Monday, September 28, 2009

How Can My Kid Succeed in School? Arrives in Bookstores

Southeast Psych's own Dr. Craig Pohlman's latest book, How Can My Kid Succeed in School? is now in bookstores and, of course, you can order it online at amazon.com. What you will find is a highly practical book for both parents and teachers who want to help a child who is struggling with school.

The book helps adults understand their child's unique strengths and struggles, explains how to gather clues for understanding the child's learning profile, and gives practical strategies for helping each child.

Dr. Pohlman in an internationally-known, well-respected neurodevelopmental psychologist who has conducted or supervised thousands of assessments with struggling learners. This terrific book is a tremendous resource for parents and educators and should be on their must-read list.

You can see Dr. Pohlman in person on Thursday, Oct. 22 at 7pm at Joseph Beth Booksellers at Southpark Mall in Charlotte. He'll be giving a presentation and signing copies of the book. Come out and meet him.

Monday, September 21, 2009

How Can My Kid Succeed in School? Part Four: Improving Listening Skills


Editor's note: This is the fourth of a four part series from Dr. Pohlman's new book, How Can My Kid Succeed in School? which is now available at amazon.com and will be in bookstores next week. Today, he shares ideas for parents who want too improve their child's listening skills.

Receptive language is the capacity to understand word sounds, word parts, whole words, sentences, and large chunks such as stories and lectures. It is not the same as reading comprehension. We use receptive language to understand when listening as well as when reading. The act of reading involves a lot of skills related to decoding text, making it a more complex activity than listening. On the other hand, listening is more closely aligned with receptive language in many ways.

If your child has limited receptive language, providing practice with listening skills may be necessary. Since listening doesn’t also require decoding printed text (which may also be problematic for your child), it provides more targeted practice with comprehending word meanings, sentence structures, and extended descriptions and arguments. You can provide listening comprehension practice for your child in a lot of ways, the most obvious being to read to him. You may need to pause after every paragraph or so to pose questions about what you just read, make predictions about what will come next, or contemplate how the material connects to other things (personal experience, other books read, movies, and so on). Audio books also provide great listening experiences; you (or somebody) should know enough about the content to converse with your child about it.

Television is a fact of life for most families, and fortunately it does provide a lot of educational programming about a range of topics. Also, high-quality entertainment shows, sports, and news can challenge your child’s receptive language (much of this content can also be accessed via DVDs or downloaded from the Internet). Many Web sites convey information via audio, but often with visual supports such as photos and diagrams which can help your child make connections (obviously supervision is necessary when kids are online).

Regardless of the form listening practice takes, here are some pointers for getting the most out of audio media for your child:

• Push the edge of the envelope in terms of difficulty. You don’t want to overwhelm your child with material that is too advanced, but you do want to make it a little challenging.

• If possible, leverage your child’s interests. If your child is into sports, suggest watching one of the many shows devoted to analysis of games and player profiles.

• Talk with your child about the material (before, during, and after). Stretch your child’s receptive language by asking questions (you might have to act na├»ve about the subject), modeling the forming of connections (“You know, this reminds me of . . .”), and asking for a summary (“So what were the main reasons they thought this happened?”).

• Expand expressive language at the same time. Take advantage of opportunities for your child to improve things such as summarizing, describing, explaining, and supporting an opinion.

• Be transparent about what you’re doing. You want your child to better understand his mind, and discussing the rationale behind the tactics you’re using will promote that understanding.

Dr. Pohlman conducts and supervises learning assessments for Southeast Psych and is available to present on learning issues. Feel free to contact him at 704-552-0116 or speakersbureau@southeastpsych.com. His new book is due out in stores Sept. 28th and can be ordered online now. Watch out for a special announcement about Dr. Pohlman's upcoming appearance at Joseph Beth Books in Charlotte.

Monday, September 14, 2009

How Can My Kid Succeed in School? Part Three


Editor's note: This is the third of a four part series from Dr. Pohlman's new book, How Can My Kid Succeed in School? which arrives in bookstores in two weeks. Today he talks about two kinds of questions kids ask when learning that may give parents insight into what might be going on with their child.

