Dr Penny Moldofsky, Director of the Literacy Institute at the Woodlynde School in Suburban Philadelphia is a super human being and an even better teacher (is that possible?). I love this summary she just sent around regarding the most recent Literacy Institute Speaker, Dr. Cheryl Chase. We all hear so much about EXECUTIVE FUNCTIONS -- but what exactly are they?
The Literacy Institute Newsletter:
What Are Executive Functions?
Penny Moldofsky, Director of
The Literacy Institute
Dear Woodlynde Families, Friends, and Colleagues,
Most of you have heard the term "executive functions" and may wonder, "how is this different from a learning difference or a problem with attention?" On November 3, Dr. Cheryl Chase, a psychologist from Cleveland, Ohio, and a nationally recognized speaker on executive functions, clarified executive functions and provided specific strategies for parents and educators for helping students who are coping with executive function deficits.
Here are some highlights of Dr. Chase's presentation:
The Big Five
Dr. Chase follows the model of executive functions explained by Dr. Russell Barkley:
Some students have difficulties with one or two executive functions, but many have difficulty with many or all of these areas, and their difficulties depend on the setting. These students do better in settings that:
Don't overload working memory.
Tools are made available and students are shown and cued to use them with adult guidance and reminders gradually diminishing as students become fluent in using the tool. At home and school, we can provide consistent picture clues, consistent graphic organizers or note-taking forms, consistent schedules, and readily available reference materials. Separate note taking from listening - you may be able to do both simultaneously, but kids with executive functions can't. Don't pass around that cool geode you found in the desert while you are providing information that students need to hear and process.
Demonstrate again and again using the actual task.
When teaching new strategies, demonstrate in a step-by-step manner how they are applied in the real-life task you want the student to accomplish. If you show a video on a topic, you first provide the organizer that will help them enter the ideas from the video that they will need for the quiz/test/project. Then, pause the video frequently to demonstrate how to pull the information from the video and where to enter it in the organizer.
Explicitly teach when, how, and why to use one tool rather than another.
Demonstrate to help students understand when to use detailed notes in a comparison organizer vs. when to jot down a few key words. Demonstrate repeatedly how and when to use a tool like a calculator, a recording pen, or text-to-speech software, and be very clear in showing how each tool works better or not as well for different activities.
Predictable and consistent = reduced stress and anxiety.
When a student with executive function weaknesses feels stressed and overloaded, it is even more difficult to access skills they have practiced. Break down activities that load working memory into small chunks for the student. Have them work toward smaller, single day goals. Post activities in the same place and with the same format so that students don't have to copy or figure out your intentions. The topic and activity can be vivid and riveting, but the format should be predictable.
For more ideas from Dr. Cheryl Chase, visit her website.
Penny Moldofsky, M.S.
Director of The Literacy Institute at Woodlynde School
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The Literacy Institute is one of only six Wilson® Accredited Partner Schools in the country. As such, it provides research-based instruction for Woodlynde students in the Wilson® Reading System as well as high quality professional development for the Woodlynde community and the greater Philadelphia area. Throughout the year, The Literacy Institute offers a free series of nationally-recognized speakers in the field of learning differences for area parents and professionals.
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Today, I saw seven patients - middle schoolers, high school students, and college students. Although they were all there for different anxiety problems, one theme ran through my day: anxiety about Election Day. Even my youngest patients have been voicing concerns for months about who is going to win the election and what the consequences of that outcome will be. These worries seemed particularly palpable today, with only two weeks to go until Election Day.
The New York Times published an interesting article about last week called, Talking to Your Therapist about Election Anxiety. It is a great read, but I felt it was important to write about some tips for kids and teens who might feel even more anxious than adults because they can't even vote!
-Acknowledge what our kids are feeling. Anxiety is all about the unknown and at this late date, the probable outcome of this election seems to depend on the source that one consults! Not knowing makes people feel uncomfortable. It is okay to say to kids, "Yup, it is hard to not know. It makes me feel uncomfortable and worried too."
-And, to the extent that we can, boss back that anxiety! Although we do not know who will win the election until Election Day, we can remind ourselves that our government is set up to prevent really bad things from happening. Kids have been expressing their worries in my office for months and I find that we can boss back many of these worries by saying, "Not gonna to happen!". The media has stirred up so many worries and kids need a reminder that there are checks and balances in place to prevent many bad outcomes.
-For some kids, DOING something in service of the electoral process makes them feel more empowered. One of the kids I met with today decided she would like to volunteer for her preferred candidate with her mom over the next few weeks. Many kids value going into the voting booth with their parents. Although they aren't casting a vote per se, they feel they have contributed by participating in the family vote.
