Wednesday, September 30, 2009

LD OnLine :: The National Review: Special-Education Needs Help

LD OnLine :: The National Review: Special-Education Needs Help

Officially reported disability rates in public schools are entirely unreliable and are almost certainly inflated indicators of how many students are actually disabled. Eventually, school and government officials are going to have to acknowledge that our current procedures for identifying students as disabled are fundamentally flawed and commit themselves to improving these procedures.

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Funding may push special ed labeling  |

Funding may push special ed labeling |

The percentage of students classified as having a disability varies widely from state to state. A child in Maine is 74 percent more likely to be identified as disabled than a child in California.

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Viewpoint: Developing reading skills is critical to academic successes | Woodbury Bulletin | Woodbury, Minnesota

Viewpoint: Developing reading skills is critical to academic successes | Woodbury Bulletin | Woodbury, Minnesota

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Understanding Dyslexia 101

Dyslexia is a condition where the brain is unable to process the symbol of language. It does not stem from intellect as individuals with average to above average intelligence can be dyslexic. Reading, writing, spelling and organizational skills are most likely impacted. The causes of Dyslexia are theorized to be genetic in nature. Dyslexia does not however, result from emotional, socio-economic, cultural or physical deprivation. However, children from these types of situations may be Dyslexic.

Reading requires the coordination of three systems: Visual processing to see the word (impacts orthography skills), auditory processing to hear the word (impacts phonology skills), and semantic processing to understand the word (Sousa, 2001).

Strong orthographic skills are required to recognize the visual shape and "form" of the letters and order of letters in words. This then allows for your child to understand the word's meaning automatically.

For example, if you read reign and rain side-by-side, your child would recognize two words that "sound" the same. Phonological approaches won't help much in this case. Your child must rely on visual and orthographic approach to be able to correctly read and understand the meaning of the words.

Good phonological skills are needed so the reader is able to sound out unfamiliar words based on sound-code (letter) conversion rules (Stein, 2001). Your child, with good decoding phonological skills, can sound out the following word pretty easily. electroencephalograph

According to the International Dyslexia Association (IDA), Dyslexia is a disorder that includes poor word reading, word decoding, oral reading fluency, and spelling. Children with dyslexia may have impaired orthographic and phonological coding and rapid automatic naming and switching.

Some characteristics of Dyslexia may present in the following categories:

Reading is not fluent and the reader with dyslexia may often substitute or guess at the words that look alike. The reader may leave out little words like "of" "the"; syllables may be reversed so the word pancake is read “cakepan”; the reader may not be able to "decode" even the easiest decodable words such as "hat."

Spelling is poor where you see the alphabet being written in improper sequence, words are written with missing letters, unable to copy prewritten text easily, difficulty spelling correctly due to poor phonological skills (letter-code associations).

Sometimes you will see a child with outstanding spelling grades per spelling tests. However, when the same child is asked to write a paper, their spelling is very poor. Reversals show up in spelling frequently. For example, “Brain” for “Brian” where the middle vowels are switched.

Some theories point vision issues are to blame for letter reversals and transposing of letters. Specifically, theories point to where the child with dyslexia in unable to keep their vision "still.” Developmental Optometrists refer to this as Binocular Fixation. Where a child with Dyslexia has weak Binocular Fixation, their eyes will not remain steady during the filtering of the data from a printed source. As a result, they pick up on the letters before and after the letter being read causing overlap and at times transposing them altogether.

Language difficulty when speaking and trying to "find" the right word. Often, you will see children's eyes looking upward as if they are "searching" for the correct word in sky. They know exactly what the correct answer/explanation is but struggle greatly in finding and recalling the appropriate word/language to speak or write about it appropriately.

Directionality is often poor to the point that children confuse left/right and need prompting to remind them which is which. This comes into play sometimes with directionality of letter creation and you can see the mix up of the written letters with "b" as "d".

Poor Coordination is seen when a child with dyslexia can be lost in a familiar setting, has no sense of time, may have difficulty going down stairs, may misstep and bump into things frequently, cannot seem to organize items and may be hyperactive to compensate.

If your child presents with some of the above symptoms, it does not mean they have Dyslexia. Dyslexia does not go away per se with instructional assistance. Meaning, if your child has a reading difficulty, instruction is provided in their area of weakness and your child shows improvement, then most likely your child does not have Dyslexia. Your child may, however, have weak reading skills that need to be strengthened.

Dyslexia is neurological in nature and is a distinct way of processing language in the brain (Sousa, 2001). Your child would need to have a neuropsychological evaluation to officially determine diagnosis. Children with Dyslexia can learn to read, write and spell with intensive approaches. Research supporting the brain's ability to change has determined success using both computer based and 1-1 in person approaches providing for improvement in brain dysfunction in Dyslexia (Cornell University, 2009).

The good news is that Enhanced Learning Skills for Kids can help your child by first assessing cognitive abilities required for learning and reading. Next, any weaknesses are strengthened including auditory, visual and phonological processing. Your child’s foundational cognitive skills are strengthened allowing for success in reading and learning. Take advantage of our back-to-school special and assess your child online for only $19.97.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Why Test your Child?

Children grow and progress at different levels and different speeds. Some children don’t struggle a bit while others struggle to a point that they absolutely hate school and they struggle in life. You need to stop it from happening or don’t let it get to a point where they shut down and do not want to do anything anymore.

Testing your child through a professional can cost you a lot of money that you may not have. You could go through your child’s school, but that could take so much time. You have to make phone calls and wait for a return call. Then explain the issues you see and then waiting again for them to decide what to do and how to handle it.

Why not test your child yourself? It doesn’t matter if you have the knowledge that you feel is necessary or not. You can look at what your child is doing and learn to help them through their problems.

Watch what your child does on a daily basis. Ask yourself some questions while you are watching their routine.

  1. Does he struggle with the activities he is doing?

  2. Are there things he loves to do?

  3. Are there things he hates to do or avoids?

  4. Does he look forward to certain activities?

These questions will work as a guide for what you need to do next with your testing. When you are watching your child pay attention to the following:

  1. Speed in which he does things.

  2. What things does he require when
    he works on things?

  3. Does he struggle with directions?

  4. Can he use different techniques to
    produce the same end result?

Depending on the areas he struggles with, you may not be able to help him. It really depends on what they are and how bad he is struggling. Even if you can’t help, at least you will have something to base your concerns off of. You can take this information to the teacher, school, or counselor and ask for their help or advice.

If you are going to help your child yourself, you will need to clear your mind and relate to your child on his or her level. Don’t laugh or make fun of the presenting struggles. Don’t get upset if your child does not understand and independently follow through on the first time.

You may also need to explain things more than once. If this happens, you need to find a different way to explain it. Your child may need pictures to help guide him through things or he may require doing the thing himself rather than you doing it or explaining it. Whatever way works, continue to use that so he will see success.

Testing your child is a great way to help them improve and grow. If he struggles in certain areas these will come out when you do this test. You will be able to take
these results and either attempt to help him yourself or you will know what type of help he needs and you will be able to find the right person to help.

No matter what the problems are, you need to get your child the help he needs so he can grow and succeed and be happy throughout the rest of his life.

ELS4KIDS provides affordable online cognitive testing that will provide you with a
12 page comprehensive report immediately after the assessment is completed. Why wait any longer to understand your child? Assessing your child today will change their life forever.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Doc visit this Morning

Boston Arrival

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Trip to Boston to Help Shannon - OMS

The Quest for Answers

For my friends and followers, I promised to blog my way through the Boston Medical Trip. Here is a quick recap of why we are going to Boston.

Shannon was diagnosed with children's cancer and an rare autoimmune disorder called Opsoclonus Myoclonus Syndrome (OMS) at 11 mos. of age. 1 in 10m children are diagnosed with OMS every year. Not many children, right? So, part of our OMS Support Network on Yahoo is bring awareness to the medical field.

Shannon went into remission from the cancer/OMS around age 3. However, due to stress and anxiety, she came out of remission this past September, 2008. She came out of remission from the OMS. Here's the catch:

OMS causes injury to the cerebellum and brain stem as Shannon's autobodies - the cells in our body that fight infection - actually attack her brain. They do this because they were programmed to do this once they started attacking her cancerous tumor. The tumor, in theory, has the same tissue makeup and does the cerebellum/brainstem.

Her antibodies were "put to sleep" and made dormant by years of immunosuppressant therapy. They were always in her body but not actively causing harm.

At age 11, they woke up and started causing trouble again. We went back to our regular OMS specialist group and they helped us with treatment from November - April 2008.

They then refused further treatment based on "no objective data" existing in the DSM for our unique situation. This is an accurate statement but docs usually create the objective data themselves in order to help the child in need. Since that did not occur, we were not sure if Shannon really had active OMS. What to do?

Shannon's neurological symptoms from OMS returned as her last treatment wore off.

I then began video taping Shannon and creating the objective data needed to make our case to the medical field.

We were then granted an appt. with neuro- opthamologist who can diagnose OMS as active or not. This doc examined Shannon and diagnosed OMS is active.

So, that brings us to today - we set off for Boston in search of 2nd opinion. After Boston we still need to get to Illinois for the National OMS Specialist.

Here's the second catch - We can't accept medical intervention from any doc until we get to Illinois doc scheduled for 9/9/09. This is VERY difficult for any mom to deal with because its a huge risk.

The Illinois doc can perform a special test that will identify which of the antibodies are the culprits. The medical help for Shannon would then focus on killing off those specific antibodies.

Stay tuned.....

Friday, August 21, 2009

Why Use Interactive Notebooks

We all know that people learn in different ways. Some people learn better by watching others, some learn better by reading, and some learn by doing. No matter what way you learn you can use an interactive notebook.

Interactive notebooks are created by each person individually. They can be created in a number of different ways using a number of different techniques. You should create them based on your needs.

You can make an interactive notebook for information regarding maps, ads, history, timelines, and politics. When you create notebooks for these types of suggestions, you will learn so much. You design them in a way that will help you learn.

These pieces are perfect for projects, study guides, and reports. They can be created by children and adults. You are not limited to the subject matter or content either.

All you need to get started with your own interactive notebook is colored pencils, crayons, highlighters, pen or pencil, binder or notebook, paper, glue, scissors, and information on your subject.

If the information you gather is something you can cut apart, you will want to cut out the information that is important to what you are studying. If you can’t cut them out, you will want to make copies of the information. Once you have these pieces cut out, you will need to glue them to the right side of your notebook or paper. On the left side you will
take notes and add information that is important to what you read in the pieces
you glued.

You will want to write these in your own words and use pictures and other information that will help you remember what you read. Use charts, diagrams, graphics, and drawings that will remind you of what you read as well.

