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Working with College Students on the Autism Spectrum: Tips Series


We’re revisiting some of our Instructor/Professor tips for working with students who are on the autism spectrum; especially students typically classified as high functioning or having Asperger’s Syndrome/Disorder.

By definition all students with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have problems which may interfere with receptive or expressive communication. Many of these students who enroll in college are not disabled; some are, but the challenges are real and can create significant difficulties in the classroom regardless.

Some of these unique differences are subtle and can lead to misunderstandings or misinterpretations of the students’ actions.

Tip:  Each student with ASD has very unique challenges so it’s important (when possible) for instructors to get to know the student to facilitate her or his understanding of the challenges for that student.

Over the next few weeks we’re going to re-post some of our previous tips that faculty members may find helpful when working with students on the Autism Spectrum.

For more information, please contact us at or 865-974-6177.

Improving Reading Fluency and Comprehension in Pre-Teens and Teens


A lot of reading intervention research and practice focuses on early elementary age children who are still in the early stages of reading. Far less research is conducted for slightly older pre-teen and teenage struggling readers, and it becomes more challenging to find interventions for reading fluency and comprehension that teachers and parents can implement for that age group.


Researchers in a study published in 2015 examined how well three separate intervention families, word-oriented (working with words in isolation like flashcards), fluency-oriented (such as repeated reading), and comprehension (focusing on grammar elements) worked with 5thand 6thgrade struggling readers. The researchers also looked at a fourth intervention that combined components of the word-oriented, fluency-oriented, and comprehension interventions.


The effects of all four of these interventions were examined on instructional passages (passages that were taught and practiced) and transfer passages (passages that were new, but equivalent). There was also a control group who received reading instruction as usual.


The researchers found that both the fluency-oriented and the multi-component interventions were the most effective in helping with both reading fluency and reading comprehension for new, or novel, passages of reading material. Both interventions were also effective with the instructional passages. The word-oriented intervention was good for the instructional passages, but not for the novel passages.


All interventions were more effective than the control condition that used the typical reading instruction.


So, the takeaway from the study is that appears that fluency-oriented and multi-component strategies may work well to remediate fluency and comprehension difficulties in struggling 5thand 6thgrade students.


For more information on reading interventions, please contact us at or 865-974-6177.

Postsecondary Autism Support Services (PASS): September Update


The PASS Program is designed for UTK students who are either diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder; including High Functioning Autism and Asperger’s, or those who have significant symptoms of an Autism Spectrum Disorder that are significantly impairing his or her functioning.

We provide individual and group skill development specifically focused on improving interpersonal social skills, communication skills (personal and electronic, i.e., texts and email), coping skills (anxiety reduction), and liaison between the students, faculty, staff, and parents.

We have converted our application process for the PASS Program to an online entry form; this form is now ready for students and parents to use.

In conjunction with the change in application procedures, we are taking applications for the 2018-2019, and possibly 2019-2020, academic years in an on-going, or rolling procedure. This means that we are accepting students at any time into the program if application is made and the student is determined to be a good fit. This may be beneficial to new students who may need or want the services, but didn’t know about the PASS Program.

Since the PASS Program is supplementary services, we do have to charge a program fee to fund the services. Program fees were approved by University administration over the summer, and those fees are well within the range of what our peer institutions charge for similar programs and services. You can read UT’s press release here.

For more information about the PASS Program and application, you can find more here, or you can email Dr. Carolyn Blondin or call 865-974-6177.

Sight Words, Zipf’s Law, and Reading Fluency: Yes, They Go Together


High frequency words are the words that readers encounter the most often in printed text. Another term that you hear teachers and parents use when talking about early reading is the term sight words; words that are encountered so often that they should be learned and/or memorized to the point that the reader can recognize them almost automatically as soon as he or she sees the word. By committing these words to memory, they are freed up to use their phonetic rules to attack new, or more complicated, words.


High frequency and sight words can be either “regular”, that is, phonetic rules apply, or “irregular”, where phonics don’t work quite as well, but these words are foundational building blocks for future reading fluency and comprehension.


In most cases, high frequency words and sight words are used as interchangeable descriptions of those words that we read very often.


“How often?”, you might ask – well, very often. In fact, George Zipf, a linguistics mathematician from the early 20thcentury, came up with a handy-dandy mathematics formula to determine the frequency of word use that was so good that it was later termed as Zipf’s Law.


A lot of math was involved, but essentially, he was able to determine a predictable pattern of word use that could generate a list of the most frequently used words, and just how frequently they occurred. For example, the word “the” is the most frequently used word in English, and it occurs almost 7% of the time in print (and speech for that matter). The second most frequently occurring word is the word “of” coming in at about 3.5% of the time.


So, if the child commits just those two words to memory that can be recalled on sight, he or she has already mastered over 10% of the reading material he or she will encounter.  And to go a step further, the 100 most frequently occurring words make up about 50% of all reading materials. If a child can master and memorize just those 100 words, it allows them to move more fluently through any reading material they encounter and allows their energy to be spent on any new, or less frequently occurring, words.


More on high frequency words, sight words, and fluency to come. If you have any questions or want to schedule an appointment with us, please contact us at 865-974-6177 or

Postsecondary Autism Support Services (PASS) Program August Update


We have converted our application process for the PASS Program to an online entry form; this form is now ready for students and parents to use.

In conjunction with the change in application procedures, we are also going to be taking applications for the 2018-2019, and possibly 2019-2020, academic years in an on-going, or rolling procedure. This means that we will be accepting students at any time into the program if application is made and the student is determined to be a good fit. This may be beneficial to new students who may need or want the services, but didn’t know about the PASS Program.

Program fees were recently approved by University administration, and those fees ($3,200 per semester) are well within the range of what our peer institutions charge (high end $5,000 per semester to low end $2,500 per semester) for similar programs and services. You can read UT’s press release here.

For more information about the PASS Program and application, you can find more here, or you can email Dr. Carolyn Blondin or call 865-974-6177.

Reading Fluency: The Next Step in Reading


We talked about the first two broad areas of reading development, phonemic awareness and the alphabetic principle. Now, we’ll turn to the next step which is reading fluency.

Once kids have caught on to the alphabetic principle, that is, they understand that specific sounds go with specific letters and letter combinations, they begin to slowly read as we know it…very slowly.

Now, one note here: Being able to read the letters and words doesn’t mean the child comprehends what he or she is reading in the early stages. Meaning must be assigned to the words as well. This can also be a painstaking process…parents recognize it well, and for early reading there is a lot of noun learning that goes on. “Here is a cow, see the cow, see the word cow, say /c/ /o/ /w/ – /cow/, good”. This happens numerous times, and even then, it’s a great deal of labor for the child to be able to read it and understand that the word and the picture, or object, are associated.

Kids go from letters in isolation, to words in isolation, to rudimentary sentences – “This is Bob”, “See Bob run”, It’s not very efficient in the beginning since the child hasn’t learned many words; they only have a few in their reading vocabulary. Fluency then, how fast a person can read words, becomes an easy measure to determine efficiency and progress. The development of fluent reading skills is that next hill that the child has to climb on his or her way to fully developing reading comprehension.

Fluency interventions are typically pretty straightforward, and can consist of different activities such as flash cards, paired reading, repeated readings, and other evidence-based strategies.

For more information on reading interventions, please contact us at or 865-974-6177.

Construction Update: July 23rd Edition


Construction continues along here outside Claxton Education Complex. As you can see in the photos, things are not as active following the heavy rain over the weekend, but you can see changes are occurring. The street is still ripped up, but several concrete forms have appeared over the last week.

However, the crews are making a lot of progress with the checkerboard pattern going in near Hodges Library. The work they’ve done so far there has been quite impressive.

We’ll continue to keep you updated, and it’s still a challenge for pedestrians to get here; especially from the public parking garage. You might have to detour through the Haslam Business Building to get to us.

For more information, please contact us at or 865-974-6177.

Digital Media & ADHD: Not So Fast!


Numerous studies are published each month in the professional literature, and sometimes those studies get picked up by the media. This week, a study conducted by researchers from the University of Southern California was published and got picked up big time, and we’re concerned.

The study, entitled “Association of Digital Media Use with Subsequent Symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Among Adolescents” published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has been plastered all over the national and local media outlets. Study findings are essentially what the title says – digital media use was associated with ADHD symptoms in a group of adolescents. However, a closer look at the study reveals some limitations not addressed by the study authors that are critical factors that should suggest a healthy caution for the general public’s interpretation.

First, the authors rely on self-report measures of symptoms to determine the presence or absence of ADHD, that is inclusion or exclusion from the study, and subsequent implication of ADHD occurrence post digital media use. Almost every practitioner in the field understands that this is insufficient to make an ADHD determination; it’s a multifaceted process that relies much more heavily on parent and teacher ratings and input than self-ratings which can be fraught with issues. Therefore, the results may be misleading to the general public.

Second, the authors do not address previous research that demonstrates the links between digital media use/overuse with subsequent fatigue and anxiety; two very common problems that mimic ADHD through the presentation of ADHD-like symptoms. Factors such as sleep (or lack thereof), worry, stress, or general anxiety were not accounted for in the study; all commonly reported problems associated with digital media use/overuse. Practitioners understand that when evaluating an adolescent for ADHD, many of these factors must be examined and ruled-out as the primary causes for the presenting symptoms…maybe it’s not ADHD, maybe it’s sleep deprivation…or any number of things.

There are other limitations, some addressed, some not, but those two critical ones jumped out immediately as concerning.

Also, it could be that individuals with shorter attention spans, but not necessarily ADHD, are drawn more to digital media because of the stimulation that the digital media provides. Not only social media, but TV shows, movies, and other media provide a stream of content that is constantly changing.

We’re not saying that digital media use/overuse isn’t problematic or doesn’t cause ADHD-like symptoms, and we’re not saying it’s bad research, but we are saying that it’s a stretch to link the digital media use/overuse to an ADHD diagnosis based upon limitations to the study that were not addressed.

Limiting digital media use for children and adolescents is a great idea regardless, but we suggest more caution with the study authors’ conclusions and more caution with the media’s presentation of the findings. Much more research is needed.

For a comprehensive evaluation for ADHD, please contact us at or 865-974-6177.

The Alphabetic Principle: Critical Step in Reading


Learning to read progresses in a set of steps that is fairly predictable. One of the earliest steps, establishing phonemic awareness, comes from the child listening to and producing sounds and sound patterns that are associated with the roughly 44 phonemes contained in the English language. As mentioned in an earlier post, reading to children is of high importance in order to establish phonemic awareness; a skill that, like all things, is very easy for some kids and quite challenging for others.

The next major step following the development of phonemic awareness is developing what is called the alphabetic principle. The alphabetic principle is the idea that letters (and later, letter patterns) represent spoken sounds and sound patterns (i.e., phonemes). When kids learn that there is a predictable pattern between the written letters and spoken sounds, early reading begins.

Phonics then, which is often confused with phonemic awareness, is the direct instruction to try to facilitate, or help along, the learning of the correspondence of the visual letters and letter combinations with the spoken sounds those letters and letter patterns make. Whew…that’s a mouthful, but essentially, phonics instruction attempts to bridge the gap between the child developing phonemic awareness and learning the alphabetic principle.

Kids who have difficulties learning to read are often bogged down somewhere in this process. And kids who have significant difficulties in this area may have dyslexia.

For more information on evaluations or interventions, please contact us at or 865-974-6177.

Construction Update: July 11th Edition


In our weekly update on construction that’s occurring outside Claxton Education Complex, you can seen more changes since last week. Crews have been pouring lots of concrete.

The pedestrian traffic appears to be improving around the building, so accessing our office (or any of the offices) here in Claxton is getting easier.

You can see Hodges Library behind the concrete dust that’s being produced by a worker using a concrete saw. Here is an architect’s rendering from overhead of what this area will look like:

Construction is slated for completion in August…

For more information on how to get to the KLASS Center, please contact us at or 865-974-6177.

Phonemic Awareness: Building Block for Reading


Since we work with a lot of reading problems in our clinic, phonemic awareness is a term we use a great deal. Phonemic awareness is a key component to learning how to read, so we thought it might be a good idea to cover the basics of phonemic awareness.

First off, what’s a phoneme? It seems like it would be important to know what a phoneme is if we need to be aware of it.

A phoneme, in short, is a speech sound that is the smallest unit of language. The English language is comprised of 26 letters, the alphabet, but approximately 44 phonemes. Phonemes are not syllables – syllables are a whole other concept in reading. The phonemes have no inherent meaning, but it is essential to know the phonemes (by sound) to become an efficient reader.

Let’s look at an example to illustrate the difference between syllables and phonemes since this is often very confusing to parents. The word “dog” is comprised of only one syllable, which is very commonly understood /dog/, but it is comprised of three (3) phonemes: /d/ /o/ /g/. Being aware of and able to manipulate those individual phonemes is critical for future reading skill development.

That’s where phonemic awareness comes in.

Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate the sounds of spoken language (Yopp, 1992). Young children build this awareness through listening to spoken language. This skill comes fairly naturally to most children, but certainly not all.

We often encourage parents to read to their young children for the very reason of building this awareness. This activity benefits the child in two ways, however. One is to help build the phonemic awareness, the second is to nurture the parent-child bond. When parents read to their children, it’s a win-win outcome.

We also recommend parents engage in rhyming games or reading books that use rhyming heavily, such as the classic Dr. Seuss books.

Phonemic awareness is the first step along the way to becoming a reader, or at least, an efficient reader. The next step in the process is understanding the alphabetic principle.

For more information, please contact us at or 865-974-6177.


Construction Update: July 3rd Edition


Crews have made a lot of progress over the last week. As you can see in the photo, we now have our sidewalk back on the front side of the building.

UT students can now use some interesting pedestrian crossovers to get from one side of Volunteer Blvd to our side. You can now enter Claxton Education Complex from the front of the building, so that’s a major improvement from a week ago.

Continue to use a lot of caution when cutting across though; there is still a lot of construction action going on in the street.

For more information on how to get here, please contact us at or 865-974-6177.

Meet the Faculty/Staff: Dr. Charles Galyon


Charles Galyon is a licensed psychologist who works part time with the KLASS Center. He received a BA in psychology from the University of Tennessee and a master’s in cognitive psychology from Middle Tennessee State University. He returned to the University of Tennessee to pursue a degree in math education prior to being recruited by the School Psychology program. Galyon received his PhD in school psychology from the University of Tennessee in 2013 after completing a one-year internship with Lenoir City Schools.

Charles has special interests in Obsessive Compulsive Disorders (OCD) and other anxiety-based disorders. He also works a great deal with Autism Spectrum Disorders. He provides supervision for some of our doctoral interns and doctoral practicum students as well at the Center’s clinic.

For more information, please contact us at or 865-974-6177.

Construction Update: June 26th Edition


Construction crews are continuing to work hard outside the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences where we are located. They’ve made quite a bit of progress over the past week.

As you can tell by looking at the photo, the street is still shut down for vehicle traffic, and it’s pretty much shutdown for pedestrian traffic.

If you are a UTK student coming in to see us, we recommend either walking down by the College of Nursing (Peyton Manning Pass) then taking a left to get to us in the Claxton Education Complex, or walking down the northern side of Hodges Library and crossing Volunteer Blvd. You would then take a right to walk in front of the Haslam College of Business to get to the Claxton Education Complex.

For more information, or if you get lost in construction, please contact us at or 865-974-6177.

Retention and Graduation: College Students with Autism


As we talked about in yesterday’s post, there is a large group of students enrolled at any college or university who meet, or could meet the diagnostic criteria for an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Applying prevalence rates from previous studies, we can extrapolate that there are between 200 and 500 students enrolled at the University of Tennessee who are or could be on the Spectrum. They do not have to identify that they have this disorder unless they seek accommodations through Student Disability Services (here at UT), and since most don’t consider themselves disabled, we don’t have a firm number established.

These students are typically very bright, by testing standards, and have made high grades, for the most part, through high school. So, their test scores are high and their grades are good; college should be just fine, right?

Well, maybe. This is where we often see some difficulties. High school students are provided a great deal of support through classmates who have been together for several years, through building-level teachers and administrators, and through active parents.

College, however, requires a fairly large jump in independence. This jump can be quite significant for students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Living arrangements change, routines change, instructors change…lots of change, and change can be a challenge for students with ASD. These students need a great deal more support with social skills, study skills, and organizational skills to help navigate all the change and transition that’s going on.

Students with ASD, without supports, have a 5-year graduation rate that varies, depending on the study from about 20% to 40%, as compared to around 70% for the general student population here at the University of Tennessee. However, when students with ASD receive appropriate services that targets social skill, study skill, and organizational skill development, the graduation rates go up to above 80% (peer institutions who have support service programs provided this data, including the University of Alabama and the University of Arkansas).

Providing students with these supplementary services, such as those we provide here at the KLASS Center (PASS Program) are key in improving college students’ outcomes who have ASD.

For more information, please contact us at or 865-974-6177.


College Students with Autism at Tennessee


But there aren’t that many students here at UT with an Autism Spectrum Disorder you say…

Most of us have seen or heard about the TV character named Sheldon on the show “Big Bang Theory” that presents a popular caricature of a very bright young adult who likely meets the criteria for an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

The show presents a very comical and upbeat view of some of the challenges that Sheldon, and his roommates/colleagues face. However, there are some other challenges that college students on the Autism Spectrum face that aren’t even touched on that TV show, and those challenges can cause some significant difficulties for students in college.

There are students here at the University of Tennessee who are like him, but there are other students here who are definitely not like him, but still fall on the Autism Spectrum.

These students are enrolled in degree-seeking undergraduate and graduate programs, and the vast majority of these students are not disabled, but they are unique and have unique challenges and needs.

Research suggests that anywhere from .7% to 1.9% of students enrolled in higher education meet, or could meet, the criteria to be diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Those percentages still sound so small though, right?

Let’s translate those percentages into real numbers here at the University of Tennessee. Our most recent published enrollment figures (2017) puts us at 28,321 total students…so let’s do some math.

At the University of Tennessee, that prevalence range (.7-1.9%) suggests that somewhere between 198 and 538 students enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate program meet, or could meet, the diagnostic criteria as having an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

That’s a lot of students.

This large group of students have unique needs and are at a much higher risk of not completing their degrees than the general student population.

And that’s a problem.

…follow along as we continue to talk more about college students with Autism, especially here at UT; hopefully, we can shed some light on the challenges and how we can help.

For more information, please contact us at or 865-974-6177.

Construction Challenges: June 19th Edition


If you’re coming to the KLASS Center this summer, or the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences for that matter, you might find yourself surprised by the street closures and construction that is occurring right outside our buildings.

If you’re driving in, you’ll want to avoid Volunteer Boulevard; instead use Phillip Fulmer Way and Peyton Manning Pass to get to Staff Lot 9 where the KLASS Center parking spaces are located. Some GPS apps may want to bring you down Volunteer Blvd, but trust us, it’s not a good option this summer.

This construction will continue for the entire summer (and maybe longer) as construction crews work to beautify the sidewalks and medians, as well as repaving the street. It should be very nice once everything is complete, but until then, please plan accordingly if you are driving or walking to see us.

We’ll try to post updates as the construction progresses over the summer.

For more information, please contact us at or 865-974-6177.


Bedtime Anxiety


In an earlier post, we talked about separation anxiety, what it looks like, and some basics as to how to handle it. Now, we want to look at a specific instance, notably, the bedtime anxiety that many children experience.

First of all, it’s very important to establish good bedtime routines if you haven’t already. This includes some traditional sleep hygiene recommendations such as setting a firm bedtime, stopping electronic media 30-60 minutes prior, taking a bath or shower, brushing teeth, etc. Routines help with predictability, and this alone can help to settle some stress that the child is experiencing.

For kids with some separation anxiety who don’t want their parents to leave or end up in their parents’ bedroom, it’s sometimes helpful to systematically establish independence through increasing the distance between the child in bed and the parent.

The series may start (after the child is tucked in) with a number of times that the parent is lying in bed with the child, then a number of times sitting on the bed, then sitting on the floor, then sitting by the door, then sitting outside the door, etc. This process may take several weeks. This sounds pretty simple, but in fact, this can be quite difficult, depending on each situation and each child.

You also will be reducing the time spent in the child’s bedroom during the bedtime routine, then you’ll come back and check on the child every few minutes. This should occur much more often early on, then lengthen the time.

Parents will want to reinforce the child for successful efforts, and this could be as simple as verbal praise. Or it could include other small rewards after the child wakes the next morning, or a way for the child to earn points towards a larger reward.

There will be set-backs. This is normal, and you might have to briefly move back to a prior step in the process, but you continue with the procedures.

Bedtime anxiety can be a significant challenge for families, but as is the case with many types of anxiety, it can be successfully treated.

For more information or help, please contact us at or 865-974-6177.


The Preschool Drama: Separation Anxiety


A popular topic among parents with preschool-age children, separation anxiety, is a normal part of development for most younger children. Like most things, kids have varying levels of comfort and security, and that becomes very apparent at pretty much any daycare or preschool.

It’s the morning drop off, and you’ll see a child or two who turn and latch onto their parent. Or, you’ll see and hear a child crying as the parent is saying goodbye as they try to get out the door to go to work.

Most kids go through some of these behaviors depending on many factors, but most kids are quickly able to get their anxiety under control. In fact, when you talk with daycare and preschool teachers, most will tell you that the majority of children who exhibit mild separation anxiety will quickly, within a couple minutes of the parent leaving, settle and move on to an activity in the classroom or start to play with another child.

So, the usual advice for kids with this mild anxiety is for the parent to be fairly matter-of-fact, tell his or her child that they love them, give them a hug and a kiss, tell them they will be back later in the afternoon to pick them up, and simply leave. This is easier said than done for parents, especially first-time parents, but this procedure will work for most kids.

Some kids may benefit from having a tangible object, called a transitional object, that provides some reassurance while the parent is gone, such as a small photo of the parent(s), or a trinket that the child can hold onto to give back to the parent in the afternoon.

However, there are some kids who have a more difficult time over a more extended period of time. These kids demonstrate significant resistance to separating, are very difficult to console once the parent leaves, and demonstrate these behaviors pretty consistently each day. These kids, and parents, may require more significant help with behavioral procedures that may involve a gradual process of longer periods of separation combined with some relaxation skills for the child. This does require some specific behavioral management techniques that parents learn.

Sometimes we see this extreme separation anxiety appear, or re-appear, in school-age children. You’ve heard the terms school phobia or school refusal, and sometimes, these are the result, or a part of, this more extreme separation anxiety. The same behavioral procedures, to systematically expose the child to controlled  periods of separation while providing calming activities and coping skills that the child can use to calm him or herself are used. As a side note, probably the worst approach in these situations, is to allow the child to stay at home.

The very severe cases may require a combination of behavioral and medical approaches, but these are much less frequent.

The great news is that anxiety, in general, but separation anxiety specifically, can be treated effectively.

For more information, please contact us at or 865-974-6177.

Put Your Screen Down, and Just Walk Away…


Seriously, the evidence is mounting that the use of electronic devices before bed is causing sleep disruption by suppressing the body’s production of melatonin due to the bright blue light emission. That’s a biological issue. Even if you switch your device to a night time mode, there still seems to be some interference.

I know, I know…that next episode of your favorite, or new favorite, series that automatically will start in five seconds is going to be so good… That’s a whole separate behavioral issue.

Wait, wait…just one more check of my social media timelines; there might be something that’s really important for me to check and respond to… Really?

When we, as adults, have a difficult time separating from our screens at night (or in general), how do think our kids can do that on their own?

Since we know that sleep is critically important for general functioning, in life, it’s a key reason why we recommend to parents that they remove the screens from their child’s room at a designated time at night. Have a charging station in a separate room; maybe your bedroom to discourage late night social media checks.

While there’s ample evidence that continues to hit the popular media about the dangers of screen use, we continue to be surprised by the number of parents who we work with who are resistant to removing the screens from their child’s room. Will the child be upset? Yes, initially, and especially if they have become habituated to having 24/7 access, but the improved sleep quality and quantity is worth that fight.

And while you’re at it…put your screen away at least 30 minutes before bedtime too…

For more information or strategies to help manage screen time, contact us at or 865-974-6177.


Letter Reversals: Is it Dyslexia?


Well, it depends.

One of the most common concerns we hear from parents when they bring their children in with reading problems is the concern with letter reversals. The most common reversal, by far, is b and d; followed by p and q.

There’s some research that suggests that since we, with the English language, follow a left to right reading and writing model, and since the Latin alphabet we use has more right-facing letters than left facing letters, we are predisposed to favor the right-facing letters when we are in the beginning stages of reading and writing. So, b’s would be the more likely letter to write when considering whether to write a b or a d.

For beginners, letter reversals are actually fairly common. Through lots of repetition, exposure, and corrective feedback, the majority of children’s letter reversals disappear over time. However, it’s not uncommon to have a second-grader who still reverses letters on occasion. If we still see letter reversals in late second-grade into third-grade, we start getting concerned.

Also, from a language perspective, those right-facing letters tend to have a closed-mouth sound as opposed to an open-mouth sound. This can be helpful sometimes in error correction procedures.

Since individuals with dyslexia have difficulties putting sounds with letters, it makes sense that they would tend to have more, or more frequent, difficulties getting the letters sorted out and associated with the correct sounds, or phonemes.

So, letter reversals are quite common with early readers and writers, but those should improve and disappear over a reasonable period of time. If the problems don’t seem to be improving, it might be time to check into those difficulties. It could be that the child just needs some different strategies, or it could mean there are more significant challenges.

For more information, please contact us at or 865-974-6177.


Meet the Faculty/Staff: Dr. Chris Skinner


Christopher H. Skinner earned his PhD from Lehigh University and has been recognized as one of the most productive scholars and successful trainers of applied school psychology researchers in the field. He has co-authored over 180 peer-reviewed journal articles.

Skinner brags that his accomplishments can be directly traced to his work with exceptional graduate students and practitioners (mostly public school personnel). Skinner is happiest when he is partnering with his doctoral students to work with educational professionals to address presenting problems. In doing so, he often finds that he can advance his field with creative interventions and insights, while also benefiting his collaborators and their students (e.g., K-12 students in public education).

Skinner has won three national research awards from the American Psychological Association including Outstanding Young School Psychology Researcher (when he was younger) and School Psychology Senior Scientist (lifetime research award when he was older – 2012). He also won APA’s Fred S. Keller award for empirically validating interventions.

While he is pleased when his research is cited by others, he is most pleased by contacts from practitioners letting him know that they have implemented his interventions and they have worked (school-wide interventions, class-wide interventions, and interventions targeting specific students).

In the KLASS Center, several interventions that Dr. Skinner has researched are used to help improve various academic and behavioral skills for the clients we see. Additionally, his interventions are often used in school-based settings away from the Center. He provides the direct training for our doctoral students in consultation methods and academic interventions. Dr. Skinner holds a license with the state as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, and provides supervision as needed.

For more information about the intervention services at the Center, please contact us at or 865-974-6395.

**Photo credit: Synthia Clark**

Easy Reading Intervention: Listening Passage Preview


Listening Passage Preview is a simple academic intervention that targets reading fluency. This intervention involves an accomplished reader reading a passage out loud while a struggling reader follows along silently. After a few minutes the roles are switched and the struggling reader reads out loud while the accomplished reader follows along silently and provides feedback when necessary.

Procedures for Listening Passage Preview:

  • 1. The accomplished reader (e.g., teacher, parent, tutor, older sibling) sits with the student in a calm environment free of major distractions.
  • 2. Position the book or text so that both readers can easily view the material. In some cases it may be easier to have two copies of the passage.
  • 3. Tell the struggling reader, “Now we are going to read together. Each time, I will read first, while you follow along silently in the book. Then you read the same part out loud.”
  • 4. The accomplished reader reads aloud for approximately 2 minutes while the student reads along silently. It may be helpful for the student if the accomplished reader tracks his/her location on the page with an index finger.
  • 5. Once time is up, stop reading and tell the student “Now it is your turn to read. If you come to a word that you do not know, I will help you with it.”
  • 6. If the student misreads a word or hesitates 5 seconds correct the error and have the student continue reading the passage.
  • 7. Repeat steps 3-6 until the passage is completed.
  • During the story you can emphasize reading comprehension by periodically asking the student comprehension questions (e.g., who, what, when, where, how, why). In addition, encourage the student to become engaged in the story. For example, a good comprehension question that involves the reader would be, “Who is your favorite character so far? Why?”

Before reading a passage in front of a group, allow the student to read it several times using the Listening Passage Preview intervention. This may help build the student’s reading fluency and confidence in his/her ability to read the passage.

Adapted from:

Rose, T. L., & Sherry, L. (1984). Relative effects of two previewing procedures on LD adolescents’ oral reading performance. Learning Disabilities Quarterly, 7, 39-44.

Swain, K.D., Leader-Jannsen, E.M, & Conley, P. (2013). Effects or repeated reading and listening passage preview on oral reading fluency. Reading Improvement, 50(1), 12-18.

Van Bon, W. H. J., Boksebeld, L. M., Font Freide, T. A. M., & Van den Hurk, J. M. (1991). A comparison of three methods of reading-while-listening. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 24, 471-476

Importance of Rhyming for Early Reading Development


Few things are more enjoyable for a parent than to sit down with their preschool-age child and read a Dr. Seuss type book that is silly and full of rhymes. The child often giggles when the images are silly and most kids love the sounds that are made. Also important, as a side note, the kids really love the time that the parents spend with him or her reading aloud.

Now, granted, some of these children’s books can be a bit of a challenge to read for parents because the rhyme patterns can twist tongues, but the child gains so much for future reading development by listening to the rhymes that this practice is essential for phonological awareness. Phonological awareness is the recognition of the basic sound patterns associated with language and, essentially, reading.

Many of these books also pack in a ton of alliterations. Alliterations, as you may recall, are the repetitions of the beginning sounds in words that are next to each other. A nursery rhyme example being the classic, “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers…”. It’s okay, as parents, if you have some difficulties with reading or repeating these passages; the child still gleans important components, and it illustrates for the child that it’s okay to make some mistakes when working with reading material. Learning involves making a lot of mistakes.

PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) has put together a great list of children’s rhyming books here and Goodreads (a popular book recommendation website) also has a helpful list here to get you started. Reading with your child need not take a great deal of time, but reading a book or two each day really is helpful.

For more information about early reading and/or phonological awareness development, please contact us at or 865-974-6177.

Postsecondary Autism Support Services (PASS) Program Update


We are in the process of converting our application process for the PASS Program to an online entry form; this form will be ready for students and parents to use no later than June 8th, 2018.

In conjunction with the change in application procedures, we are also going to be taking applications for the 2018-2019, and possibly 2019-2020, academic years in an on-going, or rolling procedure. This means that we will be accepting students at any time into the program if application is made and the student is determined to be a good fit. This may be beneficial to new students who may need or want the services, but didn’t know about the PASS Program.

Program fees are still being determined by University administration, but as soon as that is available, we will issue another update.

For more information about the PASS Program and application, you can find more here, or you can email Dr. Carolyn Blondin or call 865-974-6177.

Summer 2018 Campus Map


Lots of construction is going on all around the KLASS Center this summer. Specifically, Volunteer Boulevard, which runs by the west side of the Claxton Education Complex is closed (or partially closed) between Cumberland Avenue and Peyton Manning Pass.


If you are parking in the KLASS Center parking spaces, located in Staff Lot 9, located on the east side of Claxton Education Complex, you’ll need to use Phillip Fulmer Way and/or Peyton Manning Pass to access Staff Lot 9. The KLASS Center spaces are located adjacent to the building and have appropriate signage indicating they are reserved for the KLASS Center.

General public parking, which acts as overflow parking for the Center, is located in Volunteer Hall on White Avenue.

For more information or more specific directions, please contact us at or 865-974-6177.

School Psychology Students


The KLASS Center is affiliated with the APA Accredited School Psychology PhD program that is housed within the Department of Educational Psychology and Counseling.

