Children Growing up Online

Children Growing Up Online


An issue that is put forward by parents in consultation meetings during my work as an educational psychologist in Hong Kong is how much time their child should be spending looking at screens. The current generation of children spend more time looking at iPhones, iPads and computer screens than any past generation. Parents are asking professionals what effects this may have on their children particularly if they have special needs such as autism spectrum disorders, ASP burgers syndrome, ADHD, dyslexia or mood disorders such as anxiety.

One of the most important things to understand about children and adolescents in the 21st century is their life in the media.  They don’t just consume the media; they live there, growing up online.  The global digital media have created the flat earth.  Millions of children are using it, and it is levelling the educational playing field, bringing much of the world to one’s hand.  A major context of contemporary child development is the amazing world of the screen.  It mediates social-emotional life and increasingly, educational life.  Children’s world is media saturated, and school psychologists need to know this world well.


A good starting place for some, or refresher course for others, is this book.  It is a short, readable compendium on media and kids with 16 chapters and 30 authors, presenting a sweeping picture of just how deep the media have burrowed into the minds and behaviour of children, and their contributions to their well-being and harm.  It includes coverage of media use in the home (a national survey); learning and media; drug use and media; sexuality and media; video games; online risk and harm; public health interventions; Sesame Street; parasocial relationships (basically, in the media context, the one-sided relationship between a child or audience and a media figure or character); parenting; media and trauma; early learning and academic achievement; effects on weight and obesity, and the harmful effects of food advertising; and much more.


The literature reviewed in this volume is strong in suggesting that the use of research-informed programming has proven to help prepare children for school.  It also calls to action those who produce programming for youth, including phone applications, to incorporate what has been proven to enhance children’s achievement.  One promising means of enhancing student achievement was shown in research on children’s parasocial relationships with media characters, where parasocial relationships showed and influence of the media characters on children’s learning of seriation tasks.


This is the best currently available book on media and school-age kind, emphasizing positive health and well-being, and will get the reader to the point where they can incorporate state-of-the-art research and ideas into their own work with new-century children.  It is highly recommended.

The Assessment of Autism Spectrum Disorders

The Assessment of Autism Spectrum Disorders

  1. Goldstein, J Naglieri & S Ozonoff(Eds.) New York: The Guilford Press, 2008


As an educational/child psychologist working in Hong Kong I have provided hundreds of assessments for children with suspected autism spectrum disorder. A recent book by widely respected practitioners and researchers from America was recently reviewed. Although the book is slightly dated the bulk of it is still relevant today. This is a book written by a multidisciplinary team of authors mainly based in the USA, with one chapter, the Epidemiology of Autism Spectrum Disorders, written by authors in the UK and another, Assessment of Social Behaviour in Autism Spectrum Disorders, by authors from Israel.  This book will be a valuable asset to clinicians and other professionals involved in the assessment and intervention planning for children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Although the main focus of the book is on assessment, the first chapter provides an informative overview of the key historical figures form the last 200 years.  A chapter written by Lorna Wing and David Potter, which reviews the epidemiology of these conditions, then follows.  The authors debate the impact of both the modifications of the diagnostic criteria and the increasing global awareness of these conditions on prevalence rates.  There is also a balanced discussion of the role of possible environmental factors.

Chapter 3 provides a comprehensive critique of several of the key diagnostic tools.  Other chapters consider in more detail the diagnostic process, including a comprehensive skills and needs based assessment.  This process takes time and can be resource intensive.

The main body of the book focuses on various aspects of the diagnostic process.  Each subsequent chapter covers a different aspect of assessment such as speech, language and communication; intellectual functioning; neuropsychological functioning; and the assessment in schools.  As a senior trainee clinician in child and adolescent psychiatry two other chapters stood out.  The first was the Assessment of Comorbid Conditions, which provides a framework for assessing comorbidity and outlines some of the difficulties in the process.  The second was the chapter on intervention, which includes helpful case vignettes that illustrate how the assessment findings can be used to formulate an individual education plan (IEP), identify therapeutic targets, and maximise the generalisation of newly learnt skills.

In summary, although the majority of the authors are based in the USA, the underlying assessment and intervention principals are universal.  This new publication provides an up to date overview of the literature and examples of current best practice.



Children and Bullying

Children and Bullying:  How Parents and Educators can Reduce Bullying at School  by J Rigby.

Like other educational psychologists around the world in Hong Kong we often have to deal with issues of bullying. Children with special needs such as ADHD, autism spectrum disorders dyslexia and other developmental difficulties can sometimes have more difficulty dealing with bullying issues. A new resource for both parents and educators is always welcome. Children and bullying is a thoroughly detailed exposition on how parents and teachers can help to reduce bullying.  Rigby is realistic in his approach, believing that it is more about reduction than eradication. The book is very readable, well structured and informative, with the author looking at the issue holistically.  Interestingly, the author noted that bullying is a reflection of the human condition and generally defines it as “the systematic abuse of power in interpersonal relationships’, citing examples in recent history such as slavery.

Parents are increasingly being provided with the opportunity to take part in anti-bullying initiatives and this book is a timely recognition of that.  It understands their contribution to the issue and values their inclusion in the discussion.  Schools have the greatest power differences amongst social groupings and so there is often space for conflict.  Rigby identifies these power differences and gives us the opportunity to get inside the mind of a bully as well as offering a focus on bystander support.  The author states what some good schools are doing about bullying, and educators are provided with guidance on how to write an anti-bullying policy.

Mental health issues are covered both for the victim and the perpetrator, and the author suggests that these characteristics can be inherited.  Parenting styles are discussed and parents are encouraged not to feel guilty about what their child experiences.  Excellent advice is given on how to help children with their bullying problems.  The section about the influence parents have on their children at different ages will be enjoyed by anyone who has heard themselves talking to a child and sounding like their own mother.

Autism and Other Neurodevelopmental Disorders

Autism and Other Neurodevelopmental Disorders

R.L. Hansen & S.J. Rogers (Eds.)

Washington, DC:  American Psychiatric Association, 2013.


As an educational psychologist working in Hong Kong I am often asked by parents as well as colleagues to recommend books and or websites that may be useful for children that have various developmental difficulties such as ADHD, dyslexia and autism spectrum disorders. The book that is reviewed below is one of the more concise available that deals with autism. It is from some very respected authors particularly from our research standpoint.

Sometimes it is more practical to have reference books that are small and light and easy to transport and are thus readily accessible.  Autism and other Neurodevelopmental Disorders is an up-to-date concise reference book written by high profile medical members of the MIND institute, California and other colleagues spanning related fields.  The book is divided into 11 chapters, clearly summarising evidenced based detail on the most common neurodevelopmental disorders.

Chapters are structured in a guise that seems logical given the medical authorship of the book.  The autism chapter is, as expected, proportionally the most substantial and sits at the start of the book.  As a psychologist reviewing the book, the discussion of evidence based approaches versus the more speculative approaches reassuringly appears well balanced and informed.  Chapters are finished with ‘key point’ summaries, which allow for quick consolidation of information and increase appeal across the span of audience types.

Such a book would be useful when preparing training, or when referencing clinical work.  The book may be quite expensive for non-clinical individuals, but more easily justified by clinicians with a specialist focus who anticipate regular reference to the book or for shared use within clinical teams.



Helping Children with Reading Comprehension Difficulties (Dyslexia)



Difficulties with development of reading comprehension are a hallmark of dyslexia. As an educational psychologist working in Hong Kong parents and colleagues often ask for updated information sources for helping children with dyslexia. This recommended book is written by a team of well respected researchers in the field of reading difficulties. It provides a valuable compilation of research and practice in an area currently of concern to many parents and education professionals. As such the strength of the book lies in its well-explained marriage of theory and practice based on solid research field.


The authors go on to detail three overlapping intervention approaches (The oral Language program, The Text Level program and the combined program) to improve reading comprehension and an evaluation of their effectiveness. An additional bonus is the wealth of detail provided on the research methodology used to investigate the outcomes of the programs. This enables the reader not only to understand the research methods but also provides valuable information and examples for others who might wish to carry out research of this nature in a ‘real school’ situation. The book reports the highly encouraging findings that reading comprehension can be improved, by any one of the three highly structured intervention approaches detailed in the book. However, it seems to be beyond the scope of the book to clearly recommend one of these approaches although the authors do point out that the benefits of the Oral Language program were the more notable and durable. This draws welcome attention to the importance of developing oral language in schools and this point is clearly made in the final chapter on the theoretical and practical implications. Towards the end, the authors point out that approaches as described might require to be tailored to a particular context, although of course it could not be guaranteed that similar positive results would ensure given modifications.  In any event it is not in the scope of this book to provide detailed daily plans for an intervention delivered over a 20- week period.


This book makes a very valuable contribution to the field of reading comprehension intervention and will be greatly appreciated by parents, educators and speech and language therapists working with school age children.

Executive Function and Child Development

Executive Function & Child Development Yeager & Yeager

New York: W. W. Norton, 2013


As an educational psychologist working in Hong Kong the term executive function often comes up. This term talks about cognitive and thinking functions that are typically impaired in children with ADHD, autism spectrum disorders and dyslexia. The presentation of difficulties with executive function differs from child to child. Because this term is used by educators with more frequency is important for parents and professionals to have a more in-depth understanding of executive function.


Executive Function & Child Development is a concise text written by a psychotherapist couple who document their assessment and treatment practices for children who have difficulties with ‘so called’ executive function.  Early in the book the authors acknowledge the limitations to the concept of executive function and its lack of consensus, even amongst its strongest advocates and founders.  They do this with an accessible tone and balance of complexity that does the notoriously vague neuropsychological concept justice.


The authors settle upon and advocate Barkley’s model of ‘executive’ function and use this model as a way of understanding predominantly younger and ‘middle childhood’ children with ADHD diagnoses.  Unfortunately I found, for purely selfish reasons, the discussed client group somewhat disappointingly narrow, as I found applying some of the recommendations to my work with older children with autism sometimes problematic.  However, the interventions did provoke creative thought as I became interested in how the authors used some of Vygotsky’s learning theories and applied them through the process of play in order to take advantage of brain plasticity and develop such executive functions as impulse control and attention shifting.


Some of the authors’ suggestions did no more than draw parallels with such standard behavioural practice as visual schedules and planning charts; however, for any child-focused professionals interested in centring heir psychological formulations, assessments and interventions around executive function, this book fits the bill.


Helping University students with Learning Difficulties

BOOK REVIEW: How to Succeed with Specific Learning Difficulties at College and University: A Guide for Students, Educators and Parents


People often question educational psychologists about ways for children and teenagers with learning difficulties to succeed in school, but what about students with specific learning difficulties at college and university? How do they succeed? As an educational psychologist working in Hong Kong I am often asked this question by parents of teenage children with ADHD, dyslexia or Asperger’s syndrome. The above titled book provides a helpful guide for parents, students and school staff.


The author, Amanda Kirby outlines the challenges that people with different types of learning difficulties have, including dyslexia, dyscalculia, and language and communication disorders. It then moves on to outlining the issues that need to be thought through when deciding whether to get to college or university and providing hints and tips to help people with these learning difficulties going to college and university. This is a helpful section as it makes clear all the poignant issues and guides the reader into answering key questions that may help them make the decision, for example what level of support they have from their family, and issues in living independently. Kirby also focuses on strategies that people may find helpful in their college and university life. Rather than being divided into specific learning difficulties it is divided into different areas of college/ university life. This is particularly helpful in keeping the book clear and logical for the reader. Examples of areas covered are: socializing, studying, living independently, and organization.


To conclude, this book sets out to help people with specific learning difficulties manage college and university life. It seems a useful source of information that thoughtfully tries to empower people to manage their independence when making the transition from secondary school.

BOOK REVIEW: The Dyslexia Debate

Dyslexia is a general term for disorders that involve difficulty in learning to read or interpret words, letters, and other symbols, but that do not affect general intelligence. It has been the subject of scientific for more than 100 years but its nature and treatments remain debated for educational psychologists all over the world, including Hong Kong. To understand dyslexia, I recommend reading The Dyslexia Debate, 2014 J.G. Elliott & E.L Grigorenko.  


Elliott and Grigorenko take on the task of reviewing the field and conclude that ‘the term (dyslexia) has surely outgrown its conceptual and diagnostic usefulness’. Writing the foreword, Vellutino, one of the pioneers of dyslexia research, concurs and prefers to use terms like ‘poor’ or ‘struggling’ readers. The argument that the authors present is that there are no clear cut criteria for dyslexia, there is no cognitive, genetic or neutral evidence that sets those with dyslexia apart form ‘poor readers’, and there is nothing special about the treatments that follow ‘diagnosis’. On the other hand, the authors are clear that there are many children who struggle significantly with learning to read and write and require educational support to prevent a downward spiral of low achievement and poor self esteem. So why not embrace the concept of dyslexia as validated by empirical research, and retain a term that opens the door to intervention for many children and young people?


The book continues with the authors presenting their arguments on dyslexia, such as researchers do not agree about the features of dyslexia. However, this begs the question of which researchers and what is the quality of the research they refer to? Unfortunately, too many published studies are not cast within an appropriate developmental perspective, include participants who do not fulfill rigorous criteria for reading disability, which do not report the reliability of their measures. The arguments put forward different perspectives of dyslexia which enables readers to gain an in depth knowledge of the subject.


So how can the dyslexia debate be advanced? First we must start by acknowledging where we want to be. Professionals need to be arguing for clarity surrounding the criteria for what dyslexia is and what it is not. Scientists also need to be talking to policy makers about evidence- based approaches to the teaching of literacy, and the characteristics of those who are at high risk of reading difficulties. This will help all children who struggle to respond to quality teaching of reading to be identified and appropriate arrangements made to enable them to succeed.

Assessing language skills in young children

Language and communication skills are essential to children’s ability to engage in social relationships and access learning experiences. Children with autism/asperger’s syndrome as well as Dyslexia may have difficulties with language development. Hence, it is a skill that is often an important part of assessments by Educational Psychologists in Hong Kong in order to determine the developmental progress of a child.


In a recent article in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Mental Health. It is found that current screening measures do not meet psychometric pre-requisites (psychometrics = design, administration, and interpretation of quantitative tests for the measurement of psychological variables such as intelligence, aptitude, and personality traits)  to identify language problems. A range of articles is reviewed to identify issues which practitioners and researchers should consider when assessing language skills. There are significant challenges in the interpretation of language assessments, where socioeconomic status, language status and dialect, hearing impairment and test characteristics impact results. The range of articles shows that psychometrically sound assessments of language are an essential component of developing effective and efficient interventions. Regular monitoring of language is preferable, as one- off screening has limited power to predict later performance because children’s developmental paths vary. Hence, a combination of language performance measures is a better indicator of language problems and disorders than single measures of component skills.


To conclude, the language system is complex, it composed of a number of subcomponents and the language paths of preschool children vary substantially. As such, the development of reliable and valid assessments is challenging, but they are of central importance for studying typical and atypical development. Research studies continue to enhance our understanding of the language development process and aid our identification of children who experience persistent language disorders and the factors that are associated with these. The assessment of narrative skills and dynamic assessment were highlighted as new developments. The current review has aimed to provide the necessary information to make informed decisions about assessing the language competencies of preschool children.

10 Things Parents and Teachers Should Know about ADHD

Core symptoms of ADHD

  • Hyperactive- impulsive: impaired ability to slow down and hold back
  • Inattention: impairments in prioritizing what to pay attention to, maintaining focus, block out distractions, remembering. Symptoms of inattention are usually most persistent and most problematic.
  • Symptoms get worse in situations that require sustained attention or mental effort or those that lack novelty and personal appeal (listening to teachers/ parents, classroom seatwork, homework, lengthy reading or listening activities, monotonous, repetitive tasks) .


The symptoms of inattention are most prominent

Many people think that all persons with ADHD have hyperactive impulsive behaviors that they have difficulty controlling. In fact it is the persons problems with focusing, concentrating, listening to directions, blocking out distraction, staying organized and working within time constraints that usually have the biggest interference with a person’s functioning.



ADHD is a spectrum disorder. Symptoms range from mild to severe. Key part of assessment is determining how much the symptoms have a negative effect on social, school or occupational functioning.


 ADHD people need more scaffolding than average

Scaffolding refers to a variety of instructional techniques used to move students progressively toward stronger understanding and, ultimately, greater independence in learning. In early childhood, caregivers perform functions for the child. Showing, directing, helping, reminding, coaching and critiquing are means of scaffolding. Examples include, walking, getting dressed, crossing street, riding bike, driving car. Scaffolding is gradually withdrawn, as child becomes able to (or is forced to) perform these functions for self. In adolescence and adulthood scaffolding provided by: friends, teachers, coaches, spouses, supervisors and computers.



Prevalence and demographics of ADHD

  • All level of IQ, but most would be average or above
  • 70%- 90% male
  • Found in all countries and ethnic groups
  • Highly heritable (87%)


Types of proven treatments for ADHD


  • Parent/ Teacher training about ADHD
  • Parent training in child management (young children)
  • Parent/ Teacher training in behavior management
  • Adult input with self monitoring
  • Medication



Important considerations for teachers


ADHD is a biologically based disability that is treatable, but not curable. The goal of school intervention is to contain and manage the symptoms. ADHD is not due to lack of skill or knowledge, but is a problem of sustaining attention, effort, and motivation and inhibiting behavior in a consistent manner over time. ADHD symptoms are particularly bad when consequences are delayed, weak or absent and material is perceived as uninteresting. It is harder for ADHD students to do the same social behavior expected of other students. ADHD children need increased adult direction, structure, more frequent and salient

consequences, and accommodations, for assigned work.  The most effective behavioral interventions for improving school performance are those applied within the school setting.


What can teachers do to help?

  • Keep a disability perspective (an explanation, not an excuse)
  • Interact on positive level as frequent as possible (immediate, frequent, consistent feedback about behavior and performance)
  • Anticipate problem situations and structure for success
  • Make sure you have attention before giving directions (say child’s name before giving directions to the group)
  • Use desirable activities as reinforcer for work production and appropriate behavior
  • Break things into small units (less problem on a page)


Importance of Behavioral and Combination Interventions

Ongoing behavioral interventions may increase the possibility of tapering off medication if it is being used or stopping them as children age.



What to do if I feel someone I work with has ADHD and needs help?

  • Consult with colleagues and see if they see the problem as well
  • Suggest professional assessment and describe observed problems in specific behavioral terms
  • Don’t get caught up in deciding what treatment should be obtained
  • Teachers should not tell parents their child needs medication.