Kellie reached out to me two months ago after hearing the podcast in her research about how to best help her children. I think she stumbled across the interview with Steve Feifer and she reached out and asked if she could be on the podcast. I was very excited to get that email.
She brings an interesting perspective to us from being a parent and a professional in the field. She really goes through a lot of helpful information about what she looks for in an evaluation for her kids, what was useful, and what was not useful. She talks with us about two different interventions that may be lesser known to many of you with regard to interventions for dyslexia. [00:01:00] So check it out. I think it’s a good one.
Before we jump to the episode, I wanted to let y’all know of something very exciting. I’ve announced this in the Facebook group, but I’ll announce it here on the podcast as well, that I have officially signed a contract with At Health to deliver podcast episodes as CEU credits. Everything is not finalized quite yet in terms of being able to access the episodes and actually get credit or pay for credit but it’s coming soon. Within two weeks hopefully, we’ll have everything live and you will be able to access current and past podcast episodes, pay a nominal fee and earn some CEU credit. So I’m super excited about that.
I’m also excited to say that the mastermind groups have closed. They are full. At this point, I have 1 or 2 spots open for individual consulting. So if you’re [00:02:00] interested in that, reach out, and let’s see if it’s a good fit.
So without further ado, let’s get to our interview with Kellie Henkel.
Hey, y’all. Welcome back to another episode of The Testing Psychologist podcast. I’m Dr. Jeremy Sharp. Like you heard in the introduction, today we have a bit of a unique interview or conversation with Kellie Henkel. Kellie, like you heard, she’s a lot of things. She’s a speech-language pathologist, she’s a special educator, but I think most importantly and why she’s here today, she is the mom of four little ones with dyslexia.
Kellie reached out to me two months ago after hearing the [00:03:00] podcast, and she expressed an interest in coming on to talk about all of this from a parent’s perspective. I thought that was a fantastic idea. So here we are.
Kellie, welcome to the podcast.
Kellie: Thank you for having me. I’m honored to be here.
Dr. Sharp: Well, like I said, I’m honored that you would reach out and make the effort to get in touch. I think when I got your email, I immediately was like, oh yeah, this could be really good for our show because I think it’s unique to be a parent and have the clinical hat to some degree as well and be able to talk about the evaluation process and everything we get into with our kids when they go down this path. So thank you. I’m really excited to have you.
Kellie: Well, part of what I want to be here for is, I want to share my journey with others, what it’s like to be a parent [00:04:00] and having multiple children evaluated and served by the school district and the difficulties that come with this.
I’m hoping for change. There are some amazing evaluators out there. Unfortunately, they’re not in the schools a lot. And so there’s a lot of misunderstandings about dyslexia and appropriate assessment and intervention. My goal is to continue to share my journey to bring about change so that other parents down the road don’t have to experience the difficulties that I’ve had to go through.
Dr. Sharp: Sure. Well, I know you’re not alone in that whole process. I think what a lot of us as clinicians, well, we spend a fair amount of time navigating the school system and helping [00:05:00] parents understand what to do before, after, during our evaluations, how to translate those results.
And I know like we were talking about before we started to record that a lot of the listeners who are clinicians are also parents of kids with different special education needs. So I think there’s a lot to dig into here. I really appreciate it.
I wonder, could you maybe just talk about your life a little bit? Were you a speech-language pathologist before you had kids or did that come about as you had kids, what do things look like over the years?
Kellie: I am a speech-language pathologist and I’ve been practicing since 1999 before I had children. I had a private practice in Seattle specializing in serving children with autism. We billed insurance for our [00:06:00] time and eventually things went under with decreases with insurance reimbursement. I decided to close the business and move to Sunny California. I just wanted to reflect on the baby that I had in Seattle, the baby being the business and working with children with autism. I didn’t want to have a big business again. I wanted to slow down.
And so I moved to St. Helena, California, which is in Napa Valley, which is where I met my husband. Four children later, we’re still in California but in a different part of California. My husband is a winemaker and so that’s why we live in the wine region in Santa Barbara County.
And then I had 4children. I have 2 boys, ages 9 and 11, and twin girls that are ages 7. I grew up with learning disabilities. [00:07:00] Back then they didn’t have IEPs and I don’t really remember getting tested, but I do remember having a lot of struggles learning. Specifically, I know that I had accommodations in high school and college around reading comprehension. Math was always difficult. In graduate school, my neurology teacher at Vanderbilt said, “You have a language-learning disability and you’ll never be a speech-language pathologist”.
Dr. Sharp: Oh, goodness.
Kellie: Neurology wasn’t my preferred topic or course, it was really hard, a lot of memorization. And I’m more of a hands-on learner. And here I am, successful SOP but lo and behold, I have 4 little ones just like me.
Dr. Sharp: Oh, sure. So when did you realize that they may be following in your footsteps? Was [00:08:00] your oldest? Did you figure it out pretty young or what?
Kellie: My boys have had IEPs since they were in preschool, since they were I want to say about 3. They had met their developmental milestones but it was on the very edge of that. And being a speech-language pathologist, I was always looking at those milestones and making sure that they were meeting them.
I started out and I signed with them. But I clearly remember having, my son was probably 18 months. I was walking with another mom and her child, and her child said, no River, a two-word utterance, perfectly articulated, and my kid is just making a few words or signing. There’s a huge range in development, so I wasn’t too worried, but when he wasn’t putting as many words together [00:09:00], and finally qualified for an IEP but just under speech and language.
My second son followed the same footsteps and then my girls, not so much. I think my focus was on my boys. The girls are so different and more socially pleasers that I didn’t really pick up on what was going on with the girls until later. Looking back on it, I remember their preschool teachers hinting, are you concerned? River being my oldest, they’re nothing alike. But some of the signs that I’ve seen in all of them are word-finding issues, which you’ll probably hear me do with this podcast and …
Dr. Sharp: So far so good.
Kellie: Okay, good …reversing letters, which I know is typical for kids until 2nd grade, but my 5th grader is still reversing letters and numbers. [00:10:00] And just difficulty learning anything left brain things, math, and reading. They all hate school, which is really difficult, and the homework that comes home comes home at such a rapid speed with no rhyme and reason that it’s even hard for me to try to break it down for them. They can’t do their homework independently.