Students in the School Psychology program are able to work in the KLASS Center’s clinic as third-year and fourth-year doctoral students where they learn the bulk of their clinical practice skills.

As third-year students, they are given basic assessment responsibilities, observational duties, and help some with interventions that are ongoing to help build skills in the clients we see and with whom we work.

Fourth-year students provide more in-depth services and take on more responsibility for each case in an effort to build their skills toward independence. All third-year and fourth-year practicum students are supervised by one of our licensed psychologists and/or a doctoral intern (analogous to a medical intern – completed all course and skill work, and building professional independence) who is also supervised by a licensed psychologist.

We are blessed to have some of the brightest minds from across the country who we get to teach and train to become scientist-practitioners in the truest sense.

Effective Use of Time-Out


Parents often have questions about using time-out, or we hear complaints from parents who have attempted to use it, but report that the procedure doesn’t work.

It’s been our experience, however, that parents may not fully understand time-out procedures.

So here are some basics:

  • First of all, time-out needs to be explained to the child well before it is used. This conversation should occur when both the parent and child are calm. This is a critical step in the implementation of time-out; parents often assume that their child will just go sit somewhere for time-out, but like all things, children must have things clearly explained and checked for understanding…not in a heated moment…well before. The parent might need to take the child through a mini training session in fact, showing the child where he or she will go, how long it will last, what will happen if the child fails to comply, etc., and then ask the child to explain it back in his or her own words to check for understanding.


  • Time-out needs to be brief. Using time-out for extended periods of time is ineffective mostly due to the attention spans of typically developing children. When the time-out session is too long, the child often forgets why he or she was placed in time-out to begin with. The rule-of-thumb for how long time-out should last is about 1 minute per year of the child’s age, so for example, a five-year-old child should be in time-out for no longer than 5 minutes per session.


  • Never threaten to use time-out; certainly, you can and should give the child a warning that if the misbehavior continues, he or she will go to time-out, but that’s it. There should not be a stream of warnings that the child is going to go to time-out if he or she doesn’t stop. This is a common mistake that we see parents making, not just with time-out, but with punishment in general. Issue a single warning…no more. If the misbehavior continues after the warning (give the child a reasonable window of time, anywhere from 5 to 30 seconds depending on the behavior and child), then put the child in time-out or have the child go to time-out.


More to come on time-out, but if you have questions, or would like to schedule an appointment to work with one of our clinicians, please contact us at or 865-974-6177.


Doctoral Clinicians Transitioning to Internship


As a training arm of the University of Tennessee’s APA accredited School Psychology PhD program, we get the opportunity to work with exceptional students who are well on their way to becoming licensed school psychologists and licensed psychologists.

Our most advanced cohort of students, Maya Mingo, Kendall Hauck, Kala Taylor, Victoria VanMaaren, and Peter Ignacio, will be transitioning out of our clinic over the next few weeks as they prepare to begin their internship placements across the country.

We want to thank them for the high quality services they have provided to the clients we serve and wish them all the best as they finish up in the clinic and start their internship year.

Increase Elementary Reading Vocabulary: Error Word Drill


Error Word Drill (EWD) is a technique used to help developing readers learn vocabulary words. EWD has been effective at increasing the percent of words read correctly.

Some of the benefits of EWD are that it requires little preparation time and few resources. It’s very simple to implement, but can yield significant gains in overall reading vocabulary.

Basically, EWD requires the student to:

  1. Write down the any words a student misreads into an “error word notebook”.
  2. Write the first 20 of the student’s “error words” onto individual 3 x 5 index cards.
  3. Present the index cards to the student one at a time. If the student correctly reads the word on a card within 5 seconds, remove the card from the pile of cards.
  4. If the student mispronounces the word on the card, pronounce the word for the student and then have the student repeat the word. If the student correctly repeats the word, ask the student “What word?” and have the student say the word one more time. Place the misread word cards at the bottom of the deck.
  5. Continue presenting the “error word” cards in the deck until the student is able to read them all correctly.
  6. Once all the cards have been read correctly, reshuffle all 20 cards and repeat the previous steps.
  7. Continue until the student has successfully read the deck without misreading two consecutive cards.

This simple reading intervention has been around for decades and has been demonstrated effective in multiple languages. It is simple, but it does work.


-Adapted from:

 Daly, E. J. III., Chafouleas, S., & Skinner, C. H. (2004). Interventions for reading problems: Designing and evaluating effective strategies. New York: The Guilford Press.

Jenkins, J., & Larson, D. (1979). Evaluation of error-correction procedures for oral reading. Journal of Special Education, 13, 145-156.

Meet the Faculty/Staff – Dr. Carolyn Blondin


Carolyn Blondin

Licensed Psychologist
PhD (2013), University of Tennessee

Dr. Blondin is a licensed psychologist at the center. She obtained a BA in psychology at Elon University in North Carolina. After graduating, she worked two years as a psychological assistant in Gainesville, Florida.

Starting in 2008, she attended the University of Tennessee’s School Psychology PhD program. She received her doctorate in 2013, following a yearlong internship with the Tennessee Internship Consortium.

At the KLASS center, Blondin provides assessment, intervention, and consultative services to children and adults. She also provides services as a school psychologist for a rural school district.

Her research interests include early academic interventions at the college level and class-wide behavior management.

Dr. Blondin is primary provider in the Center of services for students on the Autism Spectrum, including the services provided through the Postsecondary Autism Support Services (PASS) Program for University of Tennessee students.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Blondin, please contact us at or (865) 974-6177.

Essential Skill-Building for Adolescents and Adults with Autism


There are key components, skill-wise, that we work through with our adolescent and adult clients with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Base Topics for adolescent and adult clients with ASD (PASS Program included):

  • Introductions and Trading Information in Conversations
  • Two-Way Conversations
  • Entering and Exiting a Conversation
  • Electronic Communication
  • Appropriate Use of Humor
  • Social Gatherings
  • Handling Disagreements

Everyone works through these base skill-building sessions. Some of these skills are covered over multiple weeks. There are several other topics that we cover as appropriate for the unique needs of each individual client.

We often have to come back to these same topics with the same clients multiple times due to the challenging nature of ASD as related to social skills and communication.

For more information, or to schedule an appointment, please contact us at or 865-974-6177.


Repeated Reading: A Simple Intervention for Reading Fluency


Repeated Reading is an easy academic intervention that involves the student reading a short passage several times. Reading the short passages repeatedly provides good practice in a short amount of time.

Repeated Reading has been demonstrated through numerous studies as effective at enhancing reading fluency for both general education students and students diagnosed with reading disabilities.

A couple of the benefits of Repeated Reading are that it is free and only requires reading material on hand.

Procedures for Repeated Reading:

1. Provide a book or passage (100-200 words in length) to the student.

2. Have the student read the passage three or four times

Procedures for Repeated Reading with performance feedback:

1. Follow steps 1 and 2 (above).

2. Follow along with the text as the student reads aloud.

3. If the student takes longer than 5 seconds or misreads a word, correct the student by reading the word and then have the student repeat the word correctly.

4. Have the student continue to read as usual following the correction procedure.


Adapted from:

Chafouleas, S. M., Martens, B. K., Dobson, R. L., Weinstein, K. S., & Gardner, K. B. (2004). Fluent reading as the improvement of stimulus control: Additive effects of performance-based interventions to repeated reading on students’ reading and error rates. Journal of Behavioral Education, 13, 67–81.

Daly, E. J. III., Chafouleas, S., & Skinner, C. H. (2004). Interventions for reading problems: Designing and evaluating effective strategies. New York: The Guilford Press.

Dowhower, S. L. (1987). Effects of repeated reading on second-grade transitional readers’ fluency and comprehension. Reading Research Quarterly, 22, 389-406.

Herman, P. A. (1985). The effects of repeated readings on reading rate, speech pauses, and word recognition accuracy. Reading Research Quarterly, 20, 553-565.

Rashotte, C. A. & Torgesen, J. K. (1985). Repeated reading and reading fluency in learning disabled children. Reading Research Quarterly, 20, 180-188.

Rasinski, T. V. (1990). Effects of repeated reading and listening-while-reading on reading fluency. Journal of Educational Research, 83(3), 147-150The Effects of

Elizabeth A. Stevens, E.A., Walker, M.A., & Vaughn, S. (2016). Reading fluency interventions on the reading fluency and reading comprehension performance of elementary students with learning disabilities: A synthesis of the research from 2001 to 2014.Journal of Learning Disabilities, 50(5),576-590.

For more information on this intervention, please contact us at or 865-974-6177.

ADHD, or… Sleep Deprivation?


Here in the KLASS Center Clinic, we get lots of referrals to evaluate individuals of all ages for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). A large number of these referrals are for school-age children, including teenagers (we get a lot of college referrals as well). Since there isn’t a biological test yet, like a blood test, to determine whether an individual has ADHD, we must rely on several different pieces of clinical information, and a good deal of the process is to try to rule-out other possible causes for the ADHD symptoms.

Sleep is one area we consider, but sleep deprivation is a more common area of concern as it relates to mimicking ADHD. There’s a big difference in the sleep needs for infants, children, and adolescents; they all typically need more than they are getting.

As adults, we fall into the trap of equating our sleep needs with that of our children, so if we’re getting by with 7 hours, we sometimes think that the kids should do okay with that amount of sleep as well. That, however, isn’t the case; they tend to need a good deal more than that. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the average sleep needs per night by age are:

Infants:              12-15 hours

Toddlers:           11-14 hours

Preschool:         10-13 hours

Elementary:       9-11 hours

Teenager:           8-10 hours

Adults:                7-9 hours

These are averages, so these amounts apply to the majority of individuals, but some folks need a little more sleep, and some can do on a little less. Assume that you and your children are typical when it comes to sleep needs.

Some simple math, and you can calculate where you and your child fall along these averages. So, if you, or your child, aren’t getting enough sleep, you are sleep deprived. What does sleep deprivation look like in kids; especially chronic sleep deprivation?

With younger kids, we don’t usually see tiredness (what we as adults would logically conclude should occur), but rather, we tend to see higher activity levels, i.e., hyperactivity. We tend to see more aggression and acting out, and more irritability. We tend to see more problems with emotion regulation; that is, quicker to tears. We see a lack of focus and difficulty attending for a long period of time.

Numerous research studies are now demonstrating that chronic sleep deprivation is a problem for children’s day-to-day functioning.  In short, with sleep deprived children, we see a lot of symptoms that look an awful lot like ADHD. Sleep deprivation is probably one of the more common problems that we see, and that we address when conducting our evaluations.

There are ways to address the reasons behind the sleep deprivation that can improve your child’s and your general functioning.

For more information, please contact us at or 865-974-6177.

Summer Hours


While the semester is ending with graduation ceremonies here on the University of Tennessee campus, the KLASS Center will continue to operate on a normal schedule through the breaks and throughout the summer. We are located in the Claxton Education Complex, right beside Blueberry Falls.

