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Controversial Therapies: What Parents Need to Know

Controversial Therapies - Learning DisabilitiesWhen it comes to specific learning disabilities, there are some things that we know for sure: they are real, they are not something that a person outgrows, and they are equal opportunity disorders, meaning that they affect males and females alike and don’t confine themselves to a particular place or situation. Ask anyone who struggles, for example, with dyslexia (LD in reading) about their challenges in areas such as sounding out words, spelling, writing and understanding and remembering what they’ve read and it will become clear that LD does not just go away and can, throughout a person’s lifetime, pose hurdles to success in school, at home, in the community, and in the workplace. Are learning disabilities a prescription for frustration and failure? Absolutely not. Can individuals who have LD achieve success? Absolutely yes. But here is where it gets tricky. What specific types of instruction, intervention (also called remediation) and therapy are most likely to help individuals with LD to overcome or compensate for their difficulties? Are these treatments quick-fixes or will they have lasting results? Are they based on intuition, pseudo-science, strong scientific evidence, wishful thinking, or some combination of the above? And how can informed decisions be made about what to try and what to avoid?

Pursuing Extracurricular Treatment Options for LDFor the purpose of this article, let’s not focus on classroom instruction. Schools are doing the best they can (and they’re getting better all the time). Federal law and state and local practices are in place to ensure that all students can receive targeted and appropriate instruction and support. Instead, let’s consider the types of additional treatments that students are receiving, either through fee-for-service arrangements by schools or privately funded by parents at the encouragement of schools or on their own.

Start With What You Know About Your ChildI love music. Singing, playing instruments, going to concerts, you name it. Music keeps me calm, helps me to feel refreshed, provides a meaningful connection to others, and on and on. The only time when I absolutely must turn the music off is when I am reading or writing. Others, including my own children, prefer to complete reading and writing tasks with music playing in the background. So let’s frame some questions I’d ask myself if I wanted to be better at listening to music while doing other activities that demanded focus and concentration:

  • Can I train myself to filter out or mask the sounds that interfere with my reading, thinking, remembering, retrieving, and producing quality work? (Probably, or perhaps a “definite maybe.”)
  • Would undergoing a program of training to accomplish this have spill-over benefits for me in other areas of thinking and information processing? (This is precisely the kind of benefit promised by many treatments and therapies.)
  • Would my completing the training build my confidence as a learner and encourage me to push harder to accomplish other goals that are seem out of reach given how I am “wired” to learn? (It could be.)
  • What will this training cost me in terms of time, effort, and money? (And will I benefit if I do only parts of the treatment and not the entire program?)
  • Have others tried this training and succeeded? (If so, are they like me in ways that would predict my own success? Have the benefits of the training been shown to last over time?)
  • Have others tried and not achieved any real benefit (and if so, in what ways are they like me?)
  • Has anyone done careful research to discover for whom this type of training works to achieve what specific types of outcomes (i.e., benefits) over what period of time? (This is a critical question to ask, and often the most difficult question to answer.)

The answers to these questions will help guide your decision about whether a particular treatment is worth consideration or whether it is a stab-in-the-dark, based on a gut feeling like it-might-not-help-but-couldn’t-hurt. When searching for answers, don’t just ask one person, even if they have first-hand experience with the treatment. And listen carefully for key words and phrases (read more about this below) that could help you filter and evaluate what you have learned. This can be a difficult and often confusing process, but don’t be discouraged. Knowledge is power and being an informed consumer is the best thing you can do for yourself and your child.
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