice that it’s going to stand out even more, it’s pretty consistent that our kids have problems in the math area. In particular, that’s a pretty consistent finding. And some of them are going to need help with the non phonological reading issues and tracking. And then their social problems in early schooling years are going to start to show up, they’re going to start to be the kids who aren’t necessarily going to be invited to other kids birthday parties. Some schools make it a rule, you have to invite everybody. And unless that rule exists, a lot of our kids are going to find themselves on the sidelines, least likely to be picked for the gym class, which is of course going to start developing some serious psychological issues, which really need to be addressed because they’re starting to feel like there’s something wrong with them and they don’t know why. And because they’re so verbal, everyone has these expectations that they’re brilliant, because they seem so advanced. And it’s starting to set up a pretty dangerous combination of factors.

Dr. Jack Davis 

Quick aside, in play, since they’re not very good with the interactive and social pragmatic stuff, they tend to do parallel play for a much more extended time. At the school that I ran, I remember talking to two kids who are kind of running around with lasers and stuff like this, you know, like across the playground from each other. And I asked each of them, what are you doing? And we said, well, we’re playing Star Wars. And it’s like, well, you’re a hundred yards apart, you know, what is this? But they were having fun, because they had a friend that they were playing with.

Dr. Jessica Broitman 

And it’s fine, but it’s gonna start to look a little different. They’re going to look like they can’t do simple tasks like cutting with a scissor, using crayons and pencils. Teachers are going to notice this, that they’re not the same as their typically developing peers. And then as you get on into later, elementary and middle school, as academic subjects are becoming more abstract, and more independent work is being expected, they’re going to stand out even more and look as though they’re having greater difficulties, their capacity to make quick transitions is going to be impacted, and they’re going to look stranger, they’re going to look like they’re struggling more. The executive function problems that we mentioned, are going to come into bear much more because they’re needed much more and much more demands being placed on them. The social skills have much more demands by sixth grade. Kids are really developing peer relations in a much more complex and sophisticated fashion and our kids tend to run a few years behind in their development, and they’re getting more anxious and uncomfortable, which then makes everything more difficult and keeps adding on and getting harder when you get off to college. 

If you’ve kept their self esteem intact, and help them with dealing with their different struggles, they can do way better. In college, you have the option of choosing which subjects that you would like to be involved in, and our kids do way better when they get to stay away from the math and sciences that might be more problematic for them. And if they’re not overwhelmed by the executive function, challenges of colleges, they can do quite well and have successful happy lives going forward. The trick is to make sure you treat the psychological issues, as well as accommodate the academic issues.

Lauren Clouser, Host

You touched on it a little bit here before, but why isn’t NVLD in the IDEA or the DSM-V?

Dr. Jack Davis 

Well, it’s not in the IDEA because it’s not a recognized diagnosis. So that’s a little tautological there. But you can certainly get a specific learning disability diagnosis through some of the symptoms. So they can have a math disorder, they can have a writing disorder, they can have a pragmatic speech, social pragmatic disorder. So there are different ways not in and of itself, is it eligible for IDEA, but if the symptoms are severe enough, they would be eligible for IDEA. As for the DSM, it’s just been harder to get people together to come up with a definition. And if you know DSM, you know, that we went from autism and Asperger’s to spectrum disorder. And so there was a lot of argument around that through a lot of people. And it was Melodien used to call them clumpers and splitters. You know, there are people that want to put as many kids together as they can into one disorder. And then the splitters are the fine tuners and say, well, this little thing is a little different than this little thing. And so with that shift to DSM-V, more clumping happens. So towards the end of Byron Rourke’s career, he worked with autism people at Yale, and also began to wonder whether NVLD may have been part of Asperger’s. So that got confounded a little more there. 