To schedule an appointment, you can request one online here, or contact us at or 865-974-6177.

What Causes ADHD?


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has different origins, and yes, ADHD is a real thing…we get that question a lot… As for causes, we do know that it is very heritable, that is, close relatives are much more likely to have the disorder.

If a parent has ADHD, then their children are 6 to 8 times more likely to have it.

Brothers or sisters of a child with ADHD are 3 to 5 times more likely to have it.

The dad’s of children with ADHD are 5 to 6 times more likely to have it, while their mothers are 3 to 4 times more likely.

If one identical twin has ADHD, there’s upwards of a 90% chance that the other twin will also have ADHD.

The largest proportion of ADHD cases are inherited, and it seems to be poly-genetic, meaning multiple genes play a role. The exact roles are unknown.

However, not all ADHD is inherited. Other causes are related to neurological development (may also be partially genetic), environmental factors that may include prenatal health (also may be partially genetic taking into account the interaction between genes and environment).

There doesn’t seem to be any solid evidence that  parenting causes ADHD, however, parenting practices can greatly influence behavioral outcomes of a child who has ADHD.

There doesn’t seem to be any solid research that supports dietary substances as a cause either. Sure, there are individual cases where some kids are more sensitive to certain dietary substances, such as food dyes or preservatives, but in general, these things don’t appear to cause ADHD.

Playing video games and watching TV doesn’t seem to cause ADHD either; however, excessive use can still be problematic for maintaining attention, and it may just be the case that kids with ADHD tend to play video games and watch TV more because the pace of action helps those kids to focus better on those media.

In another post, we’ll talk more about other common problems and disorders that may mimic ADHD.

For more information, please contact us at or 865-974-6177.

College Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Individuals with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) on college campuses are often hard to pick out because there’s no clear physical presentation. Prior to 2013, some of these students might be described as having High Functioning Autism (HFA), or a separate disorder known as Asperger’s Syndrome (or Disorder). However, with the implementation of the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – 5th Edition (DSM-5), all of these subdivisions were lumped together under the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. That’s a broad spectrum, but the college students who fall somewhere on the spectrum usually deal with some of the same challenges or characteristics:

  • They tend to experience difficulty in communicating effectively with others.
  • They often have problems making ‘appropriate’ conversation, and sometimes seem pedantic.
  • They may have a poor understanding of non-verbal communication such as
  • tone of voice, gestures and facial expressions.
  • Some individuals may find it difficult to make or maintain eye contact.

Many individuals who might fit under the old nomenclature of HFA or Asperger’s Disorder usually desire social contact, but struggle to understand the reciprocal nature of ‘typical’ social interaction, and other people’s language and humor. As a consequence, their attempts at interaction can sometimes seem rather awkward. It can make the person prone to teasing and isolation. Their inability to read people’s intentions can make them vulnerable and may result in them being taken advantage of.

  • They may often have a need for routines.
  • Some may have intense, almost obsessive, interests.
  • They may also rely heavily on other people in their day-to-day life in a way that you might not expect, given their apparent intelligence or independence.
  • Some individuals may experience over- and under-sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, lights or colors.

Be aware that adults with ASD may have learned to cover up their problems, so signs of the disorder will often be quite subtle. This is one reason that individuals can experience difficulty in getting support.

As a result of difficulties with social interaction and communication, and a lack of support, many adults with ASD are socially isolated and can consequently develop other problems such as anxiety or depression.

For more information, please contact us at or 865-974-6177.


*Adapted from the National Autistic Society’s Guide for General Practitioners

ADHD and the Curse of Time


One of the more problematic challenges that individuals with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have relates to the concept of time. According to Barkley (2016), time is a significant challenge across individuals with ADHD. We see it very often here in the KLASS Center Clinic with the kids and adults we work with who have ADHD.

More specifically, the concept of future is difficult. Individuals with ADHD tend to be very much present oriented; that is, in the “right now”, and they move moment to moment rather than having a future orientation.

On the surface, living in the present is a preferred option; in fact, the whole mindfulness movement is an attempt to get people to live in the present, but in a world where deadlines, meetings, and schedules predominate, living in the moment too much can be a problem. Individuals who don’t have ADHD, on the other hand (that’s the vast majority of the population), tend to live either in the future (which can be anxiety provoking), or in the past (which can sometimes depress mood), so the whole idea of mindfulness is to get folks to spend more time in the present. Folks with ADHD are perpetually in the present.

Time estimation is a challenge; that is, how long do things take. They continually underestimate time.

Timeliness is a challenge; we see that in folks being habitually late, or missing appointments completely.

If you give a child with ADHD directions for completing a task in the future; in 10 minutes let’s say, the likelihood of that task getting completed on time, if at all, is pretty low. If you’re trying to use a behavior management plan that incorporates rewards for behavior, and the time to reward is set out too far, the plan becomes ineffective. The need for consequences, both positive and negative, is much more acute; feedback is required very soon after behaviors for there to be much of an effect.

For more information on ADHD evaluations and/or non-medical interventions, please contact us or 865-974-6177.


Paired Reading: A Simple Reading Fluency Intervention


Paired Reading is an easy academic intervention that involves the student reading out loud in tandem with another helping reader. Paired Reading has been considered easy and effective at enhancing reading fluency. Some of the benefits of Paired Reading are that it is free and only requires reading material. There is a tendency for parents and teachers to think this intervention is too easy, that is, something this simple can’t possibly work, but on the contrary, it works quite well.

Procedures for Paired Reading:

  1. The helping reader should sit with the student and place the book so both readers can see it.
  2. Prior to reading, the student should be informed that he or she should signal when the student wants to read alone.
  3. Both readers start reading aloud until the student signals to read alone. The helping reader should continue to read along silently.
  4. If the student hesitates or makes an error while reading, the helping reader should point to the word, say it, and have the student repeat the word.
  5. Both readers continue to read until the student signals to read alone again.

Adapted from:

MacDonald, P. (2010). Paired reading: A structured approach to raising attainment in literacy. Support for Learning, 25, 15-23.

Topping, K. (2014). Paired reading and related methods for improving fluency,  International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, 7(1), 57-70.

Topping, K. (1992). Paired reading: A review of the literature. Research Papers in Education, 7, 199-246.

Topping, K. (1987). Paired reading: A powerful technique for parent use. Reading Teacher, 40, 608-614.


For more information on implementing this intervention, or for other reading interventions, please contact us at or 865-974-6177.

Early Warning Signs of Dyslexia


Reading disorders in general, but dyslexia, specifically, usually become evident in early elementary grades with children. Some reading disorders that are connected to fluency and comprehension present themselves later, but basic reading disorders, such as dyslexia, tend to have some earlier signs and a somewhat typical presentation. A great deal of the difficulties lie with the use of phonemes; the smallest sound segments connected to letters and syllables.

Early warning signs – not universal, but tend to occur more often:

  • Mild language delays
  • Extended period of mispronunciations (beyond preschool), e.g., pisgetti for spaghetti
  • Difficulty with rhymes and rhyming games
  • Difficulty pulling the correct phonemes for objects – calls a similar sounding word, or after struggling says, “I forgot”
  • Understanding of words/language seems more advanced than actual word production
  • Sometimes speech is labored, that is, a lot of delays or hesitations between words
  • Difficulties learning the names and/or sounds of the alphabet (this one is critical, as it is the first major step toward reading; known as the alphabetic principle)

As is the case with many developmental processes, the earlier a child can be identified as having certain difficulties, the earlier appropriate treatment can occur, and that may lead to better outcomes later.

For more information, please contact us at or 865-974-6177.

FUTURE Program Ice Cream Fundraiser


Today is the day!

Join the FUTURE Program on the pedestrian walkway at 12:30. The rain from last week is gone, and the weather is going to be sunny and warm…perfect for some ice cream! All proceeds will go to help defray costs for the FUTURE Program’s end of year student celebration.

FUTURE is a comprehensive program in the University of Tennessee’s KLASS Center within the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences that helps young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities make a successful transition from high school to adult life. During the two- to three-year program, specially designed program-specific classes, the opportunity to audit undergraduate courses, and an internship on or off campus are provided.

For more information, please contact either us or the program .

Instructor Tip Five: Autism Spectrum Disorders


Students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often have different sensory issues. They may have an extreme over-sensitivity or an extreme under-sensitivity to hearing, sight, touch (tactile), smell, and/or taste.

For example, some students with ASD who have tactile over-sensitivity may only wear certain, specific clothes, or clothes of a specific material. They can be so over-sensitive that some tactile experiences, such as their skin rubbing against certain materials, can often be described as painful, where the same materials may feel comfortable to you and me.

Another common over-sensitivity is to sound; we see many students who report that the sounds that fluorescent lighting makes can be extremely distracting, or also painful, depending upon the individual and his or her sensory sensitivity.

Students with ASD who do exhibit sensory over- or under-sensitivities may benefit from instructors who allow the students some flexibility.

For example, if a student reports over-sensitivity to sounds, it may be helpful to allow that student to wear ear plugs or to sit in a seat in the classroom away from the sound when possible.

A student with an ASD and an over-sensitivity to smells, might react to another student’s perfume, cologne, or foods in a backpack and might need to change seats to move away from the scent(s).

Flexible, accommodating, instructors should allow the students some leeway.

For more information, please contact us at or 865-974-6177.

2017-2018 Doctoral Interns


As a member of the Tennessee Internship Consortium in Psychology, we are proud of all of our interns who are nearing completion of the their year-long internship. They will all be receiving their PhDs soon.

The internship is a 2000-hour internship that is accredited by the American Psychological Association and runs from August 1st to July 31st each year. It is a school psychology internship, so interns spend a considerable amount of time working in elementary, middle, and high schools, while some also spend significant time working with college students. All are refining their training to soon become licensed school psychologists and/or licensed psychologists who have significant expertise working with behavioral, developmental, and academic difficulties.

This year, our interns are from doctoral school psychology programs from the University of Georgia, the University of Iowa, and here, the University of Tennessee.

For more information, please contact us at or 865-974-6177.

Easy Spelling and Math Fact Intervention: Elementary-Age Students


Cover, Copy, and Compare (CCC) is an easy academic intervention. CCC has been effective in increasing students’ fluency and accuracy in different academic areas such as spelling, geography, and various mathematics skills. One of the benefits of CCC is that students can complete CCC on their own once they are taught the instructions.

Basically, CCC requires the student to:

  1. View the correct item, for example: spelling word, math problem, etc.
  2. Cover the correct item with a piece of paper
  3. Copy the item by writing it next to the covered item
  4. Compare what the student wrote to the correct item.

If the student’s copied response is the same as the correct item then the student continues to the next item. However, if the student’s response is different than the item (incorrect) then the student copies the item three to five times while looking at the correct item. Alternatively, the student may repeat the CCC process for missed items until the response matches the correct item.



Print a list of target words on the left side of a page. Be sure to allow space for the student to copy the target words (multiple times if the response is incorrect). Typically, between 3-10 spelling words are used at a time. As the student masters a target word it may be replaced with a new word on the spelling list. A word is usually considered mastered when it is correctly spelled 3 consecutive school days. After the mastered word is absent for 5 school days it is then re-introduced to the list. If the re-introduced word is correctly copied it can then be permanently removed from the list. Some students may even be able to create their own spelling lists.


Similar to the spelling procedures, print the math problem and answers down the left side of a page. Have the student cover the problems with answers and then copy the problem and the answer beside the one that is covered. When the problem is completed, the student compares his/her response to the correct problem and answer. Three sets of CCC worksheets should be provided. When the response is incorrect the student repeats the CCC process on a separate worksheet, where space is provided.

-Adapted from:

McLaughlin, T. F., & Skinner, C. H. (1996). Improving academic performance through self-management: Cover, copy, and compare. Intervention in School and Clinic, 32, 113-118.

Skinner, C. H., McLaughlin, T. F., & Logan, P. (1997). Cover, copy, and compare: A self-managed academic intervention effective across skills, students, and settings. Journal of Behavioral Education, 7, 295-306.

For help setting up this intervention, please email us at or call us at 865-974-6177. One of our clinicians can work with parents to design the intervention to best meet your student’s needs.

Postsecondary Autism Support Services (PASS) Program


The KLASS Center offers supplemental support services for University of Tennessee degree-seeking students who fall on the Autism Spectrum (Including High Functioning Autism and/or Asperger’s Syndrome).

Most UT students on the spectrum would not be considered disabled, and do not receive services through the Student Disability Services office, but they are faced with a unique set of challenges with communication and social interactions.

Currently, we provide supplemental services individually and/or in a group format to improve these students’ communication and social skills, but if final approval is obtained, we will be consolidating the services into the Postsecondary Autism Support Services (PASS) Program.

The program will be for enrolled degree-seeking students at the University of Tennessee and/or admitted students to include the individual and group services, but also case management, and possible course credit. For more information please follow the link on the menu to the left, email us at, or call us at 865-974-6177.

CDC Reports Higher Rates of Autism Spectrum Disorder


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has just released new prevalence data for children diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Data gathered from 11 different states in 2014, including Tennessee, indicate that 16.8 per 1,000 eight-year-olds (1 in 59) were identified as having an ASD. Previously, data indicated that 1 in 68 children could be identified as having ASD.

The CDC does suggest that the increase may be due more to better identification methods than a true increase in the rate of occurrence of ASD, and there is a caution that these data may not generalize to the entire country since only 11 states were included in this study. An additional caution is that there is a transition in diagnostic criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-IV-TR to the newer Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-V. Studies will continue to evaluate ASD prevalence rates.

Do Stimulants Improve College Student GPA (who don’t have ADHD)?


No, according to a recent large scale study…

In a study published 2017 in the journal Addictive Behaviors, Arria et al., found that grades did not significantly increase for college students without Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) who take stimulants non-medically.

They looked at a sample of 898 college students over a two year period; one group never used stimulants; a second group used stimulants the first year, but not the second; a third group didn’t use stimulants the first year, but did the second; and a final group that used stimulants over both years of the study.

None of these students had been diagnosed with ADHD, nor did they have a prescription for the stimulant medication.

What did the study author’s find?

None of the groups who used stimulant medication non-medically, that is, were not diagnosed with ADHD and did not have a prescription for stimulant medication…none had a significant increase in their Grade Point Average (GPA).

The study authors did find a small, but statistically significant, increase in GPA for students who never used the stimulant medication.

So, we know from the previous article that college students believe that using stimulants will help increase their grades, but early indications are this just isn’t the case.

Students who have ADHD, appropriately diagnosed, may benefit from appropriate treatment, but those who don’t, likely won’t improve their grades. Maybe, just maybe, the solution for students to increase their grades is to improve study skills and study habits.

For more information, please contact us at or 865-974-6177.

Do College Students Believe Stimulant Medication Improves Grades?


Yes they do…a lot of them do…

Arria et al., (2018) in a study just published in the January issue of the journal Addictive Behaviors found that 29% of college students who have not been diagnosed with ADHD believe that stimulant medication (used predominantly to treat students with ADHD) helps students to earn higher grades in college, and another 38% were unsure.

Data from 6,962 students across nine different colleges in the U.S. were examined over a two-year period spanning 2015-2016. None of these students had ever been diagnosed with ADHD.

So, about 2/3 of the students surveyed in this large sample were either unsure or believed that using stimulant medication non-medically, that is, not diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) nor prescribed for medical use, would improve their grades…two-thirds.

One interesting correlate that the study authors also found was that the college students who did believe non-medical use of stimulants would improve their grades (that 29% of the sample) also reported more frequent alcohol and marijuana usage. That’s also concerning for those who treat college students.

So, a large proportion of students in college think the non-medical use of stimulant medication leads to higher grades, but what do the data show?

We’ll follow the data in our next post.

For more information, please contact us at or 865-974-6177

Dyslexia Goes to College – What it Looks Like


Children with dyslexia grow up to be young adults with dyslexia; however, there seems to be a popular common misconception that individuals with dyslexia can’t read. That’s really not usually the case. Most young adults with dyslexia can, in fact, read, but there are some real challenges that they face.

College students who have dyslexia, have one primary and pervasive symptom by far, and that is they are very, very slow readers. Reading is very labor intensive and college students with dyslexia take a significantly longer time to get through reading assignments. As the complexity of the readings increases, the effort involved to read the material increases exponentially.

These students still exhibit significant difficulties with phonological processing, that is, they continue to struggle with sounding out words; especially complex words. These phonological deficits show up on tests of phonological processing as well, even as adults. Spelling also continues to be quite problematic since spelling relies heavily on key components of phonological processing. College students with dyslexia oftentimes rely on spell-checking software to mitigate some of spelling challenges they have.

Reading comprehension is usually not an issue for the college student with dyslexia, as long as they can get through the actual basic reading process well enough to fluently string the words together. Listening comprehension is also usually just fine.

If reading is slow and laborious and spelling is a challenge, then naturally, the student’s writing becomes slow and laborious as well. Assignments that involve any significant writing then become labor-intensive tasks that take extra time to complete.

Some students (who have been identified as having dyslexia and some who haven’t) have compensated for these challenges through elementary, middle, and high school, but have a harder time due to the nature and amount of reading and writing required at the college level. Their strategies just break down. Those students who have been formally evaluated and identified may be eligible for accommodations.

For more information, please contact us at or 865-974-6177.

Homework…Getting it Done without Coming Undone – Part 2


Problems with homework; we considered the setting, the supplies, and use of electronics in our last installment. Let’s now look at the process:

1) Schedule:  It’s important, especially for elementary-age students, to have a set time to complete homework. For most students, very soon after school is the ideal time to complete homework; that is, before getting distracted or engaged by another, more interesting activity. Many students benefit from a short snack-time between school and homework. There are some students, however, who actually do complete their homework more easily later, such as before or after dinner. However, despite what many students say, just before bed is not the best time to complete homework.

2) Parent Proximity:  How close parents physically locate themselves to their children when homework is being completed is in direct relationship to the child’s age and/or the child’s ability to focus on the tasks at hand. Early elementary children usually perform better with a parent within a few feet. As kids get older, parents can encourage and expect homework to be completed more independently, but there is variation among kids.

Some typically developing children may still need parents to be closer. A very good option to remain nearby, to model homework, and to be able to provide help is by completing household tasks in the vicinity such as straightening things, emptying the dishwasher, making dinner, etc.

Children with ADHD: Here is a big exception to the rule. Kids diagnosed with ADHD, or those who have problems with attention and focus, almost always require parents to be in close proximity for a longer period of development. This is often quite frustrating for parents, but necessary to help the child maintain her or his task focus.

3) Encouragement:  Most kids don’t enjoy doing homework; it’s true. Homework, in moderation, however, helps children in a couple of ways. First, it’s hopefully providing practice for skills that have already been taught. Spaced practice is essential for learning. Second, homework helps children develop independent work habits that may generalize into adulthood.

So, some homework is good, but kid’s don’t like to do it; what to do?

It’s okay to provide encouragement and reinforcement to help the child along. The preferred approach to this is to be specific with the encouragement and focus on the process. For example, “You’re really working hard on those problems. Look how many you have completed so far. Keep working hard, and you’ll be finished soon.” While this may feel a bit artificial for some parents…it works. The added benefit for focusing on the effort that the child is putting into the homework is that it will set the stage for more work completion in the future. Saying “good job” feels more natural, but is less effective in the long run.

For more information, please contact us at or 865-974-6177.

Instructor Tip Four: Autism Spectrum Disorders


Individuals with an Autism Spectrum Disorder are just that, individual. Much like every other person, students on the spectrum have their own unique qualities and challenges. Students on the end of the spectrum that we have historically categorized as having Asperger’s Syndrome, many of whom we see on college campuses, typically have a desire to interact in social situations, but are faced with some unique difficulties.

Students on the spectrum tend to have a great deal more difficulty with social interactions, social exchanges, and social cues.

College courses, at least at the undergraduate level, tend to be larger with more students. This provides a great environment for most students to socially interact and make more friends, but it can be more challenging for the student who is on the spectrum. It’s often hard for these students to enter into conversations and to exit conversations.

This is also true for students who need to interact with their instructors; initiating a conversation or interaction may be difficult for a student on the spectrum. There may be issues with personal space as well, that is, the student enters another student’s or the instructor’s personal space coming too close when trying to have a conversation.

This space invasion can be quite uncomfortable. Some students on the spectrum have limited awareness of the space that he or she is entering, but conversely, know clearly when others are entering into their personal space. The thing about personal space is that it really is unique to each individual, but you, as an instructor may need to gently point out to the student that you need to have a bit more space. A general rule of thumb is to maintain at least an arm’s length of distance between individuals, and it’s okay to suggest that to the student.

As a side note, there are other students not on the spectrum who don’t have a good sense of personal space either, so this same conversation is just as useful.

For additional information please contact us at or 865-974-6395.

Homework…Getting it Done without Coming Undone


Problems with homework; it’s one of the most common complaints we hear about children and adolescents from parents with whom we work.

Some of these problems are, in fact, problems, but many of the problems are just normal issues that need a little re-examination or adjustment to get the students back on track. Let’s start with the basics:

1) Environment:  Location, location, location; it’s important in real estate, and it’s important for homework. Homework should be completed in a distraction-free environment that is comfortable for the student. This can be flexible, but examples include a kitchen table, the dining room table, a kitchen counter, or maybe a desk. This space should be uncluttered.

For most typical kids, their bedroom is likely not a good space to use. There are too many items, toys, and activities that are readily available to take their attention away from completing their homework.

