video-gamesThe other day, I observed a toddler in the child seat of the cart watching a video on her mother’s smartphone while Mom shopped. I remember chatting with my toddler while we shopped, explaining things about the store and the groceries we were putting in the cart. Not to be self-righteous, but our culture is changing in so many ways, some of them not good for our brain development!

Today’s kids are being reared in a technology culture, and many are spending too many hours a week with hands on an iPad or a video game of some sort. Some children don’t know what to do when turned loose in the backyard. Creative play building forts, hunting lizards or bugs, digging in the dirt, making things out of leaves, sticks and mud, watching the antics of birds… are great for the developing brain. These are wonderful ways for children to explore their worlds learning about nature hands-on.

Texas Parks and Wildlife gives ten reasons to get your children playing outside this spring and summer:

They will:

  1. Be healthier physically and mentally
  2. Do better in school.
  3. Have higher self-esteem
  4. Have good self-discipline
  5. Feel more capable and confident.
  6. Be good problem-solvers.
  7. Be more cooperative with others.
  8. Be more creative.
  9. Feel connected to nature.
  10. Be tomorrow’s conservation leaders.

So, let’s play…OUTSIDE. Become a hiking family. Discover birding together. Texas has a plethora of great parks, and many trails to explore, for fun at little expense.  Visit the Texas Parks and Wildlife site to look at the possibilities!

readingRegarding reading tutors and phonics programs, I have found nothing else that makes so much sense, clears the fog faster (for parents as well as students), or gets better results than the phonics method I use.  The mom (or the dad) sits at the table with us so she can understand the techniques and learn how to reinforce this at home. Daily supervised practice and reading aloud to a parent can make a huge difference for reading and spelling in a short amount of time. Read these comments from parents:

“After much extra help at school, I found out that my son was still reading below first grade level. Then we found Austin Learning Solutions. The decoding concepts Ann taught empowered Andrew. At the end of six weeks, he was decoding 4th grade words, was no longer frustrated with reading, and was actually reading above his grade level.”

“Steven has improved from a mere 53% to 93%. He is now above his grade level in reading! One of our goals for Steven was to give him the tools that he could actually use independently. (Ann’s program) definitely did that. Early on you had mentioned that what you liked about the method was that it simplified reading. It certainly gave me the tools along with him to help him decode.”

Recently Madeline got 103 on her spelling test after one week of the PG practice method for spelling.  Max's second grade teacher had recommended that he be held back, because his reading was so far behind. He had phonics sessions with me during the summer, then went back to school reading at grade level and loving it!  

saveIf your child is a struggling learner or just doesn’t like to read, call Austin Learning Solutions for a summer reading program. Mention this blog article for a $50 program fee discount.

In the past several years, I have used The Listening Program with numerous students who are on the autistic spectrum. We (the parents and I) have been very pleased with the results from using TLP.

A good example is Blaire (not her real name), a 3rd grade child, who first entered my office clutching her “blankie” and a stuffed animal. She wanted to sit on her mother’s lap during the first sessions. Blaire read at first grade level and would not speak above a whisper, unless she was angry with a sibling. I recommended TLP Spectrum with Bone Conduction and The Learning Ears Program.

Within two months, Blaire was speaking in a soft voice, not whispering, and her reading was improving rapidly, with instruction. One day toward the end of her individualized program, Blaire entered my office chattering and belly-laughing with her little brother. She was making good social and academic progress at school, a much happier child.

From March to November of 2012, testing showed that Blaire's skills made strong improvements. These are some of the most notable changes.

  • Her Working Memory improved the equivalent of 3.7 years.
  • Auditory Processing also up 3.7 years.
  • Logic/Reasoning improved 5.7 years.
  • Word Attack skills improved 5.4 years.

Blaire's mother reports that she loves school now, has been on the honor roll and even asked to be in the choir. Great progress for a child who would not speak above a whisper!

The Listening Program is a key part of my therapeutic practice for students who are on the autistic spectrum or who have other learning issues. I “don’t leave home without it”!


veggiesMuch research shows that diet has a marked effect on the learning abilities of individuals. The lower GI tract (the gut) is also known as "the second brain", because so many neuron connections are there. The brain is dependent on a healthy gut for the proteins and neurotransmitters that are necessary for good cognitive processing. The health of "the second brain" affects mood and attention, as well as the immune system (read: allergies).

Yesterday a young mother called to talk about her son's needs. Among learning and attention problems, she mentioned that he also suffers from eczema (often traced to allergy to dairy). Casein in dairy and gluten in wheat, rye and barley, cause intestinal problems in many people.  In the rush to meet time demands, today's family may opt for a diet which includes lots of chips, cookies, crackers, pizza and breaded foods. Most contain dairy and wheat. A common daily diet for a student might be: granola with fruit and milk for breakfast, a sandwich or cheese pizza for lunch at school, snacks in the afternoon, a breaded protein, a vegetable and rolls for dinner and dessert (ice cream?). When it's time to do homework (and/or complete the work he didn't finish at school), he drags his feet or pitches a fit, requiring twice the amount of time that these tasks should take. No one is happy! And none realize that the child's "healthy diet" could be a major cause.

Mark Church, a Learning and Neural Development Specialist, gives (via Linked In) a good explanation of what can happen in the GI tract:

"From my learning and understanding about the link between gluten and casein and the effects with some people with autism is that, the peptides produced by gluten and casein should normally convert to amino acids and in some people don't. The peptides stimulate Glutamate which causes inflammation and the 'firing' between the cells in the brain and over-sensitivities to some of the senses. Glutathinone is the chemical that should inhibit the 'firing' of the neurotransmitters and help keep the balance, but this does not happen in some cases and their mind/body becomes over excited. By avoiding or reducing gluten and casein in the diet with some autistic people sensitive to wheat and dairy, it can help reduce the over-sensitivities and help keep their system calm.

I have seen a difference when wheat and dairy are excluded from the diet. Also in reduced bowel movements too, from being uncontrollable and soiling."

For this reason, I frequently suggest to parents of my incoming students to do a two week trial of no dairy/no gluten, and to look for and record changes in the student. Then add one food back at a time, carefully watching the response. In some students, ADHD behaviors improve and the student can settle down to learning. Sure hope this is helpful!

rock-star-teacherA very interesting Wall Street Journal article tells of the Mr. Kim Ki-hoon, who is described as "a rock star teacher".  Mr. Kim earns upward of $4 million a year as a private tutor, being in high demand for his lectures. The huge tutoring industry in South Korea has resulted in a dramatically improved education system over the past several decades. Almost 75% of students are enrolled in after school classes, with a resulting 93% high school graduation rate in South Korea (U.S. grad rate is 77%). SK 15-year-olds rank Number 2 in the world in reading, and 47% of eighth grade students are ranked advanced, compared to 7% of U.S students.

South Korean learning centers are called "hagwons". Hagwon directors reward teachers according to performance, number of students signing up for their classes, and student satisfaction surveys. Key questions in student surveys are: "How passionate is the teacher?" and "How well-prepared is the teacher?"  As noted in this article, teaching well is hard work (Mr. Kim puts in 60 hours a week). Teachers put in long hours, and the most productive teachers should be rewarded.

Learning/tutoring centers proliferate here in the U.S. and may take notice of the South Korean educational phenomenon in academic tutoring. However, real change for dyslexia or other learning problems depends on tailor-made one-to-one instruction and the parents' supportive engagement in the process.  As a private teacher/therapist myself, I see the reading and cognitive skills of my students improve and confidence increase.  When the student gains the needed brain (processing) skills, academic work becomes easier and makes sense to the him or her. Then motivation grows, and grades improve. 

You may read the WSJ article here:  http://tinyurl.com/laluczo

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