-For other kids, tuning out is a better strategy. If reading the newspaper or watching the news is causing your child undue anxiety, it is okay to encourage him or her to stop for the next two weeks. If Election Day is going to be excruciating (especially for kids who have the day off of school), make a plan to keep your kids' brains busy with something else. Go to a museum. See a movie. Set up some playdates. Logging on to the computer every few minutes to check the polls is likely not a good strategy for making it through the day (for adults or kids!).
-Coach kids through the complex social aspects of this election season. Many of the kids who I work with have told me about conflicts among friends due to the candidate that their families are supporting. Some kids have told me that they have noticed an increase in disrespectful behavior toward girls and female teachers during this election season. Kids need our help with these situations. The best way to do this is to model appropriate discourse with our own friends, relatives, and work colleagues. We need to model to our kids how to respect people who hold different opinions than us.
Yesterday, I attended the Scholastic book fair at our school with my almost 9-year old son. Although he is drawn to those huge, pricey Star Wars books that come with mini-figures, we had already agreed that these were off limits! I find it interesting that he is drawn to totally different books than my 11-year old daughter. Whereas she loves fiction, he wants to learn about history, wars, how things work, and so on. This brings up a controversy in my house -- does reading fiction build better reading skills than reading non-fiction?
This morning, I decided to turn to the literature to find out. Here is what I learned:
Smith was diagnosed at that age with OCD—obsessive compulsive disorder. But he didn’t receive proper treatment for his mental disorder until he was 31 years old, when he came to McLean Hospital’s Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Institute.
“I lost 31 years of my life to some extent, so I really feel like I was reborn after [getting treatment] because living in the moment was completely foreign to me,” he said. “When I got better, I felt like an alien. It’s really strange, and it’s still amazing.”
Now 38, Smith returned Boston on Friday as a spokesperson for the International OCD Foundation, which has its headquarters here. The IOCDF is celebrating its 30 years as an organization and just commemorated the end of OCD awareness week.
The IOCDF has made great strides for people with OCD in the last 30 years, but it still has a long way to go, said Executive Director Jeff Szymanski.
The IOCD started in Connecticut where a group of people with OCD participated in one of the first studies about the disorder, Szymanski said. The foundation moved to Boston in 2008 to be closer to its vibrant medical community because the organization focuses on financing OCD research. (Although there is no cure for OCD, the compulsions can be managed).
Though the foundation has made great strides in terms of growing OCD awareness—more than 1,600 people attended IOCDF’s annual conference this year, four times as many as the first conference in 1993—Szymanski said the mental health community still struggles with the diagnosis and how to treat it.
Smith was lucky that he was correctly diagnosed so early. More than 3 million adults live with OCD in the United States, but physicians misdiagnose patients 50 percent of the time and mental health professionals a third of the time, Szymanski said. It took Smith 17 years to receive proper treatment, and that’s a common reality.
Szymanski said the average time between a diagnosis and proper care is between 14 to 17 years.
“If you had cancer, who is waiting 14 to 17 years? It’s not acceptable anywhere,” he said. “Yet, it’s the state of things with OCD.”
Both Smith and Szymanski highlighted how OCD has been warped in the public’s eye: It’s not about being “neat” or liking things a certain way. It’s a debilitating medical disability stemming from obsessive, anxious thoughts.
“When we’re in our rituals, we don’t want to be doing them,” Smith said. “No one wants to wash their hands 100 times. We know it’s irrational, but we believe we have to do it anyway.”
After his diagnoses, Smith met with multiple different therapists, but none of them had ever specialized in OCD treatment or were able to refer him to a specialist. “What I mean by proper treatment is that a general psychologist is not equipped to treat OCD but roughly most of them think that they are,” Smith said. “And attempting to treat OCD by doing psychotherapy, called talk therapy—well, what happened was it ultimately made my OCD worse and harder to treat in the future.”
Szymanski worked as a clinical psychologist at McLean’s OCD Institute before joining the foundation. He explained that while most therapists are trained in psychotherapy—where you talk through your issues and try to uncover how they may have started in your childhood—that’s actually damaging for OCD patients.
Instead, professionals need to be trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and specifically a subset of that called “exposure and response prevention.” In that practice, those with OCD are forced to confront the very things giving them anxiety and prompt their obsessive thoughts. Instead of giving in to their compulsions to ease their anxiety, the patient is forced to sit with it.
