What is ILT?
If you are reading this, the chances are that you have a child who is struggling at school. Maybe he or she is finding it difficult to master skills such as reading, writing, maths or spelling. Maybe he or she can do all these things but comes home with reports about unfinished work, or work left at home.
The teacher complains about her being disorganised, untidy or even aggressive towards other children. Or maybe she is described as being unfocused and a daydreamer who never seems to listen. And maybe you agree with the teacher because you see the same behaviour at home.
Labels such as ADHD, Dyslexia, Auditory Processing Problems, Sensory Processing Disorder are mentioned. What’s going on?
It’s the end of another term and with that comes the report from school. Now, as parents, you have to read what one or more other human beings think of your child. This can be a pleasure but can also cause confusion and even concern. How seriously should you take the schools’ verdict on your child’s performance, behaviour, growing personality and abilities?
Obviously teachers are trained professionals and can be very helpful in identifying areas needing help or areas of great potential. But as a parent, you are equipped with knowledge and understanding of your child that no other person can hope to equal. For this reason, my message today is that you should learn to trust in your ‘gut feelings’ concerning your child – especially if they conflict with the opinions of others.
Over many years of dealing with families whose children show one or other need, I’ve come to value the opinions of parents. Very often conversations with them are prefaced with “I’m only his/her parent so I’m probably wrong, but ……”. Then the parent goes on to present me with a description of the child that, after thorough evaluation, is found to be highly accurate and insightful, but sometimes contradicts the teacher’s findings.
I’ve known many parents who instinctively felt that their child wasn’t really ready to learn, yet felt intimidated enough by officialdom to send them into formal schooling. Sometime down the line, they are referred for help with problems caused not by any lack of intelligence but instead a slower rate of neurodevelopment. Others may instinctively know that their young child is ready for school but are told to keep them back. These children may end up being frustrated and bored at school and have to possibly take the unwise step in being accelerated into a higher grade somewhere along the line.
This doesn’t mean that parents don’t ever make mistakes. Plenty of parents are guilty of pushing their children too fast and too far before they are ready; they are over-ambitious for children to succeed; some neglect children unintentionally due to work and lifestyle pressures, some refuse to recognise a needy area in the child, and so on. That, however, is not the message intended here.
I could write screeds about the occasions when parents were spot on in their analysis of the causes of their child’s behaviour, in contrast with that of the school. I recall a parent desperately sharing her feeling that her young son’s undesirable, hyperactive, non-compliant behaviour during the Grade 0 school day was due to his disinterest in classroom events. This was not accepted by the teacher, who saw the symptoms as being signs of anti-social tendencies, mental disorders, impulsivity, disobedience and more. The mother persevered with her belief and did not seek any intervention. The following year saw a drastic change in behaviour and when challenged, the youngster offered, “School is better now. We’re learning proper stuff.”
Something else to be taken into consideration is that what you want to teach your child is not necessarily what others want to teach theirs. What your child needs to be taught depends on the society into which he is being raised and in which he will have to cope. That means that others may not understand the culture of your family and have unrealistic expectations of your child – and your way of raising him.
When you feel that something is not right with your child, with the school situation, with health issues, with friendships, you don’t need to apologise for being ‘only’ a parent. You don’t always need to rush off for professional confirmation or intervention. It is helpful to have an impartial outsider confirm your beliefs and in some cases might be wise, but this isn’t always essential. The chances are that you’ll have your child’s best interests at heart and your decisions and actions will be based on the most intimate and complete knowledge of the child possible. Added to that, you know the child’s origins – you understand the gene pool that created him or her. Trust your feelings.
Food allergies, sensitivities or intolerances can play havoc with a child’s ability to benefit from teaching. Before we go into this, let’s clarify what causes food (and environmental) allergies and sensitivities.
Genetics seems to be an important factor in the risk of developing allergies. It seems that children with (true) ADHD who have food allergies are also likely to have parents with similar problems.
Nutritional factors are also significant for the development and severity of all forms of allergy. When a child has less than adequate nutrition, his immune system cannot function as it should and is more likely to misfire when faced with various stressful elements in the digestive system. For example, children with deficiencies of omega-3 are more likely to suffer allergies; deficiencies in magnesium and zinc are also know to promote allergic responses. The overall quality of the diet may also play an important role. Too much processed, stale, chemically altered or nutritionally depleted foods may well promote an allergy.
Another factor is toxicological stress. Children who are regularly exposed to pesticides that are toxic to the immune system, heavy metals (lead, mercury, cadmium), plastic residues and solvents may be more prone to allergies.