So, I see the signs in all of them and to different degrees. I think my oldest is the most severe:
a) Because he’s most severe,
b) Because we didn’t really start the appropriate intervention until much later, until only about a year ago or less.
So I’m hopeful to get my other kids that appropriate intervention so that they will struggle less, especially my girls. Early intervention is key. You hear that all the time but schools have this wait-to-fail model. They’re not going to write goals unless you’re 2, 3 years behind. They’re certainly not [00:11:00] going to evaluate unless you’re in 3rd, or 2nd grade, which is at that point too late from my perspective.
So you people, the school district thought I were a lot crazy by asking for them to evaluate my 1st-grade girls. I saw the writing on the wall but I was just waiting to when is that going to show up in testing. In my own testing with speech and language testing, sometimes you don’t really see that gap until they hit a certain age. So I’ve just been waiting for that right time. And certainly, the discrepancy is there.
Dr. Sharp: Got you. That’s interesting. So your oldest had an IEP in preschool but didn’t get effective intervention until just recently at 11 or 10?
Dr. Sharp: Oh, that’s wild. What’s the story there?
Kellie: He’s had an IEP since preschool, speech and language, articulation concepts, following directions. Then we went to [00:12:00] kindergarten. In kindergarten, I said, hey, he is more than speech and language. He is in my perspective, SLD. He needs goals around reading and math.
And they were really hesitant to even assess. So it was like a battle then. And so they assessed but when I look back on that assessment, it was very weak, very little. I think they only did a few subtests. It wasn’t even a thorough assessment. Now, I’m better educated around what a good assessment should look like.
And so with that, if you don’t do a thorough assessment, and I think oftentimes it’s not done because you’re not necessarily wanting to find all the needs, because when you find all the needs, you have to write a goal for it. And so they wrote a goal for asking for help.
My experience in our journey is that [00:13:00] the assessments are not thorough, not deep. And as a result, the areas of need aren’t really outlined well. And then the goals are really weak. They’re writing goals for two years behind. They’re not even writing grade-level goals and really challenging kids.
So then you come up with services that are really weak, or maybe the services are appropriate in terms of time but what methodology and what training does that educator have? The power isn’t in the program, the power’s in the person and their level of knowledge. In terms of dyslexia, how a written language works, or how to really teach math authentically.
So had a IEP also in preschool but he was exited. It was just more articulation and he was exited. And his language sample was fine but [00:14:00] they didn’t do a thorough assessment. And along those times I kept asking for RTI- Response Intervention for reading.
For my oldest, I was flat-out denied RTI because he had an IEP. For my other one, they kept putting me off. He’s approaching grade level. We finally switched schools because we moved and the second son was picked up in RTI right away, which I was really thankful for. Then three months later, I got a call for an SST, a Student Study Team meeting. I said, well, I know what those are. I’m not going to wait for the meeting, which is scheduled three months later. I said, we need to assess. And so we did.
And then with my girls, I’ve just been waiting for the right time. I feel like first grade is, they’ve had some exposure teaching or reading and it was definitely the right time to assess.[00:15:00] Dr. Sharp: Sure. I started doing formal assessments for learning disorders or formal diagnoses of learning disorders halfway through first grade, and there’re always exceptions I guess, if there’s a strong family history.
I think a lot of schools around here, it sounds like are similar, where they may not assess thoroughly until at least 2nd or 3rd grade. There’s a lot of, let’s wait and see what happens and differential development and whatnot, but some kids certainly have those signs really early on.
Kellie: Especially when you have a family history. I wish that schools did check up family history. I’m sure there are parents that wouldn’t want to disclose that, but I think if the family history is there, we should intervene sooner.
Whether it’s RTI or jumping right into an assessment, the earlier we identify those kids and provide the proper intervention, the better. It will save money in the end. I feel [00:16:00] like if we taught all kids like they were dyslexic, multisensory, incremental, all kids would learn and you would have less kids in special education. I’m not saying that there wouldn’t be any. You would just have less.
But I feel that, and it’s all over, I find it rare that schools teach reading and math well. And it’s not the person, it’s their level of knowledge and training. Teachers go to school to be a teacher but they’re not taught how to teach reading. They’re not taught how to teach math. And then your special educators aren’t taught that either. And so the districts will give you cute little curriculum, send you to a one, you’re lucky if you get a 3-day training and then suddenly you’re a dyslexia specialist.
I have spent over 200 hours doing math training in Oakland. Get up at 2:00 AM in the morning, drive to Oakland, sleep in the parking lot for an hour, take a 2-day training, come back, and do it all [00:17:00] over again. Well, for over 200 hours, just in math alone. That’s Making Math Real. It’s brilliant, amazing. And I’ve done just the same in Structured Word Inquiry.
And so the time alone that I have invested in these methodologies is probably over 400 hours and I’m still confused. I really have to dive in, look at my notes, rewrite my notes, practice it to be competent. I’m nowhere near competence. Thankfully, my kids have people working with them that know what they’re doing while I continue to learn these methodologies to support their learning.
Dr. Sharp: Got you. Well, and you’re telling a story that I think is very familiar with parents with kids with dyslexia or other concerns that we end up shouldering a lot of the burden ourselves too. It’s often not enough to just get that intervention at school.
Kellie: Well, I trusted and I did. I’m working on trusting. That’s something I’m working on.[00:18:00] Dr. Sharp: Good for you.
Kellie: Working with schools, contracting with schools, I didn’t want to be that parent. I didn’t want to be litigious and I wanted to work with them, but I didn’t want to step on their toes. And certainly at that point when in 1st grade, 2nd grade, when my oldest was there. I didn’t really know much about reading intervention and math intervention, so I just said I totally trusted them. But when he had his triennial in 3rd grade and they said he has ADD Inattentive type and borderline low IQ, I just knew that wasn’t a match for my kid.
I didn’t find my voice then. I didn’t know my voice. And so I asked for a referral to the diagnostic center. And so we went there and we had a better evaluation, but [00:19:00] it wasn’t totally spot on. The recommendations were really weak. So after that, we did a series of IEEs in all areas.
And for my girls, what I did, which I feel really helped is, the school did their evaluation, but before we met to review it, I had them privately assessed and I paid for that assessment. I had assessors that knew the methodologies that I have found to be helpful.
It’s important that they understand what they’re, so if you’re teaching reading, you really have to understand or English or orthography inside and out to really do an authentic task analysis.
In the evaluations we’ve had from neuropsychologists or psychologists who aren’t necessarily in the trenches, who aren’t doing the practice, they might say, in Lindamood-Bell [00:20:00] or in Orton-Gillingham, but they haven’t practiced it. So they don’t really see the pros and cons of those interventions. And when it doesn’t work, then what else do you try? And so I found that to be really helpful in time as well. So if I waited for the school to assess and then I said, I want an IEE, that’s another three months, right?
Dr. Sharp: Oh, at least.
Kellie: It took an entire year to finally have a good evaluation. And that’s just too long. We lost the entire year. So I’m hoping I’m doing right by the girls.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. I hear that so often. Like why do we wait so long or I didn’t know this would take so long. Those kinds of comments from parents.
So maybe we could dive in a little bit to the material that could be super relevant for the clinicians who are listening, which is, I’m really curious from a parent perspective, [00:21:00] how did you find quality evaluators, first of all? What was that process like? Was it hard? Was it easy? Did you know what you were looking for? I’m very curious about that whole process from a parent’s perspective.
Kellie: It’s been hard. It’s been a journey. There are evaluators that I had for my son that I wouldn’t necessarily use again.
Dr. Sharp: Why not?
Kellie: Well, I think the biggest part that I struggled with is the recommendations. The recommendations that were made from multiple evaluators were too weak, too loosey-goosey. They described it but that could be many things.
So if you’re describing a program, well that could be Lindamood-Bell, Seeing Stars, which is a three-day, total of 15-hour training for an educator. You could be talking about or Orton-Gillingham, which is over 200 hours. They’re both phonic space but there’s [00:22:00] definitely a difference in the person’s competency based on the number of hours they’ve been trained.
Through that process, working with these evaluators, I gave them the research for Structured Word Inquiry and binders of research and summarized it and sent them videos. I don’t know if they read it, but they certainly didn’t even take it into consideration. It wasn’t even mentioned, which was shocking to me.
A lot of assessors don’t even want to do IEEs and I understand why. Certain school districts will make you jump through hoops and want things done a certain timeline and a lot of quality assessors don’t even want to deal with it. And so unless you have money to pay for a private evaluation to bring to the IEP meeting, it can be a struggle.[00:23:00] So with my girls, the assessments that I had done is I had a speech-language pathologist who has been studying Structured Word Inquiry for over two years. So she’s specializing in literacy and so she did an evaluation. She’s in Illinois, so it was online but with Zoom technology and I sat next to them while they did the assessment to make sure that they were attentive, she did an amazing assessment. I forwarded it to a few people out there, Dr. Hart and Dr. Mather, and they all agreed it was a very thorough assessment.
The school district, all my girls did a 100-page assessment on each girl. 100 pages. You would think that that would be thorough, but it wasn’t. It was lacking, and what I see in all of my assessments that I’ve had done by the school district, it lacks task analysis. So oftentimes their go-to [00:24:00] is the Woodcock-Johnson and they don’t necessarily dig deeper.
And I think there’s some subtests in the Woodcock-Johnson which can be a little weak. I want more information. Recently I had someone give the girls the KeyMath-3 assessment. I would love to look at more math assessments, but I liked it because it was detailed. It went through many different subtests of geometry, time, money calculation fluency, that if your some math tests, they’re not all considered equal. It’s just maybe just calculation or just fluency.
The other weak areas are written language, I feel like the Woodcock-Johnson is weak on that. It says that your average range and you look at an actual writing sample and it’s not average range. And then spelling is weak as well. Certainly, there’s nothing on word [00:25:00] finding there.
So for a dyslexic kid, the things that were missed are word finding was never really done. A good language sample was never really done and analyzed well. And they know I’m a speech-language pathologist. I’m sometimes shocked with a weak assessment when you know who’s coming in reading this report and whose mom it is.
The other part that was tricky is the speech-language assessments aren’t all sensitive on younger children that have more mild, moderate disabilities. So yourself, your castle, your typical assessments that a school speech-language pathologist would give are not sensitive. It’s under 80%.
And so the assessment that I really like is called the TILLS, The Test of Integrated Language and Literacy Skills. That is the only assessment that really picked up on their [00:26:00] dyslexia. On multiple subtests, they had a percentile rank of two or zero actually, where the school’s assessments all average range.
It’s like we’re not giving the appropriate assessments. And so I had to provide the school district data and research from the technical manual saying, your assessments aren’t sensitive for this population and they aren’t average range. And the celebration I had with the girls is the fact that they said dyslexia. That’s been huge.
For my oldest, it was two years ago, in third grade, arms were crossed. Well, if he qualifies, and I said, well, I feel like he has dyslexia. Well, we don’t say that word. And later I found a letter written by the Department of Education, I think it was dated 2013, Dear Colleague letter stating to schools we should say dyslexia.
I wish that I had that letter [00:27:00] earlier, but now I use it all the time. I go into my IEP meetings with my dyslexia shirt on and research. It takes me days to prepare, but I come in really prepared.
Dr. Sharp: Good for you. As we’re talking, it is clear that you’ve done a lot of research into this and you’re practicing it and you’re approaching it from the parent side as well as the professional side. I would imagine in an IEP meeting or the school meeting that some of the school staff would be a little bit blown away by your preparedness and some of these questions.
Kellie: Not sure what they think of me, and that’s okay. I think ways of being that parent. I encourage other parents to be okay with it. I tiptoed around for a long time. I didn’t want to be that parent, and I still don’t want to be. I don’t want to be [00:28:00] hated. I want to help you help him. And that starts with an accurate assessment.
And now I’m okay with it. I don’t need them to be my friends and I go in professionally. I’m okay speaking my voice. Oftentimes, when you’re in those meetings and you have a gut reaction and you want to say something, but you’re afraid to say it, that was me for a long time.
I still shake, I still get teary-eyed. I have all those emotions, but I have found my voice and I’m able to speak it at these meetings, which I think is really important.
Dr. Sharp: Oh, that’s wonderful. So thinking back to how you ended up finding quality evaluators. Can you remember? Is there anything that drew you to those individuals in the first place to even have you reach out to them? What was appealing right off the bat?
Kellie: Well, the evaluators that I had for my girls [00:29:00] are individuals that have gone through the training that I have recently gone through. I have to say that we have not had a private neuropsychologist or psychologist for them. The psych was done by the school district.
I didn’t feel the need to do that. I feel like with a 100-page report, the psychologist actually did a pretty good evaluation in terms of yes, the discrepancy is there. There’s no doubt there. Now it’s just a matter of the details. Having a really good language and literacy assessment, breaking down what words are misspelling, what issues they have with word finding, because that’s really where the goals come from once we have established, okay, the discrepancy is there, and here’s the [00:30:00] areas of weakness.
If I were to have another neuropsychologist or a psychologist IEE, I don’t think there’s anyone in this area that I would choose. And oftentimes when you ask for an IEE, there’s rules you have to follow in terms of your SELPA. They have to meet then certain criteria of money. They have to agree that it can’t go over a certain amount and you have to be in a certain area. And there’s no one here that I would turn to.
I’m hoping to be that person, not in terms of the psychologist person but the speech and language and literacy person in our area. But the person I would use is highly recommended by the Dyslexia Training Institute. And so I haven’t used him but I’ve been curious to do that. And he was recommended by a lot of parents in the community. All the assessors that I have used previously weren’t, but I just went with our sack of recommendations. I went with who was here. And what I’ve noticed [00:31:00] is nobody’s here, not in this area.
Dr. Sharp: Got you. So once you, maybe with your older kids, you went through that process, you talked about some of the things that were not helpful with evaluations, the weak recommendations, like you said which I interpreted to mean just not very specific. Is that fair? Not specific, not addressing the particular needs, nuances of your kids’ presentation?
Kellie: Yes or no. Oftentimes, the recommendations in these reports is about that long, they are just a few sentences graph paper. Oh, suddenly graph paper is going to make their math problems better, calculator, great. Well, what about authentically learning math? What about really looking at how you’re teaching math?
And that’s what’s so beautiful about Making Math Real. I’ve done over 200 hours in just 1st grade to 5th grade curriculum. That’s it. Over 200 hours in math. Think about an educator having that level of [00:32:00] training. And there are some public schools and private schools that are using this methodology. So it’s not like…
Dr. Sharp: Is it widespread or is it…?
Kellie: It’s not. Making Math Real, the founder David Berg only teaches in person. He doesn’t teach online. So you have to go to Oakland, which thankfully isn’t too far. It’s only a 5-hour drive. Once you learn it and you have to go through a certain sequence, you can’t skip around to different classe, there’s some prerequisites. It’s amazing. There’s nothing like it. I’ve tried TouchMath, Singapore Math and it’s all a lot of tricks to get around it rather than authentically learning it.
Dr. Sharp: That’s interesting. I know this is a little bit of a detour but can you talk a little bit about Making Math Real and what makes it so effective or thorough?
Kellie: I’ll try but David Berg would be an amazing person to [00:33:00] interview. And so Making Math Real, there’s just a level of training that an educator has to go through to use it. It’s not something you’re going to find online. You’re not going to find out on YouTube or Teachers Pay Teachers. You have to show up and be there. The curriculum has some certain scope and sequence that is completely different than Common Core math.
Dr. Sharp: That’s probably a good thing.
Kellie: Yeah. And so it goes from concrete with manipulatives to the opposite of that. What you see in schools is children are given a worksheet. They’re at the level of what you would sit down and take a test. And they’re missing all that incrementation that needs to be taught to get there.
Maybe your typical learner can get there pretty fast but your child with dyslexia or learning disability needs to be taught all [00:34:00] those steps prior and it builds as well. So if you didn’t learn your multiplication or your district facts or subtraction facts, and the nice thing about Making Math Real is he has a way to teach math that helps the big picture processor.
So he has these houses and your blocks go in a house and you go down the chimney and it’s cute but it also helps the dyslexic person relayed emotionally. So for us dyslexics, it has to have the meaning. The more emotion we have in it, the more it’ll stick. And you only move on if you’ve mastered the previous level.
And so what happens in school is it goes so fast and these kids aren’t mastering the foundational skills? And then you’re in high school having to pass algebra and then you’re told in California anyway, you can’t get a diploma, you’re on certificate track because there’s no way you will pass algebra [00:35:00] And that’s where my oldest son would be if I wasn’t doing what I’m doing now.
I saw the trajectory, 3rd grader, you say, what’s 8+8? And it makes him cry. What have we been working on the past 4 years? Something has to drastically shift and it’s not a calculator, it’s not graph paper. And in none of those recommendations, was there anything about authentic math methodology and I think that’s the stepsister of dyslexia, the dyscalculia and what do you do about it? And there’s not as much out there as there is for reading.
And with reading just the same. Oftentimes what is done is a phonics-based instruction. And our language is not phonics based. It’s more phonemic. And if you teach from a phonics-based perspective and breaking things into syllables, for example, the word signal, you’re going to break it sig-nal.[00:36:00] So if you do that, you lose the base word. The base word of signal is sign, and the relationship it has to other words, why does sign have a ‘g’? Why don’t we spell it phonetically? It has a ‘g’ because it’s related to signal, because our spelling does make sense.
Those silent letters that are in those “irregular words” are there for a meaning. And so we have to lead with meaning. We have to lead with morphology. Morphology is meaning. And so in Structured Word Inquiry, we talk about phonology, but that’s the third thing we talk about.
We lead with meaning. What does it mean? And then we look at the morphological and etymological relatives. What does this word come from? What is it related to? And then you talk about pronunciation because pronunciation shifts in the word. You don’t know what it’s pronounced like until you see it in the word based on affixes. [00:37:00] But we do it all wrong. Everything’s phonic space, including Orton-Gillingham.
And so I’m not saying that you’re not going to make progress with Orton-Gillingham or Lindamood-Bell or any of the other kits that you find. It’s going to be limited progress because you’re not teaching the way our English orthography is designed. People don’t even know it. It’s from a linguist standpoint.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. That’s fascinating. And that’s the gold standard that we’ve relied on for so long. It’s recommendations to go the Orton-Gillingham route.
Kellie: Right. And why? I think we need to question things more. And then some people will say, well, there’s the research and the research is there. But you have to read the research and look at it from a skeptical point of view. You have to question it.
If you’re only studying phonics and phonology, and you’re not looking at morphology, there’s [00:38:00] actually research about morphology but people aren’t looking at it. It’s not as vast and great as the phonics studies. And so you’re not really comparing those two, but the research is there around Structured Word Inquiry or Scientific Word Investigation. But people aren’t questioning it because it’s in a book. It’s in a Sally Schutz’s book. They just say, okay, that’s it. But we should question things. We should challenge things if it doesn’t feel right, doesn’t look right, if you’re not seeing the progress.
Dr. Sharp: That’s fair. And that makes sense. Intuitively, I suppose that one size doesn’t fit all. I know that past guests have talked about that. Steve Feifer talked about that and how there are different “types of dyslexia” and you have to have different intervention for the particular presentation. It’s not all the same. So it makes intuitive sense.
Kellie: [00:39:00] Yeah. And my kids have orthographic dyslexia, so we should really look at the orthographic piece of that. They can spell beautifully phonetically. They can read phonetically. And when they spell does D-U-Z I say, yay, you’re doing what you’ve been taught. They’re not memorizers. You can’t give them a list of “sight words, irregular words” to memorize. They might memorize it, but they won’t keep it.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, it doesn’t stick. Got you. Oh my goodness. So again just thinking about the evaluation process and how that has worked for you, have you found aspects of the evaluation process or reports that were particularly helpful for you from the parent side?
Kellie: Yeah. One more piece in terms of the recommendations. One evaluator we used, he used the Woodcock-Johnson, and the Woodcock-Johnson comes with a bunch of recommendations. I think there’s the CD you can use, you [00:40:00] type in your scores and outcomes, pages of possible interventions, and you go through them and sort out what works.
Structured Word Inquiry is not in there. Making Math Real is not in there. Those are the ones that I feel are most effective for my kids. And I’m sure there’s other things too. We have to look outside the box and not just stick with what spits out of our computer. We have to really think outside the box with that.
In terms of what’s been helpful, saying dyslexia for me. I know that it falls under the SLD category but if you google SLD or look for a Facebook group for SLD, it’s not a lot there. So for me, it’s about community and being able to relate to other people. And dyslexia, there’s a big community there.
I had a friend of mine, another school psychologist, evaluate my son, and he’s the first one who said, orthographic dyslexia when the schools were saying [00:41:00] ADD and low IQ. And that was the first time that I thought, oh, okay. I’m googling it and of course it matched all of my symptoms.
So let’s say dyslexia if it’s dyslexia. Say SLD because that’s the eligibility category but don’t be afraid to say the ‘D’ word or ‘D’ words- Dysgraphia, dyscalculia. Don’t be afraid. So that was helpful. And they’re not in a lot of reports but when we know when they finally said it, I just felt like that was so awesome. Such a triumph that they said the ‘D’ word.
Dr. Sharp: Sure. I think a lot of us, I’m just guessing I suppose, but we get stuck because those aren’t official diagnoses in the DSM so people trying to be precise and [00:42:00] literal, I suppose from the manual and omitting these words that are more well-known or like you said, might create more community or connection to what’s going on.
Kellie: I haven’t looked in the DSM in a while but I think it says SLD but it also says dyslexia in there. Am I totally wrong on that?
Dr. Sharp: It’s in there. It’s just not part of the official diagnosis.
Kellie: Right. But it used to be and then they shifted it. And in the Department of Education in 2013 through that letter, the Dear Colleague letter says that we should be using it. I think it’s helpful for parents.
When you say SLD, Specific Learning Disability, what does that tell you? Reading and math and okay, there’s not a community for SLDs. There’s a big dyslexia community and parents need other parents.
The [00:43:00] other helpful piece that I find is, if you’re going to report an IQ and again, I’m no psychologist, but I feel like, and what I’ve been told and certainly there, I’ve been told too many different things. If there’s too big of a span in the subtest scores from 60s to over 120, the IQ score is inaccurate. It’s invalid.
Dr. Sharp: Boy, that is a can of worms to open there. I think that’s been the historical approach or mindset. I think there’s a lot coming out even just like very recently to say that that Full Scale IQ is actually like the best predictor of whatever we’re trying to predict, academic achievement or whatever we’re trying to. So there’s this phrase that’s come about like scatter doesn’t matter.
Anyway, we don’t have to get into all that but what you’re saying is not [00:44:00] unfamiliar by any means. I think that’s what a lot of us grew up with or were talking about.
Kellie: Well, I think when there is scatter and it’s reported as an accurate IQ score, my oldest was anywhere from 75 to 85. That’s low. To me as a parent, I just feel like you’re telling me my kid’s not capable. He’s slow and low and so that’s why he can’t learn. Well, my kid can learn and he’s smart. You’re just not teaching him the way he needs to learn.
And so that’s been hard to see. And as I wait for the assessment report for my girls, I was just anxious to see and nervous like, what is it going to say and what does it mean? But just be careful when you’re quoting an IQ score.
Oftentimes I contract with a high school district I work with, which has been eye-opening because most of my caseload are [00:45:00] dyslexics from my point of view: they can’t read, they can’t write, they can’t spell, they can’t do math. They feel dumb. They don’t know they have dyslexia. It’s never been brought up to them. It’s never in their reports.
And if you look back at all of their reports, I looked at this one girl and I looked at her report in 1st grade. It said MR- mental retardation. She is by no means even close to that. It’s damaging. And my kids would be right there if I wasn’t their mom.
Dr. Sharp: Wow. Yeah, I’ve heard those horror stories, certainly. My gosh. Are there other aspects of the testing that’s been helpful for you or parts of the approach or anything that you found positive?
Kellie: Yeah, I think the more detailed it is, the better. [00:46:00] Some reports lack detail, they’ll report the score, but even as an educated parent, it’s really difficult to know what does that mean?
And so the more detail you can have in terms of examples, because you might be at the meeting telling the parent the example because you say, okay, tell me about coding. What does that test look like? What was my child asked to do? But you can tell me, and I’m not going to necessarily remember it.
It’s nice to have maybe even pictures in your report or examples. So when I leave with that 30-page plus report, it gives me more information. so, giving examples and details and then also drawing some lines in terms of interpretation, especially when you’re talking about processing.
So one question is, I have identical twin girls and they both have discrepancy [00:47:00] in their assessment, and the school refused to write math goals for Scarlet but math goals were written for Sky because there’s more of a “significant” area of need for her. Sky’s scores were about 60 in some math, and Scarlet scores were 80, but they were both recommended for RTI and math, and both struggling in math- they can’t do any of their math homework. I’ve lost my train of thought on that one but the math assessment that was given was not deep enough, so I asked for additional math assessment for her.
My question, what I’ll have at my follow-up meeting is okay, so you did a psychological assessment profile, certainly what you’ve come up with doesn’t just affect reading. [00:48:00] She can memorize, but she has difficulty with long-term memory. Though that’s going to affect not just reading, like if we just think about long-term and we’re not going to let her wait to fail and wait for those significant areas of need to show up on a standardized score but we have to think about these scores that we have and how it affects our learning.
And that’s not really talked about sometimes at these meetings. I feel like it should be. And maybe more description of the scores that you do get from the psychological assessments and how that specifically shows up academically and what they need support with that.
Like for my kids, they need in-context learning, they need meaningful learning. Having it out of context detach which is phonics-based instruction, that’s memorizing sight words that have no meaning [00:49:00] doesn’t work for them. And that would’ve really saved us many years of trying interventions that don’t work only because it’s like you probably, it’s in your list of recommendations and that’s what you put in your report.
Dr. Sharp: Got you. So drawing clear lines between the scores and the profile to real-world application or intervention or implication, I suppose.
Kellie: Yeah, and I know that probably takes, I don’t look forward to report writing time, it takes a long time assessing and scoring, and then you have to in interpret it and write it. And that’s equally as long and very challenging, at least from my perspective.
Dr. Sharp: Sure. Well, so thinking about it again maybe more from the parent perspective, were there any helpful elements of how to translate our results to the school or did you get any helpful coaching on how to [00:50:00] approach the school? I guess I’m getting at what resources or advice do you have for parents who might be in the same place to navigate the school system once you have the report?
Kellie: Well, what I felt like has really worked for my girls, because I’ve learned from my boys is, I asked for the assessment, I did it in writing. So that’s really important because if I just said it verbally and I did say it verbally multiple times, they just put you off.
So put your request in writing and find out what assessments they’re giving because you don’t want your private assessors doing those same assessments. Make sure they’re different. Make sure you’re hiring a private assessor that is experienced, is specializing in whatever you’re looking at. Not all assessors do dyslexia well just like autism. Ask about [00:51:00] their experience.
You can ask for a sample report that they’ve written, how much they’ve studied, how much continuing education? Like as a speech-language pathologist, I’m certified to serve a ginormous population. And I’m certainly not competent. I would not feel competent serving aphasic individual or many, I don’t work with nursing home patients and stroke patients or stuttering. I don’t do that well. I’m sure it’s the same for psychologists as well. You really have to specialize until you get really good at that and then expand.
The thing that really worked is getting that private assessment and multiple, maybe you want your speech and language, your OT, your psychologist, and not every who does math. You want to make sure that you’ve got the specialties there. Ask what the [00:52:00] assessments are. Ask about the sensitivity of those assessments- not all your speech-language assessments are sensitive. I haven’t looked at enough math tests but many of them aren’t detailed.
And then have that person at the meeting if possible. And thankfully with Zoom, that saves a lot of travel time. So having your presenter there, providing a report in advance to the school district so they can consider it as well. And also ask for the school district’s report in advance too. They’re not required to provide that, but I do ask for it at least three days prior. And sometimes I have to nag them about it.
Dr. Sharp: Sure. Well, it seems like that’s a theme too, is don’t be afraid to nag or ask, period. Nag has a negative connotation but it’s really just asking, right?
Kellie: Yeah, absolutely.[00:53:00] Dr. Sharp: I work with so many parents, they just don’t know what to do or how to do it or what’s okay or what the school has to do versus doesn’t have to do. Any ideas or resources around that I think is always helpful.
Kellie: Yeah. When I do get the assessment from the school district, I have a few people that I send a report to. Dr. Michael Hart at TrueLiteracy has been wonderful. Dr. Mather has been awesome. A few psychologists that I know have been wonderful as well. So I will send the report to them and get their input. Again, I’m not a psychologist, so I really want their objective input of what they think. Was it a thorough assessment? Are we missing anything? And they always point out things that I’ve missed and I’ve learned a great deal.[00:54:00] Some of them have not charged me, and have done it out of the kindness of their heart. Sometimes we have traded wine but I’m willing to pay. I appreciate their input and I think it’s important to have a second pair of educated eyes on that assessment.
The other piece is, I feel like I have had to become a specialist myself. It would be so much easier to trust the school district and know that my kids were getting what they needed in school but when things weren’t working, I thought to myself, I have to know what I want. What do I want? I don’t know. Do I do Lindamood-Bell? Do I do Orton-Gillingham? Do I Barton? What do I do?
And so I live and breathe it now. I listen to podcasts. I am a terrible reader myself. I read but read slow and have no time. So I do audiobooks. I listen in the car. [00:55:00] I take virtual conferences. The Dyslexia Training Institute has a virtual conference; how convenient can that be? You can watch it in the convenience of your own home and your own time schedule.
And then on one podcast, the Elisheva Schwartz’s podcast, Dyslexia Quest, a girl on a podcast named Emily O’Connor was on, and for some reason I felt really called to talk to her. So I called her and we set up a consultation, and again, happy to pay. Paid my $80 for the consultation. So parents, you can’t just expect these people are going to talk to you for free.
And she is a dyslexic who her private practices working with other dyslexics. So tutoring. She tutors in reading and math. She’s out of Portland. I said to her, what do you do? What do I do? Do I do Orton-Gillingham? She says [00:56:00] she’s done it all. She’s done Orton-Gillingham and Singapore Math. She’s done everything out there. And what she does is Structured Word Inquiry and Making Math Real.
It’s the difference in her kids, in her students, and as a dyslexic person herself, it’s made her cry a multiple times because the learning is so rich and deep and authentic and beautiful. After she told me that, I said, done, I’m in. And I’ve just been full speed ahead with those two methodologies because I was wasting money and time on buying curriculum and workbooks and nothing was really working.
Your Times Tales CD, you learn a cute little song to remember your multiplication tables. It wasn’t working. So I’ve learned that I have to be the specialist. I see kids privately and I work with kids with autism and articulation apraxia, but I’m opening my practice to math and reading intervention too. I’m just expanding that to help other [00:57:00] people and helping other parents advocate and navigate that world.
Dr. Sharp: Good for you. Well, certainly, I think a lot of parents need support with that. And like you said and I kind of alluded to our own kid in one of our prior conversations, but I have that experience of even being in the field and I think pretty well versed in the whole process. When it happens with your own kid, something changes and it’s like, oh my God, wait, what do I do now? What’s realistic? It’s a tough process to navigate through.
Kellie: The emotions are huge. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. For me and my husband, whatever we struggle with, our kids tend to get those qualities. You of course don’t want your kid to have the same struggles you went through and it’s even more emotional. And so that’s why it’s really important to have these [00:58:00] outside evaluators and professionals to help because I get into my own head and heart and it definitely gets in the way.
Dr. Sharp: Absolutely.
Kellie: The one piece that I definitely wanted to touch on in terms of evaluation is when you have a kid that doesn’t just have dyslexia, when you have a kid with multiple needs, all of my kids have central auditory processing disorder, and that can be controversial even in the world of speech-language pathologists.
And I know that auditory processing is something you task as a psychologist, but to truly be diagnosed with CAPD, it has to be done by an audiologist. And not many audiologists do it. In our area, there’s only two. There’s some interventions that can be done around that, that I’ve seen improve with my kids, like following directions just better listening in a classroom. Just better listening in the classroom.
And with all my kids, [00:59:00] it’s CAPD in their left ear. To me, that makes sense. You either have difficulty in the left side of the brain, or reading and the math, and listening and executive functioning. Sometimes that’s not assessed. All my kids struggle with it more so my boys. And so that’s something that can need to be differentially diagnosed as well, and visual processing as well.
Recently, I took all my kids to an ophthalmologist who specializes in developmental vision evaluations. And again, it’s like CAPD, not many people do that. He tested me first. I do wear beading glasses but he tested me first and he put these prisms on. First he said, do you have headaches? And I said, No, I don’t have headaches.
And he put these prisms on, these certain glasses, and the tension behind my eyes immediately went away. [01:00:00] You have to live it to really believe these things. I know the speech-language pathologist that evaluated my girls, and even in the dyslexic community, they’re like, well, be careful about that vision therapy.
I think unless you have it and you experience it, it’s really easy to say, be careful about that. And you do need to be careful about it and be discerning, but to actually experience the release in tention.
And then he evaluated my other kids. With the glasses, they read faster and more fluently. They didn’t skip words and it was just immediate. Will it take away the dyslexia? No. Will it make it a little bit easier to read? I’m hoping so. For all of us, he did this test where he covered each eye and the object moved up and down, so our eyes were teaming together to see. A team but they have to work really hard to team. So that’s when you come up with a fatigue when you’re reading.[01:01:00] For my oldest, who has executive functioning deficits, central object processing disorder, now discovered this vision piece, dyslexia, dyscalculia, you can see when you’re not really looking those pieces why he may have been diagnosed with low IQ and ADD, inattentive type.
So if you’re sitting me in the class where it’s difficult for me to process, you’re speaking at such a speed, things are going so fast, yeah, he’s in his own head, looking up at the ceiling. He’s just trying to keep it together.
I think it’s tricky to differentially diagnose even on those ADD assessment forms that come home for a parent to fill out. A lot of them have to do with learning. And so there’s such an overlap with learning challenges, learning difficulties in ADD, and how do you truly differentially diagnose that? I think it’s difficult. It really takes a [01:02:00] skilled evaluator to do that.
Dr. Sharp: Sure. No, I think that’s so true and it speaks to the value of a comprehensive evaluation and truly differentially diagnosing or looking at all these pieces. There’s a lot of overlap, right?
Dr. Sharp: My gosh, I feel like we’ve covered a lot of ground here in an hour. It’s pretty wild.
Kellie: If I can make one more little statement, a little share, if that’s possible.
Dr. Sharp: Of course, yeah.
Kellie: Okay. So a recent noticing or aha that I’ve had is in model. So when you go into the school, we have a model. We either push in, provide services. We pull out, we go into a little resource room, or maybe you’re in a special day class. And then some people don’t do any of that and just do it privately.
What I’ve noticed is, for my kids outside services work in terms of after school. [01:03:00] My oldest, we moved here about a year and a half ago and the friends came around when we first moved in because we’re the new people here and then they didn’t play with him anymore.
They just now started playing with him because this year he’s no longer being pulled out because he’s getting his intervention outside of school hours. So he’s no longer looked at, that special education kid. If you think about pulling kids out, they’re missing something. And if they have needs in math and reading, when do you pull them out? Do you pull them out of the art class and the fun class? Well, they’re really going to hate that. And then when they come back in, how do they even keep track of what’s going on?
And oftentimes, the schedule that’s developed, there’s really no consideration to when you’re pulling these kids out. I get it logistically because you’re grouping your kids by need and this is when I have the time to pull him and it’s damaging.The effect that it has and [01:04:00] there’s so much that we have to know that affects their kids emotionally, oftentimes they go in with SLD and they come out with emotional disability. If I could homeschool my kids, if I could afford it, expensive California, I would do it but I can’t afford it. And so we really have to keep in mind how it affects our kids emotionally.
With my second son, he is a bit of a perfectionist and not a guy that tries really hard. He’s not like, oh, I’m going to just give it a go. I’m really seeing a lack of engagement as recent parent-teacher conference said, he’s just not engaged. I think the hard part is what we’re doing privately outside of school hours. We’re working on this foundational skills that follows a different scope and sequence in the school.
