Are Your Kids Mal-illuminated?


Today’s post is by Ken Cedar of Science of Light, a non-profit focused on photobiology–the study of light on living cells. Science of Light’s mission is to improve children’s scholastic performance by applying scientific principles of light to enhance cognition, well-being, and self-regulation. Grasping this information is crucial to appreciating how our electronically saturated world makes us ill!

SUNLIGHT — nature’s full-spectrum light — is the most overlooked wellness essential. Without the sun, there would be no life on this planet. Research shows that our genes are programmed to respond to exposure to full spectrum light now believed to be critical for the healthy development, growth and maintenance of your child’s body and mind.

Just like a green plant, our bodies require the full-spectrum of light exposure to thrive similar to the process of photosynthesis; a process used by plants and other organisms to convert light energy into chemical energy. Light striking the skin manufactures essential vitamin D (actually a hormone rather than a vitamin). Vitamin D has a major impact on our bodies and increases activation in more than 2000 genes that allows the body to combat disease. Light entering the body though the eyes regulates circadian rhythms (internal time clock), which are calibrated by exposure to natural light and darkness. Vital circadian rhythms control appetite, energy, mood, sleep, libido and other body-mind functions.

Our bodies are adapted to very specific lighting conditions: bright, balanced, full-spectrum light during the day and low level light in the evening followed by darkness. This rhythm of light and dark is what drives our circadian clock. Disregarding the biological adaptation to sunlight is a recipe for poor health because so much of our biology is regulated and influenced by the full-spectrum of light. Unfortunately for millions of people, including our children, the advent of the computer age has created an indoor lifestyle of ‘contemporary cave dwellers’ that are unwittingly starving for light! Weight gain, poor sleep, depression, fatigue and student learning disabilities are some of the negative side effects associated with being out of sync with the natural rhythm and radiant energy of sunlight.

The natural hours of light and dark each day regulate hormones like insulin, serotonin and dopamine. Light curbs melatonin production at the pre-optic site connecting to the pineal gland. Research on rats showed that light, even less than that of a candle, in the dark phase (night), disrupts the production of the antioxidant melatonin (the sleep hormone) and increases tumor growth. On the other hand, long dark nights change the metabolism from sugar burning to fat burning.

Artificially long hours of light—every day, all year long—eliminate seasons, as far as the body can tell. Some people get depressed in the winter. They may go for months with little or no exposure to natural sunlight. This can be countered by getting adequate sunlight or balanced, ‘sunlight quality’ full-spectrum light when indoors during the day, especially early morning light and by reducing the amount of artificial light in one’s environment at night. When using night-lights, use a soft/dim red (red does not interfere with melatonin production at night). When children get adequate light during the day and a good night’s sleep, they are better able to think, learn, and heal from illness, and the same is true for their parents.

In short, the full blend of light wavelengths in sunlight enables our bodies to react in a balanced and beneficial way, which is one of the reasons why regular sun exposure is such a critical component of a healthy lifestyle. Absorbing daily sunlight or balanced, full-spectrum light when indoors is an all-year ideal for optimum wellness and disease prevention. Additionally, it’s also important to reduce indoor environmental lighting (half hour to an hour) prior to bedtime, especially blue light emitted from cell phones, computers and TV, which inhibits the production of melatonin.

Since the beginning of human history, people have lived and worked outdoors during the light of day, absorbing light energy from the sky. An average of 10 hours outdoors each day, 70 hours weekly, was common. Pioneering photo biologist Dr. John Ott coined the term mal-illumination; a condition that he likened to malnutrition. “Mal-illumination is to light as malnutrition is to food.” Today, most people, young and old alike, suffer greatly from mal-illumination. Is it any wonder we experience many of the symptoms of being out of rhythm? Weight gain, fatigue, depression, headaches, pain, hormonal imbalances, sleep disorders, PMS, lowered immune responses, vitamin deficiencies and lack of vitality are but a few of the many health problems associated with mal-illumination.

Dr Dunckley’s note: Science of Light offers a free e-Book, MAL-ILLUMINATION: The Silent Epidemic that I highly recommend, particularly with regard to the explanation of light on hormone function. The “asynchronization” article in the reference section below is also good in explaining how light at night blunts serotonin. Increasingly I am seeing a variety of treatment refractory conditions that do not improve unless and until the nervous system is resynchronized, so awareness regarding light’s impact on health has become critical. You simply can’t fool Mother Nature!

This article was originally published on

The Agony and Confusion of “What’s Wrong with my Child?”


BY: Victoria L. Dunckley

Many parents come to me and ask: Is this normal? Is my child misdiagnosed? Who do I believe when professionals are giving me different answers? Is there something in my child’s environment I can change before resorting to psychotropic medication?

Some parents haven’t noticed a problem but a teacher is concerned. Other times the child is doing okay in school but is alienating his friends. And still other times a child who had previously had no problems at all starts falling apart, has meltdowns, and begins to struggle in school.

All of these scenarios can leave a parent confused and overwhelmed–afraid to turn one direction for fear you’ll miss something. You may wonder whether you need professional help, and which professional to turn to (neurologist? pediatric behaviorist? educational specialist? psychiatrist? family therapist?), and even if you do decide on one, you may wonder how to choose “the best”. Some people don’t even not take any action at all because they’re afraid of the answers they may get. That’s totally normal and understandable.