Developmental markers may also play a role. Breastfeeding may significantly reduce the risk of later developing food allergies. Ideally, babies should be breast fed exclusively until at least six months of age – longer if possible. The reason for this is that a young infant’s gut is naturally leaky and for a good reason. Large molecules, for example the antibodies in the mother’s milk, can cross through the gaps to enter the baby’s bloodstream to protect her from infection while her immune system is still immature. This is a vulnerable time and if other molecules enter the blood, the developing immune system may see them as threatening and becomes non-tolerant of them. This is exactly why mothers are encouraged to not only breastfeed but to carefully and slowly introduce solid foods one food at a time, starting with foods least likely to generate an allergic response. This ‘educates’ the baby’s immune system and helps the body develop a tolerance towards each food as it is introduced.
Intestinal parasites are worth a mention as well as they may also cause upsets in the digestive system and underlie the emergence of allergies. For this reason, regular treatment is advised for the whole family and not just for the fur children!
Non-food allergies such as hay fever can raise the severity of food allergies. If these types of allergies are particularly active in some months of the year, such as Spring, pre-existing food allergies may become more predominate at the same time.
When the immune system is not involved in a child’s reaction to foods, we refer to them as having a food intolerance. Knowing the difference is important because it will impact on the success of treatment. The most frequent reason behind food intolerance is inadequate digestion of particular nutrients. Lactose, or milk sugar, is probably the most common example of an intolerance due to digestive difficulties.
Take a long, serious look at your child. Sometimes allergies and food intolerances show up in his or her physical appearance. Some children can show a characteristic ‘spaced out’ or even an almost ‘demonic’ look when they suddenly become impossible. These looks can sometimes be accompanied by sounds such as throat clearing or clucking. This last noise is typical of a dairy or milk sensitivity. Some slur their words or begin to speak very rapidly. A few children whine or repeat the same phrase over and over. In addition, they may develop a hoarse voice or red ears or cheeks after exposure to a certain food or chemical.
Other signs include dark rings under the eyes, which can be grey, black, blue and even reddish. Nose rubbing, skin-scratching, wriggly lets, small horizontal wrinkles under the eyes and facial twitches and tics are very common in some children.
Abnormally rosy cheeks are particularly characteristic of allergic children between the ages of two and four years (and of adult women who have multiple food or chemical allergies).
Some children show hives, which look like mosquito bites or more generalized rashes.
And lastly, a bloated or abnormally large abdomen may also be a sign of problems – not always of a food allergy or intolerance but possibly of a yeast infection or parasites in the gut.
Next week we’ll continue this theme and describe the behaviours that so often accompany food intolerances – and are mistakenly thought to be ADHD, oppositional or even defiant behaviour caused by mental disorders.
Parents and teachers alike will agree that children who struggle at school usually feel bad about their academic abilities. Most of them will certainly have some emotional problem related to the learning difficulty.
While this is probably considered to be a ‘known fact’ amongst educators, another fact, gleaned from practical experience, is that the priority seems to be on the diagnosis and remediation of the learning difficulty or disability. The need to address the emotional aspects takes a backseat.
The way emotions and learning difficulties or disabilities interact is a complex subject and not always easy to unravel. Essentially, there are some guidelines to keep in mind:
- Emotional distress may be caused by learning difficulties.Learners who fail to thrive at school may suffer from anxiety, depression, loneliness and low self-esteem – especially regarding their academic abilities
- Learning difficulties may aggravate social and emotional functioning.If a child struggles with mental processing that is severe enough to cause a learning problem, they may experience problems in nonacademic areas as well. This typically shows itself in behaviours that don’t conform to the child’s social environment. The result is escalating emotional concerns such as feelings of being misunderstood, sadness and anxiety – all on which may already be present because of the learning problem.
- Emotional issues can disguise a child’s learning disability. This may happen if the child resorts to defiant behaviours such as ‘acting-out,’ distracting behaviours such as being the ‘class clown’ or complaints about physical ailments.Adults’ focus might be on the undesired actions and the learning difficulty could be overlooked.
- Emotional issues may aggravate learning difficulties.Constant failure to succeed at school may lead to stress or feelings of inferiority which can intensify the learning problem. A child who, for example, consistently struggles with certain academic tasks may decrease the child’s ability to pay attention and concentrate on the work.
- On the other hand, a child with learning difficulties who enjoys good emotional health may find it easier to cope with challenges. This can enhance school performance.
This last finding emphasises the importance of ensuring that children with a learning difficulty or disability are well supported emotionally and socially. On the positive side, parents and teachers usually do try to understand the complexities of the interaction between emotional functioning and learning difficulties. Most do try to ensure that the help the child receives is not limited to academic remediation.
Content for this post was based on an article entitled ‘Understanding children’s hearts and minds: Emotional functioning and learning disabilities’ written by Jean Cheng Gormon and available at: www.idonline.org/article/626292/?theme=print.
Children aren’t born with fully developed personalities. They do show an emerging personality by the age of 4 years and this continues to develop throughout their growing years. At birth, however, they possess the raw material of personality, called a temperament. This will become moulded by their experiences in their families and the larger world (school and friends) into their eventual personality.
Most of us feel that children’s personalities can be shaped by either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ parenting. There are studies that show this to be only partly true. Not all children are affected in the same way by good or bad parenting. Some seem to be immune to bad parenting styles and behaviours, while others can be seriously harmed or helped by actions of their parents (or caregivers).
A study by a team at the University of Utrecht, published in Psychology Bulletinin August 2016 and written by Christian Jarrett at BPS Research Digest, looked to see how temperament was affected by parenting style and subsequently influenced personality development.
The idea was to see how ‘bad’ or ‘good’ parenting styles resulted in positive or negative behaviours in children, depending on four different aspects of temperament. The four temperament characteristics were: impulsivity; signs of early conscientiousness; negative emotionality (the tendency to experience predominantly unpleasant emotions – something displayed by AA Milne’s Eeyore character); and a hard to define combination of all three which could be called a ‘difficult temperament’ and shows up in behaviours like screaming in a shopping mall or other inappropriate place.
The study found that the children rated during their infancy with negative emotionality were the most affected by parenting style. These children are most susceptible to bad parenting and can be easily hurt by it. Good parenting, defined by warmth, how much parents made their children feel comfortable, accepted and approved of and loving control (guiding behaviour by helping children think through things and teaching them to behave responsibly rather than autocratic, harsh discipline) helped these children hugely.
Children with negative emotionality who are exposed to bad parenting can internalise behaviours in the form of anxiety, depression and self-harm, or externalise in the form of aggression, delinquency, drug abuse and so on. In contrast, susceptible children exposed to good parenting would externally show empathy, community involvement and positive feelings about other people. Internal effects would be succeeding at school, good language, reasoning, memory and other forms of intellectual development.
The researchers found that impulsivity and effortful control didn’t have much effect on whether children were negatively or positively affected by parenting styles. Interestingly, the negative emotionality that made children most susceptible to hurt by wrathful, neglectful parenting also allowed them to really be helped by kind, consistent parenting. The vulnerability cuts both ways. “The very quality that appears to be a frailty in children may also be their strength, given a supportive parenting context,” the authors write.
This study was based on a relatively small sample size so cannot be taken as absolute fact. It is nevertheless an interesting glimpse into the way in which parenting helps shape personality and certainly carries a valuable message into the best ways of helping children who during their infancy seem to have been born ‘difficult.’
This post contains an extract from Dr Don Blackerby’s ‘Rediscover the joy of learning’.
Dr Blackerby has a Neuro-Linguistic Programming background and works largely with children presenting with ADHD symptoms and other learning problems.
If you find yourself working with or helping children with learning difficulties, it is sometimes rewarding for you and them to intersperse the ILT programme with some useful learning strategies. If you like the extract given below, you might be interested in reading the rest of his book. Shirley has personally shared the spelling strategy with many children, and with great success! It is fun to see them succeed and show a spurt of confidence and self-esteem.
Often in school, learners are asked to remember some important information. This may be spelling words, vocabulary words, dates, names, etc. Too many times the learners flounder around trying very hard to memorise the information and yet when test time comes, they find that they cannot remember it. Many times this comes from the fact that they have no idea how their memory works or how to store and retrieve information in their brain. The following is one way that is useful – particularly in academic subjects.
In order for your memory to work for you and for you to trust your memory, you need to know the following:
- Where you are storing the information
- That you have the information well represented internally
- How to retrieve the information
Your choices of where to store information are limited to five well-known senses – visual, auditory, kinesthetic (touch and feeling), smell or taste. In school, for all practical purposes, you are limited to auditory, kinesthetic and/or visual.
The auditory field has a major limitation in that it is linear. That is, you can only consciously process one word at a time and it has to be in a particular order. It is, therefore, very slow. For many learners the auditory field is also very boring. The auditory field is very useful in singing, reciting and other subjects requiring auditory recall. In the academic subjects, it is most useful for retrieval purposes.
The kinesthetic field is very useful in sports, typing and other like typing ‘use the body’ subjects, but for most of the academic subjects it is difficult to store information in and it is also very slow.
While all three play an important part in memory, your visual field has many advantages. `it is the fastest. It is the most interesting to learners of today who were brought up on TV and other screens. You can store vast amounts of information in one picture and access any part of it instantly.