So we always think of it as the blind man and the elephant, kind of depends on where you touch what you think an elephant looks like. And what we’re trying to do is to get everybody to see the elephant. And to generalize from that. And, you know, we’ll see, it certainly makes it much more difficult for parents to not have it as a recognized disorder, number one, because they don’t hear about it, and they don’t get sent for help around it. And number two, insurance won’t cover it. And so trying to get these kids the help they need becomes more problematic. And I think that’s one of the big pushes for us is to try to make sure help is affordable. Wherever the kid needs it, not just for people who can afford a lot of money to do all the different things. Because if you think of all the symptoms these kids have, that’s a lot of professionals. And it’s a lot of money. And if you were to do it, right, and this is one of Jessica’s big pushes, you really need a collaborative team. And to designate who’s going to manage it, and when you’re going to talk about it is more time to collaborate. And I don’t know if you’ve ever sat in an IEP, but one of the things that I struggle with sitting in IEPs is to try to get them to write collaboration time into the document. Because if it’s not there, it’s less likely to happen. And so just a lot of time, money, and professional knowledge that goes into trying to help these kinds of kids that if it were better known, and we were all speaking the same language, we think that there would be fewer and fewer kids that would slip through the cracks.

Lauren Clouser, Host

When would you be able to tell us about your work to get NVLD into the DSM-V?

Dr. Jessica Broitman

Sure. We’re very excited that we’re…it’s taken years and years and years. This is slow work, sadly. I mean, it’s kind of obscenely slow work I’m so sorry to say, but right now we’re at a very exciting point. Because the NVLD Project in 2017 funded a real collaborative project between Columbia University and collaborators around the world and brought together many of us to agree on a definition, agree on how to present it and where to present it. It’s actually going to be, it’s been proposed for the neurodevelopmental disorder section of the DSM. And under the work of prudence Fisher and Amy Margolis, we have come to rename it. Nonverbal learning disorder is about the worst name you could possibly have for this particular disorder. Because as people who are familiar with it understand, it has very little to do with your verbal skills, there may be some pragmatic issues, but primarily, verbal skills are what’s intact, and to name something by what it doesn’t affect is stupid. Just like, I don’t know how anybody came up with it… was it Rourke who did that? Why did anybody call it a nonverbal learning disorder? But instead, we are now renaming it as a developmental visual spatial disorder. Developmental visual spatial disorder, that’s the new name. And I’m sure in just a little bit, Jack will take you through the definition that we’ve come up with for it, I think that will be something that’d be interesting to your readers. 

And it was our initial proposal that was submitted to the DSM committee. And they were positive about it as a concept, but wanted some additional research to be done, in which we could prove how clinicians around the world would use it. How would this help with differential diagnoses? So we’re currently in the last stages of a research project to try to show examples of various clinicians utilizing our definition and showing that they have an internal validity and reliability that would make it worthy of being included. And we’re very hopeful that this will get done, and that we will finally have a way for people to get reimbursed for insurance, which is really critical. As Jack was saying, this stuff is expensive. And it’s hard to get schools to pay attention to it. It’s hard unless forced, even parents don’t quite understand it unless it has a little bit more consistency and how it’s being utilized and referred to, so our consortium of researchers and clinicians are very excited that we’ve gotten this far. As many years it’s been just even in the final stages.

Lauren Clouser, Host

Well, and I agree with you entirely on the name change. I think that’s going to be very helpful. Jessica, you had mentioned this a little bit earlier about how sometimes babies won’t move around. If they have NVLD, how early can NVLD be detected?

Dr. Jessica Broitman 

I think that there are good…When you look back in time, you will say there were signs from very early on. I’m not sure what you mean by detect, are you talking about criteria for diagnosing it? Yes. So remember that there’s no official diagnosis for it, which is crazy. So there are signs that you’re going to notice, especially between the differences between verbal and nonverbal abilities, you’re going to see that from a very early, early time, you’re going to see them have those troubles with maps with directions with puzzles. Our kids do not put puzzles together, that’s just not going to be what’s fun for them, you’re going to see them having problems losing track of their belongings, remembering appointments, completing things, they’re going to have problems with those jokes and metaphors and things you’re going to notice, you’re not going to be able to make a diagnosis, our kids often don’t get even identified. I think the right term is ‘identified’ as having NVLD at this point, because we’re basically diagnosing the three or four components that you know will end up resulting in what we call NVLD, but not usually until third fourth grade. I don’t think I know of many kids who are going to get…well the thing about children, which is beautiful and wonderful is that many children develop at different paces. And even if a kid seems delayed within a couple of years, they might just catch up on their own. That’s the good news and the bad news. The bad news for our kids is that very frequently, a parent or teacher will say well, just let’s not do anything about it right now, because it’ll probably all work out fine. And that’s true for some kids. It’s not usually true for our kids and earlier intervention is better, but it’s a catch-22 because sometimes they do grow and get bigger and because of that we really needed to hone in on more specific ways to diagnosis and there’s a couple of ways that we’ve come up with, to do that both the research way, and then the way that we’ve written up for the DSM. And Jack is going to take you through explaining in detail, both of them if you’d like.

