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49 results for: "reading fluency"

  • Video: What reading fluency looks like in third grade

    In third grade, kids’ books get just a little more challenging. Children this age are usually able to read them smoothly and at a reasonable pace. Watch this video from Understood founding partner GreatSchools to hear what a fluent third-grade reader sounds like.

  • In It

    The legit fear behind “Please don’t call on me to read”

    Most of us can remember having to read out loud in class in school at some point. Maybe we felt shy or uncomfortable. But for the many students with reading issues like dyslexia, this experience can be downright scary. (No wonder they may conveniently opt for the bathroom pass during their turn.)Most of us can remember having to read out loud in class in school at some point. Maybe we felt shy or uncomfortable. But for the many students with reading issues like dyslexia, this experience can be downright scary. (No wonder they may conveniently opt for the bathroom pass during their turn.)On this episode of In It, hosts Amanda Morin and Lexi Walters Wright dig into the legitimate fear of having an audience when you struggle with reading skills. They talk to a mom whose son stumbled over reading his own name in front of his class. They hear from other parents, too, and hockey champion Brent Sopel. Expert Bob Cunningham also weighs in with insight on whether kids really do need to read out loud, and how to make the experience better for kids who struggle with reading.Related resourcesVideo: Stanley Cup champ Brent Sopel on hiding reading struggles “behind his stick”Video: Gavin Newsom opens up about his dyslexiaOne of my scariest moments as a child with dyslexia? Reading aloud during PassoverConnect with other parents on Wunder by UnderstoodEpisode transcriptAmanda Morin: Hi. I'm Amanda Morin, a writer and parent advocate. Lexi Walters Wright: And I'm Lexi Walters Wright, community manager for Amanda: And we are "In It." Lexi: "In It" is a podcast from Understood for Parents. On this show, we offer support and practical advice for families of kids who are struggling with reading, math, focus and other learning and thinking differences. Amanda: And today we're talking about what kids with dyslexia go through when they have to read out loud in public, and how parents can help. Brent Sopel: School was a nightmare for me. It was literally the last place I wanted to be. The only good thing for me is that at my school there was an outdoor rink.Amanda: This is Brent Sopel, former Stanley Cup champion with the Chicago Blackhawks. Lexi: An awesome hockey player but not an awesome student, probably because Brent went through most of his school years without a diagnosis for what he later learned was pretty severe dyslexia. He talked about his experiences in a video for Understood. Brent: I was in ninth grade English class and I was asked to read. You know, I panicked. In my mind I'm like, "How can I get out of this? What do I do?" Then I started sweating. You know I was guessing at words. And you hear kids laughing and snickering and trying to figure out what I'm reading or what is going on. It still plays in my head, you know, this many years later. Lexi: The number of people that we hear from who have this exact issue where reading in public is terrifying. So many folks write into us about this. And Tina Turner writes about this in her autobiography. Governor Gavin Newsom has talked about his dyslexia making it hard for him to read in public. Amanda: Half of the Shark Tank.Lexi: Right? Amanda: Half of the people on Shark Tank. Lexi: So, Amanda, let's back up for just a second. What is dyslexia and why is reading out loud an issue for kids who have it? Amanda: So dyslexia is a language-based learning disability, because it can affect reading and other parts of language as well. And when it affects reading, it makes it really hard for kids to decode words to sound out what the words are to make sense of them and to read fluently. Lexi: So what happens when a kid who already has trouble reading is now put in front of a group of his friends? Amanda: I think probably the same thing that happens when any of us are put in front of a group of our friends having to do something that's really tough for us, right? And for parents I think it's a struggle, too, to see their kids have this. Lexi: And why do you think that is? Amanda: Well, I mean, Lexi, we're both parents, right? And we know that when our kids are struggling, it makes us struggle, too. And I don't know about you, but when my kids are anxious and uncertain and they're feeling embarrassed, I want to jump in and help them. Don't you? Lexi: Right. I want to build a bunch of walls around him and protect him from everything. Amanda: Yeah. And you can't solve it for them. And you're seeing their limits and you start wondering — at least I do. You know, I think about my own kids, and I start wondering, "What's the future going to look like?" Lexi: Right. So we asked you to share your stories about times that your children were asked to read out loud in public. And here's what you had to say. Parent: My son recently told me a story about him being in class and knowing that it was on his IEP that he did not have to read out loud. And the teacher asked him to read out loud anyway. And he said no, and she told him he had to. And he said no and just refused to read it out loud. I think it's pretty sad that it has to come to that — that there isn't an understanding that it makes some people very uncomfortable and unsure of themselves. And every student should have the opportunity to express themselves in a way that is comfortable for them, and they should be able to say no if they aren't comfortable with something. Parent: So before the winter break, my son's class had a celebration that included an awesome celebration and all the parents were gathered. The kindergarten, first and second grades were all gathered in the auditorium and then they had about 12 of the first graders, who were probably the most advanced readers, each read a passage about this winter project the class had worked on. And you know, I don't think they really thought about what message would that send and how to include children who can demonstrate their abilities and passions in different ways. Amanda: Hey Bob. Bob Cunningham: Hi guys. How are you? Amanda: Bob Cunningham is a learning and thinking differences expert at Understood. And he has a lot of experience working on this challenge with kids, their teachers and their parents. Amanda: So reading out loud comes up a lot in a typical classroom. Why is that? And what's the value of it? Bob Cunningham: There's a couple of reasons that teachers want kids to read aloud. One of the things is just for the sharing element of it, right? It's a way for you to participate together in an activity. Another reason is that it helps kids practice their fluency. Right? So it's not only kids with dyslexia who need to practice developing fluency in reading. All kids need that. Reading out loud is a good way to do that. One of the other reasons that you'll have students read out loud is because it gives you, as the listener, an easy way to kind of critique their reading. Oh, this is what I'm noticing. I'm noticing this child has trouble with this or that element of reading. And the reason I know that is because I'm actually hearing what they're reading and saying to themselves. So it's an easier form of correcting. Lexi: What is it about reading out loud in front of other people that is or can be so challenging for someone with dyslexia? Bob: Yeah, so you actually hit on both parts of the issue. One is the "reading out loud," and the other one is the "in front of a bunch of people." And you really have to think about both of those things, right? So somebody with dyslexia is going to have issues with the reading itself. Usually that looks like less fluent reading. Right? So reading is more difficult. It's choppier for them. Bob: The other part of the issue is that a lot of people do not find it fun at all to be speaking or reading in front of large groups of people anyway. And then if this is something that you know you have difficulty with going in, reading, you're going to have even more trouble with it probably. So it's both of those things. Lexi: So it's not just stage fright. And it's not just fear of public speaking. Bob: No, it's different from that, because you're actually asking someone to do something that is sort of most difficult for them. And you're asking them to do it in front of a large group of people. And usually that means you're asking them to do it in front of some people whose opinions they really care about. Lexi: So as we're hearing, when a child is put on the spot, things can go really wrong. That's what happened to Kerry's son. Kerry, will you tell us about your son Cameron? Kerry: Sure. Cameron is 12 years old. He's in sixth grade. He's a great kid. He loves Legos. He loves the drums. He has two older siblings and a dog. And he also has dyslexia and ADHD. Amanda: Kerry had known since kindergarten that Cameron was dyslexic. But his classmates didn't know until one day in second grade. Kerry: Yes. It was the middle of the school year, and his lovely teacher was leaving for maternity leave. So we were having a baby shower for her in the classroom, and the other students were gathered. Other teachers, his teacher, other parents. And we were all giving her gifts for her baby and her send-off. And Cameron had a book to give to her. And all the kids were going in a circle offering their gifts. And he opened the book and was trying to read the inscription he had written on it, which was "All the best, comma, Cameron." And actually I had written it because he couldn't write at that point either. And I did not go over it with him in advance — it was kind of a last-minute mom rush thing, to be honest. Amanda: We've all been there. Kerry: And he — it was his turn. And he struggled through "all the best," and then he couldn't read his name: Cameron. And it was obvious that that was going to be the next thing to read. And all the kids noticed, you know — he should be reading his name right now and he wasn't reading it. And one child said, "That's weird. Why can't you read your name?" I don't think the child said it to be mean or rude or to embarrass Cameron. I think this child just didn't have an awareness — it was just weird. You know something they didn't understand and so they just kind of called it out. And Cameron — it was just abject humiliation. And he wasn't looking at anyone, and then I kind of looked, you know, met eyes with some of the teachers that I knew, and everyone was aware it was an uncomfortable, challenging, painful moment for Cameron. And so one of the teachers, you know, and one of the teachers just said, "OK, who's next?" And we just moved it along to change the attention and focus to the next kid and take it away from Cameron. Lexi: Were you grateful for that? Kerry: Yes, very grateful. And I kind of spun out into like an anxious place myself, you know, my mind just kind of started racing. And I also just felt really, really sad. Lexi: After the incident in Cameron's classroom, Kerry decided she needed to do something about it. So she spoke to Cameron's teacher and asked if it was OK if she came in to teach the students about dyslexia. Kerry: So, it was in the morning. It was probably after their circle time around 9 o'clock. So we were all sitting together, and I said, "So, I'm here to talk about how all of us are born on the planet. And some things are easy for us naturally. And some things are hard for us. I gave some examples for myself about how some things that come easily for me, like reading and writing, are great. But one thing that's hard for me for example is, you know, drumming or Legos. I'm terrible at both of those. And I opened the floor to Cameron, and Cameron said, "What comes easy for me is Legos and drumming." Kerry: "But I also have dyslexia, so it makes reading and writing challenging for me." And then we spent a little bit of time discussing what dyslexia is, and maybe people have noticed that Cameron has had a hard time reading aloud in class, or that when he did a writing assignment for a history fair project, his writing assignment was a little bit shorter or may have taken him longer to finish. I did pass around some examples of famous people who have dyslexia, and I tried to come up with people that they would know or could engage with, like Alexander Graham Bell supposedly had dyslexia. And I brought a landline telephone, and most of these kids had never seen the landline telephone. Lexi: Wow. Kerry: That was really cool. There was an actor I talked about. I passed around his picture — Channing Tatum who was in "The Lego Movie" as one of the voices. Lexi: Oh yeah. Kerry: So then we went around the circle, and all the kids talked about things they knew for themselves that were challenging, and then things that were easy for them. And it went a lot deeper and was more poignant than I expected it to be. I thought they might say, "I'm good at soccer, but I'm not good at taking out the garbage." This little boy goes, "I'm a really good athlete, but I'm challenged because sometimes I get angry. I'm really working hard on my anger and being more patient." And it was really, really amazing to see all these kids trusting each other with their vulnerabilities. Amanda: Kerry, you really, really thought this through. I mean, wow. Lexi: So you finished this presentation. Did they clap? Kerry: They did. Yeah. It was kind of like a big, warm, fuzzy celebration. Lexi: Bob, is there some advice or strategies that you have that we could give a student who has major anxiety around the idea of reading out loud in public? Bob: Yeah. So the couple things are, first of all, talk to the adult, right? So if you're a child and you have dyslexia, and you know that reading aloud is going to be challenging for you, and it makes you anxious even thinking about the fact that you may have to read out loud, talk to the adults who are involved and let them know that. Just say, "Look I am nervous about this. I'm more nervous than most people, because reading is difficult for me to begin with." They will most likely do something about that, whether it's take time to practice it with you, whether it's give it to you in advance, whether it's allow you to listen to them read it out loud a few times so that you can use your really good memory to help you as you're reading it — there's a whole bunch of things that can be done. But I always encourage students or children to go ahead and talk about the fact that you know this is going to be hard. Lexi: Can you think of a story or a time when a student who had reading issues or maybe dyslexia came up with a really creative or resourceful way to participate in an assignment that did involve reading out loud? Bob: So, one of the things that I saw a teacher do that I thought was particularly kind of inventive and made everyone in the class feel good about it, was, there was a student who had real kind of reading issues. And it was really challenging for him, and he got really frustrated about and things like that. But he'd been working really hard with his parents and with the teacher and with the reading specialist, and he'd developed a pretty strong sight word vocabulary, actually. Amanda: Tell me what a sight word is. Bob: Sure. A sight word is a word that you recognize automatically without having to sound it out. So this boy developed a pretty good sight word vocabulary. And so the teacher was very familiar with the boy's sight word vocabulary. So she went and underlined in the book the words that she knew he knew. Bob: So when he came up, he was a little choppy reading, until he got to those words or those series of words that he knew, and then he just kind of blew through it. So everybody was really kind of excited for him that he got up and did that, because everybody knew that it was a big deal. The other thing that I saw, which is a little bit funnier story, is sometimes teachers will have kids read aloud in their groups, right? And then each group has to do a kind of a round robin reading, which is one kid reads a little bit and then the next kid picks up and reads a little bit and then the next kid picks up and reads a little bit. So the group that — actually it was three kids — and they had a girl who had dyslexia and was really not a fluid kind of reader. Bob: And so what that group did was they gave her the part of reading that sort of repeated itself. So she got that one sort of group of two or three sentences down, and it occurred at the end of each — I'll call it paragraph. So as the one girl read, she would read a piece and then the kid with dyslexia would say that piece that she knew, and then the next kid would read a piece, and then the kid with dyslexia would say that piece that she knew. And then the third kid would read a piece, and the kid with dyslexia would say that piece she knew. Bob: And so it was actually the way that it worked was really smooth and nice, and everybody really appreciated the creativity. And I don't even think that it dawned on the kids in the other groups that these girls, these three girls, had done that so that their friend with dyslexia could fully participate. Lexi: That's such a good friend. Bob: Yeah, it really was. And it wasn't an idea that the teacher gave them.Amanda: What a canny solution, right? Bob: Yeah, the kids came up with that on their own. Lexi: Kerry, what did you do directly after this? Did you get back to your car and you know, punch the air? Kerry: Yeah. And then I got really nice feedback from the teacher, who said that the kids really enjoyed it, and it really helped do exactly what we had hoped, which was just kind of heighten everyone's awareness and have a little more empathy for each other. So people will just be a little nicer. Lexi: Thank you so much for your time. Amanda: Thank you, Kerry. Kerry: Thank you so much. Amanda: A lot of you had your own success stories to share. Student: I'm Eddie, and ways that I've been working on reading in public is that I have started taking an acting class to help me feel more comfortable just being in front of people. Parent: As the mom of a daughter with a receptive and expressive language challenges, I find myself often exhausted, feeling like I need to protect her, to save her from embarrassment or challenges, and manage teachers and supports to ensure that she gets which she needs. And I had a moment when my daughter was doing a poetry slam unit for school. She had worked really hard to create this poem, and it was the final presentation in front of the whole school. Not every kid had to go up, and my daughter jumped up and volunteered. And I — just the pit in my stomach of, "Oh my God, what's going to happen? I hope this goes OK. I hope she doesn't freeze. I hope she doesn't stumble on her words. Is she ready to do this?" And she got up and she owned that poetry. And I realized that her speech teacher had been practicing with her, had worked on the poem with her, and built the belief in her that of course she could get up in front of the school and do it. And it was such an aha moment for me as a parent. We can become so protective and lose faith in everyone else involved, that sometimes I just need to trust my daughter. And that if she wants to take risks, it's not on me. And it's amazing and it's such a pivotal moment. Amanda: Bob, do you think reading out loud should be optional?Bob: So, I do think reading out loud in front of large groups should be optional. I think it's something that you should practice. I think it's something that you should build up to, right? And I do think it should be optional. I think it's perfectly fair and understandable for a teacher to ask a student to read aloud to them so that the teacher can identify errors and, you know, that kind of stuff. So if they're going to use it as a real teaching tool with this student, I can see having it not be optional. But reading aloud in front of a bunch of people I think should be optional. Lexi: Bob, does it get easier to read out loud over time? Bob: So, you know the saying is that success builds confidence, right? So as kids read aloud more and have success with it, they get more and more confident. I don't know if it becomes actually easier for kids, but it certainly becomes more comfortable. Lexi: Got it. Bob: If you prep them a little bit for, kind of, what's the worst that can happen. Lexi: Right. Bob: The worst that can happen is you're going to stumble around when you're reading, you're going to misidentify words, you're going to read the wrong words. It's not going to be fluent as you're reading, all of that sort of stuff, right? So if you are working with a student or if your child is far enough along in understanding the challenge that he or she has with reading, that kind of work can be really, really helpful. Because once a child puts it in perspective, right? That's what that's about. It's about putting it in perspective. Yes I might get up there, I might fumble, I might stumble. It's not a secret to me, to my teacher, or to my parents, or really to any of my classmates that reading is hard for me. So I'm going to get up there and I'm going to do it. And if I call out a wrong word and it ends up being funny or something, I'm going to laugh along with everyone, you know, because it's really not that big a deal. Amanda: Such a good reminder. Bob: So if your child is up for that, like if they're at that point of self-awareness, and if they're at that point of acceptance that this is hard, you can, in fact, apply some perspective to the situation. And then it just becomes something else that you're going to do. It also helps a lot if teachers don't make a huge deal out of it, like you know, it's not the Inquisition you're going up there in front of the class for. It's just to read a passage. Lexi: That is totally awesome. It's not the Inquisition, huh? Bob: No, but you don't want to — so the danger is, you don't want to diminish or minimize the anxiety or fear or challenge that this presents for a kid with dyslexia. So again, you have to do a lot of work to get a child to the place where they're willing and able to go up there and just sort of go with the flow. But it can be done. Amanda: Bob's right. It's not the Inquisition. And you don't have to make a huge deal out of it. And as Kerry told us, she was able to go in and really tell cool stories about people who had dyslexia. And I just love that she wrote in a landline phone that nobody knew what a landline phone was. Lexi: They're not as old as us. Amanda: And I bet other parents had really creative solutions to these kinds of situations, too. Lexi: Well, that makes me wonder. I would love to hear from our listeners what their creative experiences have been in sharing their child's learning and thinking differences, whether or not it was dyslexia or a different issue, with either a school or a family member or a friend. We'd love to hear. Amanda: You've been listening to "In It," a podcast from Understood for Parents. Our website is, where you can find all sorts of free resources for people raising kids with learning and thinking differences. Lexi: We want to hear what you think of our show. "In It" is for you. So we want to make sure you're getting what you need. Go to to share your thoughts and also to find free resources. That's the letter "U" as in And if you like what you heard today, please tell somebody else about it. Amanda: Maybe even your child's teacher. Lexi: You can subscribe to "In It" on Apple podcasts. Follow us on Spotify. Or keep up with us however you listen. Between episodes, find Understood on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube, or visit our website That's the letter "U" dot org slash podcast. Amanda: We hope you'll come back next episode. We'll be talking about when people choose to talk about their kids' learning and thinking differences — and when they keep it a secret. Manju Banerjee: So at that stage, do I have to disclose well, you know, I have learning differences or I process information slowly, or I can take you out to a date but I need more time to calculate the tip? It can be really embarrassing. Lexi: If you have stories about when you do or don't talk about your child's learning or thinking differences, you can call and leave a voice message that we just might use on the next episode of "In It." You'll find that number at Amanda: And a big thanks to everyone who left messages about their experiences reading in public, including Kelly, Roxanne, Tara, Ryan, Kerry, Ayelet, Angela and John. Our show is produced by Blake Eskin of Noun and Verb Rodeo, Julie Subrin, and Julia Botero. Mike Errico wrote our theme music and Laura Kusnyer is our director of editorial content. Lexi: "In It" is a production of Understood for Parents. Thanks for listening, everyone, and for being in it with us.