So, for academic subjects like spelling, vocabulary, history, maths, etc., the best field to store the information is in the visual field. That is, make internal pictures in your mind’s eye of whatever it is you are trying to remember. It may be the actual word or date or it may be a picture of the meaning of the word. Later we will cover how the auditory and kinesthetic fields can be very useful in the third point above – that is in how to retrieve information.
Now that we know to store the information in pictures, the question arises about the second point – how to know we have a good picture. The answer is easy but takes practice for some people. If you are trying to store a word, for example, you take a picture of what the word looks like. When you think you have a good clear picture in your mind’s eye, you spell the word backwards – from right to left. This is a check to see if you have a good picture because you can only smoothly spell the word backwards if you have a good picture.
Once you can do this, the question arises about how to retrieve it. Many tests in school are given auditorially – that is, the teacher asks the question or the learner reads the question by sounding out the words. Therefore, we want the sound of the words to ‘hook’ or bring up the picture of the information so the learner can answer the question off his or her internal picture.
This will happen if you connect the sound of the information to the internal picture. To do this, you simultaneously say the information while you hold the picture of the information in your mind’s eye. The fact that you are looking at the picture while saying the information logically connects the sound and the picture. A learner learning a spelling word, for example, needs to practice this sound and picture connection about 6 to 8 times, preferably over several days.
Developing a visual learning strategy
One of the most common problems that some learners have is the tendency to not make visual images of the words they hear. This creates several problems with these learners.
- They have to resort to a slower learning strategy such as auditory or kinesthetic. The visual strategy is significantly faster.
- For most academic subjects the auditory and kinesthetic strategies are inappropriate and even boring, so the learner who does not know how to make these images is forced to work longer and harder at a task that is boring and ineffective. Guess what this learner’s reaction will be when he is faced with the task of doing his homework or of paying attention in the classroom?
Why would the students not translate the words they read and hear into visual images? Obviously most of them don’t know they are supposed to do it! Learners sometimes show amazement and surprise at the idea that they could make up their own pictures for the words they were reading off the pages of their textbooks.
One of the causes of this seems to occur in the transition of the reading instruction from the early grades to the middle grades. In the early grades when a word is introduced to the learner, a picture of the object is displayed next to the word. The learner has a natural bridge from seeing and saying the word to having an internal image of the object. If the instruction also requests the learner to access an experience the learner has had relative to the object, then the word also has a bridge to the kinesthetic (having the learner find a use for the word or make up a sentence using the word can also create a kinesthetic experience for the learner).
This practice is fairly quickly discontinued, however, and the learners have to make up their own pictures. As learners get older and the words get more abstract, it becomes less natural and harder to do and nobody seems to inform them that they should make pictures of the material and some never get around to it.
Because of the way reading is taught in the grade schools, some learners learn to read by just saying the words, either externally or internally. They do not transform into either visual or kinesthetic unless they already have that accidentally installed in their heads by a personal experience. For example, a learner who is shown and handles a copy of the country’s Constitution will have a rich visual/auditory/kinesthetic representation of the word Constitution. When he reads that word in a history book, for example, the rich internal representation will be elicited. Obviously, the schools can’t rely on all learners having these kinds of experiences in all of the subjects they teach.
These rich internal representations can be deliberately internally generated by the learners and the schools need to teach how to do this to those learners who have not yet figured it out. In fact, one of the primary differences between the better learners and the struggling learners is this very ability
So, what do the learners do who haven’t yet learned to do this? Besides not doing their homework, or at least procrastinating on doing it, what kind of learning strategies do they come up with to attempt to do their homework? Well, some are very ingenious!
One well-meaning teenager complained that her studying took too long, much longer than her fellow students. It seemed to her that what the other learners could get accomplished in one hour, took her several hours to do, and it was getting worse with the passing years. This was a very conscientious student who wanted to succeed in school but was becoming very depressed by her lack of success and the downward trend of her marks. In fact, it was affecting her self-esteem and her attitude about school.
On looking at her reading strategy, it seemed that she used a very complicated auditory strategy. After she had read for a while (by sounding out the words internally) she would realise she did not know what she had read and go back and read it again – this time slower! After trying it a couple of times slower and slower, she would go back to each major word and auditorially insert the definition of the word in the sentence. Guess what that did to her reading speed?
The major words would be words for which she did not have a visual representation. In her case, because her parents had provided a rich background, she had some internal representations of abstract words but not all. She literally would have holes in her comprehension of what she was reading. That’s why she would go back and insert definitions of the major words. She would ultimately comprehend, but only after much effort and in a time consuming manner.
Another young man had much the same problem only he had not had the rich experiences the young lady had so he didn’t have holes in his comprehension, he just didn’t have any comprehension. He was also a dedicated student who spent all of his spare time studying. He was a seventh grade learner who stopped building his reading vocabulary (visual representation) when the schools stopped giving him pictures with words. As the words got more and more abstract, he got further and further behind because all he could do was slow down his reading and try again and again. The only words that elicited a visual representation in him were words that described objects or actions in his real world. This is quite a limitation in school.
So what can be done with these learners? Can they be taught to read and learn so that it is interesting? The answer is YES – and Don tells us to read on!
But first a summary:
To be able to visualize in rich detail, to be able to hold the image so steady you can copy off it, to be able to instantly access large amounts of information, is a skill so significantly valuable for succeeding in school. The learners who do it have an easier time and do far better in school then the students who don’t.
Back in the olden days (before television), children listened to stories told by their elders or on radio and they made up the pictures because they had to in order to really enjoy the story (sound effects also helped). Now with TV, the pictures are ready made. I haave had many students who do well in the classroom when the teacher visually presents the material and do poorly when the teacher does not. They simply did not know that they were supposed to make up their own pictures and the teachers did not know they were supposed to teach them to do it.
One last reason for teaching a visual learning strategy. Imagine having an audio tape of a class you were taking. You can remember the teacher talking about a particular topic, parts of which you could remember including the terms he used. If you wanted to access that information from the audio tape, you would have to do it in a linear fashion. That means you would have to play the tape from the first and listen to every word until you got to the terms you were listening for. That is time consuming. Now imagine that you have the lecture stored as a detailed photograph or picture. As soon as you say the word or term to yourself and picture what it would be like, you would have instant access to the part of the lecture you were looking for. That is what a visual learning strategy offers. The old cliché that a ‘picture is worth a thousand words’ is only a part of the power of the visual learning strategy. The fact that you have instant access to any part of the picture is what is really helpful to you as the student.
Applying this principl
Let’s see how a visual strategy can help when learning spelling words. Many learners are told to write the words five to ten times or to sound the words out phonetically. Sometimes
This works but many times it does not. Try this extremely effective strategy for learning spelling words in an easy and fun way.
All excellent spellers have one trait in common. They spell a word off of a very clear internal picture of the word. So the question is how do we teach other learners to do that? In order to help a child learn to spell using this new spelling strategy, it is important you lead her through these steps for each new spelling word:
- Have her write the word divided into syllables (e.g. Gau teng).
- Have her analyse the word by scrutinizing each syllable and discussing which one is likely to prove difficult to remember. With the example given, a child may well say that the sound of the letters ‘au’ in Gau may be mistaken as ‘ow’ and cause them to make a mistake.Becoming aware and cognitively processing this type of information helps memory and also keeps the child personally involved in the learning.
- Now she looks at the spelling word and REMEMBERS WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE.If the word is long, make a picture of each syllable and then put all the pictures together.
From from her internal image, have her spell the word BACKWORDS (from right to left) out loud to you. You check to make sure she spells it correctly. Have her do it several times.
- Once she can spell it backwards (and only then), have her sound the word out WHILE looking at the internal image of the word. This ‘hooks’ the sound of the word to the internal image of the word.
- Then have her spell it from left to right off the internal image.
- Praise her for her success and new skill.Go to the next spelling words and repeat the steps.
After the above strategy has been completed on each of the spelling words, practice by picking random words off the spelling list and have the learner spell them. After practicing a word six to eight times, the learner should be able to just say the word, see the internal image and spell it correctly, without having to spell it backwards. Practicing the spelling words over time (like a few days) will drop the correct spelling into long term memory.
Some additional tips and/or variations on using the spelling strategy are
- Get learners into a visualizing mode by having them imagine something very familiar such as a friend, grandparent, pet or movie star.
- Before you launch into this spelling strategy with new and difficulty words, teach them the strategy by spending one or two sessions having them learn to spell small and familiar words backwards. Gradually increase the size of the words until they are the same size and complexity as the words on their spelling list. Let them give you words to spell backwards so you can make it a game.
- Some variations on step 1 of the spelling strategy are:
- Have the learners look at the spelling word and write it down before they make an internal image
- Have the learners write the word in the air with their fingers on an imaginarty chalkboard
- While you slowly spell the word out loud, have the students ‘print it’ in their minds’ eye. You may have to repeat it several times.
- When the words start to get longer, have them break the words down into syllables or miniwords.
Remember that the reason you have the learner spell the word backwards is to assure yourself and her that she has a clear internal image of that word