If someone’s OCD centers around germs, for example, the therapy would involve them touching the floor or something else they consider germ-infested without allowing them to wash their hands repeatedly. “The best way to get over a phobia is to repeatedly expose yourself, and over time your brain stops putting out those anxiety signals,” Szymanski said.
Smith, who underwent the therapy while living in Boston, described it as “torture.” But it’s the reason he’s alive today, he said. He had told his mom that if he ever got better—and for a while, he never thought he would—he wanted to help others like him.
“Coming back to Boston and being able to speak in Boston, where I struggled so much, on a national stage, it’s full circle and emotional, but it’s also extremely gratifying,” said Smith, who now lives in Los Angeles where he works as an actor. “This is where I discovered the strength and power of the human condition. This is where I learned what I was made of as a person.”
I am so excited to share this announcement.....The Penn Center for Mindfulness is super!
Our teens and tweens are stressed out.
They need tools to deal with their complicated modern lives.
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Description: The course meets for four consecutive weeks for 2 hours each week. There are two separate classes, one for teens and one for tweens.
Your child will learn a variety of mindfulness techniques inducing formal meditation practice such as breath awareness, body scan and movement meditation, as well as informal practices to use in daily life.
Questions? contact Bidi McSorley directly at email@example.com.
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registration deadline, October 3rd.
A lot of my clients struggle with getting their kids to keep up their academic skills over the summer (or complete the dreaded "summer work.") I share the struggle. One of my kids spends her free time writing stories and reading books faster than we can buy them. The other, well, does not....
I am all for kids enjoying summer. I hate those summer packets and assigned summer reading. I think they take all the joy out of learning. But, we all know the statistics about how much skill kids lose over the summer when they aren't at school. Keeping up those skills is definitely important -- particularly for kids who struggle in school or have learning differences.
My #1 piece of advice is to keep learning fun. And, to provide choice and variety. There are many avenues to reading, writing and doing math and kids will be more likely to complete these tasks if they choose them; if the tasks are interesting; and if they have some variety so that they don't get bored.
I want to share with you what my family is doing over the next two weeks to celebrate the Olympics! Each family member selected three countries competing in the Olympics. We added Brazil and the U.S. (yes, I know my math skills are off and with a family of four, we have more than two weeks of countries!!).
The kids will take one country at a time and do some Internet research on that place. They will learn the country's capital, what continent it is on, and what people like to eat there. They will draw the country flag (most appreciated by my artistic daughter). And they will learn about one athlete from that country who is competing in the Games (most appreciated by my son). Each night we will cook a meal from that country.
The kids are really enjoying my assignments (the jury is still out on the meals!). From a parent perspective, they are practicing their reading and writing; by cooking with me, they will get some math practice; they are learning about geography and a little bit about world affairs; and they are learning to do research on the Internet. I'd say that is a gold medal summer assignment.
Want to join? Tonight we are eating from Brazil. Thanks to Food52, we are trying a fish stew called Moqueca and a blackberry drink (minus the rum!) called a caipirinha.
Before my kids left for camp for their first summer away from home, I thought a lot about how I was going to manage without them. Now that they are at camp, and having such an awesome time, I am recognizing something else interesting about having an empty nest.
When the kids are gone, a bright light is shone on the state of your marriage.
I am happy to say that my marriage is alive and well. But, I can see how the state of one's marriage can become a bit of a mystery if you don't take the time to shine that light on it. In our almost 11 years of parenthood, we have been away (together) for a grand total of eight nights. Yes, we go on date nights somewhat regularly, and yes, there are a few nights a year when the kids sleep over at their grandparents when we are somewhere else in the same city, but for the most part we are with them ALL THE TIME. There is a real danger of losing one's relationship when all focus is on the family as a whole.
When the kids are gone, there is a lot of space to fill. Their little voices aren't constantly chattering (or interrupting, bickering, demanding). There aren't a million places to be for soccer and swimming and chorus practice and educational outings. This space feels most salient for parents who don't work outside the home. When the work of kids is not there, the days can seem quite empty and lonely. Parents might feel at a loss as to how to fill their time.
In the 10 days I have been home without kids, I have thought of some helpful insights for parents --
-Don't wait till the kids leave home (for summer camp, or college, or even the endless nights out that teens tend to have) to work on your marriage. There has to be some connection between spouses besides just children. Make sure to keep up the spark and the back and forth conversation with regular date nights (even in your own home once kids go to sleep). Getting a good sitter and heading out without kids is not selfish -- it is an investment in the happiness of your whole family.
-Think about finding a shared interest with your spouse that does not involve the children. How about regular golf or tennis games? Seeing awesome music concerts? Reading and discussing books of interest to both of you? Volunteering together for the candidate you are supporting in the upcoming election? Even if these interests mean some time away from children, the benefit to your relationship will be worth it.
-Feel okay with having conversations that don't involve the kids even when the kids are present. We tend to let the kids dominate our dinner table conversation (and their daily news is so much more interesting than ours!). It is okay to say "this is a mommy/daddy conversation" and to encourage our kids to learn to talk amongst themselves or even to sit quietly. Similarly, as kids get older and stay up later, it is okay to carve out parent time. Kids do not need to be constantly entertained and in fact, manage much better in life if they are comfortable filling alone time.
-The moral of this story is that the greatest gift we can give our kids is to grow up in a loving home. We also want to model for them what it looks like to be a happy adult -- and this probably means being in a strong relationship; having trusting friends; having interests and passions; and having a job or volunteer role that you enjoy. All of these things take commitment and time -- not for a month in the summer, but regularly, all year long. Be sure to invest some time in a stronger and more healthy family!
I have been an empty nester for about 80 hours, or so. I have sent my kids off, for the first time, to overnight camp. The first day and evening were rough (for me). The house felt incredibly quiet (isn't this what I am always wishing for?!!!!) and I just felt like I had forgotten them somewhere. But, I am settling in to the different routine as the days go by.
However, I am finding one part of overnight camp challenging. Can we talk about camp pictures?
Our camp, and many others these days, post pictures and videos throughout the day. They post them on Facebook, Instagram, on the camp blogs. At the end of the day, you can log on to the camp website and scroll through hundreds of pictures, trying to lay eyes on your precious progeny. I feel like Sherlock Holmes. Is that her ponytail? No, those aren't her shoes. Is that him playing basketball? No, too tall.
When I do spot the kids, I become a mind-reading mom.
If they look happy, I am thrilled. Wow, they are having fun. They love camp. They are going to want to go back for 11 summers like I did. Awesome!
But, in some pictures, they aren't smiling. Some pictures are of kids from their bunks, but my kids aren't there. Are they okay? Do they feel sick? Are they refusing to participate in some life-enhancing activity? What's going on???
This is when being a cognitive-behavioral therapist can really help. We teach our clients all the time that people cannot read minds. Even our own children's minds. Particularly from a photo! If our kids are not smiling in a photo, it can mean lots of different things. They could be unaware that their photo is being taken. They could be concentrating or thinking. And, they could even be having a moment when they are not blissfully happy.
Which leads us to the next lesson....
In CBT, we teach our clients that all emotion is okay. No one is happy every minute of every day. There will be moments that the kids feel sick, or homesick, or tired, or bored (hard to imagine, but....) and these moments will be balanced with giggles, adventure, and fun. This is normal!
I am also learning to sit with the discomfort of not knowing, another lesson I teach my clients. We have not received any letters yet from the kids, so we really don't know how they are doing. That is uncomfortable after having been with these little people every day (with a few exceptions) since they were born. On the flip-side, it is a great experience for kids to have to navigate some bumps in the road themselves. Since we don't know, we can't jump to assistance, meaning they have to rely on themselves and be open to relying on others around them. This is a super life skill, and maybe one that is hard to teach when they are at home, day in and day out!
Please share your thoughts if your kids are away at camp!!!
These are interesting times to be a parent, aren't they? Even if you don't watch the news or the Presidential debates in your home, it is inevitable that your children will be hearing about the 2016 Presidential elections. How do we, as parents, explain the behavior of candidates that would be unacceptable in our own families? What do we do when our children ask us who we are voting for? How do we deal with the anxiety that some kids might feel about the prospect of certain candidates actually becoming President of the United States? Here are some tips:
-Turn your kids' questions into a civics lessons. Talk to your kids about how the election process works, how the government works, how long a Presidential term can be, how a President differs from a King/Queen, what is means to live in a democracy. These are all really important things for our kids to learn, and they are not necessarily taught in the elementary grades in schools these days.
-When candidates do something repugnant, discuss it. As a family, think about why the candidate did what they did. Was it to get attention and to make the front page of the news? We can also use these missteps to discuss values we want to impart in our children. Perhaps we want to teach our children that it is our duty to welcome people to the US from countries where they don't have good lives. Maybe we want our children to learn to always speak to people with respect, even if secretly we don't like them. Perhaps your family feels strongly about protecting the environment and trying to reverse some of the effects of global warming. There are so many lessons to be learned from today's headlines.
-If families disagree on issues, place it in the context of democracy. It can be stressful for kids to have parents who support opposing parties or candidates. Similarly, each member of a family (including children) might feel differently about a given political issue. I encourage parents to keep these discussions calm - kids can become very anxious if their parents are screaming about politics at dinner every night! However, calm differences of opinion can be used to illustrate the beauty of freedom and democracy. We are so lucky to live in a country where we can each voice our opinions and where we are free to choose our own leaders. Speak to your children about other countries in the world where citizens do not have those choices and discuss what that is like for both children and adults.
-Reassure anxious kids that there are checks and balances to ensure that a President won't totally mess up our country! Some of my patients are worrying that particular Presidential candidates might have terribly consequences for our country. It is okay to reassure kids that a Presidency only lasts 4 years and that if someone does a terrible job, they will not be re-elected. In addition, because of the structure of our government, a President does not have ultimate power and there are many checks in place to ensure that sound decisions are made. Even if a candidate is saying right now that he or she will do X, it does not mean he or she will ultimately be able to do X as President.
-Teach your kids that political views are a private family issue. In our family, our kids know how we vote. They understand why we vote for one political party and not the other. They understand that when they are adults, they can make their own choices about who they will vote for (because we live in a democracy). They also know that these discussions are private and that discussing political views with friends and even family members can become contentious. It is okay for kids to say, "We don't talk about that outside our family. My mom and dad say that who they vote for is private."
How have you dealt with political discussions in your family during this election cycle?
The world has been a difficult place to explain these past few weeks, between terrorism in Paris and terrible shootings across the US. It is so hard for adults to wrap our own heads around -- how do we explain these events to kids?
I don't have a perfect answer. But, here is what I suggest and what I think is working okay for my own kids and my patients.
-For very young kids, protect, protect, protect. Until kids get to school age, and start hearing about world events from friends, let them be innocent for as long as you can!! This might mean no longer watching the evening news, not leaving gory newspaper cover stories out and about, and listening to kid music in the car instead of NPR. For the 3, 4, and 5 year old set, this stuff is just too upsetting to explain.
-Once kids are school age (elementary school), I still believe in some degree of shelter, particularly in the younger grades. I do not think young kids should be watching the news or reading newspapers. I think we can keep our kids somewhat aware of the world through family discussions -- for example, by discussing how our government works, how lucky we are to live in a democracy, how we can help people less fortunate than ourselves, etc. Yet, when we introduce these topics to our own kids (as opposed to them being introduced by the media), we can make adjustments for our kids' unique temperaments and sensitivities.
-At the time of the Boston marathon bombings, my daughter was in 3rd grade. I did not tell her about them, she found out at school, and she was furious at me. We now have a "policy" that I will tell her about events of national importance (as defined my me!). I would rather discuss such events at home than have her find out in a scary way at school and have no way to process the information until she gets home. So, I now provide information on big events, but I try to keep the information as simple and to the point as possible. I strongly believe that kids should not watch too many images of traumatic events. Memory for words is different from memory for traumatic images. So while I told my kids about the Paris bombings last month, they absolutely did not watch any news reports or look at any newspaper articles about it. Those scenes were hard enough for me to process.
-Anxiety is driven my discomfort with uncertainty. I talk at work all the time about how we can't guarantee certainty about much of anything. And, once we accept this, our anxiety actually decreases. We stop ruminating and we stop trying overly hard to prevent bad outcomes that we actually have very little control over. I see these big events in the same way. I do reassure my kids and my patients that we live in a very safe country - and how lucky we are for that! But, I do not say that these bad things will never happen "here". They could. It is highly unlikely. But, things DO happen and kids know this. Kids know about 9/11, and the Boston Marathon bombings and about people being out listening to music in Paris last month. By a certain age, they know we are not being genuine if we PROMISE that nothing bad will happen in Philadelphia or Cleveland or Seattle EVER.
-And, at the same time, we have to live our lives. Anxiety means avoiding things we used to enjoy or that should be fun. We don't want to give in to anxiety (or give bad guys the sense that they won). So, I tell my own kids and my patients that it is important to keep living. Although we would not go on a trip to a war-torn region right now, we WILL continue doing all of our usual activities which involve big cities, crowded places, running races, all modes of travel, etc. This is what life is all about -- living, even with a tiny bit of risk.
-What about bad guys? It is very personal how we explain these "Bad guys" to our kids. Sometimes religion can help. Sometimes psychology or neuroscience can help. I can't tell you how to explain these ghastly people to your children, and I won't share exactly how I speak to mine. The important thing is to keep the message simple. Choose an explanation, keep it short, and only provide more info if the kids ask.
I am a licensed psychologist working with kids, teens, and adults with anxiety disorders.