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    Why is your bright child not coping at school?

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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

  • Helping babies build their brains

     

    In last week’s post, I wrote that a baby’s brain is very undeveloped at birth, owing to the relatively small size of a newborn’s head. In fact, the newly born child has all the brain cells (neurons) he will ever need but they aren’t able to communicate with each other very efficiently. 

     One of the most important developmental stages in these early days is for the infant to do what is necessary for these neurons to connect to each other. Eventually, he’ll end up with neural networks that are needed for learning and living.  These networks provide us with the ability to learn language, interpret sound and vision, control emotions, think and remember.  The quality of the brain cells themselves and the way they connect to each other will determine whether that individual grows up with an average or a really smart brain.

     Some of this will depend on the child’s genes but a great deal will depend on the environment you provide and in which the child will develop.  It’s not true that clever parents will automatically have clever children. Academic success and intelligence are hugely reliant on a growing environment that is characterized by lots of love, little stress, mental stimulation and a good diet.

     Mental stimulation is not provided by mindless facts. Many children can learn to count, recite the alphabet, give correct answers to learned questions and so on, but these don’t indicate a good brain.  Essentially, as Dr David Perlmutter points out in his book (see reference below), the goal of parent’s interactions with their young children should not be whatthe children learn but howthey learn it.   Stay away from activities that dull their brains, deaden their senses and put them at risk for later learning difficulties.

     It’s better for a developing brain to learn what letters and numbers represent rather than being able to spell or count.  In order for this to happen, they need to learn their shapes and understand that letters and numbers are symbols that carry meaning according to their shapes.

     It’s also important that the connections being made by the neurons are firmly cemented in place.  For this to happen, children need repetition of incoming mental stimulation.  Most seek this out automatically by insisting that parents reinforce learning.  Most of us know how a child will demand the same story over and over again, or be happy to watch the same film again and again. This is a good example of how children learn and how they strengthen the connections in their neural networks.

     Here’s one example of a brain-building activity given by Dr Perlmutter that will help the child to learn the meaning of numbers:

     For a child beginning at around age 12 months:  Find a puzzle containing pieces shaped from numbers 1 to 10.   Fitting the numbers into their correct places allows the child to experience the ‘feel’ qualities of numbers, which helps to ingrain the picture of the number into their brains.   You can enhance her experience by showing her what a particular number represents. For example, when she puts the number 2 into the correct place on the puzzle board, hand her two small balls and say “Two.”  Every time she puts back another puzzle piece, add balls to her collection until the puzzle is completed. This paves the way for early recognition of the symbolic nature of numbers.  This is far more beneficial than simply teaching the child to memorise counting from one to ten.

     Acknowledgement is given to Dr David Perlmutter who wrote the informative book Raise a smarter child by kindergarten: Build a better brain and increase IQ up to 30 points.Available from Amazon books.

  • Helping children develop good self-esteem

    Our sense of identity – meaning the knowledge of who we are – and liking who we are comes from all the people in our world.  We get to know ourselves at first from what others tell us.  If we sense we are liked and hear others say positive things about us, we start believing that we are worthy and feel good about ourselves.  The opposite, of course, is true too. If we hear time and again that we are not good or not coming up to expectations, we can’t develop positive opinions about ourselves and will feel bad about who we are.

    This all starts very early in life.  You might think a baby is too young to be taking anything in but it might surprise you to know how much an infant picks up from our behaviours and words.  All this is stored on an unconscious level and forms the foundation of a child’s belief about him or herself.  It also affects the child’s perception of the people in the world and whether or not the world itself is a good or bad place to be.

    Clearly the most important people are those on whom the child relies for nurturance. These are usually the parents but can obviously also be caregivers, grandparents, child-minders, babysitters and older siblings.

    Sometimes parents believe they should behave towards their children in the same manner their parents did and tend to revert to less than positive parenting.  It isn’t true that we have to repeat the mistakes of the past. Many of us might have faced negativity and lack of caring during our early childhood but we need to try to make changes to our thinking to ensure that our own children meet with a positive, loving approach.  A good self-esteem is truly a gift that we receive from others and can lay the foundation for later success in life.

    Essentially, there are three easy steps to follow that will help provide a positive environment for your child:

