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An 8th Grade Student Relates Her Experience To A Butterfly Breaking Out Of A Cocoon

At the end of every school year, 8th grade students are challenged to write and deliver a speech at graduation. Read one student’s experience and hear the hope she has for her future contrasted with the uncertainty she felt as she entered Pathway School.

My experience at Pathway has kind of been like a butterfly’s experience breaking out of it’s cocoon. When a butterfly is ready to break out of their cocoon it struggles, but by working their hardest fluid is pushed though their wings and they are strong enough to emerge and fly. If you were to cut their cocoon the butterfly would be crippled and weak. By having the struggle God intended it to have, the butterfly was able to grow strong and fly. This story is very much like my own. See, before Pathway I was in a cocoon, I was struggling. My fluid was what I have been taught here; the knowledge and truth about God. Without having the struggles I have had I would be weak. I stand before you tonight knowing without a doubt, my wings have grown strong and I am ready to fly. Today I am going to share about my experience before Pathway, tell you about my journey here and thank some very special people.

My school experience from 1st-3rd grade consisted of dragging myself through school guessing on tests, and enduring pain staking reading exercises. I felt stupid and was ashamed of myself. I walked with my head down and mumbled when I spoke because I had no confidence. In third grade I was diagnosed with dyslexia and ADD. That year I wrote a paper and my teacher handed it back to me and all I could see were red correction marks. She asked me why I didn’t get it and if I was just stupid. That was the moment I officially shut down. That summer my mom had found Pathway’s brochure in a folder she had picked up at the doctor. She call Mrs. Wenger right away and I started my 4th grade year at Pathway.

Enrolling into Pathway I had mixed emotions of excitement and worry. I was worried that Pathway was going to be just like my previous school, but that quickly changed. One of the first things discovered was my learning style which is both visual and auditory. My teachers taught me strategies to help me become a better learner. Another thing that stood out was the people here. The students and teachers cared about me and it soon became like a little family. In my 5 years here I went from being the insecure girl who didn’t believe in herself to someone who loves learning and has confidence in knowing who she is. 1 Timothy 4:12 says “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young but set an example for the believers in life, in love, in faith and in purity”. Pathway has shown me how to live in such way that reflects my confidence in him.

Part of Mrs. Wenger’s vision for Pathway is that students would discover their God given gifts and abilities. I have come to realize that I have a passion for public speaking. God has given me this gift and I plan on using it for his glory hopefully in high school ministry.

I have accomplished more in the past 5 years than I ever thought possible. One of them was going to the ACSI Speech Meet 4 out of 5 years. My reading and writing abilities were several years below grade level but I have worked diligently to bring them up. Another achievement I have was finding what I want to do with my life. I have a passion and desire for ministry. Currently I am a kids small group leader at Saddleback Church. When I am older I would like to become a high school ministry leader. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”. I know the Lord has amazing plans for me because He is faithful and Pathway has been a huge part of his plans.

So many people have been instrumental to my successes. Mr. and Mrs. Iverson I would like to thank you both so much for always being here for me, encouraging me from the very beginning. Mr. Iverson thank you so much for going beyond a P.E. teacher and finding articles on surfing and actually teaching me how to surf. Mrs. Iverson thank you so much for always having a smile on your face everyday I walk by your office. Whenever I needed something or was not feeling well you were there to put a smile back on my face.

I want to thank my Aunt Marcia and Uncle Ron. Without you both I wouldn’t have been able to attend Pathway. Thank you so much for contributing to support me and my education. I have been able to become a different person because of your love, care and generosity. Thank you so much for all your support during these past 5 years.

Mrs. Wenger without your vision of Pathway I have no clue where I would be right now. I want to thank you so much for making an environment where I could be safe and know that I am smart and can do anything though Christ. You have been such a great mentor and leader to me. Thank you so much for always being there for me. You have such an amazing heart and a encouraging spirit.

Mrs Sherman I know one day I will thank you for your tough love and all the work you have given me. I have come to realize that your tough love wasn’t to just tell me I am not doing my best at times but was to encourage me because you love me and want to see me succeed. You said the 7 words that made me realize this- “I will never give up on you!” You have truly been such an incredible role model in my life. I can not thank you enough for everything you have done for me. I think I have learned more Bible being in your class for the past 3 years than being at church 3 times a week. My faith has truly been changed and improved tremendously.

Last but not least my parents. I can honestly say none of this would happen without you both. Mom and Dad I want to thank you for everything you have sacrificed for me to be able to come to Pathway. Words cannot describe everything you have done for me. From the bottom of my heart I cannot thank you enough for all the support, time, effort, money and love you have put into my schooling. You have given me a amazing life, raising me in a Christian household. Every waking hour, every little moment, every day, every year and every trial you both have been there for me. You have no idea how much that means to me. All the support has helped me to grow in the person I have become today.

