What Should Drive Tutoring/College Advising For LD/ADHD Students?: A Comprehensive Evaluation

86713_5_80x100            Each year, large numbers of students who are identified as having academic and focusing difficulties are referred for tutoring. While some of these students have received some kind of evaluation, many have not. Moreover, those who have been evaluated through the public schools often come with testing that is minimal at best. For example, important aspects of working memory and executive functioning are not assessed. Yet, a thorough understanding of how each student learns is a necessity if tutors are to develop a successful plan to remediate educational disabilities.

            The formula is simple: understanding via a comprehensive evaluation drives tutoring for younger as well as older children. In the case of college-bound students, preparation for SAT tutoring should also include a thorough evaluation. This is because SAT tutors are, for the most part, experts in a content area and the test taking skills necessary to score highly on the College Board exam. They may need some input in how to deliver this tutoring in ways that are congruent with learning disabled students’ processing styles. Testing can help to inform the SAT tutor how to go about reaching these students. In fact, many SAT tutors have referred students to me when their tutoring does not “take,” asking what is interfering with students acquiring the skills being taught and how to present them in ways that students can digest.

Similarly, the increase in the use of private college advisors by LD/ADD students necessitates that these professionals not only intimately know the colleges and the kinds of supports services offered, but also the specific accommodations each student requires. This is a major concern for parents of LD/ADD students where the stakes are higher in terms of finding the “right” college. For these students, the presence of appropriate supports can make the difference between staying afloat at college or burning and crashing. Here, too, the advice, which is not only limited to choosing the correct school, but also the most appropriate academic course schedule needs to be driven by an evaluation that identifies students’ needs and the critical accommodations they require once at college. Moreover, the evaluation should be undertaken by a professional who will be available to monitor the progress of the recommendations made and be able to tweak them when necessary. In other words, the completion of the testing is only the first step in helping students. When a problem arises, professionals need to be able to direct those at college supporting students as to how to better help them to overcome any obstacles they encounter re: their learning difficulties.


The Importance of Planning for Failure: The Missing Link in Helping LD/ADD Students

86713_5_80x100How often have you diagnosed a problem in learning or attention, developed a strategy to address it, and found that the plan was either not implemented or carried out completely?

This is a very frequent occurrence when you are dealing with students with learning challenges or executive functioning/processing difficulties. In fact, creating a strategy is the easy part. However, it is frequently the case that the next step-discussing proactively why, how, and when that strategy will fail-is omitted.


For example, students who have difficulty organizing and planning their work run into time management problems as they misjudge how much time is needed to complete a task. A logical plan would include discussing the scope of the project, breaking it up into small segments, and setting timelines for completion. Yet, students with this type of problem will often fail to carry out the plan for one reason or another.


Why are these logical and reasonable plans often subject to failure? This is a good question and one that needs to be discussed prior to implementing any plan. In fact, this is the missing step or link that goes unrecognized when working with students. It is essential that when making a plan or strategy that students be closely involved in not only its formulation, but its implementation. Specifically, this means that after developing a strategy, a serious discussion or more likely, a series of ongoing discussions need to ensue with a focus on why the best laid plans will fail.


Talking out all of the possible factors that would interfere with the plans success will help in understanding the potential resistances and in finding ways to address them proactively in contrast to having both the student and the professional helper experience the failure of their efforts. It is important in this kind of discussion to actively seek out ways that the plan will fail, using history of previous behaviors as a starting point. Similarly, it is of equal importance to avoid engaging in delusional thinking with respect to passively accepting students’ acquiescing to a plan when history suggests that they will not do what they say.


Each potential obstacle to success must bee sought out and students need to be challenged to convince you that these impediments will not interfere this time around. Playing devils advocate is a good way to ferret out hidden resistances. Simply creating a plan is not sufficient to insure its success. Talking goes a long way to prevent doing and when discussing how the student will find ways to defeat the strategy, you are actually decreasing the likelihood that they will actualize efforts that will derail them.



            Jenny is a verbal, articulate, and hardworking student who, despite her best efforts, never is able to achieve results commensurate with her efforts. Her teachers and parents are puzzled because she seems so bright. Yet, her test scores are not congruent with expectations.