If you are creating your interactive notebook for a report or project, you may want to do your writing on notebook paper first so you can write it the way you want and make any necessary changes. Once you have it worded the way you want, you are ready to put it to print in your notebook.

These notebooks are also great for classroom projects. You can create them and share with the class or you can use them as a report based on the information provided by the teacher. These are also a great guide to use as study material for semester finals or tests.

If you use these in a classroom setting you will want to use information provided by the teacher on the right and then the students can add their own information on the left. The teacher can provide handouts, notes, and pictures. Students can take their own notes based on the information discussed in class. The students can research even further to come up with more information that can be included in the notebook.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember what you read, but using interactive notebooks will help you. You have the ability to create them in a way that makes sense to you and is in line with your learning style. They are fun to make and make learning easy.

For more great tips visit my site and download my free report at

source for pic is

Friday, July 24, 2009

A Novel Approach to Being a Parent

I just saw the movie – Confessions of a Shopaholic. I loved the whole “The girl in the Green Scarf” approach. So I thought I'd try out “The Mom in the Green Mini-Van" :-)

Did you ever notice that life as a parent is very similar to reading a great story? We could title our story – A Story about -Your child’s name goes here - The Trials and Tribulations of Growing Up. UGH. Just the title makes you want to think twice about reading it. For one thing, we would need to have a full stock of tissues on hand, I’m sure. However, we ignore the warning signs and lift the tissue from the tissue box and anxiously begin to read our first chapter.

As we get introduced to our main character (your child), we inevitably become one and can identify with many things that are happening. As the pages of the book get turned each new tissue is being pulled out of the box. We laugh, cry, we worry and encourage our character to keep going. We hear ourselves talking at the story saying “Everything will be okay!” or “Wow, You Did It Again, I’m So Proud of You!”

We say to ourselves, “Our character is something else, huh?" "Wow – how remarkable!" "How precious and beautiful is this person!” We remember when we went through these kinds of things. But then, we also gasp when read about some of the difficulties being introduced. We reflect on our lives and recall the situations we were able to champion. You remember those, right? Like, trying to fit in with the cool kids, getting new clothes instead of hand-me-downs and being allowed to stay over at a friend’s house are just some of the many battles we fought in our lives.

Yet, we are amazed, at some of the challenges set forth for our character in this story. The adventures seem like enormous elephants charging towards us at full speed compared to our little mouse standing still while nibbling on a tiny little piece of cheese. How will our character get through this? Will it be okay? What is going to happen next? Will it get easier? It can’t get harder, can it?

Sometimes, we find that the story keeps repeating itself over and over again. We wonder why? It seems like we’ve been through one page of the story several times. We feel as if the chapter’s theme is a bit “stuck” and wonder when it will “flow” freely again. Then, we realize we never turned the page! Once we recognize this and we are ready to move on, we turn the page. The story changes a bit as we get more information. Our character continues to grow and change as each page is turned in our chapter.

Sometimes though, we purposely choose not to turn the page. You see, even though we recognize we have been through this part of the story several times already, we are comfortable here. Is it because we are terrified of what we will read about on the next page of our story? Is it because we like where we are in our character’s life? Do we feel we are finally in control of the story? Is this why we do not want to turn the page?

Yet still, some of us like to stay on the same page to revel in joy. The page tells about our character’s struggle to become a champion. We relate to how relieved and exhausted our character must be. We choose to give the story a time to “rest”. We remain on the same page and read the details of the success for many days, months, even years. Undoubtedly, though, we turn the page. We hunker down and continue along for the ride.

Often we find ourselves judging our main character. On some pages we wish our character did things a bit differently. On other pages, we are so proud we want to call our friends and share the great news. Yet on other pages, we are so happy that we do not have any real connection to our fictional character (this is deep).

Even though we go through tons of tissues from both crying for sadness and joy, our character's story continues. We choose how to perceive the story. We choose if we will continue along the journey with our character. For the vast majority of readers, we come to terms with our main character. We learn to believe in our character’s ability. We see our character as whole and perfect just the way they present in the pages. Since we are comfortable with our character, we start to relax and laugh as we continue reading. We begin to make our character a priority in our life. All of the trials and tribulations begin to take center stage in our life. We are motivated and make time to turn a page.

In some rare situations, we find ourselves visualizing the outcome of our character. When we are not reading and analyzing the story, we are dreaming of the possible outcomes. We focus on only the good ones! As we continue to turn the pages, we are joyfully surprised to find our dreams and visions are coming true. Our character is turning out better than okay. Just like we hoped for, our character is supported by many people who are passionate about living their life on purpose. Our character is in good hands. We are so proud of ourselves for believing in our character and never giving up!

I know this is a bit deep for many. The last couple of weeks have been somewhat difficult for me. Ever since our local docs refused treatment for Shannon, I have been trying to create my own objective data to try and get her help. This is not very easy to do. During this adventure, Shannon got sick with a virus. With her autoimmune issue, illness lends to behavioral issues and possible additional chronic brain injury.

When Shannon is sick, I don’t usually sleep much. When I'm not at the office, I seem to spend most of my time at home as a referee between Shannon and Sean. Shannon is usually provoking and Sean is right there to finish it. This lends itself to many emotional exchanges. Not because I cannot stand my children anymore.

