Although it can be a scary and confusing process, getting your child evaluated for potential learning differences helps pave a path for their success. An assessment not only gives caregivers and educators a better understanding of the underlying processes that impact learners’ ability and potential, it also sheds light into learners’ strengths, and the actionable steps we can take to positively shift a child’s learning trajectory. Experts generally agree on the importance of assessments, when done correctly. According to understood.org, “Getting an evaluation is the best way to understand your child’s struggles, and how to help.” The value of a learning assessment, when combined with personalized learning recommendations and aligned with matched educational specialists, provides the greatest potential to improve learning outcomes for a child—that’s why we created the SPARK Learning Assessment.
The SPARK Learning Assessment is a whole-child evaluation that gives parents and caregivers insights into their child’s unique learning needs much faster than traditional clinical or classroom evaluations. Typically, while a family waits on a lengthy waitlist to see a psychologist for a full psychoeducational evaluation, a learner may fall further and further behind, experiencing negative results both in terms of academic achievement and feelings of self-worth. We felt it was imperative to create a comprehensive assessment, conducted with urgency, to avoid this dilemma.
There are many benefits of the SPARK Learning Assessment, including:
Provides a comprehensive learning overview for a child—in as little as two hours.
Establishes a cognitive baseline to help get your child on the path to their potential.
Gives you a detailed look at your child’s strengths and how they learn best.
Delineates differentiated recommendations for areas in need of attention and the impact of their learning in and out of the classroom.
Matches a learner with a personalized instruction plan aligned to their unique strengths and weaknesses.
Serves as a tool to educate your child’s team in order to create clear communication amongst all.
It’s easy to get a SPARK Assessment set up for your learner. To help you know what to expect, I’ve listed what happens at each step, and given a bit of context as to why each is important to the overall assessment process.
There are many types of tests used (and frankly, abused) in academics these days, so it may be helpful to take a momentary step back and start with a simple definition. The Edvocate lays out a basis for using assessments to “gather relevant information about student performance or progress, or to determine student interests to make judgments about their learning process.” This approach to assessments aligns with the Learnfully way of thinking: the goal of the SPARK Learning Assessment is to identify any gaps that exist between a child’s potential and their current performance, and recommend programming that has been proven to develop the right skills and strategies to close the gap.
To do this, we first need some assistance from the parent or caregiver. We start with a quick phone call with the caregiver (which we call the “intake call”) wherein we gauge the areas impacting a learner’s ability to thrive in all of the various aspects of their learning. During the call, we ask specific questions to uncover a more fully-formed picture of a learner’s unique profile. This profile helps us personalize the evaluation to target a child’s challenge areas.
After the call, we’ll share the Learnfully Caregiver Survey. We respect and appreciate the perspective of our caregivers, so we ask that they fill out a 10-15 minute survey prior to scheduling the SPARK Learning Assessment. Once submitted, we quickly follow up to schedule the assessment.
The SPARK Learner Assessment typically takes two one-hour sessions to complete. So that our Assessment Specialists can provide the most accurate appraisal of a learner’s skillset, we schedule the evaluation using all available information provided by the caregivers (like their intake survey, reason for referral, learner’s energy levels, and scheduling needs). On the day(s) of the assessment a battery of measures will be conducted, reflecting the needs of the learner.
There are five skill components measured as part of the SPARK Assessment:
Emotional & Behavioral: Helps determine any social-emotional factors that can inhibit the learning process, like body regulation, distractibility, endurance, and more.
Cognitive Skills: A baseline that measures a learner’s reasoning, processing, and problem-solving capacity. Those with learning differences and average-to-high IQs often have underdeveloped executive function profiles, resulting in underutilized cognitive abilities.
Executive Functioning Skills: Scores on a set of metacognitive skills used to control abilities and behaviors like attention, organization, planning, and working memory. Understanding a learner’s strengths and weaknesses is crucial to help them consume and process information, facilitating their learning.
Literacy Skills: Measures a learner’s reading and writing skills at grade level. Skills areas tested include decoding, fluency, comprehension, automaticity, and more.
Math Skills: Measures a learner’s math skills at grade level, based on abilities in computation, problem solving, story problems, and conceptual understanding.
Following the assessment, we host a consultation to defrief the results of the report. This is a critical part of the assessment, as it helps us provide transparency to caregivers and educators (as well as the learner themself). An Assessment Specialist will conduct this meeting within a few days following the final evaluation to walk through our findings, a learner’s strengths and challenges, and review individualized recommendations that will place them on the path to their full potential. We welcome the opportunity to collaborate and connect with a learner’s team (such as teachers, outside specialists, and others included in the learning process ) and review the report with them as well. Once a learner is enrolled in programming matched to their needs, we stay in close communication to discuss observations and progress.
Our report is broken into easy-to-follow sections, as follows:
Research substantiates that established rapport and strong connectivity between a learner and their educator yields the highest level of results, thereby expediting progress. This is the Specialist-matching part of our SPARK Learning Assessment that is so crucial. A child is matched to an Education Specialist based on several factors, like the Educational Specialist’s training, their certifications, and their personality characteristics (to achieve maximum learner engagement). We also take into account the learner’s interests and strengths to help bolster their attitude toward learning and furthering their own progress.
Continuously measuring, monitoring, and communicating a learner’s progress is embedded into everything we do, and this starts with the SPARK Assessment. Within the included report, we delineate the short- and long-term goals (micro-objectives and macro-objectives, respectively) for a learner’s instructional plan. Once we begin supporting services for a learner, we provide frequent session notes and monthly Progress Update meetings, both of which are written in accordance with the short- and long-term goals outlined in our various assessment methods. Additionally, our Assessment Specialists reassess a learner every 6-12 months, depending on the frequency and duration of a learner’s instructional sessions.
The SPARK Learning Assessment provides the perfect opportunity for caregivers, educators, and the learner themself to uncover what is blocking their path to potential. Rather than waiting months to see a psychologist, our SPARK Assessment can help save time, money, and invaluable learning time.
The holiday season is upon us—which means many of us will spend time with our immediate and extended family, whether in person or virtually. For neurodivergent learners, the holidays can present challenges: sensory overload, feelings of anxiety or being overwhelmed, social isolation…the list is practically endless. I sat down with Suchi Deshpande, Learnfully co-founder and a parent of two neurodivergent learners, in order to uncover all the ways we can embrace our learners’ needs during the holidays (and frankly, all year long). In this timely discussion, we went over many of the common misconceptions family members have regarding neurodiversity, and the impact these misunderstandings have on learners. We strategized about ways that we (as parents) and our loved ones can advocate for better awareness and acceptance for our neurodivergent children to allow them to become their authentic selves.
Here are some of the notable misconceptions (along with their more reality-based counterparts) that we discussed and felt were important to pass on to our community:
When a family member expresses incredulity at a child’s diagnosis, e.g.“Matthew doesn’t act like he has ADHD.””
We know diagnoses are often invisible, and stereotypes are superficial. Assume your family member has the best intentions, and acknowledge them for making an effort even if their observations are incorrect or don’t tell the full story.
When a family member assumes a caregiver does not want to be asked how they are doing, e.g. “I’m sure you’re tired of being asked about Lexi’s dyslexia diagnosis.”
It’s important to understand the human side of caregivers as well as their learners. We want to be heard and seen and feel supported. While we aren’t looking for sympathy or offhand solutions, it’s important to consider (and nice to know) that family members genuinely care and want the best for our children.
When a family member thinks every diagnosis falls into a cliche or stereotype, e.g. “Since Adam has autism, he’s super smart, right? Like the Rain Man?”
As caregivers we know not to assume or draw conclusions based on a societal impression of a learning difference. It’s important to impart this understanding to well-meaning family members, and help guide them to ask the right questions to learn more about a child.
When a family member misinterprets a diagnosis as the result of poor parenting, e.g. “Sara needs discipline—she’s just being naughty and acting out because she wants attention.”
We know that neurodivergent learners are processing what is often an overwhelming amount of sensory information and trying to cope the only way they know how. Emotional and behavioral regulation come with effort and practice, and family members need to understand that it takes many small steps to meet these big goals.
When a family member incorrectly believes learning differences are related to IQ, e.g. “Jonah seems really smart, why doesn’t he perform well in school?”.
IQ has no correlation with the natural brain variations that result in learning differences. Parents and caregivers of neurodivergent kids know that they are sufficiently intelligent individuals, and that it takes repetition and consistency to build the underlying skills to help these learners succeed.
Caregivers of neurodivergent learners ultimately want what is best for their children, and it can sometimes feel like a tightrope act to balance this with the natural desire of their family to feel included. By leaning into this discomfort and airing potential misunderstandings with your family, you’ll set a course for them to embark in an honest discussion and orient them to better embrace your child for who they are. You’ll also be doing your part to debunk the many common misconceptions about neurodiversity and help our community evolve into a warmer and more welcoming support system. Try to release your preconceived notions. Instead, listen attentively to your family’s concerns and seek to understand their actions. Do your best to afford every family member the level of involvement and understanding they need to accept your child and feel accepted themselves.
As an Educational Specialist myself, I have always prided myself on maximizing learner engagement and, thus, expediting progress through positive reinforcement and the fun-factor. If learners feel seen, heard and understood, they are more likely to lean into discomfort and to challenge themselves towards success. Motivators such as positive praise and token-based systems can ignite a profound drive in learners. As a result of this, Learnfully developed a research-based reward system, Success Sparks, that are used as a driving force throughout instructional sessions. We reward effort and not accuracy for it is effort that cascades change in performance and underlying ability. Let’s explore why and how Success Sparks work to develop, strengthen and apply our learner’s skills to guide them towards realizing, then reaching their full potential.
Start with Why
Token Reward Systems have been used for centuries to encourage and shape desired behaviors because they enhance intrinsic motivation so that individuals can conjure up the strength they need to face adversity and overcome learning obstacles. Research with individuals in classroom settings using token economies has been firmly established the efficacy of token reinforcement in altering a wide range of responses (Kazdin, 1977). In a study conducted by Gonzaga, educators utilized a token reward system with preschool, elementary, middle, and high school learners experiencing behavioral challenges and found great success. The majority of individuals respond positively to rewards. For those who do not, we differentiate our use of positive reinforcement accordingly.
How it Works
Here’s how our Educational Specialists use the Success Sparks System:
Break the session down into smaller chunks of time. Waiting an entire instructional session to earn a Success Spark can seem like too big of a goal and many learners will lose interest therefore impacting the efficacy of the system.
Choose up to three behaviors to address at one time, rewarding effort over accuracy. We select a behavior that your child is already doing well, one behavior that needs a little improvement, and one challenging behavior to allow learners to see and feel success one step at a time.
Create an appealing reward menu or game board with a variety of learning tasks. Our Educational Specialists set an agenda at the start of each session to maintain clear goals, then offer rewards worth a variety of Success Sparks to keep it exciting.
Frame the desired behaviors in a positive way. Instead of saying, “Don’t sound the word out aloud,” we create a goal like, “Say the word in a burst.” Using positive reinforcement, state which behavior we want to see so we can reward the good behavior with a Success Spark.
Place a Success Spark on their chart as soon as they earn one. We offer immediate acknowledgement for good behavior by giving our learners a Success Spark for meeting his goals.
Small Steps to Big Goals
Studies have proven the efficacy of successive approximations or baby steps towards a larger goal – one step at a time, in other words. Once a learner earns a set number of Success Sparks (small steps), our Educational Specialists reward them with a handwritten note and a Spark Award in the form of ribbons (big goals). Many of our learners, then, hang the ribbons on their wall to serve as a constant reminder of the hard work and dedication they put into our sessions. As their efforts unfold, their collection of ribbons grows. This form of delayed gratification can be difficult to employ as a motivating force which is why the Success Sparks are in place for immediate inspiration towards the larger goal.
Learnfully’s Educational Specialists are experts in positive reinforcement and are loyal to personalizing their approach to meet each and every learner’s needs. The use of a structured, reliable system such as Success Sparks dramatically improves learner engagement and grit so that they can achieve their goals and feel confident while doing so. Spark Success in your child by enrolling in one of our many programs, your learner will assuredly find joy in the learning process as a result.
How Does it Compare to Other Service
As a caregiver, when you become aware that your child struggles inside the classroom it can be stressful and scary. A teacher or school administrator might even recommend educational therapy. In this article, we will provide an overview of educational therapy and discuss how it can help kids with learning and thinking differences.
What is Educational Therapy?
According to the Association of Educational Therapists (AET), “Educational Therapy offers children and adults with learning disabilities and other learning challenges a wide range of intensive, individualized interventions designed to remediate learning problems. The ultimate goal of educational therapy is to foster development of self-confident, independent individuals who feel positively about themselves and their potential as lifelong learners.” Generally speaking, Educational Therapists combine multisensory, evidence-based methodologies to address both academic and underlying social-emotional challenges in order for learners to see and feel success.
Who benefits from Educational Therapy?
Learners with and without diagnoses benefit from Educational Therapy, especially those facing obstacles in:
language processing and/or comprehension
executive functioning (i.e. sustained attention, self regulation, working memory, time management, organization and planning)
mathematical computation/problem solving
What types of programs would generally be used in Educational Therapy?
Multisensory, research-oriented programming based on a learner’s holistic needs are utilized in Educational Therapy. Examples include, but are not limited to Orton-Gillingham®, Social Thinking®, Zones of Regulation®, SMARTS-EF®, Growth Mindset®, Lindamood-Bell®, Wilson Reading System®, Step up to Writing®, Handwriting Without Tears®, Making Math Real®, to name just a few!
Is Educational Therapy the same thing as tutoring?
This is a common misconception, tutoring and Educational Therapy differ in many ways. Traditional tutors focus on content and curriculum to support academic performance whereas Educational Therapists target the underlying sensory-cognitive functions that allow learners to strengthen, develop and apply their skills into academics and beyond. Therefore, tutors focus on the what while Educational Therapists focus on the how of learning. Tutors do not need any specific training or credentialing to support learners, whereas Educational Therapists undergo extensive training in a multitude of behavioral, emotional, psychological and educational modalities to support learners from all angles. Additionally, Educational Therapists utilize assessments to ascertain a learner’s present levels, create instructional plans, generate program recommendations, propose accommodations, delineate objectives/goals and gauge progress thereafter. They also serve as a case manager and collaborate with a learner’s team to provide insight into the learner’s profile and to maintain consistency of implementation in and out of their sessions. Tutors can speak with a learner’s ecosystem about their observations, but are unable to evaluate all aspects of a learner’s profile.
How can you find the right educational therapist for your learner?
Finding an Educational Therapist can be overwhelming for caregivers. There is an undeniable high demand and low supply for highly skilled specialists who have both the certifications and personality to establish a strong rapport and expedite progress. While the disparity between performance and potential widens, learners continue to fall further and further behind, compromising their self-esteem and feelings of self-worth along the way. At Learnfully, we are on a mission to minimize the amount of time learners wait while searching for the best fit Educational Therapist by providing families access to our personalized platform, highly curated specialist network, proactive communication channels and transparent progress monitoring. Starting with an introductory discussion and, if desired, an educational assessment that pinpoints the learner’s strengths and challenges, you’ll quickly get matched to a program and educational therapist that will unlock their potential.
October is National Learning Disabilities, Dyslexia and ADHD Awareness Month, so what perfect timing for us to debunk some extremely common myths that exist regarding learning disabilities. At Learnfully, we believe that all learners are brilliant in their own right and deserve to be celebrated throughout the year. Let’s demystify the top 10 myths so that we can honor those who learn differently now more than ever!
1. Learning Disabilities are directly correlated to intelligence.
It is a common misconception that learning disabilities are related to one’s intelligence, but, in fact, it is quite the opposite. Learners who learn differently typically have average or above-average IQ. Unfortunately, because they are constantly challenging themselves, we do see 20% on average drop out each year from school which can easily send the wrong message to society as a whole.
2. Learning Disabilities impact boys more than girls.
The sex and gender identity of a learner does not impact their ability to learn. That said, statistics suggest that males are diagnosed earlier than females for a multitude of reasons including the fact that some male learners’ symptoms are most overt and some female learners’ symptoms, thus, go unnoticed. Female learning disabilities can go undetected throughout their childhood because they appear compliant and, sadly, male learners are viewed as behavior problems at an early age.
3. Accommodations are a band aid approach.
By definition, accommodations are used to level the playing field for those who learn differently than their peers. They describe an alteration of environment, curriculum format, or equipment that allows an individual with a disability to gain access to content and/or complete assigned tasks. They allow students with disabilities to pursue a regular course of study. Since accommodations do not alter what is being taught, instructors should be able to implement the same grading scale for students with disabilities as they do for students without disabilities.
4. Dyslexia is defined by reading backwards.
Dyslexia involves neurological deficits that impact many layers of the reading process and not just one’s directionality. Common symptoms for Dyslexia include, but are not limited to: challenges with rhyming, blending words, recalling sight words, reading fluidly with expression, spelling orthographically and phonetically. Dyslexic learners tend to be very creative and imaginative, so they try to compensate for their differences by tapping into their strengths.
5. You can grow out of a LD because they are school-based.
Learning disabilities are life-long diagnoses that follow a learner as they age. Once diagnosed, learners can feel empowered to discover strategies as to how to reach their full potential and to navigate the communicative world around them. Regardless of their successful methods, however, learning disabilities do not fade away as a learner ages, but they can become easier to manage.
6. Healthy habits such as nutrition, physical fitness and sleep have no impact on learning.
The right fit nutrition, exercise and sleep patterns actually improve attention, energy levels, motivation, and productivity. Sometimes symptoms of learning differences can stem as a result of poor habits. Trained experts can separate the symptoms from the daily happenings to determine whether or not a diagnosis is warranted. All this to say, these healthy habits can certainly bolster one’s ability to learn, but cannot cause a diagnosable learning disability.
7. LD symptoms are overt and can be seen.
Not all learning difference symptoms are noticeable especially at a young age when expectations are lower. In fact, some can even mask or hide their differences until a later age (as noted in the myth about girls vs. boys). Learning disabilities tend to involve symptoms that are underlying and not as measurable at first. As a learner ages, variables such as their environment, puberty and academic/social performance tend to heighten both the learner’s and their caregiver/educator’s awareness as to how they are struggling so that they can seek the right support.
8. LD is just another way of saying ‘lazy’ or ‘unmotivated.’
Quite the opposite! Those with learning disabilities tend to work harder than neurotypical peers because they have to overcome struggles that their peers do not. Over the course of my 20 years in this field, I have heard this myth from caregivers and educators the most (believe it or not!). Since we know our children are capable, labeling them as lazy or not driven seems to justify why they are not becoming who we know they are meant to be. Thankfully, learners are able to find strategies and help for their disabilities to move past the potential lack of motivation/energy.
9. Lack of parent involvement causes LDs.
Since learning disabilities are biological, caregiver and educator involvement only helps us to catch their LD faster and earlier. Granted, the more support, the better, especially when you have learning differences. But the lack of support, time, energy invested into a learner’s academic success does not cause learning disabilities.
10. Medication can help LDs.
This is typically not the case, especially since diagnoses such as ADHD and Anxiety/Depression are not necessarily considered learning differences. Neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections, especially in response to learning or experience or following injury, is alive and well though. There are multisensory, evidence-based programs that can actually rewire the brain to make learning easier for those with LDs. The LDs do not go away, per se, but learners are better able to navigate their symptoms with these methodologies.
Now, let’s be honest – there are plenty more myths out there that we did not discuss here, so feel free to use other resources such as LD Online or National Center for Learning Disabilities if you did not find the myth you were looking for or are curious to learn more!
Find out how Learnfully supports kids with learning differenceshere.
Learning differences are very common. Experts say that more than 1 in 5 individuals struggle with learning in one way or another. Many face learning challenges and do not qualify for an actual diagnosis. The likelihood that someone you know and love has a learning difference is rather high, so we would like to kick off Learning Disabilities Awareness Month by providing you, our community, with an overview of learning disabilities and learning differences as a whole. Stay tuned all month as we share information and resources to support our mission to ignite learning and unlock the potential of neurodivergent learners!
Learning Disabilities vs. Learning Differences
Learners are diagnosed with a learning disability by undergoing comprehensive psychological evaluations and observations. Diagnoses are given based on the criterion set forth by the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, fifth version). Those who are diagnosed with a particular (or several) learning disabilities are protected under the law to preserve the rights of individuals with disabilities to equal treatment. For school-aged learners, the Federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures that students ages 3-21 will receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). IDEA ensures that children with disabilities will have the same opportunities and access to public education as their peers without disabilities. Under IDEA, there are currently 13 different disability classifications. In order for students to be considered eligible to receive the support and services provided under IDEA, they need to be “classified” under one of these 13 categories. Unfortunately under IDEA there is no classification of Learning Difference or Learning Challenge – so what is so what is a learning difference?
The term Learning difference originated from the principle that the term “learning disability” focuses on the weaknesses of a learner and doesn’t appropriately recognize the strengths of such learners. The Learning Disabilities Association of New York State (LDA) puts it plainly: “Many people prefer to use the terminology “learning differences” or “learning challenges” instead of “learning disabilities.” Some are concerned that the term “learning disability” focuses on an individual’s cognitive weaknesses and isolates them from other learners while the term “learning differences” highlights the fact that they simply learn differently than others do.”
At Learnfully, we believe that we all learn differently and given the appropriate resources and instruction, all learners can be put on their path to potential.
The Most Common Learning Disabilities
It is important to keep in mind that, with or without a diagnosis, learners very well may face several side effects such as sensory-motor integration, motor planning, coordination, and executive functioning. Although we cannot go into depth as to how these side effects may impact learning in this article, we are able to provide insight into the most commonly diagnosed learning differences and their related symptoms below.
80% of learning differences involve challenges with reading. Dyslexia is,thus, probably the number one learning disorder. Auditory processing, visual processing disorders may have trouble that affects children and adults as well. It’s a condition that makes it challenging to understand text or speech. If you have dyslexia, reading, writing, and speaking can be difficult and overwhelming. Many creative, brilliant, outside of the box thinkers are Dyslexic because they process the world through a different lens.
Some symptoms of Dyslexia are as follows:
Reversing the position of letters
Challenged by symbol to sound correlations
Inability to imprint symbols and patterns in memory
Struggling with reading comprehension load
Difficulty learning new vocabulary or rhymes
May have trouble understanding directions
Did you know that over 6 million children are diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)? Many children with ADHD are disciplined for misbehaving, but they can’t control their actions. ADHD makes it difficult to concentrate, which can lead to one learner distracting others around them in a classroom setting if they are unable to access tools to support their needs.
Some symptoms of ADHD are as follows:
Unable to sit still
Limited sustained attention span
Hyperfocused on preferred tasks
Disorganized or forgetful
Difficulty staying quiet
Lack of motivation
Dysregulation: mood swings or emotional outbursts
Lots of people dislike math, but are eventually able to understand it with enough consistent and repetitive practice. Dyscalculia is more severe because it is a diagnosed learning disability that makes it challenging to understand even the most basic math concepts. Since math builds upon itself in a cyclical fashion, learners with dyscalculia can fall behind and struggle to catch up for years.
Some symptoms of Dyscalculia are as follows:
Challenged by number sense
Unable to reach automaticity with math facts
Struggling with concepts such as measuring, time, and estimating
Being unsure of how to approach word math problems
Difficulty following the order of operations
Finding it challenging to count and group numbers together
Dysgraphia is an affective learning disability that makes it hard to write legibly. Some people with dysgraphia struggle to hold a writing utensil comfortably while others lack the spatial awareness needed to produce legible text.
Some symptoms of Dysgraphia are as follows:
Taking a long time to write
Holding a writing utensil improperly
Struggling to express thoughts in a clear sentence structure
Speaking out loud while writing
Although dyspraxia is a condition that affects someone’s motor skills, it still has the potential to hinder specific learning. The reason why is because a person with dyspraxia may not be able to hold a pencil or participate by speaking regularly.
Some symptoms of Dyspraxia are as follows:
Challenges with verbalization
Weak hand-eye coordination skills
Struggling with fine-motor tasks
Feel free to check out these incredibly useful resources:
We are honored to have the opportunity to support caregivers and educators through their learner’s journey rising to their full potential and are here to help as questions and concerns arise. Please do not hesitate to reach out to our network of specialists or any of the above resources for guidance. You and your learner are not alone, we are in this together.
Find out how Learnfully supports kids with learning differenceshere.
“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.“
– Audre Lorde
At Learnfully, it’s woven into our mission to celebrate neurodiversity. That is why October is particularly special to us.
This month, we celebrate LD Awareness Month, ADHD Awareness Month, Dyslexia Awareness Month, Dyspraxia Week, and Developmental Language Disorder Awareness Day on 15 Oct.
These celebrations are always important, but this October it’s critical to shine a light on the neurodiverse communities. The Covid-19 pandemic has upended so many parts of all of our lives. But its impact has been especially challenging for the neurodiverse community and their families, many who rely heavily on well-established routines to build consistency both in and outside of the classroom. Some were forced to go without therapies or meeting with caregivers or educators, to avoid spreading this terrible disease. All these factors compound and impacted the neurodiverse community disproportionately.
A recent survey of autism caregivers and parents underline these challenges. 64% of caregivers said that the changes brought by the pandemic “severely or moderately impacted” their child’s autism symptoms, behaviors or other related challenges. Meanwhile, three-quarters of parents also suffered: saying they felt extreme or moderate stress because of the disruptions to their lives.
That’s why we’re celebrating throughout this month by trying to share as many resources, insights, and stories as possible to build community, connection, and support. We’ll be hosting events and webinars, publishing a blog series highlighting the neurodiverse, and providing tips to parents and family members who face the challenges of neurodiversity.
We hope you follow along. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube and on our Blog. And we want to hear from you: feel free to use the hashtag #LearnfullyLDAwarenessMonth to share your stories, tips, and insights with us this month.
Find out how Learnfully supports kids with learning differenceshere.
Summer is upon us and it already feels like it is FLYING by, but fear not! We have outlined TEN exciting and effective ways to maximize the time that you have remaining as a family and have a blast doing so. No time to waste, let’s live it up this summer!
1. Passion Project
What is a Passion Project exactly? The name pretty much says it all! Essentially, each member of your family decides upon a topic in which they find inspiration and diligently research, create and execute presentations as a family in a few weeks. Last summer, my family decided to use the social climate to propel our music themed passion projects which resulted in our two oldest children curating dynamic presentations (one using a slide deck and the other a poster board) on two musicians who now serve as key role models in their lives. If you happen to want to take this idea to the next level, feel free to find a list of extended project ideas here (thanks, Develop Good Habits!).
2. Summer Reading
Most schools and local libraries provide lists of suggested (or required!) summer reading materials. If you are searching for something different, head on over to these resources and dive right in: Imagination Soup for all ages, Scholastic’s Middle School list and Understood.org’s list for reluctant readers! Also, don’t forget how exciting receiving magazine subscriptions was for you as a child, try finding a high-interest magazine for your kiddo (Kazoo and Lego are two of our favorites!). So, find a shady cozy nook on a picnic blanket or soak in the sun with a refreshing lemonade and enjoy reading as a family this summer!
3. Game Time
Explore a variety of games – card, board, imagination, mental, online – as they not only help your learners stay engaged and bust boredom, but also to continue strengthening their critical thinking and Executive Functioning skills. As you may know, these are critical components to any learner’s social-emotional toolbox, so best to spend some downtime developing these underlying abilities before it comes time for them to tap into them as a resource come next school year! For ideas, please check out the second week of our summer video series!
4. Experimental Living
Enjoy spending a little time being a scientist yourself by orchestrating a few simple science experiments for your learners at home by exploring ideas from KinderCare or Business Insider (to name a few!).
5. What’s (or Who’s) Cooking?
Enjoying your time as a family in the kitchen provides endless opportunities! Learners can write and create menus, grocery lists, recipes as well as prepare and execute meals. My kiddos even use cooking supplies as imagination starters to play music, wear helmets, use as stencils, you name it! Helping you with meals in every fashion can strengthen their feelings of productivity, ownership, creativity and, ultimately, motivate them to continue cooking when the school year comes!
6. Day Trips
Summer seems like optimal timing for day trips, especially this year when you might not have been able to travel these past 18 months. Discussing ideas and organizing your time together before venturing makes for a fun mealtime conversation! You can also follow an old school printed/paper map, take pictures all along and log your daily occurrences in a journal to have a keepsake to reminisce about in the future (not to mention to continue reinforcing their planning and writing skills!).
Spending time building your learners’ fine and gross motor skills is easy peasy, promise! Encouraging safe, fun-filled, risk-taking behaviors such as climbing a tree, swimming, learning new dance moves, playing hopscotch, or just as engaging low-risk activities such as playing with gak/slime, drawing, coloring, collaging ( just about any art project) can make for ideal pastimes!
8. Gardening Galore
Believe it or not, fall is right around the corner, so why not start planting seeds to enjoy this Autumn?! Produce (pumpkins, kale, squashes, collards, etc.) or flowers (roses, chrysanthemums, sunflowers) can both thrive in the fall season. The Honeycomb Home has many ideas to spark your creative juices. Just remember to check out your region’s list of viable options and the timing for each. Gardening is not only fun to plan and execute, but also to observe as your family sees the benefit of patiently waiting for beauty to sprout!
No time like the present to provide your learners with a little summer structure by sketching out a routine and a weekly calendar, right? Might as well utilize the lull to also start setting up their work spaces and use their planning skills to write down a list of back to school supplies they will need when the time comes. It is important, however, when establishing organizational goals for the summer to avoid anything too lofty or you run the very real risk of potentially not finishing what you started which can be even more stressful than not getting organized in the first place!
We hope that you have time to thoroughly explore and fully enjoy each and every aspect of summertime that brings your family and friends joy as we intend to do! Keep learning alive while discovering what makes your learners tick and you will all surely thrive as a result!
Hooray, we made it to summer, seems like quite an accomplishment for us families! We know that your family could very well feel exhausted from the last 18 months of uncertainty which is absolutely understandable. After you take the deserved time you need to decompress, optimizing the “free time” to find learning moments is a top priority, especially this year. Even before the pandemic, summer slide was scientifically proven – contributing to more pronounced achievement gaps and creating feelings of defeat in all learners. “Researchers have explored this topic for more than a century,” according Ariel Goldberg with edsurge.com, so why are we not able to conquer the summer slide as a community?
By definition, summer slide is the learning loss children experience by not reinforcing the growth of their prior year. Learners who do not read, write and problem solve throughout the summer months can lose an additional three months of development achieved during the previous school year. The three months of loss academically can impact a child’s self-esteem and self-confidence. Instead of starting the following school year strong, children who experience summer slide may experience lower self-worth which can create even more loss than the lack of practice, particularly if teachers do not spend the first four weeks of instruction reviewing last year’s concepts. At minimum, learning loss impacts the follow areas:
Let’s explore ways that you as caregivers can naturally strengthen your learner’s skills while still providing the reprieve you deserve and without adding too much to your own plate.
Key Steps to Maximizing the Summer Months:
Engage in fun-filled learning – We certainly want your family to enjoy this summer and make the most of the time that you have together! Learning together can take many forms from card and board games, to conducting science experiments, cooking their favorite dishes, orchestrating outdoor activities and the like! It is imperative to treat these as moments to foster a love of learning holistically.
Continue to build learning foundations – It is important to sprinkle in learning opportunities both organically and explicitly. In order to maintain your learner’s engagement, scheduling sessions with outside specialists can preserve your family dynamic and help to reinforce/progress the previously established goals from the school year.
Introduce something new – Especially during the pandemic, special interests and hobbies could have fallen to the wayside. Setting aside time (daily, weekly, in camps, etc.) to allow learners to explore something new can spark a love for learning novel tasks and increase their likelihood of taking risks when they return to school!
Invest in the right screen time – We get it, some learners are burnt out from screen time after months of distance learning. Finding ways to incorporate learning opportunities via screens such as learning videos, brain games, instructional sessions can provide the balance between play and enrichment that your family needs to thrive this summer.
Encourage boredom – Brilliance follows boredom and structure is key to attaining this beauty during the summer, believe it or not. Establishing a routine can set learners up for success and provide reassurance for what’s to come each day and week. As a family, we create a boredom busters box full of ideas for our children to access and a space that serves as a creativity outlet so that they can feel free to make a mess and to lean into their boredom at the same time.
Offering a Helping Hand
For more ways to engage your learners in the process at home this summer, check out understood.org’s list of resources as there are so many from which you can gain inspiration! At Learnfully, we aim to empower neurodiversity by supporting families as a whole. Please feel free to watch our past webinars (especially the one dedicated to summer slide: Rise & Shine), programs dedicated to bridging the disparity between potential and performance and summer YouTube video series to discover even more ideas as to how to utilize the summer months bolstering your learners’ strengths and building momentum academically, socially, and emotionally!
“Autism is not a disease. It’s more like a trait that may or may not translate into a disability. Whether or not it translates to a disability is within our power to influence.”
-Dr. Ami Klin
In honor of Autism Awareness month, we felt it only right to spotlight one of the most influential and celebrated researchers in the field, Dr. Ami Klin. According to the National Autism Association, the diagnosis has impacted many lives across all socioeconomic borders and is averaging 1 in 54 as of today. Klin would argue, however, that we all have Autistic traits in us. The way in which said traits present is what might warrant the diagnosis. Boys are 4-5 times more likely to receive the diagnosis and some say this is due to the fact that girls present their symptoms differently and, thus, go undiagnosed. There is hope for our society as a whole to acquire a heightened cognizance about what Autism Spectrum Disorder truly is thanks to the efforts of Dr. Klin and like-spirited researchers.
Dr. Ami Klin is an internationally recognized clinical psychologist, researcher, and the Director of Marcus Autism Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Emory University School of Medicine, the largest center of clinical care for children with Autism and their families and one of only three NIH Autism Centers of Excellence. Dr. Klin is also a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar, Professor, and Division Chief, Emory University School of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics. Dr. Klin earned his doctorate from the University of London and completed clinical and research post-doctoral fellowships at the Yale Child Study Center. Until 2010, he directed the Autism Program at the Yale Child Study Center, Yale School of Medicine, where he was the Harris Professor of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. Dr. Klin is also the author of more than 200 publications in the field of autism and related conditions.
Dr. Klin’s primary research activities focus on the emergence of social mind and brain, and disruptions thereof in autism, from infancy through adulthood. One area of emphasis in this work is a longstanding collaboration with Dr. Warren Jones in which eye-tracking technology is used to conceptualize and measure social engagement particularly in infancy. Eye-tracking is useful in diagnosing those with Autism because it allows practitioners to gauge the level of attention with specific stimuli as well as their theory of mind (the ability to take other’s perspectives, beliefs and intentions). Tracking eye movements and, thus, providing diagnostic insight in infancy allows young learners to receive highly effective early interventions that could potentially shift their life-long trajectory. This program of research has more recently focused on monitoring infants at increased risk for developmental disabilities, from birth, in order to determine and to detect the earliest markers of Autism. Klin and his team are, therefore, hoping to lower the age of detection and to improve access to early treatment with the goal of strengthening outcomes for learners and their families.
As is always true, if you have met one learner with ASD, you have met one learner with ASD. No two learners on the spectrum present the same and, therefore, cannot be treated the same way. There is more certainty, however, in the ways in which we diagnose learners on the spectrum which Dr. Klin has so profoundly proven. In his efforts, he has also managed to shift the perception of the diagnosis altogether, shaping society’s lens as to what it truly means to have the diagnosis.
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