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Getting “Unstuck” to Help Your Special Needs Child

Whether your child has ADHD, dyslexia, trouble with math, or is on the autism spectrum, it’s easy to get stuck in the no man’s land of doing nothing about it. In most cases, parents who fall into this trap aren’t complacent or uncaring; it’s usually about not knowing what to do.

In order to springboard you to a place of momentum to help your child and improve the quality of your own life (after all, learning struggles usually affect the entire family), we’ve created five baby steps. Most of these items will take less than 15 minutes, so there’s no excuse to stay stuck in the mud––or worse, drowning in quicksand.

Baby Step #1: Make an appointment with your child’s teacher. A simple phone call, email, or even a note will work. Then jot down a list of detailed questions to gather information about your child’s academic weaknesses, any social/emotional problems (e.g., lack of friends) and the teacher’s observations of any physical clues that there may be problem (e.g., restlessness, foot tapping, getting out of his seat, yelling, consistently interrupting). Ask the teacher if she feels your child could benefit from an independent education program (IEP) or any special needs classes.

Baby Step #2: Make an appointment with your pediatrician. Be sure to request a longer-than-usual appointment so you have plenty of time to talk in detail about your concerns, to gather feedback from the doctor and to get referrals to specialists (e.g., speech and language therapist, nutritionist, occupational therapist and/or cognitive skills therapist).

Baby Step #3: Make an appointment for a cognitive skills assessment. Unlike tutoring, which focuses on specific subject matter (e.g., historical facts), cognitive skills training—also known as “brain training”—addresses the root cause of learning struggles: weak cognitive skills. With ADHD, the weakest skill is usually attention, though other skills may also be weak. With autism spectrum disorder, it’s common to see weaknesses in processing speed, short-term memory and logic and reasoning. With dyslexia, it’s phonemic awareness. To find a center near you, Google “one-on-one brain training” or visit (If you just search for “brain training” you’ll likely get a bunch of companies that use computer-based games, not one-on-one customized cognitive skills training.)

Baby Step #4: Evaluate your current efforts. Make a quick list of how your family spends its time on work, school, sports, extracurricular activities (e.g., music lessons, ballet), church, homework, entertainment (e.g., TV, video games, computer time), etc. Are you seeing any patterns that you’d like to change? Is your child taking three hours each night to complete their homework? Do you have almost no leisure time yourself because you’re constantly helping your struggling student? Is your daughter spending two hours a day at soccer practice, but practically failing several classes? There’s no doubt that the physical and social aspects of sports are important, but unless you expect your child to play professional soccer as a career, there may be some misplaced priorities.

Baby Step #5: Get some real support. While spending time with other parents who have special needs children can certainly provide some camaraderie, it’s important to find a balance between emotional support (e.g., “I’m so exhausted taking care of my child’s needs that I don’t have time to de-stress”) and solution sharing. If you can’t find a group that seems proactive in seeking improvement, form your own! Start by searching sites like and, or find your local chapter (or an online group) of a specific national organization on, (Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) or (The International Dyslexia Association), to name a few.

It’s easy to get stuck when you’re overwhelmed (or underwhelmed!) with options. Taking initiative to find out which direction might prove most helpful in treating the root cause, addressing the symptoms or just improving the quality of life for your child can help you test Newton’s first law of motion: An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion. So get the ball rolling!


Low Omega-3 Levels Tied to Accelerated Brain Aging 

People with diets short on omega-3 fatty acids were more likely to experience accelerated brain aging, an interesting study has shown published in the journal Neurology.

“People with lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids had lower brain volumes that were equivalent to about two years of brain aging,” said Dr. Zaldy S. Tan, a member of the UCLA Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research in the Department of Neurology.

Tan and his colleagues compared blood levels of two nutrients in omega-3 fatty acids with MRI brain scans and cognitive tests. They found people in the bottom 25% scored lower on such mental tests as problem solving, multi-tasking and abstract thinking.

You can find these great omega-3 fatty acids in the following foods:

  • Fatty fish like salmon 
  • Vegetable and canola oils, 
  • soybeans, 
  • flaxseed, 
  • walnuts 
  • spinach, 
  • kale and salad greens

So next grocery store trip, make sure you are picking up some of these great brain boosting foods!


Nonverbal Learning Disabilities (NVLD) 

Often confused with Asperger’s Syndrome (or high-functioning autism), nonverbal learning disabilities (NVLD) are largely defined by an absence of social skills, although there are many other telltale signs.

NVLD vs. Asperger’s

New research* from Michigan State University indicates that there is anatomical evidence that the brains of children with NVLD actually develop differently than children with Asperger’s. In the study, researchers found that children and teens with NVLD had smaller spleniums (part of the thick band of fibers that connects the left and right sides of the brain) than children with Asperger’s, ADHD, and no learning disabilities. This band of fibers, known as the corpus callosum, not only helps the two hemispheres communicate, but is also involved in visual and spatial functioning.

In the same study, the researchers used MRIs to study the brain activities of children and teens while watching a video of both positive (opening a present from a friend) and negative (teasing) social situations. The students with NVLD had different brain activity than the children with high-functioning autism, indicating that NVLD and Asperger’s are two separate and distinct disorders.

