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What is ADHD Inattentive Presentation?

by Dr. Garforth | Jan 27, 2019 | ADHD
Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder or ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that has three presentation types: Inattentive, Hyperactive/Impulsive, and Combined. A neurodevelopmental disorder means that it relates to how the brain functions and it is not due to parenting strategies or psychological stress.

When people hear the word ADHD, they typically think of what they have seen on television or movies where the character is going a mile a minute and bouncing off the walls. If these characters were to be diagnosed with ADHD, they would likely be considered to have the Hyperactive/Impulsive Presentation of ADHD and not the Inattentive presentation.

An individual with the Inattentive Presentation of ADHD symptoms or traits is not as outwardly apparent to an observer. These individuals have a hard time with their organizational skills and paying attention for a sustained time period. Like most conditions, if an individual is able to come up with different strategies and coping skills to manage their symptoms, it can be difficult for others to know how hard they are working to get through the day.  
The term ADHD Inattentive Presentation means that when the individual was assessed for ADHD, they met the diagnostic criteria based on behaviors relating to inattention. One analogy that I heard years ago about an individual with ADHD is something along the lines of ‘Having ADHD is like having your brain always channel surfing.’ This description would best describe an individual with the Inattentive Presentation of ADHD because it is as if they are always using part of their attention to check if there is something else that is more important or needs to be done.

When working with an individual with the Inattentive Presentation of ADHD it is important to remember that the individual is not acting this way on purpose, it is part of who they are and how their brain functions. Try to be patient with them and help them refocus when you can see their mind is wandering to something else. It can be very frustrating, but remember, the individual is likely just as frustrated that they cannot provide the same focus and attention to detail as individuals without ADHD.
For the examples in this post, I will be using a fictional character named Sam who has ADHD Inattentive Presentation. Please note these are just examples and I am not describing a real individual.

They are disorganized in life and can have a hard time following instructions and completing tasks

An individual with the Inattentive Presentation of ADHD struggles with organization in all aspects of their life. The individual's house will likely be very disorganized, and they will have difficulty locating things that they need. They have trouble completing tasks in a timely and sequential manner and may jump to another job before finishing the first.

For example, imagine Sam has to clean up the kitchen after making a big meal. The first thing he wants to do is to bring all the dishes from the table to the kitchen sink. As Sam is clearing the dishes, he notices that the dishwasher has the clean light on so he stops clearing the table to unload the dishwasher. When he is partway unloading the dishwasher, he steps on some spilled food on the floor and decides he better sweep the floor before anything else because Sam doesn't want to make more of a mess by tracking food all through the kitchen while he is cleaning up. Sam decides to make a couple of piles in the kitchen as he sweeps. He puts the first pile into the dustpan and goes to empty it into the garbage. When he is at the garbage can, Sam notices that it is overflowing and that he should really empty it. As he is coming back inside after taking the garbage out, he notices the mail by the front door and sees his favorite magazine has arrived. He can't wait to look through it, so he decides to take a quick look through it. In this short period, Sam has started three tasks in the kitchen but only finished one of them. When Sam sees a job that needs to be done, he forgets to finish the current job he is working on and goes ahead to start the next task.

They often lose things

Losing things goes hand in hand with disorganization. If someone struggles with keeping things tidy in a logical, well thought out manner, it only makes sense that they lose the things they need. This could be because the individual has not established a dedicated spot for putting these essential items or because they were distracted in the middle of doing something and they moved on to the next task before finishing the first.

If you think of the example used above with Sam trying to clean up the kitchen, Sam quickly moved from one task to another before he finished the first task. Before he moved on to the next task, he did not take the time to return the items he was using to where they belong. The next time he needs the broom and he goes to get it out of the broom closet, do you think he will remember that it is actually beside the garbage?

They find it difficult to perform tasks that require long periods of concentration

An individual with ADHD Inattentive Presentation will have difficulty concentrating on something for an extended period such as school, homework, attending a presentation, reading long documents.

For example, Sam is sitting in class at school and is having a very hard time concentrating on what the teacher is talking about. He is continually fidgeting and looking around the classroom.

They don’t seem to be listening when you are speaking to them directly

It can be very frustrating to try to have a conversation with someone who has the Inattentive Presentation of ADHD because they can be looking at you right in the eye when you are talking to them but have no idea what you are talking about. This is particularly frustrating in situations when there is nothing else going on while you are talking to them. In this instance, the individual is likely paying more attention to their own thoughts than to what you are saying.

They are easily distracted by unrelated things

When an individual with the Inattentive Presentation of ADHD is in an environment where there is a lot of stuff going on, it can be challenging for them to focus on the task at hand. For example, think of something as commonplace as going out for a meal at a restaurant. This situation can be challenging because there are so many different things that can serve as distractions.

Let's say Sam is going out for dinner with a few friends, but his friends are getting frustrated because Sam is not involved in the conversation they are having. What they don't realize is while Sam is trying to be a contributing member to the discussion at his table, he also is following the conversations that are happening at the tables around him. He is not eavesdropping intentionally to be rude, but it is hard for him to focus on one conversation when there are so many other conversations going on around him. It is particularly hard if one of the tables is talking about something that interests him. He also may get distracted by music that is playing in the background. If he hears a familiar song, it may trigger a specific memory, and reminiscing about this memory can take his attention away from actively enjoying the meal with friends.

They are often forgetful when it comes to daily activities

If you have someone who is disorganized and often loses things, it isn’t hard to understand why they may struggle with things like remembering to pay bills on time or completing their chores.

Sam has a hard time organizing his finances and paying his bills on time. He finds it hard to remember when the different bills are due and where he needs to get the information from. He also struggles to remember to check the balance on his credit cards and to make sure he has enough money in his bank account to cover his expenses. 


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.

What does ADHD Hyperactive/Impulsive Presentation mean?

by Dr. Garforth | Jan 31, 2019 | ADHD
Most people are familiar with the acronym ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder but not many people can tell you much more about it than the individual is hyper and always on the move. 

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder which means that it relates to how the brain functions and that it is not caused by a stressful situation or parenting style. Although, the environment can affect how an individual is able to cope with their symptoms.

There are three different types of ADHD that will affect an individual’s emotions, learning and self-control. An individual with ADHD can have a predominantly Inattentive Presentation, a Predominantly Hyperactive/Impulsive Presentation or a Combined presentation. Each of these types of ADHD comes with their own set of challenges for the individual. The symptoms an individual with ADHD exhibits will likely change throughout their lifetime and affect their functioning differently in different settings.

When you are interacting with an individual, who has the Hyperactive/Impulsive Presentation of ADHD you need to remind yourself that there are some things they cannot control in the same way others can. They may do things that you see as frustrating and rude, but please remember that in most cases, they are not intentionally doing these things to bother you. It is just how they function with their symptoms. They likely feel similar frustration about some of their symptoms and wish it wasn’t part of who they are, but it is. The best thing you can do is to be patient with them and to do your best to help them through the situation by subtly suggesting alternatives that would be more appropriate to what they are doing.   
If an individual is diagnosed with ADHD Hyperactive/Impulsive Presentation, it means they met the diagnostic criteria for an individual with hyperactive and impulsive behaviors. This presentation of ADHD is the one that the media typically portrays. It is also the one that the layperson will feel they diagnose based on the behavior they see.
For the examples in this post, I will be using a fictional character named Jamie who has ADHD Hyperactive/Inattentive Presentation. Please note that these are just examples and I am not describing a real individual.

They often fidget or tap their hands or feet.

An individual with the predominately Hyperactive/Impulsive Presentation of ADHD has a tough time sitting perfectly still. If they are in a situation where they have to sit for extended periods of time, they will often be moving in some way whether it is fidgeting with something or tapping something.

Jamie has a tough time when she is in a meeting at work. She tries to be subtle, but she can’t help playing with her hair, tapping her pen on the desk, or shaking her foot under the table. Some people find these types of behaviors to be very distracting, but it is likely that Jamie doesn’t even realize she is doing them.

Sitting down for a long time can be difficult, especially when remaining seated is expected.

Any instance that an individual with ADHD predominantly Hyperactive/Inattentive presentation has to stay seated for an extended period of time can be very daunting for them. They know it will be hard to stay seated and focused.

It may be helpful to think of a time when you had a task to do that you really didn’t want to do and every time you started it, you would be okay for the first few minutes but then come up with something that had to be done at that moment. I think most people experience this with some tasks in their life no matter what, but for an individual with the predominantly Hyperactive Presentation of ADHD, this happens with everything they want to do. It can be very frustrating to the individual because no matter how hard they try, they can’t just sit down to focus for a few hours to get something done.

They often have a hard time engaging in leisure activities quietly.

This trait can be very frustrating for the individual on many different levels. It can make ‘hanging out with friends’ very difficult. Sitting around and talking or laying around at the beach can be very difficult because the individual with ADHD Hyperactive/Impulsive presentation can be very boring and make them feel very restless. These individuals don’t understand how sitting in a bathtub can be relaxing. They may feel guilty because they can’t enjoy just doing anything.

It is Spring Break, and Jamie goes on a trip with some friends to Mexico. She has looked into all the different activities they can do on their trip, and she is so excited to go on these adventures with her friends. When they arrive, Jamie wants to go look around the resort, but her friends say they just want some time to relax after a day of traveling. They all make a plan to meet in a few hours for dinner. When Jamie gets to her room, she decides she will try to have a bath and relax. After she is in the tub for a few minutes, she gets restless and starts to wonder what her friends could be doing. This frustrates Jamie because she knows so many people that say they can stay in a nice bath for hours, but she is bored after 5 minutes and wants to get out.

Jamie is excited the next day when everybody heads out to the beach for the day. She is looking forward to playing frisbee, beach volleyball, and having fun in the water. When they get to the beach, everybody sets their towels up on the chairs and lays down to relax. Jamie plays along for the first half-hour but then gets restless and needs to get up and move. She asks her friends if they want to play a game or go in the water and they would prefer just to relax on their chairs, so Jamie goes off on her own. This continues to happen throughout the day and frustrates Jamie. She is frustrated for two reasons, one because her friends don’t want to do some of the fun things she wants to do and because she isn’t able to enjoy just lounging around on the beach with them.

They often talk excessively, speak out of turn, or interrupt others.

This can be a real problem for individuals with ADHD Hyperactive/Impulsive presentation because even though they may know it is inappropriate to do any of these behaviors, they cannot help themselves.

They may constantly be talking because it is easier for them to focus on the situation than in complete silence. Individuals with the Hyperactive/Impulsive presentation of ADHD also may be uncomfortable with the silence because they are unsure of what to do in the silence.

An individual may interrupt in a conversation because they have something important to add to it and they are worried that if they wait for their turn to speak the individual may forget what they were going to say or that the moment it was pertinent to the conversation has passed. They may finish

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another person’s sentence because they are trying to show that person that they are listening to what is being said and they have something they want to add to it.
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American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.

What is Attention Deficit / Hyperactive Disorder?

by Dr. Garforth | Mar 26, 2020 | ADHD
Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder. This means ADHD has to do with how the brain functions. It can affect a person’s emotions, learning ability, and or self-control. There are three different subtypes of ADHD:

1. Predominantly Inattentive Presentation
2. Predominantly Hyperactive/Impulsive Presentation
3. Combined Presentation.

Since ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder, it means that it is not caused by poor parenting or psychological stress. However, the environmental conditions an individual with ADHD is in can affect how the symptoms present themselves and how the individual is able to cope with them. This also means there is hope, because if an individual receives appropriate treatment, they may be able to decrease their symptoms which can allow the individual to function better.

It is important to remember that ADHD symptoms occur on a spectrum and how they affect someone is as unique as they are. Still, there are some of the common symptoms like having difficulty paying attention, having a hard time following directions, often interrupting others, fidgeting, being forgetful, and individuals may avoid doing tasks requiring sustained attention.

As the demands on an individual’s life change, the presentation of the symptoms changes. For example, an individual may have a tough time while in high school because they have difficulty sitting through their classes without fidgeting or wanting to get up and walk around. Once the individual leaves high school, they may find it a lot easier to manage their symptoms because they are no longer required to sit and listen for extended periods.  
Some people are more familiar with the term Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and use it instead of ADHD. ADD is the label that was initially used to describe ADHD when it first appeared in the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual III (DSM) in 1980 and was in use until 1987. The DSM is the standard handbook for doctors, medical professionals, and counselors to refer to when they are diagnosing mental health issues. The most current issue of the DSM, DSM-5, published in 2013 uses the term Attention Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder and defines three presentations of ADHD. However, many people are familiar with the term ADD, and so it is still used, even though it is an outdated term that is no longer correct.
ADHD affects between 5 to 9 percent of children and between 3 to 5 percent of adults. For an individual to receive a diagnosis of ADHD, the symptoms must have been present before they were 12 years old. More than half of individuals who are diagnosed with ADHD as a child experience the symptoms as an adult. These symptoms appear on a continuum and may be expressed differently throughout an individual’s lifetime as the demands on their abilities change.
Since ADHD is a medical condition, an individual must have a full assessment from a qualified individual, such as an Educational Psychologist, a Psychiatrist, or a Developmental Pediatrician, to receive a diagnosis. The point of the assessment is so the professional can develop a broader understanding of why the individual is the way they are. This will involve a collection of information about the individual’s developmental, medical and educational history. The professional should use interviews and questionnaires so they can establish an understanding of how the individual reacts in a number of different situations from different points of view (ex: parents, teachers, coaches, employers).

ADHD will only be diagnosed if the symptoms are not caused by something else. For example, someone may have a hard time paying attention during class if they are tired of going through a stressful situation.
When you or your loved one was given the diagnosis of ADHD, the professional should have discussed the different forms of treatment available. There is medication available to help treat some of the symptoms of ADHD, and there are different types of interventions available to treat the symptoms.

Unfortunately, there is not a one size fits all approach to handling ADHD symptoms, and taking medication is not going to make all the symptoms go away magically.

When looking at a potential intervention, it is essential to be sure it targets the skills that you need help with. There is no point in taking a class on “How to ride a bike” if you already know how to ride a bike but want to learn how to ride a unicycle.
There will likely be some trial and error before you are able to find the right treatment plan, but it is important to keep trying different strategies until you discover the right combination.

Different strategies can be used at home, school, and work situations that can help individuals.
I feel recommendations for strategies or interventions need to be made on a case by case basis to allow for personalizing the approach to the individual’s needs, but generally speaking, I tend to recommend evidence-based practices such as:

  Executive Functioning Coaching
  Behavior Interventions
  Social Skills Training
Did you know that Garforth Education has created two online courses, A Parent’s Guide to IEPs and A Teacher’s Guide to IEPs? These courses were designed to give you a clear understanding of the IEP Process and they guide you through the steps you should take to prepare for IEP meetings.

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American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.

The Importance of Disability Awareness

by Dr. Garforth | Feb 26, 2019 | Advocacy, Learning Disabilities | 23 comments
Before talking about disability awareness, it is necessary to discuss self-awareness: not only is an individual more than their disability, disability awareness is an extension of self-awareness. It is crucial for an individual with a disability to have self-awareness so they can see themselves as an individual just as unique as someone without a disability, and not define themselves by their disability. For others to recognize an individual with a disability as more than their disability, the individual needs to be able to identify themselves as more than just someone with a disability. 

What is Self-Awareness?

Self-awareness is an understanding of one’s self, and an individual’s ability to be self-aware typically increases with age. Self-awareness looks very different for a 5-year-old, a ten-year-old, a teenager, and an adult. It is a skill that can be taught and ultimately for an individual to be fully self-aware, they need to understand their strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, fears, wants, desires, and beliefs.

Steps to gaining Self-Awareness:

1. The individual needs to know what self-awareness is and understand why it is essential for them to be self-aware.

Ex: I need to know about myself, so I can tell other people who I am and what makes me important!

2. Help the individual identify their talents, strengths, and weaknesses in a variety of different contexts.

Ex: What are your strengths at home, school, and in the community? What things are hard for you to do on your own?

3. The individual should reflect on what their feelings, opinions, biases, and values are. They should then think about how these relate to other individuals and their beliefs.

Ex: What is important to me? Is it necessary for everybody else?

4. They need to understand what they feel ‘success’ is and decide what success is for them.

Ex: What would make it so you are happy with your life?

Steps to gaining Disability Awareness:

1. Disability awareness is very important for an individual with a disability and their family. It is essential that you understand what the formal term and diagnosis mean so when you are asked by others what it means to have a disability you can describe it. It will mean you can correct people who are misinformed about the disability so you can help them understand the condition better.

2. After you know how to explain the disability, you will need to develop a full understanding of how it affects you or your loved one’s daily life. Each disability has several symptoms, and for many disabilities, all symptoms do not have to be present for a diagnosis. When someone learns that someone has a disability, they will often think of previous people they have encountered with that disability and apply that person’s symptoms to this new case. I am not sure why people feel they can generalize a disability like this, but they do.

Ex: If someone tells only tells you they have a learning disability, can you tell by looking at them what areas they have problems with?

3. It is critical for you to develop an awareness of coping strategies that work and do not work to help compensate for your disability. Do not assume that just because a strategy works for one person that it will work for you. Even siblings with the same disability can have strategies that work for one of them but make it harder for the other. Be aware that there will likely be several people with good intentions who may try to convince you of attempting a new strategy but if you have a strategy that works for you and you like it do not feel like you have to try their strategy. At the same time do not be afraid to try new strategies if you still haven’t found one that works well for you.

4. Self-acceptance and disability acceptance is crucial step in the self-awareness/disability awareness process for the individual and their family members. This can be a challenging step for some individuals, and it is important that they take the time they need to process and come to terms with the diagnosis. This is something you cannot force, and you cannot rush through. Of course, there will be days that are harder to accept the diagnosis than others, but once you are able to discuss the diagnosis without getting upset about talking about it, you are on your way to disability acceptance. Please note, there may be some people in an individual’s life that never accept or come to terms with the diagnosis. There is no way that you can force acceptance of a diagnosis.

5. It is helpful for an individual to be able to compartmentalize their disability, so they are able to see themselves as more than just the disability. Having a disability does not make them any less of a person with individual likes and dislikes. There may be some things that are more difficult or impossible for them to do because of their disability, but it does not mean they are any less of a person. It can be helpful for the individual to attribute the issue to their disability, but at the same time, it is essential that they do not use their disability as an excuse for not trying things. There are many people in this world that can do surprising things despite their disability. Think of all of the great scientific ideas that Stephen Hawking came up with even though he was paralyzed and not able to use a pencil.


