Monday, June 29, 2015

The 411 on Learning Disabilities
June 22, 2015
Jamie Kay, a psychologist and learning disability specialist, unravels the mysteries of raising a child with learning issues. 

All parents want the best for their children: a loving family, good friends, great medical care, and the best possible education available, from Pre-K right through college. The education piece, particularly in NYC, can be filled with lots of hills and valleys, especially if learning issues are part of the picture

Learning differences, styles, disorders or what?
The terms used for learning disabilities (LD) have shifted back and forth and back again many times over the last couple of decades. Some people refer to learning differences, others to learning issues, disorders, or styles. Bottom line, all these terms address the same concern: your child is having way more trouble learning than the average kid and needs help.

What is a learning disability?
In technical terms, a learning disability is a neurological disorder. Skills related to reading, writing, spelling, analytical thinking, reasoning, and organization are among the most common areas where problems are identified. Learning disabilities (LD) can vary widely among children, sometimes affecting one primary skill, such as reading, or more often a broad range of areas combined, such as language, writing, comprehension, and math. The biggest misconception around learning issues is the relationship to effort and intelligence. Even in today’s world, people still think children with learning issues just don’t try hard enough at school or aren’t that smart. Simply not true. Many children with LD are working harder and longer on homework and have keen intellects. But their brains are wired a bit differently, making learning, accessing knowledge, and applying their abilities more difficult than those activities are for your average child.

What are the signs of a learning disability?
In general, learning problems show up in elementary school, where a child is expected to focus on a new range of tasks. Teachers are often the ones who will bring a problem to your attention, or you may notice things on your own. A teacher may see that your child is clearly bright and engaged, but is having trouble keeping up with reading or learning new information. As a parent, you may notice that your child is having trouble focusing, listening, or following directions at home. Maybe learning the alphabet at an appropriate age was difficult, or connecting letters and sounds. It’s worth noting, though, that lots of parents worry about learning problems before there is good reason, and that only complicates matters. When children have real learning disabilities, you are generally looking for a cluster of difficulties in multiple areas, such as reading and writing problems, language difficulties, poor comprehension, incorrect use of language, confusion regarding math symbols, or inability to start or finish an appropriate task.

When is the time to evaluate a child for learning difficulties?
Whether or not to have your child evaluated is a very personal decision. Evaluations are available through the NYC Board of Education (BOE), or you can have your child tested privately. The BOE evaluations are not as thorough or comprehensive. Private assessments can be costly, but the value of a private evaluation is often worth the extra expense. If your child is really struggling and efforts by the school or tutors to help have not worked out, it is probably a good idea to have your child tested. A neuropsychological evaluation, the gold standard for LD assessments, will provide a clear picture of what your child’s difficulties are and what steps to take in optimizing your child’s educational experience. Most often, a recommendation for a learning specialist or tutor will be made, as most schools do not provide the specialized assistance a child will most likely require. Some LD children need placement in a special needs school, while others will be able to continue in mainstream schools, with additional services provided. Regardless of what type of learning difficulty a child may be facing, a neuropsychological evaluation, by a highly trained pediatric neuropsychologist, will provide the most comprehensive overview of the specific types of learning issues a child is experiencing. The relationship between test results and determining next steps is key in providing the optimum educational and academic needs of a child. Tutors, learning specialists, and school accommodations are among the most common recommendations provided.

Is there a certain age that is ideal for testing a child?
When it comes to determining if a child has learning disabilities, finding out earlier is better than later. The sooner a parent understands the challenges a child is facing, the more quickly adequate measures to help can be taken. However, don’t move too fast! All children develop differently, and sometimes there is a lag in meeting certain developmental milestones, but children often catch up and do just fine. It’s often best to wait until a child is in kindergarten before having an evaluation completed. Testing a child too early can be premature, unnecessarily costly, and inaccurate due to still developing and emerging skills.
However, if there are serious developmental concerns, it’s always good to check in with your pediatrician.

How should I choose tutors?
If your child is diagnosed with a learning disorder, a tutor or learning specialist can be tremendously helpful, especially if your child is in a mainstream school setting, private or public. Finding the right person to work with your child is very important. A tutor’s training and credentials should be thoughtfully and thoroughly considered. Check in with other parents about their experiences with professionals. Ask your school if they can recommend someone familiar with your child’s school curriculum. And don’t be afraid to shop around. Speak candidly about your concerns and expectations. Ask professionals about their approach and experiences. And keep in mind that expensive doesn’t guarantee anything. New York is filled with wonderful specialists, but some are less great at their chosen field than others. It’s important to do your research and seek out the best person for the job.

How to help at home?
If your child has a learning disorder, here are some things to consider on the home front.
Patience: Think of what it would be like if your day were filled with challenges you couldn’t meet and you didn’t know how to make things better. That’s what it’s like for most kids with learning issues. Try to keep your frustrations in check. It’s good for you and it will be great for your kid.

Don’t panic or freak out: Happily there is help out there for you and for your child. Worrying too much will only result in anxiety, which hampers the process of learning, and that’s the last thing you want to have happen.
Praise: Let your child know when he or she has done something well. Don’t go overboard, which can result in unrealistic expectations in the future and a false sense of accomplishment. Just let your child know you noticed and praise the effort and success accordingly.

Build on strengths: Discover what your child enjoys doing and provide as many of those experiences as possible, without overloading your child’s schedule. Children with learning disabilities often excel in non-academic pursuits such as sports, music, or certain games, like chess. Sign up for a class and engage your child in the process. Make it fun. The main thing is to give your child as many opportunities as possible to build on his or her strengths.

There are some outstanding online resources for general information about learning issues. Below are a few that offer some great information:

Jamie Kay, Ph.D., received her doctoral degree in clinical psychology from The Derner Institute at Adelphi University. She was the Director of the Center for Attention and Learning at Lenox Hill Hospital for seven years, securing and maintaining six Robin Hood Foundation grants. She has held senior positions at behavioral health centers and hospitals throughout the greater metropolitan area. Dr. Kay developed a series of groups and workshops at the esteemed 92nd Street Y Parenting Center on the Upper East Side of New York and maintained a private practice in Manhattan for over 20 years. Currently, Dr. Kay works exclusively with parents of children with learning disabilities, through Learning Solutions NYC, which she founded in 2008.Learning Solutions NYC was created to help parents navigate the demands of raising a child with special learning needs and obtain services from reliable professionals. For more information, Dr. Kay can be reached at 212-479-7822.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Greyscale From Game of Thrones and Leprosy

by CHI Staff

With the recently most talked about Game of Thrones season finale, Philip Alcabes, Ph.D., professor of public health in the College of Nursing and Public Health at Adelphi University presented a new health perspective with his recent article on the similarities between the fictional Greyscale and real Leprosy.  In addition to teaching at Adelphi University, Professor Alcabes studies the history, ethics, and policies of public health and has written for notable publications including The American Scholar, Virginia Quarterly Review, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. He has also completed research on AIDS and other community-acquired infections, as well as other topics related to epidemics and infectious diseases.  To read his recent article on Game of Thrones, follow the link below.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Meghan McPherson discusses Disaster Preparedness on “Fresh Outlook”

by CHI Staff

Meghan McPherson, the assistant director of the Adelphi University Center for Health Innovation (CHI), recently spoke on the importance of being prepared for disasters on the weekly talk show “Fresh Outlook.” Meghan is currently also the program coordinator and adjunct faculty for graduate programs in emergency management at Adelphi.

 Ms. McPherson has over a decade of experience in emergency management and is credentialed as a Certified Emergency Manager.  She has worked in both the public sector, for New Hampshire's Governor's Office of Energy and Planning, and in the private sector for James Lee Witt Associates in Washington, DC where she was twice deployed to the Gulf Coast to support the recovery efforts following Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana. Additionally, she serves on the Board of Advisors for the Order of the Sword & Shield National Honor Society, dedicated exclusively to homeland security, intelligence, and all protective security disciplines. Click the following link to watch the full episode.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Aphasia Awareness Month

by CHI Staff

Aphasia is a communication disorder that can result from many types of severe brain injury—typically stroke, traumatic brain injury or brain tumor—affects all aspects of communication, including speaking and understanding of oral or written language.

With June designated as National Aphasia Awareness month, it is important to recognize the aphasia support groups and therapy programs in our community. In particular the aphasia program offered at The Hy Weinberg Center for Communication Disorders at Adelphi University’s Garden City campus is always there to help. Offering group and individual therapy at a reduced cost from those offered in a private practice, as well as a family support group at no cost to families of individuals enrolled in either program, Adelphi is committed to providing quality services at affordable rates to those in need of therapy.

 “Aphasia Awareness Month is an opportunity to call attention to a communication disorder that is often misunderstood. It is important to realize that aphasia is a communication disorder. It does not affect an individual's intelligence,” Anne Marie Skvarla, the Director of the Hy Weinberg Center for Communication Disorders said.  “The aphasic individual may become very frustrated at the communication difficulties they experience and the social isolation they sometimes face as family and friends are not sure how to communicate with their loved one.”

According to Bonnie Soman, D.A., licensed speech-language pathologist and clinical supervisor for the one of the group sessions, most people don’t receive further aphasia speech therapy past what their insurance covers because of the high expense such sessions incur. Cost of continued speech therapy is often limited after insurance payments conclude, however help is still available through our programs.

There is a common misconception that people with aphasia can’t improve after about one year. However, according to the National Aphasia Association, individuals with aphasia may be helped 10 or more years after acquiring aphasia if they receive appropriate treatment.
Dr. Soman indicated that each group session has three goals: therapeutic, helping the group members communicate; support, enabling group members to help one another; and social, engaging in conversation with others who understand their challenges.

Each session—run by graduate students working toward an M.S. in Speech-Language Pathology and supervised by a credentialed and licensed speech-language pathologist—offers a place where others who have had similar experiences can share their troubles and triumphs in a social setting.

“When a person has a stroke and they’re taken to the hospital, all of their family and friends are there for them. However, as they move out of the healthcare setting and struggle with communicating, it’s not unusual for their social networks to disappear,” Dr. Soman said. “The social aspect should not be downplayed,” she said, and even noted a holiday gathering for group members and their families.

Families caring for someone with aphasia also are encouraged to attend separate group sessions to help them better prepare for challenges or struggles they or their loved ones encounter. Family sessions are held at the same time, in the same building as aphasia group sessions.

Enrollment for services is ongoing at the Garden City location. For information, pricing and scheduling, contact the center director, Anne Marie Skvarla at 516.877.4850 or

Monday, June 1, 2015

Rep. Rice Announces $500,000 in Federal Funding for Local Universities

by CHI Staff

U.S. Representative Kathleen Rice announced today that the U.S. Department of Education has awarded $250,000 to Hofstra University and $250,000 to Adelphi University to support programs that will prepare graduate students to serve young children with special needs. The $250,000 grant will cover the first year for each program, and it is anticipated that both programs will receive the same amount of funding each year for a total of five years. Both grants were provided through the Department of Education’s Personnel Preparation program, which helps address needs for qualified special education personnel and ensure that those personnel have the skills and knowledge needed to serve children with special needs.

The grant awarded to Hofstra University will support the Hofstra Early Childhood Interdisciplinary Professionals (HECIP) program to prepare highly-qualified teachers to support young children with disabilities and their families. Through the program, 51 college graduates will be recruited for a dual certification master’s degree program in Early Childhood and Early Childhood Special Education and will be trained to serve young children with special needs.

The grant awarded to Adelphi University will support the Infant Mental Health and Developmental Practice (IMH-DP) project, an interdisciplinary program to prepare graduate students to become IMH-DP specialists who will serve young children with special needs. IMH-DP integrates a university-based, credit-bearing program into the curriculum of social work, school psychology, mental health counseling and speech language pathology, and will result in 40 highly qualified IMH-DP specialists.

“These programs will ensure that educational and health professionals get the training, knowledge and skills they need to help children with special needs succeed throughout their lives and achieve their full potential,” said Rep. Kathleen Rice. “This federal funding allows the programs to get off the ground and get started, and I’ll work to ensure they get the funding they need each year to continue their important work.”

“Providing outstanding teaching to students with disabilities is extraordinarily important and this award will allow us to support highly-qualified teachers to help fulfill this need,” said Dr. Herman A. Berliner, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at Hofstra University.

"There is strong evidence that social-emotional development and specifically the formation of secure relationships lay the foundation for learning and competence in young children. This award will support the implementation of the innovative, cutting-edge program to amplify and fortify the preparation of early childhood professionals. It is our plan that this program will be permanent at the close of the award,” said Dr. Gayle D. Insler, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at Adelphi University.