Symptoms of NVLD

Children with a NVLD may have no difficulties with school until they’re older, when struggles such as weak motor or imagery skills start getting in the way of normal advancement. “As these children get older, NVLD reveals itself in other areas, such as peer interaction, problem solving and physical awkwardness,” explains Tanya Mitchell, author of Unlock the Einstein Inside: Applying New Brain Science to Wake Up the Smart in Your Child

Teens and children with NVLDs are often great with verbal expression, vocabulary and memory, but have difficulty with comprehension. Reading comprehension is often strained, as are math problems – especially word problems and visual puzzles.

Other common mental symptoms include:

  • Great with detail but misses the “big picture”
  • Takes things literally
  • Naïve
  • Smart but lacks common sense
  • Has poor abstract reasoning skills


Common emotional symptoms:

  • Dislikes/fears change and has trouble adjusting to new situations
  • Has difficulty meeting new people and keeping friends
  • Prone to anxiety and depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Agoraphobia (fear of open spaces)

Treatment and Support

There are several things that parents and teachers can do to support a child with NVLD. These involve treating the cause and decreasing the symptoms.

To help strengthen social skills, teach your children to watch for nonverbal cues in others, such as hands on hips (angry) or arms crossed (angry or frustrated). Enroll your child in therapies (physical, occupational, psychological) or classes (dance, gymnastics, yoga) that may help ease the physical symptoms while strengthening social skills. Look for opportunities to evaluate and improve on social skills in small groups or in a one-on-one environment with another child. Practice things like personal space, eye contact, appropriate volume for speaking, and sharing through role-playing.

To alleviate symptoms and stress on everyone involved (parents, child, teachers, friends, classmates), provide structure, routine and predictability whenever possible. If you do need to make changes or are unsure of what may happen next, (e.g., home is for sale, may change schools), explain what could happen and why. Avoid sarcasm and double meanings and be clear, logical, and straightforward in your expectations and explanations. Be aware of sensory stimulation that may affect your child. These things include noise, smells, large groups and temperatures. Talk to your child in advance about the consequences of certain behaviors. (e.g., “If you are too loud in the library, we will need to leave because one of the rules is that you need to be quiet so everyone can enjoy reading.”) Understanding cause and effect can go a long way in helping things run smoothly at home, school and in public.

For school-aged children, talk to the teachers, principle, and school nurse so they are aware of your child’s struggles. If necessary, the school may modify how it teaches and tests your child (e.g., verbal explanation of visual math problems), what is expected in P.E. and how involved you are in helping your child stay organized, focused, and on schedule.

“With NVLD, for some reason, the processing of nonverbal or volition-based information is deficient, often manifesting itself as silent struggles with visual, spatial, organizational, evaluative, and intuitive functions,” explains Mitchell. “These are smart kids with a cognitive barrier to success. But NVLD is totally treatable through personal brain training. Using a comprehensive assessment and cognitive skills training program, one-on-one brain training attacks the root cause of the visual processing weakness to defeat NVLD for a lifetime.”

If you think your child has a nonverbal learning disability, bring them to your LearningRx for a cognitive skills assessment. From there, you’ll learn which brain skills need strengthening to help your child succeed at school and in all aspects of their life.



Is Your Baby a Baby Einstein?

The journal Pediatrics reported their groundbreaking study in 2004 about the correlation between time in front of the TV and attention difficulties. This study has been looked at over the years and quoted many times. When reading The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, M.D., this was one of the passages that I highlighted. The study showed that attention difficulties increased by 10% for every hour a toddler (age 1-3) watched TV. 

There are some basic problems with the study set-up as described on the ADDitude Living with Attention Deficit website. One major one being that the parents who participated in the study were asked about their toddler's TV habits years after the fact. Yet, it makes sense that plopping your child in front of the television rather than reading or playing with him/her could cause some repercussions later in life.

But what about all those amazing Baby Einstein videos and similar tools to stimulate your baby into the smartest in class? Well just because stimulating toys and books are good, doesn't mean that you can't overstimulate. Because really, a baby's brain doesn't know the difference between a TV show and a Baby Einstein video. We are seeing more evidence that these types of gimmicky attempts to make your baby smart aren't delivering on their promises and now American Academy of Pediatricsrecommend not allowing children under two to watch any type of TV or video program.

So, as parents, what do you think? What results have you seen with Baby Einstein type videos? How do you choose to stimulate your child's brain?


New Study Shows Our Brain 'Tune' Into Activity By Synchronizing Areas

A new article published on discusses an interesting finding. Scientists at Washington University School of Medicine completed a study of volunteers with epilepsy. They found that to concentrate, we synchronize different regions of our brains. The researchers described this synchronization as "roughly akin to tuning multiple walkie-talkies to the same frequency."

"This study shows that temporal alignment of responses in different brain areas is a very important mechanism that contributes to attention and could be impaired by brain injury," says Dr. Corbetta.

This is another reason that brain training for individuals with brain injuries is so beneficial. Our training excites these brain areas that are needed to concentrate. I love finding studies that back up all the wonderful things we see happen at our centers! Read the full article here: