What Your New Year's Resolutions Say About You

Happy New Year! We at Story Stage hope that you all had a restful, happy holiday. While we are thinking of lesson plans and new improv scenes, many of you may be thinking of your New Year’s Resolutions. Do you guys make them? I have to say, I’m not a big resolution-making kind of gal.

But resolutions do get me thinking about inferencing! (I’m sure that’s what you think when you hear the word resolutions too, right?:)

Inferencing is a big part of what we teach at Story Stage, so I am always thinking about new games and activities to help our kids learn this important skill. When you make an inference, you combine what you observe (usually fact-based information), with what you know from past experiences. These two things together lead you to a logical conclusion or assumption about what’s happening now. Prediction is also closely related to inferencing, but when we predict, we draw conclusions about what might happen in the future. Inference is about the here and now, the current state of affairs.

Try thinking through these New Year’s Resolutions to see what I mean:

Resolution: I would like to spend more time reading my Bible.

Facts: I must have a Bible. I already read it a little because I said “more time.”

Prior Knowledge: People who read the Bible are usually Christian.

Inference: You can assume that I am a Christian who likely attends church and didn’t spend a lot of time reading my Bible last year.

Resolution: I would like to actually make myself take my lunch break.

Facts: I must not usually stop what I am doing to eat lunch.

Prior Knowledge: When people are busy or stressed they often don’t take time to eat.

Inference: You can assume that I have a job. That job must be fairly demanding and probably pretty fast-paced. Last year, I skipped lunch all the time.

Resolution: I would like to delegate more chores.

Facts: Delegate implies that there are other people involved. Chores are usually referring to work that people do around the house.

Prior Knowledge: I did chores as a child in my household. My mother was the one who told me what my chores were.

Inference: You can assume that I am a parent, and that I have one or more children. Last year, I did most of the housework myself, and I’m tired of it. (Ha! This may be a resolution I could make!)

You could easily play a New Year’s Resolution game with your students by guiding them through the process above, and then creating a matching game for them to match resolutions to inferences. We can’t wait to use some resolution-inspired improv games with our Story Stage students this semester, because understanding this skill is so very important across the curriculum, not just in reading. In math, for example, students are expected to evaluate inferences based on data in word problems; and in science students hone their observation skills, but then need to make inferences to form hypotheses and offer explanations of their data.

So in this post, I want to share with you some ways to teach inferencing using games. (Be sure to subscribe to the blog so you won’t miss the next two weeks when we’ll look at ways to use wordless picture books and Pixar short films.)

On a recent visit to see my son, Sam, at college I had a couple of days to wander around the city while he was in class. Poor me, I have to go visit Sam in New York City every once in awhile. Thank you, Sam and NYU.

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I wandered over to the Whitney Museum, which may not be at the top of your list when you visit NYC, but it totally should be! Right on the Hudson River tucked between Chelsea and Greenwich Village, the Whitney is full of wonderful contemporary American art and offers great views from its outdoor terraces. You really have to go...and if you do, you have to stop at some of the toy stores I found along the way! (Oh yes, there are lots of high-fashion stops you could make as well...shoes, clothes, purses, make-up. Totally. There’s all that.) But that’s kind of not my jam. I like toy stores. You might be thinking, “Aren’t your kids a little old for toys?” Yes, yes they are; but I’m not. I love toys, particularly those that inspire creative, meaningful play. My favorite on this trip was Teich Toys in the West Village.

It was there that I found this great little card game for inferencing, GUESS WHO? SPOT THE BAD GUY. You can find it on Amazon, but I’ve not seen it before in another store. Let me know if you do!

I’ve played this game with kids as young as 7 up to age 15, and they all ask to play again. There are 25 character cards, each depicting a detailed drawing of a potential “crook.” To play, all cards are placed on the table to be examined as the host reads a crime from the case files. An example case file reads, “Who nibbled on the chocolate cake?” Players must examine the character cards for clues, and can ask the host for more facts if needed. The first clue in this case is, “Some strands of animal fur were found near the cake.” Ah-ha! Well, we must infer that the crook may have a pet! This narrows the search! It’s great fun, and easy to point out the factual details in each character drawing that might contribute to drawing an inference.

Check out these other online resources for helping your kids with inferencing:

  1. If you are a classroom teacher, check out this lesson plan for inferencing from The Teachers’ Cafe. There’s a fun matching game that would be great to use with 3rd - 5th graders.

  2. I absolutely love this Detective’s Notebook Game from PBS. It includes inferencing and predicting, so make sure your student or child understands the difference before you play.

  3. Love, love, love this Jeopardy Game! You can play with one player or several; in teams or as individuals. Great for classrooms or one-on-one with your child at home.

  4. Riddles are great for inferencing, and I love the way this web-based game allows you to scaffold the clues that your child needs. The graphics aren’t fancy, but the concept is strong.

  5. Okay...this might be my favorite thing ever. You MUST check this out for your students who are 13 and older. Every week, the New York Times posts pictures for students to draw inferences from, and they ask the good questions: 1)What’s going on in this picture? 2)What do you see that makes you say that? 3)And what more can you find? To see this week’s photo, click here! There’s also this great article on how teachers and others have used these prompts.

