Learn about the neurodiversity view of learning disabilities like dyslexia, considerations for label stigma in the context of early identification of reading deficits, and how to apply principles of Universal Design for Learning in intervention.
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Universal Design for Learning
For the Episode 2 Transcript, Click "Read More" below
(0:11) Tiffany Hogan: Welcome to Episode 2 of SeeHearSpeak Podcast. In this episode, I speak with my Boston-based collaborators Gabbie Schlichtmann & Alyssa Boucher about neurodiversity, label stigma, and Universal Design for Learning. Listen to find out how these concepts tie together, and how they apply to clinical practice and educational outcomes. Gabbie shares how being a person with dyslexia has informed her research and Alyssa tells how her work with Universal Design for Learning has informed her thinking as a clinical speech-language pathologist. We end our conversation with Gabbie and Alyssa describing their new exciting projects and some favorite books they to read to their children. Don’t forget to check out www.seehearspeakpodcast.com to find a transcript of this podcast, links to articles and resources that we discussed, and more information about Gabbie and Alyssa. Thanks for listening!
Introduce the speakers
(1:10) Tiffany Hogan: Thank You Gabbie and Alyssa for joining See Hear Speak podcast. I've been working with you all for several years now and I'm excited to talk about the topics of neurodiversity, label stigma, Universal Design for Learning. Now I'll have you start by introducing yourselves.
(1:27) Gabbie Schlichtmann: Thank you so much for having us, Tiffany. I'm so excited to be here. So my name is Gabbie Schlichtmann and I have my doctorate in human development psychology and I'm currently the executive director and chief scientist at Edtogether and I also… I’m an adjunct lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education where I teach a course on emotion and learning.
(1:56) Alyssa Boucher: My name is Alyssa Boucher. It's really exciting to be here today to talk about these things that are really meaningful in my life in many different ways. I am currently a clinical assistant professor at Boston University. I have a training in… By training I'm a speech-language pathologist, and my area of expertise is in speech sound disorders, but I also care deeply about supporting children in the classroom who have communication disorders and making sure they are participating meaningfully through the use of Universal Design for Learning. So prior to my position at Boston University, I was a research scientist at CAST, where I was really immersed in UDL (Universal Design for Learning), which is where I met Gabbie and then subsequently, Tiffany.
What is the deficit model? What is neurodiversity?
(2:40) Tiffany Hogan: Fantastic! Well starting out with thinking about the deficit model versus neurodiversity. So, as a speech-language pathologist, I've been trained to think about the child's deficit and how to remediate that deficit, so we think about the tests that we can give to really uncover what might be going wrong. We think a lot about, you know, how to reveal these hidden deficits, but, for instance, how to make sure that we are supporting a child to improve in those deficit areas. And then there's this idea of neurodiversity. Can you help us think about, help me think about, what is the difference between a deficit view in neurodiversity.
(3:22) Gabbie Schlichtmann: Sure. So I think, first, I just want to say it makes perfect sense that we would hold a deficit view because when we see a child or a group of children who are struggling, we just want to help that child. We want to cure that child. We want to support that child to get on the right track and so we focus on what's wrong and how do I fix it. Right? And so a lot of our research and also the research around the practice and development activities around how to support kids really hones in on that deficit and trying to understand that, but the problem with that is that it conceptualizes people, children primarily. in terms of those deficiencies, and so we lose the view of the whole person. And really if you think about dyslexia it's a lifelong difference where children have brain differences that have been documented and affects multiple aspects of their lives. It's not something that you can cure. You can teach children to read, but if we just focus on the deficit, then we lose the picture of this whole child who actually has lots of strengths. So the contrast is really you know how can we understand the deficits and the supports and how to remediate the deficit, but also take this broader neurodiversity view, where we think about differences as less pathology and more the result of normal variation in human beings and that these differences aren't an all-encompassing condition, but rather you know a component of one's identity where we all have strengths and challenges so that we make sure we're supporting these kids-- all kids, really-- to thrive. So it's a shift to focusing on building the capacity of kids to thrive both in learning and their life and that's about understanding the deficit but also understanding them as a whole person.
How does neurodiversity relate to label stigma? -what about the ‘gift of dyslexia’?
(5:40) Tiffany Hogan: And how does this relate to the gift of dyslexia. So this idea that being dyslexic is a gift, that you can use that gift to improve your life in a certain way or that you are gifted in a certain way? Maybe you're geared to think about the world differently, and that this is something that is seen as a strength as opposed to a deficit.