Dr. Jack Davis

But, as an aside, if we could harness the pediatric and the occupational therapy community, we would be able to pick these kids up earlier. Because two and three year olds are trying to put shapes in boxes and kind of those things about that, and picking up pencils, but, you know, the pediatric mantra is frequently, you know, what, let’s wait and see, well, they’ll outgrow it sort of, but they don’t take any baseline data and check every six months or 12 months to follow it up. It’s really the observation and monitoring that will reveal the strengths and weaknesses of these kids. Not the one shot, set them down sort of thing. And, you know, occupational therapists should be our best friends. At four, five or six, if you go into PT or OT, you should be asking questions like these, to know whether we should red flag them and monitor them. But, you know, getting busy professionals to take time to take a baseline of data and actually monitor it is hard, it’s really hard. So I think we could do a better job at early identification. 

If this really got out there and was part of professional training we came up with is using the DSM model, we have an A, B, and C categories. A is persistent deficits in spatial processing, spatial information. And how we’ve defined that are some subsets of data of visual spatial awareness, like self and space, visual spatial construction, putting blocks together, visual spatial memory, being able to recall where you put things, spatial estimation, being able to kind of guess how long, how far away something is, what you’re gonna do with it, that sort of stuff. Three dimensional thinking or visualization. Integrating and interpreting information presented pictorially. And that’s anything like maps or graphs or figures. visual spatial attention. And there are tests that look at visual spatial, the look of visual attention versus auditory attention, and visual spatial executive functioning, organizing things and putting them where they belong, and then remembering where they are. And that these visual spatial deficits, Part B, were present in early development, but may not have been caught until later on. And then C is visual spatial differences creates clinically significant distress or functional impairment of some sort. So that’s kind of what went to DSM. In terms of trying to figure out who to research then you need kind of a research definition. The research definition is based more on the neuropsych or psychoeducational testing. And the research is based on having a difference or discrepancy between verbal IQ and performance IQ. The old terms, have greater than 15 points or one standard deviation, single word reading and tact, which means within normal limits or above the 16th percentile. And then to have the following: One is the child must have some fine motor difficulties, recommended typically as the grooved pegboard, which is a two handed task, math calculation difficulties, executive function, which you can do through behavior rating scales, or you can do through testing social difficulties, there are a number of different scales for that sort of stuff. And there has to be a rule out for autistic spectrum. And that’s through, usually they use the autism spectrum screening questionnaire. And that’s where I have the populations get differentiated so that we can collect other data on them that the DSM wants to have. And I’m pretty sure we’ll get a decent rating scale out of this eventually. And then you can save the testing for those kids who still present a mystery after the rating scale data says these kids just are likely, it would at least be narrower than the amount of testing that would need to be done or the number of kids that need to be tested.

Dr. Jessica Broitman 

But we’re gonna still need the testing to tell us where to intervene in terms of what specific kinds of accommodations or modifications our kids might need, if any. And there’s test batteries, assessment test batteries, that we can refer your readers to any of our books have examples of what a good test battery might look like, or there’s a blog on it at on Psychology Today, we now have a blog going right now on these issues. So you can find it on Psychology Today.

Lauren Clouser, Host

Oh, that’s great. You know, because it’s a little in depth for somebody like a parent or even an educator sometimes to go, and it can be a little intimidating. So that’s great that there’s resources out there.

