Lindamood-Bell Learning Center

Archive for February, 2012

Learning Disabilities: Do They Impact ACT Scores?

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Do learning disabilities affect how high school students perform on the ACT college entrance exam?

That was the question Melissa Rey set out to answer in a research study she conducted while still in high school. Using rigorous research methods, Rey collected five years’ worth of data from two high schools with similar course offerings and grading systems. She compared the ACT scores of students with disabilities to those without disabilities.

To better understand her findings, Rey segmented her participants with disabilities into three groups:

  • Specific Learning Disabilities (LD)
  • Language Impairments (LI)
  • Other Health Impairment (OHI, includes ADHD)


Rey’s study found the following:

  • Students categorized as OHI scored higher than students without disabilities (an unusual finding that Rey suggests may be unique to her study).
  • Language-impaired students scored 2.02 points lower on the ACT.
  • Students with higher grades scored 4.41 points higher for every 1.0-point increase in grade point average.
  • Students who crossed all three categories (OHI, LD, LI) scored 1.41 points lower than students without disabilities.
  • Boys scored slightly higher than girls, which is consistent with previous research.

Based on Rey’s study, it appears that multiple disabilities have a unique effect on ACT scores. Whether or not her research will be replicated remains to be seen, but for now Rey thinks her results may be helpful in evaluating students with LD for college admission. Says Rey, “When they look at the ACT score of a student with multiple disabilities, they will expect the students with OHI+LD+LI will have lower scores. Knowing this difference will prevent a college from judging the ACT score of a student with OHI+LD+LI unfairly.”

Rey’s study was born out of her life experience. As a student with learning disabilities, she has developed a strong interest in the nature and impact of LD.

As for this 18-year-old student, her learning disabilities have not prevented her from leaving her mark already. In 2008 she was named America’s Top Young Scientist in the 2008 Discovery 3M Young Scientist Challenge, a national competition to select the top young science communicator. Two years later she was selected as the Smart Kids Youth Achievement Award Winner.

You can bet we’ll hear more from this rising star.

Read about Rey’s remarkable story at Melissa Rey: 2010 Youth Achievement Award Winner and visit her website at

FDA Considers A Warning for ADHD Drug

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

The Federal Food and Drug Administration has been asked to put a warning label on the ADHD drug Focalin advising users of the risk of suicidal thoughts associated with the drug.

According to an article by Reuters News, the request comes from several members of an FDA advisory committee, apparently responding to eight reports of suicidal thoughts in children or adolescents who had taken the drug for six years. Four of the cases were linked to the drug; for the remaining four the link was unclear.

“I’m somewhat puzzled by the focus of suicidal ideation,” said FDA spokesman Tom Laughren who heads the psychiatric products division. “These drugs are very widely used. And what you’re seeing here are a handful of reports that are difficult to interpret with regard to causality.”

In addition, the advisory committee also recommended that the Focalin label reflect the risk of allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) and swelling beneath the skin (angioedema)

The article notes that 1.8 million children have been prescribed Focalin or its generic versions, and that the label already warns of the possibility of psychotic or manic symptoms for users. Only Strattera, another ADHD medication, carries a black box warning of suicidal thoughts.

Focalin, approved for children ages six and older, is manufactured by Novartis AG, who said it will comply with any labeling changes necessary after discussing them with the FDA.

Are ADHD Drugs All They’re Cracked Up To Be?

Monday, February 20th, 2012

In a recent editorial in The New York Times entitled Ritalin Gone Wrong L. Alan Sroufe, Ph.D. challenged the convention of treating children long-term with ADHD stimulant medications such as Ritalin and Adderall. A professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development, Sroufe’s comments have reignited a debate that’s as old as the treatment itself.

While acknowledging the value of short-term use of ADHD medications to increase concentration, Sroufe takes exception with the use of pharmaceuticals as a long-term solution, which is how they’re prescribed most often. “When given to children over long periods of time,” he maintains, “they neither improve school achievement, nor reduce behavior problems.” Plus, he adds, “The drugs can also have serious side effects, including stunting growth.”

