Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
EVALUATION AND TESTING
Most of our clients come to us seeking help for persons who are experiencing major learning difficulties in an academic setting. In some cases such persons have been labeled as "learning disabled". This is a legal description that requires the public schools to provide remediation programs in that setting. In other cases, the person may be inconsistently or not at all diagnosed as "learning disabled", but continue to function inadequately within the academic setting. Still others have been labeled as Dyslexic, or having Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) and dropped out of, or have been passed through the public school system. Later these find themselves still unable to function adequately in vocational and/or social settings. These people have usually experienced successive failures and frustrations over a long period of time. This usually results in poor self-esteem, lowered motivation, and maladaptive social behavior patterns.
Learning problems have finally been acknowledged in our country. Children with such difficulties are often diagnosed as "dyslexic", which is a generic term meaning that they are unable to read. Adults, who have begun to admit and reveal such problems out of desperation to find a way to survive in an increasingly computerized and paperwork oriented world, are now called "functional illiterates". Large sums of federal, state, and local monies have been provided to public schools in order to combat and overcome these problems.
The term Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder relates to problems that people have dealing with the ability to function adequately in learning or work environments. This label has been used in epidemic proportions in the present, and during the past ten years. As many as fifty percent of the children in some classrooms have been given this label. Adults are also being diagnosed as having this problem. At the present time all diagnosis have been done by symptoms only.
In spite of sophisticated evaluation instruments, individual education plans, special education teachers and programs, resource rooms, Chapter 1 programs and hearing and speech specialists, there are, however, too many of these students who are still "falling through the cracks". Private schools and learning centers have begun to spring up all over the country. Volunteer tutoring groups for non-reading adults have become available. The Departments of Labor and education and private industry are gearing activities with the hope of solving this serious problem.
Most of these programs, however, are taking an academic achievement approach. On the surface this makes good sense. Persons with these problems must be taught to understand and use language efficiently in order to succeed in a world that demands such skills. All of these programs are helping to some degree. We must take a look at the fact that most of these people are not suffering from a lack of education. They have almost all been through our education system. It is at this point that one must question whether or not further tutoring in basic language skills can be the entire answer to the problem.
The Sharper Minds method considers and engages learning and other information processing problems from the point of the basic learning process itself. We, as human beings, are required to take information into our brain through six avenues: eyesight, hearing, touch, taste, smell, and the kinesthetic sense. We all need to develop certain processes or abilities to do this. According to the experts in this field, there are at least forty-three distinct processes that we are required to learn if we are going to use our minds efficiently. In the case of persons with learning problems, we find disorders in one or more of the basic perceptual processes involved in understanding or in the use of the spoken and written language. This disorder may manifest itself in impaired ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell or do mathematical calculation, according to a 1970 U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare definition. These disorders include such conditions as perceptual handicaps, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.
The legal descriptions of this kind of person do not include those who have learning problems which are said to be primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor handicaps, of mental retardation, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental disadvantage. We have observed, though, that no matter what the cause of a learning dysfunction, that similar training techniques have been effective, for the most part, making significant differences in the ability to process information. With improved information processing skills, that person is now more apt to learn, apply and test high in areas of specific subject matter. Until then, however, representation of information meets with the same inaccurate interpretation of data within the brain that retarded the learning process originally. In addition, we have observed that the same processing abilities that are necessary for learning academic subjects seem to be needed for social and emotional development. Therefore, we also see significant changes in self perception and social skills occurring as a result of an improved ability to process information. These findings are very significant, in that it qualifies as potential beneficiaries, candidates who are not "Learning Disabled,", but in-fact are standard and high academic achievers. The natural product and side benefit of Sharper Minds TRAINING is that it engages the whole person, both mentally and physically.
Sharper Minds training is not a replacement for current educational programs created to combat learning problems. It is viewed, rather, as a state-of-the-art developmental training program designed to train dysfunctional processing systems within the brain so that learned information can either be retrieved and put to use by the student, or be accurately represented, processed effectively, and utilized to adequately meet the demands of the society in which we live.
The first step toward remediation of learning problems is accurate diagnosis of dysfunctional areas. Sharper Minds uses a battery of instruments designed to focus on and evaluate each person's ability to process information accurately. It has been determined that our abilities to receive data into our brains and respond appropriately are most critical in the perceptions of shape, size, position in space, directionality, and figure-ground. We are particularly interested in the perceptual development of these areas although forty-three processes are considered. We determine the preferred sensory learning style of each student (visual, auditory, or kinesthetic), check for stress levels, estimate the level of self esteem, evaluate auditory discrimination skills, tendencies toward skimming or detailing, and ability to follow verbal and visual instruction.
Clarification of problem areas as revealed and documented by the responses in the testing procedure will help us to understand as much as possible about the source of the problems in regard to critical perceptual processes. With these testing devices we will be able to determine whether or not the Sharper Minds TRAINING can address the kinds of problems presented. The test results are used as guidelines in dealing specifically with that trainee in the application of our training program.
These instruments also help us to verify in an objective manner what parents and/or students have written or told us in the case history concerning the learning problem. These people have often developed an impression of what is wrong and describe the symptoms. Their idea of what is causing the problems may or may not be accurate and can many times be mislabeled as laziness, poor attitude, stupidity, etc. An explanation of critical processing factors underlying the learning problem can easily be translated into descriptive sample behaviors with which the student or the parent can often relate from personal experience. These tests are also helpful in bypassing emotional and faultfinding approaches to the client's problems and gives direction in establishing an objective problem-solving attitude on the part of all concerned.
Most diagnostic instruments used to evaluate learning problems involve what we call Neurolinguistics. This is when a person has to take in information through eyesight or hearing and respond through spoken or written language. Neurolinguistic factors in conventional testing procedures tend to mask the critical processes underlying the inability to succeed with the tasks required on such test. Our Critical Process Analysis helps to specify these perceptual deficiencies as well as guide remediation procedures. However, once Sharper Minds TRAINING is completed, the trainee will now have acquired the fundamental learning skills necessary to be successful.
CRITICAL PROCESS ANALYSIS
Though the information processing abilities regarding shape, size, position in space, directionality and figure-ground are deemed critical to learning by the Sharper Minds method, it must be understood that all forty-three processes are considered by the evaluation procedure. Many of these processing skills overlap and work together during the learning experience. Each skill, however, is distinct and necessary in and of itself. In its emphasis on these five, our program will touch on all of the others. Development of each skill is interlinked with the development of several others. In this way, all processing systems should show improvement after completion of the program.
Each of the five critical processing skills will now be described and considered individually:
Our brain categorizes things with which we come into contact according to shape. It has an extremely important role in our individual interpretation of our world Small infants learn to recognize that all objects have a shape. When they attach a name to a particular object, they attach a speech symbol. Thus we see its importance in language development. The brain applies a perception of shape throughout the entire sensory system. Each sensory area will utilize it in determining the meaning of objects in its environment.
If a person has difficulty with the accurate perception of shape, he will often have trouble in the areas of language, reading, and math because all of these areas deal with shape as a factor. For example, in order to read, the brain must derive meaning from symbolic letters on a page. The brain has to discriminate between the horizontal and vertical makeup of a letter and sort out which one it is and which ones it isn't. Once that letter is recognized with certainty, the brain moves on to the next letter and so on. Eventually this process becomes very fluid and fast. It is automatic and takes only a millisecond to perform.
However, if the brain is not reporting this data accurately, then the mind has to guess. If after awhile, it realizes that this guess is not making sense, it goes back to the place where the misperception occurred and makes another guess. Perhaps that guess fits and the brain goes on. But perhaps the guess doesn't fit. Then the brain has to go back again. That is why we sometimes have to go back and reread a section repeatedly until the brain comes up with an interpretation that will work. So it becomes apparent that if the perceptual area is working accurately only a certain percentage of the time, it will cause confusion, and necessitate reprocessing as often as data is interpreted incorrectly.
This also explains the inconsistency of varying responses to the same information (e.g., the teacher is certain that the student knows the material because he reported it accurately before). Unfortunately, the same information he processed and reported back accurately before may very likely be reprocessed inaccurately the next time. The teacher, not understanding the difficulty with the underlying processing skill, may then berate the child for daydreaming or not paying attention. Both teacher and child are frustrated, but the child suffers further confusion and damage to his self-esteem because he, in all likelihood, tried just as hard the second time as he did the first.
Misperception of shape will, in the broader sense, cause confusion and inappropriate responses to environment and social situations by distorting the meaning. Actually, this is true regarding misperception in all of the critical processing categories (shape, size, position in space, direction, and figure-ground). The problem is that the brain will also accept misinformation if it makes sense at all, so that the entire meaning of a word, story, or whatever, may be changed, but the mind will accept it as correct and, therefore, respond to it that way.
The perception of size involves all aspects of volume and relates to time. It has to do with where we are as related to distant objects. Since objects appear to diminish with distance, a lowered ability to judge size accurately can result in being accident prone or clumsy. If a driver, for example, misperceives the size of a parking space, a fender bender is likely to occur.
A person who frequently feels "overwhelmed" or, conversely, "never takes anything seriously enough", may well have a problem with size perception. A task may seem much larger than it is in reality. In this case, the person may decide that it will take too much effort and/or time to do the task and never start. If, on the other hand, the task appears smaller than it really is, the person might put it off until the last minute and not have adequate time to complete it.
Size perception is used in all of the sensory areas. We make auditory judgments about loudness and softness, smooth and erratic, etc. Kinesthetically, we make decisions about hard, smooth, soft, pressure, pliability, etc. Even taste and smell have size factors as we judge bitterness, sweetness, odor, aroma, etc.
In the emotional area, a misperception of size may also bring about inappropriate social responses. Over or under reactions to another person's approval or disapproval is one example. We may label such a person as "wearing her heart on her sleeve", or "insensitive".
POSITION IN SPACE
When we consider our world, we must always take into account our relationships to where we are as compared to the things we find around us. This ability to accurately perceive our position in space will determine the meaning we attach to that relationship. For example, we can think of ourselves in regard to where we sit in a car. If we sit in the driver's seat, we think of ourselves as the driver. In any other seat, we are a passenger.
One obvious result of confusion with position in space is getting lost. This problem is also effected by difficulties in judging direction and other perceptual categories. We may laugh about minor difficulties with finding our way, but severe problems in this area are very debilitating. Problems may occur out in the countryside, on well-marked city streets, in a department store or even in a large, unfamiliar house.
Perception of one's position in space also greatly effects judgments of emotional and even spiritual space. Inaccurate data in this area causes inappropriate social responses and often results in rejection within the person's social world. A common example is the person who comes physically too close to another person unwittingly invading their personal space. The other person may not even realize why, but he will most likely back away with a vague feeling of annoyance or threat. The offender feels the withdrawal, but has no idea what he has done wrong and eventually may view himself as intrinsically unacceptable socially. The opposite misperception of his position in space may result in his projecting inappropriate emotional distance in relationships, which causes other kinds of social problems.
In language development, misperception in this area may be manifested by verbal or reading sequencing problems. "Losing one's place" while reading is an example. It is also very difficult to tell a story in logical order if one's position in space perception is poor.
Goal setting in trying to accomplish a given task or even life planning becomes very difficult when one has problems in this area because the concepts of "Where have I been? Where am I? And where am I going?" will be confusing.
This critical process involves making distinctions between details and the environment or background in which these details are set. Everything in the world has a detail and a background. Each person needs to be able to deal with what we call the gestalt problem. Gestalt is like a stew, which contains potatoes, carrots, and onions. Each of these vegetables has a different identity, taste, shape, size, etc. When we group them together, we create a gestalt, which is different from any of the individual ingredients. In a similar way, the world is made up of many detailed parts that one must be able to recognize and deal with as a whole, but also be able to accurately respond to each of the parts when necessary.
Being able to perceive the figure and the background is important in reading for example, because one must respond differently to individual letters than when those letters are combined to form words. Then, words take on different meanings in the context of a sentence, a paragraph, a setting, and so on.
Detail always gives meaning. Sometimes a person will be completely unaware of a detail or respond inappropriately to it because he is not able to perceive correctly how it fits into the background. Conversely, if the individual only sees the big picture (skimming), he may not be able to decipher enough of the detail to recreate the whole.
Inability to perceive figure ground accurately can be a source of social problems (e.g. when one is unable to make or understand comments within the context of the social situation). Again, inappropriate responses cause confusion, loss of communication, and discomfort in the relationship and can result in rejection. Indeed, if this perceptual area is severely underdeveloped, the person may even be regarded as mentally retarded because of socially inappropriate behaviors.
The ability of the individual to deal with direction as related to his world is the single most important skill that we will be considering when we analyze the ability to process information. If an individual has trouble perceiving direction accurately, such things as right-left, front-behind, loud-soft, hot-cold, sweet-sour, etc., may be confusing. This is because one always uses a directional skill in his approach to gathering information from the environment when he makes any form of comparison.
Shape, size, position in space, and figure ground are all considered by the brain in sensory analysis, but not always utilized. Directional perception, however, appears to be used as at least one of the components in each determination the brain makes. This skill is also used by each of the sensory areas. Therefore, problems with directional skills will negatively effect every part of the learning process.
Directional problems are recognized by educators in the school environment as reversal of letters (b, p, d) and words (was, saw). If such reversals continue to occur in language development after the ages of 6 or 7, directional processing problems exists.
We have recently begun to make a distinction between the general skill involved in determining direction and another, which we call holographic directionality. It is thought that perhaps a different type of skill may be operating when a person tries to determine the directionality of other persons or things in his environment (e.g. the other person facing him). In order to determine in their mind this kind of directionality, one must create a mental picture and be able to turn that picture around and examine it from all angles. This works much the same as a computer does with a holographic image of a three dimensional object.
This perceptual skill has been included in our testing procedure because it is a particular combination of position in space and directionality. It is important for an individual to be able to determine not just where he is in his environment, but also how that position relates to something or someone else in his world. A person who perceives angle incorrectly may proceed methodically toward a goal, but in the end will "miss the mark" because of those misperceptions.
OTHER TEST ITEMS
SKIMMING AND/OR DETAILING
These skills develop from the perception of figure ground previously discussed. Strong dominance of one over the other will cause difficulties in the learning process.
A strongly dominant skimmer may be able to pick up overall meanings, but be unable to examine the components upon which such meanings are built and, thus, lose the full understanding of concepts, operations, etc. He may have great difficulty in planning either an individual activity or his life. He may know what he wants, but have no idea what will be involved in getting it. Such people often describe their lives or their experiences as boring.
A highly detailed person can lose himself in time and space within the details he loves. He may start working toward a goal and then run into one detail that leads to another and another. Eventually, he will either lose his motivation to reach the original goal, forget where he was going, or run out of time and opportunity to pursue it.
We use a test developed by the Pittsburgh Perception Discrimination Project in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It is set up with nationally standardized norms to grade level. The test uses individual letters, words and sounds spoken aloud to the testee. One of these is then taken out of a word and the person is requested to say what the balance of the word has become without the eliminated component (e.g. "meat" without the "m" is "eat").
Persons with a lowered ability to discriminate between sounds are likely to confuse similar sounds in speech, reading and in writing. Confusion of such letters as C and S, or G and 3, are common.
A condition called auditory or hearing dyslexia may be operating in such persons in whom reversals occur in the reproduction of sounds and/or auditory distortions occur in the perception of sound. Severe problems are usually manifested in poor speech skills, but milder auditory discrimination problems may be causing great difficulty with comprehension and communication without the cause being detected.
AUDITORY INSTRUCTION TEST
This test is designed to observe if the individual is able to modify a series of activities when it is required, or if he carries on with the activity after it is no longer required. The latter is called perseverance. It also determines the ability of the person to follow oral instruction and tests the skill of pulling details out of a background known as the gestalt factor. This test will often uncover tendencies toward directional dyslexia
Problems with the required tasks on this test may further indicate auditory discrimination problems and/or that the mental picture process is not working in response to auditory stimuli. The manner in which a person deals with this test will indicate if they prefer details or skimming as their preferred method of information processing.
RANDOM ALPHABET RECOGNITION TEST
It is important to note if the testee reads only the line that was instructed or whether he continues with other lines. (See auditory instruction.) We ask the person to copy the fourth row down from the top. We examine the reproduction carefully to see if it is detailed, crowded, written in large or small letters, drawn at an angle, directly under the letters of the last line, etc. This test can give us a good look at all the critical processes in operation at the same time, and the stress levels of each testee.
SELF ESTEEM TEST
This test was developed to help us determine the negative and positive feelings the person has about himself at the time of the test. He or she is asked to complete the half-drawn features of two faces. On the second face, the choice is given to draw a happy face or sad face. If the sad face is completed, we ask the question, "Is that a sad face?" If the reply is affirmative, we ask why? If the reply indicates a rather random choice, then we put a question mark on the test sheet and refer back to the case history and behavioral observations, though, the choice to draw a sad face may be an indication of low self-esteem or a troubled personality.
However, it would be erroneous to conversely assume that the person has a high self-esteem only on the basis that he chose to draw the happy face. The sad face may only indicate either a conscious awareness of the distress or an unconscious "cry for help."
EYESIGHT RECOGNITION TEST
PART ONE (At Grade Level) This is a word recognition test, not a reading test!
The score, however, has been found to correlate about 90-93% with the reading level reported by the public schools. We use the words that the person does not recognize in this test later to test his ability to sound out words using eyesight and phonics combined (sounding out words).
We ask the person to spell words on paper that he recognized and that he read from memory (eidetic memory). We also ask the person to listen to words spoken orally that he was previously unable to recognize with eyesight and unable to sound out visually. We then ask him to write the word down phonetically taking the word in through the hearing systems and making a mental picture of the word in graphic form (auditory phonics). People with learning problems seem to have three things in common about 50% of the time:
When we find a low level of eyesight decoding skills in reading and a high level of auditory decoding skills, we suspect a low comprehension level of reading. We also usually discover the person reading about the speed they talk.
When we find a high level of eyesight recognition of words at grade level and a low level of comprehension, it is most likely that this person is not reading at grade level at all, but is merely naming objects. We happen to call these "objects" words. These objects have names, but may not trigger a mental picture in the person's mind of what they are supposed to represent, as a written symbol should. Such persons can read the words, but have no idea what they mean.
Whenever a person is unable to interpret data accurately in any of the critical processing areas, the errors in judgement and the resultant failures to perform as one intends, will create stress. Inhibiting mechanisms that cause one to control movements and responses operate at high levels in stressful conditions.
Thus, stress can retard or even shut down the learning process even when accurate sensory data is being received. In other words, stress-causing failures can prevent learning even in situations in which no significant learning disability is present.
Stress factors have been shown to cause performance to "collapse inwards" as stress builds and to eventually "shut down" at some point. This phenomenon is often demonstrated throughout our testing procedures. Testees may make their drawings progressively smaller as they proceed through the test and the stress they experience increases. Other indications of stress are demonstrated when a person writes large, scrawled letters, crowds letters into the corner of a page or squashes them together on a line. Size and position in space are specifically effected by stress.
Many existing tests and evaluations attempting to diagnose dyslexia, ADD or ADHD today deal by analyzing subjective symptoms such as:
While these tests may have their place, the subjective nature of the testing has resulted in the unfortunate, as the DEA statement says, over-diagnosis and over-prescribing of powerful psychostimulants such as Ritalin for the alleged treatment of these conditions. Most of these tests are designed to place a LABEL, generally that of ADD/ADHD on the condition.
Testimony before congress on the subjects of drugs for dyslexics, or ADD, ADHD individuals, indicated that around 95% of those who were diagnosed (using the subjective tests) didn't really have these conditions.
The Sharper Minds evaluation process is an objective test that covers not only the five critical processing skills:
but also touches on testing for the other 43 distinct processes for using the mind efficiently. Its goal is determining the actual neurologic deficiency causing the learning disability.
Other aspects evaluated include:
The results are repeatable, and deviations from the norm are obvious to concerned observers such as parents, grandparents, teachers or a guardian who are to be present when a child or loved one is tested.
If you suspect that a child or loved one may have a processing inability, contact Sharper Minds and schedule an objective diagnostic test. The results will be eye opening and encouraging!
As parents of a dyslexic, ADD child, we found tremendous hope at the evaluation session, since not only were our suspicions confirmed, but a drug-free, lasting solution to the condition was available.
The cost for the two hour evaluation is very minimal compared to years of frustration that all too frequently happen when these conditions are not dealt with properly.
Why not call Today to schedule an appointment? You'll be glad you did.
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