    • Practice being able to maintain positive facial expressions and body language. Children can read your face and will do so when they are looking at you.Make sure you smile a lot; make sure your expression is one of approval and love rather than censure.  Body language counts as well.  Hug your children; put an arm around your child; pat his or her head or shoulder, or physically draw the child towards you.  Negative body language consists of gestures that push your child away from you, or suggest withdrawal, like crossing your arms when facing the child, taking an angry, defiant stance, and pointing a finger. Shaking your fist at a child, tapping angrily on a table top or baring your teeth in anger will be perceived by a child as unloving and threatening.  Such a child will feel unloved and threatened.
    • Use a positive and loving tone of voice.We sometimes forget that rather than the content of our verbal message to a child, the tone of our voice conveys important messages too.  Harsh, irritated tones are negative and can often be accompanied by sarcasm and criticism.  If you aren’t sure, think of the tone of voice you use when speaking to your boss.  This is the same tone that you should use when speaking to your child. You shouldn’t be speaking in nicer tones to people you don’t know – your family needs the same courtesy.
    • Make positive statements or affirmations.Have you heard about a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’? It’s well known in education where children who are aware that their teachers approve of them tend to do better than their potential might suggest. On the other hand, bright children do less well than they should due to their lack of belief in themselves, mirrored in the attitudes of their educators.  So our children will become that which we expect of him or her; our child will achieve what we believe he or she is capable of doing or achieving.  In order for this to happen, we need to convey positive beliefs in the child.  “I know you can do it!” “You are wonderful!” “You are capable and smart!” “You can be anything you want to be!” “You are a winner” are examples of affirming language.

    Too often, when a child presents with a learning difficulty, we focus on prior teaching and send them for remedial help to catch up on missed steps in the learning process.  This is not often successful – or only partially.  Another factor that plays a huge role in preventing or causing learning problems is self-esteem.  A negative self-esteem plays havoc with a child’s ability to perform in school because he won’t have the confidence to do well and the belief that he is capable of doing well.  A good self-esteem makes us proud of ourselves and our achievements and develops a belief in our capacity to succeed.

     [1]Content summarized from the book “Solving your child’s reading problems” by Ricki Linksman. Published by MJF Books.

  • Omega-3 benefits learning: Fact or fiction?

     

     

    There’s quite a lot of hype going around about the miraculous effects an omega-3 supplement may have on a child’s ability to learn, attend and behave appropriately. There is no doubt that these oils are needed for building the brain in young children and having it function well throughout our lives. We know how the brain utilizes the oil so it seems logical that having too little may negatively affect the brain.  Yet the evidence for supplementation isn’t consistent. 

    For example, research from the University of Oxford in 2008 found that dietary supplementation with Omega-3 improved both reading progress and behaviour in children from the general school population who were struggling with reading.  Disappointingly, the same research team duplicated this study in 2018 and this time found no evidence that Omega-3 helped or improved the reading ability or memory of underperforming school children. The results were entirely different.

    Contradicting this recent finding are two further studies. One, published in 2016, was conducted by the University of Sweden and found that children with attention problems may be helped sin their reading with the addition of these fatty acids.  In particular, they found significant improvement in the children’s ability to read a nonsense word aloud and pronounce it correctly and read a series of letters quickly.

    The second study, reported in 2018 in the journal, Aggressive Behavior, found that children taking omega-3 over a year showed decreased psychological aggression and improved behaviour, effects that seemed to encourage less fighting and arguments between caregivers. This is the first to suggest that improving child behaviour through Omega-3 supplementation could have long-term benefits to the family system as a whole.

    It seems sensible to address this somewhat contentious issue with caution especially as good Omega-3 supplements are expensive. Certainly personal experience by ILT practitioners shows that some children benefit markedly by regular, long-term supplements of Omega-3 as well as eating more foods containing this oil. Others show less dramatic improvements.

    We cannot always blindly believe research studies but if your child shows unusual difficulty in learning, consider first whether or not she shows some signs of Omega-3 deficiency. These include:

    Dry skin

    Dandruff

    Frequent urination

    Irritability

    Soft, brittle or easily frayed nails

    Scaly, ‘crocodile’ skin

    Cracked skin on heels or fingertips

    Chicken skin bumps on backs of upper arms or thighs

    Dry, unmanageable hair

    Dry eyes

    Excessive thirst

    Tiredness, weakness, frequent infections, lowered immunity (always sick) and allergies.

    If you can’t afford supplements, encourage your child to eat cold water fish, such as snoek, pilchards, salmon, hake (but grilled or baked – not battered and deep-fried) and walnuts and pumpkin seeds. Flax seed oil is cheaper and not as strong-tasting as fish oil and can be hidden in smoothies, salad dressings, milk over cereals and so on.

    To conclude, don’t expect that your child’s problems will miraculously disappear once you start on an Omega-3 supplement. Give it at least 4 months before seeing results.  In addition, oil deficiency may not be the one underlying cause of the child’s challenges. There may be other areas needing intervention.  Try to have a comprehensive evaluation of all the factors that may be impacting on a learner’s ability to cope with the demands of school and life.

     

  • Some thoughts on sleep routines

    Is your child having trouble falling asleep?  This seems to be a common problem – especially around the ages of 10 – 14 and one that worries parents as we all know that children need to get a proper night’s sleep. 

    The literature available suggests that one of the more successful approaches to the problem is to ensure a bedtime routine.   This is especially effective if a child’s sleeping problems can be traced back to habits the child has developed that interfere with good sleep. 

    The first step would be to check to make sure your child’s routines are sleep-friendly. For example, one of the best ways to ensure healthy sleep is setting a consistent wake-up time and sticking to it. The wake-up time doesn’t have to be exactly the same time every day, but it should be within a two-hour window.

