Friday Counseling Issues: Learning Disabilities

Visual Processing Disorder:   This is a problem not with vision, in terms of being nearsighted or farsighted, but instead  it concerns how information taken in through the eyes is processed in the brain. Here is a website that will help explain the problem:

In simple terms,  the person simply can’t make sense of what he sees in what we consider normal terms.  For instance, spatial problems would be those in which it is difficult to perceive the positions of objects in a given space, or in relation to other objects. You may notice, for instance, a child reaching for a toy and missing it  over and over again.  It is normal in the beginning, but if it persists and does not improve, there could be a visual processing disorder.


Other problems will develop.  Math and reading are both based on symbols or figures that a child needs to learn to identify and use correctly.  Also, a child with visual processing disorder may be one who is told he is clumsy, or needs to be more careful. He bumps into things, trips on the steps with regularity, puts his cup or class on the edge when he thinks he has set it far enough back that it won’t spill.

This is not an area of expertise for me. I have taught kids with several of the other learning disabilities we’ve discussed, but not this one.  From what I’m reading online, there are interventions that can be helpful.  One of them has to do with what we call “figure-ground,” something I learned about  in working with kids who had ADD.  The “ground” is the paper  on which the “figures” are written.  I learned to write tests that had lots of white space instead of crowding the page with too much  type. Matching sections were done in sets of five rather than ten or more, which can be terribly difficult for kids with a variety of learning disabilities.  And I did not hand-write my tests.  Students learn to read the printed word, not the written word. Not all teachers have the same handwriting, and some have  a hand that is difficult to read.  Typing, especially in  a size larger than  10 or even 12, is easier on the eyes.

Because I designed my tests for the kids who had difficulty, all my students grew to appreciate my uncluttered, easy-to-read tests.  Clutter is a real problem for kids with visual perception difficulties. A neat and orderly locker, desk, or book bag is very helpful for these kids. It’s a skill that should be taught and learned early on.

Next week I’m going to finish this series with a post about autism.  Again, I’m no expert in that subject, but because it is becoming so common I’d like to address it. The best news is that there IS help, and there is hope.


Friday Counseling Issues: Learning Disabilities

CAPD: Central Auditory Processing Disorder, sometimes also just Auditory Processing Disorder,  is a condition that affects a child’s ability to process what he hears in the same way other kids do because his ears and brain don’t fully coordinate. Something interferes with the way the brain recognizes and interprets sounds, especially speech.

Some kids with this problem are very sensitive to loud noises They will, when very young, cry if there is nearby thunder.  Fireworks?  No, no, no.  Not fun for a child who has CAPD.

It’s very easy to confuse CAPD with ADD or ADHD. (You know, I truly dislike writing in acronyms!)  Some of the symptoms are the same. The thing to watch for is whether or not the child mixes up sounds even if they are clearly pronounced.  Now, don’t get all flustered. All kids mix up sounds when they are first learning to talk. It’s hard for them to distinguish S from F, for instance, or B from D.  Often, they come up with some pretty cute, funny, or embarrassing mistakes. But as time passes, these mistakes go away. A child with CAPD?  The mistakes remain.

Background noise is a problem.  Big crowds, noisy kids in a cafeteria at school, loud music in a restaurant, can all make it very difficult for someone with CAPD to hear clearly. Feeling stupid, they learn to pretend they’ve heard and to just nod or smile rather than trying to answer.

Only 5% or so of kids actually have CAPD.  There is help.  Here is a good website if you think your child–or maybe your spouse or other relative–may have this disorder. Sometimes, just understanding it goes a long way toward living with it.

Friday Counseling Issues: Learning Disabilities

Dyspraxia  is  a learning disability that most of us have never  heard of before.

Living with Dyspraxia ~ |

Dyspraxic people can  have language problems, and sometimes some difficulty with thought and perception. Dyspraxia, is not a matter of low intelligence, although it can cause learning problems in children.

Developmental dyspraxia is an immaturity in understanding and performing multi-layerd movement. For instance, a dyspraxic child will not do well at learning to play the piano. There are too many things he must process all at once, and he simply can’t.

A person with dyspraxia has trouble planning what to do, and how to do it. He is overwhelmed by complex problems of physical movement, including speech and handwriting.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke2 (NINDS) describes people with dyspraxia as being “out of sync” with their environment.

Studies have shown that about 10% of people have some degree of dyspraxia, while approximately 2% have it severely. Boys have it more often than girls . And dyspraxia often comes packaged with ADHD.

Daniel Radcliffe, better known to the ancient ones among us as Harry Potter, has dyspraxia. You can read what he has to say about it here.

Early symptoms of dyspraxia can include slowness in learning to sit up, crawl, stand up,  walk, speak, and potty-train. All of these actions require multiple movements, and a dyspraxic  needs more time and maybe some hands-on help to get it figured out.

The list of difficulties grows as a child gets older. Shoe laces, buttons, zippers, buckes, snaps–they’re all problematic in varying degrees.  Getting dress?  Shirts are backward, buttons all messed up, pants unzipped, shoes on the wrong feet and untied. He’s not deliberately messy.  He think he did a great job of dressing himself.

There is so much involved in dyspraxia.  You can read about it in detail on the link I gave you about Daniel Radcliffe.

Treatments range from physical therapy to occupational and speech therapy. Some kids have trouble learning not to stuff their mouths, and then they can’t swallow. They don’t make the connection between an over-full mouth and swallowing. They have to be taught to take smaller bites, chew, swallow, repeat.

Other therapies include Active Play and even Equine Therapy, which is being used quite successfully for many difficulties in children and teens. There’s something about the horse-human connection that gives a child confidence that he is not just stupid, clumsy, careless, and all the other unpleasant names we tend to label our children with.

This is a fascinating field, and I’m getting lost in reading about it. It goes beyond simply having trouble learning this or that task. It is a bewildered child not understanding why he can’t do the things all the other kids do.

It hurts my heart.




Friday Counseling Issues: Learning Disabilities

Dysgraphia, according to Wikipedia, involves a lack of coordination between what is heard of seen and the ability to write it down.  Dysgraphia usually occurs only in handwriting (which, lamentably, a lot of schools are no longer teaching. Keyboard skills are considered  more relevant). It can also occur in printing, but won’t show up as readily as when a child is learning cursive (connected) writing.  It has been my experience that kids who have trouble with dysgraphia often prefer to print. They make fewer mistakes that way.

Here’s a more thorough article about dysgraphia:

This is the kind of paper a dysgraphic student may come up with:

I actually became fairly adept at figuring out how to read these papers. You find a rhythm after a while, and begin to recognize patterns.

And here’s an interesting graphic that may help you understand the subject better:



One more:


And a really good website offering insight and help:

Click to access 147_Dysgraphia.pdf

The bottom line here is that not every student is capable of producing a paper that has beautiful handwriting or precise printing. For some, writing/printing can be an agony of erasures, cross outs, and start overs. These kids need encouragement, not criticism. They’re probably doing the best they can, and they’re frustrated beyond bearing  when, no matter how hard they try, their papers are handed back to them with the word MESSY printed across the top.

They know it’s messy. They just don’t know how to make it better.



Friday Counseling Issues: Learning Disabilities

Dyscalculia.  This is going to be a short one today, because dyscalculia shows so many similarities to the dyslexia we covered last week.

This one I know about on a very personal level.  I’ve struggled as long as I can remember with simple calculations because I tend to put the numbers in backwards, or to do the wrong calculation with the right numbers.  Like, eight minus four is 24.  Seriously. 


I wore holes in my homework papers with all the erasing I did. I understood the processes perfectly, but getting my problems right was a daily torture.  I did finally discover that talking to myself as I worked was helpful.  If I said the numbers and the process out loud, it seemed to make a big difference. 

I loved algebra and geometry.  It wasn’t all numbers.

Here’s a symptom list that you may find helpful:

So did I ever ask for help?  Good grief, no!  I was an “A” student.  My problem made me feel so stupid!  I’d never heard of learning disabilities back then, and I doubt any of my teachers had, either.  I even managed to test out of 8th grade math and go right to Algebra I in eighth grade, which was such an immense relief to me that I thought I’d won the lottery.  Algebra, I could do.  It was fun.  There were letters AND numbers, which cut my misery in half.

My problem was relatively minor compared to a lot of kids who ended up in tears during most math lessons.  But I will always remember how much I struggled, and how embarrassed I was when I had to go to the board to solve a problem, dreading that moment when the teacher would intervene with a puzzled look at me because I was “one of the smart ones.”

There is help. Lots of help online.  Search “dyscalculia help” and you will find lots of good information.

You know, the memories are flooding in right now.  Learning my nines in the multiplication tables was torture. I hated long division. Timed tests were also torture. And I’ll always remember the time I put the check number in the  amount column in the checkbook, and the amount in the check number column. Yeah, that was lots of fun to figure out.  When I finally realized what the problem was, I wanted to punch holes in walls.

Terry thought it was funny, which made me want to punch holes in HIM 🙂

Friday Counseling Issues: Learning Disabilites

Dyslexia.  Most people these days know what it is on a surface level. but those who actually have it know that it goes much farther than simply transposing letters when reading.


I could actually do this whole post with graphics.  There are hundreds of them on Google images if you want to take a look.  My point is that dyslexia affects far more than just reading.

