The Hearth Psychology & Counseling Center, LLC
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Click to read what Dr. Sullivan has to say about these topics:

Sensible Psychotherapy

The Anxious Child

Organization and Structure for Students

Essays on social issues and politics

His novel now on sale at Amazon

The Psychotic State


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Kenneth P. Sullivan, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist
Huntsville, AL

Learning problems: finally an approach that works

Terrific new work on children's learning is being done by the pediatrician Mel Levine, M.D. I am incorporating his theory and methods in my evaluation and treatment of learning difficulties in all my clients. Dr. Levine's work has that great quality that brings up the question: "Why hasn't anyone thought of this before?" Dr. Levine has pulled together good work accomplished by others through the past 20 years, and he has added his own efforts to produce the first comprehensive and truly helpful approach to learning difficulties in children of all ages. Finally we have a system that produces a specific diagnosis for most all learning problems, coupled with sensible methods of working around and through the learning difficulties.

Dr. Levine rightly asserts that the diagnostic label of learning disability, such as dyslexia, or the diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) are not specific enough to be of any significant help in treatment. Dr. Levine points out that children who seem to be lazy in school are simply discouraged, because their specific difficulty in learning is not understood, and the teaching received is not successfully allowing that student to learn. Dr. Levine says that there are no lazy students, and he shows how to help almost all "problem students".

The system for diagnosing and understanding learning problems is not simple. Dr. Levine calls it developing a Neurodevelopmental Profile for each student. A Neurodevelopmental Profile inspects eight different broad areas of brain or neurological function, and each of those have somewhere between three to eight different sub-categories, and many of those have up to eight sub-sub categories of their own. An outline of all those categories can be seen here, taken from Dr. Levine's book A Mind at a Time

The investment in effort to understand each student's learning in such extreme detail pays off as soon as you start to actually help the student. Now we are able to explain the exact difficulty to each student, and the students respond well when the explanation fits their own experience of their difficulty so well. We do not give a general diagnosis of Attention Deficit; instead, we explain, for example, that the student has significant difficulty in maintaining control over the depth and detail of the information he must attend to and receive. (There are 14 different specific functions in the Attention Control System, and the Depth and Detail Control is only one of those, among the Input Controls.)

Such specific description of a student's difficulty then leads to specific exercises that can improve the student's learning. In this example, the student would profit from practice at finding what level of detail he should be directing his attention to in, say, reading a chapter in the history textbook for homework. It is very helpful to such a student for the parents to politely question and coach the student about which details are relevant and necessary, and which are not. This is far more helpful than having the parents tell the student to concentrate harder.

Another student's problem with attention control might be a difficulty in previewing the output (work product) that is required, plus difficulty in maintaining the pace of output. In that case, of course, efforts would be concentrated there.

Each student would have some different combination of weaknesses and strengths.  The students are much more receptive to information about themselves when it is accurate, precise, and when it leads directly to those things that can be practiced to remedy the problem. Students certainly want to do well when they know what they can do, but each student is unique. That is why Dr. Levine has named his website All Kinds of Minds, which can be found here.

The diagnostic system and assessment tools developed by Dr. Levine finally give us the kind of information that can be immediately helpful to students with learning problems.


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2003 Kenneth P. Sullivan, Ph.D.