Dr. Jessica Broitman

A lot of resources. Understood.org is great. And the NVLD Project is fabulous for information. And we’ve tried to put everything that we think could be helpful out into either our books, or Psychology Today is now a new blog forum for it.

Dr. Jack Davis

The goal for the project is to become kind of the IDA, the International Dyslexia Association for NVLD, or visual spatial processing disorder. And hopefully, it’ll get there.

Lauren Clouser, Host

I know you mentioned that there’s still some testing that needs to be done. And I’m sure that the same thing doesn’t apply to everybody. But what are some common strategies that are used to help those with NVLD?

Dr. Jack Davis

Yeah, we’ve talked about this, we talked about a lot of things. But they’re probably common, in terms of what would be helpful to parents, number one is, is using the child’s strengths to verbal mediation. You know, these kids talk their way through everything. Sometimes it’s out loud, which disturbs the other kids in class. And sometimes it’s internalized, but they do use a lot of talking in terms of trying to manage and cope and deal with things. The other thing that we haven’t talked as much about, for kids with spatial stuff is they have more difficulty in novel situations, you know, as Jessica was saying, one of the reasons they tend to do better in college is because they can do in depth learning. I always tell parents, there’s breadth learning and there’s in depth learning. For these kids, breadth learning is really where the stress is, and that’s why middle school somewhat and high school is really yucky. But when they get into the depth stuff, then that’s where they’re good, because then they have the structure and the context and the organization. And they just add to it so they can become skilled at what they want to do and what they’re good at, and it comes easily to them. So reducing the novelty of situations, using pre-learning strategies, planning for success, and doing reteaching. You know, I remember some of the parents we’ve worked with, we said ok, take the kid to the new school, walk them around the grounds, show him where their locker is, you know, to kind of get them to absorb it and be able to talk that through so they don’t get lost, these kids get lost in their campuses. You know, these kids don’t take buses…

Dr. Jessica Broitman 

Not easily.

Dr. Jack Davis 

But if you put the extra loading in, and you teach it to them and go through it with them, step by step, it helps them. The other thing that it does is it helps manage cognitive overload. So that’s the executive function, working memory stuff, when you have too much going on in your head, and you can’t sort of figure out what to do next. And then you kind of stressed out and then you get anxious, and then it makes everything worse. So you know, breaking these things down into smaller steps. And again, the smallest steps allow you to teach sequentially rather than simultaneously. And it’s just the simultaneity of novel situations that becomes overwhelming. So breaking it down and going step by step. And given all the stuff we’ve said about the potential difficulties that these kids have, the other is don’t over, remediate. Don’t make their life a living hell by putting them in something that’s frustrating all the time, trying to make it better.

Dr. Jessica Broitman

They are more than their disability, find their passions.

Dr. Jack Davis

And I have an old mentor at Berkeley who just said you need to remediate the strengths. I mean, that was kind of a joke, but what he meant was make sure you fuel these kids because that’s what you’re good at, that enhances self concept, not making up for what you do bad, that there are some other things that parents can do. And obviously getting your kid evaluated for special education and trying to get help through the school districts with OT and speech and language and resource different kinds of therapy, PT, OT, medication somewhat. It doesn’t really deal with the core symptoms, obviously. But it can help with the comorbid attention and or anxiety. Parents are open to looking through that. And then making sure that any treatment plan includes accommodations, you know, things that can make the environment more conducive. And since, especially since a number of these kids, and again, we talked about overlap before, these hypersensitivities aren’t just for NVLD, but also for autism and ADHD kids, too. But if you can enhance the environment, so it reduces the stress of the hypersensitivities, that can go a long way into making them just feel more comfortable.

Dr. Jessica Broitman 

And less anxious. And then it all feeds upon itself.

Dr. Jack Davis

So those are kind of general guidelines.

Dr. Jessica Broitman 

There’s lots of specific guidelines for each kid depending on their strengths and weaknesses. And there’s things you can do specifically at school, it’s specifically for each of the problems, but I’m not sure we have the time to go into all those details. But we’re happy to talk to you about just things like preferential seating at school, you know, notes in advance, everything going home, and the computer to somebody, they don’t have to remember it, having the homework be very specific about what a rubric would look like with what’s the correct answer. I mean, there are very specific techniques that parents and teachers can learn about and utilize.

