This week, we welcome guest blogger Sylvia Hall from GAB-on! As a parent of a child with learning differences, Sylvia was able to take her family’s challenges and build a unique way to help families connect.
In the delicate fabric of human relationships, connection is the thread that binds us together. It is a core, fundamental need for human development and helps us get the most out of our lives. For parents and children, communication is the cornerstone of the relationship that cultivates connection and the ability to give and experience love.
Dr. Ned Hallowell says, “Connection should be the life blood of all families, schools, and organizations.” However, children with learning differences often face a lack of sustained connection due to their unique challenges. This disconnection can result in various struggles in their lives, including difficulties forming relationships at school, in their community, and within the family. Consistent and positive connections play a transformative role in empowering these children. Nurturing such connections over time, children can lead more connected, relationship-rich, and fulfilling lives.
I’ve always described our son as a “boy full of joy.” He could light up any room with his smile and energy from the time he could walk. When he was entering sixth grade, he was so excited to begin the school year at a new school as he was eager to meet friends.
After the first several days, a recognizable pattern emerged: “How was your day?” “Fine.” “What did you do in school today?” “Nothing.” Although this dialogue seems to have become a rite of passage, for our family it wasn’t something we were comfortable with. We recognized that, although our son may desperately want to share parts of his day with us, given his executive function challenges (particularly in working memory), he was struggling neurologically to do so.
Our son Austin inspired us to create GAB-on!, an app that connects children and their parents through simple, meaningful conversations about their daily experiences both in and out of school. We built it for all kids because these simple conversations can nourish healthy connections and conversations.
Throughout the day, children enter GABs, short 3–5 word entries on any device such as a laptop, tablet, or phone, These serve as summaries of key events that occurred throughout their day to spark their memory at home to drive conversations. Parents receive the GAB entries and serve as a starting point for conversation.
“Onion skin and lake water” was the very first GAB that Austin sent home. It was a game changer. It didn’t just spark a simple conversation about his day, it was a glimpse into his world. I was so curious to hear the story he wanted to share from his science class that night at the dinner table and it didn’t disappoint. We heard about walking down to a pond with his class and holding a vial to fill with water, bringing the vial back to class and looking at the water under a microscope, seeing a bug in the water and naming her Robeta, and then creating a newsletter to share Robeta’s journey with his classmates.
We were in awe at everything he shared and what we learned, not just about his school lesson but about where that lesson led him. We felt so connected and I was excited to share our experience the next morning at school drop-off. However, as no other parents had heard any of this experience from their child, no one could share the excitement with me.
Conversations between parents and children provide a window into the child's world. They allow us to understand our child's experiences, perspectives, and challenges. Conversations are a key ingredient in strengthening the bond between parents and their children. But child-led conversation opens a door to understanding where a child is challenged and, as importantly, where they find their joy. Developing a child’s voice and agency to communicate their interest and passion can help lay out an aspirational roadmap. They also enable the child to feel heard, understood, and know they matter.
Trust and emotional security are fundamental to a child's well-being. For children who learn differently, these elements are even more critical. They often face additional challenges and uncertainties, which can lead to feelings of insecurity or anxiety. Consistent child-led conversations with parents can help alleviate these feelings. They provide a safe space where the child can express their fears, frustrations, and hopes. They reassure the child that they are loved, accepted, and valued for who they are. This cultivates trust and emotional security, which are essential for a child's emotional and psychological health.
A few months into eighth grade, Austin entered a GAB that read “armor.” That evening we had company at the dinner table and, when the GABs came up for discussion, he didn’t recall what “armor” meant. I jumped in (not recommended) and asked if it had to do with his welding project and he nodded. The conversation then dove deeper into his welding creations, which he enjoyed sharing. However, the next morning at breakfast, Austin shared with me that he remembered what his “armor” GAB meant. It had nothing to do with welding. It was a reminder to talk with me about two boys in his class that were setting him up to take the fall for things they were doing in the classroom. He didn’t know how to prevent it or what to do about it, and sometimes he wasn’t even aware that it was happening. This conversation allowed me to help him navigate the steps he can take to change his situation (and also caused me to pick up the phone and have a discussion with his wonderful teacher).
