5624042?1372200166
Tali Shenfield, PhD  
Female
Toronto

Specialties: child psychology, learning issues

Interests: child psychology, neuropsychology
Richmond Hill Psychology Center
Clinical Director
Richmond Hill, ON
Child Psychology Journals
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Understanding Learning Disabilities

Jan 18, 2014 - 9 comments
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Learning Disabilities

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learning disability

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ADHD

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ADHD child

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Learning Deficits

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non-verbal learning delay



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According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, 2.4 million children in the United States are diagnosed with a learning disability and receiving special education services.  Within this staggering number, you might be wondering if your child’s poor grades, lack of interest in school or other intellectual or emotional problems are something more than poor study habits and boredom.  If you are concerned that your child may be suffering from a learning disability, read on.

Learning disabilities encompass a number of specific conditions, ranging from mild to severe.  Learning disabilities are different from other disabilities, such as intellectual disability (also known as mental retardation), autism and sensory (vision/hearing) problems.  Most people who are diagnosed with a learning disability have average (or even above-average) intelligence, but they struggle with certain skills in particular areas.  

The main sign of a learning disability is a disconnect between a person’s level of ability versus his or her level of achievement.  For example, a child may be perfectly capable of learning the alphabet, yet he or she struggles to say the letters in order.  Or a person might be on the developmental level of learning to read, but for some unexplained reason, he or she cannot seem to get through a paragraph.  Learning disabilities tend to affect abilities in one (or more) of the following areas:

• Hearing/listening
• Speech
• Reading
• Writing/Spelling
• Deductive reasoning
• Math
• Executive Function

Many times learning disabilities are hereditary; if a family member (such as a parent or sibling) has LD, the child is more likely to suffer from one.  Other causes of LD include problems during pregnancy (i.e. drug/alcohol use during pregnancy, premature birth or low birth weight and prolonged labor, which could lead to a lack of oxygen), head trauma and poor nutrition.  

If you notice changes in your child’s school performance or behavior, you may want to consider having your child tested for a learning disability.  Even a mild learning disability can have a major impact on your child’s education and self-esteem.  The sooner the problem is discovered, the sooner a plan (often known as an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or Individualized Service Plan (ISP)) can be developed and implemented.  

Start by keeping a log of your child’s behavior and school performance.  This helps you (and your doctor) determine if there are any patterns in his or her behavior/performance and what could be triggering them.  You can also schedule a meeting with your child’s teacher(s) to discuss any problems or concerns they may have.  Getting everyone in your child’s life on the same page is an important first step towards determining if your child does indeed have a learning disability.  

Prior to any formal testing being completed, you and your child’s teacher(s) might be able to devise and implement interventions to assist your child academically, behaviorally, or both, if necessary.  Just because your child is struggling in some areas of learning does not necessarily mean a diagnosis of LD is inevitable.  However, if after the implementation of a plan your child still struggles, you might want to consider more formalized testing to determine the nature of the problem.  

There is not one specific test to determine if your child does indeed have a learning disability.  In fact, your child may require several screenings, tests and/or diagnostic interviews to determine the cause, type and extent of the problem.  Most testing starts with some form of intelligence testing, such as the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale or the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children.  An intelligence test helps educators and psychologists determine your child’s intellectual functioning; it can also provide clues as to what areas your child may struggle or have a deficiency in.  After intelligence testing is complete, your child may be given other, more specific screening tools/tests to assess his or her ability in a particular area.  

Once the area of deficiency is identified and your child’s level of functioning is determined, you will sit down with a team – who usually consists of you, your child (if old enough), your child’s teachers, a psychologist and anyone else who will be working with your child – to develop a plan of action to assist your child.  This might include modifications to your child’s education (such as being given more time during a test or using visual aids to help your child learn more effectively), as well as perhaps a teacher’s aide or tutor to help keep your child on task and focused.  These modifications might start off rather heavy-handed to help your child reach his or her potential, and they can be gradually tapered off as your child gets older or learns more skills.  

Remember, you are your child’s best advocate.  If the school does not seem to believe there is a problem or refuse to test your child, you can always seek a second opinion.  Speak with your child’s pediatrician if you have concerns that are not being addressed.  He or she can usually write out a referral for formalized testing; you can then show the results of this testing to the school for further action.  

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cheryldudley/5320920035


On Learning Strategies for Children with Learning Disabilities

Sep 14, 2013 - 0 comments
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learning disability

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LD

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learning

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Learning Deficits

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intelligence

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multiple intelligences

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learning styles

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learning strategies

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Learning Disabilities



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As any parent knows, learning comes in many forms and from many sources. Each learning experience is as unique as the child participating in it. This applies to those with a learning disability as much as it does for typical children, and possibly even more so. There are a couple of theories pertaining to intelligence and learning that have special significance when applied to children who are known to learn differently in one or more areas. The first of these is Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, which postulates that there are many different types of intelligence. These include linguistic (good with words), logical-mathematical (good with math or logic), spatial (good with maps, art, and visualization), kinesthetic (good at dancing, sports, or crafts), musical (good with patterns, music, and identifying sounds), interpersonal (good at understanding others), intrapersonal (good at understanding themselves), and naturalistic (good at identifying and understanding animals and plants). To Gardner, intelligence is more than a standardized test score, which typically only measures linguistic and logical-mathematical proficiency, and while each child has the capacity to develop each of these intelligences, they may be especially talented in one or two areas.

This idea is something that likely makes a lot of intuitive sense to you. In fact, while this theory has not had a lot of empirical evidence to back it up yet, many school systems accept the idea of multiple intelligences and are looking to encompass more types of intelligence in their classes. Think about it: While your child may have serious difficulty reading a book or doing algebra, they are good at baseball or soccer, playing the violin, drawing, or making friends. It is obvious that some children are better at some things, while others are gifted in other areas. This is the idea that Gardner captures in his theory of multiple intelligences – that intelligence is a process created out of a person’s biological, psychological, and social influences that can be activated to create products that are of value to a culture, whether that be a physical product or an intellectual one. Some of the reforms that this idea could prompt include increasing emphasis on nature, art, and music in the curriculum, developing a child-centered approach, and developing the child’s potential, rather than forcing all children to master the same information. Educators must find ways of instruction and teaching that work for each student, in order to maximize their learning potential.

The second theory that is especially relevant to children with learning disabilities is the idea that people are not intelligent based on any specific innate characteristic, but rather on how well they learn the material and adapt to the instructional style at hand. People’s intelligence is not just because of their potential or talent. Intelligence relies on the learning style of the child, and there are five main variables that impact learning style. There is the environment, which consists of the amount of noise in the room, the light level, temperature, and seating arrangement. There are the emotional aspects of learning, such as motivation, persistence, responsibility and amount of structure. There are the sociological aspects, such as who the individual prefers to work with, and the perceptual-kinesthetic, such as whether they learn best by hearing, seeing, manipulating the material, reading, etc., and if they prefer to stay still or move while concentrating. Finally, there are the cognitive aspects, such as how long they need to process information, and how much detail they need to understand a new concept. Those who best match their learning environment to their personal learning style are most successful at processing and retaining new material.

Of course,  it may not be reasonable to adhere to these approaches 100% of the time. In reality, teachers cannot work solely within a child’s intelligence, or there would be children who would do nothing but music or mathematics. Similarly, in a classroom of twenty or thirty children, the teacher will not be able to accommodate each child’s individual learning style all of the time. However, when it comes to children with learning disabilities, information about the child’s particular intelligences and learning styles may be incredibly useful. After all, a child may have a learning disability in one area and be well above average in another. For a child who has a hard time with math, but may be very musically intelligent, singing the multiplication tables may help them learn. Or a child who learns best working alone, in the morning, may be able to work on their most difficult subject then. Every child is unique, but for children with learning disabilities in particular, it is critical that the parents make sure that their child’s individual strengths and needs are being attended to in school to optimize their learning.