If you’re worried about your child, here’s what you should know about video games’ effects:

An extensive review of the studies, combined with my own clinical experience in helping so many children recover their well-being and mental health, has shown me that there is not just one toxic pathway but multiple toxic pathways induced by electronic screen exposure. The brain is more sensitive to toxins than any other organ, and the eyes are the only part of the nervous system connected to the outside world. Furthermore, small brain changes in chemistry and blood flow can lead to big changes over time, and can set in motion a cascade of negative events that self-perpetuate.

Here’s some basic science explaining why video games are damaging to your child’s brain and body:
EYES: the eyes connect the outside world directly to the brain. That is why video games can cause seizures in some children. Electronic screens are unnaturally bright with vivid colors. This attracts the eye, but the eyes and brain were not made to handle this intense stimulation. One change that occurs as a direct result is the signals that tell our brains to go to sleep don’t get triggered, and insomnia often results.

BRAIN DEVELOPMENT & the FRONTAL LOBE: The evidence is mounting that active video gamers’ frontal lobes do not develop properly. Why is this so alarming? Because adolescence is the time that the frontal lobe develops most actively, and it determines personality, impulse control, empathy, planning, and reasoning abilities. Basically, all the things we need to succeed in life! Even cell phone usage and texting have been shown to negatively impact frontal lobe function.

BODY: Because the brain thinks it’s in a fight-or-flight mode even when playing educational electronic games, the body sends out stress hormones. These stress hormones are toxic to every organ in our bodies; they also affect sleep, learning and memory.

BRAIN and MOOD: Anything electronic causes irritability. Again, there are multiple mechanisms causing these mood changes. Frontal lobe blood flow, hormones, and brain chemicals like dopamine all contribute to the irritable mood you see after your child plays. To explain this a little further, when the child plays they release “feel good” chemicals (dopamine), and when they stop, they are in a relative state of withdrawal. This looks just like drug withdrawal, by the way! The child might be tearful, irritable, disorganized, depressed and feel they can’t concentrate.

The LSE is right: the phonics reading method doesn’t work for every child


A child learning to read

It’s official: phonics doesn’t always work, according to new research from the LSE

For the past 20 years, phonics has been the order of the day when it comes to teaching children to read at school. Governmental policy dictates that every child will learn that “a, a, a is for ant” and “sssss is for snake”. Their efforts are accompanied by jolly videos, rhymes and actions.

The problem is, phonics as a method simply doesn’t work for everyone – as has just been proved by a landmark study just published by the LSE. It found that using phonics has “no measurable effect” on pupils’ reading scores at the age of 11. Furthermore, a researcher concluded that this is probably because “most children learned to read eventually, regardless of teaching method”. How depressing.

But, I could have told them that already – because, if phonics was a landslide success at bringing children to reading fluency, I would have been out of a job long ago.

In my capacity as director of a reading consultancy, I am called upon every week by parents and teachers of children between the ages of six and fifteen because the children cannot read, despite repeated use of phonics and one to one support. These are not the so-called “unteachables”, but children with a wide range of abilities, from those who simply don’t respond to phonics to those with severe dyslexia and other learning difficulties. But for us, many of these children would have left school illiterate if they had used only what the Government made available through schools.

In my experience no child is unable to learn to read because we have had astonishing success with every child we have taught, in a fraction of the time of the preferred Government method. So it is time that everyone stopped stubbornly holding to one particular view, and embrace whatever works for the child. We must be championing the cause of teaching children to read – not teaching children phonics at the exclusion of all other methods, and potentially letting them down in the process. Instead, the Government should concentrate on encouraging teachers to use whatever is available to get a child reading and improving Britain’s performance in literacy league tables.

Limiting ourselves to one reading solution is like only allowing one type of painkiller on the market for a headache when there are many different causes of the pain. The Government should by all means set the standards that must be reached, but let the professionals decide how best to reach them.


Emma Plackett is a Director of Reading Revival Limited, a reading consultancy that produces toolkits for parents to bring their child to fluency quickly and easily;