2) Supplies:  Regardless of the location, all the needed supplies should be readily available for the student to easily access. Pencils, paper, crayons, markers, glue sticks, etc. should all be nearby.

3) Electronics: There shall be NO screens within the homework area – seriously, NO screens unless the homework is being completed on a device. IF the homework is being completed on a device, then there should be no other devices on the side creating distractions.

For example, a student using his or her laptop to complete an assignment should not have their phone beside the laptop with all it’s notifications buzzing, or other distracting media flowing through headphones. “But Mom, listening to my music helps me concentrate” your tween might say…highly unlikely; in fact, the majority of research related to studying seems to indicate that this can interfere with retention and production of information. It’s not a good idea. In fact, it’s preferable for cell phones to be placed in an entirely different room; phones can really be that distracting.

On the other hand, calm, lyric-free music is okay. It doesn’t need to be classical, but it shouldn’t be high energy. Think elevator music.

Now that we’ve looked at some basics regarding the setting, be sure to look for another post that considers some process components for helping with homework completion.

For more information contact us at or 865-974-6177.

Instructor Tip Three: Autism Spectrum Disorders

Students on the autism spectrum often have receptive language difficulties that include slower processing of verbal exchanges, they may misunderstand sarcasm, idioms and jokes, have very literal interpretation of words, and they may misunderstand gestures and body language.

The expressive language  difficulties of individuals on the spectrum may include problems starting communication. Some students on the autism spectrum may seem very articulate and/or very talkative; however, they may have trouble staying on topic, turn taking and following conversational “protocol”. Some may be slower to organize thoughts and speak, and/or their voice tone and volume may be unusual; sometimes more mechanical in nature. Idiosyncratic use of words and phrases may be present.

It may be helpful for instructors to allow for more lengthy verbal exchanges, or to have important communication be conducted in written form. Instructors should be clear, concrete, and logical when communicating with students on the autism spectrum. Be sure to ask for understanding; that is, perhaps have the student summarize the important information. It’s important that instructors have patience when engaging in a conversation with student on the autism spectrum, and gently guide the students when they stray off-topic back on-topic.

For more information, please contact us at or 865-974-6177.

Research for Teachers: Three-Mysteries Procedure Increases Classroom Math Performance

In an initial 2017 study published in School Psychology Review, University of Tennessee researchers Scott, Skinner, Moore, McCurdy, Ciancio, and Cihak demonstrated that math fact accuracy in a first-grade classroom could be improved through the use of a three-mysteries procedure.

What’s the mystery, you might ask?

Researchers gathered independent seatwork assignment accuracy data and found that during typical classroom procedures the class averaged about 64% correct. These scores are for basic math skills that first graders are learning.

Next, the researchers and classroom teachers developed, implemented, and evaluated a novel intervention. The researchers created a pool of daily percent correct goals and a pool of simple rewards that all students in the class would get if they met their average percent correct goals. The mysteries then come in three forms.

At the start of class, the teacher would reach into a bag containing sheets of paper with the minimum goals written on them, randomly select one and place it in a separate envelope, without informing the students of the goal. Thus, the daily goal was the first mystery. The teacher did the same things with rewards. A rewards slip was randomly selected and placed in the envelope. Thus, the reward, which either all or none of the students in the class could earn, was the second mystery. Students sat at separate tables. The teacher would also reach into a bag containing sheets of paper with the table numbers written on them and randomly select one. Thus, the table was the third mystery.

Each day all students would earn a reward if a table of four students had an average percent correct score on their math assignments that met or exceeded a goal or criteria. However, the table, the criteria, and the reward were all randomly selected and unknown to students – they were all a mystery.

After math assignments were completed and scored, the average score of the randomly selected table was compared to the randomly selected criteria. If that table met or exceeded the goal, the teacher announced the goal, the table that met the goal and the reward. As the students cheered the table members, the teacher distributed rewards. Note, if the table did not win, the teacher merely announced that the class did not win the game and encouraged the entire class to try harder next time.

What did they find?

Adding this three-mysteries intervention to typical classroom procedures increased the class average percent correct from about 64% to approximately 84% correct. Additionally, the average scores for the five students scoring below 60% (letter grade F) increased by over 40%. The students who were scoring above 90% also improved. Thus, the intervention enhanced the performance of the strongest students, while causing really large increases in performance of the low performing students, some who appeared to have given up trying to succeed in math. With this procedure, these same students were now helping the entire class earn rewards by doing their best on math assignments and being cheered for doing so.

What did the teacher and teacher assistant think about the intervention?

The teacher and teacher assistant liked this intervention and noted some pretty positive side effects. A few of those positive effects being: students were less likely to need prompting to do their work, students skipped fewer problems, incomplete assignments were decreased, and students made more use of math manipulatives.

Obviously, more research is needed, but the results of this easy to implement evidence-based intervention are promising.

For more information on the study, please contact Dr. Chris Skinner at .

Autism Support Services

The KLASS Center offers supplemental support services for University of Tennessee degree-seeking students who fall on the Autism Spectrum (Including High Functioning Autism and/or Asperger’s Syndrome). Most UT students on the spectrum would not be considered disabled, and do not receive services through the Student Disability Services office, but they are faced with a unique set of challenges with communication and social interactions. Currently, we provide supplemental services individually and/or in a group format to improve these students’ communication and social skills, but if final approval is obtained, we will be consolidating the services into the Postsecondary Autism Support Services (PASS) Program. The program will be for enrolled degree-seeking students at the University of Tennessee and/or admitted students to include the individual and group services, but also case management, and possible course credit. For more information please follow the link on the menu to the left or email us at

Instructor Tip Two: Autism Spectrum Disorders

Students on the autism spectrum face significant social challenges. Those challenges include understanding others perspectives, sharing space and making eye contact. Many high functioning individuals with an autism spectrum disorder (often characterized as Asperger’s) usually have extreme social anxiety and usually have difficulty negotiating with others. Interacting and working in pairs or groups is a significant challenge as well. The social challenges can become overwhelming for students on the autism spectrum.

Also, these students likely will not understand the classroom etiquette that is often unwritten or assumed. Students on the spectrum will often misinterpret facial expressions and other non-verbal cues.

It’s important for instructors to recognize some of these challenges so that he or she can work appropriately with students on the spectrum. For example, honoring the student’s chosen level of eye contact w/o judgment can be helpful. If there is group work assigned for class the instructor might assist in the formation and monitoring of pairs or groups of students to assure the proper inclusion of the student with an autism spectrum diagnosis. Sometimes it’s helpful to provide written rules for asking questions to give the student on the spectrum as concrete guidelines.

For more help, more information about the PASS Program, or more information about the FUTURE Program, contact us at or 865-974-6177.

Dyslexia Evaluation: Key Components

Parents who suspect their child may have dyslexia, or parents who receive a letter from their school saying that their child may have dyslexia often find themselves confused about dyslexia and what an evaluation for dyslexia looks like. If you “Google” the term dyslexia, the confusion can multiply exponentially. The KLASS Center on the campus of the University of Tennessee relies on peer-reviewed research and evidence-based practices as we think about, evaluate, and treat dyslexia.

In short, dyslexia is a language-based disorder that can impair different areas of academic functioning, but primarily reading and spelling are most impacted. For early elementary students there often are problems with sound/symbol correspondence, sounding out words is difficult, confusion of similar sounding letters is common, confusion of visually similar letters can occur (still related to language), a lot of substitution errors occur, and a lot of problems with spelling are evident. Reading and learning to read is very labored for children with these difficulties.

So, a solid evidence-based evaluation for dyslexia should assess for those areas, and that includes phonemic awareness, sight word vocabulary, basic reading skills, reading fluency, reading comprehension, spelling, and listening comprehension (often stronger than reading skills). It’s also helpful to compare the child’s reading skills to his or her math and general writing skills to determine any crossover challenges. Dyslexia can also co-occur with other disorders, more commonly with other learning disorders and ADHD, so it’s important to evaluate the child comprehensively.

Our clinicians are trained to conduct these evaluations, and do so regularly. For more information or to schedule an evaluation, please visit our website at KLASS Center or contact us via email or phone 865-974-6177.

Instructor Tip: Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders

By definition all students with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have problems which may interfere with receptive or expressive communication. Many of these students who enroll in college are not disabled; some are, but the challenges are real and can create significant difficulties in the classroom regardless.

Some of these unique differences are subtle and can lead to misunderstandings or misinterpretations of the students’ actions.

Tip:  Each student with ASD has very unique challenges so it’s important (when possible) for instructors to get to know the student to facilitate her or his understanding of the challenges for that student.

Use Praise More

Parents: remember to praise your child’s “good” behavior, that is, the behavior you want to see more of, rather than spending most of your time punishing the behaviors you don’t want. It’s so much more effective to increase behaviors you want to see, e.g., “great job playing nicely together” than it is spending a ton of time on punishing unwanted behavior. We tend to be quiet when our kids are “behaving”, but that’s exactly when we should be catching them being good, and praising that behavior to make it happen more often.

Managing Behavior – Consequences – Part 2

In our last post, we continued the discussion of the ABC’s of behavior management, focusing on the C’s, Consequences.

As a reminder, consequences simply put, are what happen following behaviors in our ABC model. We started with the consequence of reinforcement which occurs following a behavior that increases the likelihood that the behavior will occur again. We also discussed positive and negative reinforcement. You can review that post here to get more information and clarification on reinforcement. Now, we’re going to turn to another broad category of consequences: Punishment.

**One note, however: you’ll notice a mirroring in language between the previous post on reinforcement and this post dealing with punishment. It’s on purpose to illustrate and highlight the elements of positive and negative as related to consequences.**


Punishment is a consequence that decreases the likelihood that a behavior will occur again. It is also straightforward like reinforcement. It’s important to note that like reinforcement, punishment doesn’t guarantee that the behavior will decrease, but that there’s a good chance that the behavior will decrease following the use of a punisher. Also, it’s important to know that what is punishing is often different for different individuals…there are some general tendencies, but it still comes down to each individual.

There are two types of punishment, and the terminology used is often more confusing for parents and professionals than is reinforcement. There is positive punishment and negative punishment, and since this piece is being written with parents in mind, I’m going to use a little latitude and change these terms to be more descriptive.

Let’s consider positive punishment as additive, and negative punishment as subtractive. Notice that positive does not mean good and negative does not mean bad; these are very common misconceptions. So, what do I mean by those terms?

–Positive (Additive) Punishment

When we add something following the occurrence of a behavior (or misbehavior), it is called positive, so this is why I’m using the term additive. If my child leaves his or her dirty clothes on the floor, and I say “I’m disappointed that you left your dirty clothes on the floor”, I have added something following the occurrence of the behavior. In this instance, this is a very simple verbal reprimand, and, in general, reprimands decrease behavior; I’m decreasing the likelihood that the behavior of leaving the dirty clothes on the floor will occur again. Some folks may argue that the reprimand that I reference isn’t really a reprimand, but they would be incorrect; for some kids, this is a significant reprimand. However, many people think a five minute lecture would be considered more of a verbal reprimand, and I’d say maybe…it depends on the child, but it could also turn into white noise to the child much like Charlie Brown’s teacher from the Peanuts comic strip/cartoon and lose its punishing effectiveness. The punishment must also occur very soon after the unwanted behavior for it to be effective; immediately if possible.

Another form of positive (additive) punishment is spanking. At this point, I’m not going to go into the pros and cons of whether to use spanking, but spanking is often used, so we need to illustrate it in context. When a child is swatted on the bottom for a misbehavior, we obviously are adding something – the swat – with the intent of decreasing the likelihood that the behavior will occur again. Sometimes I talk with parents who have used spanking (positive punishment) in an attempt to increase a behavior. For example, the child didn’t feed the dog, so the parent spanked the child with the intent of increasing the chance that the child will feed the dog next time. Punishment, as we now know, by definition, decreases behavior, so the parent, in this case, has made the likelihood that the child will feed the dog next time lower. That is exactly opposite of what the parent hoped or hopes to accomplish. And this can lead to a negative cycle that parents fall into because they don’t quite understand how reinforcement and punishment work.

There are also a set of expectations that need to be in place before these consequences are used; more on this later.

As is the case with reinforcement, punishment is also a factor with adult behaviors…we’re still sticking with the kids though.

I’ll reiterate from earlier, the use of punishment, does not guarantee that the behavior will decrease, but there’s a better chance that the behavior will decrease.

–Negative (Subtractive) Punishment

When we remove or subtract something following a behavior, it is called negative, and this is why I’m using the term subtractive. Negative punishment therefore is subtracting something that is reinforcing to decrease the likelihood that the behavior will occur again. One of the most common and easily understood examples of negative punishment is the use of time-outs. A time-out is the removal of something that is otherwise reinforcing; something that the child wants. Now that screens are fairly common (cell phones, tablets, TVs, video games, etc.) and very much wanted by kids, they also become useful for parents in a discipline plan, especially in the use of negative (subtractive) punishment. When the child misbehaves, say talks back to a parent, or hits a sibling, the child can be put in time-out away from the reinforcer (the screen) or the screen can be put in time-out for a set amount of time. The misbehaviors of talking back or hitting, in this example, will likely decrease by taking away the reinforcer briefly. The child talks back, the screen is removed, and the talking back is likely to decrease in the future. Again, the negative punishment (time-out) must occur soon after the misbehavior for it to have an effect and they must be connected – “you hit your brother, your screen is in time-out”.

While we’re on time-outs, parents and teachers often use time-outs that are far too long and lose their effectiveness. As a general rule-of-thumb, time-outs should last about a minute per year of age, so an eight-year-old’s time-out should last about eight (8) minutes; that’s all. If the time-out lasts too long, the child will have forgotten why the whole thing got started in the first place – their attention spans aren’t that long to begin with, and they are already thinking about something else if you go much longer.

As promised, let’s now turn to a couple of terms I hear from parents that often cause some problems in day-to-day behavior management; expectations (what we, as parents, expect our kids to do, should do, or be able to do), and bribery. Those two topics require more explanation. Let’s look more in depth at those in the next post.

If you need more help with behavioral techniques, please contact us at 865-974-6395 or

Managing Behavior – Consequences – Part I




In our previous post, we discussed the ABC’s of behavior management, with more focus on the A’s, Antecedents, and B’s, Behaviors. Let’s now turn to the ever confusing C’s, Consequences.

First, what is a consequence? When we hear the word consequence, we almost always think of something bad – when we work with parents, we often find ourselves having to re-define the word. Consequences simply put, are what happen following behaviors in our ABC model. They can be good or bad or somewhere in between, but they must follow a behavior. The confusion becomes even more pronounced when we start adding in other complicating words like reinforcement and punishment. When we throw words, such as positive and negative into them mix, it becomes even more confusing. Let’s try to tease these apart a bit and begin with the consequence of reinforcement.


Reinforcement is a consequence that increases the likelihood that a behavior will occur again. Simple as that. It’s important to note that reinforcement doesn’t guarantee that the behavior will occur again, but that there’s a good chance that the behavior will occur again. Also, it’s important to know that what is reinforcing is often different for different individuals…there are some general tendencies, but it still comes down to each individual.

There are two types of reinforcement, and the terminology used is often very confusing for parents (it’s often very confusing for some professionals too). There is positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement, and since this piece is being written with parents in mind, I’m going to use a little latitude and change these terms to be more descriptive.

Let’s consider positive reinforcement as additive, and negative reinforcement as subtractive. Notice that positive does not mean good and negative does not mean bad; these are very common misconceptions. So, what do I mean by those terms?

–Positive (Additive) Reinforcement

When we add something following the occurrence of a behavior, it is called positive, so this is why I’m using the term additive. If my child picks up his or her dirty clothes, and I say “thank you for picking up your dirty clothes”, I have added something following the occurrence of the behavior. In this instance, this is verbal praise, and, in general, verbal praise is reinforcing for many kids (but not all). By adding the verbal praise following the behavior, I’m increasing the likelihood that the behavior of picking up the dirty clothes will occur again. The reinforcement must also occur very soon after the desired behavior for it to be effective; immediately if possible.

As another example, your child brushes her teeth, and when she finishes, you give her a sticker for her to put on a sticker chart. We know, ahead of time, that our child likes stickers. We’re adding something, in this case, stickers, following the brushing teeth behavior to increase the chance that she will brush her teeth again. Our ultimate goal here may be for her to brush her teeth twice a day without reminders, and we are using positive reinforcement to help her reach that goal.

Reinforcement is also a factor with adult behaviors, but for simplicity, we’ll just deal with parents and kids for now.

I’ll reiterate from earlier, the use of reinforcement, does not guarantee that the behavior will occur again, but there’s a better chance that it will.

–Negative (Subtractive) Reinforcement

When we remove or subtract something following a behavior, it is called negative, and this is why I’m using the term subtractive. Negative reinforcement therefore is subtracting something to increase the likelihood that the behavior will occur again. One of the most common and easily understood examples of negative reinforcement occurs with seatbelt use. When we buckle our seatbelt, that annoying ringing or tone that we hear in our cars stops. The behavior of buckling the seatbelt increases by taking away the annoying sound. We buckle, and the sound is removed.

Another very common example has to do with nagging. Our children will empty the dishwasher to remove the nagging that is occurring (nagging is also annoying just like the tone in the car). Nagging increases the likelihood that the behavior of emptying the dishwasher will occur. The child empties the dishwasher, the nagging is removed. This is negative (subtractive) reinforcement; removing something to increase the likelihood of a behavior occurring again. However, it should also be noted here that there are side effects with the use of nagging–it sets up a separate behavioral cycle in the parents that is not good for communication in general, and we encourage parents to avoid the use of nagging.

There are two other topics that often come up here that I’ll discuss in later posts; expectations (what we, as parents, expect our kids to do, should do, or be able to do), and then there’s bribery. Those two topics require more explanation. In reference to expectations, we are not talking about expectations as goals. These types of expectations can be problematic. On the other hand, bribery is just misunderstood as it relates to reinforcement…they are not the same thing.

Next up, however, is punishment…

Blackboard with ABC and a book

Managing Behavior – Where to Start

Do you know your ABCs?

Most kids learn their ABCs at a very early age, but those aren’t the same ABCs that we’re talking about here. For any parent who wants a better approach to managing their kids’ behavior, they have to learn the ABCs of behavior. The ABCs of behavior are the (A)ntecedents, (B)ehaviors, and (C)onsequences. These are basic building blocks for understanding and managing behaviors, be you a parent or a teacher.


Let’s start with the easy piece. Behaviors are simply actions, and some of these actions parents wish to increase and some actions parents wish to decrease. That’s where the Antecedents and Consequences come in; those are the general mechanisms that parents can use or modify to try to change a child’s behavior. Many parents have a working knowledge of Consequences (most think of consequences as only negative, but we’ll see there’s a lot more to it than that), however, they often overlook the effect of or helpfulness of the Antecedents.


So, first things first. Antecedents occur prior to a behavior, and most of the time we, as parents, don’t recognize the importance of that piece. Antecedents can be many things, but common ones that parents do recognize is asking your child to complete a task (pick up your dirty clothes), or maybe start an activity (time for bed), another antecedent could be entering the check-out lane (lots of cool stuff there) – there are many, many others though. Some are helpful while some guarantee a bad outcome; let’s take a look:

-Prepare for Transitions: It’s often very helpful to provide your child with a countdown of upcoming transitions. If, for example, you want your child to start her homework, it’s better to give a bit of time to get ready for the transition. It’s better to give her a 10-minute transition warning than to just tell her it’s time to do her homework.  You are more likely to get compliance and a smoother transition when you prepare the child to switch tasks. You can give her another warning of transition closer to time, and then transition on time. Be consistent in transitioning on time.

-Manage the Environment: If you are trying to have your child do something that requires focus and attention, it’s a good idea to remove distractions from the environment. Distractions vary child to child, but screens (TV, video games, phones, etc.) seem to be pretty consistently distracting, so if it’s time for homework, it’s a good idea to either remove the distractions or remove the child from the room that has the distractions. Kids diagnosed with ADHD, or those who have problems with attention and focus, almost always require parents to be in close proximity for a longer period of development. This is often quite frustrating for parents, but necessary to help the child maintain her or his task focus.


Consequences are what immediately follow behaviors and determine the likelihood that those behaviors will either be continued, repeated, increased, decreased, or whether they disappear all together. We get a little bit confusing when we start throwing phrases around like positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment (doesn’t mean it’s good), and negative punishment (doesn’t mean it’s bad).

In later posts, we’ll visit all these concepts in more detail. If you’re having significant problems and need help sooner, feel free to contact us though.

New Autism Support Services Program to Launch 2017!

The Postsecondary Autism Support Services (PASS) Program will be accepting new students starting for Fall 2017. This program is for currently enrolled degree-seeking students at the University of Tennessee and/or admitted students who will begin next fall. Applications will be available November 1, 2016 to start Fall 2017. For more information please follow the link on the menu to the left or email us at

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KORN Center to Expand Services

The Korn Learning, Assessment, and Social Skills (KLASS) Center has expanded its services. Now available are consultation sessions for children with behavioral difficulties and psychoeducational evaluations for dyslexia.  Families who struggle with behavioral difficulties may now meet weekly with a clinician to develop effective strategies.

Read more about the KLASS Center and the services they are adding for individuals who have learning, behavioral, or social skill difficulties in this TN Today article.

You may also learn about the KLASS Center as featured in this WVLT Local 8 article.

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