One last note...be sure to guide your child to understand what an inference is and what it isn’t. First and foremost, an inference is NOT a guess. When we make a guess, we are not paying attention to any facts, observations, or past experiences. A guess is a shot in the dark. An inference is also NOT a prediction, although they are closely related. Predictions and inferences are BOTH based on observations + past experience. They both use logic and reason to come to an assumption or conclusion. The biggest difference is that when we predict, we are thinking about what might happen next; when we infer, we are thinking about what is happening now.

Come back next week, when I’ll share my favorite wordless picture books and tell you how I use them to help children conquer inferencing.

5 Best Storytelling Games to Buy Now

Oh how we love games at Story Stage! I love that they bring people together, (AKA kids who’d otherwise be on social media in their bedrooms with the door closed), and I love that they can address all sorts of wonderful language-building skills under the radar.

But I am picky about my games, y’all. I won’t lie. Between my role as a speech therapist, and my role as owner/teacher at Story Stage...I play a lot of games with a lot of different students who have a lot of different strengths and weaknesses. And I do not want to play games I don’t like. So here are my top 3 rules for games:

  1. There must not be complicated rules.

  2. You must be able to play with kids of different ages and abilities.

  3. I don’t want to play for more than about 20 minutes (because, you know...laundry.)

Here’s the thing: Families are busy. No one thinks they have time to play a game, especially on a weeknight. There’s dinner, homework, after-school sports and rehearsals, laundry, and oh … what? You have to bring snack for advisory class tomorrow? It’s 8pm and just now you think is a good time to tell me? Yes...I know. Believe me...I know.

But here’s the other thing: The time you spend as a family is so fleeting and so precious. And there are so many things that demand our time. I encourage you to be purposeful about “game time.” Drag your kids kicking and screaming to come to 20 minutes of family game time just once a week. I guarantee after once or twice, they won’t complain anymore. They’ll look forward to it. And so will you.

We’ve picked the very best games to bring your family together and sneak in some great learning skills on the side. Of course, we think games that encourage storytelling and language skills are the best, and we might have a few creative ideas about how to play them. Here are our top 5:

Please note: Story Stage  participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn commissions by linking to Amazon. That helps support this blog by offsetting a fraction of what it takes to maintain the site, and is very much appreciated.

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Tall Tales

Who can resist the 50 little rubber story pieces that come in a soft blue velvet bag - a princess, a flying saucer, a baseball, an airplane, a snake, and more! Combine this with 24 “environment cards” and you’ve got yourself the start of a great story. No reading required. This non-competitive game comes with instructions for 5 different ways to play, but if you want a bit more of a structured way to play, we’ve got some ideas…

STORY STAGE HACK: Divide the addictive little rubber figures into those that can be considered “characters” and those that can be considered “problems” or “actions.” For example, the princess, bird, baby, and dog could be characters. The phone, campfire, bed, and rocket ship could symbolize problems, or actions that the characters take to try to solve their problems. Start a story by drawing an environment card (WHERE) and a main character (WHO). Divide your family into teams. Each team then draws 5 figures from the bag, and takes turns completing the story with a PROBLEM, 1st ATTEMPT TO SOLVE, 2nd ATTEMPT TO SOLVE, and a BIG EXCITING MOMENT. Teams earn points for each element they include in their story. Bonus points if you add anything about how the character feels.

Spark Cards

These are the best sequencing cards ever! I love them so much! No reading required, except for the adult involved. There are 6 cards for each scenario: Playing Football, Setting the Table, A Trip to the Beach, Going to the Vet, Planting Flowers, The Hurricane, Making a Lemonade Stand, and Going to the Library. Again, this is not a competitive game, but with a quick Story Stage Hack, you can easily up the motivation and play for points if your kids respond better to that sort of thing. What I love so much about these cards is the “Hypothetical Solving Questions” provided for each scenario. This breaks the storytelling process down into easily digestible parts, so that “telling a story” is not so abstract and undefined. Use these questions to come up with a “problem” in your story. The picture cards give you the characters and setting...and voila! You have 3 story elements figured out!

STORY STAGE HACK: First, mix up the 6 picture cards and have your kids put them in order. (If you need to up the ante here, divide into teams and time each team...the team who gets them in the correct order first wins. You can also sequence with only 3 cards for younger groups.) After the cards are in order, ask each team the questions provided on the cards that correspond to each picture. These questions are fantastic for predicting, inferencing, and building cause-effect understanding. (Again, divide into teams and award points for best answers if needed.) After sequencing and answering questions, have each team build a story, complete with the following story elements: WHO, WHERE, PROBLEM, ATTEMPTS TO SOLVE, CLIMAX, and RESOLUTION. For extra fun, have each team perform their “skit” for one another!