Rather, because I do not like the way my two characters’ story is shaping up at the moment. I am wishing I never turned the page a few weeks ago. Can you relate? If you can, this is the reason I wrote this long article. It is an important time to reflect. I need to choose to turn the page and believe in my children. Sometimes, I can be a bit intense and will try to predict the end of the story before it even begins. I am still learning to tend to what is right in front of me and believe in only happy endings. Everyone is an author to their own life story. We are all learning.

You see, even though the character in your story may be different in many ways to my character, they are alike in one way. Every character is a child with a caring and passionate parent. Although this parent believes they are taking a back seat in their life to help their child succeed, this is far from the truth. In some unique way, every child has helped their parent expand their knowledge, belief, faith and understanding of what it means to live life with purpose.

I know for me, Shannon and Sean and even my husband, Tom, have helped me discover my life purpose. I have learned that my life purpose is to help families recognize their hope through alternative solutions. My strengths lay within setting goals, boundaries and creating structure for other people. At the present moment, I am living my life on purpose through my business. Through the creation of the Student Transformation System, I am helping to cultivate academic minds through the power of brain training. I help families and students (of all types), set goals, create plans and structure to enable success in their life.

Now it is your turn. What is your main character going through today? Have you visualized your character as happy, healthy and whole yet? How has your child helped you discover your life purpose?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

"11 Behavioral Similarities Between ADHD and Auditory Processing Disorder" by Colleen Bain

ADHD is so readily diagnosed in many children today. However, clinicians are in a continual debate about the overlapping symptoms of ADHD and Auditory Processing Disorder. There is growing concern that some children are being treated with stimulants when what they really need is auditory skill strengthening.

According to Dr. David D. Nowell, Ph.D: Clinical neuropsychologist, there are certain similarities and differences between Auditory Processing and ADHD. I wanted to write about this because a lot of parents feel challenged with their ADHD child. Perhaps, after reading this article, you may discover your child may have been mis-diagnosed. On the other hand, you may recognize your child has both ADHD and APD.

The following list shows the similarities between the two disorders according to neuropsychologists that Dr. Nowell interviewed.

  1. Decreased auditory attention
  2. Decreased frustration tolerance
  3. Difficulty following directions
  4. Diminished motivation
  5. Diminished memory
  6. Diminished self-awareness
  7. Diminished social skills
  8. Distractibility
  9. Sensitivity to overstimulation
  10. Task avoidance
  11. Withdrawn/sullen
Do any of the 11 behaviors describe your child? This is the challenge that clinicians as well as teachers are facing today. Its really hard to determine if the child's behavior is ADHD or APD.

The next list shows us the symptoms unique to ADHD.

  1. Aggressive behavior
  2. Decreased visual attention
  3. Difficulty with transitions
  4. Diminished mental flexibility
  5. Diminished motor coordination
  6. Excessive motor activity
  7. Impulsivity
  8. Impaired peer relationship

Do you see your child's behavior listed above? If yes, your child may fall more towards ADHD according to Dr. Nowell.

This last list depicts the symptoms specific to APD. The symptoms listed deal with language and the ability to process words/language from the brain and verbalize meaning or write meaning on paper.

  1. Diminished verbal abstraction
  2. Diminished Verbal IQ

Of course, no child will fit into these lists nice and neatly. Doctors use this list as a guide to better understand the child being examined.

My personal issue with the above lists is that they point out behavioral concerns that all result or could result from brain based cognitive weaknesses. By having a child take my online cognitive assessment, I can determine which skills are weak and target to strengthen them. The result would be lessened if not removal of many to all of the behavioral concerns stemming from underlying cognitive weaknesses. If a child still showed residual symptoms from the list above after brain training then more extensive intervention is required. The good news is that even if the child needs to be handed off for remediation or additional intervention, their brain has new neuropathways and their cognitive skills have been strengthened. Further intervention and remediation will have a start and end date. The child will be much more successful than if no brain training had occurred.

If you want more information on how ELSKs Student Transformation System will help your child learn easily and efficiently read more on my website now.

Blessings and Brain Power,


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

"Why is My Child Having Trouble Learning and Reading?" by Colleen Bain

Over the last week I have had the pleasure of consulting with a family in Arizona. We have gone back and forth through email helping one another to identify and better understand the problem and then providing a solution. The family agreed to allow me to publish a snapshot to help other families relate and understand their child's difficulties. The family will be able to zero in on the true weak skills once they have their child assessed online. However, during my consults, prior to assessments, we will go into detail around the possible causes and solutions.

Problem: Teachers were saying he wasn't understanding or comprehending their instruction.

Understand the problem: This can be a result of your child's low auditory memory and/or auditory analysis skills. Additionally the attention skill contains divided attention so either a combination or one of the skills needs to be strengthened. For example, If your son was reading his assignment (paper on his desk) and his teacher was giving instructions he did not capture the verbal instructions from the teacher as his auditory memory was weak - hence the teacher's stating he was unable to understand the directions. Since the teachers did not state that your son cannot follow directions, I would learn more towards auditory memory and divided attention instead of just an auditory sequential processing issue. A combination of the above weak skills will negatively impact processing speed as your son's brain needs to slow down to figure out the correct output per the teacher's request. You should see your son's processing speed pick up once the problem skill area(s) are strengthened.

Problem: We would read 1 hour a day through second grade even though his teachers recommended 20 min yet he was tested for reading at 1.5 when entering 3rd grade - he could say and spell all 83 phonograms but couldn't apply the rules he learned when writing. For example, he would write really in a sentence and then the very next sentence would write it reely.