    Although it may seem helpful to let children sleep in on the weekends, it actually disrupts their internal clock. That makes it much tougher to get back into a weekday sleep routine on Monday. Sleep deprivation then gets worse during the week.

    Also, consider your children’s use of electronic devices before bedtime. Many tweens and teens have televisions and computers in their bedrooms. They keep their cellphones close by at all times. These devices can make it hard to disengage from stimulating activities.

    For the best sleep, children should turn off all electronic devices at least 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime. This gives the brain time to relax and wind down, making it easier to fall asleep. It is strongly recommend that computers and TVs be kept out of a child’s bedroom. It is best for cellphones to be shut down and stored in another room at night.

    Children should avoid any food or beverages that contain caffeine or sugar at least two to three hours before bedtime. Daily exercise and other physical activity can aid sleep. But have them finish those activities at least two hours before he goes to bed. Also, even if they are sleepy during the day, encourage them not to nap. Naps do more harm than good when it comes to getting good sleep because they often make falling asleep at night harder than ever.

    For some children, when they lie down at night worries and concerns creep into their minds, making it hard to relax and fall asleep. To help clear their minds, it may be useful for them to take a few minutes before bedtime to write down anything that’s on their minds or tasks they need to do. Once they are on paper, sometimes children are better able to let their concerns go and get to sleep more easily.

    Although it is not a common condition, another source of a child’s problem could be a sleep disorder related to the workings of his internal, or biological, clock. The most common such problem with tweens and teens is called delayed sleep phase syndrome. Children who have this sleep disorder are “night owls.” According to their internal clock, their day is longer than 24 hours. As a result, they tend to fall asleep at progressively later and later times each night and then have difficulty waking up in time to go to school.

    It is important for your child’s sleep problem to be addressed. Too little sleep can make it hard for a child to concentrate and pay attention at school. It can lead to mood swings and irritability, and can increase a child’s tendency to accidents.

    Try to first address any habits that may be interfering with your child’s sleep. If changes in bedtime habits don’t help, make an appointment to see a sleep specialist in case he or she has a sleep disorder.

    The content of this post was sourced from the Mayo Clinic. 

     

  • Why should some children repeat Grade R?

    Most pre-school children amaze us with their ability. Little Hanlie, at aged two, can name all the animals in her favourite picture book.  Hansie names most of the cars on the road before his third birthday and many four year olds are fascinated by dinosaurs and know their long, difficult names.

    Then they begin school and the wheels come off.  This can be devastating, especially if they have been encouraged to start school early because of their demonstrated intelligence. It is so important for families to know that even if their child has learned to read at a very early age, they may not be ready to learn.  Things may go well in the first year or so but slowly progress falls behind.  Very often parents come along (wisely) for a neurodevelopment evaluation and tell us that the child will be repeating Grade R because of emotional immaturity.  This is not entirely accurate.  Failing to cope with school has far more to do with brain maturity – what we call a state of learning readiness at school-going age.

    Brain age vs chronological age

    The trouble is that children are sent to school at an age determined by their birthday rather than by their stage of brain development. We are not robots, programmed to behave predictably.  We are human beings who have a very personal timetable of development.  Our brains are not ready to learn at a prescribed date but are subject to growth spurts that determine its level of functioning.  Strategies for teaching reading, for example, will be different for children who have not yet fully developed the connections between the two brain hemispheres.  Children may seem to be learning to read well but after Grade 3, begin to fail because they have relied on the look and see methods which is basically aimed at the right brain hemisphere.  This is too limiting and they may have to be taught all over again.

    Teachers are very well aware that boys are slower in brain development than girls.  We also know that there are more boys who experience learning and school-related behavior problems (e.g. hyperactivity) than girls.  The theory goes that, since boys’ brains develop more slowly, their brains remain longer in the very early brain stages, making them more vulnerable to viral damage or any slight accidents.

    A maturity lag can cause all kinds of problems.  If, for example, a child’s visual system is not fully developed, he might not be able to clearly differentiate letters.  This means that he may learn the word ‘d-o-g’ by recognizing the shape of the whole word, reinforced by having the word accompanied by many pictures.  But using pictures to remember individual words won’t help him when he has to do more advanced reading.  They don’t help him use letters to read other words.   These are ‘splinter skills’ that children develop that work well for a while but not in the higher grades.

    And in the higher grades, few realise that the child is having problems because he was never ready to read in the first place.

    It’s important to know a child’s stage of brain development

    It is so important to consider an assessment of brain development before deciding on school entry.  Far more important than school readiness is the knowledge that the child’s brain is ready to learn.

    For neurodevelopmental reasons, it is disturbing to consider the consequences for certain children following the government’s suggestion that no child will be held back in Grade R.  Sometimes it is necessary to do so.  To counter this, give careful thought to arranging to have your child assessed before school entry.  By assessment, we mean NOT school readiness, but learning readiness – which is not the same thing.

     

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