Dr. Jack Davis

But the thing that all those are trying to prevent is that sort of American ethic of, you know, let them learn from their failures, you know, ‘let them touch the hot stove,’ these kids don’t learn from their failures, you got to get in and support them from that. So that sort of wisdom just doesn’t work for these little guys.

Dr. Jessica Broitman

And luckily there’s a tremendous amount of apps out there now that are very, very helpful. And there’s lots of wonderful lists of math apps and technology apps and executive function apps and writing apps. And there are lots of resources available both on the NVLD Project. In our books, we have lists of all the various apps that we know people have found very helpful and not expensive. We’re always looking for ways to help our kids without it being hundreds of dollars an hour for a tutor.

Lauren Clouser, Host

So we definitely touched on this a little bit. But I just wanted to give you a chance in case there’s anything else out there that you wanted to clear the air on. So what are some common myths and misconceptions about NVLD?

Dr. Jack Davis

The big one is what we talked about before is that these kids are not nonverbal. And just the title messes everybody up. And that’s one of the really big reasons we want to change it in DSM is to really focus on what it should be focused on, the misunderstanding and misattribution that happens with these kids that they’re not trying hard enough. If they get older, they’re lazy you know, again, it’s that the trouble we have of labeling a behavior and not really thinking about what are the processes that are underlying the behavior. So it’s for kids that like this that are neurodevelopmentally complicated. A lot of behavior mod is just a little bit off base, you can’t understand it just by observing it, at least when you’re trying to think about how to remediate or to do something about it. As Jessica said earlier, they’re often perceived as really bright because they had the high verbal IQ. And we tend to think of smart and not smart, depending upon verbal. You know, if you look at the other side, a lot of kids with dyslexia have some linguistic processing problems, and they’re often looked at as less intelligent, but…

Dr. Jessica Broitman

Either can be either, you know, our kids are of average or above average IQ. They’re not, they don’t tend to be less than average IQ by and large. 

Dr. Jack Davis

And then, you know, it’s a neurodevelopmental disorder. It may get somewhat better, but they’re not going to outgrow it. There will be vestiges that will have to be managed. And this is another thing that happens in schools a lot, it makes it difficult for these more complicated disorders. If the kid has an IEP, they think a year at a time, you know, and that’s the legislation. It’s like, every year you have to rethink this, you gotta think years down the line, right? You know, and say, here’s the red flag, here’s a red flag, who’s gonna monitor this, who’s gonna monitor that, because if you don’t do that, then that’s where the cracks come in.

Dr. Jessica Broitman

Often people think that our kids can’t do sports, or can’t do anything that requires motor coordination. And it’s not actually accurate, they can develop splinter skills, if something is important enough to them, they can put in the time and energy to master it. It may take them longer, but they can excel. And we’ve known lots of kids, that was what they wanted to do. And they did it. It took a while, but they could do it. One of my favorite stories is the juggling story of a kid who had heard he was going to be able to have a role as a playing juggler in a play. And there was no way in hell this kid could juggle, but give him a year of practice. And he was proficient, absolutely proficient to this day, still can juggle. But it definitely took…it was interesting, because he did it in a group class initially. And all the other kids mastered it within a few weeks, and it took this kid a year to really master that juggling, but he was motivated. And if our kids are motivated, they can learn most anything, they are going to figure out their own strategies on how to do it. And it’s going to look different, potentially. And yet, it can be done. Don’t give up on your kid. You know, your kid as a student or your kid as a teacher.

Dr. Jack Davis

But it’s also the other caveat to that is it’s hard sometimes to transfer and generalize. So for instance, I remember a kid in my school, who was a it was very good foul shooter, he loves basketball, so he could sit there and you know, I mean, he was 80% went in the hoop, you put him with three other kids, he didn’t know where to go. You know, the spatial overwhelm of everybody moving around and passing is that he couldn’t do that. If we had a designated free shooter like they do in baseball, designated hitter, right. Free shooter.

Lauren Clouser, Host

What would you like educators and parents to know about NVLD?