Misinterpreting Evidence

In cogent detail, Sroufe builds a case for why physicians and parents are not aware of how ineffective drugs are for ADHD—the implication being that if they knew, the prescription rate for ADHD medications would not have increased twentyfold in the past 30 years:

  • In the 1960s psychologists believed that ADHD was the result of an inherited biochemical problem and, therefore, could be corrected with drugs that altered brain chemistry. Sroufe maintains there is “little to no evidence to support this theory.”
  • By the early 1970’s there was a body of scientific evidence showing the drugs improved performance on certain tasks that required concentration. Sroufe contends that led to increased   drug treatment, which in turn “led many to conclude that the ‘brain deficit’ hypothesis had been confirmed”
  • A 1990 review of the literature concluded that all children, “whether they had attention problems or not, responded to stimulant drugs the same way…They enhance the ability to concentrate, especially on tasks that are not inherently interesting or when one is fatigued or bored, but they don’t improve broader learning abilities.”
  • Finally, Sroufe argues that the effects of the drugs fade with prolonged use: Children “apparently develop a tolerance to the drug, and thus its efficacy disappears.”

Conclusion: No Long-Term Benefit

Putting it all together, Sroufe notes: “To date, no study has found any long-term benefit of attention-deficit medication on academic performance, peer relationships or behavior problems, the very things we would most want to improve.” This includes a well-respected long-term, randomized, controlled trial that studied 600 children for more than a decade. Although the study continues, results to date show no lasting academic or behavioral benefit to children using medication.

The editorial goes on to challenge the way neuroscience is currently being used to support what Sroufe terms the “inborn defect” hypothesis, at the expense of studying other explanations for ADHD, such as experience, an emerging field of inquiry having a hard time garnering research dollars:

Policy makers are so convinced that children with attention deficits have an organic disease that they have all but called off the search for a comprehensive understanding of the condition. The National Institute of Mental Health finances research aimed largely at physiological and brain components of A.D.D. …

Thus, only one question is asked: are there aspects of brain functioning associated with childhood attention problems? The answer is always yes. Overlooked is the very real possibility that both the brain anomalies and the A.D.D. result from experience.

This tack, Sroufe concludes, is potentially dangerous for a number of reasons: it plays into societal notions that there is a “single solution for all children with learning and behavior problems;” drugs are the answer to life’s problems; children with ADHD are “inherently defective;” and searching for other, comprehensive solutions to help children with ADHD is unnecessary.

As anticipated, Sroufe’s comments have sparked vigorous debate, including a response from MD and ADHD expert, Dr. Ned Hallowell, in which Hallowell takes exception to what he calls “scare tactics and wrong-headed assumptions” in the article.

Read Sroufe’s full editorial on The New York Times website and let us know what you think about using ADHD medications long-term by joining the discussion on the Smart Kids Facebook page.

Study Examines Parent Satisfaction with IEP Meetings

Monday, February 20th, 2012

How satisfied are you with your role at your child’s Education Program?

If you think your involvement is “about right” then you join the majority of families who participated in a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education to examine the IEP meeting experiences of families of children with disabilities.

A recent article in Disability Scoop reported the key findings: Of the 10,000-plus participants in the study, 70% of those who attended their child’s last IEP, said that their “level of involvement in decision making was ‘about right.’ ”

Despite the generally positive response, certain groups registered dissatisfaction. According to the article:

Parents of students with challenging behavior or difficulty with social skills were less satisfied with the IEP process than others. Similarly, race and income level appeared to play a role, with those who are white and members of higher income brackets reporting that they had better experiences than those from other demographic groups.

To learn more access the full study, published in the December issue of the Journal of Disability Policy Studies.