This article was originally published on Telegraph UK

7 Ways to Bring Out the Best in Special-Needs Students

Recently, a former music teacher told me about a 1st grade student with Asperger’s syndrome who, on their first encounter, announced in no uncertain terms: “I hate music!” Over the next two years, the student used abusive language, had meltdowns, and was physically aggressive toward his peers. Finally, the teacher scheduled some individual time with him and discovered that he believed he was terrible at music and couldn’t sing. She let him play some of the instruments in her room and then showed him the music composition software program GarageBand on her Mac. It turned out that he was fascinated with computers and quickly figured out how to compose a song.
The next week, the teacher shared his song with the class and from that time on things began to change. He still struggled with his behavior, but over the next two years, she explained, “he played instruments in our concerts, joined the choir, had several solos, was in the musical. … [He] gave his heart and soul to music and continued to compose and mix music at home. He told his mother that whenever he was having a bad day, he would ‘go into his music’ and there he would find peace and calm.” This story illustrates how important it is to find out as much as possible about the strengths and abilities of students with special needs.
As a former special education teacher, I can’t count the number of times my students would come up to me and say, “Mr. A., when can I get out of this retarded class?” I began to understand that kids with special needs have two strikes against them. First, they have the disorder itself, and all the challenges it poses. But second, they have to spend a good deal of their time in school dealing with things they’re bad at. What we need to do is change this situation around so that right from the start, students with special needs are told about all the things they’re good at, and are engaged in activities that are based on those strengths.
Here are seven ways that you can activate the strengths of your students with special needs, whether you run a full-inclusion classroom, a self-contained special ed classroom, or anything in between:
Discover your students’ strengths. Before they even come into your classroom, find out about your students’ strengths and abilities by talking with previous teachers and looking at cumulative files (focusing on the highest grades and test scores and any positive comments from teachers). Then, fill out a strength-based inventory for each student—and have parents fill one out as well. I have a 165-item strengths inventory in my book Neurodiversity in the Classroom, and there are others out there, too. Also, ask your special-needs students what they’re interested in, what they feel like they’re good at, and what they’d most like to study. If time is an issue, focus on the students who are the squeaky wheels and have the greatest needs.
Provide positive role models with disabilities. Students with special needs need to learn about individuals with disabilities who have become successful in life. This way, they can hopefully come to the conclusion that “If they can do it, so can I!” Some examples of such individuals include: Noble Prize winning geneticist Carol Greider (learning disabilities), film director Steven Spielberg (ADHD), and animal scientist Temple Grandin (autistic spectrum disorder). Create a curriculum unit entitled, “People with Disabilities Who Changed the World,” and make sure that typically developing students also take part in the lessons.
Develop strength-based learning strategies. Once you know your students’ special strengths, design strategies that utilize those abilities. If a student is great at drawing but has trouble reading, let her illustrate her vocabulary words. If a student shows gifts in knitting but doesn’t understand place value, have him design a fabric art piece by knitting rows of 10. There are thousands of ideas and projects that can be created by combining a student’s strengths with a learning deficit.
Use assistive technologies and Universal Design for Learning tools. Learn about apps that capitalize on the gifts of your students with special needs. Provide a student who is a great orator but can’t write very well with a speech-to-text program such as Dragon Naturally Speaking, so that he can speak into the computer and produce writing that way. For a student with autism who loves to use an iPad but has difficulty communicating, teach her how to use an alternative augmentative communication app like Proloquo2Go, so that with the touch of a few buttons she can have a synthesized voice speak for her.
Maximize the Power of your students’ social networks. So much of learning involves being in relationships with others, and many students with special needs have particular difficulty establishing positive social connections. Create a graphic representation of a student’s peer network, identifying both strong and weak relationships. Then, pair the student with classmates that he has the most positive relationships with using peer-teaching, cross-age tutoring, Best Buddies, or other social-learning approaches.
Help students envision positive future careers. Most students with special needs have either no images of themselves as working adults in the future, or have primarily negative ones. Encourage these students by helping them make links between their strengths and the requirements of specific jobs or careers. So, for example, a student with ADHD who loves adrenaline-producing experiences might thrive in a high-stimulation job like firefighting. A student with learning disabilities who has a penchant for art might do very well working as a graphic artist.
Create positive modifications in the learning environment. Think about how you can create changes in your classroom that dovetail with the particular strengths of your students with special needs. Provide a student with ADHD who learns best by moving, for example, with a stability ball that he can jiggle on while doing his classwork. For a student with Down Syndrome who loves to humorously mimic others, build a simple puppet theater where he can act out math word problems in front of the class and get positive feedback.
A movement is emerging in education called “neurodiversity,” which suggests that we view our students with special needs in terms of “diversity” rather than “disability.” By embracing this more positive perspective, and coupling it with differentiation strategies that build on students’ strengths, we can help ensure that our students with special needs achieve success both in the classroom and out in the real world.
Thomas Armstrong was a special education teacher in Canada and the United States for several years. He currently writes and speaks to educators around the world, and is the author of 15 books, including his most recent, Neurodiversity in the Classroom: Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Achieve Success in School and Life, upon which this article is based.

Ideas to Reduce Anxiety in the Classroom

Teachers often have students with ASD in their classrooms who appear anxious throughout their school day. These students can have such intense anxiety that it can disrupt the entire classroom , or even the cafeteria or an all school assembly. No teacher, parent or student for that matter wants to experience those anxious moments. Teachers would always rather see their students having successful, meaningful and fun experiences at school and want to provide their students with ASD the proper supports. There is much that can be done pro-actively to enable students to feel more in control and safe in their learning environments. Simple steps can be taken to increase positive learning.

The Children’s Center on OCD and Anxiety (2009) believes that students with ASD do their best work in a classroom that is calm, supportive, and organized. Some sample classroom accommodations for students who are anxious can include:

Seating Within the Classroom: where the student most engaged in the class activities and least engaged with rowdy classmates?
Following Directions: have written directions on the board or elsewhere so they are clear and visible to all. Give a signal before giving important instructions.
Class Participation: know the student’s strengths with responding; do they do better with yes/no questions or with opinion questions? Create a signal to let the student know his or her turn is coming and provide opportunity for the student so share knowledge on areas where there student is confident.
Class Presentations: can the student present to the teacher only or audio tape the presentation?
Answering Questions at the Board: can the student be exempt from this activity or is there another way for them to be involved. Simply writing the information on the board and then sitting down before the material is analyzed?
Testing Conditions: having extended time or taking the test in another quiet, distraction free room is helpful. The use of word banks or equations sheets can also cue the student who may ‘blank out’ due to anxiety when tested.
Lunchroom/Recess/Unstructured Activities: using peers as lunchroom buddies or recess pals for younger students and peer mentors for older students can ease the fear of rejection. Avoid child choice in a classroom when groups are being formed, teachers can appoint or use ‘counting off’ or some other technique to eliminate the ‘last person chosen’ situation.
Safe Person: this can be anyone in the school who can provide an understanding and calming presence for the student, someone who understands the student’s worries and anxieties is best.
Cool Down Pass: for those students who become overly anxious and may not ask for a break in front of classmates, a pre-determined card can be placed on the student’s desk by the observant teacher, or the student can place it on the teacher’s desk when in need of a break. The break may also be pre-determined; perhaps they get a drink, talk to their safe person, or take a short walk in the halls.
Assemblies/Large Group Activities: thoughtful seating selection for the anxious student is imperative to decrease anxiety. Seating at the back of an auditorium or on the end of a row to allow for time away are both helpful.
Return After Illness: anxiety can increase with the amount of work missed during an absence. Having notes copied from the lessons missed can help as well as having the option to use time in class to complete make up work during the day.
Field Trips: prepare the students for the trip by giving all the details necessary in visual form as well as verbal. Place the student in a group with the teacher or other familiar adult at the destination.
Change in Routine/Substitute Teachers: let the child and child’s family know of any major change in routine in order to process the change. It is also useful for the student to know the teacher will be returning to the classroom.
Fire/Safety Drills: social stories about fire drills, sometimes accompanied by an audio tape of the sound played quietly can help the student understand what will happen when a drill occurs. Some students who are highly anxious may need to have a signal from the teacher that the alarm will sound to eliminate the surprise factor.
Homework expectations: give the class an estimate of how much time each homework assignment will take, assign every other math problem, reduce reading and writing assignments, allow books on tape, and allow alternative methods for answering in lieu of written responses.


This article was originally posted on

Making Paper Bag Puppets for Reading and Comprehension

Reading can be a dull and really tiresome task for some children, especially for those who find it difficult to understand what they are reading.

A fun way to make reading more interesting for children is to make puppets of the characters in the story, and get the child to reenact the story. This would help the child to have a better understanding of the story.

Paper bag puppets are simple and easy to make. All you need is a paper bag, and then you can add the other features of the character, such as the eyes, nose, tail, and so on.

You can also make your own paper bag, here’s a video on how to make your own paper bag.


The Impact of Technology on the Developing Child

Reminiscing about the good old days when we were growing up is a memory trip well worth taking when trying to understand the issues facing the children of today. A mere 20 years ago, children used to play outside all day, riding bikes, playing sports and building forts. Masters of imaginary games, children of the past created their own form of play that didn’t require costly equipment or parental supervision. Children of the past moved… a lot, and their sensory world was nature based and simple. In the past, family time was often spent doing chores, and children had expectations to meet on a daily basis. The dining room table was a central place where families came together to eat and talk about their day, and after dinner became the center for baking, crafts and homework.

Today’s families are different. Technology’s impact on the 21st century family is fracturing its very foundation, and causing a disintegration of core values that long ago were the fabric that held families together. Juggling school, work, home, and community lives, parents now rely heavily on communication, information, and transportation technology to make their lives faster and more efficient. Entertainment technology (TV, Internet, video games, iPads, cell phones) has advanced so rapidly, that families have scarcely noticed the significant impact and changes to their family structure and lifestyles. A 2010 Kaiser Foundation study showed that elementary aged children use on average 7.5 hours per day of entertainment technology, 75 percent of these children have TV’s in their bedrooms, and 50 percent of North American homes have the TV on all day. Gone is dining room table conversation, replaced by the “big screen” and take out.

Children now rely on technology for the majority of their play, grossly limiting challenges to their creativity and imaginations, as well as limiting necessary challenges to their bodies to achieve optimal sensory and motor development. Sedentary bodies bombarded with chaotic sensory stimulation are resulting in delays in attaining child developmental milestones, with subsequent negative impact on basic foundation skills for achieving literacy. Hard-wired for high speed, today’s young are entering school struggling with self regulation and attention skills necessary for learning, eventually becoming significant behavior management problems for teachers in the classroom.

So what is the impact of technology on the developing child? Children’s developing sensory, motor, and attachment systems have biologically not evolved to accommodate this sedentary, yet frenzied and chaotic nature of today’s technology. The impact of rapidly advancing technology on the developing child has seen an increase of physical, psychological and behavior disorders that the health and education systems are just beginning to detect, much less understand. Child obesity and diabetes are now national epidemics in both Canada and the U.S., causally related to technology overuse. Diagnoses of ADHD, autism, coordination disorder, developmental delays, unintelligible speech, learning difficulties, sensory processing disorder, anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders are associated with technology overuse, and are increasing at an alarming rate. An urgent closer look at the critical factors for meeting developmental milestones, and the subsequent impact of technology on those factors, would assist parents, teachers and health professionals to better understand the complexities of this issue, and help create effective strategies to reduce technology use.

