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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?


Testimonials

  • Busy boys – do they have ‘ADHD’?

                                                                                               

     

    It’s come to my attention that quite a few very young boys are being described as ‘ADHD’ or hyperactive.  They seem to be regarded as being overly ‘busy’, mainly by their preschool teachers. Are we forgetting that most young children are highly active, energetic and generally spend much time ‘on the move’?  My long years of experience have shown that highly active young boys generally settle down as they grow, perform well at school and fail to develop any attention or other learning related problems.

    So why are teachers sometimes labelling youngsters incorrectly?  Perhaps we need to consider how they come to this decision and consider what other aspects may be contributing to the children’s inattentive behaviours. 

    A child who fails to concentrate in one situation is in danger of being seen as a child who can’t concentrate in any situation. If a child doesn’t sit still he is in danger of being called hyperactive. His parents might be panicked into believing hyperactivity and poor concentration are permanent conditions which will need specialist treatment, including medication.

    Highly mobile youngsters may show a disinclination to sit down and engage in table tasks.  Their preference will be for outdoor play, usually very physical.  Or others may seem to dislike concentrating on teaching materials, rejecting colouring-in, crafts, puzzles and so on.  They prefer any number of other games or activities that are enjoyed at home.    Boys in particular need to be physically engaged and take much longer to adapt to more sedentary tasks.  They may not want to concentrate on the teaching events, listen to stories sitting quietly in a circle, or follow the teacher’s instructions.

    Check his concentration

    You can check whether your child can concentrate by giving him something to do which he enjoys doing, and which takes concentration.  If your child can pay attention to the activity for at least five minutes you will know he can concentrate (and sit still).  It’s important to emphasise that if someone can concentrate in one situation, then the problem is not an inability to concentrate. If your child’s attention wanders before the five minutes have passed, maybe he does need your help.  The nature of the help will depend on your assessment of the situation so let’s consider some relevant points.

    1. Have realistic expectations.Some children seem to be able to concentrate better than others.  If you compare one child to others, you may be unrealistic in terms of what he can and can’t do.  Instead, compare what your child is doing this week with what he was doing last week; how he behaved when he went to bed last night; how he played with other children at school compared with how he plays with them at home. When you focus on your individual child and notice changes in his behaviour, it helps avoid becoming trapped into thinking that your child has a problem simply because he’s different from others.
    2. Avoid using checklists.Checklists can convince you that your child has a serious problem because they can be so all inclusive that parents or teachers will find something on the list that applies to that child.  They make you feel they are describing unusual behavior but often they are only describing things that every child will do sometimes.  Checklists for ADHD can include the following questions 
    • Does your child forget instructions?
    • Does your child have a short temper?
    • Does your child fidget?
    • Does your child constantly ask questions?
    • Does your child leave his bedroom untidy?
    • Does your child produce messy work?

    Doesn’t this look like a list of the stages that all children go through and outgrow?

    1. Does your child know how to pay attention?Some children will seem to pay attention automatically.  However, every child learns differently and for some, the ability to attend doesn’t come naturally. They need help in learning to concentrate and the good news is that concentration can be taught. For children to learn concentration, they must be given responsibility, must feel that their contribution to family life matters and must have the chance gradually to develop the skills everyone needs in order to be able to function successfully.
    2. Does your child only pay attention when it suits him?The reason for this may be because what he should be doing is: too difficult, too boring, too tedious or not clearly understood.  The child will simply try to get out of something he doesn’t want to do or feels incapable of doing.  This avoidance behavior needs investigating and a good place to start is to find out whether or not he understands how to learn or how to approach the task given. If children are not expected to learn to do things at home, they may struggle to learn at school.  Setting the dining table is a good example of an age-appropriate task that can be used to teach a young child to learn.  It’s a simple everyday activity but it needs a system. While busy, your child will have to keep thinking until the job is done.   Having chores to do at home are good learning opportunities that have unexpected spin-offs!

    What to do?

    If reports from school concern you, don’t ignore them but don’t overreact either. First do your own assessment of the situation and then, if need be, find a helping professional that will look holistically at the situation.   While most of the younger boys suspected of having ‘ADHD’ will not need intervention, some might well benefit from help.  Unusual behaviours can have many different causes – which is why ILT practitioners are taught to consider all possibilities. 

     

  • Parents – trust your instincts

     

    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.

  • Baby-led weaning or spoon feeding? The difference it makes to your child’s eating habits is actually very small

    This article appeared in a Science newsletter on April 2nd2019.  We thought it might be of interest as so many children these days present as ‘picky’ eaters who are difficult to feed.

    It was written by Sophia Komninou, The Conversation

    When it comes to avoiding picky eating and meal time tantrums, parents are usually ready to try any method that promises their child will become a better and less fussy eater. This is in part why methods of giving solid food to infants have received a lot of attention in the last few years. Some think that the way babies are introduced to solids can change their attitudes to food into childhood or even for life.

    The most common method used to give babies their first solids has long been to offer a puree or mash using a spoon. This helps parents make sure their babies receive adequate energy and nutrients for their development – something many are often anxious over.

    More recently, however, baby-led weaning has gained popularity – and divided parents. This method sees babies selecting finger foods – such as carrot sticks, broccoli trees or other pieces of whole, baby-fist size pieces of food – and feedingthemselves. While there have been unsubstantiated claims that this method can improve a baby’s dexterity and confidence, research has associated baby-led weaning with their ability to recognise when they are full and being less fussy with their food. This makes it an appealing choice for some parents.

    However, as with most things baby-related, the reality is that many parents don’t use just one method of feeding. It changes depending on the time, day or situation they are in. Which is why, for our recently published study, we wanted to compare how different styles of feeding affects a baby’s eating habits and attitudes to food.

    Is baby-led weaning better?