Election Year Education Agenda

Monday, February 13th, 2012

As the political season heats up, education is sure to be a hot-button issue among the candidates. President Barak Obama staked out his position in his recent State of the Union Address. Among the items on his agenda are making college more affordable, and urging states to raise the drop-out age to 18 years old. In addition, he emphasized the importance of teachers, which is a recurring theme for his administration:

Teachers matter. So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. In return, grant schools flexibility: To teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn. That’s a bargain worth making.

Higher Ed Proposal Draws Reaction

To make higher education more affordable for middle-class families, Obama let it be known that colleges and universities that can’t keep tuition under control risk losing federal funds. Some lawmakers took exception to that. Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC) said, “I don’t believe the federal government has any business being involved in education.” Fellow Democrat Representative Rob Andrews (NJ) said he wasn’t sure that was “workable,” but Andrews did support the President’s proposal to hold down interest rates on student loans.

Although Obama asked institutions of higher learning to take responsibility for college costs, he also suggested that the states have an important role to play by prioritizing education and reflecting that in their budgets.

As the battle lines are being drawn between Democrats and Republicans, spending on education is sure to loom large in the debate. Stay tuned.

Diet and ADHD: Is There A Connection?

Monday, February 13th, 2012

Is there a link between diet and ADHD? Some people swear there is; others believe that’s hogwash.

In an effort to put an end to the debate once and for all, researchers at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago undertook a comprehensive review of 70 studies that have used diet and supplements as treatments for ADHD.

Among the diets reviewed were those that restricted sugar; avoided additives and preservatives (the Feingold diet); eliminated foods associated with allergies; and adding Omega-3 fatty acid supplements.

Their conclusion? According to healthpop, the CBS News blog:

The Feingold Diet, which says to avoid foods like apples, grapes, luncheon meat, hot dogs, cold drinks, and anything else with orange and red dyes, was not proven to be effective by other studies, the researchers said.

What about sugar? On the surface it seems giving a kid too much sugar can boost hyperactivity, but the researchers said the majority of studies it looked at failed to demonstrate that a diet high in sugar or artificial sweeteners had an effect on a child’s behavior or cognitive function, thus questioning the importance of a low-sugar diet for kids with ADHD.

Supplementation with Omega-3 and Omega 6- fatty acids, often found in fish oil supplements, helped some children reduce their ADHD symptoms and get higher grades at school. But the benefit was not clearly demonstrated across the board.

Other studies suggested a reduction in ADHD symptoms from the “hypoallergenic” diet, which cuts out some common allergy-inducing foods like cow’s milk and cheese, nuts, wheat cereal, and chocolate, and replaces them with hypoallergenic foods like lamb, potatoes, tapioca, carrots, and pears.

Bottom Line

Ultimately, the authors concluded that a healthy diet where the mainstays are fish, fruit, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains “seemed to improve symptoms of ADHD.” In contrast, one Australian study found that kids who ate the so called “Western Diet” with the emphasis on animal protein, fast foods, and high-fat dairy products, were more likely to have ADHD than kids who ate the healthy diet.

Just a little food for thought.

NCLB: The Legacy After 10 Years

Monday, February 6th, 2012

On one hand, we still seem to be trying to figure out how to apply No Child Left Behind (NCLB). On the other hand, it seems as if we’ve been discussing this landmark education law forever. In fact, on Jan 8, 2012, NCLB turned 10 years old—which means we are still learning how to apply it, and we’ve been talking about it endlessly.

NCLB In A Nutshell

NCLB is the Federal Education law that went into effect shortly after George W. Bush became president in 2002. Under the law, states are required to establish standards for basic skills and assessments that students must take in certain grades to measure their proficiency.The premise of the legislation, which received wide bi-partisan support, is that establishing high standards and measurable goals will result in improved performance by individual students.

Is NCLB Working?

Ten years into the experiment that turned the education establishment on its ear, U.S. News writer Jason Koebler examines the impact of the law in the article, “On 10th Anniversary, A Look Back at ‘No Child’ Legacy:

Laura Hamilton, senior behavioral scientist at RAND Corp., a nonpartisan, Washington, D.C.-based think tank, says that regardless of what happens with NCLB, the law has changed the public’s perception of education.