Four critical factors necessary to achieve healthy child development are movement, touch, human connection, and exposure to nature. These types of sensory inputs ensure normal development of posture, bilateral coordination, optimal arousal states and self-regulation necessary for achieving foundation skills for eventual school entry. Young children require 2-3 hours per day of active rough and tumble play to achieve adequate sensory stimulation to their vestibular, proprioceptive and tactile systems. Tactile stimulation received through touching, hugging and play is critical for the development of praxis, or planned movement patterns. Touch also activates the parasympathetic system lowering cortisol, adrenalin and anxiety. Nature and “green space” has not only a calming influence on children, but also is attention restorative and promotes learning.


Further analysis of the impact of technology on the developing child indicates that while the vestibular, proprioceptive, tactile and attachment systems are under stimulated, the visual and auditory sensory systems are in “overload.” This sensory imbalance creates huge problems in overall neurological development, as the brain’s anatomy, chemistry and pathways become permanently altered and impaired. Young children who are exposed to violence through TV and video games are in a high state of adrenalin and stress, as the body does not know that what they are watching is not real. Children who overuse technology report persistent body sensations of overall “shaking”, increased breathing and heart rate, and a general state of “unease.” This can best be described as a persistent hypervigalent sensory system, still “on alert” for the oncoming assault. While the long term effects of this chronic state of stress in the developing child are unknown, we do know that chronic stress in adults results in a weakened immune system and a variety of serious diseases and disorders.


It’s important to come together as parents, teachers and therapists to help society “wake up” and see the devastating effects technology is having not only on our child’s physical, psychological and behavioral health, but also on their ability to learn and sustain personal and family relationships. While technology is a train that will continually move forward, knowledge regarding its detrimental effects, and action taken toward balancing the use of technology with critical factors for development, will work toward sustaining our children. While no one can argue the benefits of advanced technology in today’s world, connection to these devices may have resulted in a disconnection from what society should value most, children. Rather than hugging, playing, rough housing, and conversing with children, parents are increasingly resorting to providing their children with more TV, video games, and the latest iPads and cell phone devices, creating a deep and irreversible chasm between parent and child.


This article was originally posted on

A Dyslexic Child in the Classroom

Proficient reading is an essential tool for learning a large part of the subject matter taught at school. With an ever increasing emphasis on education and literacy, more and more children and adults are needing help in learning to read, spell, express their thoughts on paper and acquire adequate use of grammar.

A dyslexic child who finds the acquisition of these literacy skills difficult can also suffer a lot of anguish and trauma when they may feel mentally abused by their peers within the school environment, because they have a learning difficulty. Much can be done to alleviate this by integrating the child into the class environment (which is predominantly a learning environment) where he/she can feel comfortable and develop confidence and self esteem.

Class teachers may be particularly confused by the student whose consistent underachievement seems due to what may look like carelessness or lack of effort.

These children can be made to feel very different from their peers simply because they may be unable to follow simple instructions, which for others seem easy. It is a class teacher’s responsibility to provide an atmosphere conducive to learning for all pupils within their class.

Class teachers need to have an understanding of the problems that the dyslexic child may have within the classroom situation. Hopefully, with this knowledge, a great deal of misunderstanding of a child’s behaviour can be prevented. In a positive and encouraging environment, a dyslexic child will experience the feeling of success and self-value.

Of particular importance is an understanding of the problems that poor auditory short term memory can cause, in terms of retaining input from the teacher.

Examples of poor auditory short term memory can be a difficulty in remembering the sounds in spoken words long enough to match these, in sequence, with letters for spelling. Often children with poor auditory short term memory cannot remember even a short list of instructions.

The following items should provide useful guidelines for teachers and parents to follow and support :

In the class:

  • Of value to all children in the class is an outline of what is going to be taught in the lesson, ending the lesson with a resume of what has been taught. In this way information is more likely to go from short term memory to long term memory.
  • When homework is set, it is important to check that the child correctly writes down exactly what is required. Try to ensure that the appropriate worksheets and books are with the child to take home.
  • In the front of the pupils’ homework book get them to write down the telephone numbers of a couple of friends. Then, if there is any doubt over homework, they can ring up and check, rather than worry or spend time doing the wrong work.
  • Make sure that messages and day to day classroom activities are written down, and never sent verbally. i.e. music, P. E. swimming etc.
  • Make a daily check list for the pupil to refer to each evening. Encourage a daily routine to help develop the child’s own self-reliance and responsibilities.
  • Encourage good organizational skills by the use of folders and dividers to keep work easily accessible and in an orderly fashion.
  • Break tasks down into small easily remembered pieces of information.
  • If visual memory is poor, copying must be kept to a minimum. Notes or handouts are far more useful.
  • Seat the child fairly near the class teacher so that the teacher is available to help if necessary, or he can be supported by a well-motivated and sympathetic classmate.

Copying from the blackboard:

  • Use different colour chalks for each line if there is a lot of written information on the board, or underline every second line with a different coloured chalk.
  • Ensure that the writing is well spaced.
  • Leave the writing on the blackboard long enough to ensure the child doesn’t rush, or that the work is not erased from the board before the child has finished copying.