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Man Bites Dog

We’ve had so much fun with this deck of cards, with a slightly older group. You do need to be able to read to play this game. I also would caution you that, unless you are playing with older teens, there may be some cards you’ll want to remove before play: killer, naked, drugs, lover? (But don’t let this scare you off! There are plenty of other cards!) Players are dealt a hand of 5 cards, each with a word or phrase and a number of points on it. The goal is to combine words/phrases to create story headlines in each round of play. The first one to reach 500 points wins the game. As long as the headlines are grammatically sound, they can be as outrageous as you’d like!

STORY STAGE HACK: Play in teams. As each team creates headlines during game play, write them down on a whiteboard. After one team reaches 500 points, let all teams “go for the steal.” Each team should secretly choose a headline from the whiteboard. Set a timer for brainstorming for 3 minutes. After 3 minutes, each team improvises a story that would fit the headline they secretly chose. If the opposite team(s) can guess which headline was being acted out, they get a bonus 250 points!

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Tell Tale

This is another collaborative storytelling game that is meant to be enjoyed without being competitive. We love the 60 illustrated cards, and the little tin box is small enough to toss in your purse for game playing on the go. Our advice is to take out 2 cards: the “toilet” picture and the “poop” picture, for obvious potty-talk control!

STORY STAGE HACK: We like the idea of kids having some sort of structure when learning to tell a cohesive story. We teach kids 8 main story elements: WHO/WHERE, DESIRE, FEELINGS, PROBLEM, ATTEMPTS TO SOLVE, CLIMAX, AND RESOLUTION. Challenge your kids to use this structure when playing Tell Tale. If playing in teams, each team can earn a point for each story element they include.

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Mad Libs The Game

I cannot remember my life without Mad Libs. I played them as a little girl in the 1970s, played them with my college friends, played them with my own children, and still play them when I do speech therapy. (I also love the story of how Mad Libs were created back in the 1950s...check it out here!) The Mad Libs Game is total greatness!! This one is for ages 10 and up, and reading is required. There are Word Cards and Sentence Cards, and for each round of play, a Sentence Card is read aloud. Players choose Word Cards from their hands to fill-in-the-blanks on the Sentence card. The learning challenge is that you must choose the correct grammatical form of the word to complete the sentences. Struggling grammar learners are helped out by clever color coding on the cards: verbs are green, nouns are purple, etc. Players vote on their favorite silly sentence after each round of play. Continue playing rounds until someone gets 3 points!

STORY STAGE HACK: You guessed it...improv! For a fun language extension of this game, try this: Play a classic improv game where 2 actors must use one of the winning silly sentences from playing the Mad Libs Game in a made-up scene. For example, let’s say the sentence that won Round One was, “There is more than one way to fog a monkey.

Two actors might start a scene that goes like this:

A: I don’t know how we are going to get that puppy out of there.

B: Me either. I’ve already tried squeaking his favorite toy.

A: Yes, and I tried offering him a treat.

B: Well, he’s just scared and doesn’t want to come out.

A: Well, he has to come out somehow. You know what they say, “There’s more than one way to fog a monkey!”

Besides being just plain fun, improvising lines in a scene such as this gives your child practice with inferencing, idioms, answering “who” and “where” questions, maintaining topic and creating cohesive conversations.

We hope you find some time this season to sneak away for Family Game Night. Or better yet, order a couple for Christmas presents, and make Family Game Night your New Year’s Resolution. Happy shopping!

Part Two: My Kid Needs Testing...Meet Two Educational Diagnosticians

In this second installment of our series, “My Kid Needs Testing….Now What?” we bring you two wonderful Educational Diagnosticians in our community: Stacey Cherry Hardwick, M.Ed. and Marian Hunnicutt, M.Ed. Stacey and Marian have teamed-up to bring you incredible access to two amazing brains puzzling over the testing results of your sweet child at once. It’s really wonderful that they are doing this together, you guys!

The two joined forces in 2016. As Stacey says, “We were two diagnosticians with the same educational background, and we thought two heads were better than one when assessing and diagnosing children in the community.” Logistically, Marian and Stacey each typically do part of the assessment and then collaborate to write the report, diagnosis, and accommodations. This way, they feel they can bring multiple years of classroom knowledge and experience to the evaluation, and really make sure they are as thorough as possible.

Stacey and Marian both trained at Starpoint School, the Lab School at TCU for children with learning differences. Story Stage is lucky to be an integral part of the Starpoint curriculum for the past three years, so we know first hand the value that working amongst the beautiful minds in this building can bring.

A Starpoint parent we adore recently commented that she never could have imagined the things that are coming out her son’s “sweet, beautiful mind,” after attending Starpoint and Story Stage. Her words have stuck with me…. “his sweet, beautiful mind.” Yes, indeed, sister. He does have the most sweet, beautiful mind; and\ how blessed we are to be a part of it.

There are many people who have nurtured the sweet, beautiful minds at Starpoint School, and we hope to introduce you to many of them. This week we start with Stacey Cherry Hardwick and Marian Hunnicutt:

Stacey Cherry Hardwick, M.Ed.  817-965-1714  Marian Hunnicutt, M.Ed.  817-247-8868

Stacey Cherry Hardwick, M.Ed.


Marian Hunnicutt, M.Ed.


What does an Educational Diagnostician actually do? Don’t psychologists do some of the same testing?  

An educational diagnostician is a former teacher that has taken specialized classes at the graduate level, and become certified to assess and work with students with learning problems. Yes, psychologists also assess children using some of the same assessment measures that we do. However, psychologists are trained to work with children who have behavior or emotional problems, in addition to their learning issues. As educational diagnosticians we often work closely with psychologists whenever this is the case.

What kinds of students can benefit from being tested by an Educational Diagnostician?

Any student could potentially benefit from receiving a psycho-educational assessment because the results provide a pattern of strengths and weaknesses that gives parents and educators information about how a student learns. Typically, though, we evaluate students who are experiencing academic difficulties. Most students have had ongoing struggles, or have not responded well to academic intervention in a specific academic area when they decide to reach out to us.

You both trained as teachers at Starpoint School, a school in Fort Worth for students aged 6 - 12 years with learning differences. In what ways has that experience shaped your practice?

Marian and I both earned our masters degrees while teaching at Starpoint School. This was the foundation to our journey as educators, and ultimately what led us both to a career as educational diagnosticians. There, we learned how vital it is to monitor the academic progress of students with learning differences every year. That’s how you know that the intervention is working and that appropriate progress is taking place! For me, seeing students thrive in such a unique environment sparked my interest in going back to school for my educational diagnostician certification. Without the specialized training Marian and I received at Starpoint, neither of us would be where we are today.

Will your testing tell me if my child is autistic?

No. Although we can let you know if there are red flags for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), we are not qualified to diagnose ASD. A psychiatrist, psychologist, pediatric neurologist, or developmental pediatrician will be able to make an ASD diagnosis.

Someone said my child needs “dyslexia testing.” What is that? Can you do that?

So, let’s start with defining dyslexia. Here’s a very formal definition:

“Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.” (Adopted by the IDA 13 Board, November 2002. This definition is also used by the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development [NICHE; 2002]).

In plain English, that means dyslexic students have trouble processing letters and sounds. That usually means it’s hard to break words apart into individual sounds, like “big” = b + i + g. And it’s even harder to see a word, assign sounds to all those letters, and blend them into a word. When we diagnosis dyslexia, we gather information from family history, teachers, and observations in addition to the actual testing. Once we see your student for testing, we first test to determine his cognitive functioning. Next, in order to assess specific areas of academics, we include a broad battery of achievement testing. Finally, to identify dyslexia or a specific reading disorder, we use specific tests of phonological processing and orthographic processing that are an essential part of the testing battery.

What are your top 3 recommendations for a parent of a child with a learning difference?

  1. You are your child's biggest advocate. Educate yourself on your child’s specific learning difference and don’t be afraid to ask questions of her teacher and school.

  2. Be consistent with your child and follow the recommendations of the evaluation, teacher, school, and therapist.

  3. Be patient with your child. Set clear boundaries, but be careful not blame her for being lazy or unmotivated. She may truly be struggling, and sometimes it is best to find another person to help rather than taking it all on yourself.

What do you enjoy most about testing students?

Working with families and helping them find the “best fit” school, academic therapist, or game plan is the best part of what we do. We love to help alleviate the stress in family life and help a child become a kid again.

Do you think having been a teacher helps you when evaluating a child?

Yes, definitely! Having taught for many years gives us the ability to understand the teacher’s perspective, the parent's perspective and the student’s perspective. Being able to visualize what a student with a specific profile looks like in class is invaluable when determining what recommendations and accommodations might be most effective for success.

In what ways do you work with teachers in helping to implement accommodations in the classroom?

We are always happy to meet with a student’s teachers to help explain the results of the evaluation, as well as the recommended accommodations. This team approach allows the teacher and/or administrators to ask questions, discuss additional accommodations specific to the child’s classroom or curriculum, and to establish a game plan for success. It is also helpful for us to hear from teachers in terms of which accommodations they feel work best for different learning challenges.


My fourth grader goes to a public school, and we requested that he be tested because he is struggling to organize his ideas for writing. He was screened, but the school said they do not think he needs to be tested right now. Would it help us to have you test him?

Public schools in Texas are required to use a Response to Intervention (RTI) framework to determine if a child needs testing. This process can take time and may ultimately end in the school determining that the student does not need a full evaluation. If you have a concern and believe that your child has a learning difference, go ahead and have her tested. Early intervention is key. Ultimately, you do not want your child to struggle in school and miss out on appropriate accommodations needed to reach her highest potential.

It makes me nervous for my child to have a formal diagnosis. I don’t want her labelled, and I’m not sure I want to go the medication route. Should I have her tested?

Don’t be afraid of a formal diagnosis. Teachers love to know how students learn and can provide the best intervention in the classroom with a full evaluation. An evaluation also gives you, the parent, insight into your child’s rights and how to support her at home. If your child needs accommodations, you will alleviate frustration by learning more about her strengths and relative weaknesses. Medication is not the “right” choice for everyone. When other interventions have been exhausted and your child continues to struggle with ADHD, medication can be a great tool; but it is not the answer to all academic achievement problems. Remember that only a medical doctor can diagnose and prescribe medication.

I have a junior in high school, and he has already taken the SAT. We’ve never had him tested, but suspect he may have ADHD. Is it too late to have him tested? How could we help him at this point?

Although the majority of students with an attention disorder are diagnosed in childhood, some students are able to compensate when they are younger. However, they may then “hit a wall” in terms of being able to manage the increased demands of high school. If a high school student is demonstrating symptoms associated with ADHD, it is definitely not too late to have him tested. If a psycho-educational evaluation is performed and results indicate a high probability of ADHD, then a consult with a psychiatrist would be recommended to confirm the diagnosis and make recommendations. An older student with ADHD would likely be struggling with executive function. Executive skills are processes that allow a student to self-monitor and manage his resources in order to achieve a goal. They are the neurologically-based skills involving mental control and self-regulation. Older students with ADHD who are preparing for college or work can benefit greatly from executive skills coaching. Because the symptoms of ADHD frequently persist into adulthood, learning to manage attention difficulties through coaching, counseling, or self-education can have a positive impact on all areas of person’s life.

THANK YOU STACEY AND MARIAN!! Be sure to check back next Monday when we will take you Christmas shopping with us! Get in on the best games and books that make learning fun!

My Kid Needs Testing...Now What?

If you are like me, you recently sat down with your kid's teacher to get a report on how the Fall semester is progressing. These days we have a lens into the grades our children earn on a day to day basis, if we desire. One click-click-click into the school portal, and we can often know about that history test grade before sweet thing even gets into the carpool shuffle. (No more hiding that 65 until you could redeem yourself on the next test like in the good 'ole days!) With access to such a constant stream of information, it may have been no surprise to hear your kid's teacher say, "You may want to look into having him tested." But now what? Who does this sort of testing?

That's why we are so excited to bring you this new series on the Story Stage Blog! Over the next few weeks, we will introduce you to some of the fabulous professionals in our community who do testing, tutoring, therapy, and more. We'll talk about their backgrounds, experience, and what they do best. Our hope is to introduce you to some of our most trusted colleagues, to demystify the process of finding help for your child, and to answer some of the questions that you haven't been sure who to ask. We are delighted to start off this series with a conversation with Dr. Neslihan Chandler, one of Fort Worth's most respected psychologists for children and adolescents. She's got a ton of great insight to share with y'all.

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Neslihan Chandler, Ph.D.



Why did you decide to become a clinical psychologist?

I actually decided to become a psychologist when I was in high school and I took my first psychology class! I feel in love with the idea of helping children and families through mental health. Once I knew what psychology was, I was driven to get the highest level of education needed to help families.

There are so many professionals who test kids! How do you know whether to get testing from a clinical psychologist or a neuropsychologist or a “regular” psychologist? What’s the difference?

So, there is no such thing as a “regular” psychologist. There are many different types of psychologists: clinical psychologists, clinical child psychologists, neuropsychologists, school psychologists, and even forensic psychologists. Just like any other field, psychology has lots of areas that one can specialize in. A clinical psychologist can specialize in working with adults, working with elders, or working with children. Then within those populations, you can specialize even further (abuse and trauma, depression, anxiety, inpatient populations, outpatient populations, etc.). Some clinical psychologists specialize in assessments and then further specialize in testing with pediatric populations. Neuropsychologists specialize in evaluations with populations who have had significant brain trauma or have a significant medical history (concussion, traumatic brain injury, chemotherapy and radiation, genetic disorders, etc.). However, for more common psychological disorders, such as ADHD, Autism, Learning Disabilities, Intellectual Disability, Anxiety, and Depression; a clinical psychologist who specializes in psychological assessments with children can easily assess for these conditions. Therefore, when looking for a psychologist to assess your child, be sure to ask for referrals from trusted medical professionals, check to see if the clinical psychologist specializes in testing for the condition you are concerned about. Make sure the clinician has the proper credentials to diagnose the condition (Ph.D over a Master’s degree), and ask lots of questions about the process. A skilled clinical psychologist will be able to answer all your questions and provide you with details of how they can help your child.

Who decides that a student needs to be evaluated by you? Do parents need a doctor’s referral?

Anyone who has concerns for the child can decide if the child needs an evaluation. Teachers, parents, pediatricians, school learning specialist, speech therapists, occupational therapists, etc. can all recommend to the parents that a child could benefit from an evaluation. When parents first call me, I spend lots of time asking questions about the referral problem. Once I know what issues needs to be assessed, I offer an individualized plan for the assessment process based on the specific needs of the child. A referral from a doctor is not needed.

What happens to a student after he is evaluated?

After the evaluation, I spend several hours scoring the measures and writing the psychological report. When the report is complete, I schedule an appointment with parents only to go over all the results. I go over each measure, item by item, explain to the parents if a child meets criteria for a diagnosis and why, and go over all my recommendations for their child. The recommendations are very specific to the needs of the child based on the results of the testing. Parents leave my office with a name, a number, and specific details about what other resources can help their child. I also provide 3 copies of the report to the parents as well as a PDF of the report.

You were a clinical psychologist at the Child Study Center before going into private practice full time. How has that shaped or influenced your practice?

I was at the Child Study Center for 5 ½ years where I completed my post doc training and then worked in the psychology department. CSC was an invaluable experience where I learned the highest standard of care for psychological testing and patient care. I was exposed to many different clinical populations including autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, intellectual disability, and learning disabilities. I had outstanding leadership and supervision, was trained on the ADOS (Autism Diagnostic Observation Scale), and was given the opportunity to evaluate over 900 children! I used these experiences and standards to help shape my private practice by carrying over the same high standards of care I learned. I am forever grateful for my experiences at CSC. What I love about my practice now, is that I have flexibility to spend lots of time with the families I serve; am constantly learning about new, wonderful referral resources for families (like Story Stage!); and am able to carry on relationships with families after the evaluation is complete to continue to offer resources and support.

It seems like so many more students struggle with anxiety these days. Do you see a lot of anxiety issues in your practice? How is it helpful to have an anxious child tested?

Unfortunately, I do see more anxiety these days as well. Our kids have so much on their plates these days- school, sports, friends, other extracurricular activities. If a child also has some other issue, like ADHD or a learning disability, it can all add up and just become overwhelming. Having an evaluation to see if your child is struggling with anxiety can be very helpful to help figure out what resources can best help your child. Remember that there are many different areas of specialty in the field of psychology. Some therapists specialize in depression, some specialize in trauma, and some specialize in anxiety. Figuring out what is causing your child's difficulty is important so that the right resources can be put into place.

What’s the best thing about your job?

Number one is helping wonderful families and working with their sweet kiddos! I love working with the kids, getting to know them and their families, and figuring out how best to help them. My work is very rewarding and I love my job! ☺

What’s the hardest thing about it?

Well, like every other job there are good things and bad things. I love working with the precious kiddos and I love meeting the families; but sometimes delivering the news of a difficult diagnosis can be hard. I am a mother too, so I can completely empathize with parents. But in a lot of cases, parents are relieved to know how to help their child. Families come to me for answers and help, and I try very hard to give them that in the most caring and nurturing way I can.

A Few Questions From Parents:

If my child ends up with an ADHD diagnosis, can you tell me if you think she needs medicine? Can you prescribe it?

I am not a medical doctor, so I cannot prescribe medication. I do however, let parents know when I think medication might be indicated and share that information with the child’s pediatrician (who is the one who will prescribe the medication). However, 9 times out of 10, I do not recommend medication right away because I like to try the “least invasive intervention possible." There are, of course, other cases where children have severe forms of ADHD and need medication due to safety issues or severe behavioral problems. In those cases, I assess each situation carefully to see if medication management is warranted.

My child was evaluated in his public school about a year ago, and diagnosed with a learning disability. He is still really struggling with friendships at school. Is this because of his learning disability? How might your evaluation help us?

Many learning disabilities, including ADHD, also cause social skills delays. So kids who have these diagnoses often struggle with friendships and social situations. If your child has already been evaluated one year ago, I typically do not think another evaluation is indicated. Often times, I will offer a free phone consultation to these families and give information on resources ...(like Story Stage!☺) that might help them with their social skills. However, if the previous evaluation did not address other concerns or new concerns have come up, a new evaluation might be recommended.

The school where my child goes thinks she might be autistic. Can’t my pediatrician diagnose that?

Typically, a pediatrician does not diagnose autism. Developmental pediatricians, who have received extra training on developmental disorders and delays like autism, can diagnose autism; but since there are so few of these type of doctors in the US, wait times to see one is long. A clinical child psychologist who specializes in assessing autism, (like me!☺ ) can assess and diagnose your child with autism. Due to my extensive training on autism spectrum disorder at the Child Study Center, this is an area that I am very experienced in. Wherever you go for an evaluation, be sure to ask if they use a ADOS-2 (Autism Diagnostic Observation Scale- 2nd Edition) in their assessment process. Many insurance companies will not accept a diagnosis (and therefore deny services related to the diagnosis) without an ADOS-2.

Thanks Dr. Chandler!!

The second post of this series can be found here.

Learning Differences: 3 Profiles of a Story Stage Student

When Leigh and I started Story Stage, we had trouble finding the right words to describe the kind of kids we wanted to serve. As a speech-language pathologist, I had spent over 20 years seeing all kinds of students with all kinds of needs in public and private school settings, HeadStart programs, Early Childhood Intervention programs, and hospitals. All of the students I saw somehow “qualified” for services (through this or that standardized testing battery), and had come out of the process with a “diagnosis” that gave me permission to see them. That’s exactly what Leigh and I did NOT want to do at Story Stage. We had seen enough to know that the kids with formal diagnoses were not the only ones who needed a little extra help. What about the kids who scored pretty low on the tests, and were really struggling in the classroom or socially; but didn’t score quite low enough? Or the super shy or anxious kids who could use some social skills strategies? Or the kids who were just a little bit quirky (and are probably going to be rocket scientists one day), but couldn’t figure out how to make small talk?

