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The SPD Companion, Issue #008 - Teaching Strategies For Home and School
October 05, 2006
Welcome to the October edition of the SPD Companion (Issue #008). I'm so glad you could join me today!

Today's topic?

Helping Kids With Processing Difficulties And Other Related Learning Disabilities At Home And In The Classroom

I want to “warn you”...this is a loaded topic and one newsletter could never cover it all. But, I wanted to BEGIN talking about it in this edition with a beautiful article written by Richard Reither. I have so many other related issues I want to talk about that I can't possibly put them all in this one issue, as that would surely overwhelm you. So, I want to start here. Subsequent issues will take this topic in other related directions, and I hope to follow up with those soon. I know that this is a pressing issue for many of you, and I am here to help. We'll take it one step, one topic at a time.

But, school is well under way now, and the learning and/or processing delays are probably starting to show, or have an impact on many of our children. I want to give you some tips to help them, whether you are a professional or a parent of one of these children. It IS a LONG article, but one that I feel is WELL WORTH the time you will take to read and then begin to implement. So, grab a nice warm drink and settle down with me and Richard Reither.


This article was downloaded many years ago (1996) from the ADD Forum on Compuserve. The author, Richard E. Reither was a forum member and gave permission for anyone to “distribute it freely as long as the contents of the file are unchanged.”

Although it is “dated”, I am pleased with its relevance today! I find this article to be a very useful tool for parents, teachers, SLP's, and OT's for both school and home related issues with SPD kids, ADD/ADHD kids, and children with other learning and/or processing delays (including executive functioning delays we see in Autism, Aspergers, and Non-Verbal Learning Disorders).

I recognize it is written with the ADHD child in mind, and some of the terminology could be changed, but it is quite relevant to our SPD kiddos... not only as SPD affects them, but the many co-morbid conditions as well. It is NOT uncommon for ADHD, auditory processing, visual processing, language disorders, dyslexia, and other diagnoses to complicate the lives of our SPD children. It is with this in mind that EVERY section of this article will be beneficial to the child, the parents, SLP's, OT's AND teachers...despite who the tips are directed towards.

As parents, teachers, Occupational Therapists or Speech Pathologists, we can help at home or school by using ANY of these suggestions for 504's, IEP's, and as general tools/guidelines for better learning and better behavior. As children, help will come because teachers and parents will have consistent information and be working together to make accommodations for processing difficulties (whether it be SPD, ADHD, auditory or visual processing deficits) of the child. Therefore, I encourage you to read EVERY section, even if you are not the “parent”, “teacher”, or Speech-Language Pathologist as is labeled in a particular section. (And, don't forget to check out the links at the end of the article for MORE information!)

COUPLED WITH Sensory Integration therapy, I hope you will find these tips and explanations helpful on your journey with your SPD and/or Learning Disabled child. And so, I am grateful to Richard Reither and look forward to sharing this wonderfully comprehensive article with you today...


The following are suggestions for maintenance of the ADHD child in the classroom. These are grouped to address the primary areas in need of remediation in the ADHD child.

Motor Activity:

1. Teach more complex problem solving tasks in the morning. Research has shown that the highest activity level for ADHD child occurs between twelve noon and two o'clock in the afternoon.

2. Allow students to present their own visual information by motoric means. For example, have students flip their own flash cards.

3. Provide early intervention in the areas of fine motor skills.

4. Allow children to take notes, draw, or play with small objects at their desks during teacher lectures or long class discussions. Play with small objects can be constructive, such as braiding or finger knitting.


1. Rather than giving directions for many assignments at once, provide instruction immediately preceding the assigned work. Encourage the ADHD student to verbalize or rehearse plans for activities and school work.

2. Provide readily available visual displays of rules and behavioral consequences. When giving verbal instructions, be certain that eye contact is maintained. Use simple commands. Have students repeat the commands to monitor comprehension.

3. Reinforce students for appropriately following a routine.

4. Avoid inadvertently reinforcing impulsive responses though they may be correct. Reinforce those responses during which obvious reflection has taken place.

5. Provide direct instruction in such social skills as conflict resolution, social entry and emotional control. Encourage rehearsal by using role playing activities.

6. Allow frequent, short periods of relaxation during the school day.

7. Provide direct instruction in problem solving skills. Encourage students to follow a specific procedure, such as the following:

  • Identify the problem
  • Formulate a plan of action
  • Self-monitor the completion of the task according to the plan
  • Self-approval for successful task completion

Sustained Attention:

1. Use interesting, colorful materials and change these frequently to maximize attention. Color coding which is relevant to the content helps to focus attention both during the introduction of new material and during maintenance and generalization tasks. Playing nonvocal music during drill and practice tests has also proven to aid in focusing the attention of the ADHD student. In mainstreamed situations, however, note that though highly stimulating materials enhance the performance of the ADHD student, they may have a neutral or negative effect on the normal student.

2. Provide frequent changes in the type of activity offered. Keep the time required to complete each task short. A dramatic, expressive teaching style is most appropriate for presenting information, however, a quiet, calm tone of voice is most effective during times when a confrontation may occur.

3. The ratio of adults to children in the classroom significantly impacts the attention of the ADHD child. Whenever possible, utilize small group rather than whole class instruction to impart new information.

4. Seat students away from high appeal distractors such as windows, doors, and computers. Seating the child close to the teacher, but not in such a way that he is singled out by other students, may improve his performance.

5. During longer, more verbally oriented activities, such as a teacher lecture, allow the student to change seats.

6. ADHD children may learn to appear to be attending while the quality and accuracy of their responses does not reflect their concentration. Contingencies need to be based on the number of accurate responses, rather than on simple work completion.


1. Reinforcement that is of high interest to the ADHD student is particularly important. A daily menu of reinforcers can be displayed for the student to choose from in order to provide minimum variety.

2. Frequently change the choice of the primary target behavior to be modified. Student participation in the identification and monitoring of target behaviors to the maximum possible extent provides motivation.

3. Provide structured activities rather than expecting students to generate activities. Utilize task analysis and adjust performance expectations so that the ADHD student has maximum opportunities for success.

4. Consider frequent use of computer assisted instruction particularly for drill and practice activities. Computers have been shown to be highly motivating to the ADHD child, can be self-pacing, and offer immediate feedback.

5. To improve motivation, personalize instruction whenever possible. Encourage participatory learning in which students take part in classroom decision making, design rules, set their own goals and share in choosing topics for study.

6. Use of community based activities and concrete materials improves motivation, provides successful experiences, and increases self-esteem. Relate classroom studies to students daily life and personal experiences.



Instead of using discipline to punish, focus it on training for appropriate behavior. Encouragement and positive reinforcement should be used much more than negative consequences, simply because they provide a higher motivational level in the child. The following are some ideas to incorporate into your parenting routine:

1. Concentrate on working with one problem area at a time. This reduces the sense of being overwhelmed for the child.

2. Give specific feedback when the child does something right or even close to being right.

3. Using a reward system can be effective:

  • use rewards initially with a view to wean them off as soon as given behavior is mastered
  • award points, money, or stickers often with frequent redemption. Longer term goals are less effective, especially in the beginning, or with younger children. Point system should be very visible, eg. poker chips in a glass jar

4. Negative consequences:

  • ignoring (used especially with misbehavior)
  • time out
  • overcorrection (training through repetition)


1. Emphasize that fast does not mean smart. Have the child slow down and practice thinking before speaking.

2. Make a list of the areas in which the child acts impulsively, and then list all possible negative consequences of that action.

3. Practice impulse control through games and family activities.

4. Don't punish the impulsive act, rather train for change.


1. Know what distracts your child the most (Auditory, Visual, Kinesthetic, Internal Stimuli). Make a list and come up with a strength degree for the distractor. Attempt to reduce those distractors that you can.

2. On those distractors that you cannot control for, introduce the child to the idea of “destroying the distractors”. Imaginary ray guns, karate chops, shout it away in their mind, or blinking it away are some examples.


1. Train the child in good attending skills, such as; listening, eye position, and body posture. Show them how to do it.

2. Read a story out loud. Stop after each paragraph or page and have the child summarize.

3. Board games help in practicing attending skills.

4. Keep all activities short and switch to something new frequently.

5. For some children, playing background instrumental music helps. For some, allowing them to handle an object while listening helps, eg. a squeeze ball, clay, etc.

6. Practice some attending task using a stopwatch. Have the child set a time goal of attending, making sure to be realistic.

Motor Activity:

1. Games to help train in motor control:

  • Simon Says
  • Statue Game (use a stopwatch)
  • Beat The Clock

2. Establish situation specific rules

3. Demonstrate appropriate behavior

4. Use stopwatch and scorecard

5. Can be incorporated into a reward system

6. Relaxation training


1. Parents need to deal with their grief, anger and guilt over the “loss” of a “normal child.

2. Parents need support in the form of family counseling, in-laws, friends and support groups, in order to combat isolation, gain information, and insight.

3. Parents need to keep a close watch on the “family atmosphere”. Uneven attention paid to the “special child” will be a touchstone for sibling resentment and acting out. The mood of the home is also critical. Fight against depression.

4. As the best, and usually the only, advocate for the learning disabled child, parents need to seek out the best remediation that they can. Become as knowledgeable as possible on the type of disability the child has. If something does not sound right from one professional, teacher, etc., get another opinion.

The Learning Disabled Child:

1. The learning disabled sibling must not be put in the “special child” role, or even the “bad one” role, because this will inherently discourage him/her and lead to further feelings of inadequacy.

2. The learning disabled child should know as much about his/her disability as he/she can cognitively handle.

3. Discipline techniques differ somewhat between the learning disabled child and non-impaired siblings. This adds to parent stress, and promotes calls of unfairness from siblings. However, it need to be openly known in the family that regular discipline does not work for the effected brother or sister. They need far more rules, structure, patience, reminders and rewards.

The Siblings:

1. The feelings of the siblings are many and conflicted. It is important to be as open about feelings as possible. Be an open and willing listener without disapproval. Make suggestions at “teachable moments” as to how they might be feeling.

2. Typical feeling responses are:

  • Resentment due to lack of attention.
  • Jealousy due to feeling neglected or left out. (This is a belonging issue.)
  • Increased stress and anxiety. This not only can come from the family atmosphere, but from worrying that somehow they will become learning disabled also.
  • Embarrassment in front of friends at home or school.
  • Over-protectiveness. They can take on the burden of responsibility for the sibling, which is not a child's job to do. This also increases stress and resentment.
  • Teach them that it is OK to feel anger and show them how to appropriately express it toward the learning disabled sibling (eg., no name calling, hitting, humiliating, etc.).
  • Guilt. Siblings often feel guilty that they are “normal” while their brother or sister is not. Also, because of conflicted feelings, they feel guilty from bad thoughts or covert actions against the sibling. Explain the difference between real and unreal guilt.

3. Accepting the differences. Knowledge of the facts can lead to greater understanding of why the affected sibling acts the way they do. Set up situations where the child can experience what his/her learning disabled sibling experiences.

4. Growing up too soon. Due to their own or their parents' expectations, some children will become the secondary parent or a guardian to his/her learning disabled sibling. They will also have a tendency to be the “model child”.

5. Increased misbehavior, due to the above mentioned feelings. Many children will begin to act out or gain a “symptom” themselves in order to force parental attention in their direction.

6. Dealing with differing discipline techniques. Siblings need to know that often, as a result of the learning disabled brother or sister, rules, consequences and parent strategies are different. While this can add stress to the family, it is necessary because a certain behavior that the unaffected sibling might engage in would be misbehavior, whereas that same behavior in the learning disabled sibling would be a result of the learning disability. (For example, not cleaning their room, “forgetting”, losing homework, not listening, not remembering rules, etc.)

7. The rewards:

  • Since encouragement and positive self-esteem are needed elements within the family of a learning disabled child, siblings have an opportunity to learn even better, how to be encouragers.
  • Siblings learn the value of cooperation within the family. The family pulling together is a happy family.
  • As you use the skills you need in order to communicate and deal with your learning disabled child, you model these positive skills to your other children. They in turn can become better communicators.
  • Siblings can acquire a greater understanding about what makes people different and become more caring, tolerant, and understanding people.
  • A family door can be opened where it is OK to talk about feelings. This can generalize to other areas of their lives as they realize you are a good and caring listener.


Definition of Reasoning:

Reasoning is the ability to perceive relationships between events and to draw conclusions based on these observations. Specific reasoning skills that are necessary for social, relational, and academic success include:

1. The ability to recognize underlying rules, patterns and similarities.

2. The ability to utilize systematic problem solving steps, hypotheses testing and error feedback to carry out a plan.

3. The ability to verbalize problem solving strategies.

4. The ability to repeat successes and to avoid repeating failures.

Causes of Reasoning Deficits:
1. Otitis Media

2. Language Processing Disorder

3. Brain Injury

4. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

5. Dyslexia

Attention-Concentration Endurance:

Deficits in the areas of attention, concentration and endurance interrupt attempts to pursue problem solving steps. Children get used to incomplete processes and generally do not look for “lessons” or “conclusions” from experiences and observations.


Poor reasoning skills hinder short term recall of information, because the child lacks the strategies for quickly assimilating new information. Long term memory is affected by difficulty with use of systematic associations to categorize and then retrieve information efficiently.


Children who have poor reasoning skills are at risk for poor self-esteem. They often do not correctly “read” nonverbal cues in communication and misinterpret the emotions of others. They come to faulty conclusions, given a set of facts. They cannot accurately judge situations that will be “easy” and which situations will be “hard”. All of these misinterpretations and judgments can cause failure, ridicule and frustration.

Conversely, children who have strong reasoning skills are more able to utilize problem solving steps, plan their time and use compensatory strategies. They may still go more slowly than their peers, but at least they have the confidence that they can follow the steps to reach the goal.

Speech-Language Pathologist's Role In The Remediation Of Reasoning Deficits:


These children require specific training in voice tone, volume, use of expanded structures that include social amenities, reading and sending nonverbal cues.

Problem Solving:

Specific attention should be given to training and verbalizing a step-by-step problem solving process. This is very basic to reasoning and it should not be assumed that a student has this process just because they get the right answer. Insist that they explain why they got a particular answer, especially on tasks requiring deduction. Use materials that lend themselves to this type of discussion such as: story sequence pictures, same/different materials, classification and categorization materials, word search puzzles, math word problems, reading comprehension exercises, deductive and inductive thinking exercises, etc. help the student to recognize when they are “stuck” and train them to use associations and previous experiences to develop new alternatives. Most people with reasoning deficits use an “all-or-nothing” approach in which they do fine if the right answer occurs to them, but they have difficulty tracking around and using associations to generate other options.

Recognition of Underlying Rules, Patterns, and Similarities:

Train the students to recognize and verbalize aspects of assignments and activities that relate to previous experiences and exercises. This includes scanning, reading directions and planning their responses.

Hemispheric and Modality Integration:

Train students to move smoothly from examining details to comprehending the overall task. They need specific help in integrating modalities, and right and left hemispheric functions. This includes verbalizing spatial and kinesthetic impressions, visualizing steps of problem solving, talking themselves through a series of steps, verbalizing visual input, learning to self-cue and keep themselves on task by asking questions and verbalizing conclusions, and realizing how the specific pieces fit into the whole picture of what they are trying to accomplish.


The person with reasoning deficits will need help to recognize their strengths and weaknesses. They will need specific training to realize how to use their strengths to help to supplement and compensate for their weaknesses. They will need help to calmly think through their options without panicking.

Directing Families to Community Resources:

Many children with reasoning deficits do not qualify for help within the public school system. When children do not meet the guidelines for services, parents often conclude that their child does not have a problem. It is the responsibility of the evaluating personnel to refer families to community resources that can provide support and treatment.

Consultations With The Parents, Teachers, And Other Professionals:

The main role in this area is to help parents, teachers and other professions to understand the child's behavior. Children with reasoning problems frequently have behavior problems. It is important to identify in any situation what is interfering with appropriate behavior and outline a strategy to allow the child to be more successful.

Ideas For Teachers To Help Children With Reasoning Reasoning Deficits:

Clearly relate new lessons and concepts to previously presented material. As often as possible, relate details back to the curriculum as a whole.

After giving assignments, have two or three of the students say in their own words what the assignment was. Call on the children with processing problems as often as possible in this process, because verbalizing helps them to get your directions set in their minds.

Use visual, kinesthetic, and auditory cues to aid in teaching. Writing things on the board, picking up the paper and pointing to specific places on the assigned paper, having the children visualize what they are about to do, and walking them through it physically will help with the visual modality. Provide as many examples as possible and enable the children to work through them and talk through them before beginning the actual assignment. Hold back the papers of impulsive children and use their papers as the example papers. When possible, put an example of the lesson on the board or on the overhead projector.

Assign a “buddy” for children who have difficulty staying on track or following through with directions. This person will give them an alternative to the teacher when asking questions and getting clarification.

Provide alternative ways of testing. These children will always do more poorly on tests than in daily activities. One way to get around testing these children separately, is to vary your tests across subjects and within areas. For example, for each subject area allow for take home tests, open book tests, open note tests, multiple choice tests, essay tests, G11-in type tests, etc. That way each student in the class has an opportunity to do well. You may still need to periodically quiz students with learning problems orally when they receive an “F” on a test to see whether they did, in fact, understand the material, but for some reason couldn't express it on the test. These students perform more poorly on test materials than they do in daily activities, because the stress of test taking interferes even more with their processing which makes their skills deteriorate.

Provide a schedule or predictable sequence of events in the classroom. If the routine varies, a schedule on the board is very helpful. Some teachers list activities and times to help children predict their routine. This lowers the anxiety level for the children and helps them to focus on the present task.

Send home a homework schedule at the beginning of the week so that parents know what is due when and they have a predictable sequence of events. They will be more able to support you at home and help the children to get their assignments turned in on time. Often, learning problems and attention problems occur in families, so you may be dealing with a child and a parent with problems. The more clearly organized you are, in your curriculum, programs, homework and communication the happier the parents and children will be.

If a child is not progressing well in spite of your efforts, call a meeting of parents, principal, teacher and any other professional working with the child to explore options and to outline plans. These face-to-face meetings are often difficult to schedule with everyone's busy lives, but they are well worth the feelings of good will and clear planning that can emerge.

Ideas For Parents To Increase Reasoning Skills:

Remediation of reasoning deficits usually requires specific language therapy. However, there are many things that parents can do to help their children improve their skills.


It is important to keep in mind that structure and rules need to be stressed in all situations with children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), learning and processing problems. Before starting any activity (academic, social, games or play), review the rules and ways that the child can succeed, have fun and get a positive response from you. For children who can read, the rules should be written simply. For non-readers, pictured cues will help them remember the ground rules. This takes some extra time at the beginning of the activity, but will save anger, tears and negative feelings later on. As a parent it would help you to get in the habit of setting the structure.

Such rules may include:

  • Taking turns
  • No name calling
  • Using a friendly voice
  • Training in manners regarding losing, winning, eating, and public behaviors
  • Training in posture, body position, and acceptable movements


In the context of fun and friendly competition, games are an excellent vehicle for working on turn taking, social skills, clear communication, attention to goals, following rules, endurance, concentration and attention. Your child will benefit from practicing his skills in the safe environment of the home. Children should be encouraged to explain the reasons and planning behind their moves in a game. If they are not sure why they made a particular move, you should offer a possible explanation. This modeling is very important. Some games that are useful and fun include: Uno, Sorry, Mastermind, Skip-Bo, Battleship, Scrabble, Guess Who, and Yahtzee.

Functional Living:

Modeling effective organization and problem solving is a powerful tool. Explain your problem solving and reasoning processes to your child. Help them to understand the process behind completed projects such as cooking, cleaning, shopping, packing, etc.

Role playing options for social situations so that your child can picture various ways of responding also provides good practice.

Values clarification (by Simon) can also be a helpful tool to stimulate thought about beliefs, actions, and consequences.


Encourage a reasoning approach to reading. Reading is a combination of remembering and sounding out words. Help your child to learn the rules for phonics. If you never learned them yourself, ask your child's teacher for a list of the rules that will be covered or contact a reading or language specialist. Programs such as MTA (Multisensory Teaching Approach) stress the rules in learning to read and write.

In math, write down all the pertinent rules. Help your child to take a systematic approach to solving word problems, such as; first finding the question, then identifying pertinent data, then deciding on the operation that is needed, then solving the problem, and finally checking the answer.

As parents, you are in the position to offer the most important source of love, support, structure and encouragement to your child. Share your feelings, strategies and struggles so your child can understand what makes you tick and how you felt when you were their age. This will help them to understand and appreciate you, which will give them insights into themselves.

Copyright Richard E. Reither MA, MFCC (1996)

Reprinted by with permission from author

Don't Miss These Related Resources!

Auditory Processing Disorders

Visual Processing Skill Exercises

Vision Therapy

Teaching Study Skills; A Guide For Parents And Families
(from the National Association Of School Psychologists)

Creating Conditions For Classroom Success

Problem Behavior In The Classroom (reasons and accommodations)

Study: ADHD Improves With Sensory Intervention

Special Education Law And Advocacy

Ideal Lives (extensive information on IEP's and advocacy)

504 Accommodations Checklist

An Overview of Children's and Parental Rights Under the IDEA & PL 94-142

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; Common Questions and Answers To develop your student's 504 plan

A Parent and Educators Guide to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; Equal Rights for all Students

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