  • A structured reading scheme that involves repetition and introduces new words slowly is extremely important. This allows the child to develop confidence and self esteem when reading.
  • Don’t ask pupils to read a book at a level beyond their current skills, this will instantly demotivate them. Motivation is far better when demands are not too high, and the child can actually enjoy the book. If he has to labour over every word he will forget the meaning of what he is reading.
  • Save the dyslexic child the ordeal of having to ‘read aloud in class’. Reserve this for a quiet time with the class teacher. Alternatively, perhaps give the child advanced time to read pre-selected reading material, to be practiced at home the day before. This will help ensure that the child is seen to be able to read out loud, along with other children
  • Real books should also be available for paired reading with an adult, which will often generate enthusiasm for books. Story tapes can be of great benefit for the enjoyment and enhancement of vocabulary. No child should be denied the pleasure of gaining access to the meaning of print even if he cannot decode it fully.
  • Remember reading should be fun.


  • Many of the normal classroom techniques used to teach spellings do not help the dyslexic child. All pupils in the class can benefit from structured and systematic exposure to rules and patterns that underpin a language.
  • Spelling rules can be given to the whole class. Words for class spelling tests are often topic based rather than grouped for structure. If there are one or two dyslexics in the class, a short list of structure-based words for their weekly spelling test, will be far more helpful than random words. Three or four irregular words can be included each week, eventually this should be seen to improve their free-writing skills.
  • All children should be encouraged to proof read, which can be useful for initial correction of spellings. Dyslexics seem to be unable to correct their spellings spontaneously as they write, but they can be trained to look out for errors that are particular to them.
  • Remember, poor spelling is not an indication of low intelligence.


  • Maths has its own language, and this can be the root of many problems. Whilst some dyslexic students are good at maths, it has been estimated that around 90% of dyslexic children have problems in at least some areas of maths. General mathematical terminology words need to be clearly understood before they can be used in calculations, e.g. add, plus, sum of, increase and total, all describe a single mathematical process. Other related difficulties could be with visual/perceptual skills, directional confusion, sequencing, word skills and memory. Dyslexic students may have special difficulties with aspects of maths that require many steps or place a heavy load on the short-term memory, e.g. long division or algebra.
  • The value of learning the skills of estimation cannot be too strongly stressed for the dyslexic child. Use and encourage the use of estimation. The child should be taught to form the habit of checking his answers against the question when he has finished the calculation, i.e. is the answer possible, sensible or ludicrous?
  • When using mental arithmetic allow the dyslexic child to jot down the key number and the appropriate mathematical sign from the question.
  • Encourage pupils to verbalize and to talk their way through each step of the problem. Many children find this very helpful.
  • Teach the pupil how to use the times table square and encourage him to say his workings out as he uses it.
  • Encourage a dyslexic child to use a calculator. Make sure he fully understand how to use it. Ensure that he has been taught to estimate to check his calculations. This is a way of ‘proof reading’ what he does.
  • Put key words on a card index system or on the inside cover of the pupils maths book so it can be used for reference and revision.
  • Rehearse mathematical vocabulary constantly, using multi sensory/kinesthetic methods.
  • Put the decimal point in red ink. It helps visual perception with the dyslexic child.


  • Reasons for poor handwriting at any age can be poor motor control, tension, badly formed letters, speed etc. A cursive joined style is most helpful to children with dyslexic problems. Encourage the children to study their writing and be self-critical. Get them to decide for themselves where faults lie and what improvements can be made, so that no resentment is built up at yet another person complaining about their written work.
  • Discuss the advantages of good handwriting and the goals to be achieved with the class. Analyze common faults in writing, by writing a few well chosen words on the board for class comment.
  • Make sure a small reference chart is available to serve as a constant reminder for the cursive script in upper and lower case.
  • If handwriting practice is needed it is essential to use words that present no problem to the dyslexic child in terms of meaning or spelling.
  • Improvement in handwriting skills can improve self confidence, which in turn reflects favorably throughout a pupil’s work.

Marking of work:

  • Credit for effort as well as achievement are both essential. This gives the pupil a better chance of getting a balanced mark. Creative writing should be marked on context.
  • Spelling mistakes pinpointed should be those appropriate to the child’s level of spelling. Marking should be done in pencil and have positive comments.
  • Try not to use red pens to mark the dyslexic child’s work. There’s nothing more disheartening for the child than to have work returned covered in red ink, when they’ve inevitably tried harder than their peers to produce the work.
  • Only ask a pupil to rewrite a piece of work that is going to be displayed. Rewriting pages for no reason at all is soul destroying as usually much effort will have already been put into the original piece of work.


  • By the end of a school day a dyslexic child is generally more tired than his peers because everything requires more thought, tasks take longer and nothing comes easily. More errors are likely to be made. Only set homework that will be of real benefit to the child.
  • In allocating homework and exercises that may be a little different or less demanding, it is important to use tact. Self-esteem is rapidly undermined if a teacher is underlining the differences between those with difficulties and their peers. However, it should also be remembered that far more effort may be needed for a dyslexic child to complete the assignment than for their peers.
  • Set a limit on time spent on homework, as often a dyslexic child will take a lot longer to produce the same work that another child with good literacy skills may produce easily.


  • A dyslexic child’s ability to write down thoughts and ideas will be quite different from the level of information the child can give verbally. For successful integration, the pupil must be able to demonstrate to the teacher that he knows the information and where he is in each subject. Be prepared to accept verbal descriptions as an alternative to written descriptions if appropriate.

