Posts Tagged ‘learning disability

28
Feb
12

?isht daer uoy naC

So often, what we think is true and what turns out to be true are vastly different.  In fact, they’re sometimes contradictory.

Consider the “fact” that reading involves left to right decoding of letters into sounds.  In most cases, this is impossible, especially if you want to read aloud.

As an illustration, I ask you to consider the following:

First, I will tell you a word I’m thinking of that has 9 letters: _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _.  It begins with “u”: u _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Now, if reading proceeds left to right, you should be able to say right away what sound this first “u” represents.  But you can’t, not yet.  It could be yoo or it could be uh.

Let me add another letter’ ” n”:    un _ _ _ _ _ _ _ What sound should the “u” represent?  Remember, if you read left to right, you should be able to tell for sure by now.  But doubts might linger.

I’ll add another letter, “a”:  una_ _ _ _ _ _. You’re probably pretty sure it represents the “yoo” sound.  Don’t bet on it.

But wait!  I’ll add another letter, “n”: unan_ _ _ _ _.  Sure now? Let me add another, an “i”:  unani_ _ _ _.

Now you’ve “decoded” five letters from the left. Your guess as to what the “u” stands for could still be wrong.   Add a 6th letter, “m”: unanim _ _ _ . The value of “u” is still indeterminate.

Not until you get to the 7th letter can you tell for sure what the “u” represents. That 7th letter is “o”:  unanimo _ _ and the word is “unanimous” and the “u” represents the sound yoo, as in “unit” yoo-nit (compare the first sound in the word “until”).  The other word you may have been thinking of was “unanimated” in which “u” represents “uh“.

Let me be very clear on this: IF you truly did “decode” the word “unanimous” in left to right order, you’d have to revise your pronunciation of the first letter several times, a very Inefficient system for sure.

The fact is that most of the time we have to look FIRST at the END of word before we read it aloud.  Compare: “rat – rate” where the FINAL “e” reminds you to pronounce the “a” as a “long a”.  Indeed, you can’t say what an initial letter “a”  in ANY word represents until you look at what’s farther along to the right of the “a”.

So it looks like “Phonics” rules are based on fantasies.  A child cannot look at words one by one in left to right order.  He’d take forever to read sentences.  Even a simple 4-letter form like “c _  _ _would be problematic:  Is initial  “c” a /k/ as in “cats” or  an /s/ as in ” cent”?

Learning to read is a marvelously mysterious activity;  research has not explained how ANYBODY learns to turn written symbols into speech sounds.  But being cognizant of what isn’t involved in reading liberates us and our children from needlessly taxing and frustrating “lessons”.

I think Phonics helps, especially with consonant sounds. But its limitations are very real.

I remember way back when I was helping a Dyslexic 9-year-old read.  He got to the word “enough” .  He inhaled deeply, squeezed his hands into fists and started “sounding out” the word letter-by-letter, right to left. By the time he’ d gotten to the letter “u”, he was gasping, nearly strangling. When he got to the “h”, he had said : /ee nih ah uh guh huh/.

I remember he sort of sighed, looked up at me hopefully and seemed to be saying to himself, “What was THAT?;  I’ve NEVER heard that word before.  I sure hope he doesn’t ask me to repeat it.”  I didn’t.  I muttered something about it being an exception . . . which didn’t do him much good after such a Herculean effort to string together 6 sounds he’d never encounter except . . . maybe . . . in the Hawaiian language.

 

Advertisements
24
Feb
12

You Can’t Learn Language by Imitation: The Case of “a”, “an” , “the” and “some”

For children with Language Learning  Disorders, the process of acquiring  skills is in part the very intricacy of language. In order for you have to appreciate their struggles, you have to be aware of the stunning nature of this intricacy. Indeed, the subtleties of language are such that one wonders how anyone can acquire any language, especially since so little of it is taught in any but the most tangential ways. Yet you did acquire these subtleties. And what helps a lot, what you must also apprecitate is the orderliness of the rules of language. For in the end, it is these rules that must be learned, not so much the individual sounds and words. For it is in trying to learn these rules that children with Langauge Learning Disorders  become so frustrated and defeated.

Of the most elementary yet intricate of linguistic forms the most common are called “Articles” (a, an, some and the) . They are  governed by a set of rules defining their uses in sentences. These rules, about which we are almost wholly unconscious, define which utterances are legitimate and which are not.

For example, you can say 1)”I’ll have a soda“. But you can’t ordinarily say 2) “I’ll have a gravy”.  So, what’s the difference?  The article “a” is followed by a noun in each case. So why can you say   #1 but not #2?  How can you assert with such authority that #1 is “right” and #2 is “wrong”? And  who taught you?

First, you have to be aware of the fact that most nouns can be divided into two great categories. The first set includes nouns like antelope, urchin, cat and highway.  This category is huge, and its members are called “Count” nouns.  They refer to separable, individual units and so  they can  be “counted”.  Logically,  they can be pluralized (antelopeS, catS, urchinS)

The second set includes nouns like gravy, sand, flour, meat and dust among  many others. These are called “Mass” nouns. They do not refer to an individual entity but more to an undifferentiated “mass”.  Generally they cannot be pluralized (flourS or sandS).

In general, a, an, the or some can be used with count nouns (the cat, an urchin). With mass nouns, only the or some can normally be used (the gravy, some sand).

However, a or an may be used before a mass noun if the item referenced by the article is construed as a separate or self-contained entity.  For example, in “I’ll have a milk” the “a” is legitimate if  that milk is in a container of some sort. “A sand” is also legitimate if you are referring to a specific sort of sand. e.g. “A good sand for building castles can be found on the beach”.

Mass nouns are flexible.  Variations abound.  If, for instance, you go into a diner for breakfast and want butter for your pancakes, you can say, “I’ll have A butter ” and it will be served up in pat or sealed container. On the other hand, if you say, “I’ll have Some butter“, you will get it in whatever form the diner chooses. But if you say, “I’ll have The butter” the waitress may regard you quizically as if you were asking for all the butter that the diner has . . . . unless:

1.) the diner offers other pancake toppings (sour cream?, marshmallow?) OR

2.) the waitress already knows how you want the butter served (e.g. as a “regular” cutomer)

Based on these rules, you cannot say things like,” My mother wiped a butter off her shoe.” unless you want your listener to think she had one spot of butter on her shoe (by the way, you can’t say, “She had one butter on her shoe.” either). And you can only say ,” My mother wiped the butter off her shoe” if both you and she know that it’s there.

How anyone learns all these rules without anyone ever explaining them, much less drilling you on them, is a great mystery to theorists and language specialists alike. That these rules for article usage are far more extensive than indicated above only deepens the mystery. But it certainly eliminates the “explanation” that says we learn language by imitation. And it surely helps us understand how our children with Language Learning Disorders struggle so.

02
Feb
12

“It’s Right on The Tip of My Tongue”

Just yesterday, Vince, a 17-year-old from a prestigious private school, came for an Evaluation.  Soft-spoken, a bit self-conscious but wholly committed to doing his best, Vince demonstrated very sophisticated verbal aptitudes – faculties nearly essential in the particular school he attended where so many peers possessed superior abilities.

But Vince was struggling in school and seemed unable to overcome his diffuse but substantial achievement problems.

Though no pattern of deficits or even weaknesses emerged in the first of two test sessions, one interesting moment arose when I asked (as part of the IQ Battery’s “Information” subtest), “Who wrote ‘Great Expectations’?”

Vince shot up straight, clapped his hands together, snapped his fingers once and exclaimed, “Wait, I know this!  I KNOW I know it! Gimme a sec!”  But after some 40 seconds passed, after much grimacing and sighing and seat-shifting, he seemed to sag in his chair, as if he were deflating.  “I can’t think of his name.  I know it!  I know it!”  A moment later, he sighed deeply and groaned “Aw, I don’t know.”

At that point, I took out a piece of paper and asked him to guess how many letters were in the author’s last name.  At first, he looked amused, but after some encouragement, he said, “Uh, eight!”.  I said, “No, there are seven” and drew seven short dashes on the paper (like the kids’ game, “Hangman”)  The dialogue continued:

Me:  “How many letters are in his first name? “

 Vince:  “I’ll say seven”.  

ME:  “Right”  And I drew seven short dashes to represent the seven letters that Vince guessed were in the author’s first name.  Now, he was looking at two groups of seven dashes:

ME:  “What’s the first letter that comes to mind when you think of this writer?  Just guess.”

Vince:  “Okay, um…’I’?”

I put the letter “I” in the second dash of the last name group of seven

_ _ _ _ _ _ _  –  _I_ _ _ _ _.

ME: “Guess again.”

 Vince: “I dunno – ‘C”?

 I put the “C” in two spaces: C _ _ _ _ _ _  –  _IC_ _ _ _.

Me: “Next?”

Vince: “E”.

I put the two “E’s” in.  Now he was looking at:

C_ _ _ _E_  –  _ _ I C _ E_ _.

ME: “Any guess as to his name?”

Vince:  “No, not at all”.  

ME:  “Guess again”.

Vince:  “I keep thinkin’ “S'”.

ME:  “Right”  And I added the “S’s”

C_ _ _ _ES – _ IC_E_S.

ME: “Next?”

For the sake of brevity in this post, I continued to ask Vince to guess letters one by one,  and as he guessed a correct one, I inserted the letter in the appropriate space.  In order, he “guessed” the following letters, “D”, “K”,”A”, “N” and “R”.  He was now looking at:  C_ARLES DICKENS.

He’d guessed all the letters in the name without error, the number of letters in the name (OK, he guessed one extra space) . But he couldn’t recall the name !! How is it that he could take ALL those absolutely correct guesses ( and he was genuinely guessing as far as I could determine and he was concerned) and NOT KNOW THE NAME?

He looked again, threw his hands up in the air, smiled broadly but in some embarrassment, and nearly shouted, “Oh God! Charles Dickens, of course!”  Until that moment, he could not recall the name.

What Vince had been experiencing was what is popularly known as a mental block.  When this “block” occurs frequently in a person’s speech efforts, it is called “Dysnomia”  Often described as a “word-finding” difficulty, it entails spontaneous, inexplicable failures to recall names, dates, even math facts or word pronunciations on demand.  This disposition to “draw blanks” is not a manifestation of anxiety or an intellectual deficit.  It disrupts speech spontaneously and unpredictably in circumstances in which the speaker has to recall a name to answer a question or specify a particular object or person in a sentence he wants to communicate.

While it is fairly common for true Dysnomics to be able to recall individual letters or sounds of the desired name and while they often can specify facts associated with the desired name (e.g. Vince knew Dickens was an “English” writer of the 19th Century”), they all too commonly fail to “find”  names.  But later on, perhaps driving home or sitting in a chair watching TV, Dysnomics will spontaneously recall the name:  “It just popped into my mind!”

In future posts, I will describe how exasperating and  how frequently Dysnomia can impede academic achievement.  At the same time, I’ll review what I ultimately learned about Vince.  I don’t think he’s truly Dysnomic but…I’ve been wrong before. We’ll see.

31
Jan
12

Attention Disorder? Felicitous Flaw

Steve was not a kid. He was a middle-aged Professor in some arcane scientific field, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, an international scholar. He was getting depressed because he couldn’t master some coursework in mathematical computations he had been trying to learn.

Steve’s IQ turned up at the 150 mark, higher than 99.9% of the adult population, far into the exceptional range. But measures of attention were peculiarly lower, not dismal, just too low for such an otherwise gifted person.  No history of psychiatric disorder or  recent trauma could account for these low scores.

But in discussion with him, he recounted how hard he had to work in school, how he spent so much time on homework, especially with foreign language work (“I hated French!  Math was hard too, until I got to calculus and statistics.  They were easy.  I don’t why,” ).  He told me how he had to double- even triple-check his work and still find mistakes, how he had to re-read everything. He said he got good grades because he worked much harder than his classmates. He figured he was just average but did well because he just spent all his time with schoolwork.

I reported to him the results of my testing, his exceptional scores, his singular intelligence. He stared at me as I reported these facts to him. Then he began to cry, just for a short period, quite against his will. He was embarrassed: “I’m sorry. But this is a real shock!  All my life, I just thought I was, you know, sort of slow and certainly not smart.”

Steve had been laboring, all those years, under the adverse effects of a rather severe Attention Deficit. He had been young when he could handle all the re-reading and double-checking that his deficit demanded of him. But now, in this current coursework which required strict attention, he was unable to generate the extra energy and effort  necessary to learn the material.  And it was demoralizing and depressing him.

We discussed the benefits and liabilities of medication, among other treatment options. In a subsequent conversation, he reported that he had tried the medication – on an as-needed basis – and had found it “incredibly helpful”. “I could concentrate!”, he exclaimed.

But then something really odd happened.

For when I said, “It’s a shame this medication wasn’t available to you when you were younger”.  He replied: “I’m glad it wasn’t.” A bit stunned, I asked why. “Well,” he said, “over the years, I learned to learn in different ways, ways that made the job easier though it  never became really easy.  But these “different” ways led me to think about things from original or unconventional points of view.  And that’s what won me all the accolades and honors I’ve enjoyed over my professional career, my ‘unusual’ ways of looking at things and all the discoveries and insights those ‘ways’ generated.  IF I’D TAKEN MEDICATION I WOULD NOT HAVE LEARNED THESE WAYS AND I DEFINITELY WOULD NOT BE WHERE I AM TODAY!” 

Steve made me think, hard and long.  And I realize now, as I’ll report in future posts, that there are real advantages to having an Attention Deficit, that strengths of enormous amplitudes can spring from that “deficit”.  He taught me a deep respect for the legitimacy and dignity of all learning types and styles . . . . if I would only take the time to look for them. Needless to say, I have.  Thanks to Steve.

28
Jan
12

He’ll catch on; he’s such a nice boy

Kyle’s 8 years old now. But he’s just beginning second grade; he was “held back” in kindergarten because his teachers thought he was immature. Kyle’s Verbal abilities reached into the Superior range at 124, better than 94 % of the kids his age. Put another way, he had the “mental age” of a child two or more years older than he. That is, he answered test items that the typical 10 or 11-year-old would answer. Of course, that age group is in the 4th/5th grade NOT the first month of 2nd grade.

Kyle was told to write about his dream house. He dutifully positioned his lined paper on his desk and began to scrawl, gripping he pencil tightly as if at any moment it would squirt from his fingers and clatter on the classroom floor and invite a warning from his teacher, Miss Warmsly.

He thought of a lot of things, actually pictured his dream house in his mind’s eye, colorful and detailed in ways only children can imagine. His house would be near the ocean; it would be a house boat so he could watch the fish go by and swim any time he wanted.

Below you can see what he wrote.  He spent ten minutes on it. When his teacher strolled by his desk, she cooed, “Good job, Kyle. Why not add some more?”

But Kyle knew that the tangle of lines and curves he’d just engraved on his paper were garbage. They made no sense to him. As a matter of fact, he wasn’t sure whether they were wrong or right because when he went to write, he couldn’t think of how the letters should look, “How do you make a ‘y’?” he’d asked himself when he started to write the word “you”. Just a vague knot of lines floated momentarily in his head. He prayed (he was a good Christian boy) he wouldn’t have to read his description to the class because he  had no idea of what his markings “said” or even when  one word ended and the next began. How did the other kids do it, he wondered and make it look so easy and even add illustartions.

Kyle was very bright. And so knew he was an abject failure; kids had laughed at his work before. Anger and tears competed just below the surface as Kyle stared at his paper.  Miss Warmsly was sooooo nice and he wanted so much to please her. But he knew her coos and smiles and kind gaze were basically those of sympathy and pity and well-disguised disappointment. He knew these things because  her coos and all were replaced by genuine sounds of praise and pleasure when she looked at the other kids’ papers… and because he was sharp, insightful.

Kyle dreaded the possibility that anyone would see his “writing”. He dreaded it so much that nausea began to get  jumbled in with his anger and tears. So, he put his head down on his desk and wouldn’t look up, put his arms and head over his paper so his shame would be hidden.

Later, a “learning specialist” tested Kyle’s writing skills and concluded that they were in the “average” range and that he should try harder because she and all his teachers “knew he could do it”. The specialist did note that “Kyle’s spelling errors and sentence structure made it difficult to gain meaning from his writing” but that “overall, Kyles’ writing skills were in the avegrage range.”

Two months later, Kyle became obstinate,”oppositional”, even “defiant”. He was sent to the principal’s office several times. His parents were called in. They were told he had an emotional problem, that he needed help and, of course, that he was “coming along” in his writing.

Three months later, Kyle was in my office so I could see how he was doing. He was sullen, defensive. He did not smile at all…only once when he talked about a science fair he went to with his Dad. He was severely limited in both reading and writing. Indeed, he was a long way from literacy, a very long way.

Kyle’s dream house remained invisible to everyone, friends, family, teachers. It stayed in his head, this elegant floating boat house on a sapphire sea, beautiful fish leaping at the bow, the sun so warm on his face. He swore to himself he’d never, ever, ever again put his heart on paper where it would be ridiculed and trampled in the laughter of his classmates.

At a meeting I attended, one where his teachers and specialists and parents gathered to discuss Kyle’s  “issues”, I asked if any one  of them would be so kind as to read Kyle’s “dream house” paper  aloud (I’d made copies for all). They politely declined. “He’s such a nice little boy!” his teacher cooed.

Kyle will be in therapy soon, superior intelligence and all.

The humiliation of a dyslexic

25
Jan
12

I heard what you said; I just forgot

An Attention Disorder is manifested in numerous ways because, quite simply, attention is involved in nearly every activity, even the generation of thoughts.

One common feature of an Attention Deficit is rapid forgetting of what one has just read or heard.  Consider Liz, whom I described in my 1/22/2012 posting.  Essentially, she couldn’t reliably register and maintain incoming information for a period of time sufficient to interpret or manipulate it in some way.  This process of data-maintenance is a function of Working Memory.  But Working Memory must be extremely reliable if one is to respond correctly to whatever the incoming information requires. And its processing powers are formidable.

If someone says the word “grand”, for instance, you will not be able to understand it until you register all the sounds of that word in Working Memory.  “Grand” consists of five sounds, /g/, /r/, /short a/, /n/, and /d/.  So each of these five sounds must be identified precisely.  If any one is inaccurately identified, you will not be able to identify the word.  Or you will misidentify the word (e.g. as “grand” or “grunt” or even “”can’t”).  In fact, you may not be able to tell whether what you heard is a word or not. When you listen to a young child speak, a person with a foreign accent, a drunken slur  or one with an unfamiliar dialect, you find yourself concentrating very hard. You narrow your eyes, watch their lips and facial expressions, focus intently on the sounds they’re producing and often enough ask them to repeat.  All you are trying to do is identify  sounds  so that you can assemble those sounds into a word you recognize.

Meanwhile, you are “holding” the sounds you do hear in Working Memory, sustaining them there until you finish your analysis or give up. I’ve been amazed with young mothers whose toddlers seem to be saying “Ahwanceal” and the mother instantly responds,“No it’s lunch time; cereal is only for breakfast.”  You might notice here that even determining how many words were said can be daunting because you can’t tell where one word ends and the next one begins (locally, the spoken unit “Jeweet?” is easily segmented into “Did you eat?” by a listener familiar with the local dialect patterns.).  Indeed, our ability to recognize slang, “accent” and dialect variations depends on precise identification of aberrant sounds as acceptable variants of standard sounds (the unit “Yall” is nonsense since there is no such word, yet few have difficulty assigning it the meaning of “You all”.)

Recognize that the time it takes to say “grand” amounts to a small fraction of a second. Recognize further that you effortlessly identify all its sounds in that sliver of time. The sentence, “I’ll be reading Dickens this afternoon” contains 25 sounds, yet all of them are easily identified in about 1.5 – 2.0 seconds. That’s over ten sounds a second.  And all this “Auditory Processing” takes place in Working Memory.

So, Working Memory  has to be extremely efficient and reliable.  But suppose it is NOT.  Suppose information (sounds) entering this system are very rapidly corrupted (deleted, mis-sequenced, garbled).  Or suppose that something heard exceeds the limits of Working Memory because it’s too long. Then, the information is lost or misinterpreted.  So, what was happening to Liz was that her Working Memory could not reliably and correctly “hold onto” language data (sounds, mainly).  So, before she could interpret what she heard, the data themselves were being corrupted…or erased.  And then, she suffered the consequences: misunderstanding in some cases, in others, instant and wholly INvoluntary forgetting.  In circumstances where she couldn’t request a repetition, she was defeated.  For her, forgetting what people said to her, forgetting what she’d just read were all too common experiences.  And when her job depended on efficient auditory processing, where the consequences of mis-hearing or mis-reading a direction, dosage amount, drug or patient name could be lethal, she despaired.  Because she couldn’t stop forgetting.

21
Jan
12

Gifted and Learning Disabled?

Asymmetric Intelligence (note the scores above are derived from an older version of the Wechsler scales, It is displayed here to simplify the issues discussed in this posting. Later versions of the Wechsler scales, which I will address in subsequent posts, include "Index" scores that needlessly complicate the explication of the central issue in this posting: The differences between Verbal and Non-verbal Intelligence measures.

This set of IQ scores, including subtest scores, was obtained by a young man in his teens. He was angry, depressed , very sophisticated and confused. And he was brilliant and mediocre at the same time.

You should look at the difference between his  Verbal Score and his Performance Score. The former, Verbal, was of a magnitude shared by LESS  than FIVE in every THOUSAND kids his age; he was clearly gifted verbally.  His score far exceeded the mean even in his fast-paced private school setting, where the “average” was the 90th percentile. Even in this competitive milieu, he distinguished himself. His ideas were abstract, insightful, far beyond his years. He effortlessly generated fluent, grammatically complex and stunningly insightful comments and test responses, embedding in them vocabulary items both precise and scholarly. He read voraciously, debated issues with his teachers and refused to agree with things just because some authority said so. He loved TRUTH. He was respected, even awed by some of his teachers; he intimidated some with his astute reasoning and flawless logic.

But he was getting poor grades. He hated Science and Math. His writing was a scribbled tangle of lines and curves. He said he hated to write. His parents complained that he was disorganized, lazy, argumentative . But they loved him. “He’s a sweet boy,” his mother said. His father often discussed…and argued about…politics, the economy and especially morality, right and wrong. “He just seems frustrated all the time,” his father observed, just a hint of sadness in his voice. “He seems confused.”

Eric had good reason to be confused ! Look at his Performance score. About 50 of every 100 kids his age would score lower. BUT 50 would score higher. And so, in his high-powered, academically rigorous independent-school classrooms, he was well BELOW the average for that population. So, mathematical concepts like “square root” or “acute angle” didn’t make much sense to him. He could memorize formulas and procedures. But he couldn’t apply what he was learning. He couldn’t reason well at all when such concepts were involved.

When I asked him how far it was from New York to Los Angeles, he said “About 30,000 miles.” When I asked him to show me how big a “foot” was by holding his hands apart, the space he produced between hands was a good three feet. On an outline map of the U.S., he drew the Mississippi River horizontally from Texas to California. He “lost” things, he said. “I can never remember where I put something.” And though he was close to getting his driver’s license, his parents worried because he got lost so easily and couldn’t read maps at all.

Because what the Performance subtests measure, the ones called  Block Design, Object Assembly , Coding, etc .(see above), is NON-VERBAL abilities.  Notions of abstract space, proportion, orientation, direction, even time participate in these Performance functions. And so, when weaknesses and deficits occur in them, concepts like “The day after tomorrow” or “bilateral symmetry” or “atomic shells’ , even  left-right , the order of months in the year, ratios and congruency become nearly impenetrable mysteries because they cannot be “pictured”, because the word and terms connect with NOTHING or only the most nebulous of mental representations. Handwriting is sloppy, planning efforts are perfunctory and athletic competition is minimized.

Eric could, I guess, be called gifted-learning disabled. He was rare, rarer than many a gifted child, but common enough for me to have seen quite a few over the years. In later posts I’ll discuss what becomes of such individuals, what can be done to support them, what they can do themselves.

I explained a lot of this to Eric in a conference after testing. His parents asked me to. He had a thousand questions. He smiled a lot.