If I didn’t come to Pathway, I would never have dreams I have today, also my future as a student would be totally different. Psalms 32:8 says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.” This has taught me that God will always watch over me, counsel me, teach me, and instruct me. The dreams and plans I have today are being successful in high school, using all the wonderful tools I have learned at Pathway, going to college and serving God in ministry working with high school kids. Today like the butterfly, my wings have their fluid and are ready to take off and fly. I am ready to see what the world has to offer and what God has in store for my future. I will never forget Pathway. Pathway has given me a refuge. It will forever stay with me and will always have a special place in my heart.

Read, Read, Read!

Your kids have worked hard all year long – don’t let them lose ground over the summer!

Studies show students will actually lose reading skills over summer break if they do not read. Struggling readers are especially at risk of losing up to 3 months’ worth of progress. Over the course of multiple summers, those months add up to years. Those who read continually not only retain skills, but also have the opportunity to move ahead.

Here are a few ways to encourage summer reading:
Know your child’s reading level

For Pathway students, your child’s teacher shared the Student Snapshot and independent reading level at your last conference. If you didn’t have the benefit of learning about your child’s reading level, you can get a general idea using this simple reading assessment.

Visit your local library

Not only is checking out books a great way to save money, but librarians often have great suggestions for and knowledge of books that may interest your child. Most local libraries also have summer reading programs to incentivize reading too. It’s worth checking out.

Find books that interest your child

This is not always an easy task. For some ideas, check out the reading lists below. If you run into the issue of having an older child with a low reading level who doesn’t want to read books intended for younger readers, try some high-interest, low-level chapter books from High Noon Books.

Encourage by example

Start tackling that pile of books on your nightstand and let your kids see you reading. Have a “reading party” one night with fun snacks, comfy clothes and cozy chairs.

Read books aloud

Not only does reading aloud with your kids allow them to access books and content that otherwise may be too difficult for them, it gives you an opportunity to connect with them and have great conversations. I still remember my mom and I reading a Holocaust narrative when I was twelve and how much I looked forward to that time with her.

Keep a log

Write down the books your child reads and celebrate reaching a goal. Just tracking your child’s progress can be a visible encouragement for a struggling reader. Reading five or six books over the summer can be enough to fend off “summer reading loss.”

Explore these websites

Make “screen time” reading related. The websites listed below feature stories read aloud by a variety of readers. Although One More Story is a pay-based service, a three-month membership is reasonably priced and has a plethora of books to choose from. Hearing books being read well is essential to developing reading fluency.

Enjoy the summer months, put on some sunscreen, and read, read, read!

Resources:

“More Than A Hunch: Kids Lose Learning Skills Over The Summer Months.” Research In Brief (n.d.): n. pag. Summer Learning. National Summer Learning Association. Web. 2 July 2015.

Tyson, Kimberly. “13 Ideas For How Parents Can Encourage Summer Reading.” Learning Unlimmited LLC. N.p., 17 May 2013. Web. 30 June 2015.

Is Your Child Affected by Auditory Processing Disorder?

Auditory processing disorder (APD), also known as central auditory processing disorder (CAPD), has received an increased amount of public attention over the last few years. Any time awareness about a relatively unknown condition increases, misconceptions abound. So, what exactly is APD and could it be affecting your child?

What Is Auditory Processing Disorder?

APD is a hearing impairment located in the central nervous system. We are used to thinking about hearing impairments in terms of hearing loss. However, people with APD can hear just fine. Their hearing system breaks down when it comes to picking out and transporting the sounds and tone of what someone has said from other, unimportant background noises. Auditory messages can be incomplete, jumbled, mashed together and ultimately frustrating.

Jack Katz, M.D., an expert in the field of auditory processing disorder, breaks down APD into three overlapping, though sometimes separate, conditions:

Language processing problems.

Perhaps the most impairing aspect of APD is the effect it can have on a person’s ability to process the spoken word in conversation. A child may be hesitant to participate in class or talk with peers. These activities require too much effort to try and process what is being said and generate a reply.

Auditory memory problems.

Verbal instructions are a particular challenge to process, hold onto and execute. Children struggling with auditory memory will have a difficult time learning math facts, phone numbers and addresses.

Sound discrimination problems.

It is confusing to try and listen when words run together or the ends of words are dropped. Often times, children who have this particular problem end up using similar sounding words instead of the exact word far longer than age appropriate. For example, saying “free” instead of “three” or “berry” instead of “very.”

Although auditory processing disorder cannot be diagnosed through a series of checklists, it is helpful to recognize the signs of APD. An audiologist who specializes in auditory processing is the best person to make the diagnosis.

Some Signs of Auditory Processing Disorder

  • Forgets basic math facts
  • Often needs things repeated
  • Talks or likes the TV louder than others
  • Develops speech late
  • Confuses similar sounding words
  • May appear to ignore people when engaged in something
  • Isn’t interested in books
  • Struggles to pay attention in conversations
  • Drops the ending syllable of words
  • Struggles learning to read
  • Mishears often
  • Forgets names
  • Struggles working in groups because of the noise level
  • Is highly sensitive to sounds

As you read through this list, other processing or attention related disorders may come to mind. Auditory processing disorder is often mistaken as attention deficit disorder (ADD) and can mimic some of the characteristics of autism. It can be especially tricky to differentiate when the disorders are occurring at the same time. The difference with ADD is that the auditory processing relationship to the central nervous system is functioning normally. It is the attention challenge that is affecting a person’s ability to accurately process auditory input. In the case of autism, Dr. Teri James Bellis, author of the wonderful resource, When The Brain Can’t Hear, refers to it as a higher order global deficit that causes difficulty in processing spoken language.