“It’s drawn attention to the idea that we can measure school performance,” she says. “It’s led states and districts to improve data systems, and I think it will continue to have an effect even if we change how performance is measured.”

The main controversy surrounding NCLB is the difficulty schools are having meeting “Annual Yearly Progress” (AYP) math and reading benchmarks—goals that about 50 percent of American schools failed to achieve in 2011. By 2014, all students are expected to be “proficient” in math and reading.

The article goes on to enumerate many of the controversial issues surrounding NCLB, including the sacrifices schools must make in other areas (art, music, P.E., etc.) to bring students up to standard in math and reading, and the unintended consequences of “teaching to the test.”

Boon for Students with LD

Yet most agree that the law’s emphasis on accountability is positive (though how it’s achieved remains controversial). For students with learning disabilities, advocates point to the substantial gains made by this vulnerable population as a result of the law’s requirement that all students must be tested. Prior to NCLB, students with LD were frequently left untested and virtually untaught.

In addition to requiring testing of students with LD, the NCLB also requires schools to “disaggregate” (pull out) test results for certain groups, including students with LD. Reporting their outcomes separately puts schools under a microscope, which incentivizes them to ensure the performance of those students is up to par.

By requiring students with disabilities to be included in all school-wide assessments and limiting the use of “alternate assessments” not aligned with grade-level content, the NCLB has made considerable progress in forcing schools to provide grade-level instruction to children with disabilities, putting them on-track to graduate with regular diplomas.


The Next 10 Years

Though we can’t yet predict the outcome of the wrangling over the reauthorization of this major educational legislation, we do know that some of the issues affecting children with learning disabilities continue to come under fire. A number of budget-strapped states are opting to apply for waivers for some requirements, which the Obama administration is allowing them to do. Like every other aspect of NCLB, there’s no shortage of controversy on this issue.

Stay Informed

Because the 2012 reauthorization of NCLB, formally known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), will impact your child and his or her school directly, it’s important to stay abreast of the details and let your representatives in Washington know how you feel about developments.

Focusing on Strengths Benefits Children with LD and ADHD

Monday, February 6th, 2012

By Susan Baum, Ph.D.

As parents we spend a lot of time thinking about how to bring out the best in our children. We are natural fixers of whatever is wrong as we kiss the hurts away and repair anything that is broken. So it is when our children have a specific learning disability. Our first instinct is to get it fixed. Indeed all resources are directed toward helping these children read, write, and achieve up to their potential.

In our effort to fix what’s wrong with our children, we often lose sight of what is right with them.

We tend to ignore or pay less attention to strengths, interests, and talents. Despite our best intentions, that tack does our children a disservice.

Research shows that paying attention to the positive reaps tremendous benefits. Dr. Ned Hallowell, renowned psychiatrist and expert on ADHD explains: “I have learned first and foremost to look for interests, talents, strengths, shades of strengths, or the mere suggestion of a talent. Knowing that a person builds a happy and successful life not on remediated weaknesses but on developed strengths, I have learned to place those strengths at the top of what matters.”

Focusing on strengths allows children to form a positive identity. They engage willingly in activities that show how smart they are and revel in accolades based on what they can do, rather than being defined by what they can’t do. This in turn, helps children develop a sense of self-efficacy as well as a favorable picture of what they can do.

Take Action

Think about opportunities that capitalize on your child’s strengths and interests.

  • Find extracurricular activities, web sites and books that relate to your child’s interest area
  • Try setting up lunch dates with adults who have similar interests
  • Enroll your child in clubs and classes that align with his strengths and talents

In short, have fun and enjoy experiences together that both develop and expand interests, strengths, and talents—but be careful not to take over the interests that your child has developed on her own as she may stop sharing them with you.

The author is the Co-Director of the International Center for Talent Development, and the Director of Professional Development at Bridges Academy for students with LD, grades 1-12.