Understand the problem: This is a combination of auditory memory, visual and auditory processing that is preventing your son from transferring his learned phonograms into practice. By using a research based program like Master the Code, your son will continue to receive cognitive strengthening. The program uses mnemonics (pictures for memory) to assist in helping the students remember visually and auditorily while learning how to use codes (letters) and the sounds they make /sounds and how to spell them.

Problem: He was for ever getting his b's, d's, q's and p's mixed up.

Understand the problem: When we see the children confusing these letters its about spatial relationships and directionality. We also look into visual processing for spatial aspect along with the logic and reasoning skills which include spatial relationships. Along with exercises to strengthen the skills needed to allow your son to write these correctly is the necessity to test it out and you can easily do this with eye tracking sheets that you can make up yourself. This one requires the child to track for the alphabet throughout the page but you can simply ask your son to find only "p" b, q d on the sheet or any page of a newspaper, etc.

Problem: His writing is improving but my son was lost.

Understand the problem: Writing provides fluidity and directionality for the brain's processing. Since your son was having trouble with writing you are correct in stating that there are processing concerns. Eye hand coordination and other skills need to be strong, too. Cursive writing promotes fluidity in the processing of the brain and we as required to keep our hands(motor) moving in the correct (left to right) direction as we write. If your son can write in cursive that is a good thing, in my opinion.

Problem: My son couldn't even begin to think of a topic sentence and support--that just didn't make sense to him.

Understand the problem: This may be coming from your son's inability to visualize along with the other possible weak skills discussed above. For your son to create a topic sentence, regardless of what a topic sentence is, he must be able to visualize and organize a fluide story. One that has a beginning, middle and end. Once his skills are strengthened this may be an area that needs further intervention to transfer over into school. I am launching online writing programs over the next two weeks that allows your child to learn what is a topic sentence and how to write a paragraph. I also have essay writing with a thesis and then we have a program where the children read a book of choice and then our program takes them through writing about the book with prompts, etc.

I hope you enjoyed reading the above consult. This consult consisted of several detailed email exchanges between the family. If you know of anyone who may benefit from such a consult, they can easily contact me.

Blessings and Brain Power,


Sunday, May 31, 2009

"4 Simple Steps To Understanding the Benefits Brain Training" by Colleen Bain

Yes, you have done it all for your child. You've braved the overwhelming IEP meetings, you've even done the multiple tries with the tutors. You've offered your child millions of incentives to please just try a little harder and catch up to their peers. You've tried to re-teach your child a full day of learning once they get home from school but you are so burnt out you can't go on like this much longer. The good news is that brain training can help your child and your family regain their sanity .... fast! Read these simple 5 steps to understand the benefits of brain training.

Step 1: Understanding why Children Need The Gift of Learning

Seventeen of the nation's 50 largest cities had high school graduation rates lower than 50 percent, with the lowest graduation rates reported in Detroit, Indianapolis and Cleveland, according to a report from Promise Alliance, 2008.

Our nation is recognizing and trying to take action to help our children become educated and creative contributing members of society. However, our children are dropping out because they can or they are bored. The U.S. Dept. of Education states that 80% of learning difficulties are from weak cognitive skills. Our children just give up by the time they get to High School. They are not able to keep up because they do not have the ability to learn easily and efficiently.

"When more than 1 million students a year drop out of high school, it's more than a problem, it's a catastrophe," said former Secretary of State Colin Powell, founding chair of the Promise Alliance.

Step 2: Recognizing a Child Can Become A Lifetime Learner

An important part of education must be to assess every child for their cognitive ability and not the average of their cognitive skills (IQ). Our children deserve the right to education and why shouldn't that include making sure the child has the ability to learn? Well, until that happens, we must recognize that, as parents, we can take control and give our child the gift of learning. Science has proven to us again and again that our brains can change. These changes in the brain are what give our children the ability to learn. Your child's brain can create new pathways while strengthening their cognitive abilities. If your child is given this chance, then reading and learning will improve and become easier.

Step 3: Train your Child's Brain Frequently and with Intensity

Science tells us that with consistent intensity and challenge, our brains will change. This is known as neuroplasticity. Brain training programs should use a methodology that allows for individualization, immediate feedback, adaptation, intensity, variation, levels of complexity and enjoyment. A child must be trained with a certain methodology and motivation to allow for neuroplasticity to be successful. When the child is engaged and motivated, chemicals are released in the brain that allows learning to stick and be successful.

Step 4: Train the Key Cognitive Skills needed to learn

Since all cognitive skills are integrated - meaning they impact each other - and drive a child's ability to learn, these skills should be trained at the same time. Brain training should be set up to target your weak skills but be able to train all necessary cognitive skills.

If you want more information on how ELSKs Student Transformation System will help your child learn easily and efficiently read more on my website now.

Blessings and Brain Power,


Friday, April 3, 2009

Michael Merzenich-Creator of Fast ForWord

Michael Merzenich - Creator of Fast ForWord Products Speaks on Neuroplasticity

with Gi n g e r Campbell , MD
Episode #54:
Michael Merzenich on Neuroplasticity
Aired February 13, 2009

"If there's an aspect of this that's important, I think it is the lesson that most changes that are occurring in brains when brains are losing functionality are reversible. Or, from a child perspective, most of the limitations that are recorded in the brain of a child in fact are improvable."
-Dr. Michael Merzenich


"Whatever you struggle with in a sense as it stems from your neurology, the inherent plasticity of brain gives you a basis for improvement. This is a way underutilized and under-appreciated resource that we all have."
-Dr. Michael Merzenich


The following in an excerpt of the interview with Dr. Merzenich.

click here for the full podcast. Click here for the full transcript.

Ginger Campbell:This is episode 54 of the Brain Science Podcast. Today I am talking with Dr. Michael Merzenich, who was one of the pioneers in the field of neuroplasticity. He will share some of the highlights of his long career with us and give us some practical advice about how we can continue to tap our brain's plasticity, whatever our age.

Ginger Campbell: I want to welcome my guest today to the Brain Science Podcast- it's Dr. Michael Merzenich. Well I've talked about your work a lot on my podcast so it's a great privilege to have you on the show today.

Michael Merzenich: Well it's nice to talk to you Ginger.

Ginger Campbell: The discovery of neuroplasticity is one of the most exciting recent developments in neuroscience, and since you are one of the pioneers in this area, I was hoping that maybe we could start by looking back at the early part of your career and working our way forward.

Michael Merzenich: Sure.

Ginger Campbell: In your career you've had more opportunities, I guess, than the average to make a big impact on patients' lives. I was thinking in particular, also, about your work with dyslexia. I guess that came out of your experience with working with hearing to begin with?

Michael Merzenich: It did, and actually the initial inspiration for that came from studies that were conducted in monkeys. And we were studying aspects of hearing and plasticity in monkeys and we began to realize that hearing processes in monkeys were highly plastic and that we could evaluate the performance of a monkey- these are little New World monkeys from South America. And we'd look at the ability of the monkey to make distinctions about complex stimuli, you could say like speech-like stimuli, and the monkey could be very poor at it initially, and we began to realize that we could dramatically improve the monkey's ability to operate as an accurate receiver of sound by training them appropriately intensely. And we also began to understand that the processes that we were observing were reversible and we could drive the ability of that monkey basically in a way that degraded its capacities to understand what it was hearing or interpret what it was hearing.

In other words, we began to understand that we could probably take you and train you appropriately over a period of a month or two and degrade your ability to understand what I'm saying, or we could turn around that training and probably substantially refine your ability to interpret with high accuracy, especially under difficult conditions, what it is that I'm saying, and understanding that your ability to operate in a domain-like language was fundamentally plastic. That it was subject to substantial refinement if you were less than perfect at it immediately opened up the possibility that we could probably train a child that wasn't very good at it to be better. And we know that a lot of children aren't very good at it, and among those are children, many children, that struggle to learn to read.

Ginger Campbell: I remember when I was in medical school, I got taught a very simple idea of what dyslexia was that didn't involve the auditory component at all.

Michael Merzenich: Right.

Ginger Campbell: Is that pretty well accepted now, that it's as much about hearing as it is about the visual?

Michael Merzenich: Right. The fundamental problem... if you could say there's a core problem that limits reading performance- and all dyslexics aren't identical, but the most common problem is a problem in phonemic reception accuracy. The phonemes are the sound parts of words that bear meaning in words, and the problem stems from the fact that the brain has not created the normal representation of the sound parts of words. So now we're going to try to make a translation of the sound parts of words in terms of their letter forms, and that only makes sense if the brain has done this sorting in the normal way, which basically allows the child to appropriately assign a letter, which is a form of representation of the sound, to it. In the abnormal form of brain operations that apply in the dyslexic, that translation makes no sense. They do not have normal processing of those sound parts of words, and they are not sorted in the same way in the brain. So that translation makes no sense so it's fraught with error and the child struggles to make those relationships- to draw those relationships. We also know that these children commonly have a problem in how they process information serially in fast time. That also is strongly related to their having created this defective representation of sound inputs in their earlier language listening history. So we now know that it's a very large body of evidence which demonstrates that in most children, the core problem is a problem that really stems from language listening, which frustrates this assignment of the letter representational forms to sound.

Ginger Campbell: So you have to learn to listen right before you can learn how to read.

Michael Merzenich: It's only when you're sorting information appropriately does this translation of- I mean after all, reading is simply based upon the translation of what you hear in a written form. And if what you hear is not represented in the brain in the normal way, it's a very bad representational system. It really doesn't represent what you hear. So unless you correct that- unless you correct the listening, you cannot really generate a reader. I mean you can do it only by using alternative strategies for reading, but you can't use a phonological approach to reading. You have to use a whole-word or other approach- then you can be successful. But you can't use the classical efficient approaches to learn to read. So you have to correct the listening to correct the reading.

Ginger Campbell: And that's how Fast ForWord™ works?

Michael Merzenich: That's exactly what it's designed to do- is to correct the listening.

Ginger Campbell: Do you want to talk about that just briefly?

Michael Merzenich: Well, it focuses on these fundamental core resources just like we would approach the training of a monkey to approach the facility with which it resolves the details of what it hears in order to make it a more efficient and more accurate processor of complex things arriving in hearing in high speed. So too can we train any child to be better in the accuracy and in the speed at which it receives and interprets information in his brain through listening. You can improve any normal child, but you can also improve children that are substantially impaired in those abilities and drive most of them to a normal performance level without too many hours of intensive exercise. And you can demonstrate that through such progressive training they can achieve relatively normal or more normal phonological processing that enables reading. So you see big impacts with relatively short amount of time spent in training, both in language accuracy, language reception, and language usage and in reading.

Ginger Campbell: Once the child has reached normal do they have to keep doing the exercises or is the effect...

Michael Merzenich: No there's a very high retention in ability and it's been measured in several scientific ways. Let me just say that the average gain in language abilities for a child that sits of the left side of the normal distribution below the 50th percentile- the average gain in control gain is about a standard deviation, so that would mean that if the child is at the 16th percentile, let's say, which would mean that they would be on the edge of eligibility for services as a kid that needs special help- special needs kid in most states- that kid on the average is driven to about the normal median.

Ginger Campbell: That's pretty impressive.

Michael Merzenich: And that occurs with about 20 to 25 hours of training.

Ginger Campbell: Over how much time would that usually be done in?

Michael Merzenich: Well usually it's done 50 minutes a day, so it would be about 25 to 30 days spent, an hour a day- 50 minutes a day. And then the second thing that's seen is that if the child is behind in reading, the gain that occurs with the signal listening program translates to an improvement of reading of about 1 1/2 to 2 years. In other words, if I train the child and now I make the child as an accurate listener- a more accurate listener- on the average what you'll see is close to a year's worth of gain in their reading abilities immediately after training. But then if you wait 3 or 4 months in which they're actually reading now with their recovered listening, you see most of a second year gain. So in other words if the kid is in the 5th grade and they're reading at the level of let's say a 3rd grader, most children approach that 5th grade reading level as a consequence of training. They gain those 2 years lost. So these are relatively substantial gains that are seen on the average in these controlled studies.

Ginger Campbell: Wow. So I've read that Fast ForWord™ also seems to help children in autism. How does that work?

Michael Merzenich: Well again, the most common or the most consistent deficit that applies in autism- it's on of the DSMIV criteria for identifying autism- is a language impairment. And in fact, commonly children that have problems that give them the inherited weakness that would result in autism are on a continuum with children that are merely language impaired. In other words, if I have a child that has let's say fragile X syndrome because of genetic impairment, in the child that's more severe they might be identified as autistic but they might have an identical twin that's a little less severe, and that twin will be merely language-impaired, you could say.

Ginger Campbell: Mm.

Michael Merzenich: So autism is on a continuum with language impairment and there's lots of studies that show that autism neurologically is related to language impairment. You could say that something more complicated happens in the brain that results in a whole series of other complex problems for the child that are beyond merely struggling to interpret language...

Ginger Campbell: Mm hm.

Michael Merzenich: and the things that come from that. I don't want to dismiss language impairment as being important, but I think you have to understand what I'm saying. In any event, if the child has a language age of about 4 or greater, Fast ForWord has demonstrated to be very useful for most children. If the child's language development is more primitive, then it has no measured benefit for language per se.

Ginger Campbell: Mm hm.

Michael Merzenich: I did a controlled study- not a controlled study- I did a study in which I just looked longitudinally. historically when Fast ForWord™ was first developed, at a series of I think 17 autistic children. Not completely sure of the number but it was of that order. About half the children were autistic, about half of them were pervasively developmentally disorder with language impairment- so-called PDDNOS (not otherwise specified). And to make a long story short, I saw language gains on a language battery that averaged about 1 1/2 standard deviations. So big effects. But those were selected children that all had some level of language ability when they started.

Ginger Campbell: Mm hm.

Michael Merzenich: They were probably also selected by the therapist that trained them as being likely to benefit, but I would say probably about 25,000 or 30,000 maybe 35,000 children have been trained who are autistic with Fast ForWord™ now. I have people come up to me all the time and tell me that it saved their autistic child's bacon. And whenever it's been looked at at all in a controlled way or in these longitudinal studies it's been demonstrated to be beneficial in most children- not all but in most children, but most beneficial in children that are above a certain language age.

Ginger Campbell: Did you redesign Fast ForWord™ to be more helpful to autistic children or do they still do the original version?

Michael Merzenich: Well the original version has gone through a series of iterations so it's better and better and better and easier and easier to get started and also Scientific Learning created programs that were designed to help the children to some extent before they initiated Fast ForWord™. But it hasn't been redesigned as much as it should be, and actually it's on my agenda as something that we have to do in the very near future. I'm just done working on an agreement with Scientific Learning to get permission from them to allow me to do that.

Ginger Campbell: Alright, because you're not directly part of that company.

Michael Merzenich: Well, I'm an advisor to them on their research programs, and I communicate with them regularly and try to help them regularly.

Ginger Campbell: Right. Well I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me today, Dr. Merzenich. Is there anything else you'd like to share with my listeners before we close?

Michael Merzenich: Take your brain fitness seriously because it's all up to you, and remember that you have this great asset that you carry around within your skull- to be stronger, to be better. It's more or less up to you if you utilize it or if you allow yourself to deteriorate in ways that just aren't necessary or completely necessary. And keep up the good fight.

Ginger Campbell: Thank you.

Michael Merzenich: I enjoyed talking to you, Ginger.

Ginger Campbell: I did too. Thanks so much.

Michael Merzenich: You bet.

Ginger Campbell: Bye.

Michael Merzenich: Bye.