What I would love is for us to be working on something that he’s going to learn tomorrow. So we’re kind of pre-teaching, but he’s so far behind that we can’t do that. We have to hit the foundational [01:05:00] skills that if he pre-taught, these kids would go in with a spark in their eye.
They wouldn’t be dim and go in, it’s like riding a bike uphill, starting at the bottom versus coming down, building that momentum. But when we do the wait-to-fail model and don’t write goals until three years behind, we will never close that gap. And then we pull them out with no rhyme and reason to how the child feels about themselves. My only goal is to get my four children to graduate with intact self-worth. To feel okay about themselves. And the damage is huge. It’s really huge.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. Well, you’re certainly not alone with that and your kids aren’t alone. I guess my question is, have you had any success getting school to cover some of that intervention outside of school if you opt out of [01:6:00] the school intervention?
Kellie: Yeah, I do have that set up for my boys and I’m waiting for that for my girls. We haven’t gotten to the services page yet of our IEP. That’s into 11 days, not that I’m counting. Once you’ve gone over your goals, they’re going to say, okay, why recommend 180 minutes a month of speech? Well, it’s the same minutes. I’ve been in these meetings, the same recommendations over and over again.
And I’m going to question that. And I’m going to say, what are you basing that recommendation on? And these therapists are young. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my career. I have a lot of regrets and there’s a lot that comes with experience. I’m not going to put a lot of faith in your recommendation when you’ve only been practicing a year or two or five and all of your [01:07:00] recommendations are the same, this scanned 180 minutes a month or whatever it is.
At a previous conversation that teacher actually said, well, if you’re going to test them anymore, please don’t pull them out of our core classes. I said, Amen. I said and don’t pull them out of the classes they love like art and music because they’re really going to hate it. I said I can make my kids available after school.
I talked with another parent who asked, is an advocate like I am, and certainly didn’t know what they were going to say, and wanted after-school services. The school flat out said, no, we don’t do that.
And this little boy, I saw him privately, he was peeing himself when he was being pulled out. Think about what a little guy feels like when he’s pulled out. These kids feel different. They know, the other kids know. We just really have to think about turning special education upside down on its head [01:08:00] if every school is so different.
If we taught a different way in the classroom and we were teaching really beautifully math and reading every day all day, most of our kids wouldn’t need pull-out services. Some would. There are some private schools for dyslexics out there and I would love to open my own if I could, if there’s any philanthropists out there that want to help me. A lot of them are in the Bay Area and the kids aren’t being pulled out, the education is done in the classroom. They are teaching differently. I think that’s really what we need to do. We need to look at a different model and we need to be open not just to push in and pull out.
We need to consider what a child feels like when that happens. When you push in, you’re not getting those foundational skills. And for some, after-school services is too much. Parents don’t want it. They want to do [01:09:00] sports or whatever else. I get that, to each his own. But for my kids, this is what works. Doing after-school services.
My kids get up at 6 o’clock. They have a session from 6:30 to 7:30, go to school, come home and do one more session, 3:30 to 4:30 daily, five days a week. Are they grade level? No, but we just started this in September and they’re really making off and they never complain. They’re making authentic progress.
Dr. Sharp: That’s fantastic. And that’s what it’s all about. I think it’s got to feel good. Hopefully, they feel good about themselves.
Kellie: We’re getting there but the educational wounding that’s been done, it’s hard to undo. So I’m just trying to do it right for my girls and undo what’s been done for my boys.
Dr. Sharp: Of course, well, it’s clear that you care a lot about them and about all of this subject matter. It’s been [01:10:00] a real privilege to be able to talk through all of this with you from both sides and hear your professional knowledge and the personal piece too. I think that really resonates with a lot of folks.
Kellie: Well, thank you for giving me the opportunity to share with your awesome community. This is my heart. This is my life. This is every day, all day. I want to be part of the solution and I want hopefully, other parents to not go through what I’ve gone through and other parents as well.
Dr. Sharp: Sure. So if people do want to reach out or get in touch with you, what’s the best way to do that?
Kellie: I do have a website. I haven’t updated in quite some time, but the website is www.thatspeechlady.com. And my email is firstname.lastname@example.org. I really need to rebrand myself because with that speech lady, people think I just do [01:11:00] speech.
And often times I’ll get kids that come to me just for speech, and of course, there’s the signs of dyslexia, reading issues are there, and I have to remind them, oh I do reading, and I do language, and these are the other services I provide. So got to think about that. It may not always be that website, but currently, that is my website.
Dr. Sharp: Okay. That sounds good. I’ll put that in the show notes and all the other resources you mentioned. I’ve been taking notes and we’ll link to all of these things that have been helpful for you and make sure that people can connect with those and with you if they would like to.
Once again, thank you so much for coming on, Kellie. I’m so glad you reached out and initiated this whole conversation. It’s been great.
Kellie: Thank you. Thank you for all that you do in educating other people and sharing your knowledge and continuing to up and challenge ourselves and what we know and continue to learn new things.
Dr. Sharp: Of course. Yeah, that’s the best part about it. It’s just learning new things. Staying on our [01:12:00] game.
All right, well, take care.
Kellie: Okay. Thank you.
Dr. Sharp: All right y’all, that is it for my interview with Kellie Henkel, mom and speech pathologist and a dyslexia expert from both of those perspectives. I really appreciated everything that she was willing to share with us and I hope you did too.
Like I said at the beginning, if you are interested in individual consulting, give me a shout. I have one or two, maybe two consulting spots open for individuals right now. Both of the mastermind groups are full, which is awesome but the next sessions will be starting probably at the end of the summer with new membership. So in the meantime, individual consulting is available to 1 or 2 people. If you are interested in getting some support in growing or developing your testing practice, reach out, and let’s see if it’s a good fit.
All right, that’s it for this time. Got two great interviews coming up, [01:13:00] so tune in. If you haven’t subscribed to the podcast, take 20 or 30 seconds and make that happen so that you don’t miss any interviews in the future.
All right, take care of y’all. Bye, bye.