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Case Study: Reading Difficulties, ADHD, Anxiety

🕑 4 minutes read
Posted February 25, 2016

Author: Ann Smith – Education Specialist, iLs Practitioner, Sylvan Learning Center Owner

Clinician Bio: I am a trained iLs practitioner and utilize the Home Rental Program as well. I have owned a Sylvan Learning location for 8 years and in that time, I have found that if an obstacle is preventing success in the classroom, it is likely preventing success at Sylvan too. We began incorporating iLs into our students’ Sylvan programs. Since that time we have successfully combined iLs with Sylvan for 58 students.

Abstract: This case study looks at an 8-year-old girl with anxiety, ADHD and reading scores well below grade level. The client, “J”, completed the 40-session iLs Reading and Auditory Processing Program over a 3-month period. Her iLs sessions were conducted at the Sylvan Center as well as at home. At the end of the program, STAR testing showed that J’s reading comprehension had improved two grade levels (50 percentile points). The iLs Symptoms Checklist showed a 79% reduction in behavioral symptoms. Her parents report that her anxiety is under control, her school exited her from her Individualized Literacy Plan and she has successfully stopped her ADHD medication.

Client: “J” is  an 8-year-old, 3rd grade student

Background: J’s parents were thorough in their search for methods to help their daughter, including sensory and occupational therapy, chiropractic care, nutrition and ADHD medication.  Her difficulties in school were making her anxious, and she was having difficulty interacting with her peers. The STAR reading and math tests found she was very strong in math (95th %ile), but well below grade level in reading (24th %ile) for which she had an Individualized Literacy Plan (ILP).

Presenting Problems:  ADHD, high anxiety, low reading scores, low self-esteem

Goals: Improve J’s ability to focus and to function in the classroom without bouts of extreme frustration and anxiety. The secondary goal was to increase her reading comprehension. 

iLs Program Used: Reading and Auditory Processing, 4 times a week, twice at Sylvan and twice  at home. The iLs Dreampad, a pillow which plays relaxing music through bone conduction transducers, was implemented as a tool at night to help with sleep.

Results: Her therapeutic and academic goals of reduced anxiety, increased focus and improved reading were all met within a 40-session program (over a 3-month period).


Ann Smith UPDATED iLs checklist


*lower scores denote improvement

The iLs Checklist showed a 79% drop in noted negative behaviors (total 62 pre-iLs vs 13 post-iLs).

Jocelyn O - Grade Level Reading Chart




J’s reading comprehension improved two grade levels and 50 percentile points resulting in the removal of her ILP. The Grade Level Equivalent indicates the readability of the text by grade. It is a reflection of the grade level at which a student reading on grade could read the book independently. For instance, a student who is in the first month of fourth grade and reading on-grade would be well matched to a book with a Reading Level of 4.1. Each grade level has a range of .1 to .9.

About halfway through the 40 sessions, J was experiencing increased anxiety. She began using the iLs Dreampad at night and immediately saw a reduction in her anxiety. (The Dreampad pillow uses processed music played through bone conduction technology to assist with stress and sleep related challenges.) She continues to use the Dreampad when needed.

During the course of the program, J’s progress was so positive that she and her doctor decided to try going off her ADHD medication. She has maintained well after stopping the medication and has not required meds since.

Conclusions and Recommendations:
iLs’ multisensory approach allowed us to address J’s underlying challenges which were keeping her from reaching her full potential at school. The impressive changes in the iLs Checklist show how much time and energy was spent dealing with her sensory and auditory difficulties, leaving her unable to attend to the complex task of reading. As those were successfully addressed, J’s progress at Sylvan was rapid.  She  was able to quickly catch up to grade level in reading, and actually is reading above grade level now.

J is a gymnast and her teammates and other parents noticed her dramatic improvement early on. Everyone asked mom what she was doing to realize such improvements. At the end of her program I went to watch her compete. J scored in the top quartile in all events. Afterwards, I spoke to her mom. With tears in her eyes she told me J had never performed so well. J was calm, focused and confident!

Comments by Ron Minson, MD, iLs Clinical Director:
This well written and well documented case study requires very little comment other than to congratulate Ann Smith, the Sylvan practitioner, for creatively combining a Sylvan Program with iLs both in the center and at home. This provided the frequency and intensity needed for a successful outcome.  Her astute comment that, “if an obstacle is preventing success in the classroom, it is likely preventing success at Sylvan, too” is true and applies across the board to any special education or tutoring intervention.

Use of the Dreampad for her anxiety was a wise choice. Improving sleep quality will improve many difficulties that don’t appear to have their origin in poor sleep. For example, research has shown that about 60-80% of children with a diagnosis of ADHD have poor sleep quality.

Remember that J’s reading problem, ADHD, and anxiety are not so much educational as they are neurological problems. Correcting the underlying neurological processing problems with iLs prepared J to be available for learning, attending and remembering to take full advantage of Sylvan resources.

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