Dr. Jessica Broitman

So the most important thing I want them to think about is that their kids can be successful, that it will take assistance, that understanding their specific deficits or specific challenges as well as their strengths is critical. And then getting them the help they need for that, especially paying attention to the psychological underpinnings for how it’s impacted them to have this disorder. And that’s the first thing. The second thing is that this is a lifetime. And it’s going to take a team, and that the sooner people are aware of that and sort of figure out their own way to work with that, the better it’ll be for their kid, there gonna be a lot of different professionals that are in and out of this child’s life. And every family has to figure out what a plan will be for them that works financially, that when they bring somebody on, you can’t do everything at once. So there’s going to have to be a real understanding about what has the highest priority at a different time in a child’s life, according to what their challenges are, what their developmental level is, what is most important to the child and what would make the child feel most comfortable. Some of our kids, even though they’re terrible at sports, they really want to focus on those sports, because that’s how they get their self esteem. So you have to come up with a team that will help to evaluate what’s the priority for the child at that particular time and not burdening the child with too many tutors at the same time. You can’t remediate everything at once. 

And you’re going to need to have someone who’s designated as a team leader. It’s really important. It could be any member of the team. It could be the school psychologists could be learning specialists, could be the parent, but somebody has to keep everyone informed about what’s going on with this child and be able to help to discern what should be focused on in each semester and each in each school year. And the kinds of people that might be involved with you could run the gamut of a child psychiatrist, developmental pediatrician, occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech and language therapists, a neuropsychologist for assessment cycle theory. therapist, a coach, social skills specialist, an educational therapist, special education teacher or consultant, tutors in math, written expression reading comprehension, and advocate might help you to figure out what schools would be best for your kid or a college counselor, or a vocational rehabilitation consultant, depending on whether child wants to go the college route or not. And all the family members, that could be the siblings, it could be the child themself, as age appropriate. And of course, the parents and I’ve listed them kind of in the order, you might find them. Because what happens is, as your kid grows and develops, you start to see more challenges in different areas. So these people might come into your life to help you as you’re recognizing these challenges. But you can succeed if you keep their self esteem intact, and you keep from your own financial circumstances from being too impacted. You can make a package that works and leads towards a happy healthy kid.

Meet Dr. Joe Morgan, the New Editor of LDMJ

Learning Disabilities: A Multidisciplinary Journal, is an official publication of the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA), disseminates the most current thinking and practice on learning disabilities.

The journal’s focus is on research to practice and how the varied disciplines serving the lifespan of individuals with learning disabilities can be more effective.

We sat down with Dr. Joe Morgan, LDMJ’s new editor, to learn more about his background, areas of interest, and goals of the journal.

Watch the interview or read the transcript below to learn more about LDMJ and Dr. Morgan!

Can you tell us about your background?

So I’m an associate professor of special education and the chair of the Department of Early Childhood, Multilingual and Special Education at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. My research focuses primarily on ways to access the general education curricula for diverse students with learning disabilities and emotional and behavioral disorders. And my work tends to focus particularly on academic interventions and systems in schools to provide that with actions focused on equity, and then also teacher education and ways to prepare practitioners to implement evidence based and research supported practices in their classroom environments.

How did you become involved with LDMJ?

Yeah, so it’s all serendipity as I am heavily involved in the Council for Learning Disabilities, which is an international organization focused on research and practice for the field of learning disabilities. And through that collaboration, I got the opportunity to partner with folks from LDA and from DLD in a panel to talk more about current issues related to the education of students with learning disabilities, and how we can improve the quality of life with kids with LD, and I got the great opportunity to work with several folks from LDA, learn more about your mission, etcetera, and learn about LDMJ. It was a hidden gem and a hidden treasure of a journal that I was not super familiar with. And so a doc student and I worked to write for publication a couple of years ago for LDMJ, had a great experience.