Here’s a symptom list : You really should take the time to go look, especially if you or someone in your family has dyslexia.

The good news is that dyslexia is neither terminal nor a guarantee of failure in life. I’ve taught many students who had some degree of dyslexia. Almost without exception, they were bright and creative kids. Not everyone thought so because those kids didn’t fit into the cookie cutter.  They weren’t in the top reading group. In fact, there really was no reading group at all that fit their needs.

Sometimes, these students become so discouraged that they hide behind a wall of anger, apathy, hopelessness, and a firm belief that they are stupid.

You know, in my teaching years and now in counseling, I’ve rarely met anyone who is truly stupid.  I find that word so offensive.  It is usually used against someone who simply disagrees with you, or can’t do something as well or as fast as you can. It’s not surprising when someone who has been labeled as stupid turns into a behavior problem, taxing the patience of Job himself.  Teachers  rarely have the time to give these kids the time and attention they need to be convinced that they CAN learn, and that there is joy in learning.

Okay, enough of the rant. Let’s talk about some practical interventions.  I’m assuming that if you’ve read this post to this point, you’re interested enough to go look at the website I gave you listing symptoms.  Now, some solutions.

First and most important, educate yourself about dyslexia.  Don’t depend on the school to be the only  place your child gets help. If you know and understand your child’s dyslexia, you will be able to provide homework help from a different perspective.  You will have more patience with the child. You will begin to see how creative he can be, and that there are talents hidden in there that have never been tapped.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about ADD.  A friend on mine posted about the discovery of using blue paper to help dyslexics.  I thought I had saved the link so I could use it today, but I can’t find it.  Kathleen, if you’re reading this, please give me that link again in the comments.

In the meantime, I did some searching and came up with several sites offering help for dyslexia: (a very scholarly research paper that may be more than you want to wade through. Here are some other options.)

And specifically for adults:

Please understand that I can only scratch the surface here.  There is a ton of information out there if you truly want to help your child, or if you are an adult and struggle with dyslexia.  It is less of a stigma, these days, for which I am very thankful. Many famous and successful people have it. You are not alone. There is help.

Friday Counseling Issues: Learning Disabilities

A reader asked me last week if I’d written anything about ADD. I thought I had, but couldn’t find it, so for the next few weeks I’ll be addressing that along with a list of other disabilities both well-known, like dyslexia, and not-so-well-know, like dysgraphia and dyscalcula. Today we’ll focus on ADD/ADHD, which I’ll be referring to as simply ADD from here on in. The new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM)has omitted ADHD and lumped it all together under ADD. At first I was unhappy about that, but really, it’s all one thing with a couple of different aspects.

Usually self-diagnosable
ADD symptoms include trouble focusing, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior.
People may experience:
Behavioral: hyperactivity, fidgeting, impulsivity, irritability, risky behavior, or lack of restraint
Cognitive: difficulty focusing, forgetfulness, lack of concentration, problem paying attention, racing thoughts, or short attention span
Mood: anxiety, boredom, excitement, or mood swings
Also common: depression, learning disability, or sleep deprivation
Consult a doctor for medical advice
Sources: Mayo Clinic and others.
(  from )
I’m going to be speaking for a while from my experience as a teacher, when I got my first real exposure to ADD and other learning disabilities.  Going all the way back to 1952, when I started kindergarten,  there was no recognition of learning disabilities.  I never heard the term until I was in college, and it was passed over lightly. The general attitude was, “Oh, Johnnie/Susie just needs to pay attention. They’re lazy, undisciplined, rebellious.”  And those children struggled through 12 years of school feeling inadequate, stupid, and like the odd man out.
I’m glad we’ve grown beyond that thinking.  At least, most of us have.  Sadly, there is still a segment of educators who do not accept the existence of learning disabilites (LD), and will make to allowances for them. But the number of teachers like that is decreasing, and I’m glad.
If you’ll glance at the symptom list above, you’re probably familiar with most of what you see.  Kids with ADD have a terrible time staying focused on the issue at hand unless–big paradox  here–they are intensely interested in it. If that is the case, they are able to shut out everything else. There could be an earthquake under their feet and they wouldn’t be aware of it.  A parent can call to them several times and they will not hear. They’re not being disobedient every time this happens. Sometimes, probably, but they really do drift away from the world around them and it can be very hard to bring them back. This is especially true if their interest lies in electronics.  There is something mesmerizing about video games, tablets, X-Boxes, and so on.
ADD does not always include hyperactivity. Often, it is simply a drift into another world. It can be triggered by something as simple as a word spoken by the teacher or parent that sends a kid’s brain off on a rabbit trail. When he comes back to earth, he realizes he’s missed something that was probably important, but he’s learned not to ask the teacher to repeat. That usually doesn’t end well for him.
I have pictured this type of ADD behavior as a balloon that gets blown up and then let go, and it bounces all over the room as the air is expelled. There’s no controlling its action. When it’s empty, it just kind of settles somewhere and looks pathetic.
People with ADD can be impulsive. Things blurt out of their mouths practically before they know they were thinking. Or their interest can be grabbed and they’ll drop whatever they’re doing to pursue that. They leave things unfinished. They don’t put things away. My husband was diagnosed with ADD several years ago.  It cleared up a lot of things for me that annoyed the daylights out of me. I still get annoyed, but now I understand.  For instance, if he’s working on the computer, writing down lists, websites, and so on, the list will stay right where he leaves it when he goes to make a snack, which takes him to the kitchen where he gets involved with maybe emptying the dishwasher, which makes him think of something he needs to do in the basement, which will take him outside to the shed to get a tool, which reminds him he needs to check the oil in the car. . . . .and the mess he left on the computer desk remains there until I need the computer and move his stuff aside.
Remember Billy from The Family Circus?
Another feature of ADD than can be easily miss-identified is a tendency to moodiness. Sometimes the assumption is made that the person has Bipolar Disorder, but it’s really just ADD–which is a lot easier to deal with.
Okay, I could spend a lot of time just describing the life and times of people with ADD, but I want to focus for a few minutes on coping skills. First, let’s talk about medication.
Is ADD over-medicated?  Oh yes, without any doubt.  After all, it’s the easy fix for the parents, teachers, and even the kid himself.  There are, however, other tools and resources that are helpful without medicating a child into a different personality. I hated to see zoned-out kids coming to my classroom, because the medication robbed them of their creativity and quirky brain patterns. Yes, it helped them concentrate. Sometimes the results were outstanding, and I am not totally opposed to the careful use of medication.
I have learned, over the years, that one of the best helps for ADD is to have an orderly, non-chaotic home in which there are boundaries and consequences.  The child with ADD needs to learn how to deal with his problem. As an adult, he’s not going to get special allowances made for his LD. He’s going to have to figure out how to do his job without wandering all over the place chasing rainbows.  At some point, this child is going to need to learn some coping skills that will carry his often-gifted intelligence into useful work and family life.  He will not always be a child whose parents and teachers will protect  him with special learning plans and a bottle of pills.
For example, back to my longsuffering husband, who doesn’t mind at all when I use him as an illustration.  He would start his day by jotting down tasks on a piece of paper, fully intending to follow his list.  Of course, the paper was almost immediately lost, and off he would go in his usual erratic patterns.  One day, I bought him several little pocket-sized flip-top tablets,  and suggested he try writing down just one task on each piece of paper, tearing it off when the task was finished. Then he could go on to the next thing. One of his problems was that, in his work, he was often called away from what he was doing to cover some sort of emergency, and then he’d forget what he’d been doing before. The tablet method  kept him on task.  He loved it, and still uses it.
When I was teaching, I used to put my LD kids in a sandwich between me and his parents. He brought his assignment pad to me after class, wrote his homework assignment, which I then signed and dated. At home, his parents checked what the assignment was, then signed off on it when it was finished. This works only if the teacher and the parent are diligent and demand to see the notebook.  The kid will not remember to  offer it.  He will also probably not remember to put it in his backpack to go back to school the next day. The parent will need to supervise that for a while until a habit is formed. Sometimes it helps to post a checklist  that the child will see just as he goes out the door.  I recommended to one frustrated mom that she make a big red STOP sign on the door, with a checklist at the bottom. Visuals are very important for ADD kids.  Words will go in one ear and right out the other. Bright, clear graphics are more likely to grab their attention.
Today, there are many resources to help you help your ADD child. Your local library is a good place to start looking.  The internet is invaluable.  Other parents have dozens of good, helpful ideas that they’ve shared by way of blogs.  Easy to find, too. I just typed “parents find ways to help ADD kids” into my Google search, and came up with pages and pages of articles.
Please don’t give up in despair. These kids are often highly intelligent and gifted in some area.  My husband is a genius with his hands. He can figure out how a thing works, take it apart, fix it, and saves us bundles of money. He has recently remodeled my kitchen, almost completely without professional help. The only thing he didn’t do was cut and install my new granite counter tops. There was some wonderful help from friends, but Terry was the brains behind the building.   In nearly 47 years, I have never, ever called a repairman of any kind. Terry does it all.  And he does it very well.  His ADD slows him down sometimes, but his natural intelligence and giftedness are amazing.
ADD doesn’t have to ruin your child’s life, or yours.