Using cognitive neuroscience to understand why kids struggle in school

The term dyslexia has been a part of the education lexicon for decades. When it was first “discovered” in the 1970s, there were no technological processes yet in place to prove it was a brain-based condition.

However, writes Martha Burns, PhD, in a Science of Learning blog, “psychologists, neurologists, and special educators …. assumed dyslexia [had] a neurological basis. In fact, the term ‘dyslexia’ actually stems from the Greek ‘alexia,’ which literally means ‘loss of the word’ and was the diagnostic term used when adults lost the ability to read after suffering a brain injury.”

At the time, the cause, “was deemed not important,” continues Burns. “Rather, the goal was to develop and test interventions and measure their outcomes without an effort to relate the interventions to the underlying causation.”

However, using neuroscience to pinpoint exactly why a student struggles in reading or math can help educators come up with specific and effective interventions.

School psychologist Steven G. Feifer, DEd, ABSNP, became interested in neuroscience as it relates to reading when, early in his career, he had an opportunity to evaluate a very impaired student named Jason.

“His IQ was 36,” recalls Dr. Feifer, “but he was an incredible reader.   This was pretty difficult to explain using a discrepancy model paradigm, which falsely implies that an IQ score represents a student’s potential.  I made a concerted paradigm shift, and tried to find a more scientifically rigorous explanation for Jason’s amazing skills.  This quickly led me to the research library at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“As it turned out, Jason was quite easy to explain,” he continues. “He had a condition called hyperlexia. After much research, I presented information about the neural mechanisms underscoring hyperlexia at Jason’s IEP meeting.  The IEP team was incredibly receptive to the information and immediately amended Jason’s IEP so he received inclusionary services in a regular fifth-grade classroom.

“Jason turned out to be the single highest speller in fifth grade. I was convinced that discussing how a child learns from a brain-based educational perspective, and not solely an IQ perspective, was the best way to understanding the dynamics of learning and inform intervention decision making.

“The following year, I enrolled in a neuropsychology training program and was fortunate enough to study with the top neuropsychologists in the country.”

Dr. Feifer, who has 19 years of experience as a school psychologist, was voted the Maryland School Psychologist of the Year in 2008 and the National School Psychologist of the Year in 2009. He is a diplomate in school neuropsychology and currently works as a faculty instructor in the American Board of School Neuropsychology (ABSNP) school neuropsychology training program.  He continues to evaluate children in private practice at the Monocacy Neurodevelopmental Center in Frederick, Maryland, and consults with numerous school districts throughout the country.

Dr. Feifer has written several books and two assessments that examine learning disabilities from a neurodevelopmental perspective—the Feifer Assessment of Reading (FAR) and the Feifer Assessment of Mathematics (FAM).

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Now Available! The Feifer Assessment of Mathematics!

FAM_ManualCover2Identifying and addressing characteristics of a math learning disability gives clinicians and educators the tools they need to develop appropriate interventions specific to the individual child, so he or she can succeed in math.

The Feifer Assessment of Mathematics™ (FAM™) isolates, measures, and quantifies three subtypes of developmental dyscalculia to explain—from a neurodevelopmental perspective—why a child may have difficulty in math.

The 19 subtests of the FAM help determine not only if a child has the characteristics of a general math learning disability (MLD), but also his or her specific subtype of dyscalculia:

  • Procedural: A deficit in the ability to count, order, or sequence numbers or mathematical procedures.
  • Verbal: An inability to use language-based procedures to assist with arithmetic skills.
  • Semantic: A core deficit in both visual-spatial and conceptual components.

Created by Steven G. Feifer, DEd, author of the Feifer Assessment of Reading™ (FAR™), the FAM is:

  • Unique: It’s the only math assessment that identifies specifically WHY a student is struggling in math by identifying his or her specific type of dyscalculia.
  • Fast: The available Screening Form takes just 15 minutes, and comprehensive testing can be completed in less than an hour.
  • Easy: Administration and scoring are straightforward and streamlined.

Take advantage of introductory pricing! Order now and get the FAM Comprehensive Kit for only $445 or the FAM Screening Form Kit for just $235!

To learn more or to order your FAM kit, visit www.parinc.com or call 1.800.331.8378.

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The Growing Field of Telepsychology

In every area imaginable, technology has paved the way for innovations that make life more convenient—from the first television, to the microwave oven, to smartphones, the list is constantly growing. And the field of mental health is no exception. People who desire to speak with a psychologist can now do so from the comfort of their homes. Telepsychology is a method of therapy that provides psychological services using technology such as telephone, e-mail, online chat, text, and videoconferencing.

Telepsychology allows more flexibility, increasing access between doctor and patient because the session isn’t limited to face-to-face visits. However, questions remain as to its legitimacy and effectiveness. In response to these questions, the American Psychological Association (APA) has prepared eight guidelines to educate psychologists and their patients regarding the opportunities and challenges to using telepsychology. The guidelines were developed by the Joint Task Force for the Development of Telepsychology Guidelines for Psychologists, established by the following three entities: The APA, the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards, and the APA Insurance Trust.

The guidelines for psychologists using telepsychology are as follows:

Guideline #1: The Competence of the Psychologist – Take appropriate trainings to ensure they are competent to use the technology and that they tailor the technology to the needs of the patient.

Guideline #2: Standards of Care in the Delivery of Telepsychology Services – Ensure the same ethical and professional standards of care are followed as when providing in-person services.

Guideline #3: Informed Consent – Obtain consent, following applicable laws, regulations, and requirements that specifically address the unique concerns related to providing telepsychology services.

Guideline #4: Confidentiality of Data and Information – Protect and maintain the confidentiality of patient data and inform patients of any potential risk in loss of confidentiality due to the use of telecommunication.

Guideline #5: Security and Transmission of Data and Information – Ensure security measures are in place to protect data from unintended access or disclosure.

Guideline #6: Disposal of Data and Information and Technologies – Dispose of data and the technologies used to prevent unauthorized access and dispose data safely and appropriately.

Guideline #7: Testing and Assessment – Consider the unique limitations inherent in administering tests and assessments that are normally designed to be implemented in person.

Guideline #8: Interjurisdictional Practice – Comply with all relevant laws and regulations when providing telepsychology services across jurisdictional and international borders.

These guidelines are intended to offer the best guidance for incorporating telecommunication technology into the doctor/patient relationship. As telepsychology evolves, these guidelines can help psychologists to provide their telepsychology clients with the same level of professionalism as their in-person clients.

Do you use telepsychology in your practice? What tips can you share? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!

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Need to Change Your Qualification Level?

In accordance with the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing and PAR’s competency-based qualification guidelines, many tests and materials sold by PAR are available only to those professionals who are appropriately trained to administer, score, and interpret psychological tests. Eligibility to purchase restricted materials is determined on the basis of training, education, and experience. Customers may find, however, that they must update their qualifications as they progress through their career.

If you have received licensure from an appropriate agency or have additional training and experience that meets the requirements of a higher Qualification Level, you may update your Qualification Level in two ways.

If you are registered on our Web site, please sign in. Once you are signed in, click on Update Qualifications on the right of the page in the PAR Shopping Cart to supply us with your additional information.

If you are not currently registered on our Web site, you may send your update request directly to Customer Support. Be sure to include your current PAR Customer Number and all relevant information about your additional credentials.

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Assessing Gifted Students: An Interview with Cecil R. Reynolds (Part 2)

Cecil R. Reynolds, co-author of the Reynolds Intellectual Assessment Scales (RIAS) and recently revised RIAS-2, is one of the leaders in the field of gifted assessment. The following is part two of a two-part interview conducted with Dr. Reynolds concerning the use of assessments in gifted and talented programs. Did you miss part one of this series? Click here.

Q: What originally prompted you to design an assessment for gifted identification?

CR: To reduce the confounds present in most traditional measures of intelligence. We wanted to have better instrumentation for identifying the intellectually gifted using methods that are less influenced by culture than most tests—the RIAS is not “culture-free,” nor do such psychological tests exist, and the desirability of a culture-free test is questionable conceptually as well. We live in societies, not in isolation. That said, confounds such as motor coordination, especially fine motor coordination and speed, interpretation of directions that have cultural salience, and even short-term memory can all adversely influence scores on intelligence tests, and these variables are not associated strongly with general intelligence. For programs that seek to identify intellectually gifted individuals, the RIAS and now RIAS-2 are strong choices.

Q: The RIAS (and now RIAS-2) has been one of the most popular and widely used assessment instruments for gifted testing. Is the instrument useful for other types of assessments?

CR: The RIAS-2 is useful any time an examiner needs a comprehensive assessment of intelligence, especially one that is not confounded by motor speed, memory, and certain cultural issues. When understanding general intelligence, as well as crystallized and fluid intellectual functions, are important to answering referral questions, the RIAS-2 is entirely appropriate.

Q: What makes the RIAS-2 unique from the previous version?

The unique feature of the RIAS-2 is the addition of a co-normed Speeded Processing Index (SPI). It is greatly motor-reduced from similar attempts to measure processing speed on other more traditional, lengthy intelligence batteries. In keeping with the original philosophy of the RIAS, we do not recommend, but do allow, examiners to use this SPI as a component of the Intelligence Indexes, and we worked very hard to reduce the motor-confounds that typically plague attempts to assess processing speed.

Q: Originally there were no processing speed subtests on the RIAS. Why is that?

CR: Processing speed represents a set of very simple tasks that by definition anyone should be able to perform with 100% correctness if given sufficient time. This conflicts with our view of intelligence as the ability to think and solve problems. Processing speed correlates with few variables of great interest as well—it is a poor predictor of academic achievement, and tells us little to nothing about academic or intellectual potential. It is useful in screening for attentional issues, performance of simple tasks under time pressures, and coordination of simple brain systems, and as such can be useful especially in screening for neuropsychological issues that might require follow up assessment, but processing speed tasks remain poor estimates of intelligence.

Many RIAS users asked us to undertake the development of a motor-reduced set of processing speed tasks. Students who ask for extended time as an accommodation on tests are often required by the determining agency to have scores form some timed measures as well, and we felt we could derive a more relevant way of providing this information without the motor issues being as salient as a confound. The ability to contrast such performance with measured intelligence is important to this decision-making process.

Q: What advice do you have for psychologists and diagnosticians when it comes to assessing a student for giftedness?

CR: When choosing assessments to qualify students for a GT program, be sure you understand the goals of the program and the characteristics of the students who are most likely to be successful in that program. Then, choose your assessments to measure those characteristics so you have the best possible match between the students and the goals and purposes of the GT program.

 

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