And I’m very impressed with the approach that LDMJ takes to disseminating knowledge in the field of learning disabilities, focused on research and conceptual theories, but then also practitioner and policy oriented pieces. And so I really like it, I was drawn to the idea that it’s a one stop shop to put the best information forward about how to best support the outcomes of individuals with learning disabilities. So when I was approached about serving as the interim editor, I jumped in and said, I’d be very and honored and humbled to serve alongside and think through how we can continue to get the work published in LDMJ out into the field and hands of of scholars and practitioners that are doing such awesome work around the world.

As editor, what are your goals for LDMJ?

I have a couple of goals for LDMJ, I think one of them is to to maintain the consistent excellence of publications that are happening in LDMJ, and continue to elevate LDMJ as a platform for folks to share their knowledge, thoughts, practices, research findings, etc. and to extend and enhance that good work that was already existing. And I also view some of the work as LDA and LDMJ as an awesome place to start looking at equity oriented perspectives, and how we can think more critically about ensuring that we are considering the needs of diverse learners with disabilities, diverse teachers in the field of learning disabilities, and finding opportunities for authors who are doing different types of methodologies or answering different types of questions to be able to propose those thoughts and structures within the academic journal LDMJ. So I think it is continuing that good work that we’re already doing, and then also finding ways to highlight and give voice to some new innovative thoughts within LDMJ.

My research, my passion, my teaching has always focused on equitable outcomes. For kids of color, for kids who are linguistically diverse, for kids who are neurodiverse, all kids in a classroom environment. And so I hope to find ways to encourage publications from scholars of color, answering questions related to equity as a space within LDMJ. So, I think that would be my two main goals: enhance and expand and continue what we’re already doing, and then use our our opportunity as a platform for encouraging diverse discussion about the outcomes of students with disabilities that we serve.

How can folks become involved in LDMJ?

I encourage folks to think about LDMJ as publication outcome, we are building up queues and really trying to build up an editorial board so continuing it as an avenue for the dissemination of knowledge. But then also if there are individuals who are interested in serving as reviewers or participating in the academic process, particularly advanced doctoral students or new faculty, I encourage them to reach out to me as a potential service partnership with LDMJ, because we’d like to find ways to ensure we’ve got a robust set of experts who are reviewing both the bidding pieces for us for consideration but then also serving on review boards and giving different perspectives on the review process. So anybody interested, feel free to reach out to me and I’d be more than happy to find ways to connect with you related to the work of LDMJ.


The latest issue of LDMJ is out now, and includes the following articles:

  • A Framework for Examining Reading-Related Education Research and The Curious Case of Orton-Gillingham
  • The Stability of Reading and Writing Skills for Middle-School Students With and Without Dyslexia
  • Factors that Contribute to Post-High School Success of Young Adults with Learning Disabilities
  • Expectations of Failure: A Review of International Perspectives on Teachers and Learning Disabilities.

Subscribe or contribute to LDMJ. LDA Members receive a discounted subscription rate!

LDA Honors Outstanding Educator with Sam Kirk Award

1/23/2023

[Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania] LDA honored teacher Warren Schoepfer with the Samuel Kirk Educator of the Year Award for his outstanding work with students. The award is named in honor of Dr. Samuel Kirk, a pioneer in the field of learning disabilities, and is given annually to an outstanding educator who has made significant contributions to the field of learning disabilities. 

Schoepfer is a certified special education teacher at Benway School in Wayne, New Jersey, a private, state-approved special education school serving students grades 1-12 with social/emotional, behavioral, and academic challenges that make it difficult for them to succeed in their district school. 

Schoepfer works with students with learning disabilities, mental health issues, behavioral struggles, and high absenteeism. His innovative teaching prepares these students for bright futures by establishing executive function, self-regulation, and employability skills, while holding high expectations for all students. 

“Mr. Warren is one of those teachers you come across once in a great while.” Elizabeth Alves, a colleague of Schoepfer, said, “He is popular with students, families, and colleagues. He develops his programming based on the needs and interests of his students with laser focus.”

Schoepfer is well-known for building a growth mindset and character in his students, and for inspiring mutual respect within the classroom. 

One student shared, “He is always teaching me how to fight my battles without disrespect. He believes I can be so much more than what I am.”