Not that there’s anything wrong with a diagnosis. Our own kids have them! Diagnoses have their place, and we often need them to guide us in finding the right professionals, or to convince the College Board that our children need extra time on the SAT. But we do not need them to define the wonderful human beings who are our children. Neither my child nor your child is a diagnosis, and it makes my heart smile to think of how much more our children are than that! Leigh and I wanted to build a program committed to seeing the whole child, diagnosis or not.

So we decided that Story Stage would serve all students who learn differently. For us that simply means that our students need a different approach or a heightened focus on social skills and/or language skills to help them succeed in the classroom and with friends. Many of our students do come to us with a formal diagnosis. You’ve likely heard of most of them: ADHD, Auditory Processing Disorder, Language Disorder, Specific Learning Disorder, and Autism Spectrum Disorder to name a few. But we are also thrilled to be able to broaden our reach, and try to “catch” some of the children who tend to fall through the cracks for one reason or another.

We are able to cast a wider net because Story Stage is not formal speech-language therapy or academic language therapy. Yes, those are our professional fields, but we will never tell you that Story Stage can replace your one-on-one therapy time if your child needs it. In fact, Leigh and I feel like one of our biggest roles at Story Stage is to help guide parents to the resources they need to help their child. All the professionals and terminology out there can be confusing and overwhelming, especially if you are new to the world of kids who learn differently. In this blog post, we hope to begin to clear up a few things.

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We thought it might be helpful to profile some of the inquiries we get, and give you an insider’s view into how we would respond. Note: These profiles and names are fictional and represent a compilation of many different students. However, they reflect the “typical” type of call we often receive.

Alexa, age 12, private school student:

Alexa has no problems reading or writing in school. In fact, she’s a great student. Alexa doesn’t have any type of formal diagnosis, and has never received any type of therapy or tutoring. Her teachers describe her as very bright, if a bit quirky. However, Alexa has trouble connecting with friends. She’s not good at small talk, and struggles to pick up on social cues, like body language and tone of voice. Alexa finds it confusing that her friends aren’t interested in hearing her talk more about her love of reptiles, but her friends get frustrated that Alexa makes “random” comments when they are trying to have a conversation. Sometimes when her friends respond sarcastically, Alexa takes their comments literally. She gets her feelings hurt and gets angry inappropriately because of these social “disconnects.”

Here's what we told Alexa's parents:

Alexa’s story made us think she might be at risk for a social communication disorder. While we would love to have her in a Story Stage class, we recommended that Alexa’s parents also seek a evaluation with a Speech-Language Pathologist trained to work on social communication. The American Speech-Language and Hearing Association (ASHA) defines social communication as the “rules for how we use language in different situations and with different people.” Story Stage is a great place to practice role playing things like small talk and understanding sarcasm. When we improv theater scenes in class, Alexa would get fantastic practice in responding with on-topic comments to extend the conversation. However, we wanted to be sure that Alexa didn’t need more focused intervention even though she was obviously a very high functioning student. Our best advice was to get an evaluation first, then schedule a Story Stage class the following semester. www.asha.org/public/speech/development/social-communication/

Spencer, age 9, public school student:

Spencer is a math whiz, and has the social schedule of a celebrity. Everyone wants to be around Spencer. He is good at making others laugh, and can also laugh at himself. Spencer’s parents recently went to his teacher conferences, and were told that Spencer is struggling with the writing assignments in third grade. Spencer’s teachers say that he has trouble organizing his thoughts into grammatically correct sentences, as well as putting sentences together logically to write a story. Spencer’s parents commented that when Spencer tells stories of his day at home, they don’t always make sense and are difficult to follow. They weren’t sure what to make of it, and they usually just helped him along as it didn’t seem to bother Spencer. Spencer goes to speech-language therapy once a week with a small group at his elementary school.

Here’s what we told Spencer’s parents:

Spencer is a great candidate for a Story Stage Class. Each child in our classes builds their own narrative story in the form of a play. Spencer would get lots of practice in story organization, while getting real-time feedback on whether or not his story makes sense as he and his peers act out scenes. Because oral language is the foundation for written language, Story Stage Class could really boost Spencer’s narrative writing skills. However, we also recommended that Spencer’s parents work closely with the SLP in Spencer’s school. We recommended they ask: 1) When is Spencer due for a re-evaluation?; 2) Do Spencer’s goals for therapy include narrative language goals and/or sentence building goals?; 3) Would it be possible for Spencer to go to therapy twice a week instead of just once?

Geneva, age 16, homeschool student:

Geneva is a quiet, thoughtful teenage girl. She attended a public elementary school until 6th grade, but then transitioned to homeschool. Geneva has a formal diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, and has been in therapy to work on social skills for many years. Her mom reports that Geneva does well in school when the material is straightforward and fact-based. However, as the curriculum has gotten more complex, Geneva struggles with questions that require her to make predictions about what might happen, draw inferences, and come up with solutions to problems. She has good ideas, but it often takes her a little longer to get them across. Geneva’s mom is hoping that a Story Stage Class might give Geneva a place to practice her conversational skills and problem solving skills in a safe, supportive group.

Here’s what we told Geneva’s parents:

We felt like Story Stage was a great fit for Geneva. Because she was already receiving speech therapy and had been recently evaluated by a neuropsychologist, we felt this was a good time for Geneva to try out her skills in a supportive group setting. Working through story-building with a group of peers requires a lot of problem solving! We were excited to get Geneva in class and help guide her to predict what might happen next in the plays we would create. We also thought that improvising dialogue would be great practice for Geneva’s conversational skills and also for her inferencing skills. (What might you say in a scene to let the audience know you are a marine biologist?)

All three of these students had great semesters at Story Stage! Alexa’s parents got her in to see a speech pathologist, but therapy was not recommended at the time. (However, we all felt better having ruled out something that might have required one-on-one intervention). Sometimes it helps to have someone who’s “been there” give you a few tips along the way. We love writing plays with your children, and we also love helping you along on this journey. What we love best though is that Story Stage is a place for the whole child, diagnosis or not.

What Jenna Taught Me (Post by Leigh Scanlon)

When we receive shocking news, we all remember where we were and who was with us. I remember where I was and who I was with when news arrived that the Space Shuttle was struck with disaster, or when the Twin Towers collapsed. These kinds of stories are part of the universal experience that unites us all. As a community we followed these stories as they unfolded and grieved for the suffering of the victims. We found resolve in a time of uncertainty and grew closer. We loved our loved ones a little harder and thy neighbor a little deeper. We asked why did this happen? What went wrong? How do I move forward?

On the day I received the news that my daughter had a language disorder, I felt as if the rug had been ripped out from under me. That was five years ago, but I can still remember vividly where I was standing, what I was wearing, and what I was feeling at that moment. It wasn't that it was entirely shocking or surprising; I had certainly noticed that my daughter’s speech and language were delayed compared to her peers. On several occasions, Jenna's teachers and other professionals had even alerted me to Jenna’s speech delay. I also knew in my gut, as mothers do, that something was not right. But no matter what had been previously discussed, it did not prepare me for what I saw written in black and white. The results of the evaluation became real and raw when spoken by a professional giving a diagnosis. All I could think was, "Why did this happen? What does this mean for my child?" I was devastated. Of course, this is not on the scale of the world tragedies like the Space Shuttle crash or 9/11, but for me and my child…. our course had changed. Things would not unfold as I had envisioned.

If you have a child who has been diagnosed with a learning difference, you know how I felt. It's those feelings of uncertainty for our children's futures, where the plans we had for our children suddenly seem turned upside down. It's that gut-wrenching feeling of not knowing where to turn, who to listen to, or what steps to take next. It's those days when we refrained from telling a friend or neighbor about any of it, for fear that our children would be judged or misunderstood. It's this day we grieved, suffered, and were left with questions. We felt alone and will remember this day when a doctor, therapist, or a diagnostician told us the story that changed our children's paths, and also changed us.

For me… Jenna’s diagnosis gave me a bigger purpose in life. At the time, I was teaching in a private preschool that I adored. I began to see my role as a teacher in a different light, and became an advocate for children who were not meeting their educational milestones. I felt a new sense of responsibility to communicate with parents honestly about their children, and to share concerns from the classroom. I also decided to take my career in a new direction. I wanted to learn more about how to work with a child with learning differences. Not only did I want to help Jenna become a better reader and writer, but I also wanted to help other children who would need the focused, intentional learning that children with learning differences require. After much research, I decided to train as an Academic Language Therapist, through The Academic Language Therapy Association and the International Multisensory Structured Language Education Council. Today, I am so happy to be an advocate, not just for my child, but for other children who struggle as well. Through Jenna’s story, I found my people, my passion, and the joy that comes when we help kids find and see their true potential.

Today, Jenna is a bright, spunky eight-year-old who always wears a smile. And yes, she has a learning difference, and her brain is “wired” differently. With the right support and interventions, Jenna (like all children with learning differences) can do well in school and grow into a successful adult. Yes, her journey may be different. My journey is different, too, and most days I'm really grateful for that.

I can remember my wise grandmother telling me, "Through pain comes triumph." As a teenager, this sounded odd to me. Why must we experience pain to feel or do good in this world? I didn’t understand then, but now as an adult, I do. Beautiful and wonderful things can appear out of tragic times. It doesn't necessarily take away the pain, but goodness can be found.

It is my hope that wherever you are in your child’s story ... a new diagnosis, or one you've know about for years ... that you will share that journey to help other parents. I invite you to subscribe to our blog so that we can share here. There's no judgment here. In our community, you are not alone and many of us have learned to see the beauty in our children’s personal stories.

Here in the pages of our Story Stage blog we hope that you will find a sense of community, guidance, resource and direction. We hope to help you and your child navigate their story.