            Jenny, like many individuals with nonverbal learning disabilities (NVLD), has good or even superior verbal language and auditory retention, and rote memory skills. Yet, her nonverbal processing skills (visual-spatial-organizational), particularly poor visual recall and faulty spatial perception, interfered with many areas of her academic work. For example, the visual-spatial difficulties she was experiencing caused problems for her in reading such that she misread words, or omitted or substituted others. Moreover, these problems slowed her reading speed, and caused her to miss details in what she had read, compromising her ability to comprehend. All of this occurred despite the fact that her vocabulary and spelling were in the above average range! In math, Jenny made many careless mistakes in doing simple computation problems because these same visual-spatial deficits caused her to place numbers in the wrong columns or put decimal points in the wrong place. While Jenny’s capacity to remember over learned/rote material was good, her inability to visualize information that she had to store and then retrieve in order to problem solve was severely effected. Unable to “see” the information, she could not recall it or manipulate it in her head in order to solve problems.

            Nonverbal learning disabilities (NVLD) interfere with the processing of novel and complex information as well. For Jenny, while she was able to perform at a superior level in over learned areas like defining words or recalling information that she had accumulated from years of schooling, she had great difficulty discriminating between essential and nonessential details. This is an important skill that is necessary in tasks like taking notes in class where students must be able to discern what is important and write it down. Since Jenny could not identify what was important to know, she felt pressured to compulsively get down everything her teacher said in her notes. This difficulty working with conceptual material extended to problems in organizing her thoughts when she had to write an essay or a report. Needless to say, the emotional fallout from these nonverbal processing difficulties is considerable, resulting in mental exhaustion from having to work harder than everyone else, frustration, low self-esteem, and anxiety.

            The first step in addressing potential NVLD difficulties is a thorough psycho-educational evaluation where the roots of an individual’s achievement problems could be identified and recommendations could be made to address each concern. For example, individuals with NVLD can use their superior verbal capacity to talk through with a parent, teacher, tutor, or peer their academic assignments and how to organize them. Making information meaningful so it can be encoded in verbal fashion and arranging it sequentially as individuals with NVLD often have trouble with sequential processing may help with memory problems due to poor visualization skills. Some individuals with NVLD have difficulty picking up social cues since this often involves using visual-spatial skills in identifying faces and facial expressions. They tend to overuse their verbal skills and talk incessantly, resulting in negative feedback from peers. These individuals are excellent candidates for talk therapy to use these superior verbal skills to help them to gain an emotional awareness of their behavior. A psycho-educational evaluation will also screen for other co-morbid disorders (i.e. ADHD; specific learning disabilities) that often accompany NVLD.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: The Power of Reflected Appraisals



Children develop a sense of self via the process of internalizing the reflected appraisals of significant others (i.e. parents, teachers). Like a mirror, the faces of those charged with the task of caring for and teaching evolving children may reflect back either a sense that everything is okay or something is amiss. Adults who consistently exhibit a sense of worry regarding a child are unknowingly communicating that worry which, in turn, becomes a part of that child’s core identity. Children who are regularly exposed to reflections of worry, frustration, anger, or disappointment will internalize those feelings about themselves, resulting in low confidence, self-esteem, and, in the extreme, depression. Of course, we all may experience, at times, these kinds of feelings about children. Adults responsible for the care and growth of children are not expected to be perfect or infallible. However, the principle of the “good enough” parent/teacher stipulates that we more often than not reflect constructive feedback to kids. Children who receive positive reflections more often than not will develop a sense of identity that is characterized by feeling “good enough” vs. one of feeling not good enough.

What factors determine the direction of reflected appraisals? Here, we must consider the contributions of temperament and induced emotions. Each of us is born with a temperament that dictates the following important characteristics: activity level; mood; adaptability; sensitivity to stimulation; rhythm (i.e. how regular we are about eating, sleeping, etc.). A dilemma arises when adults and children have significant differences in temperament as this will result in a lack of chemistry or poor goodness of fit. For example, a very active child will tax the patience of a more sedate adult. When there is a lack of a match in the child/adult dyad, there is a more likely chance that the reflected appraisals will be negative. In essence, adults who expect children to be like them will be disappointed by the lack of match and consistently reflect that disappointment, inducing in children a feeling of falling short.

Yet, it is highly likely that adults will experience at some time or in some way a lack of match between themselves and their children. What can be done to shield children from our own sense of disappointment or frustration? The answer is not a simple one. It involves tolerating intolerable feelings (i.e. “My child is too short, not smart enough, not an athlete, etc.”) and differentiating between “real” deficits vs. perceived ones.  Once we are able to tolerate what we view as deficits, we can avoid reflecting back the negative by a process of emotional dialysis-removing the toxic emotions that drive negative reflections. We can then use the information regarding any “actual” vs. perceived deficits/weaknesses to support children by imparting compensatory strategies for those areas that will pose an obstacle to their pursuit of success and happiness.

This is a tall order. However, it is possible to achieve. Children who can dig into their core and find internalized reflections of being good enough will prove to be resilient and have the inner strength to rise to the challenges in life we all will inevitably face.