The Brain Science Podcast is copyright 2009, Virginia Campbell, MD. You can copy this podcast to share it with others, but for any other uses or derivatives, please contact me at

Saturday, March 28, 2009

5 Steps to Improving Your Child's Ability to Learn

Once parents observe their child having learning challenges, they may want to dive a bit deeper into the underlying causes. Having the neurologist or the pediatrician diagnose is not sufficient in most cases. Additionally, when a neuropsychological test is completed the average Intelligence Quota (IQ) will not provide all the answers. By following these five steps, parents can help their child lessen the negative impact of their learning disabilities and improve academically.

Step 1: Determine the Underlying Causes of the Learning Difficulties

Parents can choose to have their child tutored for specific academic areas of concern. If the tutoring is provided for a few sessions and the student is able to become independent without the ongoing need of the tutor, then it is possible that lack of or poor instruction is the root cause. However, if some brief tutoring does not solve the problem than this is a red flag that the problem is beyond poor instruction or not enough instruction. If learning problems cannot be quickly resolved with tutoring then usually there are weaknesses in underlying learning skills.

Step 2: Understand the Learning Skills Required for Success

Learning skills all work together to produce great results. If, for example, a car has a bad transmission, then putting premium gasoline into the tank will not produce successful results. Our brains have an active processing system which requires many learning skills to be strong at all times. First, the brain requires attention and memory skills when attempting to receive information. As additional input is received, other learning skills are activated to assist in processing the data. Next, visual processing is needed for discerning and analyzing input. Additionally, auditory processing is used to review, process and discriminate sounds. We cannot leave out logic and reasoning skills to focus on problem solving requests as in Math. Reading comprehension skills are integrated to deal with listening and reading activities. Finally, each skill will play a part in processing almost every input. Therefore, the degree of strength in these individual learning skills will impact the ability of the active processing system to handle information. If a person's skills show some or several weak areas, then the overall learning process will not be accurate, fast or efficient.

Step 3: Assess Which Learning Skills Need to be Strengthened

One way to objectively measure a person's strong points is through standardized testing. First, the most common testing approach is using achievement tests. These tests measure how well a child is doing academic not how strong in their learning skills. Another popular choice are intelligence tests. These tests measure the strengths of the underlying learning skills. Unfortunately, intelligence tests provide an average intelligence scored based on all the measures of the learning skills. They will not give the individual measures of learning skills necessary for reading, math calculations or comprehension. Parents can look at the individual test scores and compare them to their child's grades with each academic subject and discover which underlying learning skills need to be strengthened.

Step 4: Explore How to Strengthen the Weak Learning Skills

Cognitive Training is one of the fastest growing markets. Studies prove intense, challenging procedures completed one-on-one will strengthen weak learning skills without any regression. As a child progresses through a procedure, tasks are added requiring greater attention and forcing new skills to become automatic. Research studies have shown a child will gain an average over 3.6 years improvement in all deficient skills within 10 weeks! This type of training requires working with a certified trainer at least 5 hours a week for 12 weeks. The programs offer a variety of choices to work through to completion. The child, trainer and parent(s) all have a role to play in this type of therapy. The programs are not academic in nature and the children enjoy themselves. The results show great improvement but the children will notice the differences themselves without needing an assessment. They can list one to several noticeable changes a week that contribute to an improved academic and social life.

Step 5: Make your Decision

If your child has difficulty learning which impacts their self-esteem, school success, parent-child relationships then you should consider further investigation into cognitive training. There is plenty of studies and research results to back up the programs. A child can compensate for only so long when trying to avoid weak learning skills. Eventually, the child will run out of options. Help is available to your child through cognitive training.

By following the five steps outlined in this article, parents can understand that learning challenges are complex but manageable. They do not necessarily go away. However, with proper advances in science, there are alternative methods proving to be successful. Children with learning challenges are now creating new neuropathways to enable faster more efficient processing. By completing a cognitive training program, children lives are being changed. With new neuropathways and stronger learning skills, children once considered out of synch can now become active participants in the overall learning process.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Learning to be Confident

This weekend my son Sean participated in his Boy Scout's Derby race. He and his father had to work together and build a hand-sized wooden race car to certain specifications. His car would then race other cars on a specialty track. The project reminded me a lot of my work with students.

First, my husband had to baseline the skill set my son had to work with for this project. Then, the planning around the goals, tasks to reach the goal and the timeframe to have this accomplished. Next, the systematic approach that was taken to allow the car to be completed was implemented. Before the car could race at its potential, the materials had to be fine-tuned and constantly weighed to ensure my son and husband were maintaining the right course towards building the car.

Each day, a new step was taken and great intensity was given to the project at hand. As the days passed, my son found the project to be just challenging but definitely not as hard as when they first started out. In the end, my son's car did not win first place. However, he said to me that given this was his first year and he was racing against boys who have been doing this for 4 plus years, he did quite well. He could sense changes of growth in himself because he was "okay" with the competition outcome. He knew of the hard work and time he dedicated to the project and the milestones he overcame. As a result of his efforts and gains, he walked away a more confident young man with improved skills.

Enhanced Learning Skills for Kids (ELSK) strives to recreate this type of scenario every day while working with students. For those that come to ELSK with their heads down, shoulders shrugged and barely able to look anyone in the eyes, ELSK is dedicated to do what it takes to turn these students into self-empowered, active participants in the overall learning process. Learning is not supposed to be difficult and parents need to recognize that its not the teachers responsibility to "enable" your child to learn. They have no control over this when a student walks through their classroom door. I always tell the parents how lucky their child is to have such a loving family that will sacrifice their time and resources to help their child overcome learning blocks.