Clearwater Academy has developed unique educational and therapeutic opportunities for students showing neurodevelopmental disorders. This may include children diagnosed with the following issues. Very frequently a student will display a combination of these with accompanying emotional/social concerns especially including anxiety and notable self-organizational problems. As you seek to understand if ClearWater Academy is the right fit for your child, please reference the following brief explanations. Of course, only a visit can truly determine if ClearWater Academy is right for your family. Please contact the director at your earliest convenience.
Non-verbal Learning Disability
Students with a nonverbal learning disability (NLD) typically have strengths in language functioning but have significant difficulty with visual-spatial processing, motor development, the ability to generate problem-solving strategies in more novel, complex situations and in “getting the big picture” in situations. NLD students often have a history of problems in motor development and may appear somewhat awkward with both gross and fine motor coordination problems. They are often more detail-oriented and have difficulty in picking up nuances in social situations, especially with nonverbal (visual) cues. Academically, these students tend to do well in areas such as reading decoding skills and spelling but have difficulty, especially in later years, with reading comprehension, several aspects of math, written expression and with organization.
Asperger’s Syndrome is now classified as being on the autism spectrum. However, it is important to note that these students often have a very different set of strengths and challenges than other students on the autism spectrum. Students with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) tend to be strong in many language areas and tend to do well academically with reading decoding and spelling, but like students with a nonverbal learning disability, have more trouble with aspects of reading comprehension, written expression, math and organization. There is often considerable overlap between students with a nonverbal learning disability and students with Asperger’s Syndrome. Asperger’s Syndrome is considered to be a neurodevelopmental disorder and these students may exhibit significant problems with social interaction abilities, social-emotional reciprocity, and difficulty in developing, maintaining and understanding relationships with others. They may also display stereotypical, repetitive patterns of behaviors, can be very rigid in their behavior and have highly restricted, fixated interests that are very intense and focused. Sensory issues are also often a part of the entire symptom picture.
High Functioning Autism
Students with high functioning autism (HFA) tend to have stronger language skills than other students on the autism spectrum and greater intellectual capacity. They display a pattern of difficulty with social communication and social interaction and especially have difficulty with initiating or responding to social interactions, with social/emotional reciprocity or the ability to engage in normal back-and-forth conversation and to share interests, emotions and affect with others. They are often less interested in peers and may display difficulty with body language understanding and in maintaining eye contact and have difficulty with nonverbal communicative behaviors generally used for social interaction. HFA students often display an inflexible adherence to routines or more ritualized patterns of behavior, may display stereotypical or repetitive motor movements, echolalia or repetition of idiosyncratic phrases. Such students often have very restricted and fixated interests that take up much of their time or what they want to communicate about. Sensory issues are often seen and can be fairly intense. Academic issues can vary, especially in regard to the individual student’s level of language functioning.
Language-based Learning Disabilities
Students with language-based learning disabilities generally have difficulty with academic tasks such as reading – both decoding words and reading comprehension – written expression and aspects of math, although math can be a relative strength. These students vary considerably from child to child depending on factors such as overall intellectual level, the extent of dysfunction within the language system and the presence of any other neurodevelopmental factors that can influence their academic development. They often have accompanying speech problems, may have difficulty with listening comprehension and with tasks that require sequencing of information and attention to details. Such students often display strength in visual-spatial understanding and problem-solving and benefit by approaches that highlight the use of these strength areas. They may also show problems with phonological processing and auditory processing and have particular difficulty in following verbal and sometimes written directions.
Dyslexia is simply a term that designates that a student has a disability in learning to decode words for reading. Almost all students with dyslexia have a problem with phonological processing of sounds and sound patterns and may also have a problem with automaticity – or making things automatic in the brain. Dyslexic students generally also have problems with spelling and written expression, although verbally they may be very bright and could express themselves very well in oral form rather than written. It is important to note that dyslexic students do not “see things backwards” which has been a common myth for many years, rather, it is the phonological processing problem that particularly gets in the way. Dyslexic students need more intense, explicit instruction, especially in earlier years using specialized techniques by highly trained individuals. It is also important for students with dyslexia to have accommodations in the way they are taught and in how they show their knowledge due to this disability. A combination of both specific remediation and accommodation is generally essential for these students. Dyslexic students with accompanying language problems generally have more difficulty as do students with both phonological processing problems and lack of automaticity. In later years, such students often may have learned to decode words but may display a very slow pace of reading and need accommodations and different teaching methods throughout their school careers.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
ADHD is basically a disorder of regulation. The student has difficulty regulating many different functions. The most obvious ones involve one’s capacity to orient in attention, focus in attention, sustain attention, and disregard both external and internal distractors to attention. However, there are many other regulation issues that may be a part of the picture for an individual student. For example, some students with ADHD have much difficulty in regulating and controlling their motor actions, so that they appear hyperactive, constantly shifting from one thing to another. They may have difficulty in regulating many “executive functions” such as planning and organization of tasks, sustaining vigilance in less stimulating or engaging situations, sustaining motivation and effort toward tasks, and controlling impulsivity. They may also display other types of disinhibition such as over talkativeness, interrupting others and social distractibility. ADHD folks often act before thinking things through. These characteristics can interfere, sometimes very substantially, with academic development and particularly with production in the classroom setting. Although medication is one possible therapeutic avenue for ADHD children, they need other very specific techniques and classroom programming to help them make improvements. Typically, medication can help with some of the attentional issues and impulsivity but does very little for disorganization and other executive functions.
Sensory Processing Problems
Certain sensory processing problems are often seen in students diagnosed with classifications such as Asperger’s Syndrome, High Functioning Autism and ADHD. Such students may display an oversensitivity to factors such as touch or tactile information, to sounds, to light or visual information or to tastes and smells. They may develop sensory defensive behaviors due to these issues or may seek certain sensory experiences as a method of coping. This can contribute to some problems with social participation as well as anxiety and behavioral reactions that appear to be excessive to the situation. It is important to provide a sensory sensitive environment for these students, especially in school, so that sensory issues are less likely to interfere with daily performance.