Individuals with disabilities need to remember that they know themselves the best. You may not know everything there is to know about the disability you have, but you know about how the disability affects your life. Understanding more about your disability will likely help you understand more about yourself and provide you with insight into what you might be able to do differently to make your life easier.

Parents of individuals with disabilities, you are the expert on your child and how their disability affects their daily life. Experts can tell you about the disability and various strategies to try. Take the time to listen and learn as much as you can from them. In the end remember, you know your child the best and are the one who has to decide if those strategies are right for your family.

This post is based on a journal article by Raskind, Goldberg, Higgins & Herman’s qualitative analysis of 20 years of research published Learning Disabilities Research & Practice.

The Importance of Proactivity

by Dr. Garforth | Mar 1, 2019 | Skill Development | 4 comments
Proactivity is an important skill to foster success for anyone, but it is especially important for individuals with disabilities. The more proactive an individual can be in school, social situations, employment and recreational activities, the more likely they will experience success in these settings. In order to be proactive, it helps the individual to have developed both self and disability awareness. 9 things are helpful for an individual with disabilities to do in each of these settings.

How to be Proactive

*For the examples, we will be using a fictitious high school student named Joe who has ADHD, any resemblance to a real individual is purely coincidental.

1. Individuals must understand what proactivity is, why it is essential and the benefits of being proactive.

Proactive simply means that an individual does something in anticipation of what comes ahead, whether it be a problem, something they will need, or a change that will be required to be made. Being proactive involves foresight into your future needs, and it should make things easier for you long term.

For example, Joe stops at the grocery store to grab a snack, and he remembers that there was not much milk left after he finished breakfast this morning. Joe decides that it would be a good idea to buy more milk while he is at the store so that when he finishes the last little bit of milk in the carton at home, he will not have to go back to the store to buy more.

2. Make decisions and act on them.

It can be hard enough for an individual to make a decision, but following through with the decision can be even harder.

For example, on the weekend, Joe has decided that he needs to get his laundry done so he can have clean clothes for the coming week at school. Now that he has made the decision, he needs to follow through with it, but there always seems to be one more thing that Joe needs to do first before he can start his laundry. This procrastination goes on all weekend, and he never ends up doing his laundry before Monday.

3. Individuals need to recognize when there is a decision that needs to be made and to develop strategies for evaluating different options.

It is crucial that an individual understands the advantages and disadvantages of making a decision. It can be beneficial for them to hear someone modelling decision-making strategies out loud. You can do this by subtly talking through some of the different choices you make throughout the day and listing the pros and cons for the various options, or by stating your reason for making a particular decision.

For example, Joe has homework to do tonight, and he is trying to decide whether he should do it before he goes to baseball practice, or watch TV before going to practice and do his homework after practice. If Joe does his homework before practice, it means that it will be done and he can relax after practice. However, he had a long day at school, and Joe just wants some time to chill out before going to practice and watching something on TV sounds really appealing. If Joe decides to watch TV now and wait until after practice to do his homework, he will likely be tired from practice and not in the mood to do homework.  

4. Individuals need to understand the importance of taking responsibility for their actions. 

Individuals need to realize that everything they do or not do in life has consequences. Some decisions they make will have positive outcomes, but there will also be some decisions that have negative ones.

For example, Joe decided to stay up late last night so he could play video games with his friends. When his alarm went off in the morning, he kept hitting snooze. When his Mom finally made him get out of bed so Joe would not be late for school, he quickly got dressed to catch the bus. He did not remember to grab breakfast on his way out the door. All day at school he was easily distracted because not only was he tired from staying up late, but was also very hungry because he did not eat breakfast.

5. Individuals need to develop an internal locus of control.

An individual with an internal locus of control is someone who believes that their success is based on the work they do and that they have control over their lives. This is important for individuals with disabilities because there are things in their life that are harder for them to do that for others and this can be very frustrating. They need to be able to do a little self-talk to remind themselves that with hard work and persistence they will be able to succeed.

For example, there is an upcoming exciting school trip and Joe’s parents say that to go, he has to make sure that he gets at least a 75% on his History test next week. He knows the test is going to be hard, but he also knows if he does a little bit of review each day he will know enough to succeed at the test.

6. Individuals need to self-advocate and be assertive about their needs.

Self-advocacy means for an individual to be able to speak about their disability for themselves and ask for what they need. It is a crucial skill for anyone with a disability to develop so they can get the assistance they need and deserve in order to succeed.

For example, it is September and the start of a new school year for Joe. This year he has some new teachers, so he makes sure to go up to them in his first class to discuss his ADHD with them and what his learning needs are. He mentions that he is allowed extra time to take tests and to write them in a different room to minimize the distractions for him. As the term continues, he speaks to his teachers before his test to make sure a separate testing location for him has been reserved and that he will be allowed the extra time to complete the test.

7. Individuals need to develop different strategies for engaging in the world.

It can be very intimidating for someone with a disability to go out in public, especially if what they are trying to do makes their disability apparent. Even if someone has accepted and is comfortable with their disability, they can still feel very self-conscious; especially if they have an ‘invisible disability,’ such as a learning disability or ADHD that others are not aware of just by looking at them.

For example, let’s consider our friend Joe who wants to go hang out with his friends. He knows from past experiences that he gets bored just sitting around and talking for a few reasons:
  • He has a hard time staying still for a whole evening
  • He doesn’t know what to talk about
  • He gets bored quickly if he doesn’t like the topic of conversation
  • ​His friends get frustrated if he is using his phone to play games while they are trying to hang out

Some of the things that Joe can do to prepare for a night of hanging out with his friends:

  • Get some exercise (ride his bike, go for a run or to the gym) so that he does not have as much energy while they are talking
  • Come up with some conversation starters and topics that he enjoys talking about
  • Think of some card games or board games that he and his friends can play while they are hanging out
  • ​Bring his guitar so he can play some background music and keep his hands busy instead of using his phone

8. Individuals need to build self-confidence.

Self-confidence can be a huge game changer for an individual with a disability. I have found that once an individual experiences success in one area of their life, like a hobby, the confidence they gain from this success starts to overflow into other areas including the ones they struggle with.

9. Individuals need to understand and take responsibility for risk-taking. 

It is tough to go through life without taking any risks and for some individuals, partaking in risky behaviour is too exciting to avoid. It is important to develop strategies to identify the risk and ways to weigh the pros and cons of that particular risk.

In some cases it is helpful to develop a good support network as people don’t always realize what they are doing is dangerous so need to have someone help identify the risk and its consequences to them.
This post is based on a journal article by Raskind, Goldberg, Higgins & Herman’s qualitative analysis of 20 years of research published Learning Disabilities Research & Practice.

Successful, but still dyslexic

by Dr. Garforth | Oct 31, 2019 | Advocacy, Learning Disabilities
In life, I think it is very easy to judge a book by its cover. Many people see me and my story as a success story, and by all means, it is. I am a successful dyslexic, but I am still a dyslexic. Every day I still struggle with various aspects of my dyslexia.
Dyslexia is invisible. Frequent spelling mistakes are the visible symptoms of dyslexia, as are the grammatical and syntactical errors in a dyslexic’s writing and speech. My dyslexia causes me to second guess any form of my written communication because I know there may be errors in something I write that I cannot see (particularly in social media).
I should probably start off by giving a little background on my story.
My name is Dr. Kathryn Garforth. I have a Ph.D. in Learning Disabilities, but more importantly, I have the knowledge you can only gain from personal experience as someone who is severely dyslexic.

To the trained eye, my struggles would have been apparent even in preschool. In fact, my preschool teacher even mentioned something to my parents regarding her concern for my development.

Once I started school, it was obvious that learning to read was not going to be an easy feat. I knew that I was different because most of my peers had no problem understanding how the letters on the page related to the words that we speak.

In kindergarten, my difficulties were brushed aside, and my parents were told not to worry because I was a ‘late baby’ (I was born at the end of October) and that I would catch up with my peers.

In the first and second grades, I was always put in the lowest reading group. I was getting pull-out, one-on-one support with the Reading Recovery™ program but did not make any progress.

I was still struggling in the third grade and it was the first time my parents were told that I may have a learning disability. In grade four I was diagnosed with dyslexia.

I was fortunate that my parents were able to pay for private tutoring outside of school. It was through this private tutoring that I began to make some progress in learning to read.

My grade five teachers felt that I was a waste of her time and predicted that I would never finish school. It was obvious to my parents that the public school system had given up on me.

Luckily, my parents knew I was smart and refused to believe I couldn’t learn to read. They also had the ability to send me to a private school specializing in dyslexia. It was at this school that I learned how to read, and more importantly, I learned that I wasn’t stupid, something that my parents were never able to convince me to believe. Finally, I was given hope that I could overcome my learning disabilities.

There were more than a few bumps along the road, but I learned how to read and what strategies I needed to use to support my learning.
I made it through high school, a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, a Bachelor of Education, a Master of Arts in Special Education, and a Doctor of Philosophy in Learning Disabilities. I don’t think there are many people who would argue with me when I say that my story is a story of success.

There are some people who would say that I am cured, or that I never really could have been dyslexic after all. It is something that I have heard before and I am sure that I will hear again. Every time I hear it, it hurts.

The outside world doesn’t see how hard I have worked to get where I am. They don’t understand how much effort is needed and how long it takes for me to read a research article, or a book in order for me to comprehend what I have read.

They don’t realize that before I publish a blog post or any form of communication that I have to have it proofread. The first drafts of my writing are riddled with spelling, punctuation, grammar, and syntax errors. This does not mean that I am not an expert in my field, it means that I am dyslexic.

They don’t think about how my dyslexia has shaped my career path. When I first started university, I had a double major in Drama and Computer Science. I had to drop the Drama because there is no way I could keep up with the required readings for the coursework. I wasn’t cast in any of the school productions, not because of my acting ability, but because I couldn’t do the dry reads required for the auditions.

When I was finishing up Computer Science, I realized that even though conceptually I could do it, my dyslexia made it difficult and I would get frustrated doing this as a profession. My biggest problem was debugging my programs because I could not recognize the errors within the code. I can vividly remember spending hours going through code looking for the bug and not being able to identify a simple spelling error in one of the variable names.

I then decided to follow my passion for education. I struggled during my Bachelor of Education program because I had to do a full course load. Completing all the readings was challenging and exhausting. During my practicums, my sponsor teachers commented on my spelling errors and mentioned how it wasn’t a good model for the students. Also, it wasn’t considered professional in my written communication with parents.

These issues made me question whether being a classroom teacher was really the right choice for me, so I decided to pursue a master’s degree.

Again, in the master’s program, I struggled to keep up with the assigned reading for my classes. When I turned in written assignments, I would frequently get comments on my work suggesting that I create a draft before writing and that I have someone edit my work before turning it in. They didn’t realize I had worked off an outline and already had someone proofread my work.
During my Ph.D. I faced similar challenges. When I was preparing my dissertation, I asked the Faculty of Graduate Studies if they could recommend an editor to proofread my dissertation. They suggested that if I hired an editor it might be viewed as cheating. Instead, they suggested that I hire a tutor to teach me how to proofread the material myself. I explained that I had already gone through extensive tutoring to try and learn these skills, but that I still needed assistance to identify mistakes not picked up by computer checks due to my severe dyslexia.

I had originally wanted to earn additional accreditations during my program so I could be a licensed school psychologist. This would have allowed me to formally diagnose individuals with learning disabilities. Although I completed almost all the course work for this, I eventually decided against this because, in reality, I would have required an editor to proofread my reports before I sent them out. Having an editor reading every one of my reports would be expensive, and a potential breach of confidentiality.
When I started my Ph.D., I had dreams of becoming a tenured professor at a top-ranking university. However, once again the realities of my dyslexia began to sink in. How would I manage in a profession that is ‘publish or perish’ when academic writing was not my strong point?

I realized the amount of reading I would need to do to keep up to date with all the latest literature in the field would consume all of my time. Not to mention the time I would need to prepare for teaching several courses, grade assignments, and the other obligations I would have to fulfill for a potential university appointment.
Ultimately, I decided the best job for me was to use my dyslexic gift. Throughout my life, I have been an advocate for individuals with dyslexia at various levels. I have provided support to families and individuals with dyslexia and other learning disorders since I was in high school.

Many people have told me that I have a gift for explaining how individuals with learning disabilities learn. I have chosen to use this gift by supporting individuals, families, and educators with their understanding of learning disabilities. That is why I created this blog, why I work privately with families, and provide professional development.

I cannot control other people’s judgment of my language errors that are part of my disability. I can only control how I react to adverse comments. Sometimes it still hurts. Even though I was told I couldn’t at a very formative time in my life, I did finish high school and went on to earn four degrees. My accomplishments and insights allow me to say that ‘I am a successful dyslexic.’

 My life goals include helping others with learning disabilities learn to accept themselves and strive to learn and achieve to their own fullest potential. I hope to inspire their families and educational professionals to understand and learn how to help children with dyslexia learn how to learn.

The point that I am trying to make is that learning disabilities are a very real part of many people’s lives. With the right support, all dyslexics can be given the basic human right of learning to read. Education systems around the world need to so that students get this support starting from an early age when interventions are most effective and successful.

The Importance of Perseverance

by Dr. Garforth | Mar 12, 2019 | Learning Disabilities, Skill Development
Albert Einstein was a brilliant man who made many scientific discoveries, and he attributes his success to his perseverance. He once said,
“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”

As infants, everyone seems to have an incredible work ethic when learning new things because they will continuously try things over and over again until they succeed at what they are trying to learn. Think of a baby learning how to walk. No matter how many times they fall, they keep getting back up and trying again. They may take a break for a while, but then they go back to it to figure it out. Unfortunately, at some point in our lives, most individuals tend to outgrow this sheer determination to keep trying until we figure it out.

Perseverance is an essential skill for any individual, regardless of whether they have a disability or not. Successful individuals have the ability to persevere in the face of adversity in the many facets of life. Individuals have to develop their own strategies for the many different aspects of their life such as schooling, maintaining good physical and mental health, work, coping in social settings and relationships, and a recreational or leisure setting. Some of the settings will require their own strategies and some strategies will be able to be applied to all settings. Below are five essential things that individuals need to understand about perseverance, and then I discuss how vital perseverance has been in my life.

5 Things Individuals with Disabilities should Understand:

1. Understand the meaning of perseverance.
Merriam-Webster defines perseverance as “a continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or oppositions.”
Individuals who experience the world in ways other than what is considered or typical will likely face many obstacles along their way through life. They have two choices, they can take a deep breath and meet the challenge, or they can give up. If an individual wants to persevere, they decide to face the challenge even though they know it will be hard.

2. Understand the benefits of perseverance and the consequences of not persevering.
Individuals with disabilities face more than their fair share of difficulties, and there are so many times that it would be so much easier for them just to give up. They need to learn the importance of persevering or sticking with it and pushing through the hard times, no matter how difficult they are because when they succeed it will feel like they are on top of the world.
The problem with someone giving up and not pushing through the challenge is that next time they face a challenge it is harder for them to persevere and much easier to just give up. It can lead to a vicious cycle of giving up every time they face something that challenges them.

3. Understand perseverance as it relates to goal setting
It is always easier for someone to push through the difficult time and keep on trying when they have a target or a goal that they are working towards. The goal provides the incentive for the individual to persevere. It is crucial for individuals to know how to set their own goals because they will be more motivated to want to reach them and have the strength to push through the difficult times to get there.

4. Develop strategies for dealing with obstacles/setbacks and adjust to change
Unfortunately, life is not always fair, and everyone needs to develop ways to deal with the frustration that comes with having to deal with the challenges they face along their way to succeed.

Some general strategies can work, but everyone needs to find the strategies that work best for them and realize that not all strategies will work or be practical in all situations.

Some strategies include stopping what they are doing and taking a break to do something enjoyable, talking to someone they trust about the problem, try to find a positive in the situation, try to find something they can learn from the situation, or indulge in their favourite treat.

Not all of these strategies can be used in all instances, but hopefully, these strategies will help individuals realize that they are only facing a setback and that they just need to find a new way to move forward, even if that means having to adjust their goals or expectations.

5. Recognize that passion and desire keep one moving in the face of adversity
Individuals need to understand that there will be times when even though what they are trying to accomplish seems impossible, the only way they are sure to fail is by giving up. Somehow, they need to develop the desire within themselves to keep on trying to succeed no matter how hard it gets.

On a personal note:

As an individual with dyslexia, I know from personal experience what if feels like to struggle with facing what seems to be roadblock after roadblock on my educational path.

There have been several times when I have felt the urge just to give up and do something else. There have even been times in my life where I have had educators tell me to give up and not expect so much of myself.

I am so glad I did not listen to them and that I developed the strength and strategies to persevere.

I am lucky because throughout my life I have been fortunate to have an incredible support system to provide encouragement.
When I was younger, my Mom bought me this tile, and it has always thought of it when I am faced with yet another challenge that I am not sure if I have the strength to withstand. It has become my motto and proving all the people who said I couldn’t reach my goals has provided me with the determination to get over even the most significant obstacles in life.

I have gone from failing elementary school classes to earning a Ph.D., and nothing can take away the pride I feel from this accomplishment.

Looking back now, even though I wish I never had to go through the pain and suffering I went through as a child, I know it was needed to make me the person I am today and given me the experiences and resources I need to help others avoid the challenges I faced.

You can read more about the challenges I have faced and how I have managed to persevere in spite of them in this post.

This post is based on a journal article by Raskind, Goldberg, Higgins & Herman’s qualitative analysis of 20 years of research published Learning Disabilities Research & Practice.

What is the DSM-5?

by Dr. Garforth | May 7, 2020
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) is a handbook that health care professionals from around the world reference for the diagnostic criteria of different disorders. It is published by the American Psychiatric Association and is recognized by the broad scientific community.
The DSM-5 provides diagnostic criteria for the identification of symptoms, personality traits, cognitive functions, physical signs, and behaviors of different disorders.
1. The DSM’s primary purpose is to be a manual used by trained clinicians. It must be feasible for these professionals to use routinely in their clinical practices.

2. Any revisions made to the DSM must be guided by literature reviews conducted by experts in the field on the current research of diagnostic best practices.

3. Revisions should reflect previous editions of the DSM.

4. There should be no set amount of change required between the revisions of the DSM.
The DSM provides trained clinicians with a set of guidelines for making a reliable diagnosis. The diagnostic criteria are not meant to be used as a checklist for professionals. A detailed history of the individual must include a summary of their social, psychological, and biological factors that need to be considered before making a diagnosis. The clinician can then use their training to decide if the signs and symptoms exceed the normal range and warrant a diagnosis. A proper diagnosis is vital for guiding the suggested treatment options and recommendations made to the individual with the condition.
In 1844, the first predecessor to the DSM was published so that medical professionals could have a common language to use when discussing institutionalized mental patients. It was used in censuses to gather information about the frequency of different mental illnesses in the United States.

In 1917, a joint effort between the National Commission on Mental Hygiene and the American Medico-Psychological Association created a plan to gather information across mental hospitals in the United States by the Bureau of the Census.

In 1921 the American Medico-Psychological Association became the American Psychiatric Association (APA). They teamed up with the New York Academy of Medicine to develop the first edition of the American Medical Association’s Standard Classified Nomenclature of Disease to assist in the diagnosis of individuals with psychiatric and neurological disorders.

After World War II, there was interest in the classification of outpatient presentations found in veterans. Around the same time, the World Health Organization published the sixth edition of the International Classification of Diseases. It included a section for mental disorders for the first time.

In 1952, the first edition of the DSM was published. In the first edition, it contained a description of diagnostic categories along with a glossary of their descriptions.

The DSM is regularly revised to ensure its contents stay current with the science of mental disorders. Since its initial publication, there have been several advances in cognitive neuroscience, brain imaging technology, epidemiology, and genetics.


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.
American Psychiatric Association. (n.d.) DSM History. Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/psychiatrists/practice/dsm/history-of-the-dsm
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6 Traits that Help Make People with LD Successful

by Dr. Garforth | May 21, 2020 | Learning Disabilities, Skill Development
Having a learning disability can be very challenging for individuals because they can face many difficulties throughout their childhood and several of these issues still affect them in adulthood. Some individuals are able to rise above these challenges and find success while others struggle to get out of bed every day because the challenges are too daunting. Have you ever wondered what makes these two types of people so different?

Over the years several studies have looked at common characteristics found in successful individuals with Learning Disabilities. When looking at several of these studies, 6 traits repeatedly show up. They are self-awareness, proactivity, perseverance, goal setting, having an effective support system, and emotional stability. Not every successful individual with a learning disability exhibits each one of these traits, but they have at least a few of them at different levels. Let’s look at each one of these traits in a little more detail.
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Self-awareness and disability awareness are key skills for any individual with disabilities to have. Successful individuals acknowledge the fact that they have a learning disability, but they do not let the learning disability define who they are as a person. They accept the fact that they have these difficulties and they are willing to receive and use the various supports they need to be successful despite these difficulties. Successful individuals with learning disabilities have a clear understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. They are able to recognize their strengths and use them to help overcome some of their limitations.


These individuals are proactive, they do not sit back and let the world pass them by, they actively seek the world around them. Successful individuals with learning disabilities have what Carol Dweck calls a ‘growth mindset’ which is when an individual believes that they can develop their abilities through hard work and dedication. These individuals feel they have the power to control their own destinies and what they do will affect what they can do. When they decide to do something, they follow through and face the consequences, regardless of whether they are good or bad.


Successful individuals with learning disabilities never give up! They are able to persevere no matter how hard it gets to reach their goals. They understand that the difficult situations they faced were part of their learning experiences. They see any struggles as speed bumps along the way to reach their goals. They embody the saying ‘If it doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger!”

Goal Setting

Successful individuals with learning disabilities set goals for themselves. The goals that they set are mainly realistic and attainable goals. These goals help provide meaning and direction to their lives. They understand the importance of the step-by-step process that is needed to reach these goals.

The Presence & Use of an Effective Support System

A successful person is only as strong as their team regardless of whether they have a learning disability or not. Individuals with learning disabilities benefit when they have at least one great person in their lives to provide them with support, guidance, and encouragement along their way to success. Successful individuals are not afraid to ask for help when they need it, and they are willing to accept help when it is offered to them. The team that supports these individuals, whether they be family, friends, educators, or professionals, have clear and realistic expectations for them.

Emotional Stability

Individuals with emotional stability have established effective coping mechanisms to deal with the pain, stress, and frustrations of living with a learning disability. Successful individuals with learning disabilities are able to keep a positive, optimistic, and hopeful outlook on life, even when they are struggling with something. It is essential for them to be able to develop and maintain strong relationships so they have people they can go to for support when they need it.

The good news is these are skills that children with learning disabilities can develop over time! Stay tuned for a future post to see how you can help your loved ones develop these skills to help them succeed in life.

This post is based on a journal article by Raskind, Goldberg, Higgins & Herman’s qualitative analysis of 20 years of research published Learning Disabilities Research & Practice.
Did you know that Garforth Education has created two online courses, A Parent’s Guide to IEPs and A Teacher’s Guide to IEPs? These courses were designed to give you a clear understanding of the IEP Process and they guide you through the steps you should take to prepare for IEP meetings.

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If there is anything we can do or post to help you learn more about the importance of morphological awareness (or any other topic for that matter) please send an email to blog@garfortheducation.com

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9 Goal Setting Concepts to Promote Success

by Dr. Garforth | Jun 4, 2020 | Skill Development
Goal setting plays a crucial role for anyone who wants to succeed in life. Setting a goal helps provide direction to your effort. There are very few people in this world who have achieved great success without first setting a goal. Having goals can be even more important for individuals with disabilities because it allows them to see progress.

Seth Godin once said:

“Everybody has their own Mount Everest they were put on this earth to climb.”

I feel this quote explains life with a disability perfectly because, for these individuals, Mount Everest represents their disability(s). As any mountain climber, they know that they can’t tackle Everest on their first try and that it is best to practice on smaller mountains. An individual with a reading disability hopefully understands that the first book they are going to read is not going to be Harry Potter. They first need to learn how to read books intended for beginning readers and as their reading skills improve they should one day be able to read Harry Potter.

It is crucial to help individuals learn the importance of goal setting and provide them with the support they need to develop effective goal-setting abilities in all aspects of their life educationally, socially, physically, financially etc. A common acronym for goal setting is SMART goals.
When you are introducing the concept of goal setting, you should emphasize the following points:
A goal is merely a statement (it is often written down) of a wish to accomplish. Some goals have a timeline to them while others do not.
Goal setting helps provide individuals with direction and serves as a constant reminder of what they should do next in order to achieve the desired outcome. Setting goals can give them the inspiration they need to get started.

Accomplishing a goal is an incredible feeling, and this feeling can help drive individuals forward to achieve their next goal. Failing to meet a goal make someone hold themselves accountable for their actions, and it can provide motivation to try harder next time. If individuals do not set goals for themselves, it can be tough to know what to do next and waste a lot of time. It also means they may miss out on many things they wanted to do because they lacked the direction to achieve these things.
Goal setting provides individuals with a road map to their life. With specific, measurable goals a person knows what they need to do to accomplish the things that are important to them. This means they will always know what to do next.
It is easy for an individual to get into ‘dreamer’ mode when setting goals and make a bunch of goals that are unattainable and not what they truly want. It is essential to refocus someone by asking them how they plan on accomplishing the goals they set.
Setting a goal can be easy for some and difficult for others. Having an individual use the SMART acronym can assist them in coming up with Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound goals.

Specific goals mean the goals are clear in what the individual is trying to do. The more information that can be provided in the goal the better because, the more general the goal, the harder it is for an individual to accomplish.

Measurable goals provide a way to judge whether you on the way to achieving your goal and when you have completed the goal.

Achievable goals are ones that the individual has a chance at completing given the resources available to them, their knowledge and in the time frame, they wish to complete them.

Relevant goals are ones that actually matter given the individual’s values and needs. Also completing a goal should provide benefits for the individual in the long run.

Time-Bound goals have a definitive timeline for completion to provide the motivation they need to complete the goal. Without a timeline, it can be very easy to push off a task to a later date.

Once someone knows how to set goals, they need to find a way to set the goals out in a logical manner that gives priority to the more essential goals with an impending deadline as opposed to the fun goals that are individuals are often more motivated to work on.
This step fits so nicely with the old proverb “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” It shows us that there is nothing wrong with having big long term goals (the elephant) if we realize there are many little steps along the way (one bite at a time) to reach the long term goal. It can be very helpful to come up with several short term goals to serve as milestones for progress towards your long term goal.
When an individual has come up with a new goal, it is crucial for them to take time to think about the challenges they may face trying to accomplish a goal. This serves two purposes, it reminds them that not everything always goes according to plan, and sometimes things take longer than you originally plan. Being aware of this when they make goals can also allow them to come up with ideas on how to solve these potential problems in advance.
It is critical to understand that a person’s goals can change as time passes, and needs and desires change. There is nothing wrong with removing a goal that is no longer important for the individual or is no longer realistic given a change in circumstances.
Some goals individuals will accomplish on their own, but the majority of goals will need at least some form of outside help to achieve. There is no shame in asking for someone to help you reach your goals, especially if they have experience in the area of the goal you are trying to achieve.
I personally find Bullet Journaling (to be a handy way to set goals and keep track of the tasks I need to do to reach my goals. I find it helps me to track my progress and remind me of the step I plan to take to achieve my goals. I also enjoy it as a creative outlet, but the beauty of bullet journaling is that it is entirely up to you to personalize it to what you need.

This post is based on a journal article by Raskind, Goldberg, Higgins & Herman’s qualitative analysis of 20 years of research published Learning Disabilities Research & Practice.

Working Memory

by Dr. Garforth | Oct 1, 2019 | ADHD, Executive Functioning, Learning Disabilities

Working Memory

Working memory is the ability for you to hold information in your mind while you are using it. This information is often not readily available while you are working with it.

For example, when you look at a phone number before dialing it, your working memory stores the phone number so you don’t have to keep looking back at it while you dial every digit.

When discussing working memory, it is important not to get confused with the related terms: short-term memory and long-term memory. While all three memory types are important for everyday life, they each have different purposes.

Types Memory

There are three main categories of memories that the human brain is capable of, short term memory, working memory, and long-term memory. The main differences between these three categories of memory have to do with how long the information is stored and what is going to be done with it while it is being stored.

Short term memory is retained or held in your mind for only a brief period of time, around 15 – 20 seconds. While information is in your short term memory, you are not actively making use of this information. This is needed for daily tasks, but everything held in short term memory does not transition into long-term memory.

Working memory serves as temporary storage for the information you need to use in some way. It is needed so you can complete tasks.

Long-term memory is information that is stored for an indefinite amount of time. Long-term memory is constantly used, as you use your knowledge and past experiences to inform your daily living.

Why is Working Memory Important

Working memory is crucial for reasoning and making sense of information because it allows the individual to relate different pieces of information together.

For example, working memory allows you to hold information during a conversation in your mind, allowing you to remember what has been said, connecting the pieces of the conversation together, and decide what to say next.

You use working memory when doing the following:
  • In math, whether you are performing simple calculations or more complex operations
  • ​In comprehending what you have heard or read
  • ​When you modify your plans or thinking based on new information
  • ​Following a set of instructions
  • ​Organizing and reordering information
  • ​Thinking logically through an argument

Working Memory & Executive Functions

Many professionals consider working memory to be one of the three core executive functions. These are the skills that humans have an innate potential to develop from birth, when given the proper support during development.

Executive functions help you complete daily activities by acting as the CEO in your brain.

Working memory can be subdivided into two different types, verbal working memory and visual-spatial (nonverbal) working memory.

Verbal working memory taps into the auditory system and holds speech-based information. Reciting this information can help keep it in the working memory.

Visual-spatial working memory is responsible for holding the information that can be held as a visual image.

As with other executive functioning skills, working memory does increase as you mature from childhood to adulthood.

However, working memory is a skill that cannot be taught. It is something that can be worked on but there is no one-size-fits-all solution to improving working memory and be cautious of any program that says it can.

That being said they are certain strategies that can be used to help with working memory. It is important to take the time to experiment with different strategies and become familiar with which strategy works best for you.

Working Memory & Strategies

1. Chunking information into smaller pieces.
For example, if asking someone to write something down, provide them with only a few words at a time instead of several words at once.

2. Use lists or graphic organizers to help with tasks that have some sort of routine to them.
For example, if you are having a hard time making sure you have everything you need in the morning when you leave your house. Keep a small check list to review before you go out the door.

3. Recite information you are trying to remember.
For example, if have to look at the ingredients you need when following a recipe, repeat them in your head while you are measuring them out after having read them.

Working Memory & Individual with Exceptionalities

Individuals with one or more exceptionality, such as Learning Disabilities, ADHD, Down Syndrome and Autism, often have problems with working memory. Having a working memory deficit does not mean that they cannot learn, it just means that their learning needs to be approached differently so that their difficulty with working memory is factored into the instructional method.


Dawson, P. & Guare, R. (2018). Executive skills in children and adolescents: A practical guide to assessment and intervention. (3rd Ed.) New York, New York: Guilford Press.

Diamond, A. (2013). Executive Functions. Annual Review of Psychology, 64, 135-168.
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Cognitive Flexibility

by Dr. Garforth | Oct 3, 2019 | ADHD, Executive Functioning, Learning Disabilities, Skill Development

Cognitive Flexibility

Cognitive flexibility, inhibitory control, and working memory are considered to be the three core executive functions.
Executive functions are a set of skills that help an individual cope with the daily demands of living. Every human is born with the potential to develop these skills when provided with the proper support during development.

Cognitive flexibility is the ability to think about things as well as the ability to consider alternative perspectives. It is sometimes referred to as flexible thinking or metacognition.

Cognitive flexibility is an essential skill for an individual to develop because it allows them to break from routine, establish ideas and participate in novel activities.

Cognitive flexibility comes into play when something unexpected happens and you are forced to deviate from your established plan or routine. It plays a key role in new and novel situations where there is not an established way of responding.
For example, imagine that you are going somewhere that you routinely visit, like a friend’s house, the grocery store or school. On your way, you discover that there is a problem with your normal preferred route.

Someone who has developed cognitive flexibility will not have a hard time deciding on an acceptable alternate route so they can still arrive at their target destination.

For an individual who struggles with cognitive flexibility will get upset by the fact that they cannot take the route they always take to get to this place. They will also have a difficult time coming up with an alternative way to reach their destination.
Cognitive flexibility allows you to approach a novel situation by thinking about what is happening at the moment, coming up with possible solutions, and selecting the best solution from those options.

Cognitive flexibility allows you to move freely from one moment to another with the ability to adjust your response based on how the situation presents itself.

For example, consider a basketball team that rehearses different plays during practice. On game days, they can plan to use the play they practice but they must be able to adapt their plans according to what happens when the game is in play. The team captain cannot just go up to the other team and say, “This is the play we are doing so you must not get in our way to let so we can do it as we practiced.” The team must work together and adapt the play as needed, based on what their opponents are doing.

Three Core Executive Functions

As mentioned before, professionals generally agree that there are three core executive functions, inhibitory control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility.

Inhibitory control is sometimes referred to as self-control and it is the ability to think about something before reacting to the stimulus or situation.

Working memory is the ability to keep information in your head while you are using it.

These first two executive functions must be present to some extent before an individual is able to develop cognitive flexibility.

I would like to use the story of the Three Little Pigs as an example to demonstrate how inhibitory control and working memory are needed for cognitive flexibility. 
Most people know the story about the Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf who comes to blow their house down. People who have read or heard this story know that the Three Little Pigs are the good guys, they are going out on their own to build their own houses; but the bad guy, the Big Bad Wolf, blows their houses down because he wants to eat the pigs.
However, not everybody knows The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs! In this story, the reader learns that poor Mr. A. Wolf was suffering from a cold and only needed to borrow some sugar to make a cake for his grandmother. In fact, he didn’t blow the Little Pig’s house down either. You see, he had a cold and he sneezed. His sneezes were so powerful the first two houses fell down. The story goes on to tell Mr. A. Wolf’s side of the story.

In order for the reader to be willing to hear Mr. A. Wolf’s side story they must be able to not think about how they believe the story goes (inhibitory control) and consider what Mr. A. Wolf says happened (storing this information in their working memory) before they can decide if they will change their mind about what really happened.

Why is Cognitive Flexibility Important

Cognitive Flexibility is a critical skill for living in today’s fast-paced society where demands on a person often change. It helps facilitate the daily social interactions between people as well as in finding solutions to real-world problems that commonly have more than one solution.

Cognitive flexibility is an important skill for people to have because it allows them to:

  • Consider other people’s opinions
  • ​Admit when they are wrong
  • Take advantage of unexpected opportunities
  • ​Adapt to a changing environment
  • Make alternate plans
  • Monitor and evaluate their own actions

Strategy for Developing Cognitive Flexibility

1. Practice making up new rules for board games or games. For example, when playing snakes and ladders, slide up the snakes and climb down the ladders.

2. Find a common object and take turns pretending to make it into something else. For example, a water bottle could be a rocket ship, a unicorn horn, a bowling pin, or a telescope.

3. Read books, create jokes and puns that use plays on words.
Some suggestions for books include the Amelia Bedelia books or the children’s version of Eats, Shoots, and Leaves.

Cognitive Flexibility & Individual with Exceptionalities

As with other executive functions, there are several individuals with various types of exceptionalities, such as ADHD, Autism, Down Syndrome and Learning Disabilities that struggle with cognitive flexibility.

When these individuals struggle with cognitive flexibility it will make them seem rigid. This can make it hard for them to learn new things and cope with daily living in society.

In some cases, there will be areas where the individual can demonstrate exceptional cognitive flexibility but in other areas in their life, they are extremely regimented.


Diamond, A. (2013). Executive Functions. Annual Review of Psychology, 64, 135-168.

Morin, A. (2019). 7 Tips for Building Flexible Thinking. Retrieved from: https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/learning-at-home/homework-study-skills/7-tips-for-building-flexible-thinking?view=slideview
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Inhibitory Control

by Dr. Garforth | Oct 5, 2019 | ADHD, Executive Functioning, Learning Disabilities

Inhibitory Control

Inhibitory control is considered to be one of the three core executive functions.