Image Credit: Nwardez@Flickr - http://www.flickr.com/photos/nwardez/3917216096


Dealing with Anger and Aggression in Children

Jun 25, 2013 - 2 comments
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anger

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aggression

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bullying

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bully

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anger issues

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anger overload

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anger management

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emotions

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bipolar emotions

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aggression in children

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aggressive behavior

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Child Aggression

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teen aggression



Every parent wants to protect their children, teach them to protect themselves, and help them redirect their own outbursts before they become dangerous and aggressive. We want to know that when our children become angry, we can discipline them appropriately and effectively and that we can help them resolve their conflicts constructively. It is important to identify children who may need professional help or may be at risk for future problems related to anger and aggression.

If your child is being victimized and does not have a way to ward off a bully, he needs immediate help. You can spot the warning signs by noticing if your child is getting hurt or bruised, appears scared, has nightmares and doesn’t want to go to school. Your child is may be a victim of bullying if he or she speaks negatively of him or herself, appears to be socially isolated, or talks of being put down physically and/or verbally at school. You can help by instructing your child to stand up for himself, by teaching him to say ‘Stop hurting me/hitting me/pushing me’, or a simple and firm ‘NO!’ if he is preverbal. Teach him to speak firmly, stand tall and walk away from his bully. It is a good idea to inform a teacher at school so that he can be supervised when you are not around.

Sometimes, children who are being victimized turn to aggression as a means to express themselves. Many young children also lash out because of low self-esteem, isolation, and a sense of failure and anxiety. Sadness and depression is often linked with anger in young children. Young children also tend to act out of angry defiance to assert independence when they feel unimportant and lacking control over their lives. It is important not to dismiss their transgressions, because childhood-onset anger and aggression is correlated with serious problems later in life. In fact, parents who choose not to react might be ignoring symptoms of potential childhood psychiatric disorders such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Conduct Disorder. The problem may become more persistent and “can be part of a developmental trajectory leading to adolescent delinquency” (Barry and Lochman, 2004).

I assume that you are reading this blog because you know you need to be involved in shaping your child’s social behavior. So what should you do and which reactions should you avoid? It is absolutely necessary to remind your child what kinds of behaviors are unacceptable and to teach them the ramifications of breaking the rules. With both younger and older children, it is important to understand that anger is not ‘bad’. It is not the child that is bad, but the behavior. As mentioned above, it is crucial that you do not ignore their outburst. Help them communicate how they feel. Do not act out of impulse and verbally berate your child or become physical. Not only are these strategies ineffective, they teach your child deplorable ways of coping with problems. You want to model proper behavior and teach him or her that every problem has a solution that can be arrived at with a calm and clear mind. Reasoning works better with older children, whereas younger children who act aggressively out of anger need a time out so that they do not hurt themselves or others.  You can help both younger and older children to cool down by acknowledging how they feel and instructing them in techniques such as deep breathing and relaxation. With young children, it is usually beneficial just to stand nearby, watch them when you expect them to get stirred up and talk to them about how they feel before they escalate. An unexpected warm touch might remind the child that they have you at their side. It is helpful to remind both younger and older children of the strengths they possess and strategies at their disposal to help them work through their problems. By doing so, you are building up the child’s self-esteem and encouraging him to resolve his own conflicts in ways that are not hurtful.

If your child appears to have problems managing his emotions on a regular basis, this might be a good time to consider professional help. There are intensive programs which help older children and adolescents, in groups and one-on-one. These programs encourage a child to identify and express how he or she is feeling, to take another’s perspective and to practice role playing in order to learn techniques to scale down violent outbursts. They usually include components on problem-solving, negotiation and resisting peer pressure. There are also professional-led workshops and classes for parents. They teach you how to talk to your child, what to look out for and how to behave in the moment so that you don’t have to lose your cool. It is important not to underestimate your influence and the role you have in preventing your child from going down the trajectory that leads him or her to potential academic failure, delinquency, substance abuse and other deleterious behaviors.

If your child's anger manifests through intense screaming, kicking, hitting, or biting, he or she may have so called "anger overload". To learn how to deal with anger overload you can read my article "Does your child suffer from Anger Overload" at http://www.psy-ed.com/blog/anger-Apr2013.php