Discussions Regarding the World of Psychology (www.lapsych.com)

Tag Archives: Early Intervention

A new study released in April 2012 in Current Biology has found a significant causal link between Visual Spatial Attention and Reading Acquisition.  In plain English, what this means is that parents and clinicians may now be able to identify as well as intervene to better prevent a child from being held back by the handicap that dyslexia can cause for them as they grow older. 

The study found that poor readers demonstrated an impaired ability to scan and search through visual material when they were prereaders.  In addition, the study reports that 60% of poor readers displayed visual-attention deficits when prereaders.  The causal relation was made that visual attention in preschoolers specifically predicts future reading acquisition.   

This study can be tremendously helpful to parents, teachers, and clinicians in our ability to identify and help these children.  Parents can take notice of their child’s ability to maintain visual attention and practice these skills in a fun manner such as ‘Visual Search & Find’  (i.e.: Where’s Waldo type games).  Preschool teachers and programs can make it a point to incorporate such activities into their curriculum to help build these skills in children.  Lastly, clinicians can focus greater attention on the use of visual scanning assessment tools as one of the various measures used to identify dyslexia at a younger age. 

For parents who are interested in practicing these skills with their young children but who need some guidance in how to begin, a good starting place is to discuss it with your child’s teacher.  Another option would be to work with a psychologist who specializes in educational assessments and can tailor a plan for you to work on these skills with your child.   In addition, if your child is demonstrating significant difficulties in his/her visual attention at a young age (approximately 3-5), you may want to closely track their growth in attaining reading skills as they grow older and get them evaluated for dyslexia in early elementary school if you are concerned.  Never dismiss your gut feelings as a parent… if you feel like something is not right, it’s important to get them evaluated early.  After all, nobody knows your child better than you do. 

Dr. Sheyda Melkonian


 Have you ever wondered if your infant realizes it when you’re upset or arguing with your spouse?  New research shows that although infants may not be able to tell us how they are feeling, a conflictual relationship between their parents stresses them out, as demonstrated by the effect that it has on their sleep  patterns.  Research recently published in the journal  Child Development explains that marital instability when the infant was nine months old was related to child sleep problems at 18 months, including difficulties falling asleep and staying asleep.  Although all infants and children go through periods of sleep difficulty, it is important to consider whether exposure to a conflictual relationship may be further worsening the problem.  In other words, not all sleep difficulties in children are due to parental conflict, but if parental conflict is present and your baby is experiencing sleep difficulties, it is likely that the exposure to conflict is having a negative impact on the baby’s sleep pattern.

Sleep in crucial to the healthy development of infants as discussed in a research study from Emory University, which was recently published in the journal SLEEP.  The study shows that longer bouts of sleep in infants end with an increase in weight and body-fat composition tied to an increase in length.  In other words, sleep affects a baby’s physical development by helping them get taller and it also increases the baby’s weight and abdominal fat.  Therefore, preventing a baby from achieving optimal levels of sleep due to environmental stressors such as marital conflict can impact not only their emotional, but also their physical development. 

Although parents do not intend to hurt their infants when arguing with their spouse in front of the infant, it is important to know that it does have an impact on them.  Most parents assume that during infancy, babies have no idea what is going on in the world, so they do not need to filter their behavior or language as they would if they were upset at their partner in the presence of an older child.  More and more, however, we are seeing that this assumption is not true.  Although babies do not have a clear sense of what is being said or why, they sense the emotions that are involved in the relationships surrounding them.  In other words, if you are yelling at your partner, the baby does not understand what you are saying, but they understand that you become angry when interacting with your spouse.  This, in turn, affects your baby’s emotional state and (as this study shows us) their physical development.  Therefore, it is important to stay composed and contain the expression of negative emotions in the presence of infants as one would in the presence of an 8-year-old child.  Otherwise, it can affect their ability to emotionally and physically thrive ( as well as your ability to get a good night’s sleep).   It is important to seek the services of a psychologist if you feel like your baby’s sleep difficulties are caused by emotional difficulties in the home.  Family and/or couples therapy is very helpful in providing healthy outlets for the communication of negative emotions in relationships. 

Dr. Melkonian

It seems like, more and more, there is a trend in attempting to teach infants to read.  Many of us have seen the infomercials for Your Baby Can Read and are taken aback by these infants’ and young toddlers’ abilities to read not only simple words, but even books.  I have to admit that even I was amazed by their stories of success and ordered the product myself to try it out on my toddler.  (And yes, for a moment, I had visions of my child being a genius and reading books at the age of 1).  So when the program arrived, I read all the instructions on how to progress with the teaching process and began practicing with her on a daily basis.  The end result?  The truth, from my experience and in my opinion, is that if you follow the program accurately, your baby can actually begin to read words and probably even books.  My daughter got to a point where she was reading about 30 words with no help or prompting at the age of one and a half.  But then I started to think about what this really means.  Is my daughter really learning to blend individual letter sounds into words or is she just associating the way the word “DOG” looks to the picture of a dog and then learning to say ‘DOG” every time she sees the word.  The more I thought about it, the more this reminded me of Pavlov’s dog  and classical conditioning (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classical_conditioning).  Although I was not blatantly rewarding my child with a cookie, I was providing social reinforcement (i.e.: hugs, kisses, excitement) whenever she identified the correct word.  It was at this point that I decided to stop the program and to teach my daughter to read by providing her with books and by interacting with her to make this process fun and enjoyable for the both of us.

In all fairness, my daughter actually did enjoy the program with the videos and the word cards.  However, I feel like the aspect of it that made it fun for her was my own enthusiasm regarding her progress.  This became a positive experience for her and that, in and of itself, is a good thing for her sense of self and her confidence.  Although learning to read is essential in later life, I believe that infants do not need to have reading thrust upon them during the first year of life.  It is more important for their healthy psychological development to sit in their parents lap, experience their parents touch and smell, and feel safe and loved in this experience.  The primary goal of reading to an infant should be to create a nurturing and safe attachment between the parent and child.  The secondary benefit is that it introduces them to language, exposes them to a greater vocabulary, and begins teaching them phonics.  Please keep in mind that this discussion pertains specifically to infants and young toddlers.  If a child is struggling with reading in the early elementary school years and his/her teacher has noticed that they are falling behind, it is very important to address this issue by having them assessed by a psychologist and to provide them with the necessary resources to help them catch up before they fall too far behind.  You can read more about the assessment process by clicking on the following link, http://www.lapsych.com/psycho-educational.asp

In conclusion, I feel that it is important to introduce infants to books and to read to them from a young age.  The brains of children are most receptive to language between the ages of 0-5.  However, the focus of this process should not be for them to actually learn to read by the age of 1 or 2, but instead, to help create a positive association with the concept and process of reading while giving them a sense of safety and nurturance.  In infancy, the most critical goal to meet is for the infant to create a healthy attachment to the primary caregiver and to feel a sense of safety and love in the world.  If they can also begin to learn the process of reading while experiencing this sense of love and safety from their caregiver, then that’s just topping on the cake.   

-Dr. Sheyda Melkonian

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