(6:04) Gabbie Schlichtmann: Yeah, so, I think that there's been this push. Well, first of all, I just want to say dyslexia people are all around us. I'm dyslexic. There are people in all swaths of life in all professions, and as adults, we just don't… they just don't necessarily identify, so we don't see them. So they're everywhere. And I think there's been a push by adults with dyslexia who have become advocates who feel deeply the impact of the label of dyslexia and that deficit view on their experience of school and how difficult it was to get through school and sort of the emotional and social development around that, that they wanted to sort of change that point of view to be… to have this more… this broader neurodiversity point of view. And to say people with dyslexia are successful. They're all around us, so a lot of you may have heard… And some of them are very public, so like Richard Branson, for example, talks about his dyslexia, he’s formed a not-for-profit called Made By dyslexia that talks about this gift of dyslexia. Dean Bragonier who has an organization called NoticeAbility... Same idea, thinking about… you know, okay, there are differences all over the brain. They're not… In dyslexic people they're not just localized to the reading and language areas. What else is going on in the brain? And looking to where are dyslexic people drawn to when they become adults? And in fact there are some interesting spaces where we find dyslexic people are over-represented among astrophysicists, for example. There's some thought that they may be over-represented among entrepreneurs--social entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs in general--that they might have more advanced visuospatial skills, but this is all, at this point, conjecture in part. I mean, there's some research findings, but they're very narrow, in part because the deficit view has so severely narrowed our research focus. So if you do a literature search, there's tens of thousands of articles on deficits associated with dyslexia and practices associated with those deficits, but if you look to strengths, there's maybe, you know, a few hundred and of those serious research articles there's really just two or three. So, we just don't know, I guess, is the answer what those other brain differences, if there is a gift of dyslexia or not. But I know, Tiffany, you and I have talked about the fact that maybe it doesn't really matter if it's true or not, because the negative consequences of the label dyslexia, and how we treat that, you know, from this hardened deficit point of view, are so large that we just need to broaden to bring in this more positive neurodiversity viewpoint to help kids have a stronger, more positive experience through school, so that they can do better overall and in their… when they're getting intensified instruction.
What are some of the things we need to think about with label stigma and how do we apply that label appropriately.
(9:36) Tiffany Hogan: So there, you bring up labels, stigma and thinking about the label of dyslexia, and there's been this nationwide grassroots movement to diagnose-- use the word dyslexia in schools-- this hashtag #saydyslexia, the decoding dyslexia movement to screen children for dyslexia in the schools, to label them as having dyslexia, or at risk for dyslexia with the idea that they will receive the treatment they need and the supports they need in the schools. Now help we think about, and tell our listeners about the work you've done on label stigma and when we're thinking about applying this label now in this grassroots movement with the new legislation that's out and we're starting to say dyslexia in schools, what are some of the what are some of the things we need to think about with label stigma and how do we apply that label appropriately?
(10:29) Gabbie Schlichtmann: Well, first I want to say that I really like this movement. I think it's really important that we are… that we say the word dyslexia, that we are clear about the diagnosis... This is how kids get the intensified instruction and services that they need, and the earlier we can do it, the better, because we know earlier intervention really matters for kids. So, I think it's an important movement. In that context, though, I think it's really interesting how when we create labels for things, even if they're important, what… how that label is perceived by the person who is labeled, because it can become an experience of stigmatization. So, just to be more detailed about that, when you have a label associated with your identity, it doesn't always lead to stigma. There are certain conditions that have to be in place to make that happen. So stereotyping associated with that label, so certain traits that are associated with the that trait label, if they're negatively… If those are negatively understood stereotypes right?So if it's a positive stereotype it doesn't matter so much, you don't feel stigmatization… But if there are negative stereotypes associated with it, like, for example, there's a ton of research literature that shows that a lot of people in the general public associate the word LD with being stupid, or having lower intellectual ability, or sometimes not trying hard… And so those things are negative stereotypes that we associate with the label. Loss of status that's associated with those things… So, like, if you're seen as being…you perceive that the teacher might see you as a problem in their classroom and so you're lower on the totem pole in the classroom. And separation... So if you're like… In the case of dyslexia we see kids pulled out of the classroom to get special instruction… Of course they need intensified instruction, especially around language or reading-related issues, but those conditions create the experience of stigmatization. So, in some ways, you know, very unintentionally, we're trying to do our best by kids with dyslexia, but we've basically in the context of special education, created the circumstances that create stigmatization, and so my colleague Samantha Daley and I out of the University of Rochester wanted to explore, you know, what do kids with learning disabilities and kids with dyslexia think about the labels that they have? How do they understand what society… What do they think society thinks about those labels, and how does it affect them directly? So we explored that through a National Science Foundation project that we had funded when we were both working at CAST and we developed a measure that allows schools and researchers to assess how kids think about those two things. So how the stigma label-- how I understand it for myself how it affects me, and then how I think society thinks about it. So yes, we have to be really careful about the labels we use, and be probing and try to understand how kids are internalizing those labels because those emotional consequences can have serious impacts on kids’ participation, engagement in school, and their performance in the context of their tier-one education, but also their intensified instruction, above and beyond any challenges they might have related to their disability.
How does the appropriate application of a label impact the child's performance?
(14:46) Tiffany Hogan: Can you tell me more about that? So, how does the appropriate application of a label impact the child's performance? Or how does the perception of that label and the environment in which it's perceived… How does that impact performance? Can you tell us about some of the studies you've done or that you know about?