We developed GAB-on! because our son wanted to share his day with us while he was away from home but the tidbits he was able to tell us were like pieces from different puzzles. He didn’t yet have the tools to retrace and recall whole parts of his day and he didn’t know how to start to tell us about it. With the GABs, Austin has the agency to choose what he wants to talk about with us and a few words that he captures at school are enough of a hint to remind him of that moment later in his day. What starts out as a conversation about a lesson or activity in a certain subject often leads to bigger conversations.
Conversations between parents and children with special needs are about building a strong, loving, and supportive relationship that nurtures the child's development and well-being. They are about empowering the child to express themselves, to help understand their emotions, and to navigate their world with confidence and resilience. They can change a child’s trajectory (and outs). Simply put, conversations build connections and it’s what both children and parents need most.
Sylvia Hall is the proud mom of two teenagers and co-founder of GAB-on! GAB-on! connects and empowers children and their parents through simple, meaningful conversations about their daily experiences both in and out of school.
School psychologists play a key role in collaborating with teachers, parents, and other professionals to assess, diagnose, and intervene when a student may be at risk for learning disorders and dyslexia. Assessing and determining the appropriate educational placements for students influences their academic journey in an important way.
Here are examples of some unique ways some schools are addressing the needs of students with reading and learning disabilities in order to set learners of all styles up for success.
Encouraging movement and passions
In one K-8 school in Maryland, the schedule, the environment, and the curriculum are all designed to help students with language and learning differences learn to advocate for their specific needs. The school creates movement opportunities throughout the day to give students an opportunity to work out their energy and gather focus.
Teachers also incorporate student passions and interests into their lessons in order to ensure a positive and creative school experience for students who may have felt frustrated or left behind in their regular public school environment. Some curriculum examples include:
Putting reading first
Some charter schools are seeing success building their schedule around an extended period of specialized reading intervention. For example, a school in Staten Island, New York, has students attend an hour-long period of reading instruction, followed by an independent reading period that gives them time to apply the literacy skills learned. The groups are fluid and based on students' reading readiness levels. In order to make time for this extra focus on reading skills, the school day is extended an additional hour.
Focusing on strengths
According to Greater Good Magazine, it is critical that school psychologists work with students with learning disabilities to concentrate on their strengths. One way to do this is to put less focus on labels. Even a subtle shift in language can influence how students see themselves and help overcome any stigma they may feel.
One article suggests that when a label is required, it is helpful to describe why it is needed to the student. One explanation can be, "Labels help us understand why reading is hard for you and what the research says about how to help. But we will all focus on what we can do to help, not what we call it."
Another suggestion is to focus on a student's strengths. Research suggests these “hidden strengths” of students with dyslexia and other learning disabilities include:
School psychologists are essential in supporting students' well-being, particularly for those students facing reading and literacy challenges. Learn more about how one school district was able to use the Feifer Assessment of Reading (FAR) to help more students with literacy and reading concerns.
Learn more about selecting appropriate reading interventions
A quick guide for parents of struggling readers
How targeted reading assessments can unlock student success
As we embark on a new year, people worldwide are establishing their New Year's resolutions. Although resolutions may be time-honored tradition, many resist the urge as an endeavor that is bound to fail. Let’s delve a bit deeper into the psychology behind New Year’s resolutions and what helps people to achieve their goals.
According to a recent survey conducted by Forbes Health, the attitudes of 1,000 U.S. adults toward their New Year's resolutions and the types of goals they prioritize have undergone a significant shift.
Although fitness and weight loss remain popular for the new year, 36% of participants expressed a commitment to improving their mental health. In fact, 55% of participants acknowledged that mental health should be given equal significance as physical well-being in their resolutions for the coming year. So, as we move into 2024, prioritizing mental well-being may be the focus for many.
The psychology behind goal setting
The same Forbes Health poll also revealed that 60% of people feel pressured to set a New Year's resolution. Among these individuals, 37% have specific goals for 2024, and 66.5% plan to create 3 or more goals for the upcoming year.
What drives people to set goals and make New Year's resolutions?
Although the answer may be different for different people, there are some common factors for goal setting; these include:
The fresh start effect: The “fresh start effect” motivates individuals to pursue aspirational goals immediately after a big landmark, such as at the start of a new year. These moments are natural opportunities for positive changes, and aligning with a time frame can help in working toward goals. Research on the fresh start effect show that creating these new mental periods of time helps individuals to put past periods of imperfections behind them and can help motivate aspirational behaviors that make it more likely to stick to those goals than ones that were made with no mental benchmarks.
Purpose and motivation: Goals provide direction and purpose, driven by a fundamental desire for personal improvement and growth. This intrinsic motivation aligns with psychological theories emphasizing the natural human drive for fulfillment and self-actualization.
Social connection and executive function: Goals foster social connection and are crucial for building communities. Whether in families, teams, corporations, or nations, shared goals are essential for collective success. Goal setting is integral to the brain's executive function, distinguishing humans by enabling planned and purposeful actions.
Reward center and dopamine: Setting goals triggers the release of dopamine, commonly known as the “feel good” chemical. Dopamine helps to manage pleasure and reward centers in the brain while regulating emotional responses. Neuroscientists have found that pursuing goals can significantly impact our emotions as it triggers pleasure centers in our brains, regardless of the outcome. This suggests that pursuing a goal is just as important as achieving it, providing a biological basis for the well-known saying emphasizing the significance of the journey over the destination.
Why resolutions fail
A common reason people fail to achieve their New Year's resolutions is false hope syndrome. This happens when individuals, often fueled with overconfidence, set unrealistic goals, leading to frustration, and eventually giving up on the resolutions altogether.
False hope syndrome is particularly common when resolutions are related to technology and the internet. Although there is so much technology to help people succeed at resolutions—such as online support groups, habit-tracking apps, smart watches, and social media platforms—these may create a negative circle of reinforcement. The ubiquity of these tools to make habit change easier may actually hinder resolution success.
While it is important to remember that setbacks are a normal part of any journey, it’s also important to learn that failure can be a constructive part of the process toward eventual success and personal growth.
Negative thought patterns also can stand in the way of achieving self-improvement goals. Always expecting failure can lead to negative thinking, undermining the outcome of our efforts. The internet can make this worse by reinforcing negativity.
Creating lasting habits
Surprisingly, too much support can hinder success. Studies suggest that an optimal level of assistance is more effective, emphasizing quality over quantity. Clear and specific goals also play a crucial role. In one study, researchers investigated New Year’s resolutions to understand how successful individuals were in maintaining their resolutions and whether specific support mechanisms could improve success. Participants were divided into three groups with different levels of support: Group 1 had no support, Group 2 had some support, and Group 3 had extended support, including guidance on effective goal setting, formulation of SMART goals, and information on the benefits of involving friends and family.
The researchers aimed to determine if the support provided, including guidance on effective goal setting, influenced individuals' success in sticking to their resolutions. The study employed various measures, such as self-assessment of success, surveys on quality of life, procrastination, and self-efficacy, along with assessments of participants' confidence in achieving their goals.
Results from the study indicated that individuals with approach-oriented goals (focused on achieving something) tended to be more successful than those with avoidance-oriented goals (focused on avoiding something). Interestingly, the group with some support performed better than those with extended support.
Building on these insights, the following are practical tips to help you or those you support to stay on track with your resolutions.
Tips for effective goal setting
Set SMART goals: Set SMART Goals instead of resolutions. SMART goals refer to goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
Focus on one behavior at a time: Trying to change everything at once can be overwhelming and lead to discouragement, ultimately hindering progress. Instead, it's better to focus on changing one habit or behavior at a time, allowing for gradual progress and a greater chance of success in the long run. Taking small steps can lead to creating long-lasting positive changes.
Share your experiences: Talk about your goals with family and friends. Finding support, whether a workout class or a group of coworkers with similar goals, can provide encouragement and understanding. Discussing your struggles and successes with others makes the journey less intimidating.
Expect setbacks: Perfection is unattainable. Minor setbacks are expected when working towards goals, so don't give up entirely due to minor mistakes. Resolve to learn from your missteps and get back on track.
New Year's resolutions are an excellent opportunity to set goals that align with our aspirations for personal growth and well-being, but goals can be set at any point in the year. With the right mindset and approach, any goal is achievable.