    Alternative ways of recording should be looked at, such as :

    • The use of computers for word processing.
    • Audio tapes for recording lessons that can then be written up at a later stage.
    • Written record of the pupil’s verbal account, or voice activated software can be used.
  • More time should be allocated for completion of work because of the extra time a dyslexic child needs for reading, planning, rewriting and proofreading their work.
  • For a dyslexic child the feeling of being ‘different’ can be acute when faced with the obvious and very important need of ‘specialist’ help for his literacy and possibly mathematical skills. Some specialist methods can be incorporated into the classroom so all children can benefit from them, thus reducing the feeling of ‘difference’.


In order to be able to teach, as far as possible, according to each child’s educational needs, it is essential to see him or her as a whole person, complete with individual strengths and weaknesses.

An understanding of the pupil’s specific difficulties, and how they may affect the student’s classroom performance, can enable the teacher to adopt teaching methods and strategies to help the dyslexic child to be successfully integrated into the classroom environment.

Dyslexics have many strengths: oral skills, comprehension, good visual spatial awareness/artistic abilities. More and more dyslexic children could become talented and gifted members of our schools if we worked not only with their specific areas of difficulty, but also their specific areas of strengths from an early age. To do this we have to let go of outmoded viewpoints that a dyslexic child must first fail, in order to be identified.

These are the children of our future and they have a right to help and support before they develop the dreadful sense of failure which is so insidious.

Class teachers dealing with dyslexic children need to be flexible in their approach, so that they can, as far as possible, find a method that suits the pupil, rather than expecting that all pupils will learn in the same way.

Above all, there must be an understanding from all who teach them, that they may have many talents and skills. Their abilities must not be measured purely on the basis of their difficulties in acquiring literacy skills. Dyslexic children, like all children, thrive on challenges and success.

Read more:

Why your ADHD child should be allowed to move around at school


I’ve worked with many children diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) over the years, and there’s no question that kids with ADHD need to move. They move when they’re thinking, they move when they’re talking, and they even move when they appear to be sitting still. That foot that just won’t stop shaking or that incessant tapping on the desk? It brings focus to an ADHD child.

Sadly, many children with ADHD are frequently reprimanded for constantly being in motion. Teachers worry that these kids can’t access the curriculum if they can’t sit still, so they spend time and resources finding ways to help these kids sit and focus. Notes and e-mails go home with updates about sitting still. Behavior charts appear on desks with the hope that dangling the possibility of a reward will somehow inspire increased focus. I worked in a school for many years. I understand why sitting seems so important. A child in motion can disrupt other students.

The problem is that movement comes naturally to these kids. They need to shake a foot, tap a pencil, or stand up and walk. Moving helps them focus and access the curriculum. Telling an ADHD child to just stop moving is a setup for failure. Every reprimand, every unmet behavioral goal, and every phone call home chips away at the self-esteem of the child who can’t stop moving.

A new study published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology sheds some much-needed light on this topic. Researchers at the Center for Advancement of Youth at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson studied 52 boys ages 8 to 12; 29 of those boys had ADHD, while the other 23 had no clinical disorders. The research concluded that ADHD kids performed better on cognitive tests when they were moving around.

So, how do we let ADHD kids move in the classroom without disrupting other students? While some schools might already have resources in place, it’s important for parents to advocate for their ADHD kids. Finding the right balance of movement might be the key to helping your child perform better in the classroom; these strategies, done with the help of your child’s teacher, could help:

1. Have her sit on an exercise ball. My daughter’s second grade classroom lets students sit on an exercise ball instead of a chair during class, if the parents provide the ball. Many students brought exercise balls into the classroom and the kids do appear alert and engaged while at their desks. Some bounce more than others and some roll back and forth, but they all respect the personal space of their “neighbors” while subtly moving around. The stability ball allows kids to fidget without disrupting the class. It gives her some wiggle room.

2. Let him use a Thera-Band. This rubber stretchy band is used for resistance exercise. The teacher can wrap the band around the foot of the desk and have your child place one foot in the band. He can stretch and wiggle without much fuss! With one on each side of the desk, he can get some good stretching and moving in during classwork.

3. Have her use a wiggle cushion. Wiggly kids need to get their wiggles out, and a wiggle cushion helps kids move and wiggle in their own seats — without asking to get up every five minutes! The cushion acts as shock absorber for the movement and some come with textures.

4. Give him a squeeze ball. A stress ball, or squeeze ball as kids like to call them, is a great tool for most kids (whether they have ADHD or not). Sitting is hard work and kids are asked to sit for long periods of time when engaged in learning. Stash a few squeeze balls in your child’s desk. They are small and discreet and they give him the opportunity to work his arm muscles while sitting and listening.

5.  Ask for standing room. Standing desks boast health benefits for adults, so it makes good sense that they would help some kids as well. If these desks aren’t available, that’s okay. With the teacher’s permission, your ADHD child can find an area of the classroom where she can stand while listening and working. Sometimes standing and moving from one foot to the other helps provide focus for kids. I once worked with a child who spent a lot of time standing at a counter in the back of the classroom. When he needed to move, he did a few “wall push ups” to get his energy out.

