Shedding Light on Learning Differences and How You as a Parent Can Help Your Children: Interview with Learning Specialist Dr. Odey Raviv by Robin Gorman Newman, founder, MotherhoodLater.com
As anyone parenting a child with learning differences knows, it takes a village, and the question becomes how do we create our village? What can we do to best help our kids do their best and build self esteem in school and life? This is the million dollar question, and one that is particularly true in the face of the challenging Common Core academic curriculum.
One of the keys is to align yourself with professionals who know how to reach your child in a way that you (and perhaps teachers) are not in a position to make happen. As a parent, we’re not born experts, so to call on those who are can make a world of difference. It doesn’t mean your child isn’t smart or that you’re not capable. But, perhaps, for example, they absorb and retain and retrieve information differently? What skills might they be offered to help them tap into their potential?
For this reason, I reached out to Dr. Odey Raviv, a highly skilled/trained New York learning specialist, with over 30 years experience, to shed light on raising a child with special needs and academic challenges.
Robin: Welcome Dr. Raviv. Please tell us about your background.
Dr. Raviv: I started my career as a special education teacher of self-contained classes for children with behavioral and learning disabilities in the South Bronx and Corona, Queens. After five years of teaching, I was offered a Ph.D. fellowship at the University of Florida in Gainesville where I studied Special Education. I completed my doctoral thesis on the relationship between acting out behavior and social acceptance as a function of age (younger kids liked the actor outers less than the older kids). After returning to the NYC school system, I was in the core group that initiated the Resource Room Teaching Model in Bayside, Queens. I formulated therapeutic sports programs for mainstreamed and self-contained youngsters and initiated a summer program that featured educational and recreational programs for regular and special education students. Working at Long Island Jewish’s Learning Clinic and teaching at CUNY were important steps in broadening my experience to reach and teach older students with special needs. For the last 30 years, I have maintained a private practice as a learning specialist for students in middle school, high school, and college.
Robin: How have things changed in recent years compared with when you first started working with kids who are different?
Dr. Raviv: One of the biggest changes I notice in working with children with learning challenges is the openness of parents in the discussion about issues that impede their children’s academic progress. A search for support and appropriate learning environments has taken the place of denial, shame, and blame. Unfortunately, finding truly appropriate educational settings for students with special needs is still a cause of major frustration here on Long Island, NY and in many places. And, the newly introduced Common Core curriculum is particularly rigorous, making it tough for many parents in the past who might have been able to help their kids. They now aren’t able to do so as well because it’s a new way of learning, with more complex material.
Robin: What are the diagnoses you’re seeing the most?
Dr. Raviv: The diagnosis that has increased the most is ADHD. Executive Functioning (EF) deficits are on the rise as well. EF is often coupled with ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and Learning Disabilities diagnoses.
Robin: How do you distinguish between learning disabilities vs. differences?
Dr. Raviv: The legal term Specific Learning Disabilities appears in Special Education Law (Individual with Disabilities Education Act 1975-IDEA). This federal law protects the rights of students to receive appropriate special education services. To qualify, a student must be classified under one of 13 disability classifications. Sadly from a legal perspective, there is no classification for learning differences. This term highlights the fact that students learn differently, and an educational plans that recognizes the unique learning abilities and weaknesses is the key to success.
Robin: As a learning specialist, what do you bring to the table versus a tutor?
Dr. Raviv: As a learning specialist, I utilize an educational therapy perspective that fosters the demystification of learning problems and stimulates clients’ awareness of their strengths so they use those strengths to their best advantage to overcome areas of weakness. Along with remediating individual particular needs, the approach focuses on teaching organizational procedures, reading strategies, critical thinking, time management, study skills and memory techniques. Sound academic coaching and inspiring a willingness to change approaches to homework, study, and test taking are ingredients to a successful learning specialist approach. With a repertoire of tools and skills, an attitude of possibility and optimism ensues, and the student is equipped and ready to achieve positive results.
The key with a learning specialist is that we aim to help over the long run and not just get homework done. Our goal is to teach your child what they need to do to get through their work, in a way that works for their specific needs. We put systems in place, share tips, etc. For example, if a child is more of an auditory learner, we might suggest they read passages out loud to themselves at home. If a child is more of a visual learner, they might be guided to use different color highlighter markers, folders and post-its when reading, and to create charts and diagrams.
Robin: Is it true that more boys vs. girls receive a diagnosis of ADHD and other challenges?
