By Claire Harlin
Starting her career as a second grade teacher nearly three decades ago, Jodie Schuller learned that she had a passion for teaching but there was something about the literacy process that she didn’t fully understand, and she was driven to find out more.
While getting her master’s degree in communication disorders she started to understand that the feelings and behaviors kids have are often tied to their unnoticed weaknesses in comprehension and literacy. Getting into kids’ heads and understanding how social and educational problems start and progress, Schuller started to develop her own teaching methods and curriculum that would fix problems — sometimes even before they start.
“I tried these things on a client — and they worked,” said Schuller. “I kept doing the same thing and I got so busy that I needed help.”
Seeing these results, Schuller made it her mission to start a literacy program, and that’s how her business, Jodie K. Schuller and Associates, was born. Over the past 25 years, the Del Mar office has helped hundreds of kids who have come to her from as far as Mexico, and she has become so confident in her methods that she guarantees results in one semester.
“I tell people that if they can give me four months, I’ll give them a different child,” Schuller said.
A big connection that is often not made is the connection between reading comprehension and kids’ social lives.
“We always fully evaluate kids and I’ve never met a child that was great on the playground but not a great comprehender,” said Schuller. “A child may also be great with scenic but don’t give them a novel and expect them to know what the characters are feeling.”
Schuller said social problems, which often develop when a child first starts attending school, can often be prevented by making sure a child is comprehending reading — and even practicing healthy playing techniques —very early on. For example, a red flag for a toddler is when “cause and effect” playing, such as banging on objects or stacking blocks and repeatedly knocking them down, is not developing into “cooperative, imaginative, sequential play,” Schuller said.
“This would be like dressing a baby doll and putting it to sleep or driving a toy car along a path to arrive somewhere,” she said. This type of play is indicative that a child is understanding feelings of others, as well as “expected behaviors,” she said.
“Unexpected behaviors are what result in kids not treating each other well,” said speech and language pathologist Tessa Floodberg, who teaches a social thinking group. “A lot of kids only think about themselves, and it’s important they know how to understand and react to others.”
She said a lot of times kids will learn to read well, but they simply call out the words without understanding and interacting emotionally with the book.
“It’s these same kids who go out on the playground and have trouble comprehending the feelings of others, which leads to problems,” Floodberg said.
Further, a simple communication setback that manifests itself in a child’s social life can result in regression or evoke feelings that perpetuate the problem.
“If a kid’s not communicating, then the emotional and behavior problems from not being understood can result in feelings of self-worth or failure,” said Schuller. “Parents often have no idea it’s a speech and language problem.”
While Schuller and her team specialize in correcting problems related to more obvious issues, such as speech impediments, reading fluency and elimination of finger sucking, it’s the less obvious issues that can often be more detrimental and persist later in life, she said.
“Even phonemic awareness, the breaking down of words, develops in the preschool years but nobody who checks on that worries about it as long as a child is talking,” she said. “It’s an easy thing to miss, but without phonemic awareness, a child can encounter much difficulty later in school years, and prevention is much less expensive, quicker and easier than intervention.”
Schuller is available for more information at (858) 509-1131; www.speak4success.com. Her office is located at 2002 Jimmy Durante Blvd., Suite 304, Del Mar.