Schoepfer also created a hands-on STEM program that gets students excited to learn, and an Everyday Law class that educates students with specific learning disabilities or complex trauma to enable them make informed decisions. These innovative programs have inspired and empowered hundreds of students, including those with a higher risk of dropping out and being incarcerated. 

Schoepfer attributes listening to his students as the key to his teaching success. 

“I am deeply honored and grateful to have been chosen as the Sam Kirk Award recipient for 2023,” Schoepfer said. “Teaching isn’t just about the lesson. It’s about becoming a better listener. By listening to what my students have to say, it enables me to have a greater understanding of their needs.”

Schoepfer will be presented with the Sam Kirk Educator of the Year Award at LDA’s 60th Annual International Conference in Las Vegas. 

LDA is a national, member-based, nonprofit organization committed to advancing opportunities for individuals with learning disabilities through support, education, and advocacy.

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LDA Awards LD Advocate & Journalist with Harrison Sylvester Award

LDA HONORS LEARNING DISABILITY ADVOCATE  

[Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania] The Learning Disabilities Association of America’s (LDA) presented the 2023 Harrison Sylvester Award to Denise Brodey, a learning disabilities advocate and journalist. The award recognizes an adult with learning disabilities who has shown a strong dedication and commitment to supporting  adults with learning disabilities. 

“Denise Brodey is a passionate journalist with a candid and clear-eyed view of being ADHD and dyslexic as an adult in the workplace…We are excited to select her for this award,” LDA Adult Topic Committee Chair Joan Teach said.  

Brodey is the founder of Rebel Talent, an organization that provides support to individuals with ADHD and/or learning disabilities that are struggling in the workplace. Brodey has helped thousands to get jobs, ask for accommodations, and thrive. Brodey is also an author, keynote speaker, and senior contributor to Forbes, where she focuses on writing about diversity, equity, and inclusion, and works to destigmatize neurodivergence through the lens of lived experience. Brodey is also a regular contributor to Remedy Health Media.

“I am incredibly grateful for this recognition. As a woman with learning disabilities who is also ADHD, I know how difficult it is to explain how people like me experience work and life,” Brodey said. “My job as a business journalist, and now as a business consultant, is to make invisible disabilities visible. I try to do it with humor and compassion and positivity—and of course, facts—because that’s what the workplace needs now. I love every minute of it, but most of all, I love hearing that I have made an impact and allowed people to do their best work.”

Brodey will be presented with the LDA Award at LDA’s 60th Annual International Conference in February at the Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel. 

LDA Honors USF Special Education Professor with LDA Award

1/6/2023

[Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania] The Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA) awarded Dr. David Allsopp, Professor of Special Education at the University of South Florida, with the LDA Award. This award is the highest honor given by LDA, and is presented in recognition and appreciation of outstanding leadership, support, and dedication in the field of learning disabilities. 

Dr. Allsopp has contributed extensively to the field of special education through research, writing, resource development, and presentations during his 23 years in academia. Dr. Allsopp’s focus is on instructional methods for students with high incidence disabilities and research methods for developing and validating effective practices. He is the co-author of five books on learning disabilities and ADHD, and has contributed to numerous peer-reviewed journal articles and books. 

In addition to being a professor at the University of South Florida, Dr. Allsopp also served as the Assistant Dean of Educator Preparation and Partnerships, and Endowed Chair and Director of the David C. Anchin Center in the College of Education.

“I am humbled to receive the LDA Award,” Dr. Allsopp said, “There are so many wonderful folks who do very meaningful work advocating for and with individuals with learning disabilities and their families. Receiving this award truly means a great deal to me and I am very appreciative of the LDA Board of Directors for this prestigious recognition.”

LDA’s CEO, Cindy Cipoletti, expressed support of the Board of Director’s decision to honor Dr. Allsop.  “Dr Allsopp has been a member of LDA’s Professional Advisory Board for the past four years, and has  been actively involved in LDA’s educational programs and resources.  His contributions to our Annual Conference and expertise in learning disabilities have been invaluable to our organization.  We are thrilled to honor Dr. Allsopp with this Award.”

Dr. Allsopp will be presented with the LDA Award at LDA’s 60th Annual International Conference in February at the Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel.