Karen L. Schiltz Ph.D.

Beyond the Label

The Role of Educational Remediation

The Big Picture Part VI

Posted Jun 01, 2012

“My daughter just got diagnosed with a reading disorder. She has trouble reading simple words and we are at the end of the 1st grade. I was told she should have been reading these words at the end of kindergarten. Could we make progress with a reading program this summer?”

“Ella has trouble with remembering to turn her assignments in on time. On top of that, she has problems remembering when tests are due and I keep ‘on her’ to turn assignments in at the right time. The assignments are online. Thank goodness! Is there any way we can help Ella this summer? The pressure is off and she has time to concentrate.”

“Everyone says I should just wait for my 16-year-old grandson to mature. He can’t seem to get his thoughts in order when he writes an essay in school. Jake also has problems with making silly mistakes on tests and homework. Everyone thinks Jake has a problem with spelling.”

Summer is the time to have fun! However, students can also benefit from intensive help if they exhibit problems with reading, writing, math, and planning and organizational skills. In addition, many students do not know how to prepare for a test. Still many of you may be wondering how to prepare your child for an upcoming Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE), Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT), Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), and the formerly known American College Testing (ACT) examinations. Preparation takes time and effort!

An educational evaluation is one of the testing procedures that you may want to consider if you suspect that something is a little off with your child’s academic skills. Educational remediation is also a process where the specialist can help your child implement strategies to manage his/her time more effectively and use more efficient study skills when completing homework and studying for tests. In addition, many educational therapists enhance a student’s reading, written expression, and math skills. I asked educational remediation therapist and consultant, Lynne Merrill from Westlake Village, California, to enlighten us and help us understand the importance of this field.

Karen Schiltz, Ph.D.: Thank you, Lynne, for joining this blog. First, what is an educational assessment all about?

Lynne Merrill: There are many types of educational assessments, today. As an educational remedial therapist, I view the educational assessment as the best way to determine what a child’s academic potential and needs are. In today’s world, with shrinking funds available to local schools, there is a danger that many children may “slip through the cracks.” There is a risk that a child’s academic difficulties may not be correctly diagnosed, or not diagnosed early enough. An educational assessment, performed by a qualified professional, will identify not only a child’s weaknesses, but also a child’s strengths. These evaluations provide valuable information that will allow a team of professionals to understand and treat the child’s needs, appropriately and knowledgeably. Once this information is available, the intervention can be specifically targeted to ensure optimal results. The evaluation report provides a “blue-print” that helps specialists such as speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, pediatricians, behavioral psychologists, educational remediation therapists, schools, and the classroom teacher(s) know what their roles are in the overall treatment plan. When a team is working together, the child always succeeds!

Unfortunately, many parents miss the opportunity to identify problems early in a child’s education because they are concerned that their student will be “labeled,” throughout their school years and into adulthood. Parents may be surprised to learn that with appropriate testing, there are actual advantages in the educational process. If the examiner finds academic weaknesses, disorders, or disabilities, the child may qualify for additional time on school tests, extra time on college entrance exams, note-taking assistance, and help within and outside of the school. A report is the best guarantee that the educational needs of a student will be met in order to “level the playing field” when competing with their peers.

The saddest thing that parents tell me is that they wish they would have acted sooner. With correct diagnosis and early intervention, parents provide their child with happier school experiences. It is important for parents to trust their own instincts. Often when I meet a parent of a new child whom I will be treating, they tell me that they suspected something wasn’t right for a very long time. Sometimes, they saw the clues in infancy. I always assure them that while appropriate and timely testing and intervention is optimal, it is never too late to begin the remediation process.

Dr. S.: What is the difference between a tutor and an educational remediation therapist?

Lynne: A tutor is often engaged to help a child with a specific area of the curriculum or to provide assistance with general homework. The tutor could be the babysitter, a grandparent, or anyone knowledgeable with the subject he or she is addressing. Many children will need a tutor at some time, and the arrangement works well. An educational remediation therapist, however, is specially trained to work with correcting remedial needs. This type of professional wears many hats. On any given day in my office, I may see a child with organizational issues who needs to be schooled in efficient study habits. Next, I may be working with a child with dyslexia (a reading disorder), a written expression disorder, or a math disability. I also work with gifted children, who need to have their academic talents maximized, either for their own growth or to pass a high-stakes examination such as the SAT and ACT.

Educational therapy is deeper in scope than tutoring. With the knowledge of what the issues are, the therapist works to correct the deficiencies and teaches the child strategies to get past them. The goal of the therapist is to help the children learn to help themselves. Often, as school becomes more manageable, the child may not need either a tutor or the educational therapist. The success belongs to the student; the therapist was there to assist, teach techniques, and guide them to academic competence.

Dr. S.: What is the standard of training for the educational therapist?

Lynne: Educational therapists can come from many arenas. Some therapists have been teachers with long careers in special or regular education. They have seen the process from the “trenches” and their years of experience and specialized classes have prepared them to undertake this new way of making a difference. Some educational therapists are educational psychologists, who bring yet another area of expertise to the table. Yet, other educational therapists have undertaken a specialized training program through a university.

There is no one standard of training; likewise, not everyone who claims to be an educational therapist is qualified to do more than tutor. Parents should not be shy in asking a prospective educational therapist what their background is. Also, parents should not feel afraid to ask other professionals for references.

In my opinion, the correct match for your child will be the important determination. The therapist needs to be able to invest the child into the process of educational remediation. This is often done by using a child’s strengths to correct their weaknesses. This is one example of why the educational assessment is so valuable. The examiner is able to match the needs of the child with the educational therapist who is best suited to work with not only the issues, but the child’s overall temperament. This is so important. For educational therapy to be successful, the student and the therapist must be comfortable with one another.

The therapist needs to meet the child where they are and to believe in where they can go. Likewise, the therapist should be able to tell you what problems they will be addressing and how long that process may take. Of course, every child is different, and the time estimate is only an educated guess. A more accurate estimation can be provided after the therapist has seen the child in their office for a time. If the therapist is correcting many issues, the time needs to be adjusted, accordingly. Still, there should be an end in sight. Educational therapy, like any type of therapy, should not be an unending process. The student needs to learn how to stand on his or her own—they need to fly on the wings of their newfound confidence.

Dr. S.: Please educate us about how an educational therapist can help a child with a reading disorder.

Lynne: There are many difficulties ahead for a child with a reading issue. It is one of the most painful disorders for school-aged children. It is also a disorder that undermines a student’s success or failure across the curriculum. Therefore, an appropriate educational assessment is needed to determine if the child is exhibiting problems in decoding, fluency, spelling, comprehension or in all four areas. With that in hand, the educational therapist’s first task is to decide which program(s) will be utilized. Most educational therapists, who specialize in reading, have different programs from which they can draw. It is important that the therapist acquaint parents with the information available and what the leading researchers have learned about the process of reading. Today’s programs are designed to “fix” a reading problem, which often has biological origins. The common thread through the various programs available is daily, explicit, and intensive intervention that can be measured and adapted. Therefore, reading disorders are often addressed during the summer months, when the child is not burdened with other obligations.

Learning to read with comprehension is empowering. A parent should remember that if the program that taught everyone else to read has not worked previously, it is time to try something else. More reading workbooks and comprehension worksheets will not make the structural changes necessary for a poor reader to “see the movie in his or her head.” Yes, they may advance some, but the gap between themselves and good readers of their age will only grow. The child’s shame will continue to intensify. Being illiterate in today’s world is not an option.

Dr. S.: How about “executive” functioning difficulties in terms of planning and organization skills as well as time management skills?

Lynne: Many students have problems with organization, planning, and time management. Sometimes these students don’t even remember what homework they have to complete, and sometimes they will complete the work but not turn it in. Often these children are very bright and creative. They have managed to get through school without figuring out how to take control of their own learning experiences—to a point that is. Unfortunately, they only “get through” until they run out of luck!

In early elementary school, children are often in self-contained classrooms with one or more teachers. The teacher(s) usually has her/his thumb on what everyone is doing and is very helpful in reminding a student to take home the necessary materials or to turn in assignments. Early elementary educators usually communicate with parents on at least a weekly basis. However, as the curriculum changes from a primary, multi-sensory experience to a visual-auditory demand, children need to plan and organize their school days and assignments. Some grasp the techniques and welcome the new challenges. Others find doing this very difficult.

While some may only need to figure out what to do, others will not be able to manage. These children are struggling with executive functioning skills. Parents may wonder why Annie did not turn in her work again, or why Charlie missed the fact that a major science project was due two weeks ago. This can be very stressful for the parents and their child. The good news, however, is that with the help of a professional, the child can learn skills and techniques to make the educational system easier to navigate. Whether that may be learning to organize a binder, write in an assignment notebook, take notes, highlight correctly, identify pertinent information in their texts, or the correct way to plan ahead, it can be done. With a newly learned awareness and appreciation for time, the student is prepared to replace their old habits with efficient tactics that will make school work more efficient and often less time consuming. Stressful family interactions related to school often decrease. I have yet to meet a student or parent who did not see the benefit in that!

Dr. S.: Do you typically involve parents as you work with the child?

Of course, that depends on the age of the child and the issues being addressed. Very young children may want mom or dad in the room the first time we work together, but once they feel “safe,” they are usually okay if mom or dad steps out. There have been many times, especially with executive functioning problems, when I want the parent to follow-through with the child at home. Their presence at this time is vital to the success of the work the child and I have been doing.

At other times, however, especially when the child and parent have been at odds over school, I prefer to meet with the child and converse with the parent later. Children are often more open to my questions about school if we are alone. They will answer the questions on my study skills worksheet more truthfully. That helps me to determine how to prioritize and individualize an educational remediation plan. Sometimes a parent will think that their child is withholding information from them. It is important to remember that the student does not want to admit failure and disappoint their parents; that is often the basis of their “secrecy.” As an objective third party, I can ease that type of situation by teaching a student how to become more responsible and successful at school. Children are usually very forthcoming, when they have academic triumphs to share.

 However, even if the parent is not in the room when I work with the child, their behind-the-scenes efforts on their child’s behalf are still valuable. I always try to brief the parent about what we have done, what I am planning for next time, and how they can assist us in the home. The parents are a vital part of the team, whether or not they are in the session. I also think that it is important for parents to know that they can pick up the phone and call, if they have any information or concerns. An open dialog between the therapist and the parents accelerates the educational therapy process.

 Dr. S.: I know that you have helped many parents and their children, Lynne. Can you please tell us about your private practice in Westlake Village, California?

 Lynne: Thank you, Karen. After a career in education, I began private practice as an educational therapist, eighteen years ago. I have worked with children from kindergarten through college and even some adults. Since many bright or even gifted students have learning disorders, the students that I treat present many opportunities to deal with all types of educational issues.

 A particular joy for me, however, is giving a student the key to reading. It is a passion that has allowed me to be with a student the first time it “all comes together.” What an exciting moment that is! Along with that, I love teaching a student to write. Whether it is to nuture the gift of creative writing or to teach the steps to “cracking” a five-paragraph essay, it is always a delight to see the words move from a child’s head to the page.

 In addition to my private practice, I opened a private school approximately twelve years ago, and administrate home-tutoring programs as well. The best thing about being an educational remedial therapist, however, is that whatever I have on the agenda, I know it will be a fulfilling and exciting day at work!

 Dr. S.: Thank you for your time, Lynne. It is very important for parents to know that summer is a great time to help their children enhance academic and executive functioning skills.

 I will be reviewing research on sleep next month. Many children have trouble with sleep and this difficulty can increase the possibility of problems with attention and concentration during school. As I mentioned previously (see blog of March 1, 2012 with Dr. Antall), a medical checkup is a good starting point when you think that something is a little off.

 Best Always,

 

Karen L. Schiltz, Ph.D.
Psychologist (CA PSY 9508)
Private Neuropsychology Practice of Karen Schiltz Ph.D. and Associates
Associate Clinical Professor (Voluntary)
Medical Psychology Assessment Center
Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior
Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences
David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA