News from The Yellin Center: Spring 2022
News from The Yellin Center: Spring 2022
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The Yellin Center

News from The Yellin Center: Spring 2022

Focusing on Phonics

By Paul B. Yellin, MD, FAAP

In March, new New York City Schools Chancellor David Banks shared his vision for the city’s schools. It included a commitment to change the Department of Education’s (DOE) reading instruction to adopt an approach with a greater emphasis on phonics. 

Why is this change significant? After all, for years, the neuroscience research has been unambiguous about the central role of phonics in the acquisition of reading. While there is no question that humans are hard-wired for language, reading is a completely different matter. As the French neuroscientist Stanislav Dehaene has eloquently described in his “neuronal recycling theory,” learning to read involves rewiring our brains. When children learn to read, they are actually assigning new functions to existing brain circuits. The process begins with mastery of each individual sound that is specific to each language - the phoneme. New readers must be explicitly taught to connect sounds with letters, what we call phonics.

This new commitment to phonics instruction is significant because the central role of phonics in reading acquisition has not made its way into enough classrooms. In fact, previously, NYC Schools embraced an approach that did not include phonics instruction at its core. Two critical elements of our new Chancellor’s approach will include universal screening for dyslexia and more resources devoted to serving children with dyslexia. I also was pleased to hear that the DOE plans to partner with the Windward School, an organization that has expertise not just in teaching children with dyslexia, but also in supporting their transition back to mainstream schools.      

However, this is not only relevant for students with reading challenges in public schools. Misunderstanding of dyslexia is widespread. Many people continue to believe that dyslexia is a vision problem that makes children see letters backwards. As a result, they may miss opportunities to build foundational reading skills. Ensuring that children have exposure to spoken language is critical.  

One of the most common reasons for early referral to The Yellin Center is reading delay. Because reading is one of the first milestones in a child’s academic career, such delays can have an enormous impact on self-esteem. Despite the fact that there is no correlation between early reading and overall intelligence, children who lag behind their classmates in their acquisition of foundational reading skills may perceive themselves as globally deficient.  

Too often, parents who are concerned about early reading struggles are ignored or told that “it is too early” to tell. Yet early markers for reading delays can be detected in the youngest children. Parents can seek assessments from their schools or from independent clinicians. However, even in the absence of a formal diagnosis, there are many ways that parents can help bolster early reading skills.  

So what can parents do? Nothing beats spending time speaking with and reading to your child. Rhyming games help children learn to appreciate and play with the sounds of language.  Early access to audiobooks can help build fluency and comprehension while improving access to content. The most effective audiobooks are those that can be linked to digital formats where the written words are highlighted as they are read. They can improve word recognition, decoding skills, and vocabulary, while modeling fluent oral reading. Allowing struggling readers to access audiobooks can support self-esteem by allowing them to “read” the same books as their peers, even if they are struggling with independent reading. For young children, we often recommend One More Story, an online library of children's literature read aloud and set to music. Words are highlighted in sync with the narration, so pre-readers begin to connect the spoken and written word. 

Reading challenges are among the most common concerns in every age group that we see at The Yellin Center-from early elementary school, through college, and even medical school. Subtle difficulties may go unnoticed, particularly in bright, highly verbal students. They may present as spelling difficulties, slow reading, or simply never reading for pleasure. Regardless, it is important to know that it is never too early or too late to help struggling readers. If you have questions about whether your child may have dyslexia or another reading challenge, you might want to start with a brief conversation during my call-in hour each Thursday morning from 8-9 am EST. No appointment is needed and there is no charge. 

A Season of Renewal

When we closed our offices abruptly because of the pandemic in March 2020, we left behind our office plants. The largest plant, a dwarf umbrella tree (schefflera arboricola), had been living on our reception area window ledge, where it was thriving in the sunshine. When we returned to our office that June, all of our plants were in bad shape, but our umbrella tree seemed past saving. 

We took the plant to our rear door and left it – banged up plastic planter and all – to be taken out with the trash. 

A few weeks later, our terrific building Super told us he had a gift for us. It took us a moment to recognize the tiny green limb, no more than six inches high, that was in a large, shiny pot. Our Super had rescued the sole surviving stem, fed it, watered it, and planted it in fresh soil in its old pot, newly painted. 

Our umbrella tree is doing great! Like The Yellin Center – and the rest of New York City – our schefflera arboricola slowly came back to life and is enjoying the spring weather. We hope you are too!

Sharing Legal Information

It has been a busy few months for Susan Yellin, an attorney and our Director of Advocacy and Transition Services. In addition to meetings with Yellin Center families who need information about their child’s rights under special education laws, she has been writing and speaking to a larger audience. On March 8, she presented a webinar to more than 1600 people about IEPs and 504 Plans and how to solve common issues that parents encounter with these programs.

In mid-March, she was interviewed about ADHD in the workplace as part of Women’s Palooza, an online conference for women dealing with ADHD. And, on Thursday, April 28 at 6 p.m. Eastern, she will reprise her discussion of ADHD in the workplace at a virtual meeting of the Manhattan Adult Attention Deficit Disorder Support Group, which -- for nearly 30 years -- has served adults with ADHD in greater NYC. This Zoom presentation will be open to the public. 

The Importance of Adequate Sleep

By Jessica Lang
Sleep continues to be a vital part of everyone’s daily routine, and the importance of adequate sleep for children and teens cannot be overstated. Throughout the years, we have found that many of the young people with whom we work get less sleep than would be optimal for their mood and academic performance. How much sleep do children and teens need? 
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that children between 3-5 years old sleep 10-13 hours per day (including naps). 6-12 year olds should sleep between 9-12 hours daily, and teens 13-18 years old should sleep 8-10 hours per day. 
One study from 2019 in the Journal of Adolescent Health reported that memory was significantly impaired in adolescents who slept for only five hours a night for five nights in a row when compared to adolescents who slept for nine hours. After receiving the same lesson, the group with restricted sleep remembered 26% less information after 30 minutes, and 34% less after three days. 
Consistent sleep is important for learning skills, executive function, and emotional well-being and can ensure that children and teens are ready for the school day ahead. With this in mind, we have several tips on sleep hygiene that may help your child get better sleep:
  • Follow the sleep recommendations noted above.
  • Stick to a regular routine as best you can.
  • Have a fixed wake up time and a fixed bed time every night, including weekends if possible.
  • Engage in relaxing activities before bed, such as deep breathing, meditation, and stretching; using a white noise machine can also be helpful.
  • Incorporate physical activity into your child’s daily routine; this can help with sleep quality and reduce the time it takes to fall asleep.
  • Stop the use of electronic devices an hour before bedtime and remove them from the bedroom; the use of e-readers and other “blue light” devices can interfere with sleep. 
Jessica Lang is a Clinic Coordinator at The Yellin Center and a graduate student in psychology at Teachers College of Columbia University.
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The Yellin Center | 104 West 29th Street | 12th Floor | New York, NY 10001 | | | 646-775-6646
©Paul B. Yellin M.D. P.L.L.C.

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