New vision skills boost student performance

  • Written by Dr. Mary Baker, Behavior Optometrist at Overlake Family Vision

We all want our kids to succeed in school, but hidden barriers to learning can trip up even the brightest students. Twenty to thirty percent of all school age children have a vision problem that is significant enough to interfere with learning.

Often these problems aren’t detected by school eye exams which typically test only for 20/20 vision at a distance. The typical school vision screening detects only 5 percent of all vision problems and is often done by a parent volunteer. School screenings aren’t equipped to check for important visual skills that are necessary for reading and using the computer. For example, they don’t determine if children can coordinate both eyes as a team, track print across a written page without losing their place, or comfortably adjust focus when looking from near to far away.

Children who are struggling with undetected vision problems often fail to progress well in school.  What are the clues that your child may have a learning-related vision problem? Some of the signs include slow reading, difficulty copying from the chalk board, skipping words or lines, losing their place when reading, and reversing words and letters.

Fortunately there’s something that can be done to correct the vision problems and make learning enjoyable. We recommend having your child’s vision checked by an optometrist who tests for visual function as well as eye health and visual acuity. Look for an optometrist who specializes in vision therapy. This type of therapy has been very successful in improving vision skills with exercises that may use lenses, prisms and filters. The therapy usually involves regularly scheduled office visits and home therapy assignments.

When kids have better vision skills, they are better prepared to learn in school. In our program, when kids achieve better visual skills, grades start to come up, self esteem improves and so do relationships at home and at school. The best thing about vision therapy is that since good vision skills are learned, the results of vision therapy usually last a lifetime. These skills have a significant impact on your child’s success and can even affect whether or not your child goes to college!

Is it ADD/ADHD or Sleeping Difficulties?

  • Written by Roxanne Fernandez, MOT, OTR/L, Occupational Therapist at BPandHT
“Forgetfulness, struggling to pay attention in school, aggression — it may sound like textbook attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Turns out those are also the signs of certain sleep problems, according to research from the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology.  In a recent study, children who had no set bedtime or sometimes slept in their parents’ bed were eight times more likely to exhibit symptoms that mimic those of ADHD. When these behaviors were corrected, the problems went away in two to three weeks in kids who didn’t actually have the disorder.”

–Article from Family Circus  Magazine

Many parents ask the important question of whether their child’s sleeping difficulties may be contributing to his/her behaviors. The answer is, DEFINITELY! According to research, it is important for children 5 to 12 years of age to get at least 9 hours of sleep a night for optimal functioning in their day.  Kids under 5 need more than 9 hours of sleep.

Inform your doctor if your child has a hard time falling or staying asleep.  Also, let your occupational therapist know if sleeping is an issue for your child.  They can provide suggestions on finding calming strategies for your child and assist in creating a routine for bedtime. A bedtime routine is critical to helping your child wind down, preparing his/her body and mind for sleep.

How do you know if your child is getting enough sleep? If waking him/her up in the morning is a battle, then your child may be going to bed too late or may not be sleeping through the night.

General recommendations:

• 30 minutes of quiet activity prior to sleeping helps with winding down.

• No screen time 30 minutes prior to bedtime (no TV, video or computer games, cell phone texting, etc.).

• Keep your child’s bedroom cool and low lit or dark.

Isabella’s ideas

  • Written by Isabella Diefendorf, Special to the Weekly

Isabella2I am 10 years old.

I have moved four times; the first was when I was about six months old.. I moved from New York to the Pacific Northwest, where I would spend the next nine years, growing, learning and raising chickens.

Then we moved to the Bahamas, which was an educational experiment that failed.

The plane ride to the Caribbean was brutal, almost two whole days on three different planes behind crying infants and fat men who took up two seats. (I would not recommend the experience).

But all the while I persevered; the destination was worth it, I thought.  My sister, Sofia, and I were going to attend school there for one whole year. My family had built a house and all was perfect. In the morning I would bike about a half mile to school, come home for lunch and go back at 1:30 for the afternoon sessions.

I was tricked by the teachers time and time again.

“Study your notes,” they would say and continue with “hint, hint, there’s a special something tomorrow!” So we would all go home and study and the next day, no test!

Then, a girl in Sofia’s  class actually got smacked with a ruler.

My parents were appalled and we only stayed two months.

Then we caught the plane to Florida.

My last move was the  most recent, from the Bahamas to Florida. I can tell you, the two are VERY different. My teacher doesn’t threaten fictitious tests and smack little girls.

I like Florida a whole lot better.

Also, my new school is better than I could’ve ever hoped for. It’s the size of a college campus with swimming pools, soccer fields and all.

They don’t stop there, they have crazy electives like TV production in an elementary school, for instance.

Compared to the soccer players of Washington state, the players in Florida are a bit wimpy.

Most don’t even go outside when it’s only slightly misting. That’s nothing compared to what we Northwesterners are used to.

Speaking of soccer, I want to say hi to my old team, The Blue Cheetahs!

Hi, coach Chuck and hi Sarah-Ann and Mackenzie and Alaina and Emilys A, B and E, and hi everyone! I miss you all.

One of the things I don’t miss is shivering at the bus stop on a cold winter’s morning in Bellevue.

Instead, I am basking in the warm sun like it’s summer. Ahhhh. In fact we are going through a cold front in Florida right now. Sixty degrees! Everyone get your ski jackets and mittens out! Sixty degree cold front.

People in Florida surely do NOT know what bad weather is. Not like us.

But I do miss the towering, snow-dusted evergreens and the grass that sparkles with frozen morning dew.

I love Florida and Washington both.

Why Smart Kids Struggle

  • Written by Erica Peterson, Campus Manager, Dartmoor School
We all know those kids. The student with 3000 songs on his iPod who can sing the lyrics to every song from memory, but can’t recall the year of the American Revolution.  The student who can glibly discourse with her friends, parents and teachers all day, but will hardly put two sentences together on paper. The student who can master a video game within 48 hours of its release, but can’t master spelling to save her life. It’s easy for baffled parents and educators to become frustrated with the students whose obvious intellectual gifts contrast so starkly with their academic outcomes.  Are these kids just lazy? Why don’t they succeed at school?

Dr. Mel Levine, founder of the All Kinds of Minds Institute, believes that student success, or lack thereof, is a lot easier to understand when we grasp what being smart really means. Drawing together research from neuroscience, cognitive psychology and child development, Levine has developed a framework for understanding intelligence as a conglomeration of discrete mental skills. He identifies eight categories of cognitive abilities that provide a detailed portrait of a student’s strengths and weaknesses. The first category has to do with skills that relate to attention, such as the ability to filter out distractions, the ability to sustain focus on one thing, and the ability to inhibit one’s impulses. Similarly, the memory category contains skills that determine how well a student can store, retrieve, and juggle pieces of information.  Three important categories have to do with the mental skills necessary to effectively take in and organize information: spatial ordering, temporal-sequential ordering, and higher cognition.  Two more categories deal with how a student handles specific types of especially complex information — language and movement. A final category of mental skills called social cognition relates abilities that allow students to get along with people.

Naturally, all of these diverse mental abilities are required for the complex tasks carried out in a school setting, but not every student has equal measures of aptitude in each area. Consider the dilemma faced by a student who has excellent abstract reasoning alongside weak impulse inhibition and an inability to regulate the speed and quantity of her written output. Such a student may have brilliant insights into the latest work of literature studied by her English class and a terrible grade on her term paper simply because she had a hard time keeping her paper focused and she couldn’t finish it fast enough to meet the deadline.

When we see students whose brilliance belies their grades, we can avoid a lot of heartache and frustration by taking the time to investigate exactly where their strengths and weaknesses lie.

Often times, these students have unusually divergent skills, developing highly refined talents in some areas compromised by much lesser abilities elsewhere.

When we understand exactly what type of problem a student may be experiencing, we can turn a frustrating situation into an opportunity to grow.

Good Apps for Children with Autism

  • Written by Dara Schmeck, MS CCC-SLP
The New York Times recently published an article about finding good apps for children with autism. This is certainly a daunting task, as at last count there were more than 140,000 apps for the iPad alone and more than 500,000 for the iPhone! There are many apps available that are designed to work on language, fine motor skills and cognition, as well as a multitude that were designed for fun but can be adapted to facilitate skill development.

One term mentioned in the article is the idea of “self-learning.” This is when a child would be using an app on their own, and the app provides feedback on performance (correct/incorrect). Although this can be a valuable experience, your child may learn more if technology time becomes more interactive. Many children with autism struggle with social skills; isolation activities, such as self-learning, do not further those important interaction skills. You can join your child, using the app together, and practice skills like turn-taking and giving and following directions.

Please be sure to share some of your favorite apps with us! I am currently exploring using apps in speech therapy as a new way to target receptive and expressive language skills.

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