    We looked at four different categories of toddlers, whose parents introduced them to solids using either: solely baby-led weaning, mostly baby-led weaning with occasional spoon feeding, mostly spoon feeding with occasional finger foods, or just spoon feeding. We asked the parents questions about their feeding strategies and eating behaviours of their toddlers, like fussiness and food enjoyment. 

    Usually, in a statistical analysis, we look at whether there is a difference between groups. But what this doesn’t tell us is how big the difference actually is. To solve this problem, we looked at the size of the difference between the groups (what we call the effect size). It helps us understand whether the difference actually matters. 

    We found that the magnitude of difference in a toddler’s fussiness and food enjoyment is minimal across the four groups. This means that baby-led weaning, spoon-feeding or anything in between might not actually be the solution to future mealtime battlegrounds some parents hope it will be. That may seem to be in contrast with what the research shows so far, but it doesn’t negate those findings. Babies will be less picky about their food if they are fed using baby-led weaning as opposed to any of the other types of feeding, it’s just not by that much.

    Socio-economics at play

    When looking at the strategies parents use to feed their children, our study did show that those who follow baby-led weaning are less likely to use food as a reward or encouragement, and have less control on eating overall. This helps their toddlers learn to make eating decisions for themselves based on whether they are hungry or full. These parents are also more likely to breastfeed for longer, introduce solids after six months and eat more frequently with their toddlers.

    However, the key difference here is not that the children were fed using baby-led weaning but instead the type of families who usually follow it. Our findings show that these parents are usually of a higher socio-economic status and more educated, which makes them more likely to follow a distinctly different parenting style and be able to afford to spend more time and money doing so.

    Overall, our results suggest that the way a baby is introduced to solids will make very little difference to how fussy they will become, or how much they will enjoy food. It is important to remember that how children eat depend on a lot of factors, including their genetic background, their past experiences with food and their interaction with their parents.

    Research findings are important when communicating complementary feeding advice to new parents, but headlines and quoted study results can often be misleading. So remember that when reports of research say there is a difference between one method over another, it’s not the whole story. The size of this difference – something that is not often communicated – matters too. The most important thing that parents can do is to try their best and introduce solids in a way that is more appropriate for their family, rather than stressing about a specific method, as research suggests might make a only a very small difference.

     

     

  • How does parenting style affect a child’s developing personality?

    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.’

     

  • Children can’t pay attention? Get them moving!

     

     

    There is a reason why some children are so restless in class.  They are showing a need to move.   While this need may be rooted in some irregularities in the functioning of their nervous systems, it may also be a sign that they need to move in order to focus better on their teacher and schoolwork.  What is this connection between moving and attention?

     There isn’t any single part of the brain that controls our attention. Instead, attention happens as a result of a web of neural connections that transports signals throughout the brain to wake it up and cue our attention.  There is a lot of overlap between consciousness (i.e. being awake), paying attention and movement.

     The neural pathways that enable us to pay attention are regulated by two neurotransmitters: norephinephrine and dopamine.  These are the chemicals targeted by ADHD medications, which stimulate the release of more chemicals being released into the brain synapses.   According to Dr John Ratey[1]the problem for people with attentional challenges (‘ADHD’) is that their attention system is patchy, discontinuous, fragmented and uncoordinated.  The reason might be that the neurotransmitters responsible for efficient transport of impulses through the attention circuits are dysfunctional. Another reason is that there can be irregular functioning in any one of the brain areas that form part of the attention circuits.  The trouble with the medications is that they are mind-altering drugs with as yet unknown long-term effects and some serious side-effects.  Don’t we have an alternative?

     ILT tries to identify the problematic areas and work on enhancing their functionality but before this, it may help to understand why movement seems to help children.

     The attention system ties in with movement and thus exercise: the areas of the brain that control physical movement also coordinate the flow of information.  One important area of the brain that does this is the cerebellum.  This vital brain area regulates certain brain systems so they run smoothly, updating and managing the flow of information to keep it moving seamlessly.  In children who struggle to pay attention, parts of the cerebellum can be smaller or not functioning properly so it makes sense that this could cause disjointed attention. 

     Leading from the cerebellum are neural pathways conducting impulses to the higher level centres for thinking and movement.  Along the route, these pass through the basal ganglia, which acts like a gearbox, shifting attention resources as the higher brain demands. This brain area needs dopamine to function. If there isn’t enough dopamine, attention can’t easily be shifted (i.e. sluggish attention) or can only be shifted all the way into high gear (i.e. overfocus).

     We all know about Parkinson’s disease. This condition is caused by too little dopamine in this brain area and leads to the person’s inability to coordinate not only motor movements but also complex cognitive tasks. Significantly, neurologists are now recommending daily exercise in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease to stave off symptoms.

     In the same way, exercise can help to regulate the attention system and it does this by increasing the production of neurotransmitters. With regular exercise, we can raise the baseline levels of dopamine and norephinephrine and the result is immediate.

     So let’s rethink the schools’ curriculum which demands long periods of sitting still in classrooms.  Some young children have only a single 15 minute break in their school day, which is hardly long enough to eat a snack and engage in sufficient exercise.  Teachers could benefit quite markedly if they were encouraged to allow children little episodes of movement during lessons.  I firmly believe that they would be able to get through more of the learning content as a result, without having to constantly call children to attention, repeat instructions and generally waste time through managing restless youngsters.

     At home make sure children have plenty of opportunity to move and engage in exercise that raises their heartrate.  Doing some really energetic movements before homework time, for example, might make it easier for them to focus when having to sit at a desk and work.

     Rather than giving children psychotropic drugs, just imagine if we could put exercise in capsules and hand these out during the day!

     

    [1]Dr John Ratey, author of ‘Spark – The revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain’

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