Getting a proper diagnosis plays an important role in determining the best course of treatment for helping a child (or adult) to achieve more of what they want in life and school.

Treatment

If you have been around learning challenges for long, you know there are no sure-bet cures that work for everyone. It seems the best course of treatment is a conglomeration of many different therapies or techniques, and the more school and home can partner together and consistently use them, the better. Auditory processing disorder treatment is no different. In addition to therapies recommended by the audiologist, there are things that can be done both at school and at home to boost deficit skill acquisition, compensation skills, and general environmental changes.

School

Individual teachers can help by seating a student closer to the speaker, making sure unnecessary sounds are eliminated, and allowing a child to work with headphones. Even adding rugs to an echoing room can make a difference.

Some schools, such as Pathway, have programs that will help children with auditory processing specifically. Fast ForWord is a computer-based program that works on sound discrimination, auditory memory, and overall language processing.

Home

Be sure to face your child and speak slowly when trying to communicate something important. It is important to ensure that you have your child’s full attention by turning off the TV, dishwasher or air conditioner if those or other appliances are running in the background. Encourage your child to ask you to repeat something he or she did not understand. Helping your children to take ownership of their listening and understanding of oral communication may be the biggest help you can offer.

If you would like an audiologist referral please contact us or visit www.asha.org.

References

Bellis, Teri James. “Auditory Processing Disorders (APD) in Children.” American Speech Language Hearing Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 May 2015.

Patton, Judith W. “Living and Working with a Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD).” LDonline. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 May 2015.

Scherer, Priscilla. “Is It ADHD or Auditory Processing Disorder?” ADDitude Magazine. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 May 2015.

“What Is APD?” Ncapd. National Coalition of Auditory Processing Disorders, n.d. Web. 30 May 2015.

Getting Your Kids To Talk: New Questions To Ask About School

“How was your day?”

“Fine.”

“What did you do?”

“Nothing.”

More than just a tired back-and-forth, this conversation can be frustrating. You want to know what happens during the many hours your child is in school. While report cards, test data, and teacher conferences give you some information, you know it is far from a complete picture. How your children interact with their peers, the dynamics on the playground, how your children feel about their progress, their teacher(s) and their friends, is all invaluable insight into their world.

Several years back, Judith Rich Harris, an independent psychology researcher and textbook author, wrote The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out The Way They Do. Through her research, she found that a child’s peer group has more bearing on a child’s personality development than his/her parents. Her work has been discussed for more than a decade now and, while it is difficult to quantify just how great an influence parents, peers and genes play in a child’s development, it is clear that each have an important role. All the more reason to know whom your child is spending time with at school, right? Additionally, we know that consistent negative peer experiences leads to increased anxiousness, loneliness, and depression.

Helping our children navigate their social world is extremely important, but knowing if they need that help and if they are making progress can be tricky. That is where frequent dialogue and checking in can help. If you find it is difficult getting your preteen to talk about their day, try doing an activity together. Build Legos, dry dishes, fold the laundry, walk the dog – anything that resembles a casual conversation instead of interrogation. For your little ones, perhaps drawing a picture about their day and having them narrate it would help loosen those lips.

Here are a few alternative questions to “How was your day?” to mix into your daily conversations:

  1. Who would you like to play with that you have never played with before?
  2. What did your teacher say the most often today?
  3. Who had the best lunch?
  4. Who is the funniest person in your class? Why?
  5. What was the best thing that happened today?
  6. What was the worst thing that happened today?
  7. If you got to be the teacher tomorrow, what would you do?
  8. Who in your class could you be nicer to?
  9. Is there anyone who plays alone at recess? Do they need a friend?
  10. What was the best part about recess today?
  11. Who is the friendliest person in your class?
  12. What made you laugh today?
  13. Who are you most excited to see when you get to school?
  14. Did anything make you sad or mad today?
  15. If you could be excused from one class, which one would it be?
  16. If you could go to one class all day, which one would it be?
  17. What are the top 3 things you hear people say in the halls?
  18. If you could read minds, what teacher’s mind would you read? What classmate’s? Whose mind would you NOT want to read?
  19. Who did you help today? Who helped you?
  20. What do you think the teachers talked about in the staff room after school today?
  21. What do people do in the hallways in between classes or on their way to class?
  22. What was one thing you read in school today?
  23. What do you think you should do more of at school? What should you do less of?
  24. What was one thing you learned today?
  25. If an alien spaceship landed at your school, who would you like them to beam aboard their ship and take back to their home planet?

Keep a list of these questions handy on your phone or printed out on your fridge. Ask a few on your car rides or you can even make a routine out of going around the dinner table and allowing everyone to share about their day. Have fun with it.

Many of these questions were sourced from www.simplesimonandco.com, check out their website for even more questions to ask.

Resources:

“25 Ways to Ask Your Teens “How Was School Today?” WITHOUT Asking Them “How Was School Today?” – Simple Simon and Company.” Simple Simon and Company. N.p., 28 Aug. 2014. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.

“25 Ways To Ask Your Kids How Was School Today.” Simple Simon and Company. N.p., 26 Aug. 2014. Web. 29 Apr. 2015. “Do Parents Matter?” Scientific American Global RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2015.

A Simple Way To Improve Reading: Neurological Impress Reading Technique

Looking for a hands-on, practical way to help with your child’s reading skills? Try the Neurological Impress Reading Technique. This intervention method has a student touch, see, speak, and hear the text and ultimately works on improving reading fluency and word recognition. It is not time or labor intensive, but consistency and proper technique are important. A parent can work with their child 10 minutes per day over the course of at least six weeks and see progress.

How to use this technique with your child:

Choose a book your child is interested in and is fairly easy for him or her to read. As your child becomes more practiced, increase the text difficulty.

  1. Lay the book on an inclined surface. A 2-inch notebook makes a great slant board to prop the book on.
  2. Begin reading the text at a steady, even pace, pausing appropriately for punctuation.
  3. As you read, trace your finger above the words as you say them. Your child will have their finger moving at the same time under the words. The movement should be smooth and in sync with one another.
  4. Your child’s goal is to keep up with your reading. They will sound like your echo. If they are struggling to keep up, slow your pace down. If they are reading ahead, increase your pace and help them stay with their finger.
  5. Have your child keep their eyes where their finger is. Don’t let their finger run ahead or trail behind what they are reading. You should be reading and tracing the words in synchrony.
  6. As you come upon punctuation, both of you will tap twice to signal a pause for commas, periods, colons, semi-colons, question marks, exclamation marks, dashes, or ellipsis.
  7. As you and your child get better at reading this way, allow their voice to become the dominate one while you begin to whisper.

Remember to keep your reading time fun and enjoyable. You do not need to correct their mistakes or ask questions about the text. Along with reading fluency, you are helping your child gain confidence in their reading. With this technique, your child is set up to be successful since they are slightly echoing you to begin with. Instead of getting stuck on decoding a difficult word, they hear you say it and can repeat and move on. Have fun and stay consistent!

Resources:

Lana, B. (2013). Neurological impress reading. Pathway School training handout. Pathfinders Learning. Rancho Santa Margarita, CA.

The Upside of Having Dyslexia In The Workplace

In recent years, several news stories have highlighted the growing interest in recruiting individuals with autism for detailed, repetitive and often tech-related jobs. With a disproportionately high unemployment rate, individuals affected by autism are an incredibly large, untapped reservoir of potential talent for the workforce. The success of these initiatives will undoubtedly have an impact on employment opportunities for people on the autism spectrum, but what about individuals with dyslexia?

Companies looking to innovate and think outside the box in order to remain one step ahead of their competitors may be interested in harnessing some of the inherent skills possessed by people with dyslexia. Dyslexics are naturally creative problem solvers, and they excel at seeing the big picture, often becoming adept at communicating clearly. Their early struggles helped them learn how to read others and determine who is able to help them best.

The idea that people with dyslexia may have specific strengths when it comes to perceptual reasoning or visual spatial tasks – working with pictures – continues to be a point of study in academic circles. Astrophysicist Matthew Schneps, director at the Laboratory for Visual Learning at the Harvard-Smithsonian Observatory, has suggested dyslexia enhances the ability to identify patterns out of vast amounts of visual information. The ability to quickly identify patterns from a large pool of visual data is an asset in the visual sciences, such as astrophysics.

Evidence also suggests that those with dyslexia are able to process information in their peripheral vision more quickly that those without it. Strengths in these types of tasks lead to a natural aptitude for solving puzzles, reading visual data on charts and graphs, creating videos, drawing and inventing. Dr. Von Karolyi, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, concluded, “dyslexia should not be characterized only by deficit, but also by talent.” Businesses would absolutely benefit from having people with these skills on staff.

While individuals with dyslexia find themselves in just about every industry and line of work, areas that seem to be a natural fit include: acting, photography, art, music, architecture, computer programming, carpentry, aviation, and leadership roles in a variety of settings. One study found that up to one-third of successful entrepreneurs in the United States identify with having dyslexia. That is an astounding statistic, given that according to the Dyslexia Research Institute, an estimated 10-15% of the population is affected. Out of all successful entrepreneurs, dyslexics are also more likely to become millionaires.

In fact, in 2007, the New York Times reported that dyslexics were twice as likely to own two or more businesses as someone without the condition. They were also more likely to delegate authority and excel in oral communication and problem solving. Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson is a prime example of a highly intelligent, but struggling student with dyslexia who became an overwhelmingly successful entrepreneur. Charles Schwab, Henry Ford, Invar Kamprad (founder of IKEA), Anita Roddick (The Body Shop) and David Neeleman (JetBlue) are additional examples of people who have succeeded perhaps with the help of dyslexia.