Executive functions are skills that help us control our behavior, adapt to new situations and problem solve in everyday life.

Inhibitory control is sometimes referred to as self-control, mindfulness, discipline, or emotional regulation.

Inhibitory control allows the possibility of change and the opportunity for making choices. It is what allows you to grow as a person instead of being a creature of habit.

There are several situations where inhibitory control is essential for daily living because without it, we are at the mercy of our emotions and desires. This can often lead to regret because instead of taking the time to think about your reaction, you act on your initial impulse.

Inhibitory Control of Attention

Inhibitory control of attention allows you to be selective about what you choose to focus on while ignoring other activity in the environment. This means you can consciously decide to ignore stimuli in your environment in order to focus on something specific.

For example, when you are in a public place, like a restaurant, inhibitory control allows you to focus on what is going on at your table instead of everything else that is going on around you.

This can be difficult for individuals who have Sensory Processing Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD whether it be the Inattentive Presentation, the Hyperactive/Impulsive or combined presentation, or Anxiety.

Inhibitory Control of Thoughts

Inhibitory control of your thoughts means that you can choose what you are thinking about and focus your thoughts. It allows you to resist thinking about things that are not important to what you are doing. It also allows you to avoid unwanted thoughts or memories.

For example, when you are sitting in a class your inhibitory control allows you to focus on what the teacher is saying instead of having your mind wander to something you may find more interesting.

This can be difficult for individuals with Depression, Anxiety, ADHD, Eating Disorders, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

Inhibitory Control of Movement

Inhibitory control of movement allows you to avoid doing things with your body.

Some people use fidgeting, like tapping their feet or fingers as a way to help inhibit the need for larger movements.


Self-control brings the various types of inhibitory control together. It allows you to resist temptations, regulate your emotions, and avoid acting impulsively. It provides you with the discipline you need to stay on task despite distractions, and to resist the urge to give up even if there are more interesting things you would rather be doing.

Self-control is needed even when there are no things that are competing for your attention. It allows you to stop and think before you speak, instead of blurting out the first answer that comes to your mind. Allowing this ‘think time’ means you have the opportunity to come up with a wiser answer and prevent errors that can be associated with not being able to wait.

Like all executive functions, everyone is born with the potential to develop inhibitory control but it is not present at birth. However, this skill will only develop with the proper support and encouragement as the individual matures.
Inhibitory control is an executive function that can be practiced and can improve over time.

Strategies to help Inhibitory Control

1. Playing games where following directions and taking turns can help with inhibitory control.

2. When responding in conversations, you can stop and make yourself wait a few seconds before responding.

3. Practice mindfulness and self-talking strategies that involve thinking about your thinking to help control unwanted thoughts and challenging situations.

Dawson, P. & Guare, R. (2018). Executive skills in children and adolescents: A practical guide to assessment and intervention. (3rd Ed.) New York, New York: Guilford Press.

Diamond, A. (2013). Executive Functions. Annual Review of Psychology, 64, 135-168.
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The IEP Process

by Dr. Garforth | Jan 2, 2019 | IEP, Parents

What is IEP Process?

Individualized Education Plans or IEPs are documents created for individuals with special needs. They provide information about how the student’s educational path will differ from their peers. Each IEP should be tailored to the needs of the student it is created for.

IEPs are considered to be a living document, meaning that it is revisited and updated at a minimum every year to meet the changing needs of the student.

Even though every document is unique, there are still five processes that need to be done for each IEP. They involve:
  • Identification and or assessment
  • Planning
  • Program Support and Implementation
  • ​Evaluation
  • ​Reporting

Identification & Assessment

Students with special needs must be referred for an IEP. Some students will go into kindergarten with special needs already identified. For these individuals, the planning process should begin before they start school. However, for the majority of the students, the identification phase will begin in the classroom. The classroom teacher will likely be the first one to notice differences with a student’s behaviour or learning. At this time, the teacher should be recording their observations of the student and try new instructional approaches with the student.

If the teacher is still concerned with the student’s behaviour or progress, they should make an appointment with the parents to discuss the concerns. When speaking with the parents, the teacher should make suggestions as to what they think the next step should be for the student. Depending on the issue, it may be seeing the child’s doctor for appropriate referral or begin the consultation process with the school-based resource personnel. In some cases, the student may be referred for an extended assessment for a better understanding of the individual’s strengths and needs. This information, learned from this assessment, will allow educators to plan more effectively for that student.


An IEP requires a collaborative planning process where educators, parents, and in some cases the student, identify educational goals for the student to work toward in the coming year.

The purpose of the IEP is to identify appropriate goals and objectives, adaptation, modification, the services to be provided and measures that can be used for tracking a student’s achievement.

It is vital that transition planning is included in the IEP process. There are several times in an individual’s life where transitions take place, and individuals with special needs may need several steps to make the transition a success.

Program Support & Implementation

This stage is putting everything discussed in the IEP into practice in the student’s education. The key members involved in the student’s education need to understand the contents of the IEP and how it affects their classroom. The appropriate resources and training need to be set in place ahead of time to ensure success.

Evaluation of Student Learning

Whenever possible, students will be evaluated by the same standards set for the other students, even when adaptations and modifications are used.

There are a few cases where the evaluation of a student’s learning will be different than their peers. A student can have the same learning outcomes as their peers but require different evaluation procedures such as taking an oral exam instead of a written one. The use of adapted evaluation procedures must be noted in the student’s IEP.

A student can take part in the regular classroom program but have some components that are modified. For example, the student may have courses where their learning outcomes are substantially different from regular learning outcomes.

A student may participate in a program that is entirely different from their peers. In these cases, modifications to the programs must be listed in the student’s IEP.

Regardless of what the student’s learning outcomes are, the evaluation must be made referencing the standards set out in the IEP.

Reporting of Student Learning

Formal progress reports for students with special needs must be completed on the same schedule used for all the students within the school. Reporting may take the form of performance scales, letter grades and/or structured written comments to indicate the student’s performance.

If the student is on a modified program, this should be mentioned in the reporting process. Adaptations a student uses do not need to be mentioned in the reporting process.

In cases where a student receives additional support, the support person is also responsible for providing written reports on the student’s progress.

There are situations where additional informal reporting methods may be required. This may take the form of procedures such as a communication log between the parents and teacher(s).
In order for these processes to be successful, the individuals involved in the process need to collaborate and remember they are working towards a common goal.
Did you know that Garforth Education has created two online courses, A Parent’s Guide to IEPs and A Teacher’s Guide to IEPs? These courses were designed to give you a clear understanding of the IEP Process and they guide you through the steps you should take to prepare for IEP meetings.

Be sure to check out more information about IEP’s on our Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter pages.

If there is anything we can do or post to help you learn more about IEP (or any other topic for that matter) please send an email to blog@garfortheducation.com

Subscribe to Garforth Education’s Blog if you would like to be notified when a new post is up.

*Please note the information about Individualized Education Plans was based on information for students attending school in British Columbia. Individualized Education Plans are commonly used in educational settings, but the information here may not be consistent with the requirements of education systems outside of British Columbia.

IEP: Goals and Objectives

by Dr. Garforth | Feb 3, 2019 | IEP

Goals and Objectives

An Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is a collaborative process that is used to identify educational goals and objectives that are appropriate for a student with special needs. It is important that students, parents and educators understand what goals and objectives are and what the difference is between them.
I find the best way to describe the difference between goals and objectives is with the old saying: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” In this phrase, the goal is eating the elephant, and it seems like a very daunting task. The objectives are the ‘one bite at a time.’ Eating an elephant is much less intimidating if you think about it in terms of just taking a few bites.

Goals and objectives are a crucial part of the IEP process for several reasons. Most importantly, they provide a focused set of learning activities for the student to work on.

Goals and objectives provide a form of accountability for the student’s education. They can be used to motivate both the student and the teachers because they offer a measurable target that can be reached.

Goals and objectives facilitate communication between the school and the family because they provide a common language to discuss the student’s progress.
Simply put, a goal is an idea that an individual is striving to achieve. Setting a goal provides an individual with a reason for doing something.

Goals are a significant part of the IEP process because they give the educators direction for what they are trying to teach the student.

When starting the goal setting process, it can be useful to reference the recommendations that have been made in educational, medical and or psychological reports for the student. The goals made from these reports can target specific areas of challenge for the individual.
The goals should be written to address both immediate and long term objectives. These goals can discuss topics like independent learning, transitioning the student into the next phase of their life, or meeting graduation requirements.
When you are creating goals for the IEP, it is important that they are written using everyday language and not filled with unnecessary jargon.

The goals should reference the student’s past achievement, their present levels of performance and the priority of the goal. This allows educators to gauge the amount of instructional time they should devote to reaching the goal.

Be sure the goals you set are S.M.A.R.T. goals, meaning they are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound. The majority of goals that are set in the IEP should be achievable within the academic year.

When you are writing the goals for a student’s IEP, please remember to include a goal in an area of interest for them. So often IEPs can be filled with goals that may be important to a student’s family and educators but not to themselves. Having a goal that they are excited about can help with motivating them to work towards their other goals as well.
Objectives break goals down into observable, specific and measurable tasks that target a skill, behaviour or form of knowledge.

Objectives take into account the student’s current performance level of a task and create sequential steps for the student to take to reach their long term goal.

Objectives are set to be completed in a specific period of time that may vary in length between a few weeks, a school term or a set number of months.

These objectives provide focused, concrete steps towards the achievement of long term goals.

The objectives are just as important as the goals, and it is crucial the appropriate amount of time and thought is put into them.

A well-written objective will provide guidance for the teacher about what the student is expected to do, and it will provide them with clear expectations to be used for monitoring the student’s progress.
A way of ensuring that an objective meets the measurable part of a S.M.A.R.T goal is to use the ‘A.C.T. How?’ anacronym, addressing the desired Action the student will do, the Context it is expected in, the Terms to show the objective is reached and How the objective will be evaluated.

Remember, objectives are supposed to describe the expectations for the student in a particular area and are intended to help a student reach one of their goals. It should be realistic for the student to achieve the objective within a specific time period. Otherwise, it needs to be broken down into smaller steps that each become an objective on their own.

It is important for everyone on the IEP team to remember that goals and objectives are just that, they are based on the student’s current needs at the time they were made. However, we must not forget that goals and objectives can change and they are not set in stone. The priority for a particular goal can change, and a goal that once had top priority may no longer be relevant. This is why IEPs are reviewed annually.

During this review, all of the student’s goals and objectives should be examined to make sure they still address the desired outcomes for the student. If they do not, the IEP should be revised so it meets the student’s needs or they should be removed from the IEP altogether.
Did you know that Garforth Education has created two online courses, A Parent’s Guide to IEPs and A Teacher’s Guide to IEPs? These courses were designed to give you a clear understanding of the IEP Process and they guide you through the steps you should take to prepare for IEP meetings.

Be sure to check out the more information about IEP’s on our Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter pages.
If there is anything we can do or post to help you learn more about IEP (or any other topic for that matter) please send an email to blog@garfortheducation.com

Subscribe to Garforth Education’s Blog if you would like to be notified when a new post is up.

*Please note the information about Individualized Education Plans was based on information for students attending school in British Columbia. Individualized Education Plans are commonly used in educational settings, but the information here may not be consistent with the requirements of education systems outside of British Columbia.

IEP: Accommodations and Modifications

by Dr. Garforth | Feb 7, 2019 | IEP
An Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is a collaborative process that is used to identify any differences made to a student with special needs’ curriculum including differences in instructional strategies or in the way their learning will be assessed. It is vital that students, parents, and educators understand what adaptations and modifications are and what the difference is between them.

Four Principles of Instruction

Before discussing what adaptations and modifications are, it is important to mention four principles of instruction:
  • Students must actively participate in the learning that is taking place
  • Students learn in a variety of different ways
  • Students learn new concepts at different rates
  • ​Learning is a process that can happen for an individual and a group.
These principles should be considered and used as a guide for any differentiation of instruction, methods of assessment, and/or materials that will be used for a student with special needs.

All students deserve to be taught and assessed in a way that maximizes their ability to learn and to show what they have learned.
The adaptations and modifications found in a student’s IEP are meant to provide teachers with the information they need to give the student the best instructional strategies and methods for that student. It is crucial that adaptations and modifications are listed in a student’s IEP to ensure that they are provided throughout the student’s educational career. * 

What are Modifications?

Modifications are changes made to the student’s educational plan that moves away from the curriculum their peers are receiving. They are changes made to methods of instruction and assessments that are made to accommodate the student’s educational needs.

Modifications consist of individualized goals and outcomes which are different than the outcomes of the course. These goals and outcomes should be related to the outcomes of the curriculum so the student can still participate in classroom instruction. This allows the student to feel successful even though they are working at a different conceptual level than their peers.

The decision to modify a student’s program should not be taken lightly. Before a student’s outcomes are modified, the school should review all the attempted instructional interventions and consider the information collected through assessments. This decision should not be made by a single teacher. It should only occur after careful and thoughtful consultation has occurred with parents, school administrators, learning specialists, and the student’s teachers. If after reviewing this information there seems like there are no other alternatives, modifications should be considered.

Modifications should only be made in subjects where they are needed and do not necessarily have to apply to all parts of the student’s program. Parents and educators should realize that depending on where a student is in their education, modifications are not necessarily a permanent solution. These modifications should be monitored and reviewed regularly to ensure they are still necessary for the student.
There are some instances where some individuals will require a fully modified educational program because they cannot access the curriculum. This includes individuals with limited awareness of their surroundings, those with fragile mental or physical health and students with multiple challenges.

If a student has modifications made to the school program in the final years of high school, they will not graduate high school in the same manner as their classmates. They will be issued a high school completion certificate. In British Columbia, this is considered an Evergreen Certificate.

If a student is working towards a high school completion certificate, at least some of their goals and objectives should relate to their life after school. These goals should address factors such as vocational training, functional life skills and foundational academic skills.
Parents should still be getting progress reports for their children if they are on a modified program. These reports should contain written comments that relate to the student’s personalized goals.

*Please note, some accommodations are not suitable or practical for all situations and post-secondary institutions have their own policies in place for the adaptations they are willing to make to a program.

**Please note the information about Individualized Education Plans was based on information for students attending school in British Columbia. Individualized Education Plans are commonly used in educational settings, but the information here may not be consistent with the requirements of education systems outside of British Columbia.
Did you know that Garforth Education has created two online courses, A Parent’s Guide to IEPs and A Teacher’s Guide to IEPs? These courses were designed to give you a clear understanding of the IEP Process and they guide you through the steps you should take to prepare for IEP meetings.

Be sure to check out the more information about IEP’s on our Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter pages.
If there is anything we can do or post to help you learn more about IEP (or any other topic for that matter) please send an email to blog@garfortheducation.com

Subscribe to Garforth Education’s Blog if you would like to be notified when a new post is up.

Your IEP Questions Answered

by Dr. Garforth | Feb 11, 2019 | IEP, Parents

What is an IEP?

An IEP is an Individualized Education Plan, and it is developed for students with special needs. It is a document that summarizes their needs and how their program has been individualized to meet their needs.

It includes the student’s goals, the steps to be taken for an individual to achieve these goals, and how their progress towards these goals will be judged. It lists any adaptations, modifications, and additional services the student will receive and how/who will deliver these services.

What is an IEP for?

An IEP formalizes the decisions and processes made in an IEP meeting that link the student’s assessments with their programming. It provides the individuals involved with a record of the student’s program and serves as the basis for any reporting on the student’s progress based on the goals and objectives agreed upon in the IEP meeting.
The IEP documents any supports, adaptations, and modifications for the student’s educational program. Most importantly, an IEP provides students and their parents an opportunity to have input in their individualized planning process.

What MUST an IEP contain?

An IEP is not meant to document every single aspect of a student’s program.

There are three things an IEP must contain:  
  • It must include any modifications to the student’s program, specifically any goals or outcomes that are unique to the student and not found in the applicable program guide for the student’s grade. 
  • It must include a list of any support services the student requires to achieve their personal goals. 
  • It must contain a list of any adaptations needing to be made to the student’s educational materials, instructional strategies or methods of assessments.

What SHOULD an IEP contain?

There are several things that, while not required to be in an IEP, should be included in it:
  • The IEP should include information about the student’s current level of achievement and where they are receiving their education.
  • It should have all the names of the personnel who will be supporting the student throughout the school year.
  • It should state the period of time the current IEP is valid and how it will be reviewed the following year.
  • ​It should provide evidence of evaluation and or review of previous IEP goals and objectives. 
  • ​When appropriate, it should list plans for the student’s next transition point in their education.

What does an IEP look like?

The length and content of an IEP will vary depending on the needs of the child. Some students only require minimal adjustments to their learning outcomes, and this can be completed in a brief one-page document. Others with more complex needs will require a detailed report that addresses the comprehensive plans and accommodations as are necessary for the student. The format of your child’s IEP will depend on the school district they attend.

Who needs an IEP?

An IEP is created for students with special needs who require changes to the standard educational program. Students with special needs require an IEP if they require more than just minor adaptations to educational materials, instructional methods, or the manner of assessments.

Students who have their educational program modified, so they are not working on the prescribed learning outcomes of the curriculum require an IEP.

Students who require remedial help of 25 hours or more in an academic year from someone other than their classroom teacher for them to meet the expected learning outcomes require an IEP.

There are times when an individual with special needs would not require an IEP. Some students may not require any or only minor adaptations to educational materials, instructional or assessment methods.

Students do not need an IEP if they do not require any modifications to the learning outcomes for their educational program.

Students with special needs who require 25 hours or less in an academic year of remedial instruction time by a person other than their classroom teacher for them to meet the expected learning outcomes do not require an IEP.

Who is involved in the IEP process?

Creating an IEP is a collaborative process involving a group of members chosen specifically to help the student reach their goals.

The IEP team will typically include teacher(s), administrative staff, support personnel such as educational assistants, and representatives of the appropriate district, community, and regional agencies needed to best support the student. The number of people involved in the IEP and the number of people involved will depend on the particular student’s needs. If a student has a learning disability, the team will likely be smaller than an individual with multiples issues.

Schools are required to invite the parents of the individual in question to be part of the consultation process for the IEP. Depending on the circumstances the student themselves will also have the opportunity to contribute to the planning of their IEP.

Where does someone need to have an IEP?

Students with special needs in Kindergarten through grade twelve in the public education system. Private schools will often have a similar document for their students with special needs, but they are not always referred to as IEPs.

When is an IEP created?

An IEP is created for a student as soon as is practical for the school once the student has been identified to the school board. Once the IEP has been created, it needs to be reviewed once a school year. In some instances, a student’s IEP may be reviewed more than once a year.

Why is an IEP created?

An IEP is created to provide accountability for a student’s individualized goals. It discusses how these goals will be met and assessed.
The IEP lists any additional services a student will receive and how these services will be delivered. It contains any changes that have been made to the student’s program such as accommodations and modifications.

The IEP provides information on how a student’s teacher(s) should monitor their growth and progress throughout the school year. It serves as an ongoing record of the student’s progress through school, and it helps to provide continuity in their educational goals from year to year.

The IEP is vital in supporting the student through the various transitions they go through before, during, and after their time in the school system.

How is an IEP created?

An IEP is a living document that is created with a collaborative group of individuals working together to create the best program for the student.

Creating an IEP involves a dynamic cycle of planning the IEP, creating the document, monitoring the progress made on the goals stated in the IEP and evaluating to ensure the goals were appropriate for the student and that they are making progress towards the goals.

*Please note the information about Individualized Education Plans was based on information for students attending school in British Columbia. Individualized Education Plans are commonly used in educational settings, but the information here may not be consistent with the requirements of education systems outside of British Columbia.
Did you know that Garforth Education has created two online courses, A Parent’s Guide to IEPs and A Teacher’s Guide to IEPs? These courses were designed to give you a clear understanding of the IEP Process and they guide you through the steps you should take to prepare for IEP meetings.

Be sure to check out the more information about IEP’s on our Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter pages.

If there is anything we can do or post to help you learn more about IEP (or any other topic for that matter) please send an email to blog@garfortheducation.com

Subscribe to Garforth Education’s Blog if you would like to be notified when a new post is up.

Individualized Education Plan (IEP) Glossary

by Dr. Garforth | Apr 15, 2019
There are so many different terms that parents need to understand when it comes to Individualized Education Plans (IEP). It can be very stressful going into an IEP meeting or reading through documentation about supports available to your child, and the last thing you want to happen is not being sure if you understand what is being said.

This is a glossary of common terms related to Special Education and IEPs that can be used for reference when you are preparing for an IEP meeting.

IEP Glossary


Adaptations (aka accommodations) are techniques and materials that are used by individuals with special needs to allow them to complete their school work within an easier and more effective manner. This can include the teacher using strategies for assignments and tests that would enable the student to demonstrate their mastery of the concepts required by the learning outcomes of the course. Adaptations do not change the learning outcomes of the course, they may change how these outcomes are presented to the student and, or how, their knowledge of the information is assessed.

Assessment is a broad term used to describe the process of collecting information about a student’s performance in a specific area. This information is then used to make educational decisions for the student.

Assistive Technology (AT)

Assistive technology is any piece of equipment an individual with special needs uses to help them function or learn in the environment they are in. Assistive technology can be something as simple as using a highlighter on tests to help identify the important concepts in a test question or something more advanced like a using a device with text to speech software that allows text to be read to them.

Behaviour Intervention Plan (BIP)

A behaviour intervention plan includes strategies designed to prevent and stop the problem behaviour. The strategies are typically designed to teach and reward positive behaviour with the goal of the student being educated in the least restrictive environment.


The curriculum is the knowledge and skills that are to be learned by students in a given grade. In British Columbia, these are referred to as the Learning Outcomes.

Differentiated Instruction

Differentiated instruction uses teaching strategies that allow for a wide range of abilities and learning styles. It can address content, process, procedures, methods of delivering instruction, methods for assessing learning, and ways to communicate learning.


A disability is a condition that is recognized by law and qualifies an individual to receive an Individualized Education Plan.

Goals and Objectives

Goals and objectives are a written component that is included in the IEP. It lists the specific skills unique to the student, and they are expected to be achieved within the school year. The goals and objectives do not have to be limited to academics. They can include functional skills the student will require in everyday life. These goals and objectives need to be both reasonable and measurable.


Inclusion is a principle stating that all students are entitled to equitable access to their education. This does not necessarily mean their learning will take place in an integrated environment with their general education peers. It means the student will be able to participate and interact with others.

Individualized Education Plan (IEP)

An IEP is an annually written document that is developed for a student with special needs. It describes how the student’s education is different from their peers by stating any additional services they require to meet their needs and how these educational needs will be met. The IEP includes individualized goals and objectives, any adaptations or modifications that will be made to their educational program, and the measures that will be used for tracking their achievement.

It is created by a team that consists of the student’s parent or guardian, a general education teacher, a special education teacher, the principal or vice-principal, and other school-employed professionals based on the individual student’s needs. Depending on the situation, students may be included in at least part of the meeting.


Students with special needs are included in educational settings with their peers who do not have special needs. The students with special needs are provided with the appropriate individualized supports in the form of adaptations and modifications to allow them success in their assigned learning environment (typically the regular classroom setting).

Learning Support Services

Another term for Special Education Services refers to the services within a school or school district that provide direct and or consultive support for the individual with special needs and their teacher.

Least Restrictive Environment

The least restrictive environment is generally thought to be the general education classroom where students with special needs can be educated with their peers. The goal is for students with special needs to spend the maximum possible time in the regular classroom.


Mainstreaming is an old concept from the early years of the integrated movement and has been replaced by the term “integration.” It refers to the idea that every child should be placed in the least restrictive environment. Mainstreaming generally involves placing students with special needs into the general education classroom with their peers instead of into a segregated classroom. It allows the use of adaptations and modifications in the general education classroom.


A modification requires a change in the student’s curriculum or instruction that substantially alters the learning outcomes for the subject. They are instructional and assessment related decisions made to accommodate a student’s special needs. Modifications consist of individualized learning goals and outcomes. They should only be considered for students with special needs significant enough to prohibit them from learning the learning outcomes in the curriculum (i.e. students with limited awareness of their surroundings, those with fragile mental or physical health, those who are medically or cognitively challenged)

Neighbourhood School

The neighbourhood school is the catchment school a child would attend based on their home address.

Parent Report

A parent report is a document parents write about their child. It is an excellent way to document their child’s strengths, weaknesses and successes in different environments such as home, school and within the community. It provides educators with a more complete view of your child.


Placement does not refer to a location, it refers to a set of services. It is a unique combination of facilities, personnel, location and or equipment required to provide instruction to meet the goals for a student as specified in their IEP.

School-Based Team

This is the team made of personnel within the school that has a formal role in providing support for the classroom teacher. They help the teacher to develop and implement instructional or management strategies in the classroom. The school-based team coordinates support resources for a student with special needs within the school.


Self-advocacy refers to the development of a specific set of skills and understanding that allow an individual to explain their disability and their needs to others. It involves the ability to cope positively with attitudes of peers, parents, teachers and employers they discuss their disability with.

Special Education

Special Education is the instruction that is specifically designed to meet the unique needs of a child. It is designed to take the individual’s needs into account while trying to provide them access to the general education curriculum. Special education is provided for the student at no extra costs to the family. Identification of a child to a special education program typically requires a formal assessment by a qualified professional.


A transition is when an individual moves from one environment to another at crucial points in their lifetime. These include going from home into preschool or daycare, preschool to kindergarten, elementary school to middle school, middle school to high school, high school to adult life.

Transition Plan

A transition plan coordinates a set of activities designed to promote the movement from one environment to another during the significant transitions of a student’s life. Transition goals are determined by the IEP team and include a set of goals and activities to smooth the transition. These goals can be both functional and academic.

*Please note the information about Individualized Education Plans was based on information for students attending school in British Columbia. Individualized Education Plans are commonly used in educational settings, but the information here may not be consistent with the requirements of education systems outside of British Columbia.
Did you know that Garforth Education has created two online courses, A Parent’s Guide to IEPs and A Teacher’s Guide to IEPs? These courses were designed to give you a clear understanding of the IEP Process and they guide you through the steps you should take to prepare for IEP meetings.

Be sure to check out the more information about IEP on our Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter pages.

If there is anything we can do or post to help you learn more about IEP (or any other topic for that matter) please send an email to blog@garfortheducation.com

A Parent’s Guide to IEP Meetings

by Dr. Garforth | Apr 17, 2019 | IEP, Parents

A Parent’s Guide to IEP Meetings

There is no way to deny it, IEP meetings are stressful and hard for any parent. I know professionals who go into meetings as advocates for other families regularly but still struggle with attending an IEP meeting for their own child.

These meetings are hard for parents (and students if they participate in the meeting) because by going to the IEP meeting you must come face to face with your child’s diagnosis again. It can bring up many of the same emotions you felt the first time you heard your child’s diagnosis.

In the first few IEP meetings, you attend for your child, you may still be just coming to terms with the diagnosis and learning what it really means. Sitting in a room across the table from a group of professionals about ‘what’s wrong’ with your child and how they want to ‘fix it’ is intimidating.

Yes, IEPs are now focusing on becoming strengths-based and having the students develop a growth mindset, but the bottom line is they are needed because the child is somehow different.

There are several things you can do in order to prepare for your child’s IEP meeting to help make it a success.

IEP Meeting Preparation

  • Leading up to the meeting, keep a note pad or a file that you can jot down things you would like to bring up during the IEP meeting.
  • Prepare an IEP Binder for your child and keep it up to date. An IEP binder is a great way to keep all the paperwork related to your child’s educational needs organized and in one place. What you decide to put into your child’s binder is up to you and will depend on your child’s diagnosis. There is no point in having a section that is not relevant to your child’s situation. However, bear in mind that the documentation you save may be used in future legal proceedings, should you ever decide to go forward with a human rights case.
  • About Me Page: This is a significant page that should always be kept at the front of the binder. It is meant to serve as a reminder about who your child is as an individual, and it can provide insight to those who work with them about their life outside of school. This is a great place to have your child answer questions regarding their take on their education. Adults sometimes find it surprising how insightful a child can be about how to make improvements to help them learn. Some of the questions you can ask your child are:
  • What do you like best about school?
  • ​What are your favourite activities to do at home and at school?
  • ​What are the three wishes you have for school?
  • ​What will you be when you are older?
  • ​How can we help you the most at school?
  • ​Which way do you learn the best?
  • ​If you could change one thing about school, what would it be?
  • Persons Involved and Their Contact Information: I think this is a must in all IEP binders because it provides a place where you can turn when you need it. Your child’s Personal Education Number (PEN) should also be recorded at the beginning of this section. It should have a list of every member of the multidisciplinary team at the school level who works with your child such as the principal, vice-principal, teachers, support staff and any specialists who work with your child on a regular basis. You should list who they are, what they do, the different ways you can contact them, their availability times, and their preferred method for contact to occur. Also, record any documentation that you have personally given to each individual.
  • Communications: In the communications section, it is a good idea to keep an index of the different conversations you have had with educational professionals. Record date the date, time and length of conversations. Plus, be sure to follow up all informal discussions with a brief email to ensure the educator has documentation of the conversation you had with them. Be sure to include the points you discussed and the future action either of you agreed to take. Print off a copy of all communication and highlight the recipients’ names. File in date order.
  • ​Evaluations: In this section, you should keep a dated copy of all requests and referrals to the school for evaluations, a copy of the consent to evaluate the student and any evaluations that have been done for your child. If you have had any private evaluations done, it is up to your discretion if you would like to include them here. You should also record which educators to whom you have personally delivered your child’s psychoeducational assessments.
  • ​IEP: In this section, you should have a copy of your child’s current IEP and any previous IEPs they have had. It can be helpful to have a copy of the most recent Special Education Services: A Manual of Policies, Procedures and Guidelines included in this section.
  • Report Cards / Progress Notes: In this section, you should include all of your child’s report cards and progress notes from the teacher.
  • Behaviour: In this section include any reports or communication regarding your child’s behaviour.
  • Medical: If your child has any medical concerns, this section should include information about any conditions and treatments that are appropriate. You may also wish to keep a copy of your Family Practitioner’s diagnosis and CRA Tax Benefit form in this section.
  • Supportive Information: In this section, include any resources that you think you may reference in your IEP meeting so you can provide them if requested. This is also where you can keep your ‘Cole’s notes’ of your child’s conditions to use as a quick reference.
  • Review your child’s reason for needing an IEP, recent report cards and communications you have had with the school. You probably remember the general reason and the typical day to day challenges they face but review their evaluations to remind yourself of the whole picture of their diagnosis. Create a cheat sheet of the important facts you want to remember and address during the IEP meeting, so you don’t forget to bring any of them up.
  • Prepare a short message for the people who will be attending your child’s IEP meeting. This message should include any goals, objectives or strategies you wish to discuss with them during the meeting. Be sure to reference the notes you have been taking in the weeks leading up to the IEP meeting.
  • ​Remember, you don’t have to go alone to this meeting. You can take a trusted family member or friend, a professional with knowledge about your child and or a local advocate with knowledge about your child’s needs and the resources that can be available for your child.
  • ​Prepare an IEP meeting go bag. In this bag be sure to include your child’s IEP binder, Kleenex, candies or chewing gum (use this during the meeting to help calm yourself), water bottle, a notebook, pens and if you want, a framed picture of your child.

Things you can do during your IEP Meeting:

  • Start the meeting by thanking everyone for coming to the meeting and working together to make the school the best experience they can for your child.
  • During the meeting, make sure you state the concerns you have for your child and any suggestions you might have for addressing these concerns.
  • ​Take the time to really listen to how the educators respond to your comments and are open to discussion about your suggestions.
  • ​Do not be afraid to ask questions if you need clarification on what they are saying. Keep asking questions until you understand.
  • ​Create a timeline and checklist for future follow-up.
  • ​Try to end the meeting on a good note by thanking everyone for their contributions to the meeting.
  • ​Be sure to take detailed notes during the meeting. Even better, if you have brought someone with you, ask them to take notes during the meeting for you. This way you can focus on being present and absorbing the information during the meeting while still having notes from the meeting to refer to after the discussion.

After the IEP Meeting:

  • It is good practice to send a summary of your notes from the meeting to the members of the IEP meeting to make sure you are on the same page.
  • If your child has attended the IEP meeting, you may wish to have a private time together to ask for his/her thoughts on the meeting and how to go forward in a positive manner.
  • If both parents attended the meeting, take a moment to discuss the meeting privately without your child.
  • ​If only you attend the meeting, discuss or prepare a summary for your child’s other parent. Recognize that IEP meetings can bring back bad memories for a parent if he/she had learning difficulties in school as a child.
IEP meetings give you, as the parent, a chance to take an active role in the decisions made for your child and their education.

Remember, everyone in the IEP has the same goal, to provide the best educational outcome for your child. While everyone in the meeting has a common goal, you may not have the same ideas on how to reach that goal.

You do not have to agree with every suggestion brought up in the IEP meeting. You can say no to a suggestion you don’t agree with. If you are turning down one of their suggestions, try to be kind with the words you choose and do your best to provide another solution to the same issue.
Did you know that Garforth Education has created two online courses, A Parent’s Guide to IEPs and A Teacher’s Guide to IEPs? These courses were designed to give you a clear understanding of the IEP Process and they guide you through the steps you should take to prepare for IEP meetings.

Be sure to check out the more information about IEP on our Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter pages.

If there is anything we can do or post to help you learn more about the importance of IEP meetings (or any other topic for that matter) please send an email to blog@garfortheducation.com

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IEP 101

by Dr. Garforth | Mar 19, 2020 | IEP
When you first learn about Individualized Education Plans or IEPs, they can seem very overwhelming and stressful. However, like most scary things, the more you learn about what they are, why people have them, and what they look like, IEPs get a little less scary, and you can see the value of them for a student with special needs.

Currently, most education systems are designed so students in a class will be taught the same lesson, using the same strategies, be expected to learn the same things and have their learning be assessed in the same way.

For some students this instructional method is fine, and they can fit into this system just the way it is.

For some students, only a few minor tweaks or adaptations can be made to how they are taught to meet the learning outcomes for the grade.

For others, the learning outcomes are not appropriate for what they can or need to do; for these students, modifications are made.
The fit of the school system for students ranges from a perfect fit to none at all, and everything in between. The point of an IEP is to address the student’s personal needs and provide them with the best opportunity for success in the school system.
An IEP is a student-centred document that becomes the student’s educational blueprint for the year. It documents the specific educational goals for a student with special needs, lists the objectives created to reach these goals, and it describes the commitments the educational system agrees to put in place to assist the student in meeting these goals and objectives.

Even though each IEP is unique to the student it is created for, all IEP should follow the same five-step process. It is created by a team that has been selected specifically based on the student’s needs.

This team may include the classroom teacher, a case manager, the principal or vice principal, specialist staff that work with the student, the school counsellor, community specialists, the student’s parents or guardians, and in some cases the student themselves.
The ultimate goal is for an IEP to be a dynamic and cyclical process of planning, monitoring and evaluating.

The actual IEP itself will vary in length depending on the student’s needs. The length of the IEP will depend on the number of personal goals and objectives a student has and any accommodations or modifications that must be made for the student. An IEP is only required if a student with special needs requires changes to the standard curriculum.

There are some students with special needs who follow the standard curriculum and only require the use of strategies (such as being allowed to wear noise-canceling headphones in class). If these students do not require any accommodations or modifications to the standard curriculum, they do not need an IEP.

There are many students with special needs who only require some minor adjustments to their learning outcomes. There are also many students with special needs who do not require any modifications to the standard curriculum but require accommodations to be made in the way they receive the information or the way their knowledge of this information is assessed. In these cases, the IEP can often be a concise, one-page document. Students with more complex special needs will require a more detailed and comprehensive IEP.

There are also students who have complex needs; these students require a significantly different educational program. The IEP that is created for these students will likely be a lengthy document to address all the student’s needs, goals, accommodations and modifications. When creating these IEPs, the team needs to make a concentrated effort to keep the plan manageable.

IEPs are needed so that teachers understand the ways the educational program is different for a student with special needs from the other students in their class. It provides the teacher with a way to monitor the student’s growth and progress towards their personal goals and objectives. IEPs provide teachers with a document they can reference what strategies, adaptations and modifications are to be used with the student. This is especially important because it means that if the assigned classroom teacher is absent, the substitute teacher or teacher-on-call can reference the IEP if they require clarity on how to work with the student.

IEPs provide an ongoing record for a student with special needs, assists with ensuring the continuity of the educational program and creates a plan to help students go through the different transitions they will experience during their educational career.

*Please note the information about Individualized Education Plans was based on information for students attending school in British Columbia. Individualized Education Plans are commonly used in educational settings, but the information here may not be consistent with the requirements of education systems outside of British Columbia.
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If there is anything we can do or post to help you learn more about the importance of IEP Cycle (or any other topic for that matter) please send an email to blog@garfortheducation.com

IEP 504

by Dr. Garforth | Jul 5, 2020 | IEP

I.E.P or 504 PLAN
** A guest post by Diana Prowitt **

I.E.P or 504 PLAN

When a child needs help educationally there are two choices, a 504 Plan and an IEP. Both can provide accommodations and supports but the only one allows for special education services and specialized instruction.

There’s a lot of really specific legalese used to answer the who, what, where, when, why, and how. I’m not a lawyer, I don’t practice law or give legal advice, I’m a parent first and I’m going to talk like a parent. We’ll cover the key differences and point you in the right direction to get more info.


There are 2 separate laws: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Section 504 is a civil rights law that protects individuals with disabilities against discrimination and provides the same access to education their typical peers would have. It’s designed to remove barriers and level the playing field. So, a 504 Plan wouldn’t change what a child learns but how they learn it.

IDEA ensures that a child meeting the criteria for special education receives a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) through an Individualized Education Program or IEP. The IEP provides special education services, which may include some of the same accommodations as a 504 plan. An IEP also includes goals, specialized instruction, modifications, related services, and specified placement in order to prepare a child for their future.

So in a nutshell, if education was a book on a tall shelf a 504 Plan would be a stepstool to reach it and an IEP would bring the book down, open it, set goals and benchmarks with a way to track your progress, maybe change the text to pictures, read it to you, explain in alternate concepts, break it down in smaller easier to read books, etc…


A 504 Plan requires the student to have a physical or mental impairment that limits one or more major life activities or have a record of such impairment or be regarded to have such an impairment. The 504 Plan can be in place throughout a person’s academic lifetime regardless of age and can transfer into college and technical schools.

An IEP requires a formal evaluation process which includes educational testing and other assessments. The child needs to have a diagnosed disability and the disability needs to adversely impact the child’s ability to learn. There are 13 named learning disabilities that can cover physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral which are used to qualify the child. A child with an IEP can be covered from preschool, age three, through high school graduation or their 22nd birthday.

It is important to note that a diagnosed disability does not guarantee an IEP. For example, ADHD is one of the 13 diagnoses covered under Other Health Impairments in IDEA, some children with ADHD might not require any special education services in order to access their education. In that case, a 504 might be used for accommodations like a quiet testing environment or additional time for assignments.


One interesting area where 504 Plans and IEPs differ is parental involvement. While both require parental notification, only the IEP requires parents to be involved in the process.

For an IEP a parent is considered an equal team member and must be involved in the design and decision-making process. Parents must be invited to participate in all meetings, they also have rights and protections when they disagree with a proposed change to the IEP. IEP meetings are required to be held at the minimum every year in order to review and renew the IEP. A parent may also request and be granted a meeting at any time deemed necessary.

While a school must notify parents of decisions and changes to their child’s 504 Plan and a parent may provide input, they are not required to invite the parent to the meeting or grant meeting requests outside of normally scheduled meetings. There is also no hard and fast rule as to how often the 504 plan is reviewed, the law only states periodical review which is normally annually.

While both an IEP and 504 are legally enforceable, only the IEP is required to be a written document that contains specific areas of information. Contrarily, the 504 Plan only has to have the accommodations on record, not in an actual document.


If you suspect your child is struggling in school, or if your child has a diagnosed disability you can request an educational evaluation. The evaluation will determine if your child is eligible for an IEP or if a 504 Plan can be used to assist in your child’s education.

Regardless of the type of support received, you can and should have a voice in your child’s education.

You DO NOT have to navigate the process alone. There are resources and services available to guide and support you through the special education journey. 


Diana is a special needs mother, Master IEP Coach®, and founder of Special Education Advocacy LLC. She lives in SW Pennsylvania with her husband Jeff, three sons and granddaughter where she works from her home office serving clients across the US.

Years of climbing through the rubble of a broken special education system to get her son the supports and services he needed fueled her passion for advocacy. Diana vowed to use her personal experience and specialized training to change the course for other families.

Diana has a strong background in placement issues and believes in a collaborative approach to working with the IEP team. She is committed to providing honest and supportive coaching, consultation, and advocacy for parents 1:1 and in groups, as well as training for team members and support staff in order to design and implement appropriate IEPs that are as individualized as the child they serve.
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If there is anything we can do or post to help you learn more about the importance of IEP 504 PLAN (or any other topic for that matter) please send an email to blog@garfortheducation.com

Specific Learning Disorders

by Dr. Garforth | May 3, 2019 | Learning Disabilities, Parents
According to the DSM-5*, the term Specific Learning Disorder (aka SLD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder with a biological origin that affects an individual’s academic skills, not their developmental milestones.

Let me break down some of those terms for you and then provide you with a definition that you can understand.

Neurodevelopmental-> has to do with how the brain develops

Disorder-> refers to a disruption in functioning; in the psychological field, the term disorder is used instead of disability

Biological origin-> refers to the condition being part of who the person is, not caused by an outside source

Academic skills-> things learned in school such as reading, writing, spelling and mathematics

Developmental milestones-> these are the expected stages of development that typically follow a specific order

In other words, a specific learning disorder is a brain-based disorder that affects the way individuals learn how to read, write, spell, count and answer math questions.

Categories of LSD

An individual with a specific learning disorder in reading will have problems with at least one of the following:
  • Reading words accurately (decoding)
  • Read slowly (fluency)
  • Have problems understanding what they have read.
Individuals are sometimes said to have dyslexia, a reading disability or a learning disability.
An individual with a specific learning disorder in written expression will have problems with at least one of the following:
  • Spelling words accurately
  • Their writing will have issues with grammar, sentence structure and punctuation
  • Their writing may be challenging to read because it is disorganized and they cannot get their ideas across clearly
An individual with a specific learning disorder in mathematics will have problems with at least one of the following:
  • Understanding number concepts such as counting and making comparisons (number sense)
  • Memorizing their math facts such as basic addition, subtraction and multiplication
  • Performing math calculations
  • ​Difficulty using mathematical reasoning
Individuals are sometimes said to have dyscalculia, a math disability or a learning disability

Severity of SLDs

As with other disorders, there are varying degrees to which an individual can have a specific learning disorder.

Individuals with a mild specific learning disorder have difficulties with one or two areas, but they can manage when they are provided with the right accommodations and or the proper supports.

These accommodations and support are especially important while the individual is attending school.

Individuals with a moderate specific learning disorder will likely require some intensive, specialized teaching to learn the skills they need to be competent in their areas of difficulty.

Once they have received the appropriate remediation, they will continue to need some accommodations and/or support in some areas to complete different assignments and activities.

Individuals with a severe specific learning disorder struggle in many different areas and they will likely require ongoing, intensive, individualized interventions to learn the expected content in school.

They will probably need to use appropriate accommodations, assistive technology and strategies at home, in school and in the workplace. Even with these supports in place, they may not be able to be as efficient at completing their tasks.

DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria

The DSM-5 has 4 criteria that must be met based on a ‘clinical synthesis’ of an individual’s developmental, medical, familial and educational history, school reports and a psychoeducational assessment.

This means that multiple aspects of the individual will be looked at from different perspectives to ensure the diagnosis of a specific learning disorder is appropriate for the individual.

1. An individual must show difficulties learning and using an academic skill such as:
  • Problems decoding words; reading is slow and requires a significant amount of effort
  • Difficulty understanding what has been read
  • Poor spelling
  • ​Trouble expressing themselves in writing
  • ​Problems with mastering number sense, number facts and/or performing calculations
  • ​Difficulty with math reasoning. The individual must have had the difficulty for at least six months even after being provided with targeted interventions.
2. The skills they are having difficulty with are substantially and quantifiably below those expected for individuals their age. These difficulties interfere with the individual’s daily activity. Specific learning disorder must be diagnosed through a comprehensive, clinical assessment using individually administered standardized achievement measures.

3. The difficulties must begin during school years but may not become fully apparent until the demands in those areas are tested.
For example, someone who has a specific learning disorder with an impairment in reading may not have any problems with reading the actual words. The may have issues with reading comprehension so their specific learning disorder may not be apparent until they have to start to learn information from what they are reading.

4. The specific learning disorder must not be explained better by another primary issue such as an intellectual disability, problems with the individual’s vision or hearing, not speaking the language of instruction fluently, a medical or neurological condition, psychosocial adversity or not being provided with adequate instruction.

SLD & Comorbidity

Comorbidity means that two or more conditions can occur at the same time. Specific learning disorder commonly cooccurs in individuals with ADHD, Communication Disorders, Developmental Coordination Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Anxiety Disorders, Depressive and Bipolar Disorders.

If an individual has another diagnosed condition, it does not necessarily exclude the diagnosis of a specific learning disorder. It does, however, make the differential diagnosis more difficult for professionals. It is more challenging to diagnose comorbid disorders because the conditions listed above also interfere with an individual’s daily activity.

This means the professional has to tease out whether the symptoms are best described by one condition or if in fact, the individual has both the condition and a specific learning disorder. This requires expert clinical judgement that has experience in both of the disorders in question.

Things to remember about SLD

  • Specific learning disorders will present differently in different settings and across a lifetime. There are some activities where the individual’s difficulties will not be apparent.
  • It is possible for an individual to be considered gifted and have a specific learning disorder. These individuals may be able to use their gifts to disguise their specific learning disorder until the demands on their learning or methods that their knowledge is assessed provide too much of a barrier.
  • With the proper accommodations and support, an individual with a specific learning disorder can lead a very successful life.
  • ​Specific learning disorders are persistent and lifelong.
  • ​Problems in other academic areas such as history and science might actually be due to the student’s specific learning disorder
  • With the appropriate intervention, individual’s with specific learning disorder can succeed!
*The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) is a handbook published by the American Psychiatric Association. It is used by professionals to guide in the diagnosis of different conditions. It provides a description of the condition with a list of symptoms and additional criteria for the diagnosis of the condition.


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.

Changes to the SLD criteria in DSM-5

by Dr. Garforth | Jun 21, 2019 | Learning Disabilities
The diagnosis, Specific Learning Disorders, is technically still pretty new, but it does not mean it is a new disorder. In reality, it is the rebranding of Specific Learning Disabilities to reflect how it is perceived in the medical field and includes two significant changes to the diagnostic criteria based on the latest research in the field of Special Education and Educational Psychology.

Why did the change the name of the of Specific Learning Disability to Specific Learning Disorder?

In 2013, the term Specific Learning Disorder (SLD) replaced the term of Specific Learning Disability. This change was made by the American Psychiatric Association when they published the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders(DSM-5).

 If you think of the following medical diagnoses: Autism Spectrum Disorder, Thyroid Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder or Attention Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder; all of these terms use the word disorder instead of disability. In medicine, a disorder is considered to be an abnormality of function, whereas the term disability typically refers to someone’s physical body.

The change from ‘disability’ to ‘disorder’ in 2013, allows the term SLD to be more in line with other terminology for recognized medical conditions. It also highlights the neurodevelopmental nature of an SLD, meaning the brain of an individual with an SLD interprets information in a different manner than someone without an SLD.

Isn’t it wonderful that the medical world recognizes the existence of neurologically-based learning problems. Don’t get upset if they call these problems a learning disorder rather a learning disability.
Larry B. Silver M.D.

Changes in Diagnostic Criteria

The change in terminology also brought two significant changes to the diagnostic criteria. These changes were made, so the diagnostic criteria reflected the advances in research on SLD since the publication of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (Text Revision).

In the DSM-5, SLD became an overarching category with specifiers relating to the three major academic areas (reading, writing, and mathematics). This means that at the time of assessment, the report can categorize the areas that are affected by the SLD. An individual with an SLD can have an impairment in one, two or all three of these areas.

The second significant change was the removal of the need for an individual to have an IQ-achievement discrepancy. Instead, individuals must meet all four of the following criteria:
  • Their symptoms must have occurred for a minimum of 6 months even after receiving extra help or targeted interventions
  • This means that an individual is not just experiencing the symptoms because they did not receive proper instruction for the area of difficulty.
  • They must be performing below the expected age level based on a standardized test of achievement and through a clinical assessment.
  • This means while they do not have to have a discrepancy between their IQ and their achievement, they do have to be performing below what is expected for their age.
  • These difficulties must have started during the individual’s school years.
  • There has to be a history of difficulty throughout the individual’s childhood and adolescent years. This does not mean someone cannot be diagnosed with an SLD as an adult. It just means they must provide evidence that they had these difficulties during their formal education.
  • Other causes such as disorders or adverse conditions must be ruled out before a diagnosis of SLD is given.
  • This does not rule out the possibility for comorbid or co-occurring conditions, it just means that professionals have to take extra care in the diagnostic process.
  • ​If there is another medical disorder that better explains why an individual is showing these symptoms, the clinician must decide if the diagnosis of an SLD is still appropriate.
  • ​If the individual is experiencing the symptoms because they have not provided with appropriate educational opportunities, the individual should not be provided with an SLD.

What do these changes mean?

The abandonment of the IQ-Achievement discrepancy requirement for a diagnosis of an SLD was a significant step forward for diagnostic and intervention purposes. This means that children can be identified after six months of showing struggles with reading, writing or mathematics, instead of waiting for the gap between their IQ and their achievement on a standardized test to be big enough to meet the diagnostic criteria for an SLD.

This means that children can be identified as having an SLD during the first few years of school when interventions are most efficient and effective. Early identification means the gap between the achievement of these individuals and their peers will not be as large which means there is less material that needs to be covered in order to ‘catch up’ to their peers.

Early identification allows students to access any accommodations and assistive technology they need to succeed from early on in their educational career.

The changes to the diagnostic criteria in the DSM-5 allow for a collaborative approach during the diagnostic process. It requires educators, educational psychologist and parents to create a portfolio that includes both formal and informal school records, samples of the individual’s work, information regarding the individual’s instructional history in addition to the formal psychoeducational or clinical assessment.

An SLD is still considered a medical disorder and does have strict diagnostic criteria and does still require a formal psychoeducational assessment. However, the assessment no longer requires the same focus on cognitive processing. This means that the psychoeducational assessment can move its focus from being an assessment for diagnosis to more of an assessment for interventions. This means the report from the psychoeducational assessment can focus more on the best interventions for the individual instead of just highlighting their areas of weakness.
The term Specific Learning Disorder is a clinical diagnosis and not a label, this means in order for someone to be diagnosed with an SLD they have to meet the diagnostic criteria that are set out in the DSM-5.

SLD is not necessarily a synonymous term for ‘learning disability’ which is commonly used in the education system. Just because an individual is considered to have a learning disability in the school system, it does not guarantee that they will meet the diagnostic criteria for an SLD. However, any individual who has been clinically diagnosed with an SLD should be considered to have a learning disability.

If someone was diagnosed with a Specific Learning Disability, they should also meet the diagnostic criteria of a Specific Learning Disorder. If someone did not quite meet the diagnostic criteria for a Specific Learning Disability, they might now reach the diagnostic criteria for a Specific Learning Disorder.

Test Anxiety Strategies

by Dr. Garforth | Apr 7, 2019 | Anxiety

** A guest post by Colleen Wildenhaus **

Effective Ways to Help Children Manage Test Anxiety

Test anxiety is no longer associated with only high school finals and college entrance exams. Sadly, it is being seen in children as young as kindergarten due to the abundance of standardized tests required in most schools. Young children are being tested on their letter/sound fluency, reading fluency, number concepts, and more. School-age children are tested on math facts, reading proficiency, and other state-mandated tests.

These tests are being administered not only for evaluation of school performance and content specific grades but as placement into certain classrooms based on ability levels. Once children enter upper elementary and middle school, the testing stakes are even higher, as the results often dictate class placements, which can affect college decision making.

The impact of prioritizing test results leads to test anxiety in many children. Parents, teachers, and students, however, can implement effective ways in which to minimize the anxiety that arises with these tests.

What is Anxiety?

When anxiety strikes, it shuts down the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is used for thinking and decision making, while engaging the amygdala, the “fight or flight” response. Given that testing requires rational thought, anxiety disables the process of thinking clearly, making it nearly impossible to focus on and complete the test.

Anxiety is prevalent in children with certain medical conditions, learning disabilities, attention issues, or as a stand-alone disability. Children who are afraid to make mistakes, fear judgment by others, or have low self-esteem due to learning issues are especially susceptible to anxiety during testing.

Ways Teachers and Parents Can Minimize Test Anxiety

Together, teachers and parents can create an environment where children, with or without anxiety, have success during times of testing.
  • Emphasize that the test is only one indicator of a child’s intellectual abilities. By explaining why testing is required and how the results are used can ease some of the anxiety. Make sure children of all ages understand that the test results have no lasting effect on their future. It is imperative that children understand that a poor test score is not solely indicative of their abilities to learn or of their intelligence.
  • Highlight effort and growth over the actual score. You want children to understand that “trying their best” is what matters when taking a test, not the grade that is received. Similarly, you want children to see that, while their score may be low, the growth made from one test to the next is equally, if not more important, in the overall picture of their growth as a student.
  • Speak positively about the tests that are administered. If parents and teachers complain about the tests, children pick up on this negative mindset. You want children to see tests as just another aspect of school, rather than something to be worried about. If parents and teachers become anxious about the tests and the results, children will feed off of this fear.
  • Never compare students or siblings with one another. Displaying or celebrating high scores in front of other students bring shame to the students who, given their best effort, were not able to achieve the “desired” score. There should not be a “wall of fame” for any type of test result, whether it be fact fluency, speed and accuracy in reading, or standardized test results. If you must celebrate and honour high achieving students, do it on an individual basis. It is certainly worth celebrating, as a class or a family, the completion of testing and the time and effort it took to prepare for and take the test.
  • Create a favorable environment for testing. Make sure testing takes place in the morning when children are fresh. Allow for movement breaks before and after testing. Play calming music during the test. Parents, be sure that your child gets enough sleep and eats a filling breakfast on test days. For more frequent tests (progress monitoring), like DIBLES or timed math facts, make sure that these are administered in a quiet environment away from the eyes of other students. Do your best to hide the timer from view, as many children become focused on the dwindling time rather than the task of completing the test.
  • Whenever possible, allow students an opportunity to re-learn the material that they answered incorrectly. Once the material is practiced, offer the test again with half credit for the newly correct answers. This shows children that mastering the material is more important than the test or the grade.

Teachers and Parents Should Moder Test Taking

For students, it is important that they understand the test that they are being asked to complete.
  • Whenever possible, provide sample tests and walk through them as a class. For students doing individualized testing or progress monitoring, make sure that you thoroughly explain what you expect prior to the test. Often students get frazzled in the beginning due to confusion, and it sets the tone for the rest of the test.
  • Practice test taking skills together and if necessary, teach students how to study. For standardized tests, frequently complete questions similar to what they will see on a test. For the end of unit tests offered in the classroom, provide students with a study sheet, explaining how to use the sheet to prepare for the test. It is not fair to surprise children with questions they are not expecting. The goal of a test is to check for understanding of content and material taught. On the study sheet, ask questions using the format that will be on the test. This goes for standardized testing as well. If students will be using technology for the test, make sure they have an opportunity to practice prior to the test.
  • Test-taking skills should be modelled by you as a teacher and parent. Mock up a practice test and share your thoughts aloud as you go through the test. Shed insight into your thought process as you work your way through a test. Be sure to make mistakes and model how to move on from a difficult question.

Test Taking Skills Students Should be Taught

Similar to modelling, parents and teachers can make children aware of strategies to use while taking a test.
  • Explain to children that it is ok to skip a question. If they see a question in which they are unsure of the correct answer, circle it, go on with the test, then come back to this question at the end. Explain that as they move through the test and answer questions in which they know the answer, their confidence will increase. They may also find information throughout the test that helps them with the more challenging questions.
  • For multiple choice questions, explain to students that they should cross out options that are definitely not correct, allowing them to focus on fewer choices when deciding on the correct answer.
  • Rather than looking at the entire test, break it down into sections by either folding the paper in half or drawing a line to segment into smaller sections.
  • ​Let children know that if they truly do not know an answer, guess and move on. It is ok to not know something. Spending a lot of time on one question seldom brings the correct answer to the mind.

Easing Anxiety During the Test

Anxiety calming techniques should not be used for the first time during a test. These calming techniques should be introduced to children in non-anxious situations, allowing them to reference them as needed during a test. These suggestions work well for students who are fidgety and begin to lose focus as well as students who notice that their mind has gone blank.
  • Movement breaks are often allowed for all students. This can be as simple as asking to use the bathroom or get a drink of water. Taking a minute to walk around with a change of scenery can ease rising anxiety during test taking.
  • Controlled breathing can slow the heart rate and lead to more rational thought patterns. Take a deep breath in through the nose, holding it for 5 seconds, then slowly releasing the breath through the mouth. This breathing should be done several times to calm the anxiety.
  • Engaging the 5 senses is a simple and effective way to ease anxiety. Children search the room using their senses. For example, they find 5 things they can see, 4 things they can hear, 3 things they can touch, 2 things they can smell, and 1 thing they can taste (when possible).
  • ​Similar to using the 5 senses calming technique, children can choose a colour and find as many items in the room of that colour.
  • ​Depending on the test being administered, students can use headphones to play calming music or an app like The Calm App. State Testing will not allow any type of device to be used but classroom administered tests should allow for headphone use.
  • ​Once again, depending on the test being given, reminders can be placed on a student’s desk. These reminders can encourage the child to use the test-taking skills taught and modelled by the teacher, breathing or calming techniques, or positive mindset reminders.

Accommodations for Text Anxiety- As Needed

For students with extreme anxiety and/or focus issues, there are accommodations that can be provided through a 504 or IEP as needed.
  • The test can be orally presented via a computer or staff member for students who have dyslexia or struggle to comprehend their own reading.
  • Tests can be given in a small group environment outside of the classroom.
  • Extended time is an option, but seldom helps students who struggle with perfectionism or fear of making mistakes. The extra time just gives them more time to stress about getting the text questions perfect. However, for slow readers or those who need frequent movement breaks, extended time can be useful.
Test taking is now a regular part of most student’s academic experience. While the frequency and format of tests will vary based on grade and school, the pressure remains constant across the board. It is important that children learn how to best handle themselves when faced with tests, as it will make their school experience more successful both emotionally and academical.

Coleen Wildenhauz

Colleen Wildenhaus is the mother of a 13-year-old girl suffering from severe anxiety and OCD. Her blog Good Bye Anxiety, Hello Joy shares with readers the journey her family takes to enjoy the small moments each day, keeping the beast of anxiety from taking away the joy of life. In addition to being a mother and writer, Colleen is a former elementary teacher who holds two Master’s Degrees in Education and a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. She draws from her expertise as an educator to coach parents and teachers in ways to make school successful for children with anxiety.

Guest Post: Using Movement to Master the Reading/Spelling Code

by Dr. Garforth | Feb 2, 2019 | Instructional Strategies

** A guest post by Nancy Young **

My thanks to Dr. Kathryn Garforth for inviting me to provide teachers and parents with a snapshot as to why and how to integrate movement into reading and spelling instruction and practice. Let’s get moving!

Using Movement to Master the Reading/Spelling Code

Sound /h/ is spelled <h>
Keyword: hop
Action: hop
From Secret Code Actions ™

Using movement to learn – where my journey started…

My passion for integrating movement into the learning process began soon after I started up my private practice in which I taught students who were struggling in the classroom. My students had usually been sitting for much of their school day – spending more time than their classmates at a table or desk because it took so long to do (or try to do) academic tasks. For students diagnosed as ADHD, sitting still for long periods was especially tough.

Whether dealing with attention issues or not, I wished my students could have been playing outside or relaxing instead of sitting in a lesson. Sadly, their weak skills meant they needed to put in extra time and effort outside school to learn what should have been taught in school.

An active person myself, I wondered if my students might enjoy their lessons more if they could just get up and move while they were learning. I started with, “Let’s set up stations around the room and you can move from station to station while you practice!” They loved the stations! Then I moved on to “Let’s act this out!” when we were discussing the meaning and function of a word. When a student needed to learn about contractions, I suggested she model what a contraction does – on the floor! She stretched out and then contracted her body as she expanded and contracted the words! She smiled – just as my other students were smiling as they learned using movement! Lessons were fun for them, for me and for the parents (in my private practice I required that a parent be a part of every lesson).

My repertoire of movements soon grew to include movements for the sound-symbol correspondences of the English code. It’s not easy for a child in grade 4 to accept that they need to go back and learn skills that should have been mastered in kindergarten and grade one. Moving made the needed learning more fun! As a bonus, I observed that the students were so engaged and seemed to master skills more quickly using my special movements.  
Sound /n/ spelled <n>
Keyword: nail
Action: Nail a nail
From Secret Code Actions ™

One day, the mom of one of my students said, “Nancy, you need to create a book with all your movements so other teachers and parents can use them too!” It was a great suggestion! After a few years of work (including the completion of my MEd in Special Education, during which I investigated the supporting research) I was pleased to release my book Secret Code Actions™. Available in two editions, one for teachers and another for parents, this unique resource presents fun movements and activities that help children learn and remember the sounds and symbols in English words. It also contains Clues and Alerts to help teachers and parents better understand what I call the secrets of the code.

My book Secret Code Actions™ is grounded in the current research that says:
There is nothing natural about learning to read.

There is nothing natural about learning to read. It is not a skill we are born to do; we must rewire our brain to be able to read.

  • Physical activity is essential for all children, but children are moving less and less. We need to take advantage of every opportunity to get our children up and moving.
  • Physical activity fuels the brain, increasing engagement and helping recall.
  • Physical activity is beneficial for children with ADHD.
My Ladder of Reading shows the wide range of ease in learning to read, irrespective of intelligence. It makes it clear that explicit instruction and practice are *crucial* for a much larger group than most people realize (both the pink and red groups), and ALL children can be advantaged by learning the fascinating secrets of the written code!

Additionally, my book Secret Code Actions™ is grounded in the current research that says:
Most children are not getting enough physical activity during the day.

  • Physical activity is essential for all children, but children are moving less and less. We need to take advantage of every opportunity to get our children up and moving.
  • Physical activity fuels the brain, increasing engagement and helping recall.
  • Physical activity is beneficial for children with ADHD.
Almost every day there is a new article or study recommending that children move more. Whatever the reason, from spending time on screens to less free play in general, most children are simply not as active as they should be.

Some tips to get you moving! 

Plan your lessons or practice sessions so that you weave in movement throughout:

As part of your warmup:
  • Review previously learned concepts by practicing them using movement.
As a new sound-symbol correspondence is learned or practiced:
  • SAY IT (adult says the first sound in the word “bat” = /b/; child repeats the sound /b/)
  • ​SEE IT (child points to card with the letter b on it)
  • ​MOVE IT! (child pretends to swing a bat)
  • ​(Add on: WRITE IT)
As a brain break or to re-energize a child having trouble focusing:
  • Perform a skill-related movement
As part of lesson closure or at the end of a practice session:
  • Do a movement-based game or activity. 
Even if your space is limited, many movements can be done on the spot. In a small room, a student can run (<r> = /r/) on the spot, pretend to pump (/p/ = <p>), or act as if trying to dodge a page (practicing when to spell /j/ as <dge>). When the weather is cooperating, go and do the movements outside!
When /ŏ/ (short o) is spelled <a>
Action: Walk the Wall!
 from Secret Code Actions™ Chapter 4

Practicing reading/spelling skills using movement is a win-win!

I am passionate about the need to bring movement into the teaching of reading and spelling. I see it as a solution to the lack of time all educators and parents face. It is an engaging way for children to learn skills that are not always easy to master. Using movement to practice the secrets of the code provides unobtrusive and fun opportunities to provide focused learning and to provide the crucial repetition many children need.

During my professional development sessions for teachers, and presentations to parents, I always deliver this message to my audience:

We need to get our children moving as we teach the reading/spelling code!

Then, I get the audience up and moving as we practice a code-based concept!

Are you keen to learn more?

Are you keen to help your child or students learn or practice the secrets of the code using movement? The activities in my book can enhance any reading/spelling program being used in your school or at home. Book owners also have access to free downloads and resources on my website, including a teaching order of the concepts for those not already following a program. The Clues and Alerts will help children and adults learn about fascinating aspects of the English language!
  • Check out some sample pages from my book (both Teacher and Parent Editions) at my website: secretcodeactions.com
  • ​Check out my Youtube playlist demonstrating “Split & Smoosh”, an activity featured in Secret Code Actions™ Parent Edition (and a free download for Teacher Edition owners
  • ​Follow me on social media for up-to-date articles and tips:
Have a blast moving while you are learning!
Nancy Young B.A., M.Ed.
Reading, Spelling, Writing Specialist
British Columbia, CANADA
Nancy Young B.A. M.Ed. (Special Education) is an experienced educator and speaker with extensive knowledge of evidence-based approaches to teaching reading, spelling and writing for both the general classroom and intervention programs. Her areas of specialty include dyslexia, ADHD, giftedness, and ELL. A certified Structured Literacy Teacher and long-time private practice educator teaching children with dyslexia, Nancy provides consulting support for teachers, schools and families across Canada. This includes training, coaching, assessment (Level B) and program development for students with dyslexia.

Supporting Research

Research articles and books supporting the information presented in this blog post can be found in the Resources section of my website.

A PDF of my Ladder of Reading can also be downloaded from my website.

Literacy Screening

by Dr. Garforth | Apr 24, 2019 | Learning Disabilities, Reading Science

Literacy Screening

Most children begin kindergarten excited by the prospect of finally learning how to read. The idea of reading excites them because it opens the door into a world they only had access to when someone else would read to them. They are excited to be able to read for pleasure independently.

Young children want to read the ‘big kid’ books they have always heard older children and adults talk about, like the Harry Potter Series or the Chronicles of Narnia.

However, pleasure reading is not the only reasons children need to know how to read. Reading becomes an essential component for any school-based learning past the primary grades. Once students are in grade four, they are now expected to read to learn. This means they are supposed to be able to independently read, understand what they have read, and learn from what they have read.

Unfortunately, not every child goes to school beginning with the skills they need to become a reader. There are several different reasons someone may have difficulty learning to read including:
  • coming from a low socio-economic background
  • coming from a family of English language learners with parents who cannot read English
  • having a familial history of learning disabilities
  • ​an individual with special needs.
Regardless of the reason why an individual is likely to have difficulty learning how to read, there are ways young children can be identified as being at risk for reading failure through literacy screening.
What if I told you that after spending about 15 minutes conducting a literacy screen with a child, when they are just beginning their educational journey, that I could predict with reasonable certainty whether they would succeed in learning to read?
From that short time with the child, I would also be able to tell you what skills they needed to work on in order for them to become competent readers.

If this child did not receive the interventions based on the recommendations that were made, not only would they be at risk for becoming poor readers, they would also be considered at-risk for developing depression, anxiety and several other mental health problems. Poor literacy skills can lead to individuals dropping out of high school, showing anti-social behaviour and even an increased risk for entering the juvenile justice system.

Several research studies conducted in countries around the world have all come to the same conclusion: that educators can identify children as at-risk for becoming struggling readers by using screening measures with children. This can be done with children even when they are in preschool (e.g. Gaab, 2019).

Research has also shown that between 70-95% of reading disabilities can be prevented or alleviated with the use of early identification and the use of research-based interventions (Barnes, 2007; Greenwood & Abbot, 2007).

This has been shown in school districts that have a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds and with students from various first language backgrounds in the same classroom (e.g. Lipka & Siegel, 2007; Partanen & Siegel, 2014).

Classroom teachers can be taught how to do literacy screening with their students. They can also be taught how to provide the appropriately targeted interventions in the different skill areas their students require help. The teachers can monitor each child in their classroom for progress throughout the year and adjust their teaching to meet the child’s needs.

There are some individuals who are opposed to screening young children to identify them for future reading problems. They are worried that this screening will provide the students with a label and that they would carry that label for life. However, this is not the case, the point of giving these early literacy screens is NOT to provide a diagnosis, and they cannot provide a diagnosis.

The purpose of literacy screening is to give teachers a clear picture of what skills a student has and what skills they don’t have. From this information, they can create a targeted intervention plan for students who need it. This allows the students to receive the appropriate instruction in the skills they are missing. Once they have these skills, they will be able to learn to read at the same time as their peers.

The main reason we need to identify these children as being at risk for reading failure at a young age is that this is the critical period when interventions are most effective. These naysayers need to be reminded that it is much better for educators to intervene early before a problem exists than to have a child experience the humiliation of struggling with learning how to read when their friends seem to be able to do it with minimal effort. Once this damage to their self-esteem has been done, it can never fully be taken away.

Reading interventions are most effective when they are done during the first two years of school. This is a time when children’s brains are designed to be learning a language, and so they are thought to be more receptive to interventions at this time (Gaab, 2019).

Again, numerous research studies from around the world have shown us that most children identified before the second grade as having trouble learning to read can become proficient readers when taught with an appropriate program. Tragically, when students are identified later, the chances that they will catch up to an acceptable reading level drastically decreases (Moats, 2007).

The education system needs to look to research to find out what the best practices are for early identification of children at risk for reading failure.

Every primary school teacher MUST know how to spot children who are struggling with reading. These teachers need to understand how they can intervene so that these children can learn how to read at the same time as their peers. These skills are vital because statistically, every year, there will be at least one student in their class that needs extra help so they can become a competent reader.

Gaab, N. (2019). How can we ensure that every child will learn to read? The need for a global, neurodevelopmental perspective.

International Dyslexia Association.

Lipka, O. & Siegel, L. S. (2007). The development of reading skills in children with English as a second language.Scientific Studies of Reading, 11(2), 105-131.

Moats, L. M. (2007). Whole-Language High Jinks: How to Tell When “Scientifically-based reading Instruction” Isn’t. Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Partanen, M. & Siegel, L. S. (2014). Long-term outcomes of the early identification and intervention of reading disabilities. Reading and Writing, 27, 665-684.

Does CVC refer to letters or sounds?

by Dr. Garforth | Aug 16, 2019 | Reading Science

** A guest post by Debbie Hepplewite**

The need to distinguish between consonant letters and vowel letters through teaching about ‘the alphabet’ compared to consonant sounds and vowel sounds through teaching about the ‘alphabetic code’

Teachers need to teach about both ‘the alphabet’ and about ‘the alphabetic code’ and distinguish between them. In order to do this, teachers themselves need to be clear about their differences and their uses, and their overlap.

In teaching about the alphabet and the alphabetic code, this involves the terminology of consonants and vowels, letters and sounds, and the use of abbreviations based on capital letters C and V.

I cannot shed any light on the history of origin of abbreviations such as CVC, CCVC, CVCC – that is, the breakdown of words into ‘consonants’ and ‘vowels’ but I’m aware that there are various Twitter conversations taking place illustrating a lack of common understanding of this type of notation with people all presenting themselves as being the authority on whether CVC actually means ‘letters’ or ‘sounds’.

This is no small matter in the field of literacy and requires a common sense approach to clarification.

At the heart of the problem is a simple lack of distinction between whether people mean vowel SOUNDS or vowel LETTERS, and consonant SOUNDS or consonant LETTERS. This need for clarification/definition is the case not only in the ‘conversations’ around the topic, but also in published literature and literacy programmes and terminology and resources intended for training, teaching and learning.

It is no wonder that there is confusion and lack of shared understanding as, more often than not, people FAIL to distinguish whether they mean letters or sounds in their day-to-day conversations and in their specialist literature, material and training provision!

Surely it is not sufficient ever to refer to ‘consonants’ and ‘vowels’ without further qualification of whether the meaning intended by the CVC notation could be either ‘letters’ or ‘sounds’. No wonder there is confusion.

Some people, including those regarded as specialists, are adamant that ‘consonants and vowels are sounds, not letters’ – but this is not really correct because there is such a notion of consonant letters and vowel letters – as in the alphabet.