(15:05) Gabbie Schlichtmann: Sure. So, first of all emotion and cognition are immeasurably linked to each other. You can't really separate them. We think about them as being separate things, but really they’re sort of more like two sides of the same coin. And we know that when a person… So you're constantly appraising the environment for… You know, is it novel? Is this good for me? Is it bad for me? Is a social norm being broken? Am I in control of this situation? And when you appraise the environment as negative, like in the context of, “Ooh maybe this teacher thinks that I'm stupid,” or “I'm getting pulled out of my class and my peers think there's something wrong with me,” then you're going to start to have negative feelings, right, about that. And that's adaptive, right, because it prepares your body to deal with the social situation and can cause things like your cortisol levels to rise, which is a stress hormone to help you get in that fight-or-flight mode or tend and defend mode so that you can self-protect. But the problem with that, from a school perspective, is that some stress can be good, right, in terms of helping you get amped-up for a test or something like that, but at some level, that stress and that cortisol becomes toxic and can actually negatively constrain your performance, your ability to focus, your attention.And in fact my colleague, Samantha Daley, for her dissertation work, looked at kids with reading-related learning disabilities and not, and tried to look at their psychophysiologic stress system, and what she found was that just being in the context of school rose their stress system so much that they were just, basically, walking around as if they had this sense of impending doom, like something bad was going to happen all the time. And you can imagine how that feels. Like would you be able to sit and learn phonics if you were feeling
that way about school?
(17:18) Tiffany Hogan: Yeah that would be very hard. And how does it affect performance then?
(17:22) Gabbie Schlichtmann: Yeah, so there's been some like really interesting studies done that look direct… try to quantify as stress levels go up, and specifically these hormone levels and cortisol levels, you know, exactly how that affects certain cognitive outcomes like working memory, cognitive flexibility, inhibition… And some of the most interesting ones look at how you negate those impacts. So I'm thinking about a recent study that came out in Science where, this isn't about kids with LD, but it was looking at the achievement gapso kids who are minorities and of lower socioeconomic status. What they did was they looked at… can we reframe this and have kids do a sort of self-affirmation task ahead of taking a standardized test, to try and mitigate or change that stress experience that they might feel…Sort of going into that standardized test where they might feel like, "I know I'm going to do bad on this test" right, because everything around them tells them that they're going do bad. So in this study, they had them do a self-affirmation ahead of this, an English Language Arts writing assessment, standardized assessment, and what they found was a 40% swing in performance. So you're talking about 40% of the kids’ performance associated with their emotion state and not necessarily their confidence to perform on the test from a cognitive perspective. So if we're not attending to emotion, then we're not even seeing what the kids know or can do.
(19:14) Tiffany Hogan: So it's like a hidden factor there, because it's something like an internal voice that's going on… A bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
(19:20) Gabbie Schlichtmann: That's right.
(19:21) Tiffany Hogan: That might be going on and as opposed to maybe doing like a self-affirmation like "I can do this"… "I've got this"… that kind of approach versus the negative chatter that's often going on of, “This is going to be hard, I don't want to do this, I'm bad at this, I did bad on it before”… So those… That internal voice can make a difference, it sounds like, from this research and... So then how…
(19:48) Gabbie Schlichtmann: Or even re-framing it. Like you can re-frame it so there is research and this is with, you know, high-performing kids in college who were going to go on to take the GRE, and really interesting research that had them take the GRE… a practice test. And before the GRE, they were randomized to either get training about… like, when you feel anxious, what your body, when your body feels that way, feels stress, like my heart is racing, my breathing is short, I'm feeling like tight in my seat, you know. When your body feels that way, what does that mean? And you can either interpret it negatively and sort of apply this conscious label of, like, “Oh, I feel bad about this, like I'm nervous about this test,” or what they did was they trained the kids to think, “That's just your body getting ready to take this test to help you perform better.” And so when they... It’s called attribution training… So they re-framed how they made sense of how their body felt, they did better on the GRE. And, in fact, it wasn't… So they did this research study, and then they followed them months later when they took the actual GRE, and the kids who had the intervention again did better on the actual GRE.
(21:06) Tiffany Hogan: So they carried over this idea of that…
(21:07) Gabbie Schlichtmann: Carried over. Yeah… Right… So I think we don't… It's interesting, emotion plays such a huge role and how we orient to the environment, how we feel
about ourselves, the social connections we’re able to make, how we perform in school, but we mostly attend to it as an aside, as a part of our education, when really we ought to be paying, whenever we're setting cognitive goals, we should be setting emotional goals, too, and be paying attention to both those things.
(21:36) Tiffany Hogan: And that would be a powerful approach because you're looking at how to improve the environment but also the social emotional development to take advantage of the environment. That perspective changes.
(21:48) Gabbie Schlichtmann: Exactly.
(21:49) Tiffany Hogan: That makes sense. That reminds me of a book I read-- The Upside of Stress.
(21:52) Gabbie Schlichtmann: Right.
(21:55) Tiffany Hogan: This idea that if you're stressed out, you can look at it as, “Ooh, this is bad for my body, stress is really bad,” but you can also look at it as, “I'm living my path and I'm taking risks and taking risks is good and stress can be a manifestation of opportunities.” And so, you know, thinking of it in that way. So that makes a lot of sense.
(22:12) Gabbie Schlichtmann: That's right… And we can send those messages… That's really where the neurodiversity view comes, like if we open up what that label “dyslexia” means, and we think about it in a more holistic way, in terms of… “Kids have challenges, kids have strengths.” This doesn't mean those sort of negative things that are associated with it, you know, at the population level that we talked about earlier, then kids will make different sense of it and those negative emotional consequences won't be there.
(22:45) Tiffany Hogan: And then it seems that that could lead to, also, self-advocacy from a
child’s point of view, to say, you know, “I have I have difficulty,” as they move through the educational system and encounter teachers and… just anyone around them, really… They could say, you know, “This is what I have, and this is what it means,” and have the language to do so. and that can be quite powerful.
(23:16) Gabbie Schlichtmann: Absolutely.
How has your personal experience informed your research?
(23:17) Tiffany Hogan: How has your personal experience informed your research? I've heard you speak about that in public forums, so I wonder if you’d share that here.
(23:18) Gabbie Schlichtmann: Sure. So I'm dyslexic, as I mentioned, and I had a really hard time coming up through the school system. I wasn't actually formally identified until I was about thirteen years old, so eighth, ninth grade. And I was just sort of doing well enough to get by, but not failing badly enough to be identified, but I was always at the bottom, you know, at the bottom of class and what that meant. And then when I got my label, my dyslexia label, it was just fascinating how people oriented to me differently, both positively and negatively. So on the one hand, teachers sort of understood better about, "Oh, that's what's going on here" and, "Okay, now we can do these things," but it also caused them to act in ways that were really strange. Like for example, I had this wonderful French teacher who I was very close with, and she used to have us memorize and recite in class, and as a part of my accommodations, I didn't have to do that anymore, which is a perfectly reasonable accommodation. And the first day, I think with the best of intentions, that I would have had to recite, she announced to the whole class, you know in her French accent… I can't even do it… “Gabrielle is not going to recite today because she's dyslexic,” and I was like, “Oh my god,” you know? And then all my peers knew and then you're 13 years old and… “What are they thinking about me?” and “What does that mean?” And, you know, you could definitely… at least I perceive some faculty giving me fewer challenges or not having, you know, the same high expectations, and I knew that I was, you know, smart and that I could do it, you know? Big exception to that was my science teacher who, my biology teacher, high school biology teacher, who just… I don't know if he took a special interest in me or what, but I really loved his class. There wasn't a lot of reading. He was very inquiry-oriented, so he took this sort of… multiple-ways point of view about his teaching, I think to make it better for everyone, but that was really important to me doing well because I wasn't going to be able to sit and read from textbook and I was going to have trouble with lecture. And instead of him focusing on remediating those negative things, he tried to understand what I was interested in, what drew me to science, why I was doing well in his class. And I was very interested in space science, and he took a special interest in that and helped me go to Space Camp and brought those content areas into our class, even though it was biology class, to help keep me engaged, and I really developed a real relationship with him, positive relationship, teacher-student relationship, as opposed to being a number in the classroom, and it just made all the difference. And he advocated for me with other faculty at the school, in terms of, you know, like he connected with my English Language Arts teacher and was like, you know, I think if you had… Because I wasn't reading at all… I still wasn't reading. I mean, I could read, but it was so hard that I'd often go to English class without having read the assigned material, and I didn't have audio books or anything like that, so it was a real struggle. And he suggested to my English Language Arts teacher that we read something that was on space science and we read… He brought, then he brought in the right stuff…And it was the first novel that I ever read, and just having that, it took me a year to do it. So I did read in the context of the class but it took me, you know, a whole year, really, to get through the whole thing, but I wanted to read it. It was the first time I really wanted to read. It was definitely above my reading level, but I did it, and that sense of accomplishment I just carried with me, you know, the rest of my life, in the way that, like, “Okay, I know I can do this. I just need the right support around me and I have to figure out how to advocate for that.
How does our field and the approach that we typically use marry to Universal Design for Learning and how does it work together?
(28:08) Tiffany Hogan: That makes sense. I think that's a great segue to think about Universal Design for Learning, because I see it as something that is not used often in speech-language pathology. When I talk to clinicians, they've said "Oh, yeah I've heard of that. It's more of something in the realm of special education. Oh I've I've collaborated maybe with a special educator and with children who are severely impaired and maybe need AAC alternative communication," and in meeting you, Alyssa, it was really interesting to think about how you have taken your background, your PhD in speech language pathology, thinking about children with communication disorders, and how does that… our field and the approach that we typically use marry to Universal Design for Learning and how to how does it work together?
(28:57) Alyssa Boucher: That’s funny you start off with that because as I'm listening to Gabbie talk, it just brings up so much for me as a practitioner. As a clinician, we are trained on the deficit model. We are trained with the medical model. So we take children, we take adults, we identify, we diagnose, we treat, we use all those terms. And so when I came to CAST it was during my PhD training, so I had already practiced as a clinician, and I had some knowledge of UDL, but it wasn't until I was at CAST when I was really immersed in it, and I was getting a good handle on exactly what it was, and I had this sort of internal conflict of, "Oh my gosh, have we been doing it all wrong? What does my training mean? I can't do what I do, now that I know this," and after I kind of sorted it all out, it's not actually one extreme or the other, right? So it's not all UDL and it's not all deficit model. There is—yes, we have to give kids those interventions. Some kids just need those intensified interventions as Gabbie was saying. But we have to broaden our lens and think about speech pathologists as a person in that child's ecosystem, right? So it's not just about what we do in that therapy room and what that child does in that therapy room. It's much bigger than that. So, I think universal… Well, I guess I should start by defining it, right? So you can think about it as a framework, a set of principles, a set of guidelines that really helps you plan more flexible instruction. And it's broken into different categories if you think about it, you know, going across the guidelines, and it's really helpful if you go to the website because there's a good visual of all the guidelines, and then you can dig down into certain checkpoints that give you lots of examples of what this might look like, but roughly speaking, there's three categories, and that's engagement, representation, and action and expression, but you can think about it as going into different levels. so starting with access. What might we do just to make sure that our students are accessing the material, the curriculum, right? And then you go down into building, so building skills. How do you build upon, you know, they have access to the curriculum, but you're building skills in terms of persistence and language and symbols and expression. And then the last level is internalizing, and that's really getting to the point where you're taking a student and your your ultimate goal is to help facilitate higher levels of self-regulation and comprehension and executive functioning. And I should say that we do this… We do a lot of UDL in our work as speech pathologists. We do this. So I don't want listeners to think like, “Well this isn't new and interesting. I already do this,” but I challenge listeners.-- if you are a practitioner, if you're a clinician-- to think about using UDL in a more purposeful way, to think about how you select your materials, your intervention strategies, your techniques. Because oftentimes, we choose things that we think are good for the students because they've worked before or they might be really interesting or they're flashy or they're quick and easy, but we should really be thinking in a more systematic way about how we select our material so that we're not inadvertently creating barriers for our students in our therapy room. So one way you might want to do that is, start with the question, "How might I create a barrier?" And so a good example of this is if you're working with a student who is dyslexic, if you're not working on direct reading goals, so you're not working on decoding or fluency, but in fact you're working on language goals because we know that a lot of students with dyslexia--about roughly half, right Tiffany?-- have a language disorder, too. So let's say you're working on comprehension goals. How are you going to handle the fact that text is a barrier for them? And that's going to trigger a myriad of difficulties. It's going to trigger emotional reactions, it's going to possibly cause them to shut down, and now you can't actually work on those language goals, right? And being that person in that child's ecosystem, you want to be… You want to provide the best possible experience with text, right? You don't want to add to that anxiety, that stress with text, right? You're helping them around that barrier. So if you're thinking about working on something like comprehension, if you're not… again, if you're not working on actually decoding text, then could you use something other than text? Could you read the text out loud for them? Could you use a tool to play the audio of a text, a text-to-speech kind of tool? If you are, you know, using something like a graphic organizer… The term "graphic organizer" is somewhat misleading because it's actually full of text, right? And so we might be writing with text on the graphic organizer and there might be words on it that, you know, that are a barrier for them. It's as simple as you know like using a whiteboard in our instruction and drawing something and writing something. So how much text are we actually using? And so, if you think about the term "access"... So I should say that UDL has been… It's a concept from the early 80s, but before that it was a concept in architecture so we borrowed from that to apply it to education. But in architecture the concept was… “Okay, for a long time we've built buildings with stairs, and, you know, along came the laws that said, you know, everybody has to be able to access these buildings and so we retrofit them to put ramps on them, and it turns out that, well, a lot of people need ramps, actually, so if you design from the beginning so that more people can access the building, it's not only (one) a lot more appealing, in terms of attractiveness for a building, but people like people in wheelchairs… that's, you know, obviously the population that they're thinking about, but then what if you have a stroller, what if you're temporarily unable to walk if you're using crutches or something… It actually widens the options for accessibility. So that's the kind of level you want to think about at the baseline for your students. Can my students enter the building? (But so to speak… "Building" meaning your curriculum, whatever you're teaching them. Can they access it? Can they get to what I'm teaching them? And then from there, you can use the UDL guidelines to start building more systematically about the different approaches you take with that student. So, let's say we're doing some goals around comprehension. So, prior to my reading, I'm going to verbalize vocabulary. I'm going to have them put it in their own words, I might do a sketchbook where they're writing the vocabulary words. I'm not even going put lines. You know, sometimes we give them lined paper and ask them to write the definitions. That might be a barrier, so just have them draw pictures of that vocabulary, have them verbalize it and record it, make a… You can use Google Docs to do a speech-to-text kind of input, and so they could do some verbalizing of the definitions and it appears and text for them. Or you can just do a voice recording and they listen to it, take the text out completely. Teach them how to annotate with symbols, teach them how to think about what they're about to read visually, so set the scene for them, so get them prepared emotionally so that it's not something that is so foreign to them. So that's one way we can think about, you know, approaching barriers. However, we… If we're still working with students with dyslexia, in this case, we don't want to completely remove text because we don't want to avoid it. We shouldn't do that, but if you think about how we can use text as a facilitator, you can be that one person, that person that they spend even 30 minutes a week, let's say, or twice a week, they're coming to see you. You can create a very scaffolded, supported environment, in which they can feel comfortable taking risks with the text. So that might mean that you are giving them highly engaging texts., that you can ignite that spark. So oftentimes, if we're working with students who have dyslexia or reading difficulties, we tend to dumb down the content so that it's a reading level that is well below their age or grade level, right? But that's so obvious to students, and usually it's not of interest to them and they know that it's selected from a younger grade and it's not appropriate. You are not igniting that spark. Go ahead and be bold and choose something that is of their level that is really exciting, and take something from the web. There's a lot of engaging material on the web that they might not access on their own because it's out of reach for them. They're not going to go and pursue it on their own. So take that text, but make it accessible to them. Do the text-to-speech, and help them navigate through the text, being a very supportive person in their ecosystem, so that they can start to see themselves as a reader.
What do you think about audiobooks?
(39:04) Tiffany Hogan: It seems like, then, this is also setting them up to be successful and think about these barriers and how to get around barriers even into adulthood, which I think ties into this idea that dyslexia, as we know, is a lifetime condition. So you have, you're their ally, you're helping them work around these barriers, at the same time facilitating improvement in the area of deficit. But then that helps them maybe to also see themselves holistically. Like this is… I'm a person who can learn information in a different way. I can access information. So, with that in mind, what do you tell… I often encounter educators who will say "I don't want my students to use audiobooks," for instance, “because then they're not practicing reading.” So how do you… What do you say to that?
(39:53) Gabbie Schlichtmann: Before you…I think you said something really important but I want to put a point on. And that is that, I think so much of the time, if kids aren't reading on grade level, we don't think of them as readers, you know?
(40:09) Tiffany Hogan: Great point.
(40:10) Gabbie Schlichtmann: And it's like… No, they are readers. They're reading. They're not reading on grade level. Maybe they're not reading and they’re…Maybe they're listening to texts on grade level and English Language Arts. That's reading, you know? So, like, saying to the… You know, what you just said, Alyssa, like, “You are reader. Let's grow it.” You know? I think it's a really important neuro-diverse… And you can use these other tools! Do it, go, do it! I mean, I'm an adult, I have my doctorate, I still use text-to-speech. That's how I read sometimes, and that's okay, you know?
(40:50) Tiffany Hogan: Absolutely or learning through a podcast.
(41:00) Alyssa Boucher: I am all about the audiobooks. I'm all about using the tools, as Gabbie said. If your goal is not… If you're not actually teaching word decoding, then go for it. I think, you know, if you were to sample adults, myself included, I prefer audio books. I'm not a fast reader, but I really want to dig into the material. And… I'm going to walk and I'm going to listen to my book. or I'm going to do the dishes and listen to my podcast or the audio book that I think… You know, I'm trying to get all these… I have a two-year-old, and I'm trying to rapidly learn parenting strategies for toddlers. I don't have the time to sit because I'm not a very fast reader, so yeah, I'm going to consume those books through audio, and I'm totally okay with that, and I think teachers should be on board and SLPs should be on board, too.
(41:46) Tiffany Hogan: Well it ties back to what you mentioned about architecture, right? You said when the building is created for all to enter, then everyone has different access points, so they can choose. If there's a ramp they may want to use that for a stroller. Maybe you just want to walk up a ramp.
Alyssa Boucher: That's right.
Tiffany Hogan: You don't want to do stairs that day, for whatever reason. It's your choice. And so it gives access to all, and I think that's important, too. And back to what you said, Gabbie, too - it's like, what is reading, really? We're reading… The goal of reading is to comprehend, so the way you go about that… Sometimes it’s through decoding, sometimes it’s through listening to text. And we know that children who have dyslexia, if they don't have access to text, are going to go down in areas of language, even if they didn't start out with the broader language deficit, because we access so much information. That formal language that we use in text so important-- the vocabulary we learn… So it does make a lot of sense.
(42:36) Gabbie Schlichtmann: And you need instruction and how to do that. I mean, kids, you know… Kids with dyslexia might have other processing related issues, and they haven't had as much access to text in whatever form, so, you know, bringing in… “Okay, we're working on comprehension. Let's learn about listening comprehension and how you can leverage that as a reading strategy.”
(43:01) Alyssa Boucher: Right. And I want to tie it back together, too, to say, if you're listening and saying, “I do all that stuff but maybe I don't do it with good purpose or good intention.” This also gives you the rationale for why you're choosing the things that you're choosing, so if a teacher or a parent approaches you and says, “Well why are you doing that?” you can pull up the guidelines and say, “Because I'm trying to get this level first. Once they have access I'm going to start doing this, and then I'm going to do this, so it gives you a nice framework to follow to justify and explain a rationale for the strategies that you're now choosing purposefully for your student.
(43:41) Tiffany Hogan: And if you're an educator or speech-language pathologist listening to this podcast, the UDL website is quite helpful, correct? You can go on and you can learn about these different levels, you can play around with different access points, so we encourage people to go to the website to take a look further, as well.
(44:01) Alyssa Boucher: Yep, yep. It’s also good, too, I should say… I think about it as a two-way street for SLPs. So you are thinking internally about what you're doing in your therapy room, but it can also be a tool for you to think about how your students might be hitting barriers in the classroom. So if you know a good amount about what they're experiencing in the classroom, you might be able to predict how they respond to the barriers. So you could go to a teacher and then say, “You know what? You have this coming up, and I know that they're struggling with this. Perhaps we could do X instead to support them,” by using the UDL guidelines.
(44:38) Tiffany Hogan: So you can be more proactive than reactive in that way, which would be very helpful for the child.
(44:43) Gabbie Schlichtmann: That’s great, too, because if you're going to really make a difference, like in having kids be able to better access the general curriculum so they can advance their strengths, changing the relationship between practitioners who are doing intensified instruction and the Gen Ed teacher… I mean, what you just described is more of a deep partnership in planning that improves the Tier-One space, which allows kids to get more of what they need so they're not being separated, which reduces, you know, label stigma, so… I think that's really important.
What are you working on now that you are most excited about?
(45:20) Tiffany Hogan: And it ties all together, I see, right? So you have this idea of neurodiversity, that you're thinking about the child holistically, and in doing that, you want to be careful about how you approach the label, applying the label, what that means to the child, how that interfaces with their environment… And UDL is a great way to approach the idea of, what are these barriers? How do we make this more accessible? So I appreciate… This is a great discussion. I think that educators, speech pathologists, parents will appreciate hearing more about Universal Design for Learning and learning more about it. As we wrap up, I want to ask you, each of you, so what are you working on now that you're most excited about? Now that we know your passions a bit more, what are you doing right now?
(46:05) Gabbie Schlichtmann: So I have two things I want to mention. So one is… Some listeners might be aware of this awesome resource for parents, actually, but a lot of educators use it, called understood.org, and it's really for parents to help understand the experiences of their children with learning and attention issues and to navigate the system. And it's very deep. It goes really deep. And I was involved in, when I was at CAST, supporting and developers that website to make the website UDL, because a lot of kids who have learning attention issues, their parents also have learning intention issues but are often not diagnosed, so we were trying to make the website be accessible and comprehendible to them. Actually Alyssa wasinvolved in that, too. Anyway, so many educators have been drawn to this site that the Poses Family Foundation, which funded it from the beginning, thought… And the National Center for Learning Disabilities… “You know, we really need to do a resource for educators and specialists, so they're now doing understood for educators. Yeah so it's going to be a little different, There will be a set of resources that go out, but they're also working on a kind of cohort training model. We’re working with organizations that train teachers, like New Teacher Center, other organizations like that about universal design, RTI, issues of stigma, social-emotional development, and so on, so that that gets integrated into how all teachers learn. So I'm doing that work now. I'm a coach in the program and it's been amazing just… It's just beginning!
(47:57) Tiffany Hogan: Is it out on the web now?
Gabbie Schlichtmann: It's not. It’s just in development.
Tiffany Hogan: What are you thinking in terms of timeline?
Gabbie Schlichtmann: Oh my gosh, I think… I mean, they're so they're so fast, you know?
Tiffany Hogan: Yeah, I know. It’s shocking.
Gabbie Schlichtmann: I think within a year there will be resources on the web, and then this cohort thing is happening now, so they're doing a trial, like a pilot, to see how that might work. So be on the lookout for that but understood.org is available now.
(48:18) Tiffany Hogan: What do you mean that understood.org is UDL? What does that mean?. Just tell me an example.
(48:26) Gabbie Schlichtmann: Yeah, so… So, from… oh my gosh, like everything! Um, so there's articles… But we tried to make sure that all of the content was presented through multiple representations.
Tiffany Hogan: So like a video?
(48:48) Gabbie Schlichtmann: Yeah, so there's videos um, there's audio you can listen to, there's graphics. We tried to limit the use of text, so there are articles but there's spacing… The reading level, I think, is like 7th or 8th grade, in part because some of the technical language, but if you take out the technical language, it's like a sixth grade reading level to be like Reader's Digest, engaging. And they have all the speech-to-text tools and everything built-in, so if you just want to listen to the site, you can listen to the site.
Tiffany Hogan: Oh, fantastic!
(49:19) Gabbie Schlichtmann: Yeah, and they have different ways to engage with the content. The articles are organized with clear structure, like I'm expository text, like here's the organizing theme and then three details, and at the top there's bullets: what to expect and… Yeah, so it's really… And the whole thing is completely compliant with web accessibility, so if you have, you know, tools that you like to use you can bring basically any text reader to the site… and contrast and everything… so it's very… it's a good gold standard. This is how you really make a universally-designed, accessible website.
Tiffany Hogan: Also, you said you had two things.
(50:05)Gabbie Schlichtmann: Yeah, so that was the first one. The second one is… I've been doing a ton of work in informal learning, because so many kids who come through the school system with learning disabilities, when they get to the other side often cite two things: (one) a person who was an anchor, support for them, and oftentimes they have a learning experience outside school that propelled them forward, like either through an interest or some connection with an organization that wasn't like so traditional that helped them choose to have higher education or choose to go through the like… I don't mean to frame it this way, but… torture of the way that a lot of Gen Ed school is set up. So for them… Yeah, so I’ve been doinga lot of work in informal learning and thinking about how to universally design spaces like the Museum of Science in Boston and other places like that, where kids might come and get really engaged in inquiry science or engineering or computer science. You know, how do we, sort of, invite them into this space and then support the hard, emotional experiences of productive struggle. For example, like, how do I support someone when they're struggling to feel, really feel deeply, that they're being smart, and that that is a worthwhile thing to do? So we have a big NSF project—again, National Science Foundation project-- that's focused on building out exhibits that explicitly support kids to have productive struggles around big science ideas. Yeah, so I'm really excited about that work, so that's going to result in guidelines that would be applicable to schools and to informal environments when you're designing a space, right? Because like how do I… I'm sure Alyssa can speak to this… when I have a kid who's, like, in middle school, in high school, their whole school experience has been such a struggle, I can't even get them to engage in the content, like how do you get them to rethink that that struggle can be a positive thing? So that's what we're trying to do.
(52:39) Tiffany Hogan: Wow, that's very cool! Thank you for sharing that.
(52:41) Alyssa Boucher: I'm doing something totally different and more clinical. So I am collaborating with authors of a new assessment. They are in the phase of collecting normative data. So it's a test that's designed for identifying motor speech disorders in children, which we don't… We know there's a dearth of assessments out there, so the exciting thing about this one is that it's play based and it's language agnostic, so it can be potentially used around the world. But it not only identifies if there's a delay or disorder, but also tries to tease out the symptoms of childhood apraxia of speech, childhood dysarthria, or motor speech disorder-not otherwise specified, right? So a real challenge. So within that study I'm doing a secondary study of my own where I'm looking to see if there's a relationship between the performance on that new assessment and their pre-literacy skills, and so I hope it's okay to do a shameless plug right now… For anyone in the Boston area right now, I'm looking for children between the ages of 4 and 6 with any speech sound disorder at this point. I welcome them to contact me and send their kids for a study.
What is your favorite children’s book, either from your childhood or one published more recently?
(53:56) Tiffany Hogan: Fantastic! Well, thank you; that's great! And I have one last question for you. I want to know, what is your favorite childhood book? And it can either be from your own childhood or it could be one that you're reading now with your children, so it's up to you. What is your favorite?
(54:12) Alyssa Boucher: My current favorite is one that I'm reading to my son. Well, we've been reading it to him since he was probably 3 or 4 months old, and that's The Circus Ship. That's by Chris Van Dusen, and it is just delightful. The prose is fantastic and it's rhymey, and it’s really fun just to read it out loud. And it's about this circus ship with animals who are going to the circus. They get into this shipwreck and they end up on the island, and it's all in Maine, the coast of Maine, which is a near and dear place to my heart, so I love that factor, too. But it was also given to me by a colleague of ours, which is also extra special, but what's really neat is that we've been reading it to him since he was an infant but now he, you know, finishes the sentences, and he says it with gusto, and he joins in. And so it's been really fun to be on that journey with him.
(55:04)Tiffany Hogan: I have to get that for my children.
(55:11) Gabbie Schlichtmann: I think the one right now... So, I have a 12 year old and a 4 year old. So they're, like, on different planets, in terms of what they're reading, but I think
in terms of children's books, both of them have loved King Hugo's Huge Ego. Do
you know this one?
(55:30) Alyssa and Tiffany Hogan: No, I don't.
(55:31) Gabbie Schlichtmann: It's awesome! Again, like it has rhyming, and it's a good fun read. Like the cadence of is really fun, and the pictures are outrageous. So it’s this king who's very self-involved, you know, like, he just thinks he's the greatest, and he gives this speech of adoration to his people and he wants everyone to bow down to him, you know, which, I think as a toddler… So he meets one of his subjects-- it turns out she has magical powers and she causes him… Whenever he says something about himself that he's so cool or whatever, it causes his head to balloon. And so in the book, his… Every time, his head keeps ballooning and he can't fit through a door, and he thinks it's so great because he's like, "There's just more of me for you to adore!" And then eventually he ends up getting like blown off the wall and bouncing and he ends up with this woman who did this spell on him. And then she tweaks his ears and he gets to hear it back everything that he's said, and then he has this moment of, like, self-reflection and then decides to care about other people and be… Yeah, so it's like a nice social-emotional story, I think, for toddlers especially… But it’s fun. The pictures are really fun.
(57:06) Tiffany Hogan: Oh, that’s really great. I’ll have to get that one, too. We shared this in the sense of our age gap having… Myself having an almost 13-year-old, almost four-year-old, and a two-year-old, that it gets tricky so those books are especially cool to hit both ranges. Well thank you again! This has been fantastic. I really appreciate it, and in all the references and resources you mentioned will be on the See Hear Speak website so the listeners can take a further look. So thank you for your time!
Alyssa Boucher and Gabbie Schlichtmann: Thank you, Tiffany!
Tiffany P. Hogan,