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Does handwriting matter?

Not very much, according to many educators. The Common Core standards, which have been adopted in most states, call for teaching legible writing, but only in kindergarten and first grade. After that, the emphasis quickly shifts to proficiency on the keyboard.

But neuroscientists say it is far too soon to declare handwriting a relic of the past. New evidence suggests that the links between handwriting and broader educational development run deep.

Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how.

“When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated,” said Stanislas Dehaene, from the Collège de France in Paris. “There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain.

“And it seems that this circuit is contributing in unique ways we didn’t realize,” he continued. “Learning is made easier.”

A 2012 study led by Karin James, from Indiana University, lent support to that view. Children who had not yet learned to read and write were presented with a letter or a shape on an index card and asked to reproduce it in one of three ways: trace the image on a page with a dotted outline, draw it on a blank white sheet, or type it on a computer. They were then placed in a brain scanner and shown the image again.

The researchers found that the initial duplication process mattered a great deal. When children had drawn a letter freehand, they exhibited increased activity in three areas of the brain that are activated in adults when they read and write: the left fusiform gyrus, the inferior frontal gyrus and the posterior parietal cortex.

By contrast, children who typed or traced the letter or shape showed no such effect. The activation was significantly weaker.

Dr. James attributes the differences to the messiness inherent in free-form handwriting: not only must we first plan and execute the action in a way that is not required when we have a traceable outline, but we are also likely to produce a result that is highly variable.

In another study, Dr. James is comparing children who physically form letters with those who only watch others doing it. Her observations suggest that it is only the actual effort that engages the brain’s motor pathways and delivers the learning benefits of handwriting.

The effect goes well beyond letter recognition. In a study that followed children in grades two through five, Virginia Berninger, a psychologist at the University of Washington, demonstrated that printing, cursive writing, and typing on a keyboard are all associated with distinct and separate brain patterns — and each results in a distinct end product. When the children composed text by hand, they not only consistently produced more words more quickly than they did on a keyboard, but expressed more ideas. And brain imaging in the oldest subjects suggested that the connection between writing and idea generation went even further. When these children were asked to come up with ideas for a composition, the ones with better handwriting exhibited greater neural activation in areas associated with working memory — and increased overall activation in the reading and writing networks.

Samples of handwriting by young children. Dr. James found that when children drew a letter freehand, they exhibited increased activity in three significant areas of the brain, which didn’t happen when they traced or typed the letter. Credit Karin James

It now appears that there may even be a difference between printing and cursive writing — a distinction of particular importance as the teaching of cursive disappears in curriculum after curriculum. In dysgraphia, a condition where the ability to write is impaired, usually after brain injury, the deficit can take on a curious form: In some people, cursive writing remains relatively unimpaired, while in others, printing does.

Dr. Berninger goes so far as to suggest that cursive writing may train self-control ability in a way that other modes of writing do not, and some researchers argue that it may even be a path to treating dyslexia. A 2012 review suggests that cursive may be particularly effective for individuals with developmental dysgraphia — motor-control difficulties in forming letters — and that it may aid in preventing the reversal and inversion of letters.

Two psychologists, Pam A. Mueller of Princeton and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles, have reported that in both laboratory settings and real-world classrooms, students learn better when they take notes by hand than when they type on a keyboard. Contrary to earlier studies attributing the difference to the distracting effects of computers, the new research suggests that writing by hand allows the student to process a lecture’s contents and reframe it — a process of reflection and manipulation that can lead to better understanding and memory encoding.

Reflection: Instead of giving a computer for continuous use to children with academic difficulties, such as dysgraphia, the child may have to be trained to write as well as he can (while using his computer) instead of giving up! Motor training can only help the child to write better. But as today, things that do not require any effort seem to take precedence. So, it is up to you, parents, to lead this battle!

Karin H. James KH, Engelhardt L. The effects of handwriting experience on functional brain development in pre-literate children. Trends in Neuroscience and Education. Volume 1, Issue 1, December 2012, Pages 32–42

Reading processes and visual or surface «dyslexia» – part 2

Photo JPL-blogue

Lexical or whole-word reading

Competent reading essentially involves the whole-word or lexical process of reading which ensures fluent reading and a “direct” access to meaning. It recognizes the shape of the word and immediately find its sound correspondence in memory (or phonological), the meaning of the word being evoked, which is the ultimate goal of reading.

The whole-word process (or eidetic = photographic), both more automatic and faster, can even bypass the phonological pathway, which is more controlled and slower. Most of the time, the expert reader would not need to use his phonological knowledge to recognize written words. The observation of a double dissociation between visual and phonological dyslexia in patients with brain damage is an argument in favor of the neuropsychological existence of the two independent procedures for the recognition of written words (Coltheart, Masterson, Byng, Prior & Riddoch, 1983; Funnell, 1983; Shelton & Weinrich, 1997). Numerous studies supporting these models have also emphasized the optional phonological code while reading (Peereman, 1991, for a review).

Coltheart M, Masterson J, Byng S, Prior M, Riddoch J. Surface dyslexia. Q J Exp Psychol A. 1983 Aug;35(Pt 3):469-95.

Funnell E. Phonological processes in reading: new evidence from acquired dyslexia. Br J Psychol. 1983 May;74 (Pt 2):159-80.                     

Weinrich M, Shelton JR, McCall D, Cox DM. Generalization from single sentence to multisentence production in severely aphasic patients. Brain Lang. 1997 Jun 15;58(2):327-52.

Peereman R. Phonological assembly in reading: lexical contribution leads to violation of graphophonological rules. Mem Cognit. 1991 Nov;19(6):568-78.

When the child becomes able to recognize a word as a unit, he gradually builds his orthographic lexicon. The operation of this lexicon is not yet fully known, but it seems to be like a dictionary which exists in our brain, allowing rapid identification (the faster the more familiar word) and immediate access to meaning.

This procedure then develops to become more and efficient as reading becomes more competent. Ultimately, the adult reader would only use the “photographic” procedure, which is obviously much faster than going through words syllable by syllable (which remains necessary when we must read for example, new or meaningless words or of a foreign language).


Imagine a child who reads the following sentence:

The locomotive arrives at the station



(or syllable by syllable)



In the first case, the child immediately recognizes the words and understands what he reads. In the second case, the child does not read words but syllables one by one. Difficult to quickly understand what is read.


Surface dyslexia

Surface dyslexia, in its pure form, is characterized by a selective impairment of reading irregular words while reading regular words and pseudo-words is relatively preserved. This selective difficulty reading irregular words translates a dysfunctionnal lexical reading procedure.

These children do not present associated disorders of oral language and have good capabilities in short term verbal and workong memory and have good phonological awareness. They also have difficulties in visual processing that make comparing sequences of letters or identify targets among others.

It is said that pure forms of surface dyslexia are relatively rare in clinical practice. But I can assure you that in my optometric practice, these children are much more numerous than the statistics show.

Visuo-attentional dyslexia

There is also, according to some authors, another form of dyslexia, called “visual-attentional” where the child has a good memory of the spelling of words and is able to transcribe sounds into words. For cons, the type of errors encountered in this disorder is reversals in groups of letters, omissions, additions, approximate reformulations, skippng lines while they read.  line breaks. The child may confuse letters and words with others closely resembling it. It would be a disorder affecting necessary attention for an effcient reading activity.

(In : http://www.ac-grenoble.fr/ia73/spip/IMG/pdf/dys_apedys.pdf)

These children also have oculomotor (eye movement) and visual discrimination problems, difficulties in visual attention, difficulties in copying material from a book or the blackboard.

It is difficult to conceive a child who has a serious visuo-attentional problem would not show a form of surface dyslexia. There is certainly a very close relationship between the two since both can prevent the establishment of a proper orthographic lexicon. They may also be different manifestations of the same problem called “visual dyslexia”. This close relationship between visual and attentional problems is reinforced by the significant progress in reading and spelling seen in a child with surface dyslexia following a trainign program focused on visual processing capabilities (Launay and Valdois , 1999)

Valdois S, Launay L. Évaluation et rééducation cognitives des dyslexies développementales: illustration à partir d’une étude de cas.  In : La rééducation neuropsychologie : Études de cas. AZOUVI P, PERRIER D, VAN DER LINDEN M (eds). Marseille, Solcoll, 1999 : 95-116).

 Visual-perceptual skills essential to insure adequate whole-word reading

It is probably unnecessary to say that the best readers are those who read in a whole-word fashion, this  method of reading is fast and understanding is also much better. But what is the action to take if a child uses no or has a poor orthographic lexicon? We must ensure that the related visual and perceptual skills are adequate. Otherwise, visual training will be needed to improve these skills.

What are the skills that have a close relationship with the development of orthographic lexicon? First, eye movements: reading requires a constant movement of the eyes along a line of text, which is done by a series of short jumps (saccades) interspersed with longer breaks during which takes place all intake of visual information. These jumps between fixations are very short, about one-thirtieth of a second. Saccades take approximately 250 to 300ms. Saccades are also an index of visual attention. We have tests that evaluate the speed, accuracy and fluency of reading. Eye movement problems hamper efficient learning and reading quality (failure to follow the text, loss of place, jump words or lines, etc.). For reading to be effective, eye movements must be flexible, fast and accurate.

Then visual attention and concentration allow the child to remain focused and attentive to every detail of what we see and as long as necessary. Attention and concentration are a preqequisite to good visual discrimination. In addition, visual attention is the link between perception (making information available) and cognition (use this information). It ensures maximum reception all the information from our visual environment. Visual concentration promotes maximum use of working memory to collect, store, retrieve and process the relevant information. It facilitates the work and especially the intellectual performance.

Short-term and sequential visual memories allow the child to recognize an item after a brief exposure, or to recall items in the same order and in the same sequence. For example, remembering the order of letters in a word or words in a sentence with a quicker understanding of what is read. Children who show difficulties in visual sequential memory may have difficulties copying information from the board or a book, to learn to read mulriple words or sentences and remember what they read. They may also have difficulties in creating their orthographic lexicon, which affects fluency and reading comprehension.

Visualization or mental imagery is the ability to create images of a word, a sentence or a paragraph in our head (our mental picture). This ensures good understanding of what is read and allows a better organization of information, making it easier to retain and build an efficient orthographic lexicon. This perceptual skill is also essential for mental arithmetic and spelling of words. If a child reads a story without being able to mentally see the scene described in the text, then this will influence contextual

In summary, the eyes must move effectively to ensure high quality of visual information, and the child must be able to remain attentive and focused on what he reads. Visual memory will also allow to recognize the same words in a text. Many children can not build a orthographic lexicon because they can not even recognize a word they just read and read again a few lines later. Visualization allows the child to “juggle with words” in his head. And finally, it is practicing reading every day that ensures efficiency in reading. More often we see the same words, the faster they will be included in the orthographic lexicon.


According to scientific research, three basic skills (among others) will thus directly influence reading performance in children: visual memory, visual attention and visualization. The best readers are capable of recognizing whole words easily (eidetic, global or whole-word reading). This accelerates visual decoding, requires less energy and promotes better understanding. Reading phonologically (syllable by syllable) slows down the reading process and does not guarantee an adequate understanding of a text. The best readers need not phonological awareness to read and can recognize most words without having to dissect them. That is why we have developed a particular portion of our vision therapy to enhance these perceptual abilities. We try to develop better whole-word reading to improve reading efficiency and comprehension.

Reading processes and visual or surface «dyslexia» – part 1

Photo JPL-blogue

“True“dyslexia is seemingly a “neurological” dysfunction (of course, we read with our brain, not just the eyes!) marked by the inability of the brain centers to efficiently decode print or phonetically make the connection between written symbols and their appropriate sounds. The connotation of the word “neurological” can be confusing: this word is too easily understood or related to a nervous system disease. Dyslexia may be caused by a nervous system dysfonction, but surely not a disease!

The origin of this problem, yet ardently debated in the literature, is probably multi-causal. It is unfortunate that the researchers are constantly looking at only a small aspect of dyslexia in their studies. We also know that not all children who have difficulty reading, however, suffer from phonological processing. Although the symptoms are similar, they may also have visual and perceptual problems that interfere with adequate learning, not just a deficit-based language, as some would have us believe…

Margaret Livingstone, et al, from the Department of Neurobiology, Harvard Medical School and the Dyslexia Research Laboratory, Beth Israel Hospital in Boston reports that poor visual processing plays a significant role in a large majority of children who struggle to read:   “Several perceptual studies have suggested that dyslexic subjects process visual information more slowly than normal subjects.  Such visual abnormalities were reported to be found in more than 75% of the reading-disabled children tested.”

Livingstone MS, Rosen GD, Drislane FW, et al. Physiological and anatomical evidence for a magnocellular defect in developmental dyslexia. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 1991; 88:7943-7.

Moreover, all children with learning difficulties in primary school are not dyslexic, and vice versa, a child may be dyslexic without it being prolonged failure (especially if dyslexia is mild and if it can be compensated by the development of other skills intact).

Essentially, there is also a problem in the clinical definition of dyslexia. Everyone has their own definition and tests used in the diagnosis of such a condition do not always lead to a clear diagnosis… This imprecision in diagnosis can also certainly explain the variability in prevalence rates reported in the literature (this rate may actually increase from 4% (Yule and Rutter, 1973) to 20% (Shaywitz, 1996)).

Yule W, Rutter M, Berger M, Thompson J. Over- and under-achievement in reading: distribution in the general population. Br J Educ Psychol. 1974 Feb;44(1):1-12. 

Shaywitz SE. Dyslexia. Sci Am. 1996 Nov;275(5):98-104.

A child in early primary school may have some difficulty learning to read, this situation is common and there is no question of going overboard and put a label of  “dyslexia” for all these children.

Decoding process of reading: the dual-route model

The dual-route model is very frequently used as a reference model for decoding during reading. This model postulates the existence of two procedures involved in both reading and writing.


Dual-route reading process

From : http://www.cognisciences.com: Outil de Dépistage des Dyslexies – Odedys2 – 2009

Phonological process

The phonological process is characterized by a sequential analytical processing or syllabic of a word or pseudo-word (invented word). It involves a system of rules for grapheme (a letter or two, sometimes three) – phoneme (sound related) explicitly learned in school.

The word “camel” when processed through this system will be segmented into graphemes <CA – MEL>, then each grapheme will be assigned to a phoneme which is most frequently associated in the language This allows to generate the sequence of the word.

Only the phonological process allows the processing of new words (words not previously learned or “pseudo-words” which are words invented for the purposes of experiment, for example: famsled, posvent or rolted).

Insofar as the treatment of new words is dedicated to this system, lists of pseudo-words are systematically tested for reading and dictation for children with difficulties, to test the integrity of the phonological process. Good performance in reading invented words indicates that the phonological process is operational, poor performance involves an inadequacy of this pathway.

It is known that the analytical (phonological) route plays a major role in early learning as it is chronologically the first. If we conceive that in adults both channels are relatively autonomous, it seems unlikely that these two pathways are also distinct in children who are learning to read.

Whole-word or eidetic process

The lexical procedure (or whole-word process) performs simultaneous processing of all the elements of the word. All units which compose the word are processed in parallel, leading to the activation of the orthographic lexicon stored in the brain and learned previously. The child sees the word and understands it immediately.

In reading, and after some visual processing, the representation of the word as a whole is activated in our orthographic lexicon (the “dictionary within our head”) and gives a very rapid access to the sound structure (phonology) corresponding to this word and its meaning. No need to decode the word syllable by syllable.

The way this lexicon functions is not yet fully known, but it seems to be like a dictionary to which we would refer for each word read, according to a “photographic” procedure, allowing rapid identification (the faster the more familiar is the word) and immediate access to meaning.

Each of the two procedures for reading (or writing) is implemented specifically for the treatment of certain types of words: the lexical route or process can only deal with words already learned and whose representations are available within the orthographic lexicon and its phonological correspondence. It is needed when reading or writing irregular words that are not pronounced the way they are written (for example, rough, soared, laugh). Irregular words that can only be handled by the lexical route is used in the evaluation of children with learning disabilities. Lists of irregular words are proposed or presented to test the integrity of the lexical route: a good performance when reading these words shows that the lexical procedure is operational; poor performance in reading irregular words compared to reading regular words or pseudo-words suggests a failure of the lexical procedure.

(Part 2 in next blog)

Headaches, again…

In the previous text, we shared a study on headaches in children and the lack of relevance to either having to wear glasses or changing the lens power of the glasses. One of the issues discussed was the biased scientific methodology and the art of making such statements without seeing further than one’s nose…

Contrary to the statement of the authors and of the American Association of Ophthalmology, there is a source more relevant and of more scientific relevance about headaches and vision of children that is free of any bias examiner. In 2009, a major study both from optometrists and ophthalmologists concerning convergence insufficiency and its symptoms, the CITT study (Convergence Insufficiency Treatment Trial) began. They created a questionnaire called CISS (Convergence Insufficiency Symptom Survey) to link the symptoms to convergence insufficiency. All one has to do to determine if the visual requirements are linked to headaches is to ask! The CISS questionnaire showed that it could be done reliably. You will find the questionnaire at the end of the text. Note the number of items that relate to visual discomfort. You can also download it from: http://www.aoa.org/x13917.xml

Q1: Do your yes feel tired when reading or doing close work?

Q2: Do your eyes feel uncomfortable when reading or doing close work?

Q3: Do you have headaches when reading or doing close work?

Wait a second! Why is it that the best standardized questionnaire in the history of joint studies of optometry and ophthalmology, studies funded by the U.S. government, directly ask a question about headaches associated with visual tasks, while the recent study talked about “proofs beyond doubt” that it is not relevant?

Let’s dispense with the simplistic notions of the latest press release, and set the record straight:

  1. Headaches can be associated with vision problems.  Unless you ask the question, you can’t get an answer.
  2. Pediatrician screening is not a substitute for a complete eye exam performed by an optometrist. A child who complains of headache associated with visual tasks near (reading, writing, drawing, etc.) might show a functional problem (alignment problem like convergence and/or focusing), while having no problem with distance visual acuity (vision of 20/20 or 100%).
  3. A change in glasses may sometimes not completely solve the headache. But often wearing new glasses for an individual who was not wearing any will solve the problem.
  4. If the underlying cause of headaches is a functional problem, the treatment of choice according to proved scientific studies is proven optometric vision therapy.

Adapted from VisionHelp Blog (a super blog!): http://visionhelp.wordpress.com/

The abstract of the study on the CISS questionnaire can be found here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19289977

Even in ophthalmology, here is what is said about eyestrain and headaches:

“The visual symptoms are caused by because focusing of the eyes becomes increasingly difficult due to fatigue especially at the end of the day after prolonged reading. Vision becomes blurred and sometimes even double. Vision at near can be uncomfortable.

Eyestrain occurs mainly in the late afternoon as near vision is constantly at work by efforts of focusing in work and in leisure with particularly computer screens, mobile phones, television, console games…

Eye symptoms reflecting visual fatigue include a feeling of discomfort, tension, and heaviness in the region of the eye, orbit or eyelids. There may be feeling of irritation, burning, stinging, and itching, sometimes with red eyes, some tearing or irritation due to dry eye. The subject may feel dull pain but not very intense that may become acute generally behind the eyes.

Headaches can be felt around the eyes, on the forehead above the eyebrow line, temples or behind the head. These headaches are related to eye strain, occur after a certain period of work at the end of the day, fade and disappear after cessation of work.” (Source: http://www.ophtalmologie.fr/fatigue-visuelle-yeux.html)

Vision Problems of Children with Individualized Education Programs

Much of learning is associated with visual cues, so children with vision-related problems may find it difficult to keep up with their peers in an academic setting. In order to assess the relationship between success in an academic setting and vision-related problems, we compared the prevalence of vision-related problems between children with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) to population-based samples from the literature.

An IEP is a written statement that includes a child’s present levels of academic achievement and functional performance, measurable academic and functional goals, alternate assessments aligned to alternate achievement standards (if necessary), and a description of necessary special education services, supplementary aids, and accommodations. An IEP is written by a team of professionals that may include school psychologists, teachers, school nurses, speech and language teachers, and medical specialists in order to set measurable goals and establish a guide for the child’s special learning needs.

Eye care professionals completed a visual examination on children with an IEP. The prevalence of a variety of conditions exhibited by children with IEPs was compared to prevalence rates reported in the literature.

Data were analyzed for 255 children reported to have an IEP. The average age of the children was 9.6 years.

Higher prevalence rates were reported for IEP patients than for samples from the literature for myopia (9 of 13 studies), hyperopia (10 of 13 studies), astigmatism (6 of 9 studies), anisometropia (myopia oy hyperopia different in each eye) (3 of 4 studies), and strabismus (6 of 6 studies). The entering distance visual acuity of IEP patients was 20/40 or worse for 23.7% of them, but 7.2% of eyes still had a visual acuity worse than 20/40 after correcting their problem. Of the children who required some form of treatment, 124 (69.3%) had better than 20/40 entrance visual acuity in both eyes.

Many of these vision problems would solely be undetected by vision screenings based on distance visual acuity, illustrating the need for comprehensive vision examinations for children who are struggling academically.

(1)   Walline JJ, Johnson Carder ED. Vision Problems of Children with Individualized Education Programs Journal of Behavioral Optometry. Volume 23/2012/Number 4.

It has been estimated that 80% of learning is obtained through vision. Although there is no scientific evidence for this statement, few disagree with the assertion. Scientists have found significantly lower achievement test scores, as well as reduced letter and word recognition, receptive vocabulary, emergent orthography, and verbal and performance intelligence quotients among children with uncorrected hyperopia. Furthermore, children with learning disabilities exhibit a greater prevalence of vision-related problems than the entire population. Certain vision problems that may affect learning, but not all, are related to refractive problems (hyperopia, astigmatism and less with myopia), so vision examinations may provide helpful information in the management of children with learning disabilities.

Source: VisionHelp Blog – Dr Fortenbacher, OD FCOVD:


But, what if a child with an IEP also has a vision problem? Wouldn’t that pose a risk to the child responding effectively to their IEP?   To attempt to answer this question, 3 states in the US (Illinois, Kentucky and Missouri) have mandatory eye examinations for children before Kindergarten. Only Arkansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Massachusetts require examinations for children who fail a school vision screening. And only Ohio and Massachusetts require examinations for children with learning difficulties. Sixteen states do not even require vision screenings for children.  Regardless of the state laws, when an eye examination has not been performed by a qualified eye doctor, the school will typically provide a vision screening to determine that vision is functioning “normally”. However, here is where problems begin to surface. Vision screenings are predominantly an eye sight test. That is, if the child’s visual acuity (eye sight) is better than 20/40 they pass the vision screening!

Even more critical to the question of the validity of a school vision screening was another startling conclusion of the team which found that out of the 179 that required treatment, 124 (69%) of the children with IEPs would have passed the school vision screening test. That is to say, nearly 70% of those children with an IEP were identified with treatable vision problems and yet would pass the vision screening because their vision problem did not affect their distant eye sight!

If you are a teacher, insist that any child who has an IEP be seen by an eye doctor who will provide a thorough vision evaluation and provide you with feedback about the results.

If you are a parent, whose child struggles in reading and learning and/or has an IEP, it is imperative that you seek help by a doctor who is thorough, enjoys working with children and either provides office-based vision therapy or will refer you to a qualified doctor who provides office-base optometric vision therapy.



An IEP is a written plan. It is a working document that describes the strengths and needs of an individual exceptional pupil, the special education program and services established to meet that student’s needs, and how the program and services will be delivered. It also describes the student’s progress.

An IEP should be based on a thorough assessment of the student’s strengths, interests, and needs. It should identify specific goals and expectations for the student, and should explain how the special education program will help the student achieve the goals and expectations set out in the plan. The special education program and services the IEP describes should be modified as necessary by the results of continuous assessment and evaluation.

A student’s IEP should be developed, implemented, and monitored in a collaborative manner. The educational growth of a student is best accomplished through the mutual efforts of, and close communication among, the student, the student’s parent, the school, the community, and other professionals involved with the student. The IEP provides an opportunity for all those involved with the student to work together to provide a program that will foster student achievement and success.

In summary, an IEP is…

  • a summary of the student’s strengths, interests, and needs and of the expectations for a student’s learning during a school year that differ from the expectations defined in the appropriate grade level of the Ontario curriculum;
  • a written plan of action prepared for a student who requires modifications of the regular school program or accommodations;
  • a tool to help teachers monitor and communicate the student’s growth;
  • a plan developed, implemented, and monitored by school staff;
  • a flexible, working document that can be adjusted as necessary;
  • an accountability tool for the student, his or her parents, and everyone who has responsibilities under the plan for helping the student meet his or her goals and expectations;
  • an ongoing record that ensures continuity in programming;
  • a document to be used in conjunction with the provincial report card.

New study: eye movement problems in dyslexic children

The authors say that studies comparing binocular eye movements during reading and visual search in dyslexic children are inexistent. In the present study they examined ocular motor characteristics in dyslexic children versus two groups of non dyslexic children with chronological/reading age-matched. Binocular eye movements were recorded by an infrared system (mobileEBTH, e(ye)BRAIN) in twelve dyslexic children (mean age 11 years old) and a group of 9 chronological age-matched and 10 reading age-matched non dyslexic children. Two visual tasks were used: text reading and visual search. Infrared devices permit recording eye movements on a graph for further analysis.

Independently of the task, the ocular motor behavior in dyslexic children is similar to those reported in reading age-matched non dyslexic children: many and longer fixations as well as poor quality of binocular coordination during and after the saccades.

Note: If the age reading scores are similar in both groups of children, and one of the group includes dyslexic children, we could assume that the group of children called “normal readers” have not scored very high on the reading task (like the dyslexics). That would explain the behavior of eye movements (ocular motor) of the two groups is similarly ineffective. Difficult to understand?

According to the authors, for the two groups of dyslexic and non dyslexic children, the two tasks (reading and visual search) produced similar effects in terms of fixations and in terms of binocular coordination. It is believed that reduced visual and attentional span (or “visuo-attentional window”) which limits the number of letters that can be processed simultaneously, could have a similar impact on reading and visual search, due to the visuo- attentional demand similar in both tasks. Most likely, at least for these two groups of children for whom reading skills are not yet well structured, reading and visual search has important requirements in the spheres of vision-perception, attention and space processing. 

In contrast, chronological age-matched non dyslexic children showed a small number of fixations and short duration of fixations in reading task with respect to visual search task; furthermore their saccades were well yoked in both tasks. The atypical eye movement’s patterns observed in dyslexic children suggest a deficiency in the visual attentional processing as well as an immaturity of the ocular motor saccade and vergence systems interaction.

Recording of eye movements during reading (first column) and visual search (second column). We observe that the number and duration of fixations of the dominant right eye for a dyslexic child (11 years old), a non-dyslexic child 9 years old and a 11 years old non-dyslexic. The dyslexic child shows more fixations and regressions (backward movements). In the second case, the eye movements of the non-dyslexic child of 9 years old are more efficient but still lack precision if we compare the movements of the 11 years old non-dyslexic child.

Source: Bucci MP, Nassibi N, Gerard C-L, Bui-Quoc E, Seassau M (2012) Immaturity of the Oculomotor Saccade and Vergence Interaction in Dyslexic Children: Evidence from a Reading and Visual Search Study. PLoS ONE 7(3): e33458.

 Note: please click on «Reference» in the upper right corner of the page to get more information about eye movements in dyslexic children.

ADHD diagnosis: research

ADHD Is Over-Diagnosed, Experts Say

Source: ScienceDaily, 2012

What experts and the public have already long suspected is now supported by representative data collected by researchers at Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) and University of Basel: ADHD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is over-diagnosed. The study showed that child and adolescent psychotherapists and psychiatrists tend to give a diagnosis based on heuristics, unclear rules of thumb, rather than adhering to recognized diagnostic criteria. Boys in particular are substantially more often misdiagnosed compared to girls.

These are the most important results of a study conducted by Prof. Dr. Silvia Schneider and Prof. Dr. Jürgen Margraf (both from RUB) and Dr. Katrin Bruchmüller (University of Basel) as reported in the periodical Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

Daniel has ADHD, Danielle does not 

The researchers surveyed altogether 1,000 child and adolescent psychotherapists and psychiatrists across Germany. 473 participated in the study. They received one of four available case vignettes, and were asked to give a diagnoses and a recommendation for therapy. In three out of the four case vignettes, the described symptoms and circumstances did not fulfil ADHD criteria. Only one of the cases fulfilled ADHD criteria based strictly on the valid diagnostic criteria. In addition, the gender of the child was included as a variable resulting in eight different case vignettes. As the result, when comparing two identical cases with a different gender, the difference was clear: Leon has ADHD, Lea doesn’t.

The “prototype” makes the difference

Many child and adolescent psychotherapists and psychiatrists seem to proceed heuristically and base their decisions on prototypical symptoms. The prototype is male and shows symptoms such as motoric restlessness, lack of concentration and impulsiveness. In connection with the gender of the patient, these symptoms lead to different diagnoses. A boy with such symptoms, even he does not fulfil the complete set of diagnostic criteria, will receive a diagnosis for ADHD, whereas a girl will not. Also the therapist’s gender plays a role in the diagnostic: male therapists give substantially more frequently a diagnosis for ADHD than their female counterparts.

Diagnostic inflation, more medication, higher daily doses

In the past decades the diagnoses ADHD have become almost inflationary. Between 1989 and 2001, the number of diagnoses in German clinical practise increased by 381 percent. The costs for ADHD medication, such as for the performance-enhancer methylphenidate (Ritalin), have grown 9 times between 1993 and 2003. The German health insurance company, Techniker, reports an increase of 30 percent in methylphenidate prescriptions for its clients between the ages of 6 and 18. Similarly, the daily dosage has increased by 10 percent on average.

Remarkable lack of research

Considering these statistics, there is a remarkable lack of research in the diagnostic of ADHD. “In spite of the strong public interest, only very few empirical studies have addressed this issue,” Prof. Schneider and Dr. Bruchmüller point out. While in the 70s and 80s a “certain upswing” of studies on the frequency and reasons for misdiagnoses could be observed, current research hardly examines the phenomena. The current study shows that in order to avoid a misdiagnosis of ADHD and premature treatment, it is crucial for therapists not to rely on their intuition, instead to strictly adhere to defined, established diagnostic criteria. This is best possible with the help of standardized diagnostic instruments, such as diagnostic interviews.