Success Stories: Famous People With Dyslexia And Other Learning Challenges

When asked about his struggle with dyslexia, Scott Sonnon, a martial arts world champion and author, said: “I didn’t succeed despite my dyslexia, but because of it. It wasn’t my deficit, but my advantage. Although there are neurological trade-offs that require that I work creatively [and] smarter in reading, writing and speaking, I would never wish to be any other way than my awesome self. I love being me, regardless of the early challenges I had faced.”

Just as large corporations like SAP and Freddie Mac have wisely looked into accessing the potential that has been previously overlooked in people with autism, companies would be prudent to investigate ways to harness the creativity and unique perspective of the person with dyslexia as well. After all, their competition may be headed by a dyslexic person.

Resources

Cortiella, C., & Horowitz, T. (2014, January 1). The State of Learning Disabilities Facts, Trends and Emerging Issues. National Center for Learning Disabilities.

Griswold, A. (n.d.). Want a Competitive Edge? Hire People With Autism. Retrieved February 23, 2015, from http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2014/03/28/autism_at_work_companies_like_sap_and_freddie_mac_are_hiring_people_with.html

Morin, A. (n.d.). 11 Great Quotes About Dyslexia. Retrieved February 25, 2015, from https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/child-learning-disabilities/dyslexia/great-quotes-about-dyslexia

Paul, A. (2012, February 4). The Upside of Dyslexia. Retrieved February 23, 2015, from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/05/opinion/sunday/the-upside-of-dyslexia.html?src=me&ref=general&_r=0

Research Confirms Dyslexics Make Excellent Entrepreneurs. (n.d.). Retrieved February 26, 2015, from http://www.thepowerofdyslexia.com/dyslexics-entrepreneurs/

5 Things To Keep Your Child’s Brain Engaged Over Break

We invest in our children’s learning all year long, whether it’s through private school tuition, extra lessons and therapies outside of school, or flashcard practice at home. While breaks throughout the year can be a welcome relief from routine (at least for the kids!), you don’t want to lose the learning momentum that has taken place over the course of the school year. Here are five things you can incorporate during “off” seasons to help keep your child engaged in learning and round out their school skills with real-life learning:

1. Do a Jigsaw Puzzle

When was the last time your family did a puzzle together? Puzzles develop visual spatial skills and hone short-term memory. They have an added benefit of potentially lowering our heart and breathing rates as we focus on the task at hand. Start with relatively easy puzzles to build their confidence and teach puzzle strategies like putting together the edge pieces first and sorting pieces according to shape or color. Eventually work toward puzzles that are more difficult with more pieces. If you are pressed for space or don’t have puzzles lying around the house, try the free puzzle app – Jigsaw.

2. Read a Story Together

Reading out loud together can encourage a love for books more than anything else. This is especially true if your child struggles with any aspect of reading. As you read, take time to discuss the story and have your child make connections to their life, but keep the reading enjoyable and try not to cram in too many strategies or techniques. Those strategies can be helpful, but be deliberate about reading just for fun every once in a while. If you do want to incorporate a strategy, have your child describe or draw a scene you come across.

3. Bake or Build Something

Depending on your and your child’s affinities, you can help them develop measuring and fraction skills with real-world, hands-on experience. If your child has been exposed to fractions already, double or halve a cookie recipe. This gives them a physical representation of what it looks like to add and subtract fractions. If you are measuring materials for building, have your child do the measuring and teach them the value of “measure twice, cut once!”

4. Play Board Games

Playing games can be a wonderful reinforcement for so many skills. Just about any game sitting in your closet requires counting, making change, problem solving, quick thinking, persistence, or reasoning. If you don’t already have it, a great game for reasoning, logic, identifying patterns, and visual perception is SET. But really, any card game can be a wonderful learning tool. Aside from learning skills, turn taking, losing graciously, and winning appropriately can be reinforced as well.

Top 5 Traditional Card Games for Kids

5. Write Thank You Notes or Letters

If the break falls over Christmas time, your child can work on thank you notes to generous gift givers. Allow them to write the notes in whatever way works best for them. Typing gives kids with graphomotor struggles a break, while challenged spellers can use spellcheck to correct their work. Tech-savvy students may want to create a photo slide presentation or short video to convey their gratitude. Not only are your kids having an opportunity to practice expressing their thanks, but they are engaging their creativity as well. Grandparents will love it!

The Greatest Predictor of Success

Working memory, also known as short-term memory, is the greatest predictor of success in life and academics, according to Dr. Tracy Alloway. a psychologist and expert in the field of memory. Not IQ, not reading levels, not social competence, but our ability to manipulate new information.

Armed with an understanding of the signs indicating a weak working memory and some tools to boost performance, you will be in a better position to help your child achieve their potential.

What is Working Memory?

“You can think of working memory as the active part of your memory system. It’s like mental juggling,” says H. Lee Swanson, PhD, distinguished professor of education with the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Riverside. “As information comes in, you’re processing it at the same time as you store it,” he says.

We tap into our working memory when we perform routine tasks like following a recipe, recalling the name of someone we just met, and attempting to pick up those items we neglected to jot down when we go to the grocery store.

While those tasks may not seem critical to a successful life, consider the struggles you may face if your working memory was weak:

  • Being on time for work
  • Following a conversation
  • Responding appropriately during a conflict
  • Completing things you have started
  • Being aware of traffic laws and situations
  • Prioritizing activities
  • Handling money

These tasks all have great impact on our day-to-day lives. While the strength of our working memory is not linked to IQ, it certainly does have a link to our fulfillment and frustration levels. There are many children who are not making academic progress because their working memories are overtaxed.

In the classroom, tasks like copying from a whiteboard, writing down notes as a teacher speaks, and following multi-step directions all rely on a well-oiled working memory. According to Dr. Alloway’s research, around 70 percent of children with learning difficulties in reading score low on working memory assessments. In order to comprehend what is being read, a student must use the incoming information to generate pictures in their mind, make connections to themselves as well as previous knowledge, and simultaneously continue listening if a passage of text is being read aloud.

A Simple Screening for Weak Working Memory

A weak working memory is a predictor of academic struggle. The National Center For Learning Disabilities identifies the following signs from Dr. Alloway’s Working Memory Rating Scale:

  • Abandons activities before completing them
  • Looks like he’s daydreaming
  • Puts up a hand to answer questions, but forgets what she wanted to say
  • Mixes up material inappropriately (for example, combining two sentences)
  • Forgets how to continue an activity that he’s started, even though the teacher has explained the steps
  • Is reserved in group activities in the classroom, rarely volunteering
  • Loses her place frequently in complicated tasks
  • Makes poor academic progress during the school years, particularly in the areas of reading and mathematics
  • Is considered by teachers to have short attention spans and also to be easily distracted

Working Memory Training

It was a long-held belief that working memory was what researchers called a “fixed trait.” In other words, there was not much that could be done to improve a person’s working memory.

In the last decade, some exciting research has shown that the brain can change, and so can a person’s working memory. If you feel your child has a weak working memory, there are several things you can do.

Dr. Alloway’s research specifically cites a working memory training program called Jungle Memory. ADDitude, an excellent resource website for families living with attention and learning disabilities, speaks highly of Cogmed Working Memory Training. Both are computer-based training programs for a specified duration. Cogmed requires a trained provider to participate, while Jungle Memory can be accessed online. As with all therapies, they work better for some families than others, and results should not be guaranteed. When considering any type of program, Dr. Alloway gives some helpful advice on what three things to look for (click link for more info).

Ways You Can Help Your Child (and Your Child’s Teacher)

1) Have memory aids
  • Laminate a list and attach it to the zipper of your child’s backpack or the front of their binder. On it should be all of the things they need to pack to and from school.
  • Have math manipulatives and unifix cubes on hand to work out arithmetic problems.
  • Check to see if there are wall charts with procedures in the classroom. If not, offer to help create them for your child’s teacher.

Note: Children with working memory challenges are less likely to use these tools on their own. It takes explicit instruction on how to use them during an activity that requires little working memory.

2) Break down tasks into small steps to reduce the memory load.
3) Ask your child to imagine a scene you describe, then have them draw out what they pictured in their head.
4) Ask your child to teach you a skill that they are learning in school. Teaching requires information recall as well as thinking about the delivery of that information.
5) Take a deep breath when your child asks you to repeat what you told him or her. They may need information repeated to them frequently.
6) Teach your child to advocate for themselves at school and with family. If they need help or something explained again – just ask!

References

Alloway, T. (n.d.). Research Home. Retrieved November 23, 2014, from http://tracyalloway.com/research/

Alloway, T., & Gathercole, S. (2007). Understanding Working Memory: A Classroom Guide. London: Harcourt Assessment.

Cogmed Working Memory Training | About Working Memory. (n.d.). Retrieved November 22, 2014, from http://www.cogmed.com/about-working-memory

Morin, A. (n.d.). 8 Working Memory Boosters. Retrieved November 22, 2014, from https://www.understood.org

What Is Working Memory and Why Does It Matter? | Executive Function. (n.d.). Retrieved November 20, 2014, from http://www.ncld.org

What You Need to Know About Cogmed Working-Memory Training. (n.d.). Retrieved November 20, 2014, from http://www.additudemag.com

The Connection Between Nutrition and Our Brain

Feeding our bodies with leafy greens and lean protein does more than just help our waistline: it gives our brains a boost and contributes to academic success for our kids.

For most of us, though, thinking about nutrition and the brain is anything but interesting. In fact, it can be downright frustrating. The conventional wisdom about what makes for the best brain fuel seems to change with every new article we read, and we are reminded of all the ways we fall short of providing a healthy diet for our family.

However, once we understand a little bit about how the brain uses food, nutrition’s relationship to academic success, and which foods offer the greatest impact for our family’s brain health, nutrition talk can be almost, well, … compelling.

How Our Brains Use Food

Our brain facilitates the ongoing process of building and pruning neural pathways that control our learning, thinking, feeling, and our general sense of well-being. As we learn, the brain’s dense network of cells known as neurons are constantly seeking other neurons to connect with, connecting past experiences and prior knowledge to the new information coming in. To increase efficiency, our brains must also prune away old connections that are no longer useful. All of this is fueled by what we put into our bodies.

Our brain requires certain foods to be able to manufacture some key neurotransmitters, those chemical messengers that help this neuron-to-neuron communication take place. These neurotransmitters determine how primed we are for learning and directly impact our mood and behavior. A diet lacking in these nutrients can lead to mental and neurological disorders.

Since the brain is vulnerable to attack from environmental toxins that find their way into our bodies, as well as from naturally formed toxins developed within our bodies, it needs protection. What is the brain’s primary form of defense? Antioxidants from food. Studies have repeatedly shown that those who have low antioxidant intake suffer from increased illness and disease.

The Impact of Diet on Academic Success

There are many factors contributing to a child’s success in the classroom. Diet can either help or hinder a child’s progress.

Refined sugar has long been touted as a classroom teacher’s enemy. Sugar causes short-term bursts of energy followed by fidgeting, difficulty maintaining focus, potential headaches, and drowsiness. If a child eats a sugar-laden breakfast, they reach peak drowsiness around mid-morning, often during their most taxing classes. As sugar levels rise in the bloodstream, the pancreas releases insulin, which sends sugar into our cells in hopes of keeping our blood sugar stable. The more sugar ingested, the more insulin released, and the drowsier we get.

Sugar is not the only culprit associated with negative brain function. Trans fats and saturated fats have led to 1 in 10 teens and kids having high cholesterol. These bad fats push aside the good fats and get in the way of oxygen flow to the brain, as well as waste flow away from the brain. Reduced oxygen flow to the brain can be dangerous.

There are promising studies that suggest by increasing good fats and micronutrients children who struggle with ADD, Dyslexia and Dyspraxia can be especially helped through diet.

Children who had an increase of Omega 3 fatty acids performed better in reading, spelling, and had fewer behavioral problems according to Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, a UCLA professor of neurosurgery and physiological science. A deficiency in Omega 3s has been linked to depression, dyslexia and dyspraxia.

UCLA professor studies link between food and brain medicine

Some studies point to zinc as an important player in attention deficit disorder, with some children benefitting from supplementing their diet with zinc sulfate. While studies like these show promise that changes in diet can positively impact learning for different types of struggling students, any type of supplementation should be discussed with your child’s doctor.

The 5 Categories of Brain Food

Carbohydrates

Carbs are the foundational fuel behind powering the brain. Limiting refined sugars and increasing complex sugars found in whole grains keeps our body’s insulin response lower, thereby reducing that mid-morning or mid-afternoon drowsiness. Refined sugars do more harm than just causing energy dips. They are the reason many are estimating that when this generation of children reaches adulthood, 44 percent or more will be obese and many will acquire Type 2 Diabetes.

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Good fat

Known as polyunsaturated fats, these good fats not only provide energy, but keep brain membranes flexible and able to send and receive information. The best fats come from foods that are rich in omega 3 oils. At the top of the list are:

  • Mackerel
  • Herring
  • Sardines
  • Fresh (not canned) tuna
  • Anchovy
  • Salmon
  • Trout
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Flaxseed
  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Spinach
Protein

Protein provides the building blocks for neurons and cell-to-cell communication.

  • Tyrosine found in avocados, almonds, bananas, and meat make up dopamine, an essential amino acid linked to motivation.
  • Tryptophan – most commonly linked to turkey, but also found in milk – produces serotonin. We know that higher levels of this amino acid contribute to a favorable sense of well-being.
  • Choosing healthy proteins – those that are not fried, flavored with chemicals and dyes, or injected with hormones – offer our brains protection from cell damage and better cell-to-cell communication.
Micronutrients

Our brains require small amounts of these nutrients to be at their best. Micronutrients aid in the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and GABA, both of which contribute to mental and neurological health.

  • B vitamins found in dark leafy greens and whole grains are linked to concentration and focus.
  • Zinc, found in seeds, nuts, and red meats, helps with the repairing of cells, processing short and long term memory, and creating brain efficiency through pruning old neural pathways.
  • Calcium is commonly found in foods like milk, yogurt, spinach, kale, white beans, salmon, and trout. Calcium plays an important role in cleaning the brain of harmful substances that have found their way into our system.
  • Phytonutrients. These act as antioxidants, fighting off free radicals and protecting memory function. Phytonutrients are found in colorful fruits and vegetables.
Water

Dehydration is an enemy to optimal brain function. Studies have shown that by the time we feel thirsty, we may have lost up to 2 percent body weight and 10 percent cognitive decline. Children are especially prone to dehydration and, once dehydrated, they begin to avoid activities requiring energy. If kids can keep water bottles on their desk during the school day, they are far more likely to reach the recommended 8 glasses per day.

The Bottom Line

Setting up kids for success at school and setting up yourself for a healthy brain for years to come does not have to be complicated or a source of frustration. A few simple additions to the family diet can pay great dividends. Experts suggest eating fish twice per week, serving lots of cut-up colorful veggies, reaching for water before thirst strikes, and consider a quality omega 3 fish oil supplement.

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References

Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2011 Oct;50(10):991-1000. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2011.06.008. Epub 2011 Aug 12. Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation for the treatment of children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptomatology: systematic review and meta-analysis. Bloch MH1, Qawasmi A. – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21961774

“Action Plan for Managing Dyslexia/Dyspraxia.” Action Plan for Managing Dyslexia/dyspraxia. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Oct. 2014.

Freudenrich, Ph.D. Craig, and Robynne Boyd. “How Your Brain Works.” HowStuffWorks. HowStuffWorks.com, n.d. Web. 09 Oct. 2014.

Konikowska K, Regulska-Ilow B, Rózańska D. The influence of components of diet on the symptoms of ADHD in children. Rocz Panstw Zakl Hig. 2012;63(2):127-34. Review. PubMed PMID: 22928358

McKnelly, Christine. “Why Are Trans Fats Bad For Kids?” SF Gate. Demand Media, n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2014.

Norman, Philippa, M.D., M.P.H. “Feeding the Brain for Academic Success: How Nutrition and Hydration Boost Learning.” — Healthy Brain. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Oct. 2014.

Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2004 Jan;28(1):181-90. Double-blind, placebo-controlled study of zinc sulfate in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14687872

Wolpert, Stuart, and Mark Wheeler. “Food as Brain Medicine – UCLA Magazine.” UCLA Magazine. N.p., 09 July 2008. Web. 11 Oct. 2014.

Fun, Educational Crafts and Projects

This article has some awesome ideas for ANY child, spectrum or not! At the end of each description is a link with more detailed instructions. Enjoy!

10 Fun Activities for Children with Autism

by Education.com

Updated on Apr 4, 2014

Craft activities are fun for everyone, but for children on the autism spectrum, the opportunity to explore color, shape, and sensory experiences can stimulate attention, foster calm, and create loads of fun! Here are 10 activities that teachers and parents love to do with their children.

  1. Create a Shredded Flower Bouquet. Who knew shredded paper could be so beautiful? This creative activity involves ripping and shredding paper to create a colorful composition that makes for a great gift or decoration. Kids will especially love the sensory experience of handling paper and manipulating colors and shapes! Find instructions here!
  2. Underwater I Spy Alphabet Bottle. Sparkly, glittery water is sure to attract curious eyes! This alphabet bottle is fun to make and a great activity to keep your child engaged and focused. The craft helps kids recognize letters in a creative way while enjoying the beautiful shine and sparkle of floating sequins! Here’s how.
  3. Paint with Ice. Kids love to swirl the melting paint over paper, creating beautiful designs. They’ll practice their color recognition and observation skills while observing paint go from a liquid state to a solid state, then back to liquid again! Click on this.
  4. Explore the Senses with a Sensory Table. A sensory table is a place designed for squishing, sifting, sorting, digging and pouring! Children will relish the opportunity to get messy, discover, and play freely with engaging their sense of touch, hearing sight. Read more here.
  5. Practice Paint Chip Storytelling. Telling a story is like painting a picture, using words instead of paint. In this imaginative activity, your child uses paint chips and words to tell a story! Alter the activity according to the level of your child, and you can spark his imagination and narrative abilities while having a colorful good time! Find out more.
  6. Play the Matching Halves Game. This matching activity is a great way to introduce children to the concept of puzzles, and to satisfy many kids who crave order and simplicity. Each craft stick will have only half a shape: find the stick with the missing half and place the sticks side by side to complete each one! Try it.
  7. Sculpt Clay Snowflakes. You don’t have to brave the chill to enjoy the beauty of winter. Make sparkly snowflake sculptures and experience winter from the comfort and warmth of your home! Sculpting clay is a great way to boost fine motor skills, and kids will love the sensory experience of squishing, pulling and kneading as they work. A little trickier!
  8. Set Up a Smelling Station. With the help of some small containers, rubber bands, scraps of fabric and lots and lots of fragrant ingredients, your child can create a whole collection of smells to tease his nose. Smell is one of the five senses, and kids will love learning about what role it plays while exploring the breathing and relaxation associated with good scents. Sniff Sniff…
  9. Oobleck Science: Solid or Liquid? Can something be solid and liquid at the same time? Experiment with this classic science activity that introduces kids to the mysteries of states of matter. Children will love the sensory experience of squeezing and splashing that comes with this gooey scientific investigation! Test it.
  10. Make Number Rubbings. Kids love using crayons for just about everything. Put this art streak to good use by introducing them to “rubbings.” They’ll work the small muscles in their hands and improve eye-hand coordination. Plus, they’ll experiment with different surfaces while practicing shapes and numbers. Best for younger students.

Leave a comment on our Facebook page here if you try any of these out, and let us know how they went!