  • Video: What reading fluency looks like in kindergarten

    What does it look like for a kindergartner to read smoothly? This video from founding partner GreatSchools can help you better understand typical reading skills in kindergarten.

  • In It

    Dyslexia: More than mixing up letters

    When kids have trouble learning to read, families may wonder about dyslexia. But what exactly is dyslexia? And what are the signs to look out for? When kids have trouble learning to read, families may wonder about dyslexia. But what exactly is dyslexia? And what are the signs to look out for? In this episode, hosts Gretchen Vierstra and Rachel Bozek talk about dyslexia with Dr. Gabrielle Rappolt-Schlichtmann. Gabbie is an education scientist who works to make education more inclusive to kids and adults who learn and think differently. She’s also dyslexic, and the parent of a third grader with dyslexia. Tune in to learn some of the early signs of dyslexia, and why it’s never too late to get a diagnosis. Find out how to work with your child’s school to get support, and what reading strategies work best. Plus, hear why Gabbie would never want to be “cured” of dyslexia, even if she could be. Related resources What is dyslexia?7 common myths about dyslexia How to teach kids with dyslexia to read The legit fear behind “Please don’t call on me to read”Episode transcriptGretchen: From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "In It," a podcast about the ins and outs…Rachel: …the ups and downs…Gretchen: …of supporting kids who learn and think differently. I'm Gretchen Vierstra, a former classroom teacher and an editor here at Understood.Rachel: And I'm Rachel Bozek, a writer and editor raising two kids with ADHD. Today, we're taking a deep dive into dyslexia, what it is, what it isn't, and how to support kids who have it.Gretchen: And we have the perfect guest here to help us with that. Dr. Gabrielle Rappolt-Schlichtmann is an education scientist and the executive director and chief scientist at EdTogether, an organization that works to make education more inclusive to students who learn and think differently.Rachel: Gabbie is also someone who herself has dyslexia, and she's a mom to a kid with dyslexia. She talks about all that with so much insight and clarity, we're so happy she joined us for this conversation. So, Gabbie, welcome to "In It."Gabbie: Thank you for having me. I'm excited to talk with you both today.Rachel: Well, to start off, I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about yourself and in particular your work as it relates to kids who learn and think differently.Gabbie: Sure. So, I'm an applied developmental psychologist, and I've been working with schools and teachers, education professionals, museums — basically, wherever learning happens — to help them to be inclusive to kids who, and adults, who learn and think differently in designing learning environments.And I want to start off by saying, even though I work with and think about and design environments for all kids who learn and think differently, dyslexia has a very close place in my heart because I'm dyslexic and I am also the parent of a third grader who is dyslexic and has ADHD. And so, I do think about that. I think a lot more in my personal life and my personal experience in addition to working with schools and in educational environments.Gretchen: So, as you know, we invited you here today to talk about dyslexia. So, let's start with the basics. Gabbie. I think probably the most common myth we hear when it comes to dyslexia is that it's about reading and writing letters backwards. Is that what dyslexia is?Gabbie: No, definitely not. So, when we think about dyslexia, it really doesn't have anything to do with flipping letters around or anything like that. It's a brain-based learning difference that affects reading, writing, and spelling. So, people who have dyslexia have difficulty basically working with language is how you can think about it. So, they may have difficulty isolating the sounds within words or matching letters to the sounds. Like, for example, you might have difficulty mapping the sound "to" to the letter T or the sound "tho" to the letter Th. And when you have difficulty with that, it can really affect your ability to deconstruct words as you're trying to read. And that affects reading, and it also affects your ability to spell and produce language as you're trying to write.It tends to run in families, like in my family. So, my son's dyslexic, I'm also dyslexic, and my father as well. And it really has nothing to do with intelligence. It's really important to understand that. It's just really about how your brain handles language as it relates to text, but it doesn't have any meaning to how intelligent you are.Rachel: So, were you kind of on the lookout for it, knowing that it runs in families and knowing that you yourself have it, you know, so with your kids, was that something that you kind of had an eye out for?Gabbie: Definitely. And my son is actually my second child, but we were on the lookout for it, and they popped up for us when he was in preschool. It felt like he was randomly — when we would talk about the alphabet or letters, or I would read to him — it almost felt like he was sort of guessing or randomly saying what letter went with a sound. So, I kind of had a clue that he was going to have some difficulty. And then, in fact, by the time he got to kindergarten, he was really struggling to get anything out of the reading instruction that was happening in his classroom.Rachel: You know, one common belief is the idea that you can't diagnose a child with dyslexia until they're in elementary school. Is that true?Gabbie: No, absolutely not. In fact, oftentimes we refer to that as the sort of waiting to fail approach. So, absolutely, by the time kids get into elementary school, when they're in the thick of reading instruction, you're going to see difficulty if a child is dyslexic. But way before that, when they have first exposures to anything about mapping the symbols of language, to the sounds of language, you know, doing things in a sequence, really that idea of thinking about working with language, if they're having difficulty with that, it's a clue that they might have difficulty. In fact, you can screen kids as early as preschool for difficulty with that.And with my son, because he was having difficulty, I can remember — he's in third grade now — but we went in to see his teachers for a conference and, you know, they were like "Kids develop at different rates and let's just give him time." And I thought, you know, there's no harm in having direct, explicit reading instruction, right? So, let's just do it. Why wait for him to fail, you know? And I did actually have to I don't know if this is the right word, but escalate it to the head of the preschool, because I was getting a lot of pushback from the teachers. And when I talked to her, I just said, "You know, I'm dyslexic, my dad's dyslexic. He's not responding to reading instruction. I don't think any kid gets sad or upset from getting competence with a skill. So, let's get him some, you know, instruction." And they did. They were very responsive up to that.Gretchen: I like that idea. I like to say, "You know what? No matter what, this is confidence-building, right? To get these extra skills in place." So, you know, you mentioned a few of the things that families or teachers could be looking for when kids are really young, you know, thinking about a parent at home, what would be a very like easy sign to maybe bring to the teachers and say, hey, could there be something here?Gabbie: Sure. So, I think a lot of times as parents, we do nursery rhymes with kids or maybe singing songs with kids where there's rhyming. And if you're noticing that your child's having a lot of difficulty with rhyming or sort of not picking that up or seems like they're guessing you might probe like in a fun game, you know "What rhymes with cat? I'm thinking sad," you know, sort of going back and forth. And, you know, a lot of kids have difficulty with these things. But if it's popping up along with when you're sort of introducing a letter to a child or something like that, and maybe they have difficulty following directions in a sequence or something like that, that would be a sort of constellation of things to raise to a teacher.Rachel: So, is there an optimal age for a child to be evaluated for dyslexia or, you know, I mean, we talked a little bit about it can be as young as preschool, but is there kind of like an ideal age or is it really about when you see the signs?Gabbie: Yeah, I think the answer to that is it's never too late. Absolutely not. And I'm a good example of that. I didn't have a diagnosis until I was in ninth grade.Rachel: Oh, wow.Gabbie: And I'm a very good example of, you know, a girl who's not identified because I was doing well enough. So, the teachers were sort of saying, "Well, it's fine. This is just who Gabby is. And then I had an English teacher actually in the ninth grade, who was like, "Wow, I would really.." based on our classroom discussions and, you know, how smart this teacher thought that I was, he expected more from my writing, And so, he asked to see a rough draft in my handwriting, and the spelling was so bad, he was like, "I can't read this. Let's figure out what's going on."And then I was finally evaluated and I got my diagnosis. And it made a huge difference to me in terms of the direct instruction — really remedial instruction that I had around reading specifically — but also the accommodations that I received in school, which allowed me really to excel in areas of interest like science and math. And in fact, I went on to college and majored in neuroscience and my job now it's like 80% reading and writing.Rachel: Right.Gretchen: So, then your ninth-grade teacher noticed these things. It took up until them. I'm wondering if you had a sign, if the teachers didn't have one, did you have one inside and wonder what was up?Gabbie: Oh, yeah. And my mom is actually a special education teacher.Rachel: Got it.Gabbie: And she knew, she knew what was going on and she was teaching me at home, basically. So she was, you know, reading with me. I can remember spelling tests in elementary and early middle school where we would start on Mondays and just drill through them. And I would still barely pass after hours and hours. I can remember having homework where I, you know, had to fill out a workbook, and I can remember becoming so frustrated I actually threw the book across the room in a sort of fit of anger. And I was very calm, self-regulated child. So, I think for me I just thought, "This is what learning is" until I had that teacher.And it was like this real relief for me being evaluated and having the label, because I think sometimes people worry that the label is bad or can affect you in a negative way. But for me, it was a complete relief because it was like, "Well, you know, you just learn and think differently and your teachers aren't teaching the way that you need to learn. And there are some things that we can do now that we know to make this a way easier lift." And it was absolutely true.Rachel: Wow. That is really amazing that, you know, you were able to get to that point without anybody really seeing it. But once you got there, what supports did you get, you know, and how did they help?Gabbie: Yeah, I want to say first to that, as a professional in the field, you know, when I work with middle school teachers and high school teachers and sort of helping them think about kids with dyslexia, kids with other learning and thinking differences, I'm often incredibly surprised at how little they know about their kids reading levels and that they tend to make assumptions about everybody being able to read when they're sitting in like, say, a history classroom or a math classroom, and making assignments without looking into that, especially if a child doesn't have an IEP yet.So, I think it is important to know that by the time you get past fourth grade, most teachers aren't thinking about teaching reading, they're thinking about their content area instruction. And so, they may not be aware of where your child's specific reading skills are or writing skills. So, in terms of accommodations, I would say for me it was mostly about being able to listen to my texts across the curriculum.So back then, this is a long time ago now, I used to have books on tapes, so my textbooks on tape, but now, of course, we have digital support, so you can get basically any text, any reading that you need to, including things that are on paper like worksheets. You can use accessibility, accommodations, and features even on your phone just to have things read aloud to you. And so, that's a pretty basic accommodation that was really important to me. In fact, now I still often because I'm so much more efficient at listening comprehension in my professional life, I listen to the texts that I read. Not always, but most of the time.Another accommodation that I've used through college was doing speech to text technology, so where you can speak what you want to say in text and then editing through typing. I also had a lot of executive functioning support. So, you can think about executive functioning as being that sort of control center of your brain, that sort of set of skills that helps you to self-regulate and organize and figure out how much time it will take you to do something and be able to plan to get your work done. That was a huge thing for me. So, I had really explicit instruction and supports around, you know, having a daily planner and really learning how to chart and better guesstimate how long things would take me.Rachel: Right. You know, reading instruction is such a hot topic. It was then, it is now. So, families might be hearing things like structured literacy, balance literacy or phonics versus whole language. When it comes to kids with dyslexia and really all kids who are learning to read. What does science tell us about how kids learn to read best?Gabbie: Yeah. So, they really need explicit instruction about the code of reading. English is very, actually exists across languages, but let's just talk about English here. English is a very complicated language. It involves you learning one sound and then under a different set of rules. It makes a different set of sounds, you know. So, for kids who are dyslexic and many other kids as well, really explicitly teaching that sort of phonics-based, separating out, intentionally teaching systematically, the code of language is really important. And for kids with dyslexia, really doing it in a multisensory way so that you're taking different ways to get the information into your mind.One approach that a lot of people talk about, that's evidence-based in terms of supporting kids with dyslexia to learn to read is kids actually trace letters with their finger in sand as they're doing the sound-related work and it's just a way to work on getting that idea into the brain through different channels. And then repeated practice. You know, kids with dyslexia are going to need repeated practice with a skill over and over and over again in many different ways, more times than you would ever expect that you would need that repeated practice.Rachel: That brings me to my next question, because teachers always tell us from preschool all the way up. I mean, I've had sixth, seventh, eighth grade teachers even say it, that the best thing we can do for our kids is read out loud to them. So, does a diagnosis of dyslexia reflect some sort of failure on that front?Gabbie: Definitely not.Rachel: Good.Gabbie: And it really goes back to that brain-based difference thing. You know, our brains are built for language, not for reading. And so, some kids, when they come to reading, have a brain that picks it up more easily. And other kids, you know, kids with dyslexia being one example, really need that explicit instruction to get their brain around what's happening on the reading side. So, it's nothing that you did. It's just the way I am. Exposure to text is always good because it's good for your relationship with your child. It's good for them to understand the utility of books and to be transported by stories or to understand like how they can get information from books. But whether you did that or not won't affect their ability to pick up reading, when you start getting into decoding and understanding the really, you know, the relationship between symbols and sounds.Rachel: So, as you shared, you know, there's a genetic component to dyslexia. And so, if there's a parent or caregiver out there who is dyslexic and maybe they didn't get the supports to feel confident in their reading now, or they still find reading really frustrating, how can they read to or read with their child?Gabbie: OK. So, this is a wonderful question, and you can absolutely get as much out of listening to books as you can from reading books to your child to listening to books together and then talking about the story when you're in bed together. I remember when my daughter, she was, I think, in fifth or sixth grade, I think fifth grade, and she really wanted me to read "Little Women" to her and I can read it, but oh my goodness, is my fluency slow with that. You know, the sort of older English and it was very tough. And I remember sitting in bed with her and she was like, "I can read it, Mom," you know? And I'm probably going to cry right now while I'm talking about it. It's a hard moment, you know, like, because she was, you know, beyond me in that skill. Now, I can read a very complicated neuroscience text about dyslexia published in "Science" magazine. But I read it by listening, and reading a text like that is always going to be really hard for me. So, having her do that, I was like at the same time really proud and then also a little bit ashamed. But she just made it so wonderful for me in terms of being like, you know, "I want to read it" and us doing that together. So, that's also a good opportunity, I think reading together doesn't necessarily mean you reading to your child.Rachel: And I love that you're sharing that, you know, audiobooks, listening to books. It's I feel like there's that myth out there that that's a cheat. And it's totally not.Gabbie: Definitely not. And I think one big piece of advice I could give parents, you know, when they're sitting in IEP meetings and or thinking about their kids talking to their teachers in parent-child conferences, you know, by the time kids get to fourth grade, which is really that transition from learning to read to reading to learn, now your child might still be learning to read, and that's fine, but by the time you get to fourth grade, you really don't want all of their access to the content in the subject areas to be through reading in a traditional sense if they're reading below grade level.So, it's like separating "I'm still learning how to decode the text at a certain level, and I'm learning to comprehend texts at maybe a much higher level. And so, I can do that through listening comprehension." So, that's one of the best things that can happen when you get into middle school and high school. If you have a child who's reading below grade levels and working is on that is to say, "Let's make sure that reading comprehension in subject areas is that they have access to listening to text."Rachel: So, I've seen a statistic that one in five students has a language-based disability. But you certainly don't get the sense that we have that many students getting extra reading and writing support in the classroom. So, why is that? And what are the barriers to getting a diagnosis, if that's related to the reason why there's this kind of disparity?Gabbie: I think there are lots of reasons why kids aren't identified. So, you know, resources is one thing in the schools. So, there's a kind of threshold to be screened and there are limits, a limited set of resources, amount of time in terms of the number of special educators that they have in the school. So, that sometimes plays out, you know, in terms of who gets identified, how many kids are captured in that net. You know, I think it's knowledge on the teacher's part.General education teachers, so the ones who teach the main classroom, they might not know anything about dyslexia at all, might not have had any experience in their training, might have only had one class where they learned about all disabilities from teaching kids who are deaf to teaching kids or has autistic to teaching kids who are dyslexic. And that often sets up a kind of us and them in schools where it's like kids who have difficulty reading, that's the responsibility of the special education teachers and then everybody else's I'm responsible for, just because they don't know. They just don't know. There's a knowledge gap there.And I think also sometimes parents don't necessarily know that they can have their kids evaluated or can advocate to have their kids evaluated in the school. And that testing can be free, is free in the school. You can always have a private evaluation which can be expensive and you have to wait a long time for. But you can ask to have your child evaluated and you are protected. Your child is protected under IDEA to be evaluated and to have services when they're warranted. So, there are lots of issues as to why those kids don't get services.Rachel: And so, then if, let's say a kid gets missed and then they don't get a diagnosis and they don't get the support they need, how does this impact a person's future life? How does it impact, you know, upper grades of school to beyond if they don't get these supports?Gabbie: Yeah. So, I mean, it can be really devastating. And I don't want to put it on the child because I really believe, you know, in my work we make choices, how we create schools, and the ways that we teach.Rachel: Yep.Gabbie: And there's absolutely no reason why all kids couldn't be getting direct, explicit, systematic multisensory reading instruction, because then we would capture all the kids in the general classroom. But unfortunately, that's not the way most schools are set up. And so, what ends up happening is kids fail and then they get separate, explicit reading instruction as an add-on. So, I think when you don't have that and you're not reading on grade level, it really affects your ability to participate in any aspect of the curriculum. So, being able to learn about history, learn about science, and about math, even if you might be gifted in those areas because so much of the way that we construct school is through reading. Yeah, like if you think about math, you get a math textbook, right?Rachel: Yep. You read a word problem.Gabbie: You get a word problem, you're doing a proof. You have to write the proof, right in geometry. So, we really use reading and writing as a medium for instruction and for learning. It doesn't have to be that way, but that is how we do it. So, it can be really devastating for kids. And on an emotional level, I'm doing a bunch of work around stigmatization and how it affects kids with learning differences. Their perception of themselves and literacy is so important to our culture that when a person presents as not literate, they feel almost as if they're less than human, right? Because it's like this skill that we all assume that everyone has within our culture. And it's like, "Well, why can't you do that?" You know?And so, it's like this experience of dehumanization that happens if you can't read. And so, yeah, if you feel like it's being missed, if you have a concern about your child, if you suspect, you know, get in there and ask questions and you might get pushback. But I think, you know, no child was ever harmed by having an evaluation and getting extra support, really.Rachel: To be super clear about this, can a child or anyone who's been diagnosed be cured of dyslexia?Gabbie: No.Rachel: I'm using the word cured or doing air quotes, but also, you know, can we make it go away?Gabbie: Yeah, you cannot make it go away. It is literally a brain-based difference in how your brain processes and works with language. There's some evidence that as you get intervention, your brain does change. You know, the brain is classic. It does change in response to intervention. But when we look at that, it's mostly about when dyslexic people learn to read marshaling other areas of the brain to help them to do that. So, you can change in response to intervention. But no, it's not going to be cured.And OK, I might I'm going to say something a little controversial now as an adult with dyslexia, I'm not saying that it was easy. It was really tough to be in school and to go through schools that weren't really like fit for me as a person and that I had to figure out how to navigate, you know, with support. It was really hard. And I have a lot of privilege as a white person and a person who is resourced in terms of my parents being able to get me extra support. So, I don't want to like reduce that.But I do want to say, looking at my life now and who I am, I wouldn't want to be cured of dyslexia because it makes me the person that I am. And what's interesting is if you look at the research literature, even the brain science literature around dyslexia, that there are actually lots of other differences in the brain. Everyone's focused on reading because that's the biggest challenge, because the schools aren't set up to support kids who are dyslexic. But there's actually this other really interesting research literature that's just getting going, that's looking at, "Well, do kids with dyslexia have advantages in visuospatial processing?" So, for example, people who are dyslexic when they get through school are actually overrepresented among astrophysicists.Rachel: Wow.Gabbie: And you may be like, why is that the case? Well, it turns out that people who are dyslexic tend to be better at picking up patterns from a visual field. So, like pattern recognition, like being able to look at a star chart and recognize a black hole and things like that.Rachel: Something I could never do.Gabbie: Yeah. So, I think there's lots of things about being dyslexic that are advantages that maybe make up the kind of person that you are. That also comes with negatives, you know, in terms of the reading in the way school set up. But doesn't everybody have a mix of those things?Rachel: Totally.Gabbie: So, even if it could be cured, I wouldn't want it to be because it makes me who I am.Rachel: And that's such a great thing to be able to communicate to kids who maybe find out like, "Oh, you know, I have this diagnosis now. Now what?" You know, for parents and teachers to know that, you know, these are some things that they can maybe share with those kids. You know, as a super positive.Gabbie: Absolutely.Rachel: Gabbie, thank you so much for sharing everything you know and your personal stories. It's been just such a pleasure.Rachel: I have learned so much today. And also, I really appreciate you busting these myths because some of them I really didn't understand were myths.Gabbie: Thank you both so much. It was really fun to talk with you today.Rachel: Before we go, we have a favor to ask. On this show, we talk a lot about finding joy and celebrating successes when it comes to raising kids who learn and think differently. But what about the fails.Rachel: Oh the fails!Rachel: Yes, the fails. Let's be real! We all make mistakes. So, let's bond over those kinds of moments, too.Rachel: I have no idea what you're talking about, but. OK, I do. So, I think we're talking about those days when we are so exhausted, so fed up, we find ourselves saying or doing the total opposite of what we think a good parent or caregiver would actually say or do.Rachel: Totally. Like, maybe you just lose it after your kid spills juice everywhere again.Rachel: Or maybe you set a limit, even though you know there is no way you're going to stick to it. I mean, not that I've ever done that, but it's probably something to watch out for.Rachel: Yes, you are not alone. So, let's laugh and maybe cry about these all too human fails together. If you have a story to share, send us a voice memo at Tell us how it started, what you were thinking and feeling, and how it ended. If you'd rather send an e-mail, that's fine too. You can also send that to You can be anonymous or use your first name. Just know that submissions may be played or read on the podcast and thanks. We can't wait to hear from you, and we can't do this part without you.Rachel: You've been listening to" In It" from the Understood Podcast Network.Rachel: This show is for you. So, we want to make sure you're getting what you need. Email us at to share your thoughts. We love hearing from you.Rachel: If you want to learn more about the topics we covered today, check out the show notes for this episode. We include more resources as well as links to anything we mentioned in the episode.Rachel: is a resource dedicated to helping people who learn and think differently discover their potential and thrive. Learn more at "In It" is produced by Julie Subrin, and Briana Berry is our production director. Justin D. Wright mixes the show. Mike Errico wrote our theme music.Rachel: For the Understood Podcast Network, Laura Key is our editorial director, Scott Cocchiere is our creative director, and Seth Melnick is our executive producer. Thanks for listening.Rachel: And thanks for always being in it with us.

  • Video: What reading fluency looks like in fourth grade

    Most fourth graders can read pretty smoothly, with both expression and understanding. But they may correct themselves or need help pronouncing words at times. Watch this video from Understood founding partner GreatSchools to find out what fluent reading sounds like at this age.

  • The Opportunity Gap

    Bullying, shame, and parenting guilt: Reacting to real stories

    Hosts Julian Saavedra and Marissa Wallace respond to three audio stories of bullying, shame, and parenting guilt. Has your child ever been called names because they struggle to read? Do you worry that your child’s learning differences are your fault? This episode features three audio stories from the Understood family about bullying, shame, and parenting guilt around learning differences and ADHD.Hosts Julian Saavedra and Marissa Wallace react to each story, and offer their thoughts and advice for parents and caretakers. Listen in for practical strategies from our teacher hosts on how to respond. Find out what a “lunch bunch” is and how it can help kids gain friends and confidence, even in virtual settings. And feel less alone by hearing what you might share in common with others.Related resourcesVideo: Jade, an eighth grader, talks about how it feels to have reading challengesManju Banerjee on how stigma impacts the Asian American communityVideo: Collin Diedrich on imposter syndrome and learning differencesEpisode transcriptJulian: From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "The Opportunity Gap," a podcast for families of kids of color who learn and think differently. We explore issues of privilege, race, and identity. And our goal is to help you advocate for your child. I'm Julian Saavedra.Marissa: And I'm Marissa Wallace. Julian and I worked together for years as teachers in a public charter school in Philadelphia, where we saw opportunity gaps firsthand.Julian: And we're both parents of kids of color. So this is personal to us. Welcome back. How are you, Marissa?Marissa: I'm all over the place, but I'm good. You know, it's the end of the school year. You know how that life is.Julian: Today we're talking about some exciting slash interesting things that are really important for everybody to be a part of, and — like always. And so today it's really about somebody that's a parent of color. And you're in a position where you're exploring school options and potentially special education services. That can be really tough. We know that that's a really hard position to be in.Marissa: What makes it scarier and more complex, right, is that you hear so many different opinions and so many different scenarios. And this happened at this school, or this happened to my child. And so it's really challenging to know like what direction you should go in. And to be honest, I think there's also like a lack of conversation around learning and thinking differences in a productive way. And that is not always highlighted in the right way in our school settings, in our social media, in the news, or even within our own communities.Julian: In general, the conversation that sometimes happens behind closed doors or over a text message or in the line at pickup, it needs to be happening out loud. We need to elevate that. And especially for our children of color who have learning and thinking differences, you know, they will always have to deal with double discrimination.So as parents, as caregivers, sisters, brothers, teachers, educators, aunties, uncles, whoever we — you need to make sure, and we need to make sure, that we're supporting our children and to change some of those stigmas that are out there one day at a time.Marissa: And so our goal today really is to start breaking down some of those stigmas. Break down some of the worries and the concerns that our listeners have. And we figured one of the best ways to do that is to kind of jump in with some stories from our Understood family. And we're going to start with a really special individual named Jade. Jade is an eighth grader and she's sharing her story about her experiences with reading challenges.Jade: My name is Jade. I'm in the eighth grade. And reading is a huge struggle for me. Teacher would ask me to read in front of the class aloud. I'd open my mouth, but no words would come out. Not because I couldn't speak. Because I couldn't read the words on the page. They were jumping around, backwards, blurry, sideways, D was a B, W was an M. I just kept it all to myself. Like no one can relate to me. This is just my problem and I have to deal with it. I have to find a way to deal with this. Oh my gosh. I can still remember the names. Um, idiot, dummy, you know, slow, special ed. It's like every day, going through that takes a piece of you. After a while you're just like, you get this numb feeling like it just doesn't bother you anymore. That's when you get really worried. That's when you should get really worried. When you get this numbing feeling when someone calls you, you're like, I don't care. They're right. That's the worst feeling in the world.Marissa: I think that that story and those sentiments are similar to how a lot of our students feel. And I think it's important that we don't want our children to feel alone in their journey. You know, we don't want them to feel that they're not smart or that they're incapable of things. So as a vice principal, what are some ways that you help building community with your students who have learning and thinking differences?Julian: That's heavy to hear this young lady talk about how she's experienced these horrendous name-calling situations in class. You know, I can almost imagine the kids calling out and saying it while she's attempting to read, to have to work herself up to even get to a point where she can read out loud. That's heavy. That's a lot. And you and I both know kids can be mean. Adults can be mean. But kids can be mean sometimes. And they might not know exactly what they're doing, but it doesn't change the impact it has on the person receiving those words.And so when I think about Jade and I think about the children that experienced things similar to her, as educators and as adults in the lives of children that experienced that, the first thing is making sure that we listen. And we listen with empathy. And we give them a place to just share what they're feeling and what their emotions are without judging.So as somebody who is involved with kids every day at school, and I do have a position of power where I'm able to interact with kids and adults and shape some of the experiences that kids are having, I want to really make sure that we're impressing upon everybody involved: Let's make sure we're listening when kids are crying out for help.Because what I heard when Jade said that is a cry for help. And what I heard is that the emotion in when she described it is something that really spoke to me. I work in a high school. And high school students are in the midst of trying to figure out how they socialize with each other. And we have a large population of students with learning and thinking differences.And in some cases, the interaction between the kids who have those differences and the kids who might not, it's tenuous. Sometimes there's issues between them. And sometimes the kids don't necessarily understand each other. So what do we do as adults? We have to make sure that we create the environment and the circumstances possible where positive interactions can happen.For example, there was a number of my ninth-grade boys where we're having some issues with one particular student. He has autism, and part of the way that his autism impacts him is his social awareness of reading on cues is a little bit difficult for him. He doesn't pick up on some of the social cues that some of the kids are giving him.And a couple of the boys were interacting with him, but it was more of a situation of I'm laughing at you and not laughing with you. So they were making him say things to girls that they thought were funny and he thought, oh, this is me making friends. And what he didn't realize is that they were actually making fun of him, right?So we caught wind of this, and I spoke with the teacher and I spoke with his mom. And she's well aware of this happening. It's not the first time it's happened in his life, and he really desperately wants friends. So we devised a situation where we said, let's take some of those boys, the ones that are very popular, and we're going to go to his classroom and we're going to hang out on his space and his comfortable space with his teacher and his friends that he's with. And we're going to hang out and do something on his terms. And so I took a couple of the most popular boys and we made a big deal of headed over. We headed over to his classroom and we played a game of Uno. And he beat the pants out of all of us, but it was such a cool experience because the ninth-grade boys, when they got to go and be in his classroom, in his turf, on his area, in his comfort zone, a couple of them said, you know, Mr. Saavedra, I never got to really hang out with this crew. I want to come back again. I had a lot of fun. And Mr. Saavedra, it made me feel a little bad that we were saying those things to him. I wish we would've known better. And when I think about, if we would have just been more proactive about creating more interactive situations like that, then we could have avoided some of the potential harm, just like Jade experienced.And so what I think about people like ourselves who have positions of power to create the experiences, and create the environment for interaction, the most important thing is to think about both sides. Not only thinking about the students who have learning and thinking differences, but also the other side of the equation too, and making sure everybody is feeling comfortable.Marissa: I think that the goal is to hear more opportunities like that, where you can identify and then make an action plan to address it and end up with a better result. And I teach eighth grade. So like Jade's story is like super touching and personal because I was teaching middle school, and it's already such a transitional year.There's a lot going on in middle school. And that eighth grade year is so important. 'Cause you're getting ready for high school, for building that independence, all those things that are happening makes me super sad, is a lot of my students in the virtual school that I'm at, they have made the choice to be in these virtual settings because of just the intense amount of bullying and trauma they experienced in their schools and their in-person settings, that both their families and the students themselves, 'cause they are 13, 14 years old, so they are able to articulate, I can't be in that setting because I can't deal anymore with getting harassed or traumatized because of my learning and thinking differences or how I'm different than the other students, you know? And it just, it breaks my heart in the setting because they have now come to a place where they feel safe, right? And we know that students need to have a sense of belonging and need to have a sense of safety to really like, be able to meet their full potential, to be truly engaged in education. Started really towards the end of last year, when I started to find ways to connect, because that is always the downfall, right?Families are always like, this place is amazing. And academically it's really supporting my student. However, like, they don't go outside. They don't get to interact with their peers in person. And so I get that. So one thing that I've done that has been really important is I do something called the lunch bunch and it seems so simple, but it's just creating community.I feel like that's such a big piece of it because once you create community, it really helps to break down some of the stigmas, because you have opportunities to share. A lot of these kids have very similar likes. Like their activities and what they enjoy doing, whether it's video games that I don't understand, or social media or TikTok dances, or, you know, whatever it is, they all have similar interests, right? Or art. A lot of my kids are very artistic, so they come together and they share their interests. And then it doesn't — like once you bond on something that you have in common, it makes the differences like less observable.Julian: So for our listeners, then how do you create a lunch bunch virtually? Does everybody just show up with their lunch and turn their screens on?Marissa: Yeah. And I always have it where I at least have an icebreaker or I have a game like this. You'd be surprised what's out there. Like we have played all kinds of like, it's called Blooket. There's all these like challenges you can do. We've done like trivia. So I always start with something, right? Something to like, get them going, thinking, interacting.And then I always make sure that I also allow for like free talk, right? Like just let them be kids. Especially because the way that our school is designed is our kids are in classes for a lot of their days. And then they're already just with their family. So the lunch bunch for a lot of them is the only way where they can have just like actual social interaction with other kids.So it is, it's all through Zoom. Literally the 50 children that I work with, all of them are invited. They don't always come. You know, um, I invite other kids sometimes like, hey, can my friend from this class come? Sure, absolutely. OK.Julian: That's cool. You know what, actually I was thinking about during the, uh, the pandemic and quarantine, how you remember when a DJ D-Nice had like Club Quarantine and, you know, everybody would show up on Instagram and he put music on, like, it sounds like that where like people have something to come together and share.Or our parents out there, what do you think they should do? Should they ask for a lunch bunch too? Or like, what do you, what do you think they can do to help with some of this stigma?Marissa: I mean, I think that's a great idea. Like I think that there's something to be said about finding ways that don't seem so educational. You know what I mean? Like things that are like that, that come, that are obviously done in an educational setting, but that don't come across as, this is an informational meeting about blah-blah-blah because I think that turns off people. I think that's another thing that I think parents could really benefit if parents, caretakers, and even students, depending upon their age, if you just create a random, I just want to hear it, I just want to hear your feedback. I just want to have a conversation. And then as the professional, you go in with certain guided questions and just let people engage in a dialogue. A lot comes out of that. You know, parents asked for a lunch bunch, cool. Like set it up, you know. If they ask for some type of, I think, try to make it less isolating, try to make it a group event of some sort.Which now let's shift gears a little bit since you brought up parents, right? And caretakers. I think that's another important piece of the puzzle where there's a lot of stigma when it comes to parents. I'm excited to introduce this next clip. This is a really important kind of tidbit for our listeners out there. She is a really unique individual. She works at Landmark College, which is a really cool college that's specifically geared towards individuals with learning and thinking differences. Here is Manju.Manju: Culturally, Asian Americans and Asian Indians or Far East parents, are often of the mindset that this is somehow my fault that my child has learning and attention challenges. And I didn't do a good job of parenting, which is as far from the truth as it possibly can be. What often happens is students and our children pick up on what the parents are feeling. And if you're feeling the stigma and you're feeling ashamed, just know your daughter is picking it up. Julian: What's interesting about what she had to say to me is it's lifting up another side of the experience of people from different cultures that we don't hear about a lot. We say people of color, and people of color encompasses a really big umbrella of different ethnicities and cultures.And she specifically spoke on the experience of Asian Americans. And even within that group, there's a whole bunch of different cultures represented. But by and large, there is definitely a stigma present for people, and those that come from communities that aren't historically represented in the larger context of education, is that the number one thing we have to think about is any sort of these learning and thinking differences that appear are not the fault of a parent. It's not a parenting flaw. It's not a mistake that a parent made in the raising of a child. This is part of who your child is. But thinking on this, you know, I think in general, any parents, for you, Marissa, what do you think is some advice that you might have for parents that might feel like they're struggling to ask for help?Marissa: Yeah, and I think that's a big piece of it. I think that there is how Lincoln had to receive early intervention. And I remember even though, as an educated professional who's worked in the business of learning and thinking differences, like, why is he having this speech delay? Julian: Those are questions you had for yourself? Like you started questioning things for yourself?Marissa: Absolutely. There's been at that point nine years in a career of education that dealt with learning and thinking differences. Just getting that news and having to go through the process of him getting evaluated, I still had these questions. Did I not read to him enough when he was, you know, like there was just so many, like random thoughts that I had that was like, what mistake? Right? What misstep did I do as the parent, as the caretaker, that caused, right, this learning and thinking difference for my child, right? As the adult, you first and foremost have to educate yourself, get knowledge on understanding it because once you start getting that knowledge, you'll realize it's not something you did. Once you start doing the research and learning what exactly these learning and thinking differences are, there's not going to be anything that's going to say "It is your fault, Mom. It's your fault, Dad. It's your fault, auntie. That's not going to come out. Instead, you're going to understand that these are just what you deal with. And it's just the way in which your child is going to experience the world. And I think once you're educated, it helps you then to have a different attitude. And remember your kids are like sponges, right? So they feel, and they feed off of whatever you're feeling. So the best thing you can do for your child is to really get to a place where you've accepted it and where you have put that stigma aside. So I think that's my biggest piece of advice. Get yourself in a place where you're comfortable with it, so that you're not projecting this like negativity or this stigma onto your child, because that's only gonna hurt them. In addition to the conversations that you have with your students at your school, and I know you've shared some before, like interactions you've had with families and parents. I am, you know, curious like what is going on or what is something you can think about that has occurred with a family about this particular feeling and the stigma, especially with parents of color. Julian: Thank you for the question. I think it's a combination of asking for help, but also like you said, the acceptance portion of it. And it all depends on what part of the journey the child and the family is on when it comes to learning and thinking differences. Like when somebody's first finding out that this exists within their child, they might be at a different place than if this is, you know, years and years and years into this understanding what they need to do for their child to be successful. And I've said many times the most important piece is the idea of trust. There has to be trust established between the family, between the school, and with the child, right? Like we've said many times, the three-legged stool. If everybody is not on the same page and equally putting in effort, then the whole thing is going to fall apart.And so we try to make sure that in those meetings, we make it comfortable for everybody. We're calm, and I deal with teenagers. And as we know, teenagers, their emotions are on their sleeves and they can go from zero to 100 really fast. So it's really important that we think about how we say it just as much as what we're saying.And so, as we do that, we also ask lots of questions of the child. Hey, how are you feeling about this? Or tell us more about your experience, or what do you think? Ask us any questions you might have. Because we want to make sure that at the end of the day, the child is feeling like they are getting support. So we've been intentional about trying to connect those families and saying, hey, why don't you all talk to each other and share some of your experiences?Why don't you come together and just talk through what it's like, just like you and I, it's better to hear information from another parent sometimes than it might be from the school, you know what I mean? So that's something that has really helped. And I think, especially in schools with lots of families of color, the idea of trust is really important. And building community is really important. So finding people that are trusted and people that are respected in the community to be that conduit for connection is something we work really hard at.Marissa: We obviously like to have lots of conversations around our families and our parents and our next clip that we're going to hear I think it connects to this, because as parents, as caretakers, one of our biggest fears, right, is that, and you kind of relaying this, is that you don't want your child to be treated differently. Right? You want them to receive what they deserve. You want them to have an equitable educational experience, and you don't want them to be isolated.So I'm looking forward to diving into this next clip. We have an individual named Collin. And Collin speaks on this imposter complex. He is now an adult with a PhD, and he's going to share some of his experience and what it was like going through schooling all the way from elementary school to being a doctoral student and what that looked like.Collin: I feel that the best way to treat students with learning disabilities or how I want to be treated with learning disabilities is saying like, OK, I just need, I need a specific accommodation, and that's it. And it's not a big deal. This is, I just need a reasonable accommodation. I don't want to be treated differently beyond the accommodations in my IEP. And I don't want to be called stupid. The accommodations I got in elementary school were the same accommodations I got when I was in graduate school, getting my PhD. So I think getting diagnosed early and getting those accommodations is incredibly important. Julian: Do you want to remind everybody what an accommodation is?Marissa: So an accommodation can be a variety of things. So an example of one would be something like, for example, assistive technology in the sense of having a text reader. And meaning that if a student or an individual has a hard time with reading fluency, so they might be dyslexic, there might be a lot of blurry or jumbled letters or words. And so it's not that they can't, or they don't understand. It just may take them a longer time to read. So an accommodation is something where it's not changing what we're giving them or asking them to do. It's accommodating them in this case, the text reader would read it for them. So therefore they're not stressing about actually reading it. They're able to listen to it. Like an audiobook sometimes could be used. A lot of my students use audiobooks, or there's so many different programs out there where it'll actually like, you can highlight what you would like to be read aloud. And the computer program will actually read it out loud to the individual.Now that we've heard from a few different individuals on race and the lack of opportunities with learning and thinking differences, how does it all kind of come together? Like what I, and that's a heavy question.Julian: It's messed up. This world is messed up. We gotta do better. But there's a lot of hope. And just thinking about the three different clips we heard, right? There are people from different racial groups, people from different generations, people with different roles. So all of them spoke with different experiences, but I think the theme from all of them is the idea that education is a right. And it is a right that should be experienced by everybody. And it should be experienced by everybody to a place where they are getting the services that they deserve. And then Collin coming through talking about this inspirational situation where not only is he understanding and well-versed in the accommodations that he knows he needs to help him, which speaks a lot to, we know what his experience was like. And sadly, if we went around the country and looked at students of color who have learning and thinking differences, the vast majority of them may not be able to say the same things that Collin can say.So really it's more about how can we find opportunities out there to support our students who are not getting the services that they deserve. And so the intersection really comes down to unlocking some of those opportunities that are there and making sure that the help is being received. So the stigmas that are coming with special education comes from a real place.It is the reality for many, many, many years, students of color and families of color were not receiving the appropriate services that they deserve. That's a fact. And for many, many years, and in many cases, even today, they still are not. And so, like, public education is a right. It's not a privilege. It's something that everybody should receive.I think it's something that is present, but it's getting way better than it has in the past. And organizations like Understood and organizations that are out there who are really actively trying to bridge the gap and close that gap to try to break that down and help families understand what they deserve, that's really where we got to get to the workMarissa: Yeah. And I think there's something to be said about some of the younger generations too. I think that there's a lot more push and a lot more acceptance. I think that's part of the hope as well.Julian: It's so many things that are hopeful things. There's a lot of really extraordinary things going on. And it's more about figuring out how we can make more connections between the people that need help and the people that can provide help. And at the very least sharing experiences, speaking up about what's going on on the day to day, and finding people that have common experiences, and finding people that are dealing with the same things. The more that those conversations are uplifted and the more those conversations are occurring, the better it is for everybody.So I love the fact that we got to hear from three different people who shared their own experiences, because it makes those that are listening — it's just that comfort that you get when you're like, oh wait, I know what you're talking about. I'm going through the same thing.You've been listening to "The Opportunity Gap" from the Understood Podcast Network. Do you have something you'd like to say about the issues we discussed on this podcast or a topic you'd like us to cover? Email us at We want to hear from you. If you want to learn more about the topics we covered today, check out the show notes for this episode. We include more resources as well as links to anything we mentioned in the episode.Marissa: Understood is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people who learn and think differently discover their potential and thrive. Learn more at "The Opportunity Gap" is produced by Cin Pim. Briana Berry is our production director. Andrew Lee is our editorial lead. Our theme music was written by Justin D. Wright, who also mixes the show. For the Understood Podcast Network, Laura Key is our editorial director, Scott Cocchiere is our creative director, and Seth Melnick is our executive producer.Julian: Thanks again for listening.

  • Video: What reading fluency looks like in second grade

    What does reading smoothly look like in second grade? Do second graders typically develop reading fluency? Watch this video from founding partner GreatSchools to get an idea of reading skills second graders develop.

  • Understood Explains Season 3

    IEPs: Setting IEP goals

    Learn how IEP teams set annual goals and how the IEP will measure a child’s progress. Plus, see how you can get involved. Setting IEP goals can feel tricky. They should be attainable, but not too hard or too easy — it's a bit like Goldilocks and the Three Bears.However, setting these goals is a big part of developing your child’s IEP, or Individualized Education Program. In this episode of Understood Explains, host Juliana Urtubey breaks down how IEP teams set annual goals, how parents can help, and how the IEP will measure a child’s progress. Timestamps[0:44] How do IEP teams set annual goals?[4:22] How can parents help set annual goals?[7:01] Are my child’s IEP goals aiming high enough?[8:24] How will the IEP measure my child’s progress?[11:30] What do multilingual families need to know?[12:31] Key takeawaysRelated resourcesHow to tell if your child’s IEP goals are SMARTFAQs about standards-based IEPsDownload an IEP goal trackerEpisode transcriptJuliana: A big part of developing your child's IEP is setting annual goals. But how can you tell if these goals are aiming high enough and if your child is getting enough support to reach these goals? From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "Understood Explains IEPs." On this episode, we're going to talk about how to help set IEP goals and measure your child's progress throughout the year. My name is Juliana Urtubey and I'm your host. I'm the 2021 National Teacher of the Year, and I'm an expert in special education for multilingual learners. And as a reminder, all this season's episodes are available in English y en español. OK, let's get started. [0:44] How do IEP teams set annual goals? How do IEP teams set annual goals? Each year, you and the school will work as a team to develop your child's IEP or Individualized Education Program. As a team, you'll prioritize which skills your child will work on over the next 12 months. These are the annual goals, and the IEP also provides specially designed instruction or SDIs to help your child meet these goals. I like to think of IEP goals as a staircase. Each step is one of your child's, strengths and we go step by step, floor by floor, until your child catches up with their peers. And there's a whole team of people who develop these goals. The IEP team includes a special education teacher, a general education teacher, and a school psychologist, or some other type of expert who can interpret your child's progress data. As a parent or guardian, you're a member of the IEP team too, and together you'll talk about three key things that go into setting each goal. The first is looking at your child's present level of performance. The team needs to know what your child can do right now. This includes looking at academics as well as social and emotional skills. And a quick vocab note: As the team talks about your child's present levels of performance, you may hear acronyms like PLOP or PLP, or you may hear PLAAFP, which is short for Present Level of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance. And here's the reason why goal setting starts by looking at your child's present levels. For every need that gets identified now, there should be a plan to address it. OK, so that brings us to the second key part, which is setting the annual goal or target to reach a year from now. The team will set annual goals that are ambitious but attainable. We want to aim high but also be realistic. And this is where special educators like me do something called backwards planning. We look at where we want your child's skills to be a year from now, and then we plan out all the steps we need to take to help your child reach those goals in this time frame. And that leads us to the third big part of setting IEP goals, which is specifying benchmarks or short-term objectives. These are the smaller steps that will help the team measure your child's progress over the course of the year. We're going to talk more about how to help set these annual goals or targets, and also how to track your child's progress. But before we do that, I want to remind you that IEPs are about setting goals and providing supports. The IEP team knows how to help kids make progress without overwhelming them. And here's an example. Let's say you have a fifth grader who has dyslexia. We'll call her Ariana. Ariana's reading skills are several grade levels behind where they need to be. The team will set goals for which skills to improve, like reading smoothly and accurately. The IEP will specify how much-specialized instruction Ariana will get to help make progress in these areas. Let's say the team decides she'll meet with a reading specialist for one hour, twice a week. But the IEP will also specify what assistive technology she'll get, like audiobooks, so she can keep up with her classmates in things like science and social studies. And the IEP will include accommodations, too, like getting extra time on tests or giving oral reports instead of writing out her answers. These kinds of supports will help Ariana keep learning fifth-grade materials as she works on meeting her IEP goals. [4:22] How can parents help set annual goals? So, how can parents help set annual goals? It's OK if you're not an expert in education. You're an expert in your child. You're also an equal member of the IEP team and here are some of the ways that you can help set the annual goals. First, you can suggest different kinds of goals. Academics are important, but so is getting organized, managing emotions, replacing negative behaviors. These are all common goal areas in IEPs. Remember that IEPs are individualized. So, you can advocate for whatever it is you think your child needs. I once had a student who was afraid of climbing stairs. So, we set an IEP goal about practicing using the stairs to get from one class to another. As you're thinking about which goals to prioritize, I want to be clear that there is no maximum number of goals in an IEP. But the trick is finding the right number of goals for your child. You want a number that's manageable and not overwhelming. Another thing you can do is ask how you can help at home. Should I be reading to Ariana? How can I set up a homework area to help her get her work done? What do I do if neither of us understands the directions for her homework? You and the school can also look for ways to help your child enjoy what they're learning. To try to keep it fun and feeling like these goals are reachable. Another way you can help is by asking about SMART goals. Now, SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-oriented, and Time-Bound. Setting SMART goals can help the team avoid using vague or hard-to-measure goals. Smart goals are very precise. For example, here's a SMART goal for reading fluency: By June 1st, Ariana will read 115 words per minute with 95% accuracy on four out of five tries. The goal can include other details too, like the grade level of the text she's reading, and maybe also the type of text like fiction or nonfiction. And remember that the IEP will include the present level of performance. So, it will say what Ariana's starting point is, like 80 words per minute with 85% accuracy. So, the IEP will show exactly how much progress the team is aiming for in a year.You can help by using the SMART acronym to ask questions like "Is this goal specific enough? Is it measurable?" etc. If you want to learn more, I'll put a link in the show notes to an Understood article that shows the difference between a SMART goal and a not-so-SMART goal. [7:01] Are my child's IEP goals aiming high enough? Are my child's IEP goals aiming high enough? So, this is a really tough question. In the SMART acronym that we just talked about, the A stands for Attainable. But writing attainable goals can feel a little like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. It can be tricky to make the goals not too easy, not too hard, but just right. So, there are two things that I want you to keep in mind when it comes to setting goals that are aiming high enough but are attainable. First, your child's IEP goals must be tied to the standards of their current grade level. Think back to Ariana, our fifth grader. Even though her reading fluency is a few grade levels behind, her IEP goals need to be tied to fifth-grade standards. Schools want kids to stay connected to what their peers are learning, and ultimately to stay on track to graduate. But the second thing I want you to know is that there's still some flexibility here. Just because Ariana's IEP goals are tied to fifth-grade standards doesn't mean she has to achieve grade-level reading this year. She just needs to show steady progress towards achieving grade level. Understood has a good article about standards-based IEPs. I'll put a link in the show notes and in the next section we're going to talk about what you can do if you think your child is not making enough progress. [8:24] How will the IEP measure my child's progress?  So, how will the IEP measure my child's progress? At the beginning of this episode, I mentioned that annual goals need to do three key things: Look at your child's current skill levels, set goals or targets to reach a year from now, and include short-term objectives or benchmarks to monitor your child's progress.I want to focus on the last part now. You may hear the school use different terms for this, like benchmarking and progress monitoring. Benchmarks are many goals or milestones that can help the team measure how much progress the student is making towards reaching the annual goal. Some states may require a certain number of benchmarks for each goal. For example, I taught Nevada for many years, which required three benchmarks or milestones for each goal. As a parent, you can ask the team about the benchmarks in the IEP. You can also ask for the IEP to include how often you'll receive progress updates. For my students, I would send out IEP progress reports so that they would arrive at the same time as quarterly report cards. I timed it this way so families could look at their child's grades and general education, and at the same time see the growth their child was making on their special education goals. OK, so we've talked about setting goals and using benchmarks to help monitor your child's progress. Now let's look at Ariana again. Earlier in the episode we talked about a SMART goal for reading fluency. It said that by June 1st, Ariana will read 115 words per minute with 95% accuracy on four out of five tries. As part of setting this goal, we need to come up with benchmarks to hit along the way. The benchmarks could be reaching 85 words per minute by December 1st and 100 words per minute by March 1st. And these are building up to reach that June 1st goal of reading 115 words per minute. OK, so let's say it's March 1st and Ariana is still far below that 100-word benchmark. The team may want to meet and talk about options. Like whether to adjust the goal or possibly add more services or supports, like maybe a third session each week with the reading specialist. But remember, the team is looking for ways to support your child without overwhelming your child. You can always reach out to the special education teacher or case manager to ask about your child's progress. It's good to be in touch with them on a regular basis. But you also have the right to request an IEP meeting and suggest things like more goals or services. The team doesn't have to say yes to your request, but it does have to explain in writing why it thinks the current plan is sufficient. And if you disagree with the school's decision, we've got a whole episode about that later this season. But for now, I want to encourage you to use Understood's IEP goal tracker. This is a good template for keeping track of benchmarks or mini goals and other progress monitoring data. And it can help you jot down any questions or observations you have along the way. I'll include a link in the show notes. [11:30] What do multilingual families need to know about setting IEP goals? What do multilingual families need to know about setting IEP goals? There are a few quick things I want to mention if your child's learning English. First, if you need a translator at the IEP meeting, the school needs to provide one for you. And the school should translate the IEP for you too. Second, the IEP should be clear on how much time your child will spend getting special education services. It will also specify how much time your child will spend getting language acquisition services. Special education and language acquisition aren't the same thing. The team should explain to you what a typical school day will look like for your child. And last but not least, you can ask the school to provide specially designed instruction in your child's home language. This might not be possible, but it's good to ask. It's also good for your child to keep learning in more than one language. OK, before we go, let's wrap up with a few key takeaways. [12:31] Key takeawaysIEP goals are created using three key components: Looking at how your child is performing in school now, setting goals to reach a year from now, and specifying smaller steps towards reaching those goals. IEP goals should be SMART, specific, measurable, attainable, results-oriented, and time-bound. And there's no limit on the number or type of goals that should be in an IEP. It all depends on what your child needs. All right! That's it for this episode of "Understood Explains." Next time, we're diving deep into how IEPs can help with behavior. You've been listening to "Understood Explains IEPs." This season was developed in partnership with UnidosUS, which is the nation's largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization. Gracias, Unidos! If you want to learn more about the topics we covered today, check out the show notes for this episode. We include more resources as well as links to anything we've mentioned in the episode. Understood is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people who learn and think differently discover their potential and thrive. Learn more at  CreditsUnderstood Explains IEPs was produced by Julie Rawe and Cody Nelson, with editing support by Daniella Tello-Garzon. Video was produced by Calvin Knie and Christoph Manuel, with support from Denver Milord.Mixing and music by Justin D. Wright.Ilana Millner was our production director. Margie DeSantis provided editorial support, and Whitney Reynolds was our web producer. For the Understood Podcast Network, Laura Key is our editorial director, Scott Cocchiere is our creative director, and Seth Melnick is our executive producer.Special thanks to the team of expert advisors who helped shape this season: Shivohn Garcia, Claudia Rinaldi, and Julian Saavedra.

  • Video: What reading fluency looks like in fifth grade

    In fifth grade, kids face their most challenging reading assignments yet. They’ll typically be able to read aloud smoothly and at a speed that’s easy to understand. But they may have to correct themselves from time to time. Watch this video from Understood founding partner GreatSchools to find out what else to expect from fifth-grade reading.

  • Understood Explains Season 3

    IEPs: English language learners and IEPs

    Learn how IEPs can help kids who are learning English as an additional language. Many kids in the U.S. are learning English as an additional language. For some, it may be their second, third, or fourth language. Their English skills can vary widely, too. Some kids may speak conversational English and need to learn academic words, like “add” and “subtract.” And others may be learning a lot of words in English and in their home language at the same time. So there can be a lot of different starting points for what some schools call English language learners or multilingual learners. As a parent, it can be hard to tell if you’re seeing common challenges that come with learning a new language. Or if you're seeing signs of a learning difference, like dyslexia or ADHD. Fortunately, schools can help in both of these areas. And part of that help could include an IEP, or Individualized Education Program. On this episode of Understood Explains, host Juliana Urtubey will share how. Timestamps[01:52] School supports for multilingual learners [04:32] Myths and facts[07:47] Evaluations and IEPs[10:24] Your rights as a parent or guardian [12:00] Key takeawaysRelated resourcesFor ELL families: Why and how to partner with teachersListen: Understanding common IEP challenges for families of colorHow to help if English language learners are struggling in schoolEpisode transcriptJuliana: Many kids in the U.S. are learning English as an additional language. For some kids, English may be their second or third or even fourth language. Some kids may speak conversational English and need to learn academic words like "add" and "subtract," and some kids may be learning a lot of words in English and in their home language at the same time. So there can be a lot of different starting points for what some schools call English language learners. As a parent, it can be hard to tell if you're seeing common challenges that come with learning a new language, or if you might also be seeing signs of a learning difference like dyslexia or ADHD. Schools can help in both of these areas, and I'm going to tell you how. From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "Understood Explains IEPs." On this episode, we're talking about IEPs and multilingual learners. My name is Juliana Urtubey and I'm the 2021 National Teacher of the Year. I'm also an expert in special education for multilingual learners. And I'm your host for this season of "Understood Explains," which is available in English y en español. Before we get into this episode, a quick vocab note. A lot of schools use a term "English language learner," but I prefer the term "multilingual learner." And here's why. When I first started teaching, I had a student who I'll call Jessica. Jessica was in third grade and she spoke four languages. She was using American Sign Language at home with her parents, who are both deaf. She spoke Tagalog with her Lola, her grandmother from the Philippines, and Spanish with her abuelita from Mexico, and she was learning English at school. Jessica was so much more than just an English language learner. She's what I like to call linguistically gifted.So, I want to start this episode by giving a shout out to all the multilingual learners who, like Jessica, have many strengths that aren't always fully recognized in school. [01:52] School supports for multilingual learners OK, there are two kinds of school supports I want you to know about for multilingual learners. First, there's English language development, and this is the class that helps students learn how to listen, speak, read, and write in English. Some schools call it English as a second language or ESL. There's also English as a new language, and some schools call it English for multilingual students. So, this class can be called many things, and it teaches two kinds of language skills that you might hear the school talk about. First, there's BICS, which is short for Basic interpersonal communication skills. BICS is a term for conversational English. It involves common words that people use in everyday life, like saying you want to eat an apple or that you can't find your backpack. Kids tend to develop these social language skills pretty quickly, often within six months to two years. The other set of language skills you may hear the school talk about is called CALP. This is short for cognitive academic language proficiency, and this is the term for more formal language that gets used in classrooms and textbooks. CALP covers academic language. According to Jim Cummins' BICS and CALP theory, these language skills can take a lot longer to develop. A lot of kids may have not learned these academic words in their home language in school. They may even take 5 to 7 years to reach this kind of fluency in English. OK, so BICS and CALP are important acronyms for parents to know, and schools can help kids develop both of these kinds of language skills. Now there's a totally different type of school service called special education. And this is designed to meet the unique needs of each child who has a disability. This might involve teaching some of the same skills that are taught in ESL class, but these skills are taught in a different way. Here's an example. Let's say a child is a native Spanish speaker and has dyslexia. So, the regular way of teaching reading in English class won't be enough to help them make progress. They need specialized instruction, just like a native English speaker with dyslexia would. Special education and ESL aren't the same thing. But your child can get supports in both if they need them, and your child can get both at the same time, like getting specialized reading instruction in Spanish while they keep working on their English skills in their language acquisition class. Later in this episode, we'll get into specifics on how to tell if your child needs English language instruction and special education, and how these services can fit together. But first, I want to spend the next section busting a few myths about disabilities. [04:32] Myths and facts Earlier this season we had a whole episode about special education myths. I want to mention four myths that are especially important for families of multilingual students to know. Myth number one: Speaking more than one language can confuse kids to the point of causing some sort of disability. I know a lot of families worry about this, so I want to be really clear here. Talking with your child in your native language while they're learning English can not cause a learning difference or disability. Our kids learn languages at different paces and that's OK. It's actually good for your child's brain to learn more than one language. So keep exposing your child to more words and ideas in your native language. The more knowledge your child builds, the more knowledge they can transfer into English. Myth number two: You can tell someone has a disability just by looking at them. This myth goes along with another common misconception that only kids with severe physical or intellectual disabilities qualify for special education. But the truth is that many students have disabilities like ADHD and dyslexia. These are hard to notice just by looking at someone, unless you see them trying to read out loud. You may not know that they have a reading disability like dyslexia, and unless you can climb inside their head and see all the thoughts racing around, you may not know that they have ADHD. These kinds of learning differences are very common, and kids can thrive in school if they get the right support. Myth number three: Kids who are well-behaved don't need more support in school. For example, in Spanish-speaking cultures, when someone is polite and kind, we say "Es muy educado." This means that they're very educated. If a child is well-behaved, many Latino families may think it's a sign that their child is doing well in school. But the truth is that many kids are quietly struggling in school. Their struggles can be overlooked. Or maybe the teacher has noticed but can't do more until you give permission. I know many families may think it's not their place or their role to ask the school if their child needs more support. But the key thing to remember here is that in the United States, teachers want to hear from you. Understood has a good article on why teachers want to partner with multilingual families, and tips to help you do this. I'll put a link in the show notes. Myth number four is about immigration enforcement. A lot of families worry that getting school services may increase the risk of getting deported. Things like meeting with the school and signing paperwork can be a big source of worry. If there's a member in the family who is undocumented. But the truth is that all children have a right to a free and public education, regardless of whether the student or their parents are citizens. And schools, as well as school bus stops are sensitive locations. This means immigration enforcement cannot happen in these places. Schools also have to follow rules about confidentiality. They cannot share paperwork with police or immigration enforcement unless there's a big emergency, like a threat to national security or public safety. So, remember, schools are safe places and they want to help your child succeed. Understood has an article with even more myths about special education and English language learners. I'll put a link in the show notes if you want to dive deeper. [07:47] Evaluations and IEPsThere are four things I want families to know about evaluations and IEPs for multilingual learners. First, you don't have to wait for your multilingual learner to be evaluated for special education. Schools often want to wait and see if skills like reading and writing improve when a student's English improves. But this could leave your child struggling for years without the right support. So, you don't have to wait. You can ask for an evaluation now. Second, you can help the school understand your child. As a parent, you know a lot of things about your child's history that are very important to share with the evaluation team. Sharing this information can help the team tease apart challenges that are related to language acquisition and challenges that are related to something else, like ADHD or dyslexia. And here are some of the kinds of details you can share. You can talk about your child's developmental milestones. For example, when your child was a baby or a toddler. Did you have any concerns about when they started walking or talking in their home language? You can also help by telling the school what you've been noticing at home. For example, if your child struggles with reading or following directions in your home language. Another way you can help is by telling the team about your child's schooling up until now. Did your child ever go to a school where their home language is spoken? If so, up until what grade? And it's also important to tell the team if your child has missed a lot of school. For example, maybe you moved around a lot. Or maybe it took a long time to get to the United States from your home country. It will help the school know if there are gaps in your child's education. You can also talk to your child's language instruction teacher and make sure they play a big role in the evaluation process. You can also ask the school to evaluate your child's skills in English and in your home language. OK, here's a third important thing I want you to know. If your child qualifies for an IEP, make sure the IEP includes both language acquisition goals and special education goals. Ask the team how much time your child will get, language services, and how much time your child will get special education services each week. The IEP should give you a really clear idea of what your child's school day will look like. And last but not least, ask the school if your child can get specialized instruction in subjects like reading or math in your home language. This might not be possible in every school, but you can advocate for what you think your child needs. Understood has a good article on how to help multilingual learners who are struggling in school. The article includes some really important questions to ask. I'll put a link in the show notes. [10:24] Your rights as a parent or guardian As a parent or guardian, you have many rights under special education law, and I want to highlight a few that are especially important for parents of multilingual learners. One of the most important rights involves the very beginning of the special education process. The school cannot evaluate your child for special education unless you give permission. And if your child qualifies for an IEP, the school cannot start providing special education services until you sign off on the plan. And this leads me to another really important right. You have the right to understand what's happening with your child's education, so you shouldn't sign off on your child's IEP until you understand and agree with what's in it. And you can also ask to get frequent updates from the IEP team. Maybe once a month or once each quarter. Think about how often you'd like to get updates. But right about now, you may be wondering "What if my English isn't very good?" You have the right to ask for a translator to help you understand what's happening at IEP meetings. So, if you aren't 100% comfortable speaking or understanding English, ask for a translator. The school must provide you one. The school also needs to translate any letters it sends to you about your child's IEP, and the school should translate your child's IEP too. If the school doesn't do this automatically, you can show them a letter from the U.S. Department of Education that says schools should translate IEPs. I'll put a link in the show notes, and if you want to learn more about special education terms and legal rights that are important for all parents to know, go back and listen to Episode 6. [12:00] Key takeawaysOK, before we go, let's sum up with some key takeaways. Learning another language cannot cause a learning difference or disability. Disabilities can be hard to notice, and even kids who are well-behaved may need more support in school. If you're multilingual, child is getting evaluated for special education. Make sure they're getting tested in English and in your home language. As a parent, you have a lot of rights, including having the school translate information into your native language. And finally, schools are safe spaces. Getting school services will not increase your risk of immigration enforcement. All right. That's it for this episode of "Understood Explains." I hope you'll join me next time when we'll talk about IEPs for young kids, for tweens, and for teens. You've been listening to "Understood Explains IEPs." This season was developed in partnership with UnidosUS, which is the nation's largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization. Gracias, Unidos! If you want to learn more about the topics we covered today, check out the show notes for this episode. We include more resources as well as links to anything we've mentioned in the episode. Understood is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people who learn and think differently discover their potential and thrive. Learn more at CreditsUnderstood Explains IEPs was produced by Julie Rawe and Cody Nelson, with editing support by Daniella Tello-Garzon. Video was produced by Calvin Knie and Christoph Manuel, with support from Denver Milord.Mixing and music by Justin D. Wright.Ilana Millner was our production director. Margie DeSantis provided editorial support, and Whitney Reynolds was our web producer. For the Understood Podcast Network, Laura Key is our editorial director, Scott Cocchiere is our creative director, and Seth Melnick is our executive producer.Special thanks to the team of expert advisors who helped shape this season: Shivohn Garcia, Claudia Rinaldi, and Julian Saavedra.

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  • In It

    Parenting the kids you have: One mom’s story

    A child’s learning or thinking difference can take any parent by surprise. One mom shares how her daughter’s diagnosis changed her parenting. Most parents start their parenting journey with ideas of what it will be like, and what their kids will be like. But what happens when your expectations don’t match reality? How do things change when you find out your child has a learning or thinking difference? In this episode, hosts Gretchen Vierstra and Rachel Bozek welcome Suzie Glassman, a writer and mom of two kids. Suzie shares how her parenting changed after her daughter was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia. Find out how she parents to meet the needs of the kids she has, rather than the kids she thought she’d have. Learn how she celebrates her kids for who they are, and how she’s letting go of parenting shame.Related resources Parenting guilt: Tips to get past itDyslexia: Ways to help your child at homeMore stories from Suzie: Parenting the neurodivergent kids I have, not the kids I thought I’d haveMy daughter’s dyslexia showed me I was doing parent-teacher conferences all wrongEpisode transcriptGretchen: From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "In It," a podcast about the ins and outs... Rachel: ...the ups and downs,Gretchen: ...of supporting kids who learn and think differently. I'm Gretchen Vierstra, a former classroom teacher and an editor here at Understood. Rachel: And I'm Rachel Bozek, a writer and editor with a family that's definitely in it. Today, we're talking about learning to parent the kids you have... Gretchen: opposed to the kids you maybe thought you'd have, before your actual kids came along. Rachel: Our guest today is Suzie Glassman, a journalist who wrote a beautiful story for Understood on this topic. Gretchen: Suzie has a son she says can be somewhat impulsive, and a daughter — two years younger — who has a diagnosis of dyslexia and ADHD. Rachel: We're so grateful she joined us on the podcast for this very honest conversation about learning to be the parent your kids need. Gretchen: Suzie, welcome to "In It." Suzie: Thank you! Gretchen: We're so excited to talk with you today. And so we're going to take things back all the way to the beginning. Suzie: OK! Gretchen: So, when you began your journey as a mom — first with your son and then with a second child, your daughter — tell us how you pictured them, what you imagined they would be like, what you imagined parenting would be like? Suzie: I mean, it's a good question because especially with their first child, I didn't really have a huge picture of what motherhood was going to be like. I just thought that I would have sort of normal kids with normal behavior and everybody thinks that they're going to be the shining example of, you know, you see what everybody else does and "Oh, I'll never do that kind of thing."Gretchen: Right! Suzie: But I certainly didn't expect some of the challenges. Rachel: So, when did you start to notice that things weren't going exactly as you had imagined they would go or that you had kind of planned even if you didn't even realize you were planning? Do any particularly frustrating moments stand out? Suzie: I mean, the things that stand out to me, it was when I had them both, right? They're 23 months apart. So, when they got to be around two and four, at playdates or playgroups. I had one who would cling to me, right? And another, you know, he would be rambunctious or, the other kids would sort of follow along and do the craft and my kid's off running circles around the room. And it's kind of like, "Ugh, everyone's staring at me." And, you know, in a restaurant, like my kid's the one who's like, throwing everything on the floor and we're lucky if we get 20 minutes before we're, like, panicking and where's the bill? And we have to leave. And then I would just sort of pay attention to these other kids who would just sit quietly and color. And mine wouldn't do that. Yeah, I mean that's kind of when I first started to notice and then there became a lot of "What am I doing wrong?" Right. It became a lot more... not so much "What's different about them?" as "What are these parents doing that I'm not?" Gretchen: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Looking at other parents and wondering, right? I know a lot of us do that as parents. So when you're going to these places and you notice like, you know, you said your son's like running around while everyone else is doing the craft, like, did you try to make them fit the mold of all these other kids? Suzie: Yeah, I think I did for a long time. So, I would get frustrated or upset or like, bribe. Like "OK, if you just sit down and do this, when we leave we'll get ice cream," right? You know, all of those sorts of things, giving them, you know, an iPad or a tablet at a restaurant just to get them to sit in a seat long enough for my husband and I to have a conversation and enjoy a meal. So, there was a lot of what I would say, I guess, you know, the word is bribing them to behave in the way that I wanted them to. Or like "Well, wait till we get home" and "If you can't behave then you're not going to get your favorite treat" or "You're not going to get to watch Sesame Street" or whatever it was, right? So, it was either bribing them with rewards or threatening them with punishment. And none of it works, by the way. None of it works. Gretchen: Yeah, it never does. Suzie: It never does, it never does.  Gretchen I know, it really doesn't. Rachel: So, what happened then that led you to change your approach? Did you have like an "aha" moment that sometimes come to us when we least expect it, where you were just kind of like, "Oh OK, like maybe this is what it is, this is what I have to look at" versus just like "I'm doing it wrong." Suzie: Right, I want to say the "aha" moment came much later. I wish it had come sooner, but it was really when my daughter got diagnosed. So, they had started school. My son is pretty neurotypical, especially when it comes to school, so learning was pretty easy for him. He learned to read very easily. He's an advanced reader and he's two years ahead of her. So, when she started school and things were not easy for her, in my head, I thought, "Well, maybe she's normal and he's advanced and this is just how it's supposed to be." And then like many people, when the pandemic hit and they were home for school, I could see like, "Oh, this is not normal." She's not keeping up with her class. These struggles that she's having with reading, they go well past where she should be by this point, and she was in third grade. And so that's when we had her tested. And that — when I learned that she has dyslexia and then later we went into the ADHD diagnosis — that was the light bulb moment that became, "OK, she's not just misbehaved or can't pay attention, I think this is the way her brain works."And so that's what really led me to start thinking that all of these expectations and sort of dreams that I had for them are going to have to change. Rachel: So, did your son get a diagnosis as well? Suzie: Sort of. I mean, I would say he could potentially have ADHD. He's never been through the formal evaluation process. She was nine, he was 11. Some of it was like, well, is he just, you know, a boy and these are normal boy behaviors? I do think that he might have some mild — more with impulsivity and things like that — issues. But certainly not in the way that she does. Rachel: Got it. So when you got this dyslexia diagnosis, how did you feel? Suzie: You know, on the one hand, it felt somewhat devastating and on the other hand, it felt like a huge relief. And I will say that the relief came in the fact that, from, since kindergarten, I had these gut instincts that said "Something's not right here." But for years, her teachers were like, "She's fine, she's fine. She'll catch up, like, she's normal," you know? And then to have that validated, all the feelings that I'd had about her is like a flood of just like, tears wash over me in the sense that, like, I'm not crazy, right? And then, you know, the devastation part was an interesting feeling that I had to examine in myself. And that's when I started really thinking, I'm like, I remember saying to my sister in law like "She's just not going to be a straight-A student." And that's because I was, and learning for me was easy, a bit effortless. I think I was a little bit heartbroken that school was going to be hard for her in a way that now — since I know so much more about dyslexia and somewhat of the advantages it gives her — I don't feel that same heartbreak that I did. But I mean, to be honest, when I first learned it was a bit of panic and fear. You know, I remember someone telling me "This is not a diagnosis that means like, that she's not capable of anything." But I think there's just when you know very little about it, it can definitely be scary. Rachel: Yeah. And I think that fear is such a big part of, like, the hurdle, right? Like to even get to like, "So now what?" Like, that's a lot to process. Suzie: Yeah, it is a lot to process. It's gotten easier, for sure, like that was about three years ago. And I would say even then it wasn't maybe until about a year ago when I heard this concept of "parenting the child that you have," right? and not not the child that you want. So even though I knew how they were, and I say they because when they're together they feed off each other. So I love telling the story of when we were in one of those like big department stores shopping for winter coats. And my kids are just running all over the store and hiding in the clothing racks and giggling and just one of those classic, embarrassing parent moments that's like, "Oh my gosh, why can't my kids just sit down, right?" And so, any little bit of hyperactivity he has when they're together, it's just like explosive. And I remember hearing that comment like "Parent the child you have," made me really want to understand more about how they tick, who they are, and what they need, versus what I think they should be. Rachel: So, once you kind of had that in your mind, how did that or did it change your approach to parenting? Like, what did that mindset do for you? Suzie: I would say it changed things quite significantly because I stopped yelling at this behavior that they can't necessarily control. You know, we try to watch a movie or spend some time together, and the fact that my daughter needs to get up and she loves to flip around on the couch and she's just always doing cartwheels and just getting that same energy out, the classic, you know, she's driven by a motor sort of thing. And that thing used to really irritate me. And now it's like, "That is who she is," right? You know, we're watching a movie, she's paying attention and like, she's not being disruptive. She's just behind the couch doing cartwheels, right? And so I'm not fighting that so much anymore. I have been lucky enough or are maybe smart enough to surround her with other teachers and instructors who get that, and so who are also accepting of sort of the energy breaks that she needs, or understanding that she may not be looking directly at you, but she is paying attention. And then with my son, you know, same sort of thing, but really trying to understand the things that he enjoys, the things that motivate him. And I will say, one of the biggest things that that happened is I gave up on grades being this sign of success and achievement and more focusing more on effort than grades. I understand that, for my daughter who can put in 3 to 4 times the effort and not get the grade, that my son who can just study for ten minutes and pull out and A. So I don't reward the grades. I really look to reward effort more so than anything else. Yeah. Rachel: Just one thing you said kind of caught my ear about, you know, like the constant movement when you're watching TV or just kind of like not having those experiences in the kind of conventional way or the way you may have pictured it. And you mentioned something in one of your articles that's on Understood where you said like "People aren't going to remember her because she ran up and down the aisles during the movie" right? Like, that's not the thing. And so, it's kind of like choosing your battles and it's like, that's an OK thing to just kind of let go. Suzie: Yeah, absolutely. It's like learning to let go of those things that you think are sort of conventional norms. Like, you're in this environment and this is how you're supposed to behave, and if you don't, then there should be punishment or consequence. And now it's like, "OK, well, if you're not hurting anything." I like to think about in doctor's offices, I used to just be mortified because they love to sit on the doctor's chair that, like, spins around, you know? And I'd be like, "No, you have to sit on the table!" And I'm like, "Fine, spin around in the chair."It's just kind of letting go of some of those things. And I think it's enhanced our relationship because they have more trust in me to understand them and not to just yell at these behaviors that sometimes they just can't control. Rachel: I want to talk about parent-teacher conferences for a minute, because you wrote a piece for us about realizing that you had to change your approach to those meetings. That maybe what you were looking for and expecting was getting in the way of some of those harder conversations you needed to have. Can you talk to us about those conferences with your daughter's teachers? Suzie: Of course. So one of the things that I believe — and you guys probably know this more than I do, with girls and ADHD — is that a lot of times they go under the radar because they can be very well-behaved in class. Rachel: Yup.Suzie: Because, you know, she's obviously a little bit, have that inattentive, but also her processing speed is also very slow. So she doesn't interrupt, right? She doesn't — these classical sort of boy behaviors that get them in trouble and obviously girls do them, too but, you know — act out, interrupt, talk in class a lot. Like, she doesn't talk very much, she's very well-behaved because she's actually afraid to speak up, right? She's afraid to blurt out an answer because she doesn't think that she knows it. So parent-teacher conferences, especially in the beginning for her, because my son had always had that "He talks too much," right. So for her, it was like "We just love your daughter," you know, "She's so great, she's so sweet," which is all those things that you want to hear, as a parent. So you realize after you left, like wait, we didn't even talk about her academics or how she's doing. And I don't know, I read somewhere that, you know, teachers don't get a lot of training in how to deliver kind of what might be considered bad news or concerns or things like that. So when they're looking at a child like my daughter — who's just very much kind of in line with how they're supposed to be — and then maybe she's not reading aloud in class or maybe she is, you know, not she's a little bit behind the others, but not a lot. She's not very vocal, so I don't think she just called any attention to herself. So those parent-teacher conferences, initially were like "Oh, great!" right? And then we had one in second grade, I remember, and it was in the spring. It was right before everything shut down for Covid. And her school, they don't get grades in elementary school. It's like "Meets expectations," "Doesn't meet or like, exceed expectations," right? And everything was like "Approaching expectations."And I asked the teachers like, "Well, what does it mean, like 'approaching expectations?'" Because I said, "Well, what if she finishes second grade and she's 'approaching expectations?' does that mean she's not, she didn't learn what she was supposed to learn?" Like, I didn't understand. Rachel: Right. Suzie: Is the first I ever thought to like, question this, and...Rachel: Yeah, is a good question. Suzie: Right! And her teacher was, again, I got the like "Well she doesn't score well on the test, but from what I see in the classroom, she's fine." So it became maybe like, well, maybe she's just an anxious test-taker. And when we left, I still felt really uneasy and we scheduled a meeting with the principal to talk to him because I was like, "I don't, I'm not getting clear answers." Like, don't know what "approaching expectations" means. I don't know, you know, talking about things we're seeing at home, like she reads really slowly, she's exhausted, you know, after reading four lines of text, right? all of these things. And he said, you know, the last words were like, "Well, we'll look into it," right? And then Covid happened. Yeah. And then she was home, which, you know, which then led me to get her evaluated. But that was kind of our parent-teacher conference leading up to that. And I notice even now — you know, now that she has the diagnosis — there's still a bit of a fear I notice on teachers. I try to make them more comfortable because they don't want to say like, "OK, well, she tested in that, I think she was like 13th percentile for oral reading fluency." And I'm like, "No, that's OK!" I feel like I'm reassuring them in a way. Like, I understand that's where we're at, let's deal with that in a way. So parent-teacher conferences are still interesting, and I think there's a lot that could be done. I don't blame the teachers at all. I just think that there's not a lot of training in how do we talk to parents about these issues? Rachel: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. You mentioned earlier, you referred to your daughter's dyslexia as having plus sides or kind of like some benefits. And so, I wondered, what have you discovered about both of your kids in terms of like their strengths or their, you know, we say sometimes superpowers that you didn't see before when you were maybe more focused on like what was going wrong, that now you see as like a plus. Suzie: The thing about my daughter that, now that I know her brain works differently, I think I almost seek it out in a way. Like she and I will have these conversations where I'm like, "Wow, that's, you know, that's really interesting thought, like, tell me more." Whereas at first I might be like "Well, that's not accurate" you know, or like, you know, she would say something about the moon and I would be like "No, the moon is this." And then now it's like, oh, let's see, trying to see things more through her lens and the way she sees the world. And it's really interesting, she talks about like, she'll see a car and be like, "I wonder how they came up with the design for that car," right? Or so be like, "I wonder who invented that." She's talking about stuff like that all the time. Whereas I might be in the past like, "Well, just Google it," right? and now it's like, "Well, who do you think?" Now it's like, "What do you think they were thinking? Right? And I, like I'm just so into and she's like, "Mom, why are you asking me questions?" I'm like, just "Your brain, like, it's so fascinating to me I just want to understand," right? Oh, and the other thing I would say about my daughter that I think is really cool is she's very intuitive in a way about how other people are feeling. And so she has this really cool way of saying, and she's in middle school now, and she'll talk about some of the drama or something. And I'll say, "Well, are you OK? Did that affect you?" And she's like, "Mom, she's 12, she's just going through something," right? And it's like... right? she's just very like sympathetic... Rachel: Wise beyond her years, right? Suzie: Yeah, exactly. Like very forgiving of people. Very, like, understanding of when somebody is in a place. And for my son, I think one of the differences I look at is what is it about the things that he gravitates to just on his own without any prompting? He loves facts, figures. He has good like, memorization skills, those sorts of things. And I think some of his strengths are also like he's very much a leader. He's always had kids that just kind of gravitate to him. He loves being around kids, you know, those things that before I would have maybe not thought so much as a strength, but now I see that as things like in the future, like "Hey, you could really work with kids." And he loves like broadcasting or things like that, because he can remember facts really well. So, those are things to me that I play up more than just, you know, getting a good grade in science. It's like, OK, what you know, what are the skills that you have that are really going to serve you well in life? And then how can we develop those in ways that will make you even stronger? Rachel: That's great. I mean, I love that, you know, you have this you know, this angle now of parenting the kids you have and really focusing on their strengths. We talk a lot about that at Understood. But we all don't do that right from the start. You know, as parents, we might have faltered and I know you've written a little bit about some of the shame you might have felt of feeling like you were trying to fit your kids into what you saw as the norm. So, what advice do you have about parents who might regret something that they had done in the past or like, you know, or feeling shameful about how they might have parented their kids before they knew about their diagnosis? Suzie: Yeah, I will echo that, that is a very valid way to feel. It's honest and it's upsetting sometimes to think like, oh I remember back to just these battles, these homework battles we would have, right? And "You're just not paying attention" and "You're not trying hard enough" and "You're just being lazy and you're so smart, why don't you get this?" Right? And I did feel a lot of guilt and regret over that because none of that was her fault. She was actually probably trying harder than any kid, right? Because no child doesn't want to please their parent, right? Like she was trying really hard. But the way I handled that, I remember maybe six months or so later, I just apologized to her, right? And she was nine and I don't know how much she understood, but, you know, I just said "Hey, like I realized that I was treating you this way and I want you to know that I see how hard you are trying and I see the effort you put in. And I know that you were doing your best and I'm sorry I didn't recognize that and I didn't treat you that way. And, you know, just like I'm really going to try to understand you and understand what you're going through. And also I'm going to try to get you all of the help that you need to be successful and to understand, you know, that you're not dumb or any of these things that you might have thought, you know?" And I remember her response was like, "OK!", you know, that I'm sure that, you know, I'm sure somewhere along the line, like it really sunk in. Rachel: No, they get it. Suzie: Yeah, yeah. She did get it. And then it's just kind of forgiving myself. And then, I will say, because I know Understood has the "Wunder Community," I think finding other parents — or as myself, a mom, other moms — has been one of the biggest things that I could have done for myself to understand, like, "OK, I'm not on an island here." When I started talking about her diagnosis, I found maybe five people in my neighborhood whose children were also either dyslexic or ADHD. One had an auditory processing disorder. And so all of a sudden, I had a network I didn't know was out there and I will say that has been one of the saving graces of all of this. It's you know, I can put out there "Guys I'm looking for, I need a tutor, you know, who knows Orton-Gillingham" or, you know, some of these instructional methods that are great for kids with dyslexia. And then, you know, says, "Oh, try this person" or, you know, and sometimes it's just finding like "I'm looking for... she, you know, she needs to get tested for this, like, where can I go?"Or saying like, "Hey, you know, my child's doing this. Is it normal?" Right? And then just having people come back and say, "Yeah, I'm going through that, too." I know you guys were talking a lot about the holidays coming up and how to deal with sensory processing challenges and, you know, some of these things that like make us feel very ashamed as a parent. Like, especially when you're with family and family can be sometimes the most judgmental of all. But then just kind of being able to call a friend and laugh about it, right? Like my mother-in-law, she's like insisting we do this, right? And then you just kind of laugh and it just eases the tension a bit. So, yeah, I would definitely say there's nothing to be embarrassed about. There's so many kids. And I think the more that we recognize that and the more community we build, the better off we all are. Rachel: Yeah. Suzie: Yeah. Gretchen: And I just love your advice and story about the apology. You know, I just, I feel like no one ever apologized to me when I was a kid, you know, like, I don't think that was something people did. Suzie: No! Gretchen: But like we do it now and I think it's good like to just acknowledge like we all make mistakes and we're all still learning. Suzie: Yeah. Well, you know what's cool is that when you apologize to them, I think they learn to apologize to you, right? In a way, like last night, you know, she's in dance and after dance, she was kind of rude to me, right? And she's also 12. But, I mean, maybe 10-15 minutes after she calmed down, she came back and said, "Mom, I'm really sorry." Right? And I think that she learned that from like, sort of me and her dad modeling that behavior to her, so.Gretchen: Yeah. That's awesome. You got an apology for tween-teen behavior. Suzie: Right, right. Yeah. Rachel: Well, thank you so much for talking about all this, Suzie. Gretchen: Yes, Thank you so much. Suzie: Yeah, well, thank you guys for having me. I could talk all day, all day about this, so I appreciate it. Rachel: If you want to read Suzie's articles about parenting the kids you have and about changing your own approach to parent-teacher conferences, we've got links to those and other related articles in our show notes. Gretchen: You've been listening to "In It" from the Understood Podcast Network. Rachel: This show is for you. So we want to make sure you're getting what you need. Email us at to share your thoughts. We love hearing from you. Gretchen: If you want to learn more about the topics we covered today, check out our show notes. We include more resources as well as links to anything we mentioned in the episode. Rachel: is a resource dedicated to helping people who learn and think differently, discover their potential and thrive. Learn more at Gretchen: "In It" is produced by Julie Subrin. Ilana Millner is our production director. Justin D. Wright mixes the show. Mike Ericco wrote our theme music. Rachel: For the Understood Podcast Network, Laura Key is our editorial director, Scott Cocchiere is our creative director, and Seth Melnick is our executive producer. Thanks for listening. Gretchen: And thanks for always being "in it" with us.