How-to Questions
Kids often fire some other kinds of questions at parents when doing their homework, and each can provide clues about their learning. Two such question categories are how-to and what’s up? How-to questions relate to the various procedures and rules that kids need to access when doing their homework. Asking these questions is a tip-off that long-term memory isn’t working well, especially if the student can readily use the procedure or rule once prompted (which suggests he understands it). Examples include the following:

• How do I borrow a number?
• How do you spell summary when there’s more than one summary?
• Do you put the period before or after the quotation mark at the end of the sentence?
• How would I solve for n in this problem?

Sometimes, however, how-to questions result from something other than memory problems, such as how well the student can reason through a problem. Applied reasoning refers to the use of logic to solve problems and tackle challenging situations. A student who asks a lot of deep how-to questions, such as, “How would I figure out the amount of water in this canister if this cube is submerged in it?" or “How could I show that climate change is affecting this habitat?” likely has shaky reasoning.

What’s-up Questions
These often reveal shaky understanding of the material and of important concepts. They are often accompanied by complaints such as “I don’t get it!” or pleas such as “Explain this to me.” What’s-up questions take many forms, but they all boil down to a less-than-firm grasp of a concept. A concept is a set of critical features of a group of ideas or objects that define that group, determine group membership, and connect it to other groups. Some of the many concepts taught in school are freedom of speech, integers, and symbiosis. Here are some example questions that relate to concepts:

• What’s the difference between a cold-blooded animal and a warm-blooded animal?
• What does extremism mean?
• Can I just add the tops and bottoms of these two fractions?
• Aren’t a phrase and a clause pretty much the same thing?

Dr. Pohlman conducts and supervises learning assessments for Southeast Psych and is available to present on learning issues. Feel free to contact him at 704-552-0116 or speakersbureau@southeastpsych.com. His new book is due out in stores Sept. 28th and can be pre-ordered online now.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Trauma in Our Lives, Part One: Anniversary of 9/11

by Dr. Jessica Bloomfield

On the 8th anniversary of September 11th, we are once again reminded of the events that took place on that beautiful Fall day. Most of us can still recall exactly where we were when we heard the news of the unthinkable—terrorist attacks on our home front. We remember that moment when the safety and security we knew so well were whipped out from underneath us, and we could no longer go about our everyday lives thinking of terrorism and tragedy as things that happen far away to other people. The World Trade Center, Pentagon, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania became epicenters of hurt, suffering, and pain. Like an earthquake, the effects are felt intensely at the center, and have ripple effects that are far reaching, marked by aftershocks, destruction, and devastation; and life is never quite the same.

Thus is the nature of trauma.

Trauma comes in many forms, affects people near and far, forever changes lives, and leaves some people unscathed. Physical scars are left as well as emotional ones—and some hurts never seem to fully heal, leaving the bearer forever changed in both good and bad ways.

What constitutes a trauma? A trauma is an event which happens outside the realm of “normal” experiences. It overwhelms a person’s regular coping abilities. Trauma comes in many different forms. Wars, hurricanes, school shootings, rapes, abuse, sudden deaths, and car accidents are only a few examples. Trauma can affect a person emotionally, biologically, and socially. It impacts survivors as well as family members, friends, and acquaintances.

Emotional reactions to trauma vary widely and there is no right or wrong way to feel after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Two people could experience a terrible car accident together and may respond in very different ways or even recall the event differently. Genetics, personal history, feelings about control over the event, gender, and physiological reactions are some of the factors that affect whether or not a person will experience psychological difficulties following a traumatic event. Approximately 60% of people living in the U.S. will be exposed to at least one traumatic event during their lifetime.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a clinical diagnosis for people who have experienced a trauma and experience specific distressing symptoms afterwards. It is estimated that 9 to 15 percent of the general population in the U.S. have PTSD, although that number rises to 50% for women who have been raped. While less than a quarter of people who experience a trauma develop full-blown PTSD, there are many who still suffer from posttraumatic stress symptoms, which can greatly affect their lives.

It can be difficult to recognize the impact of trauma, and feelings of shame, anger, powerlessness, depression, and anxiety are common. Some people believe they should not feel the way they do following a trauma; some believe they could have prevented what happened, or that having difficulties means they are weak. Some feel as if they are going crazy. It is important to know that posttraumatic stress symptoms are normal reactions to abnormal situations.

So, on the anniversary of an event that was traumatic for our nation, it is good to take a moment to recognize the effects it had on us individually and as a culture and to be aware of the impact such events can have on our lives. Anniversaries can be very hard for those touched by trauma and some of the following activities may be helpful during such times:

• Writing down thoughts in a journal or blog

• Sharing memories

• Spending time with loved ones

• Connecting with spiritual or religious organizations

• Beginning the process of healing old wounds with the help of a professional

Dr. Jessica Bloomfield is a psychologist at Southeast Psych who specializes in treating trauma, as well as depression, anxiety, and a range of other issues.

References:

Busuttil, W. (2007). Psychological trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder. In N. Mervat, K. Baistow, and Treasure, J. (Eds.) The Female Body in Mind: The Interface Between the Female Body and Mental Health (pp. 41-56). New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

Foa, E. B., Hembree, E. A., & Rothbaum, B. O. (2007). Prolonged Exposure Therapy for PTSD: Emotional Processing of Traumatic Experiences. New York: Oxford University Press.

Herman, J. (1997). Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence—from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror. New York: Basic Books.

Treadwell, K. & Foa, E. (2004). Assessment of post-traumatic stress disorder. In W. T. O’Donohue & E. R. Levensky (Eds.) Handbook of forensic psychology: Resource for mental health and legal professionals. (pp. 347-366). New York: Elsevier Science.

Van der Kolk, B. A., McFarlane, A. C. (1996). The Black Hole of Trauma. In B. A. van der Kolk, A. C. McFarlane, & L. Weisaeth (Eds.) Traumatic Stress: The Effects of Overwhelming Experience on Mind, Body, and Society (pp. 3-23). New York: Guilford Press.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Help Prevent Suicide

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, with this year’s theme being “Suicide Prevention in Different Cultures.” The purpose behind the day is to help educate about facts related to suicide, decrease the stigma associated with the topic, and most importantly, raise awareness that suicide is preventable (IASP, 2009).

Few words carry as much weight as the term “suicide”, which is often almost afraid to be uttered for fear that it may affect someone we know. However, as with similar fears, suicide is an issue that is best addressed directly in a community environment to decrease stigma, clarify misperceptions, and equip people to help friends seek support.

Suicide prevention research views suicide as a public health issue, as its impact is most often felt on a community level. Studies suggest that for every suicide committed, at least 6 people are directly impacted, and more than that indirectly (National Center for Health Statistics, 2006). Suicide is also the second leading cause of death among college students in the U.S., the third leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 15-24, and the 11th cause of death overall (National Center for Health Statistics, 2006). In 2006, there were 33,000 suicides in the U.S., which averages out to about one suicide every 16 minutes. Add to those statistics the fact that untreated depression is considered one of the leading contributing causes of suicide. In many cases, with the ability to identify the risk factors and with the proper intervention, suicide can be prevented.

There are a number of warning signs that may be indicators of distress and present an opportunity to reach out and offer help:

Expressed hopelessness: Hopelessness is one of the key predictors of suicidality. A sense of hopelessness indicates that a person is unable to see past this particular point, and feels that they no longer have options.

Untreated depressive symptoms: Depressed mood, lack of motivation, low self-esteem, decreased pleasure in once enjoyable activities, and feelings of worthlessness are all symptoms of depression.

Increased alcohol and/or substance use: An increase in the use of substances suggests that someone is having increased difficulty in coping with their current challenges and experiences.

Increased isolation and/or withdrawal: An individual may begin to pull back from friends and/or loved ones. This increase in isolation will often contribute to the perception and sense of hopelessness.

Increase in impulsive behaviors: Feeling and behaving as if they have “nothing to lose” may be an indicator of suicidal ideation.

There are ways in which you can offer assistance to someone who you are concerned may be considering suicide:

Don’t be afraid to ask the question: If you are concerned that someone may be considering suicide, it is okay to ask the question directly. If you aren’t comfortable asking the question, share your concerns with someone who may be more comfortable with asking it. Asking the question will often bring relief to an individual who may be contemplating suicide and open up communication. The goal is to instill hope, which helps prevent suicide.

Listen: Take the time to listen more than talk. Make sure that when you ask the question, you have the time to sit and listen non-judgmentally. Express your concerns and convey realistic hope that the problem can be solved, with the goal of encouraging them to seek support.

Don’t keep it a secret: If someone shares with you that they are considering suicide, share it with someone who can get them help or get them to help—a parent, a teacher, a counselor.

Here are two websites to check out for more information:

International Association for Suicide Prevention

National Vital Statistics Reports on the National Center for Health Statistics

Suicide prevention is a community concern. Education, involvement, and the simple act of caring can instill hope and help to decrease this form of death.

Editor's Note: Dr. Nyaka Niilampti is a psychologist at Southeast Psych in Charlotte. She has a Ph.D. from Temple University, a master's in sports psychology from UNC-Chapel Hill, and a bachelor's degree from Princeton. Before coming to Southeast Psych, she has worked in university counseling centers, secondary schools, and community mental health centers.

Monday, September 7, 2009

How Can My Kid Succeed in School? Part Two


Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from “How Can My Kid Succeed in School?” by internationally-recognized psychologist, Dr. Craig Pohlman, who has recently joined Southeast Psych and directs our Assessment Center.

How a kid goes about doing his homework can be very revealing. A lot of parents are dismayed when their child seems to just leap right into tasks without first contemplating the best course of action. Courtney, a sixth grader, fits this bill. Her mother describes her as a “bull in a china shop” when it comes to homework (and incidentally, most other times when a methodical approach is called for as well). When Courtney gets to a math word problem she seems to start scribbling calculations before she even finishes reading it. Sometimes she answers almost all of questions in social studies assignments before realizing that the directions wanted her to do something else. But above all, writing is a disaster. The notion of starting with an outline is totally alien to Courtney, who would much rather just get to writing; as a result, many of her great ideas never make it to the page or get hidden in a disorganized stream of sentences.

Courtney has a weakness in an aspect of her attention called production control, which is like the brain’s dashboard; her mind doesn’t have a reliable speedometer, meaning that she jumps into tasks too quickly, without first coming up with good plans. Dashboards also provide many signals to let you know how well things are working (such as a low fuel light and a door ajar signal), but Courtney’s production control doesn’t monitor her work very effectively. Her mother gets exasperated by all of the “careless” mistakes she makes in her homework. For example, she might miscalculate in math or misspell a word, but when prompted to take a second look, she readily finds these kinds of errors and fixes them.

Tate is a fourth grader and his dad says that homework “takes forever to get done.” The reason? Tate is very susceptible to distractions and daydreaming due to his attention processing control. His dad frequently reels him back in with little reminders like, “stick with it, Tate” or “come on back, dude!” Getting homework done in a reasonable amount of time usually requires staying focused on the task at hand.

Everyone, including adults, experiences difficulty with concentration from time to time. Even if you’re working in a place with few distracting sights and sounds, your thoughts may wander like Tate’s. For some people, processing control does not do a sufficient job of resisting “mind trips” and avoiding distractions. If given a choice between finishing homework and spending time on recreational activities, most kids would choose the latter; but kids with weak processing control are pulled even more strongly than other kids toward fun stuff and away from work.

A kid can have a hard time staying on task for reasons other than weak attention, however. Active working memory is what we use to mentally juggle or manipulate information. Monika frequently gets lost in the middle of homework tasks. As a seventh grader, much of her work involves multiple steps (such as when solving a math problem) or numerous components that have to be attended to simultaneously (such as all the aspects of writing a book report). In other words, she has to handle a lot of moving parts and her parents see her losing track of a lot of them. So she may get lost in the middle of a math computation and complain that she is confused about what to do next.

Dr. Pohlman conducts and supervises learning assessments for Southeast Psych and is available to present on learning issues. Feel free to contact him at 704-552-0116 or speakersbureau@southeastpsych.com. His new book is due out on Sept. 28th.