Malibu Learning Disabilities

Malibu Learning Disabilities

MALIBU, CA – When bright children struggle in school, the usual cause is some form of learning disabilities.  The cause of Learning Disabilities can be summed up as missing or inefficient skills. 

There are REAL and permanent solutions, even in Malibu, but they aren’t always easy for parents to find.

What does it look like?

Time – Most schoolwork seems to take more time than it does for other students… often MUCH longer.  That means that assignments not completed in school get sent home.  And what may take other students 15 minutes could take 2 or 3 hours to complete, and ONLY if a parent is sitting with them.  LONG hours struggling with homework is a typical sign of a learning disability.  Tears and frustration go hand in hand with this life.

Feeling Not Very Bright – Parents of students with learning disabilities usually go through a process where they first believe that the student may not be very smart.  Next, they start to realize that the student is really intelligent and might just be lazy.  Finally, the realization comes that the “picture” just doesn’t make sense.  When the student tries, he still just doesn’t “get it.”  In this case, effort does NOT mean success.

The tragedy is that kids start to think of themselves as not very smart.

By definition, learning disabilities happen in people with an average to above average IQ

Parents begin to look for help…and get frustrated – Schools and traditional tutoring don’t solve learning disabilities.  As parents work their way through the “system” they eventually find that the answers they seek don’t seem to be available…no matter how much time or money they invest.  It can really “eat” at a parent’s heart.

If you feel the burden, discouraged, or now helpless in supporting your child, you are not alone. 

In Malibu, about one in three students have some sort of learning difficulty that causes them to feel overwhelmed with school.  Going to school is not an option for students.  Every day they are forced to live in a world where their success is limited or non-existent. 

Here are some other characteristics of students with learning disabilities:

  • Needs constant help doing homework 
  • Can’t pay attention very long in class
  • Easily distracted
  • Reads VERY slowly or with poor comprehension
  • Skips or misses the long hard words
  • Spells badly
  • Writing is slow and painful
  • Can’t “get “math concepts
  • Can’t remember math facts
  • Has poor handwriting
  • Doesn’t understand instructions
  • Doesn’t seem to know what’s going on
  • Moves too fast
  • Has a poor memory
  • Can’t work independently for very long
  • Doesn’t hand in assignments

Getting it Fixed – There are dozens of small, “underlying” skills that simply need to be trained.  These aren’t habits kids can just pick up on or be disciplined into.  These are brain-based skills that develop naturally in 70% of the population, but don’t fully form in 30%.  With specialized techniques and programs, these skills can be taught so that all students of average or above IQ can function as easily as the rest of the class.

Tutoring won’t fix it.  Schools don’t do this kind of work.

But there are a few places that can build all the skills a student needs, and one of them is in Malibu.

For more details, visit Malibu Learning Center.

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Sometimes it Takes More Than a Tutor by Jill Greenberg

At the Malibu Learning Center, our

mission is that each student become a

Comfortable, and Independent Learner.

In this article: How are you different from traditional tutoring? That’s a question we get all the time. The truth is, we are very different from tutoring or test prep facilities.

Most schools and tutoring focus on what a student learns. We focus on how a student learns. We work on the skills needed to be an efficient and independent learner.

Often parents tell us, “We even went to the big name franchise learning center and it didn’t help.” That’s because, for many students, the underlying learning skills are not in place. This article explains the details…

5 BIG Differences Between Tutoring and Remediation

“Jason HATES school! He feels like the dumbest kid in the class. He gets very frustrated and angry doing homework. As a family, we can’t stand this anymore. We need to get Jason a tutor!”

Are you sure? Will getting a tutor really be enough to solve this problem?

Sometimes, tutoring is exactly what is needed. But more often, when a child has a learning problem, tutoring is like putting on a band aid. It covers up some of the symptoms, but doesn’t really solve the problem.

Here are 5 big differences between tutoring and remediation, or educational therapy, and how you know which is right for your situation.

1. Tutoring typically focuses on academic skills or school subjects and remediation addresses the underlying processing or thinking skills that are needed in order for a someone to learn easily in school.

Here’s a way you can think about this. Think of learning like a tree. When you look at a tree, the most obvious, noticeable part is the top…the branches and leaves. But without a good root system and trunk, those braches and leaves can’t grow and thrive. Learning is like that. The top of the tree is the academic skills – reading, writing, math, history, science…

Growth and learning in these areas is dependent upon a strong root system and trunk. The roots are what we call the underlying processing skills. These are things like memory, attention, processing speed, auditory and visual processing (or how we think about and understand things that we hear or see). If there are problems at the root, or processing skills level, there will be problems at the top.

The trunk is like what we call “executive function.” This is the part of the brain that takes all the information that comes in through the roots and organizes it for learning. Again, if the student has problems with organization, planning, and reasoning (or executive function skills) it will affect school performance.

Traditional tutoring assumes that these underlying processing and executive function skills are in place and it works at the top of the tree, with the academics. In most cases learning problems are the result of

weak or incompletely developed skills at the root level.

Working on the academics without a solid foundation of processing skills is just “spinning your wheels.” It may cause students to wonder what is wrong with them that they always have to have tutoring and can never seem to learn to do the job on their own.

To permanently solve a learning problem, the underlying skills must be developed.

The great thing is that we know now, through current brain research, that the brain can be retrained – these skills can be developed – so students don’t have to go through life crippled by their learning challenges.

2.      Tutoring typically looks a lot like school.
If a child is having trouble learning phonics for reading, tutors will provide more phonics practice. But more of the same is often more frustrating than helpful.

Current research tells us that the key factor in success or failure in reading is what’s called phonemic awareness, or the brain’s ability to think about the sounds inside of words. Without this underlying thinking process, you can have the best phonics program and the best phonics teacher, but you’re still going to struggle to learn and use phonics for reading and spelling.

In remediation, or educational therapy, we know that we have to teach the brain HOW to think about the sounds – to actually re-train the brain to process the sounds in a more efficient way. Then, the brain can learn to read.

3.      Tutoring is most effective as a solution to a short term problem. A long term learning problem must be dealt with by getting at the underlying issues. When our son was in 10th grade, he transferred from a very mediocre high school to a very high achieving high school. He got into an Advanced Placement Algebra 2 class that was way over his head. We got him a tutor, and after 6 or 8 weeks, he began to get things sorted out.

This was a short term problem with a short term solution.

That is very different from Katy, a student with a history of difficulty with math. Katy had learned to do math by rote memory and lots of painful effort. But she didn’t really understand how numbers work. She could easily mix up math processes or steps and not realize it. Or she might recognize her error but not know how to fix it. When Katy got into algebra, she was lost. And no amount of tutoring was going to clear up the issue. Because Katy did not have the underlying concepts or thinking skills that were absolutely critical to her success.

4.      Tutoring may feel like an easier, more comfortable solution. Tutoring provides a way to give students support and help them get their homework done. But it can also become a crutch because it doesn’t really solve the problem so that the student can do his homework on his own.

Many parents have said to me, “My child has had tutoring on and off over the years. He seems to do OK when we’ve got a tutor, but as soon as we quit, things go downhill again.” And that brings us to the fifth big difference between tutoring and remediation – the outcome.

5. If tutoring is used to treat a learning problem, it is likely to end up being a “never-ending” process.

The goal of remediation, and our goal at the

Stowell Learning Center, is to permanently stop

the pain, frustration, dependence, and embarrassment that a learning problem
can cause.

This is done through specialized programs and techniques that address the weak underlying processing skill areas that are causing the problem. Once students have a solid foundation or strong root system, they can become comfortable and independent learners.

There is an old saying, “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.”

Tutoring may support students to help them get through this night’s homework or this class. Remediation eliminates the learning problem and teaches students to learn so they can learn anywhere, anytime, for a lifetime.

Here are some common symptoms, any of which may indicate that there are underlying processing skills not supporting the learner well enough:

  • Bright child, teen, or adult is underachieving
  • Difficulty paying attention
  • Gets distracted easily
  • Avoids work
  • Yawns all the time when listening
  • Tries really hard for minimal outcome
  • Struggles to sound out words
  • Can’t remember months, days, math facts, spelling words
  • Can’t follow more than one or two directions at a time
  • Is inconsistent with math processes; can’t find or correct math errors; doesn’t understand how numbers work
  • Struggles to read, write, or spell
  • Is uncoordinated, awkward, or has poor posture
  • Has to work excessively hard
  • Gets fatigued quickly / has very low stamina for listening or schoolwork
  • Misunderstands what is heard or read
  • Misses or mishears information when listening

These issues can be changed! With specialized training the brain can learn to think and process information in more effective ways. Children and adults do not have to continue to suffer the effects of learning problems, but it will typically take more than a traditional tutor.

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So What Is Dyslexia Anyway?

We often wonder, “Is my child dyslexic?” or “Am I?” and “What exactly is dyslexia?” However, in our experience, and in that of most people working in the field, not everyone who has difficulty with language or reading has “dyslexia.”

When you hear the word “cheese,” what comes to mind?

Some people picture a slice of yellow American cheese in its own individual wrapper. Others see a “wedge” of white cheese just cut from a “wheel.” Still others picture Swiss or blue cheese.

What about products with cheese – cheeseburgers, cheese danish, cheese pizza, cheese puffs. How about cheese concepts – “How Cheesey” or smile and say ‘Cheese!'”

They all contain cheese, but what exactly is cheese?

The same can be said of “dyslexia.”

Everyone has different ideas about what dyslexia means. The word “dyslexia” is actually a medical term meaning “difficulty with words.” That’s a pretty broad concept.

Let’s narrow this down just a bit.

There is current brain research indicating that people with dyslexia probably have physiological differences in the brain structure and how it processes, or thinks about, information.

At the Learning Center, we look at dyslexia from an educational standpoint. In other words, what can we do to overcome any limitations dyslexia might place on students’ ability to learn.

We have worked with students with reading disabilities for over 13 years, and in that time we have come to recognize a couple of major symptoms that we would call “classic dyslexic symptoms.” These are: A significant phonemic awareness deficit, and a strong visual spatial thinking style.

What Is Phonemic Awareness and How Does It Affect Reading?

Phonemic awareness is a person’s ability to think about the number, order, and identity of individual sounds within words. It is the underlying thinking process that allows a person to make sense out of phonics, the sound system of our language.

The basic reading process is made up of three parts: Auditory (phonics), Visual (sight word recognition), and Language (the ability to use context clues and learn and apply new vocabulary).

In order to be an automatic, comfortable reader, all three of these processes need to be working efficiently together. If they are not, reading can be a frustrating struggle.

Current research and our clinical experience strongly indicate that weaknesses in the auditory part of the basic reading process, or inability to easily understand and use the phonetic code of the language, is a key factor in reading and spelling disorders.

A phonemic awareness deficit almost always keeps a person from being an efficient reader and speller. It usually causes individuals to be “disabled readers” in spite of the best efforts of parents and teachers.

For the second grader, it can mean being diagnosed as “developmentally delayed.” For the bright and creative seventh grader, it can mean spending countless frustrating hours doing homework and still failing. For the adult professional, it can mean making a “career” out of hiding the inability to read and write on the job.

Individuals with a phonemic awareness deficit find it terribly difficult to use phonics for reading and spelling. It has been said that these people simply cannot ever learn phonics. However, ongoing research in the field of auditory processing has shown us that this is not true. These individuals can be trained to develop their phonemic awareness and become effective readers.

People with phonemic awareness deficit may experience the following:

  • Not accurate beyond their memorized vocabulary
  • Low level of sight vocabulary
  • Virtually no ability to sound out and/or blend words
  • Many times bright and motivated
  • Having to work “too hard” to read, spell, etc.
  • Poor grades
  • Written work is inaccurate
  • Confuse words in reading that look similar (such as quietly and quality)
  • Confuse words that sound similar (such as consonant and continent)

The Visual Spatial Thinking Style
The second “classic dyslexic symptom” is a strong visual spatial thinking style. People who have an auditory conceptualization deficit may or may not have the visual spatial thinking style.

Generally, these people tend to be bright, creative, “right-brained” thinkers, who think in concepts and pictures. They have the unique ability to see “in dimension,” or mentally “see” objects from all sides without actually moving their eyes or the objects. This talent lends itself to drawing, building, putting things together, and recalling concrete or visual information.

Many times, when “right-brained” children try to learn with the traditional “left-brain modes,” they are labeled as “attention deficit” because they mentally “leave” the classroom and create highly entertaining “movies” in their heads that are far more fulfilling and less disorienting than the symbolic ABCs and 123s.

Many times these individuals suffer from episodes that have come to be labeled simply “disorientation.” It is the uncontrolled loss of focus triggered by confusion, and it almost always occurs when working with symbols or when listening.

When the person experiences confusion about symbols (such as numbers and letters) his or her brain tries to understand. However, these individuals will usually go to their most comfortable thinking style, which is “seeing” in dimension. This can cause them to perceive the letter or word from different angles, recording different images of the word or letter in their mind. This makes it very hard to retrieve the symbols and often results in number and letter reversals or words “moving” on the page.

Small pieces of the language such as punctuation marks and small non-conceptual sight words such as the, of, and if may also be difficult for the visual-spatial thinker to pay attention to because it is hard to attach a concept or mental image to them.

Disorientation may occur when the individual is overwhelmed with too much information, particularly with language.

When disoriented, the person often loses track of what’s going on around him as well as losing track of time.

We don’t ever want to take away a person’s thinking style. It is a wonderful creative style that was and is shared by important individuals in our society such as Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Walt Disney, Thomas Edison, Bruce Jenner, Greg Louganis and many more.

Our goal is to help students develop other learning styles in addition to their own so they don’t have to suffer from confusion with language. “Dyslexic” symptoms, triggered by confusion about flat, linear symbols and small pieces of the language do not have to become a way of life.

There is help!
Thankfully, both of these most common and classic dyslexic symptoms can be overcome so that children and adults with average or above intellectual ability can become efficient learners.

Dyslexia and other learning disabilities are not diseases. They are simply differences in thinking or processing information that can be changed permanently. For some learners, the traditional methods of reading have not been successful. These individuals must be taught in a different way.

Through carefully researched and consistently effective methods, we help clients to develop control over their thinking processes to make sense out of reading, spelling, written language and math.

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Phases of Learning

The Banyon Tree is a native of Hawaii. It is a truly amazing sight to see because its branches can spread over acres. It has a single trunk, but its branches send down their own roots to help sustain them. Learning is like a Banyon Tree. The evidence of it can be incredibly far-reaching when the systems that support it are intact and strong.

For a good learner, the possibilities are endless. We think of school as a place where students learn content and information and calculations. However, the most important gift that we can give students in school, is how to learn. Like the Banyon Tree, the parts that we see, (the academics), are so extensive that we almost think that is all there is.

If we looked at the Banyon Tree, and saw a spot where the leaves were brown and withered, we might go to that spot and try to fix it with a special fertilizer or extra attention. We tend to approach learning problems in the same way. We see that a child is not reading well, or is struggling to learn phonics or math, and we say, “I’d better give that spot more attention.” Unfortunately the issue is often deeper than the academic symptoms. If the problem is in the trunk or the roots, giving “that spot” more attention isn’t going to do enough good. If we really want to make a significant and lasting difference in learning, we have to get to the root of the issue.

Processing Phase of Learning (The Roots)

The processing phase of learning involves the fundamental skills which enable an individual to begin to learn and come to function independently in the educational environment:

Memory

How well we learn or function is dependent upon how efficiently we can take in and deal with sequential pieces of information. The vast majority of what we learn comes through seeing and hearing. Our ability to process this information depends upon our short-term memory.

To begin reading, an individual should be able to hold 5 digits of information in his auditory and visual memory. To be a comfortable reader and speller, memory skills need to be at a solid 6-digit level. This usually occurs by about 8 ½ years old. Higher levels of learning will require automatic processing of 7 digits.

Attention

Efficient learning is also dependant upon the individual being able to pay attention to the important stimuli and ignore, or block out, extraneous information. (For example, it would be important to be able to subconsciously block out the sound of the air conditioner and the truck going by, while focusing on the teacher’s voice).

Being able to sustain, or hold, our attention long enough to absorb the information is also a critical factor in learning.

Language

In our highly language-based world, the individual who cannot take-in and think about language fast enough, in the right order, or with understanding, will be at a huge disadvantage. Phonemic awareness, or the ability to think about the number, order, and identity of sounds in words, is a critical factor in perceiving language. Deficits in this area can affect speech, reading, and spelling.

Motor Coordination

Everything that we learn or know is demonstrated through our motor system (speaking, writing, moving). An individual may be very bright and have a large fund of information, but if she cannot show it in some way, it is as though she does not know it.

Executive Function Phase of Learning (The Trunk)

The “executive function” of the brain is like the CEO. This is the problem solving and strategizing function that allows us to use information for learning. At the executive function level, we see patterns and relationships, make connections, and see relevance or non-relevance. This is the level of learning that allows us to use visualization and verbal inner language as tools to reason, associate, and plan.

Academic Skills Development Phase of Learning

(The Branches and Leaves)

With intact processing and executive function, the brain is ready to acquire academic skills.

Approaching academics without a solid processing skills base will result in frustration and failure. If we are going to make a significant impact on the lives and learning of students with learning challenges, we must first explore and then build the processing skills. When certain areas of an individual’s processing do not develop at the time they should developmentally, the individual will miss out on how to integrate or use those skills for academics. Therefore, executive function skills will generally have to be taught once the processing has been developed.

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Smart but Struggling: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense!

Recently, we have had parent after parent calling and saying virtually the same thing:

“My child is bright.  He’s a good kid and wants to do well, but he’s struggling in school.  He doesn’t qualify for help but he tests below state standards. How can this be?”

If a child doesn’t qualify for special help at
school, does it mean there’s not a problem?

What most people don’t know is that about 30% of the children in school today have some degree of difficulty with reading or learning.  In spite of caring teachers, supportive parents, good intelligence, and motivation, many students experience academic frustrations as a result of weak or inefficient underlying reading and/or learning skills.

Only about 5-9% of  children are formally diagnosed with learning disabilities, so that leaves roughly 7 million students who struggle but don’t qualify for help.

What does it look like for these kids?

Aaron was a very bright high school senior who wanted to go into pre-med in college.  He was at the top of his class in physics and chemistry, but close to failing English and History.

Aaron had such weak auditory processing skills that listening in class was exhausting.  His teachers reported that he often fell asleep during lectures

Aaron’s poor auditory processing also affected a key skill for sounding out unfamiliar words when reading.  He could read, but not well, so he often failed to complete reading-related homework assignments.

Because he could do well in some areas, people often misunderstood and thought that he was not trying hard or not motivated.

Mark, at 12 years old, was outgoing, friendly, and confident—that is until it came to school.  Mark was a terrific athlete and built fantastic Lego structures.  He got As in math except for word problems but was beginning to fall behind in his other classes.

Mark was a very poor reader.  He’d been able to compensate pretty well up until 7th grade, but the reading and writing demands in junior high were becoming too much to keep up with or talk his way out of.

Kelsey could read well but struggled to completely comprehend what she read so her test scores were inconsistent, making it look like she wasn’t studying.  Her biggest challenge was with math, which made very little sense to her and  caused her a great deal of anxiety.

How can my child be so good in some areas but do so poorly in others?

When smart children and teens struggle in school it is perplexing and frustrating to all involved.  They often excel in some areas, but do very poorly in others.

  • Sam knows all the baseball stats but can’t memorize his math facts.
  • Keely is a smart and savvy soccer player but gets poor grades on tests.
  • Casey is witty and clever, but can’t follow 3 directions.
  • Michael excels in math but reads slowly and laboriously.
  • Justin can focus on video games for hours, but gets distracted immediately when reading or writing.

Comfortable, easy learning requires strong underlying learning skills

These include such things as

  • Body and attention awareness and control
  • Memory
  • Auditory and visual processing (how the brain perceives and thinks about things we see and hear)
  • Phonemic awareness (the ability to think about the sounds in words and critical to success reading)
  • Language comprehension
  • Processing speed
  • Logic and reasoning, strategizing, and mental organization and flexibility.

Children who struggle in school typically have real strengths and weaknesses within their underlying learning skills.  Since different types of tasks or activities are supported by different sets of learning skills, these students can easily show perplexing inconsistencies in their performance.

Our child is getting tutoring.  Why aren’t things changing?

Using the analogy of a tree to represent learning, you can think of academic skills as the top of the tree and underlying learning skills as the roots and trunk.  If the root system, or the underlying learning skills are weak the top of the tree, or the academics will be affected.

Traditional tutoring works at the top of the tree with the weak academic skills.  This may be helpful to students at the moment but is a bit of a “band aide” approach as it is not addressing the real cause, or root, of the problem and will not provide a permanent solution.

So Does My Smart Child Just Have to Live With this?

The Good News is that the brain can change.  While weak or inefficient underlying learning skills are not likely to self-correct with time, discipline, or even tutoring, the brain can be retrained to process information more effectively.  Underlying learning skills can be developed through specific and intensive training so that underachieving and struggling learners can gain the success and independence they are capable of and deserve.

Students Who Used To Struggle

Aaron went through an intensive summer program to increase his auditory processing and reading skills.  His energy, stamina, and confidence for listening, reading, and writing improved greatly.  He is now in college with a pre-med major.

Mark went through a program to develop his phonemic awareness so that he could learn and use phonics for reading and spelling.  His visual skills for reading were also developed so that he didn’t have to feel disoriented and overwhelmed when he looked at a page of text.  Mark is now functioning well in a private high school and playing quarterback on the school football team.

Developing underlying processing and language comprehension skills has helped Kelsey to become much more consistent in her test scores and much less afraid of math.  She can now understand and follow directions in class and do her math homework independently.

Brett came to the learning center when he was in 5th grade.  He was clearly smart, but doing very poorly in school in spite of being able to read, write, and do math at a fairly average level.  He coped with his underachievement by putting on an attitude of not caring and resisting help from parents, teachers, and clinicians at the learning center.

Success can change bad attitudes, though, and gradually, as Brett’s foundation of underlying processing/learning skills got stronger, he became more confident and engaged.  Here’s what he had to say when he finished his program at the learning center:

“Coming to the learning center has helped me in math, reading, and all the rest. It has also made me a better person. I am now a more thoughtful person. Before I came I got bad grades. Now I have improved in all subjects. My grades before were Ds. Now they raised to As and Bs. It makes me feel special to be known as a smart kid to other people.”

Brett…5th Grade

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