  • How to help kids become more fluent readers

    Reading fluency is the ability to read at a good pace, with accuracy, and with the right expression. Fluent readers also understand what they’re reading.Here are some ways kids can improve their fluency:Listen to models of fluent reading, like read-alouds. Audiobooks can also be great models of reading fluency. Practice sight words so kids can automatically recognize words.Have kids read a short text at their reading level several times. Count how many words they read correctly in one minute. Record the results on a graph. Repeat several times. (This is called “repeated readings.”) Soon they’ll see that their speed and accuracy improve. Read a sentence together. Then draw slash marks to “chunk” the text into meaningful phrases of three to five words. Kids should take a short pause at the slash marks when reading.

  • Teacher tip: A simple technique to help your child read fluently

    As educators, we often say that reading fluency is the bridge between decoding and reading comprehension. Fluent readers can read text smoothly using the right tone and expression.Fluency is a challenge for lots of kids. That’s especially true for grade-schoolers who are starting to read more complex text. Even kids who have good decoding and word recognition skills can struggle with fluency.These kids often read word by word, rather than by chunking groups of words. As a result, they may sound choppy and robotic when they read. Their reading comprehension can suffer because of this, too.One way I help my students build fluency is by practicing chunking text into small, meaningful phrases. Research shows this can also help kids improve comprehension.You can practice chunking text with your child at home. Here’s how to get started.First, find a short passage from a book or piece of text at your child’s reading level. Write the text on a sheet of paper, or type the text and print it out.Let’s use this sentence from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix as an example:The frosty grass crunched under their feet as they hurried down the sloping lawns towards the stadium. Using your best judgment, draw a slash mark between meaningful phrases. The slash will signal when to take a short pause when reading.You’ll find that most slash marks are between groups of two to five words. When you come to punctuation marks, like commas and periods, draw a double slash to indicate a longer pause. As you add slashes, talk it through with your child. Explain why you’re adding slashes in certain spots.Here’s what that same text looks like with slashes.The frosty grass / crunched under their feet / as they hurried down / the sloping lawns / towards the stadium. // After that, model fluent reading for your child. Read the chunked text aloud with expression and at a conversational pace, so your child can mimic you. Remember to pause at the slash marks.Have your child read the passage aloud next. Kids should re-read the chunked text three or four times. This way they can hear themselves read the phrases for meaning multiple times. Repeated readings like this are key to achieving fluency.From there, practice chunking text using other short pieces at your child’s instructional or independent reading level.Here’s another example, from Roald Dahl’s The Minpins:And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it. And above all, // watch / with glittering eyes / the whole world around you / because the greatest secrets / are always hidden / in the most unlikely places. // Those / who don't believe in magic / will never find it. // Reading fluency develops over time with lots of repetition and practice. Chunking text is one of the best ways I know of to cross the bridge between decoding and reading comprehension.Read more ways to help your child improve reading fluency.

  • Reading speed and fluency: What you need to know

    Reading speed is the number of words a person can read correctly per minute. Reading speed is also called reading rate. It’s part of a broader skill called reading fluency. This is the term for being able to read accurately at a good pace and with the right expression or intonation.When kids can read fluently, it’s a pretty good sign that they understand what they’re reading. That’s why reading fluency is one of the measures schools use to track progress as children learn how to read.To test reading fluency, kids are given paragraphs or a list of words to read out loud. Their score is how many words they can read in a minute. The score reports how accurate they are and how fast they are. Learn more about reading speed and fluency.Why reading fluency mattersReading words at a good pace for their age is a pretty good sign that kids are sounding out words accurately (decoding) and getting to the point where they’re recognizing some words instantly. “Slow readers” may be struggling to sound out each word. Their reading speed may also make it harder for them to understand what they’re reading.How does reading rate affect reading comprehension? Children need to “hold on to” the words they’re reading long enough to see how they work together to make meaning. The longer it takes to read each word, the harder it is to connect the words in a sentence, paragraph, or story.Is a “good reader” a fast reader?Not necessarily. Being a good reader involves much more than hitting a certain words-per-minute target. Some kids are very thorough. Working carefully and at a slightly slower pace doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a problem.“Being a good reader involves much more than hitting a certain words-per-minute target.” Good readers read with expression. They read like they speak. For example, their voice will go up at the end of a sentence if it ends in a question mark. This skill of adding meaning through intonation is called prosody. Prosody and reading speed are both big parts of reading fluency.Kids who read well also think about what they’re reading. They make connections to things they already know, and they think critically about the text to form their own opinions or ideas. If kids can do these things but work a little more slowly than their peers, then reading rate likely isn’t something to be concerned about.But it can be a concern if kids have trouble understanding letter-sound relationships or blending sounds together to read. There are some common learning and thinking differences that can affect a child’s reading rate. Slow processing speed can also affect it. So if you think your child is struggling, don’t hesitate to talk to the teacher.Questions to ask teachers about reading speedIf you have any concerns about reading rate or reading fluency, talk to your child’s teacher. Here are a few questions you can ask:What’s the average reading speed for kids my child’s age or in my child’s grade level?How much slower is my child reading than the expected rate?Has my child’s reading rate changed over time? Has it increased some or stayed pretty much the same?Do you have more concerns about my child’s reading, other than the reading rate?What do you recommend to help my child improve?You may want to watch a video on how schools provide extra instruction to struggling readers, too.There are lots of things you can do to help improve your child’s reading skills at home. And learn more about why some kids have trouble with reading.

  • What are sight words?

    Sight words are common words that schools expect kids to recognize instantly. Words like the, it, and and appear so often that beginning readers reach the point where they no longer need to try to sound out these words. They recognize them by sight.Building up a large base of sight words helps kids become faster, more fluent readers. When kids master a sight word, they no longer have to pause to blend its letter-sounds together. And they don’t have to think about spelling rules. Some schools call sight words high-frequency words. Other terms for sight words include star words, core words, and popcorn words. Why popcorn? Because these words “pop up” so frequently in reading and writing. Learn more about reading fluency and why it’s important. 

  • 4 reasons to keep reading to your grade-schooler

    Reading out loud to kids is valuable even after they’ve learned to read themselves. That’s especially true for kids who learn and think differently, who may have a harder time reading and need more encouragement. Here are four reasons to keep reading to kids in grade school.1. It helps kids build vocabulary.When kids read to themselves, they have to juggle all the demands of reading. That includes sounding out words, stringing together sentences, and making sense of what they're reading. But when you read out loud to kids, you expose them to new words in a way that makes it easier to process.Having a strong vocabulary helps kids read more automatically. It can also give them confidence and a solid base for learning new words, even when you’re not there.2. It demonstrates reading fluency.Once kids learn to sound out letters and string together words, they need to practice using expression as they read. A question mark, for example, indicates a question. But how does that sound when you read it? What do italics sound like?Listening to someone read aloud lets kids hear what fluent reading sounds like. And that helps them become fluent readers themselves.3. It exposes kids to more advanced books.Kids typically want to read about kids their age or a little older. They also want to read about topics that seem relevant to their own lives. But those books may be above their reading level.Reading aloud to kids lets them enjoy stories written at a higher level, with more complex themes and more mature characters. It gives them a break from struggling with the skills they’d need to read advanced books independently. And it gives kids a taste of what’s in store for them as their reading improves.4. It shows kids how to make meaning from what they read.When you read aloud, you help your child develop the building blocks of comprehension. Listening to you read allows kids to understand the story without using attention to decode words. It also lets kids see the strategies you use to make meaning.You can help your child by pointing out these strategies as you read. You can say things like, “Oh, I get it now. Harry is Matilda’s brother,” or “Wait, I’m confused. Who is this Harry?” You can also engage your kids by encouraging them to predict what will happen, figure out the causes for the characters’ actions, and summarize the story so far: “Do you think they’re going to get into trouble? Why?” “Lily seems sad. Why do you think she’s feeling unhappy?”Reading to grade-schoolers shows them that books aren’t only for school or work — they’re also for fun. By giving kids a way to enjoy them, you may spark their interest in reading more. Encourage kids to read independently and help them find books they’ll like.

  • Not an IEP or a 504 plan — it’s our mediation agreement

    Like many parents, when I think about school services for my kids, I usually think about an IEP or a 504 plan. But now my daughter has something different — something I hadn’t run across before. It’s called a mediation agreement.Let me give you some background about how we arrived at this.Not qualifying for special education servicesOur youngest daughter was evaluated both by her school and by an outside professional — a neuropsychologist. The professional diagnosed her as having dyslexia and a sensory processing disorder. The school accepted her diagnosis, but then told us she wasn’t eligible for special education services.Having dyslexia or a learning disability doesn’t guarantee that a student will get special education services. I feel like I have to say that again, because it took me years as a parent to understand this: Having a diagnosed “disability” doesn’t guarantee that your child will qualify for special education services.In our school district, a student must also meet certain criteria to qualify. And that’s where our family and the school disagree.Our daughter struggles with decoding text and reading fluency but excels at reading comprehension. So she scored higher than average on the school’s evaluation test. Because of her decoding and fluency issues, we believe our daughter is eligible for services. But because of her better-than-average test score, the school says she isn’t. We’ve had multiple discussions with the school, but we still disagree.And that brings me to the Office of Dispute Resolution. (It sounds intimidating, I know.) The office handles special education disputes in our school district and state. As a mom of three kids, two with learning and thinking differences who attend public school, I’ve worked with the office many times over the last 10 years.Complaint, due process, and mediation — this is the jargon the office uses for how families and schools can resolve disputes. In our state, dispute resolution and each of these terms is summed up in a 90-page guidebook for families. It’s 93 pages to be exact, and yes, it is overwhelming.Moving forward with mediationThe school asked us to consider mediation. This is a meeting between the school and the family, where a trained professional called a mediator helps each side to resolve a disagreement. The mediator is neutral and not on anyone’s side. We’d heard that mediation could be a fast way to resolve our issue, so we agreed to try.We got into a room with the mediator and staff from the school. Neither side had attorneys. The mediator was an attorney who was trained in negotiation, but not in special education law (though some are, I’ve heard).For the first 30 minutes, my husband and I and the school went back and forth about our disagreement over eligibility. Then the mediator stopped us and said, “Let’s talk about solutions.”For the next three hours, we worked on a solution. By the end, we’d reached a temporary mediation agreement with the school. The agreement addressed the impact of our daughter’s dyslexia and included multisensory instruction in reading to help with her decoding and fluency challenges.We signed the agreement, and within a week, the plan for my daughter was put into action. In the months that followed, we felt that her needs were being met in school.Thinking ahead: What comes after the temporary mediation agreement?What we didn’t resolve in the mediation was the question of whether she was eligible for special education services. In fact, we made sure the agreement noted that we hadn’t resolved that issue.To us, it felt like a partial win. Our daughter has a plan of action that’s legally binding. She’s getting what she needs, at least right now. We didn’t take the typical path through IDEA — the federal law that protects the right to special education in the public schools.While I wish I had a nice, neat bow to tie up this story, I just don’t. Right now, this is where our family finds itself in the journey.The mediation agreement is temporary — it ends soon. We’re collecting data from this past school year on how our daughter is doing on reading assessments and state testing. Soon, we’ll ask for another eligibility meeting with the school, based on the fact that we have more data to bring to the table. We’ll reconsider the criteria for eligibility and go from there.And if we still disagree with the school? Well, I have the Office of Dispute Resolution and a 93-page guidebook of options to consider.Learn more about dispute resolution options for special education. Read up on how to prepare for a mediation session. And to get more help with your state’s special education rules, visit your local Parent Training and Information Center.

  • How dyslexia is diagnosed in adults

    Adults who have finished high school but who still struggle with reading may be wondering, “Do I have dyslexia?” The same is true for parents who struggle with reading and have a child who has been diagnosed with dyslexia. They may be wondering, “Do I have dyslexia, too?”A surprising number of adults have dyslexia that was not diagnosed while they were in school. Signs of dyslexia in adults include:Reading slowly and with great effortStruggling to sound out unfamiliar wordsAvoiding reading aloud and rarely reading for pleasureHaving poor spellingFinding it much harder to express thoughts on paper than out loudHaving a family member with dyslexiaDyslexia tends to run in families. If a younger child is diagnosed with dyslexia, chances are good that an older sibling or parent also has it. Learn about how adults can find out if they have dyslexia after they have finished high school.Dyslexia tests for adultsThere are lots of online screening tests for dyslexia. Adults of any age who think they may have dyslexia can find out with a formal evaluation. An evaluation for reading issues involves a series of tests. These measure skills like reading accuracy and reading fluency. The tests also measure reading comprehension and listening comprehension.The tests are often the same or similar to those used to assess kids. But they are designed to work across a wide age range.Specialists who test adults for dyslexiaOnly certain types of specialists are qualified to assess people for dyslexia. These include:NeuropsychologistsEducational psychologistsClinical psychologistsYou may want to ask specialists you’re considering if adults make up a significant portion of their practice. Why? Adults may have developed their own coping strategies over the years. This can make it harder to evaluate adults than kids.Where to find specialists who test adults for dyslexiaThere are several resources that can help you find specialists in your area who can assess adults for dyslexia. You may want to contact:State and local chapters of the Learning Disabilities Association of America, an Understood founding partnerLocal college or university psychology departments with PhD programs in the areas mentioned aboveUniversity-affiliated hospitals and clinicsYour state’s vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencyCommunity mental health centersHow to cover the cost of dyslexia testingAn evaluation can be expensive. Some insurance plans will cover it, but many don’t.University psychology departments sometimes offer a sliding scale fee for these kinds of assessments. Local mental health clinics sometimes do this too. VR agencies may provide this kind of testing at no cost for an adult who is accepted as a new client.As you search for qualified specialists, you may want to ask them:Will my insurance cover the cost?Do you offer financial aid or other funding sources?Can you provide a payment plan?Treating adults with dyslexiaAn evaluation will give a full picture of learning differences and strengths. The results will include strategies to help. The results can also be used to request accommodations in college or accommodations in the workplace.Adults with dyslexia benefit from the same kind of instruction that helps kids with dyslexia. But the teaching methods need to be tailored for adults. Look for literary specialists or reading tutors who are trained to teach adults.The biggest issue for adult learners may be finding the time to put into improving reading skills. Consistency and practice at home are the most important factors for rapid progress. But no matter how long it takes, remember that it’s never too late to become a better reader.

  • Types of reading disabilities

    Reading disabilities — also known as reading disorders — are specific learning disabilities that make reading challenging. The most well-known type of reading disability is dyslexia. But not all reading disabilities are dyslexia.People with a reading disability typically have challenges in one, two, or all three areas below: Word reading accuracyReading comprehensionReading fluency Here is some more information about different types of reading disabilities.  1. Trouble with word reading accuracyPeople who have trouble with word reading accuracy struggle to break down the sounds of spoken language. They can also struggle to match those sounds with written symbols. This is known as phonological awareness. Trouble with word reading accuracy makes it harder to sound out or “decode” words. That makes it hard to read fluently and accurately. When people talk generally about dyslexia, they’re often thinking about trouble with word reading accuracy. 2. Trouble with reading comprehension Reading comprehension means understanding what’s been read. People who struggle with reading comprehension may have difficulty with: Word meanings Tying information togetherMonitoring their understandingMaking inferencesRemembering what they read Challenges with word reading accuracy often overlap with reading comprehension issues. But some people with reading comprehension difficulties have no trouble decoding words — they just don’t understand what they’ve read. Some people who struggle with reading comprehension may have related challenges. For example, they may have a language disorder, which can impact how people use and process language. Or they may have trouble with working memory, which can make it hard to remember what’s been read.3. Trouble with reading fluency Reading fluency means reading with speed, accuracy, and the right expression. Reading speed, also called reading rate, is the number of words a person can read correctly per minute. Fluent readers are able to read accurately at a good pace. When they read aloud, they do it in a way that shows they understand the sentence structure and punctuation. People who have trouble with fluency take longer than others to read words accurately and understand their meaning. They might also read aloud without expression. Many people with dyslexia have trouble with fluency. Trouble with fluency can also be related to slow processing speed.  Reading disabilities impact learning, but they’re not a problem of intelligence. People with reading disabilities are just as smart as their peers. And not all reading difficulties are caused by a reading disability. For example, trouble with focus can make it hard to concentrate on reading. Vision problems can make it hard to track words. Learn more about what can cause trouble with reading. 

  • Beyond books: 6 fun things for kids to read

    In school, kids have to read all day. So they might not want to read traditional books at home, especially if reading is hard for them. But there are lots of other things kids can read to get their practice in — and even have fun doing it. Here are six ideas. 1. Comic books and graphic novelsIllustration rules when it comes to comics and graphic novels. But words still carry the story along. For kids who have trouble with reading, images and graphics make it easier to follow the action. Plus the text is broken down into bite-size segments. Comics and graphic novels are entertaining, too. If your child is drawn to them instead of traditional books, don’t stand in the way. They offer lots of reading practice — and great illustrations, too.2. Social media and websitesYou may not realize it, but kids who love spending time on social media are already doing a lot of reading. Even if the posts or tweets are short, they still count. Turn that interest into a fun assignment. For example, if your child is into sports, make giving you a daily highlight an assignment. Have your child follow a website like Sports Center, or a sports blog to give updates. You’ll send the message that reading is everywhere. 3. JokesEveryone loves a good laugh. And if kids can get that by reading, it’s a big plus. For struggling readers, joke books (or kid-friendly websites about jokes) can be a cool way to practice. Jokes are also an exercise in reading accurately with the right expression or tone (called reading fluency). Explain that comedy is all about timing. This can encourage kids to read jokes and practice for a perfect delivery. Then have your child share the jokes with friends and family.4. Cookbooks, menus, and online recipesIf your child loves cooking and food, menus and recipes are a great way to practice reading. Help your child have fun with it. Come up with a cooking project together and read through some recipes for ideas. Or have your child research menus online to create an ideal menu for a future restaurant. 5. Magazines and newspapersKids who resist books may not be as wary of a shorter format like news articles, whether it’s the paper version or online. Even browsing headlines or TV listings is good reading practice. Model this by reading newspapers and magazines yourself. Or read out loud together. You can each find a news item each day to share. 6. AudiobooksListening to audiobooks and reading digital books is just as valuable for kids as reading traditional books. If your child loves technology, download a few books. Sometimes, just the difference in format is exciting enough to be engaging. There are lots of free digital book apps, but you may have to pay for the books themselves. For more ideas, check out 13 books our community recommends.

  • Pediatric neuropsychologists: What you need to know

    If you think your child may have learning and thinking differences, where do you go to find out? You can ask to have your child evaluated at school. Or you can take your child to a specialist for a private evaluation. One type of specialist who diagnoses, and sometimes treats, kids with learning and thinking differences is called a pediatric neuropsychologist.Here’s what you need to know about pediatric neuropsychologists.What pediatric neuropsychologists doPediatric neuropsychologists are licensed psychologists who work with kids. They have extra training and expertise, however. Their focus is on how learning and behavior are related to brain development.These specialists have a doctoral degree in psychology and work in private practices and hospitals. They also complete a two-year fellowship in neuropsychology.They’re not medical doctors, so they can’t prescribe or manage medications. Their main role is to diagnose conditions. Some may also provide therapy and academic interventions.These specialists give kids many of the same tests used in school evaluations to look for areas of strengths and weakness. But they may look at the results in different ways or do additional testing.Pediatric neuropsychologists can identify issues in these areas:Sensory and motor skillsAttention and focusLanguage skillsWorking memoryVisual-spatial processingExecutive function skillsAcademic skills, such as reading or mathThey use their knowledge of brain development when assessing the test results. From there, they can make a diagnosis and explain not just the areas of weakness, but what’s causing it. In some cases, that might be multiple challenges or conditions.For example, if your child is struggling with reading, there are many possible reasons. It may be an attention problem. It may be a reading fluency issue or auditory processing disorder. There are other possibilities, too. And testing may reveal that your child has more than one issue that’s causing trouble with reading.The evaluation process with a pediatric neuropsychologistThe evaluation process can take anywhere from five to 12 hours. You and your child will need to meet with the specialist several times. Here’s what to expect at these meetings.Initial visit: The neuropsychologist will take a detailed case history. You may be asked to fill out questionnaires about your child’s development and behavior. From there, the specialist will decide on the appropriate tests to give your child.Testing: Your child will return for anywhere from two to four sessions of testing. A session can last from 90 minutes to three hours. The specialist will determine the session length that’s right for your child.Review and diagnosis: Once the neuropsychologist has reviewed the test results, you’ll meet again. If your child is a teen, your child will likely be part of this discussion. The specialist will describe what the tests show and how they explain what you’re seeing in your child’s learning or behavior. If your child has one or more learning and thinking differences, the specialist will identify them.The neuropsychologist also might suggest types of help for your child or come up with a treatment plan. In the report, the neuropsychologist may recommend that your child get specific supports and services at school. Some neuropsychologists also provide more specialized therapy in their offices or at a hospital.You might also get a referral to other types of professionals. These might include a psychologist, speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist, reading specialist, or health care provider who can prescribe medication.How pediatric neuropsychologists work with schoolsOnce you have the test results, the IEP or 504 plan team at school will meet to discuss them. Often, they will have done their own evaluation as well. A clinical diagnosis isn’t the same as the identification of learning disabilities that a school makes.The school will have the specialist’s report. But it’s a good idea to have the neuropsychologist be part of the conversation. That can happen over the phone or in person. She can help make sure that the school’s treatment plan addresses all of your child’s issues.Let’s say your child’s diagnosis is dyslexia. The school might include special reading instruction in their IEP. But your child may need other supports or services to help with particular problems. Maybe your child has trouble with phonological awareness. The specialist might recommend that your child work with a speech-language therapist.Those types of details can be lost or minimized in a long report. Having the specialist there means that she can answer the team’s questions and explain key details in the report.Your role in the processFinding a good pediatric neuropsychologist is the first step. But depending on where you live, you may not have easy access to one.Talking with friends and other parents is one of the best ways to find one in your area. Your pediatrician may be able to refer you to one, as well. You can also ask the guidance counselor at your child’s school. It’s best to choose an expert who is familiar with your school district.Getting a private evaluation can be quite expensive. In some cases, the school will pay to send a child to a neuropsychologist for certain testing. But if you seek a private evaluation for your child, you’ll need to pay for it yourself (insurance may cover part of it).You may also need to advocate to get some of the specialist’s recommendations into your child’s IEP. The more you know about the process, the better prepared you’ll be. Learn about the differences between private and school evaluations. And find out what you can do if your child is denied services.

  • Reading trouble: Conversation starters to use with your child’s teacher

    If your child is having trouble with reading, it’s important to talk with your child’s teacher. By sharing information, you and the teacher can get a better understanding of what’s going on and what might help. These conversations can happen in person, by phone, or by email. Parent-teacher conferences are also a good time to share your concerns.But what exactly can you say about reading struggles? And how do you say it? First, when you talk with the teacher, make sure to be clear and specific. Ask questions and follow-up questions, if you need to. Here are sample conversation starters to make it easier to talk with the teacher about reading struggles.Asking to meet or talk “Hi. I’m Will’s mom, Gina. I’m worried about Will’s reading, and I’d like to set up a time to talk about it.”Starting the conversation “Thanks for talking with me. I’m concerned Will is having trouble with reading. I know you told us that it should take kids half an hour to complete reading assignments. But they take Will twice as long. Does this mean there’s a problem?”Sharing information “This might not be related, but Will gets angry when I remind him to read, and he puts it off until the last minute. At first, I thought he was just trying to get out of doing work. But could it be more than that?”Getting information“Can you tell me how Will’s doing with reading? I know there’s a lot that goes into reading. Is there anything specific he has trouble with? Does it take him longer than it should?”Following up on answers “I know you’ve mentioned reading fluency before, but I’m not sure what it means. Can you give me an example?”Asking about help “What can help Will with reading? Are there things you can do in class, or is there someone else at school who can give him some extra help? Should I be doing something at home?”Finishing the conversation“Thanks so much for your help. I have a much better idea of what’s happening and what to look for. Once I’ve had time to think about this, can I check in with you to talk about what happens next?”It can be hard to talk about problems with reading. Some parents and caregivers worry that they or their child will be judged. Others may feel uncomfortable talking with teachers in general. But teachers can be a great source of information and guidance.

  • What is dyslexia?

    Dyslexia is a learning disability in reading. People with dyslexia have trouble reading at a good pace and without mistakes. They may also have a hard time with reading comprehension, spelling, and writing. But these challenges aren’t a problem with intelligence.Snapshot: What dyslexia isDyslexia is a common condition that makes it hard to work with language. Some experts believe that between 5 and 10 percent of people have it. Others say as many as 17 percent of people show signs of reading challenges.People with dyslexia don’t outgrow it. But there are teaching approaches and strategies that can help them improve their reading skills and manage the challenges. People of any age can be tested for dyslexia, although the tests are different for adults than for kids.People with dyslexia typically have trouble reading fluently. They often read slowly and make mistakes. That can impact how well they comprehend what they read. But when other people read to them, they often have no problem understanding the text.Dyslexia can create difficulty with other skills, too. These include:Reading comprehensionSpellingWritingMath People sometimes believe dyslexia is a problem with vision. They think of it as reversing letters or writing backwards. But dyslexia is an issue with language.It’s important to know that while dyslexia impacts learning, it’s not a problem of intelligence. People with dyslexia are just as smart as their peers. There are countless stories about people thriving with dyslexia, including actors, entrepreneurs, and elected officials.Dive deeperWatch a video to see dyslexia through a child’s eyes.Debunk common myths about dyslexia.Explore a collection of dyslexia success stories.Dyslexia signs and symptomsDyslexia impacts people in different ways. So, symptoms might not look the same from one person to another.A key sign of dyslexia is trouble decoding words. This is the ability to match letters to sounds. Kids can also struggle with a more basic skill called phonemic awareness. This is the ability to recognize the sounds in words. Trouble with phonemic awareness can show up as early as preschool.In some people, dyslexia isn’t picked up until later on, when they have trouble with more complex skills. These can include grammar, reading comprehension, reading fluency, sentence structure, and more in-depth writing.Some of the signs of dyslexia have to do with emotions and behavior. People with dyslexia might avoid reading, both out loud and to themselves. They may even get anxious or frustrated when reading. This can happen even after they’ve mastered the basics of reading.Dyslexia doesn’t just affect learning. It can also impact everyday skills and activities. These include social interaction, memory, and dealing with stress.Dive deeperLearn more about signs of dyslexia in kids at different ages.For families: Hear an expert explain how to choose books for kids who struggle with reading.For educators: Learn about structured literacy and get strategies for teaching reading.Possible causes of dyslexiaResearchers haven’t yet pinpointed exactly what causes dyslexia. But they do know that genes and brain differences play a role. Here are some of the possible causes of dyslexia:Genes and heredity: Dyslexia often runs in families. About 40 percent of siblings of people with dyslexia also struggle with reading. As many as 49 percent of parents of kids with dyslexia have it, too. Scientists have also found genes linked to problems with reading and processing language.Brain anatomy and activity: Brain imaging studies have shown brain differences between people with and without dyslexia. These differences happen in areas of the brain involved with key reading skills. Those skills are knowing how sounds are represented in words, and recognizing what written words look like.But the brain can change. Studies show that brain activity in people with dyslexia changes after they get proper instruction or tutoring. And scientists are learning more all the time.Dive deeperWatch a video about dyslexia and the brain.See how reading changes the brain.Take a peek inside a day in the life of a teen with dyslexia.How dyslexia is diagnosedThe only way to know for sure if someone has dyslexia is through a full evaluation, done either at school or privately.Having a diagnosis (schools call it an identification) can lead to supports and services at school, and accommodations at college and work.There are a few types of professionals who can assess people for dyslexia. These include school psychologists, clinical psychologists, and neuropsychologists. An evaluator will give a series of tests for dyslexia. They’ll test in other areas as well to see exactly where any weaknesses and strengths lie.School evaluations are free. But private ones can be very expensive. In some cases, there are ways to get them for free or at a low cost. Local universities often have programs in psychology that have clinics where students do their training.Teaching hospitals may have research projects where people can get evaluations for free. Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA) has local chapters in every state. They may be able to help with finding free or low-cost options.Dive deeperFor educators: Learn about common classroom accommodations for students with dyslexia.For adults: Learn about how dyslexia is diagnosed after high school.For families: Learn how to request a school evaluation or a private evaluation.Parents and caregivers: Is your child struggling with reading, or has your child been diagnosed with dyslexia? Educators: Do you have a student who’s struggling with reading or who has an IEP for dyslexia? Do you think you might have dyslexia?

  • Classroom accommodations for dyslexia

    For kids with dyslexia, reading can be a challenge. Spelling and writing can be challenging too. Classroom accommodations help level the playing field for students with dyslexia. Here are some of the supports teachers can use to help students who struggle with reading, spelling, and writing. You can also download and print a list of these accommodations.Classroom materials and routinesPost visual schedules and also read them out loud.Provide colored strips or bookmarks to help focus on a line of text when reading.Hand out letter and number strips so the student can see how to write correctly.Use large-print text for worksheets.Use audiobooks like those available through services like Bookshare, a free online library for students with disabilities.Allow the student to use a text reader like a Reading Pen or text-to-speech software.Use speech-to-text software to help with writing.Provide “hi-lo” books (books with high-interest topics for students reading below grade level).Provide extra time for reading and writing.Give the student multiple opportunities to read the same text.Use reading buddies during worktime (as appropriate).Partner up for studying — one student writes while the other speaks, or they share the writing.Introducing new conceptsPre-teach new concepts and vocabulary.Provide the student with typed notes or an outline of the lesson to help with taking notes.Provide advance organizers to help the student follow along during a lesson.Provide a glossary of content-related terms.Use visual or audio support to help the student understand written materials in the lecture. Giving instructionsGive step-by-step directions and read written instructions out loud.Simplify directions using key words for the most important ideas.Highlight key words and ideas on worksheets for the student to read first.Check in frequently to make sure the student understands and can repeat the directions.Show examples of correct and completed work to serve as a model.Provide a rubric that describes the elements of a successful assignment.Help the student break assignments into smaller steps.Give self-monitoring checklists and guiding questions for reading comprehension.Arrange worksheet problems from easiest to hardest.Completing tests and assignmentsGrade the student on the content that needs to be mastered, not on things like spelling or reading fluency.Allow understanding to be demonstrated in different ways, like oral reports, posters, and video presentations.Provide different ways to respond to test questions, like saying the answers or circling an answer instead of filling in the blank.Provide sentence starters that show how to begin a written response.Provide extended time for taking tests.Provide a quiet room for taking tests, if needed.More resourcesDo you have a student with dyslexia? Read a one-page fact sheet to learn more about this common learning difference.Do you think your child may need accommodations? Explore tips for talking to the teacher about your child’s dyslexia.

  • Early ADHD Diagnosis? Don’t Forget About Learning Issues

    As a neuropsychologist, it’s my job to evaluate kids for learning and thinking differences. Over the years I’ve seen many kids whose learning differences weren’t picked up until late grade school or middle school. I’ve even seen kids who weren’t evaluated until high school or college. And often, these kids were diagnosed with ADHD at a young age.I recently saw a 12-year-old named Billy in that exact situation. His mom called me in distress because as the school year was ending, he was at risk for failing every subject except math.Billy had been diagnosed with ADHD (also known as ADD) at age 5. He was a hyperactive preschooler, and his parents were relieved to find that there were good ways to help him be more successful in school. Medication, accommodations and some special tutoring in reading skills helped him be fairly successful in the early grades.But as he moved into middle school, Billy started having a harder time meeting grade-level expectations. This was extremely frustrating because he was getting all the supports he could possibly get. Medication seemed to be working. In fact, he seemed to show fewer ADHD symptoms than ever before. So why was school getting harder for him?I had my suspicions from the start. Many kids with ADHD also have a specific learning disability like dyslexia. A full evaluation can determine if a child has both a learning difference and ADHD. That could be a school evaluation or a private one.But a child who’s evaluated for ADHD at an early age may not have his learning skills assessed. At 5, Billy was too young to be tested for reading issues, for instance. And there were no signs at that point that he might have trouble with reading.In grade school, however, Billy did struggle to learn to read. And while he got some support for it, he never became a competent reader. That’s because in addition to ADHD, he had dyslexia that wasn’t diagnosed or being treated.Everyone had just assumed Billy’s problems were due to his ADHD. Like most kids with ADHD, he had issues with attention and other executive functioning skills. So nobody looked beyond that to see what else might have been causing him to have trouble in school.When I evaluated Billy, the exact cause of his difficulties became clear. He struggled with decoding and reading fluency.If Billy had been assessed the first time at age 8 instead of 5, the result would probably have been different. He would likely have gotten a diagnosis of both ADHD and dyslexia. But at the end of preschool the ADHD diagnosis was a clear fit. And the learning problems that cropped up later were overlooked.ADHD can affect nearly all aspects of learning. So it’s not surprising that parents and even professionals might attribute a child’s difficulties in school to his ADHD. But when that child has had good interventions for ADHD and still struggles with learning, it should raise a flag that there might be something going on in addition to the ADHD.Once a child has been diagnosed with ADHD, it’s important to carefully monitor his challenges and successes. That’s especially true if he was diagnosed at an early age.If you think your child may have learning differences, don’t put off looking into it. Discuss your concerns with your child’s doctor or with the professional who diagnosed his ADHD. Talk to your child’s teacher or child study team about getting a full evaluation at school. You can also seek a private evaluation.The sooner you know the cause of your child’s struggles, the sooner he can get supports and services to help him succeed at school.Learn about how ADHD is diagnosed. Understand the pros and cons of private versus school evaluations. And find out what to do if you think your child might have dyslexia or another learning difference.Any opinions, views, information and other content contained in blogs on are the sole responsibility of the writer of the blog, and do not necessarily reflect the views, values, opinions or beliefs of, and are not endorsed by, Understood.

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