I suggest that, actually, the vast majority of people will, first and foremost, consider ‘vowels and consonants’ to mean letters and not sounds.

For well over a decade, England has had an official policy for schools to provide systematic synthetic phonics for beginning reading instruction, and universities have been training in the ‘systematic synthetic phonics teaching principles’ – largely, I suspect, through the vehicle of the ‘Letters and Sounds’ (DfES, 2007) publication which was provided for schools at no charge.

Part of my phonics training provision, even in England, needs to feature the difference between consonant and vowel sounds of the alphabetic code – as compared to consonant and vowel letters of the alphabet.

One of my slides asks, ‘How many vowel sounds are there in the English language?’

Usually several people at least in the teaching profession answer ‘five’ and clearly they are thinking of the vowel letters of the alphabet – a, e, i, o, u – and not the vowel sounds.

In other words, they think of ‘vowels’ – even when described and introduced as “vowel sounds” – as vowel letters of the alphabet because that is, arguably, the common and most obvious understanding.

If we are specialists, then, it is our job to raise awareness of the difference between vowel sounds and vowel letters and so on. It is not obvious that CVC, for example, means consonant sound followed by vowel sound followed by consonant sound such as in words: cat CVC /k/ /a/ /t/, chip CVC /ch/ /i/ /p/, push CVC /p/ /u/ /sh/ . (The ‘sounds’ are always denoted in slash marks.)

Many people, in reality, would think this of these words as letter-by-letter when they think of them in terms of ‘consonants’ and ‘vowels’ and therefore notate them letter-by-letter this way: cat CVC, chip CCVC, push CVCC.

That means, we ourselves – everyone – needs to add the qualifier of ‘sounds’ or ‘letters’ and cannot presume that just to refer to ‘vowels’ and ‘consonants’ always means the sounds – because this is not clear and not based on the reality of many people’s, if not most people’s, understanding.

Dependent on various regional and national accents, there are around 20 ‘vowel sounds’ in the English language and around 24 ‘consonant sounds’. I usually denote vowel sounds with red letters shown in slash marks on my overview Alphabetic Code Charts – and denote consonant sounds with blue letters shown in slash marks (see below for link to Alphabetic Code Charts).

People usually agree that there are around 44 of the smallest identifiable sounds (known as ‘phonemes’) in the English language. It is not commonly appreciated, however, that when we bring actual ‘print’ into the picture (the written code), that some graphemes (letters and letter groups that are code for the phonemes) are actually code for ‘combined phonemes’. Take for example the letter ‘x’ which is code for two phonemes /k+s/ as in ‘fox’ and two phonemes /g+z/ as in ‘exam’. Graphemes ‘u’ as in ‘unicorn’, ‘-ue’ as in ‘rescue’, ‘u-e’ as in ‘tube’, ‘ew’ as in ‘new’ are all code for two phonemes /y+oo/.

This explains why the free printable Alphabetic Code Charts I provide list more than just 44 phonemes as they include further units of sound that necessarily are ‘combined phonemes’ such as the examples above.

No Alphabetic Code Chart of the English language can be completely definitive because of various accents but it is important that this variation is not overplayed as an issue – teachers and parents/carers can simply explain the reality of various accents to the learners and say, ‘In our region/country, we tend to pronounce that letter, or that letter group, like this….. .

I strongly advocate that every phonics trainer, or teacher, or phonics programme author, or academic author, establishes the English alphabetic code AS a tangible code chart as the starting point for understanding the complexities of the English language. It is because I think this is an important first step that I provide a range of free Alphabetic Code Charts for different users and uses. We should ideally be able to see posters/charts of both ‘the alphabet’ and ‘the alphabetic code’ in infant and primary classrooms where the English language is taught for reading and spelling/writing.

To make matters even more complicated, a combination of vowel letters and consonant letters are commonly code for the vowel sounds such as letter groups: or, ow, oy, ay, air, ear, aw, al – and many more. Even letters considered to be ‘consonants letters’ such as ‘w’ and ‘y’ are sometimes perceived as code for vowel sounds and sometimes code for consonant sounds.

As you can see, this is not a precise state of affairs – but those people who get bogged down with exact-ness (and arguments are rife as seen via Twitter) often miss the point that what matters most is effective teaching for effective learning. We teach beginners from the age of 3+ in some cases, and remediate children from not much older than that through to adults. In my view, there is such a fine line between preoccupation with some form of scientific precision and definition rather than the practical resources and content that most support teaching and learning and best inform parents and carers aspiring to work in partnership with them. Effective programmes and practices can, and do, differ in their details.

I was really pleased that world-renowned Professor Max Coltheart had this to say about the use of wording re consonants and vowels which confirmed the need to be explicit in meaning:

“If the literature you are reading is about research on reading by psychologists, the terms “consonant” and ‘vowel” (or C and V) will almost certainly be referring to letters (not phonemes). This has been the case for at least forty years.

If instead you are reading work by speech pathologists or speech scientists, the terms “consonant” and ‘vowel” (or C and V) will almost certainly be referring to phonemes (not letters). This has also been the case for a long time.

There’s nothing wrong with either usage, so we just have to accept both. They are both legitimate and they are both longstanding.

If people are worried about being misunderstood when using these terms, then when referring to letters they can use the terms “consonant letter” and “vowel letter”, and when referring to phonemes they can use the terms “consonant phoneme” and “vowel phoneme”.”

 For free printable Alphabetic Code Charts for various users and uses, see here:

Debbie Hepplewhite is a founding committee member of the International Foundation for Effective Reading Instruction – see the forum and blog here for research, recommended reading, practical support and up-to-date developments in the field of literacy:

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A Free Phonological Awareness Screening Tool

by Dr. Garforth | Aug 23, 2019 | Phonological Fridays
Happy #phonologicalfriday! This week’s post is about a FREE screening tool available for Phonological Awareness.


UNESCO(2006), considers learning to read not only a basic human right but also an instrument that is necessary for achieving other rights.

Unfortunately, there are reports from around the world, even in the most affluent countries, of children struggling to learn how to read the English language.

This is a tragedy because researchers studying reading development know what components are needed in reading instruction. In fact, three national reports done in the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom have come to a consensus on the components that are necessary for effective reading instruction.

Phonological Awareness

One of the essential components for reading instruction is phonological awareness (Scarborough, 1998). Phonological awareness refers to the awareness of sounds in spoken language. It is a key component for learning how to read (e.g. Torgesen & Mathes, 2000; Vellutino, Scanlon & Ried Lyon, 2000).

Individuals with poorly developed phonological awareness have difficulty forming the relationship between letters (graphemes) and their sounds (phonemes). Weakness in phonological awareness is the most common reason for word-level reading difficulties (Stanovich, 1996).

The good news is that difficulties with phonological awareness are fairly easy to detect and phonological awareness can be improved with explicit instruction.

Phonological Awareness Screening

There are several ways that difficulties with phonological awareness can be detected. Fortunately, Dr. David Kilpatrick has made the Phonological Awareness Screening Tool (The PAST Test) available for free to educators for use with their students.

The PAST Test is comparable to other commercially available measures on the market and can be used to monitor students’ progress.
With the proper professional development, teachers can be taught how to administer this screen, interpret the results and plan the appropriate interventions.

Primary teachers could administer this screening tool to each of their students in a morning because it only takes between four to nine minutes to administer per student.

The results from using the PAST Test do not provide students with a label, they simply inform the teacher which students need more help developing their phonological awareness so they can become successful readers.

If a student is struggling with reading but does well on the PAST Test, it means their reading difficulties are almost certainly not due to phonological processing issues. This means further investigation is necessary in order to determine the most appropriate interventions to be used in this circumstance.

If a student has significant problems with phonological awareness, they will likely require more intensive interventions to fully develop this skill.

Thank you to Dr. David Kilpatrick for making the PAST Test freely available to educators so that more students can successfully learn to read from the beginning.

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If there is anything I can do or post to help you learn more about the importance of morphological awareness (or any other topic for that matter) please send an email to blog@garfortheducation.com

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Stanovich, K. E. (1996). Toward a more inclusive definition of dyslexia. Dyslexia, 2(3), 154-166.

Torgesen, J. K., & Mathes, P. G. (2000). A basic guide to understanding, assessing, and teaching phonological awareness. Pro Ed.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (2006). Education for all global monitoring report. Retrieved from http://www.unesco.org/education/GMR2006/full/chapt5_eng.pdf

Consonants: Blends and Digraphs

by Dr. Garforth | Sep 13, 2019 | Phonological Fridays, Reading Science
Happy #phonologicalfriday! When begining your quest to learn about teaching phonics, there are several terms that you need to know. This week the focus is on the difference between consonant blends and digraphs (and trigraphs). There are many words in the English language contain consonant blends and consonant diagraphs. It is bennificial for new and struggling readers and spellers to be explicitly taught about these types of consonant sounds. Understanding the difference between these terms gives readers a better explanation of how to approach the pronunciation or spelling of a word. At the surface level, the most fundamental difference between a consonant blend and a consonant digraph is that in a blend, each letter represents it’s sound (phoneme) in the pronunciation of the word. While in a consonant diagraph (and trigraph) the letters represent one sound (phoneme).

Consonant Blends

(aka Consonant Clusters) A consonant blend is when there are two or more consants beside each other in the same syllable, and in the pronunciation of the syllable at least two of these sounds are heard. In the pronunciation of the syllables, each consonant sounds can be heard but they are blended together in a smooth manner. Consonant blends can be found in any syllable of a word but they are most commonly found in the first and last syllables. Some examples of consonant blends include the following letter combinations: bl, gr, sm, tw, scr, nd, str There are two things you must remember about consonant blends:

1. For adjacent consonants to be considered a blend, they must be part of the same syllable. For example, in the word cranberry, the ‘cr’ at the beginning of the word are considered to be a consonant blend because they are two adjacent consonant letters in the same syllable. However, the ‘nb’ in the middle of the word, is not a consonant blend because the ‘n’ belongs to the first syllable of the word and the ‘b’ belongs to the second syllable.

2. A consonant blend containing three or more letters may include a consonant digraph. For example, the word thrill has both a consonant blend ‘thr’ and a consonant digraph ‘th’.

Consonant Digraphs

Consonant diagraphs are when there are two different consonant letters that represent one speech sound (phoneme) that typically is different than either of the consonant sounds the letters represent in the diagraph. Like blends, consonant digraphs can be found in any position of the word. Some common consonant diagraphs are wh, ch, sh, th (voiced and unvoiced). Some phonics systems consider the letter combinations of kn, gn, wr, ck and ng to be consonant diagraphs. Some phonics systems use the term triagraph to refer to three letters (-tch) that when combined together make one sound. Last week, September 7, 2019, the #phonologicalfriday‘s post discussed phonemes. If there is anything I can do or post to help you learn more about the importance of morphological awareness (or any other topic for that matter) please send an email to blog@garfortheducation.com Subscribe to Garforth Education’s Blog if you would like to be notified when a new post is up. [yikes-mailchimp form=”1″ submit=”Subscribe to Garforth Education’s Blog”]

5 Levels of Word Structure

by Dr. Garforth | Jan 17, 2020 | Phonological Fridays, Reading Science
Happy first #phonologicalfriday of 2020 everyone! I hope you have had a good start to the New Year.

I have several hopes for the new decade, and you can help me with one of them! I hope that more educators will learn about the important role phonological awareness plays in learning to read. I hope early childhood educators and teachers will find ways to include different aspects of phonological awareness in their instruction.

Did you know there are several different ways the written word can be examined?

If you have attended presentations by Dr. Louisa Moats, you may be familiar with a slide entitled “How We Recognize Words.” It looks similar to this:
It is important for every teacher to know and understand the difference between these five different levels of word analysis in the English Language.

At the word level, the reader just looks at the word for face value. Experienced readers can do this with thousands of words they have committed to memory. When the word has been committed to memory, a reader can recognize it by sight.

The whole-language method of reading instruction tries to teach young readers to read the whole word by sight, through repeated exposure to the language.

Morphemes are the smallest parts of words that can contain meaning. Morphemes come in various forms.
There are free base elements that are words in their own right (ex. sad) but their meaning can change with the addition of another morpheme (ex. <sad> + <er> = sadder).

Prefixes are morphemes that are found at the beginning of a word and change the word’s meaning (ex. <un> + <fair> = unfair).

Abound base is a base element that cannot occur on its own (ex. <rupt>). Sometimes bound bases are called roots.

Suffixes are morphemes that are found at the end of words (ex. <ed>). When suffixes are added to base elements, they can change the word to a different form (noun, verb, adjective, or adverb).

When a reader looks at a word at the morpheme level, they examine parts of the word for meaning.

At the syllable level, the reader breaks the word into parts that contain one vowel sound with optional consonant sounds attached to it, or a syllable consonant.

There are six different types of syllables closed, open, vowel-consonant – e, the r-colored vowel, the vowel team, and the le pattern.

Once a reader understands these syllable types, they can break the word down into syllables, allowing them to read the word one syllable at a time before trying to blend the syllables together to make the word.

One level lower than the syllable level is the grapheme level. The grapheme is a letter or letter combination that is used to represent one speech sound or phoneme. The grapheme b represents the phoneme /b/.

In order for students to be able to ‘sound words out,’ they must understand the relationship between graphemes (letters) and phonemes (sounds). They must be able to look at a letter and automatically know what sound that letter makes. This is what teachers are trying to teach in phonics lessons.

Once students understand this relationship, they are said to have graphophonemic awareness.

The lowest level a word can be analyzed at is by the individual letters that are found in the word. This is the level that we use when we are communicating how to spell a word, or if someone were to ask you how to say a word, they would tell you each letter found in the word.

In order to become a skilled reader, you must have an awareness of each of these levels. Unfortunately, our current education system does not always put enough time aside for the appropriate instructional time needed for students to fully develop these skills.

I hope this is something we can change in this decade through education and advocation for the important role of phonological awareness in teaching children how to read.

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Phonological Friday: Voiced and Unvoiced Sounds

by Dr. Garforth | Mar 27, 2020 | Phonological Fridays
Happy #phonologicalfriday! This week’s focus is on voiced and unvoiced (voiceless) sounds. No discussion about phonological awareness is complete without a discussion about the difference between voiced and unvoiced sounds.


Technically speaking, a voiced sound is a strong sound in which the vocal chords vibrate. All vowel sounds and diphthongs are voiced sounds, but only some of the consonant sounds (/b/, /d/, /g/, /j/, /v/, /z/, /th/ as in that, and /w/ as in wail).


Unvoiced or voiceless sounds are weak and the vocal cords do not vibrate. There are eight unvoiced consonant sounds (/p/, /t/, /k/, /ch/, /f/, /s/, /th/ as in thin, and /hw/ as in whale). If you put your fingers over your Adam’s Apple (larynx) when you pronounce voiced sounds in isolation, you should be able to feel your vocal chords vibrate. When you pronounce an unvoiced or voiceless sound, you should not be able to feel a vibration. Voiced sounds take a little more effort to produce compared to their unvoiced counterparts. There are eight pairs containing a voiced and an unvoiced sound that many students have difficulty with. They are:
If you practice saying the voiced and unvoiced sounds above, you may notice that that the movement of your mouth and the position of your tongue is the same for both letters. However, if you put your fingers on your vocal chords as you say these sounds you will notice that for one of the sounds (the voiced) you will feel a vibration and the other sound (unvoiced) you will not.

Why is this Important

This subtle difference can be troublesome for some individuals who struggle with telling the difference between the sounds (auditory discrimination). Educators need to understand the difference between voiced and unvoiced sounds because there are several students who struggle to notice the difference between these sounds. This is especially the case for students who have poor phonemic awareness and students who are learning English as an additional language. It is common for poor spellers to have errors in their spelling where they substitute a voiced sound for it’s unvoiced pair or vice versa. For example, when asked to spell the word ‘ball’, the individual may spell ‘pall’ because they were not able to detect the subtle difference between the voiced /b/ and the unvoiced /p/. Someone looking at this spelling with only a basic understanding of phonics may think phonetically speaking this spelling of ‘pall’ for the word ‘ball’ does not make sense. However, with the understanding of the difference between voiced and unvoiced consonant sounds they would be able to determine that the speller struggled to differentiate between the voiced/unvoiced pair of b & p. When working with young students or individuals who struggle with the distinction between voiced and unvoiced sounds, it is helpful to explicitly teach and practice the difference between these sounds. In a classroom or small group setting, a teacher can introduce a pair of sounds at the beginning of the lesson and then discuss how the students can use their fingers to tell the difference between the voiced and the unvoiced sounds. Once the students understand the difference between these sounds, they can ask the students to give a thumbs up for words that begin with a voiced sound and a thumbs down for words that begin with and unvoiced sound. In the beginning, the teacher should work with only one pair of sounds but as the students become more comfortable in the exercise they can practice with the different sounds. It is important to only focus on the beginning sound (onset) of a word when teaching the difference between voiced and unvoiced sounds. Typically voiced consonant sounds may have a weaker, unvoiced sound at the end of a word. This makes words flow together more easily and naturally when you speak (Smith, 2019). Reference: Henry, M. (2010). Unlocking Literacy: Effective decoding & spelling instruction (2nded.). Baltimore, Maryland: Paul H. Brooks Publishing Co. Smith, R. (2019). Rachel’s English: Ending voiced vs. unvoiced consonants. Retrieved from: https://rachelsenglish.com/ending-voiced-vs-unvoiced-consonants/
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The 4 Phases of Reading and Spelling Development

by Dr. Garforth | Apr 3, 2020 | Phonological Fridays
Happy #phonologicalfriday Everyone!

I hope you and your loved ones are safe during this time of Covid-19.

Right now, many of us are facing the reality of having our children at home instead of at school and we are not sure how to best support their learning. This can be very challenging.

One of the most important things you can do as a parent is to focus on your parent-child relationship and not get too upset if acting as a teacher doesn’t work for your relationship. In the long term, it is more important that your main focus is the parent-child relationship.

However, the best way you can help your child learn is by being sure that you are teaching them at their level. In today’s post, I am going to be talking about the four different phases of how reading and spelling develop.

If you take the time to understand what phase your child is at for their literacy development, you will have greater success helping them develop the skills they need and save yourself some frustration.