I find that many teachers welcome movement in the classroom as long as the student has a plan in place. Moving around without permission and distracting other students is a problem, but moving to redirect energy and maintain focus is a good thing.


Katie Hurley, LCSW, is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and Writer in Los Angeles, CA. Her work can be found on several popular online parenting sites, including EverydayFamily, Practical Parenting, and The Huffington Post. Her parenting book, The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World, will be published at the end of October 2015 (Tarcher/Penguin). Katie enjoys life by the beach with her husband and two children.

10 Items Every Special Educator Should Have In Their Classroom


Special Educators work hard to make sure that their students with special needs develop and grow during the school year. Special Education teachers encounter different challenges in their classrooms than general education teachers and therefore they need different tools.

Here are 10 great items every Special Needs teacher should have in their classroom.

1. Fidgets, Wiggle Seats, Therapy balls, Therapy bands

Fidgets and the above items are very important in the classroom. I utilize all of these sensory items in my classroom to help my students balance their sensory system and prepare for academic work. I have often overheard my students talking to their friends and saying, “Mrs. Ferry’s room is fun. She let’s us chew gum and we’re not allowed to chew gum in school!”

2. Highlighter strips/Reader trackers

Highliter StripsOften, my students with learning disabilities in reading or with attention difficulties struggle to keep track of the words they are reading. They often skip lines which greatly affects their reading accuracy and hinders their comprehension.

These students really appreciate being allowed to use highlighter strips or reader trackers as a strategy to keep them focused on one line at a time.Some of my students have asked to take them back to their classrooms or even home with them. At Halloween, I have a container of “witch’s fingers” that they can put on their finger to point to one word at a time.

3. Shaving cream, Sand, Rice

Playing with shaving creamI use a number of sensory-based items as a way to practice word work. We practice spelling words in shaving cream, learning the formation of numbers in colored sand, or finding hidden words in a bowl of rice that we have to decode. This is a fun way to engage students through sensory integration, help develop fine motor skills, and learn academic skills all in one!

 4. Timers

I use timers for so many things! It is a great way to prepare students for transitions. Often, time is such an arbitrary concept for my students. If they can visually see how long they have to complete a task/assignment they are more at ease with the change that transitions bring.

Time Timer Visual TimerI also use timers to help me assess reading fluency with my students. We do 1 minute timed reading tests to determine how many words they are reading per minute. Timers also work as a great way to make a practiced skill a competitive game.

In my class, I have these huge foam dice. I have the students roll the dice and see how many addition/subtraction problems they can solve in 1 minute. (This is way more fun than the typical paper-and-pencil timed math tests which I hated growing up!) Visit this post to see a list of  timers for your class.

5. Visuals

Visual Supports for the Special Education ClassroomFor some students, their visuals are almost a lifeline to help them through their day Visual supports have proven to be a huge success with my students when helping to mainstream them into their general education classrooms. When implemented appropriately, visual supports will allow students with special needs access to the general education curriculum and will help with the inclusion process. Check out these five visual support tools for your classroom.

6. Manipulatives

ManipulativesHands-on manipulatives are a critical learning tool for students in all classrooms. Manipulatives help make an abstract idea a concrete concept. Students can physically investigate a math problem to reach a solution. This will change their way of thinking from a simple procedural understanding to a more conceptual understanding.

7. Posted Rules/Expectations

School RulesIt is so important for all students, but especially those with special needs, to understand what is expected of them. Children thrive off of rules and need to know that their is consistency with the rules in order to view them as fair. I have my classroom rules posted in a central location of my classroom where I can quickly refer to them as a reminder to my students.

8. Reward System

Reward StickersAt my school, we like to give just as much emphasis on recognizing good behavior. We know the importance of taking a proactive approach with behavior. I utilize sticker charts for each of my students. Once they earn 10 stickers they can choose a prize from my smaller prize box. If they are willing to save their stickers and earn up to 20, they can choose a prize from a larger, more enticing box.

One of the other special educators uses a token economy with money they can use to purchase goods from the classroom store at the end of the week. The more money they have earned – the more they get to buy! This does not have to be a major expense for teachers. I often raid my nephew’s room for old toys he doesn’t play with anymore. I frequently visit the dollar store or target’s 1-dollar section as well. And trust me, it is well worth it to avoid the negative behaviors!

9. High Interest – Low Level Reading Books

Hi Lo Reading BooksWhat a great find these books were! Many companies offer Hi-Lo books for struggling readers. It can be challenging to find a 4th grader who reads at a 1st grade level a book that is interesting to him but at his level. Often, the books at his reading level appear “babyish” to him. With Hi-Lo books he has the advantage of choosing books that “look” like chapter books and are about interesting topics but are of easy readability.

10. Technology

Ipad special educationI have found that all students love technology. You can present them with the exact same task on a computer that you would in worksheet format but all of a sudden it is 10x more engaging. I have often brought in my personal laptop from home for my students to use (with my supervision of course) and an iPad to take advantage of all the amazing apps available for special education. With the changing times, educators have to be prepared and 1 step ahead of their students.


Melissa Ferry is a special education teacher for Mt. Pleasant Public Schools. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University with an endorsement in learning disabilities. Melissa is continuing her education at Central Michigan University in pursuit of a Master’s Degree. Prior to her career as a teacher Melissa volunteered at Friendship Circle for seven years.




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