Dr. Raviv: Yes, more boys are diagnosed with ADHD by an almost 3 to 1 margin. Boys more often display the hyperactive/impulsive type of ADHD. Girls usually are categorized with the inattentive type of ADHD which includes lack of sustained focus, forgetfulness, and organization challenges. Investigators often cite the lack of physical outlets and bland teaching methods as contributing factors to the higher than ever diagnosis of ADHD which is currently 11% of school aged children.
Robin: As a parent, if your child is struggling academically and behaviorally, what can you do aside from possible medication?
Dr. Raviv: If you notice academic and behavior difficulties, it is important to bring your concerns to your child’s teacher and principal. The next step might be to request that a psychoeducational evaluation be provided by the local school district. If your concerns are not being addressed thoroughly with the district’s test protocols, a private neuropsychological evaluation can be arranged through the school district or on your own. Even if medication is prescribed as a solution by a pediatrician or psychiatrist, do not discount the need for academic intervention by a learning specialist and emotional support with a psychotherapist. The team approach is the best avenue to meeting your child’s unique needs and setting in motion a plan for success.
Some school districts have a Special Ed PTA (SEPTA), and you might consider reaching out. There is strength in numbers, and if you connect with other families and individuals with similar challenges, there is the opportunity to share resources. Plus, they may have experience navigating the school system and can help guide you. You want to be an active parent to advocate on behalf of your child.
It’s also vital how you communicate with your child. You want to identify strengths and play them up as much as possible. It’s easy for homework and test taking to overwhelm. Grades aren’t everything, and as a parent, you want to raise your child so they may pave their own way in the world, and there is more than one way to find happiness and success. We can’t all be good at everything, but we each bring something to the table. Nurture that in your child. Be sure to build their socialization skills and sense of self through positive dialogue. You want to focus on the long run and not get caught up strictly in academia. Teach them the importance of perseverance and that it’s okay to make mistakes. What’s important is that they do their personal best and don’t give up, but share with you how they feel, so you can step in if necessary. Let them know it’s not a weakness to reach out for help. Work on setting attainable goals for them, and if incentive is warranted, you might consider establishing a rewards system. Celebrate their achievements, the big and small, as much as possible.
Robin: How does self-esteem figure into the equation of these kids, and what can a parent do to boost it?
Dr. Raviv: Self-esteem plays a significant part in the well-being of all children but is crucial for kids with special needs. Facing academic and social struggles can destroy the spirit of youngsters. Helping your child find satisfying activities and nurturing their passions are challenges that can play wonderful dividends for your child and the whole family. Providing appropriate professional academic and emotional support can also help ameliorate self-esteem and confidence issues.
Robin: Do anxiety and emotion come into play?
Dr. Raviv: Anxiety and emotion certainly are significant factors in your child’s academic performance and behavior. Unrealistic expectations, fear of mistakes, obsessiveness, and worry are but a few of the examples of issues that can negatively impact a student’s ability to do well in school and at home. A willingness to be open to a complete evaluation of the emotional well-being of your child cannot be minimized. A psychotherapist and/or educational therapist can play an important role in helping to get your child on track. If the intensity of the emotional situation does not relent, a psychiatric consultation is in order.
Robin: How do you know if a child has challenges vs. demonstrating an unwillingness, for example, to do homework?
Dr. Raviv: The reluctance to do homework, despite the assurance of your child’s teacher that the capability is there, should lead you to check on the emotional well-being of your child. A consult with a psychotherapist or a complete psychoeducational evaluation is advisable. Additionally, if your child cannot cope with the academic work in class, an evaluation to get a complete understanding of your child is necessary. If your child has an IEP in school, you want to stay on top of the teachers and administrators to make sure that any suggested modifications and accommodations are being made. Don’t assume this will automatically happen. For example, there is the potential for them to modify homework accordingly for your child’s needs.
Robin: Many kids have Executive Functioning challenges. How do you define it, and what is its impact, and what can be done?
Dr. Raviv: Executive Functioning (EF) and self-regulation skills are the mental processes that enable students to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. Student with poor EF skills often also have learning disabilities and ADHD. They are more disorganized than other kids and get overwhelmed by assignments that involve planning and decision making. Learning specialists will devise checklists to minimize the emotional strain in making decisions. Formulating time management schedules, along with daily and weekly plans, are important steps in helping student with EF cope more efficiently. Explaining the rationale of each strategy so the student with EF can develop an understanding of the process and its impact on easing the struggles of self-regulation deficits. Exploring effective ways of learning is a crucial to turning the tide of helplessness. Graphic organizers can be extremely effective in organizing thoughts to initiate writing. Routine and rewards are practices that parents may utilize with specialists’ inputs. EF can be improved with new skills, consistency and determination.
Thanks, Robin, for giving me the opportunity to share important information with parents facing the challenge of educating their kids today!