Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Educational Assessments

In order to diagnose a learning difficulty, it is necessary for educational assessments to be conducted. These assessments consists of first measuring the learner's IQ level and then followed by a battery of cognitive based tests that need to be administered and reported accurately. Administering these tests requires special training and its interpretation is more important. It is easy to learn how to run the test but it is not easy to learn how to understand the implications of the results. This crucial stage of reporting is what determines the outcome of educational plan developments and therefore, intervention outcomes in the long term.

BEWARE parents!!
IQ tests can typically only be administered and interpreted in report form by professionals with Masters' level qualification in Psychology - developmental, clinical or educational. If someone with a Bachelors degree in psychology says they are conducting assessments - RUN! Worse, if those with a Bachelors in Psychology says they are TEACHERS! Another set are those with no background in education, but who manage to gain MASTER's degrees in SPECIAL EDUCATION!!  A Diploma in LD MANAGEMENT is NOT a teaching credential. It does not give you the right to teach or much less conduct psychometric assessments that lead to IEP development!

 Intelligence tests alone are not enough to make any kind of diagnosis for any condition. Intelligence Quotients (IQs) simply tell us the current level of intelligence. Intelligence is known to increase, with age, more education and experience.

 If the professional psychologist you go to uses RATING SCALES then, you can safely assume that the test run is not suitable for diagnosis purposes. These tests indicate that the tester is not able to run a psychometric version which is supposed to be use to make diagnosis especially for conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorders.

If the professional uses a SCREENING test - then you can assume that it is NOT a diagnosis either!. Most common here is the Dyslexia SCREENING test. That test is just what it says it is - a SCREENING tool. It is not used to diagnose a specific learning difficulty such as dyslexia. These are outdated and therefore, cheap and ineffective ways trying to diagnose learning difficulties.

If you go to a professional, and the professional makes a diagnosis by merely observing your child over 10 - 20 minutes or even an hour, you can assume that this diagnosis is completely INVALID. It is highly unethical and terrible practice for them to diagnose a condition, or learning problems by simply conducting informal observations! One reason professionals do this, is when they are not qualified to run any kind of formal psychometric testing. In Malaysia, we see this kind of diagnosis made by medical doctors who do not have training or qualifications to run educational assessments.

Another trend for medical doctors is to diagnose a learner with "global developmental delay". A global developmental delay, folks, means your child has to be delayed in development across ALL domains - physical, intellectual, emotional, social and language! This means your child should be stunted in height, delayed in speech, have poor emotional skills, poor language skills, poor physical abilities and poor social skills simultaneously. If you have had this kind of compromised test reports, please get a second opinion.

I don't know any other professional in the field of special education who is willing to tell you parents all this but I am making this information available because I am tired of the compromises in special education in the region making the field a cheap and useless field of education. Our learners are not maximising their potentials, and no one is unleashing their potentials in a fair way, rather, many are maximising their financial potentials from the field to the detriment of our children!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Brain Training programmes - Debunked

A few weeks ago, I addressed the issue of Brain training programmes that have become ever so popular in Malaysia. Here is some proof, that it cannot cure a learning difficulty and has no transfer effects..

Do not be fooled by great marketing strategies, dear parents. You cannot train the left brain or right brain or both brains and cure a learning difficulty such as dyslexia, or auditory processing disorders, or dyspraxia or dysgraphia or autism for that matter!

How often I have heard parents telling me that, in addition to wanting to have learning based intervention, they are also sending their children for left brain training and how it has worked. Nothing has worked. If you do cross word puzzles often enough, you will become good at it, but that does not translate to a learning difficulty disappearing! If you take up gymnastic like exercises and do beam walking, then, over time, you will have better balance but that will not cure directionality difficulties that dyslexics face.

Don't take my word for it, here is proof. Read on..

Brain Based Training

Bear in mind that im not saying that these programmes don't work at all, they can work on other conditions such as Alzheimer's and other such conditions just not on curing specific learning difficulties as you will see in the market in Malaysia. To find out more on how to help people with Alzheimer's using these brain training, read on.

Brain degeneration


ADD - Attention Deficit Disorder
ADHD - Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder

Who can diagnose these conditions?

Unlike other problems that cause learners to face learning difficulties and differences, ADD and ADHD cannot be diagnosed by just any professional. These conditions are medical in nature and can only be diagnosed by psychiatrists. Even a pediatrician is not qualified to diagnose these conditions. Psychologists cannot diagnose these either.

Both conditions on their own stem from a chemical imbalance in the brain. ADD and ADHD are very different in their presentation but in Malaysia both terms are loosely used.

A child with ADD is inattentive and shows signs such as day dreaming or being spaced out. A child with ADHD are those who cannot sit still, are fidgety, feel the need for movement constantly. They cannot even sit down to watch  TV and will not be able to concentrate on games played on electronic devices.

In Malaysia, any child who cannot sit still and pay attention is considered to have either ADD or ADHD. Very often, parents tell me that their child faces difficulties with concentrating on school work but when it comes to the iPAD or phone or TV, they are able to sit for hours on end. Having been misled by prior information, it often takes alot of convincing to get parents to understand that their child is possible NOT having ADD or ADHD but rather some other specific learning difficulty.

ADD and ADHD like symptoms are notorious for masking other conditions. An article I read recently stated there are as many as 50 other conditions that can be mistaken for ADD and ADHD.

Here is the link for those of you who are interested.

50 Conditions that mimic ADHD

Also, do click the link on our Twitter feed with updates on the dangers of medicating young children with ADHD.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Dyslexia Assessments

This week, we are going to discuss the topic of assessment and these so called "brain training" programmes offered in Malaysia. I have already told you about "sensory integration programmes"and their lack of any valid brain research to support such "miracle therapies".

I have had a few questions put to me with regards to every programme provider wanting to conduct their own "assessments" on potential new clients. Now, what you parents need to know is that, it is one thing to want to make money from conduction a RM 200 assessment and its a whole different story about the ability of these professionals to interpret these results accurately especially in the field of specific learning difficulties. In the end, you get what you pay for. A reading test that  has not been properly normed or is not validated is NOT test! A report which reads "problems with reading, and only read 5 out of 10 words on our internal test" is not a valid test. 

If someone conducts an assessment and says to you, your child needs, "right brain or left brain" or even "both brain integration" as a result of their testing, then, please know that something is dreadfully wrong. If any side of your child's brain isn''t working, then, that child is said to have brain damage! There is absolutely no empirical/scientific evidence to suggest that left brain and right brain training programmes, much less the assessment of the same is justifiable or valid! If there was, these programmes would be used within the mainstream educational systems in the US, UK, Europe or even Canada and Finland! Stop getting taken in by these silly baseless programmes.

Intervention for specific learning difficulties lie in traditional methods which take time. Can you train for a marathon in 3 months having never exercised in your life? Its the same analogy. The brain is a muscle! Whatever, traditional methods of intervention are going to take time and require constant practice. You teach reading in 6 months but reading alone is not enough. What use is being able to read and not understand what is being read? What use is reading, when strategies that have been in place by miracle phonics programmes only serve the learner at the very basic level?e

If these professionals run tests, these tests should be standardised and norm referenced. Sure, there is a concern about the test being validated on samples in foreign countries, but if your child comes from a medium of instruction that is English,  you have little to worry about. Generally, you can expect the results to be accurate to 90% at least. 

One cannot run testing, if one possess' just a degree level qualification. One needs to be trained at postgraduate level in testing. One must know how to interpret results from these tests which means, one must have learnt how to do so by attending further training, or supervised practice. Typically, psychologists, ONLY train to run tests. They do not train to run intervention programmes. In Malaysia, they do both. Again, the reason is because, there is a lack of legislation.

International schools that advocate assessments for their learners, typically, have staff, who work on a "referral"  system with these private provisions conducting assessments. International school teachers, derive personal gain from recommending one provision over another. So, you as parents, have no choice but to equip yourself, with knowledge of what is really going on and how to overcome it in order to provide the best services for your children with learning difficulties. 

A mistake in test interpretation, leads to mistakes in the way intervention is conducted.

Brain training is nonsense! And it most certainly cannot be done in 20 sessions!! If you see that type of advertising, then, question it, ask for empirical and scientific evidence from the provider NOT just testimonies from other parents!

A good test is reported at 95% confidence intervals and generally, are tests that are published overseas. There are no psychometric tests at present time, in Malaysia, to test for dyslexia in Malay. Another pointer, is when no scores are given. An IQ test cannot diagnosed a learning difficulty on its own.

Hope this articles helps you make good decisions for your learners!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Interesting findings on ASD

Take a look at @PsyPost's Tweet: New findings on Autism

Smaller Environments benefit learners with speech delays in Malaysia

For learners who face difficulties in speaking but who are NOT speech impaired, it  seems that in developing countries, it is better for them to be placed within smaller classroom environments. This has been my experience over the last 17 years. They seem to thrive within a more controlled and small environment rather than within large mainstream classrooms. This is probably because of the lack of specialist in class support within the mainstream system,

Another benefit of smaller environments is that, the opportunities for facilitated communication to take place happens more easily and effectively, again due to the small numbers of students. Issues such as bullying and making fun can also be controlled, in a smaller environment thereby helping to increase motivation of learners as a whole group.

We all know that increasing motivation is the key to successful implementation of intervention strategies. If we are not able to motivate, learners will not be willing to try something new, something different, something challenging. They will not want to learn to talk. They will not understand the power of words spoken.

So parents, as long as you are sure that a particular provision has trained and skilled specialists, then do not worry about placing learners with speech delays in a separate setting. You do not want to choose a provision where the teachers have poor language skills, or one that uses online programmes as a basis for instruction. Such programmes like Alpha to Omega cannot be tailored to meet specific learning needs effectively. Look for provisions that specialise in applied language skills, and those that can facilitate naturalistic spoken language.

Going to mainstream school is not the only way to be schooled. Always think about what is best, for the child in a rational and logical way. Be honest with yourself. Would you rather send your child with speech delays to an environment where you feel happy, but where the child is going to be teased, discriminated against, not be understood and then, be ignored? Children who cannot speak clearly are not able to defend themselves in situations of bullying. Other kids will engage in name calling, and teasing, and these kids with speech delays will have no way to communicate what they are feeling to anyone.

What happens to motivation from there? Down hill... then, the motivation to learn will disappear too over time...

Think about these things before you decide to mainstream your child with speech delays.

For details on our homeschool programme at Sri Rafelsia,

Monday, September 19, 2016

Assessments in Special Education

Many parents and teachers do not understand the importance of proper assessments in special education.  These assessments are not the same as those conducted in mainstream school to evaluate whether or not a learner has learnt up the pre-set curriculum for that particular academic year.

Assessments in special education are 2 pronged - one for diagnosis purposes and the other as diagnostics to inform modification of intervention. Very often, I get told that our assessments at Sri Rafelsia are costly but really they aren't. Reason being, our assessments are done on both domains - diagnostic and diagnosis levels. Other places, typically only carry out assessments on one level - diagnosis.

Spending money on education is a worthy investment especially if you child has a specific learning difficulty, is high functioning and therefore, has a high IQ. Look at how successful others with specific learning difficulties have been in the past - Steve Jobs, Agatha Christie,  Michael Phelps, Tom Cruise, Lisa Ling etc

However, each one of these people received proper quality intervention and assessments for them to achieve their highest potentials. Parents must understand that to train well in special education is not cheap. And, someone who claims to be a special educator but only has a certificate or a diploma cannot be nearly as good as someone who has higher level training. A special educator is a teachers first, who has then, gone back to study and specialise in special education. They are most definitely not someone who has a degree in geology, law or computer science and then gone on to do a dodgy 3 - 6 month certificate or diploma course. How can one call themselves special educators when they are not even trained teachers and yet were allowed to do a Masters degree in special education? In Malaysia, all this is possible.

Parents, have to be weary and discerning in order to gain the best services for their children with special educational needs. How many parents have told me that they went to numerous places that claimed to be able to help their child, only to find out at age 12 years, that their child still is unable to read or comprehend a short passage, or understand word sums. It saddens me that there exist individuals who, for a few bucks, are willing to destroy another person's future.

Sometimes, it is difficult for parents for to realise that a programme or a tutor is not able to address the needs of their child. Special Education is not about a curriculum. It is about the individual learner's ability to absorb, store and apply new knowledge. The keyword is ability. If someone in special education is pretty much acting like a tuition teacher, then, you don't need them, just get a tuition teacher. Special Education focuses on skill building - cognitive skill building and that is why, assessments form a vital part of what we do. Assessments need to be re-done to measure effectiveness of intervention every 9 -12 months. No use is going on and on not knowing if its working or not. Each learner is unique, so some methods that work on others may not work on some learners.

Anyways.. be discerning and know that assessments are a pivotal in special education. Not just the administration of tests but more importantly the INTERPRETATION of test results!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Dyslexia - and the difficulties that come with it

Numerous articles focus on the surface level of difficulties associated with dyslexia. Its time for you, as parents to be aware of the other issues that surround dyslexia. Its not enough to just try to correct the reading problem using phonics.

Parents, dyslexia is a complex difficulty that involves problems with processing text. Its not just reading. Reading is the last symptom that you see as a result of the many other difficulties that surround dyslexia.

A child who seems to be reading of a Peter & Jane book is not necessarily reading. Most tutors are not trained in dyslexia in Malaysia. They have little knowledge of the complexity of the issue. So a tutor who uses one specific reading programme to supposedly remediate dyslexia is not doing your child any justice. Dyslexics are typically, high functioning - they are highly intelligent children. Along with that intelligence comes the ability to use visual cues to help recall the words on a page. test your child, either with the dyslexia test on our Sri Rafelsia website or, simply, get your children to read the text from a book, from back to front. If they really know how to read, reading from back to front, does not change the print. It changes the order in which they need to process. If your child struggles, then, you must get a new tutor! Get one who is trained properly to get the job done. Experience is not qualification!

There are cognitive problems which need to be tested for and identified. Very often, these kids have difficulties with remembering information too! If I can't remember what has been taught to be 20 minutes earlier, then, there is a serious problem. Parents who have children who are dyslexic know this feeling of frustration experienced by both child and parents. Even tutors get frustrated. But, bear in mind this is one of the problems that dyslexics often face. You can't keep drumming it in, if there is a problem with how information is stored. This needs expert help.

Another difficulty is when the child constantly says, he/she is sleepy when the work is brought out. Remember, it is a difficulty with processing print - all areas of processing print. So, bring a book out, and in 5 minutes the child starts yawning or saying they have a headache. Again, another real symptom of specific learning difficulties.

Sometimes, some children have difficulties recalling what is said to them. They seem "spaced out"! Again, a real problem! Teachers experience it in classrooms, parents experience it at home.When the brain gets tired of trying to process print, it will shut down.

So, these are a few less discussed signs because most tutors are not even aware of them. Get help, for your sake and for the sake of the child! Do it now... the longer you delay, the more compounded the difficulty becomes! These are highly intelligent children and if left without proper intervention, will end up not achieving their highest potentials!

Call us, email us!

Early Signs of Dyslexia

While most of us think that the signs of dyslexia appear in preschool when a learner starts to reverse letters (confuse b/d , p/q, m/w, h/y) or have difficulties learning the alphabet sequence we are mistaken. The are some early signs  that had we been aware of them, we could have got expert help sooner rather than later.

Many parents feel that the kindergartens are equipped with the expertise to deal with specific learning difficulties. Many do claim to but wait a minute. Not all kindergartens even have trained teachers. At best a third of their teachers have early childhood teaching diplomas. What more training in specific learning difficulties? Experience is not expertise. But never mind that. That is a topic for another blog entry.

Some early signs include a very short crawling stage. Many children who are predisposed to dyslexia go thru a rather short crawling stage and go straight into walking. Typically, by age 1, these lil champs have started walking.  However, while the walking occurs quickly, there is a clear delay in speech development. That means the first words appear later than other kids their age. Sentence formation is also delayed. Sometimes, the quality of sound is muffled or unclear. Stop listening to the grandmother tales about how boys are slower and that the child's great uncle twice removed had a similar problem and out grew it!. We live in the 21st century,folks!

Then, there is another little sign - poor ability to stay focused on any task - be it watching TV, or playing with a specific toy. Generally, these children prefer to play with multiple toys in a short span of time. Any distraction will get them moving on to something else.

One more little early sign is clumsiness. The child predispose to dyslexia often bumps into things or trips on their own legs and falls down. They seem to also have a poor sense of balance in these early years compared to their peers. They may learn to jump at a later stage too. However, pls do not think that these problems with coordination stay forever. They tend to out grow it with additional physical activities like playing in the park and being encouraged to try to learn to jump. These are just markers to watch out for in the early stages before the age of 3 years.

Can anything be done? Of course... if you notice it.. we can start reducing issues from early on. Start with early intervention for their cognitive abilities - send them to provisions that can explicitly teach skills that are lacking. Obviously you need to go to places can actually identify weaknesses at that young age to begin with.

BEWARE of the many gimmick programmes out there and the many many quack interventionists as well. I am tired of unqualified people trying to mess up the field of special education in Malaysia.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

UPDATE: MMR vs Autism

Please read and decide for yourselves if now, you as parents, will think 100 times before vaccinating your children against MMR.   Many of us in special education have been advocating against the MMR because we were still seeing this specific form of ASD in our classrooms. BUT, I can tell you, the amount of skepticism because doctors kept on advocating FOR it. In my own family and amongst my own friends, they would not listen.....


Vaccines causing Autism