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?
Way, way back in 1996, a writer in an edition of Newsweekfocusing on Your Child’s Brainwrote “…. There is new evidence that certain kinds of intervention can reach even the older brain and like a microscopic screwdriver rewire broken circuits.” This was exciting news to those of us researching ways of helping children.
The brain has neurons – that we call ‘wires’ – and these neurons need to communicate with each other so that we can function. This means that there are umpteen billions of connections in the brain. It is rather remarkable that most of us manage to form these neurons and their connections without faults but we need to remember that there are many things that can go wrong with this process, known as ‘neurodevelopment.’
Thanks to research, we’ve had confirmation that things suspected through observation and experience are facts. We now know that by carefully watching how a child moves and what a child needs to do to meet an expectation from school or his home, we can get an idea of where in the brain the problem lies. Then, by giving the child’s brain a chance to repair itself, we can bring about positive changes.
Let’s have a look at an example of how we apply neurodevelopmental insights to solve a child’s learning problem.
An important reflex movement
It’s significant that many children with learning difficulties have no Headrighting Reflex (HRR). This reflex shows when the angle of the body in relation to the ground shifts – in other words, the body tilts to either side, backwards or forwards. The reflex automatically adjusts the head to remain in a nearly vertical position. In a less well coordinated child, the head does not remain or immediately return to the vertical position but stays in line with the body. In other words, the child’s head moves in line with his spine.
If the head rights itself, there is very little shift in the background compared to when the head tilts in line with the spine. (Try this yourself by swaying to each side, alternately keeping your head still in a vertical position and allowing it to align with the spine.) Such a child will find himself in a constant state of visual strain because one of the reasons for this reflex is to stablise visual images on the retina of the eye. There is little wonder that children who don’t have this reflex may have reading problems.
Giving a child the HRR
This is where a knowledge of neurodevelopment can help. We need to give children a HRR if they haven’t developed one themselves. How do we do this?
Different parts of our bodies are controlled by different nerves but it is wise to remember that nothing stands alone. No function of the brain operates in isolation. For example, when your vestibular system (in your inner ear) is stressed (perhaps by movement), you get seasick. You feel this in your tummy and it happens because of the intimate interconnectedness of different nerves. The vagus, one of the ten cranial nerves, is responsible for causing your stomach to revolt against the movement registered by an overwhelmed vestibular system.
The HRR is influenced by another cranial nerve that controls the trapezoid muscle. This muscle controls the movements of the head and neck. If a child hasn’t developed the HRR, it is likely that there is a poor connection between the trapezoid muscle and the cranial nerve that controls it. Our job would be to connect this muscle and we use a seemingly simple movement activity to do so.
The original movement came from Carl Delacato, who worked for many years with learning disabled children. He found that having children lie on the floor and moving their arms, legs and head in a way that resembled the movement of a ghecko or lizard, caused significant and positive changes in the brain.
The Flip Flop movement
The benefits of the Flip Flops are many. Information goes into both sides of the brain as the muscles move equally on both sides. At the same time the brain gets sensory information from the weight of the body moving across the surface on which the child is lying. This is very important because during later development the brain is constantly having to coordinate information received from the two brain hemispheres to allow for stereophonic hearing, posture and vision. So with our Flip Flops, we are not only stimulating the cranial nerve to connect to the trapezoid muscle but also influencing vision, hearing and balance. Through this, information is communicated to many other brain areas, especially to the cerebellum, the midbrain and the thalamus. The thalamus is an area of the brain that acts as a gate-keeper – either allowing sensory information to pass through to higher brain (cortical) areas or not. If it fails to allow certain information through, the important messages will not arrive at the proper destination.
So in short, by giving a child a (seemingly) simple activity, we are effecting profound changes in brain function. We can’t control what comes out of the brain but we certainly can control what goes in. This helps the brain receive the information it needs to correct faulty wiring.
Other reflex movements are significant too
Giving the child a head-righting reflex is good but we need to test for later developing movements as well. Once we’ve made connections in the lower brain regions, we have to persevere to encourage connections needed for more sophisticated functions.
When you bring about better neurological organization, you are addressing basic problems in the various areas of the brain. This enables the child to function independently and with improved abilities in many different spheres of life. Such children seem to ‘get it together’ and with this, their self-esteem and confidence soars.
This article is based on content in the book ‘Playing Smart’, by S.K. Perry.
The fact that we are living through what will become a major historical event isn’t the only reason why diaries will provide fascinating future insight to life during this period. There are other benefits for children too. Although there are various types of diaries (e.g. the ‘personal feelings diary’, the ‘what activities did I do today diary’, the ‘dream diary’), the process of committing to paper a permanent history of daily life provides these general benefits to almost any child:
- Catharsis, in having a safe place to express feelings
- Insight into growing up, and help in dealing with change
- Improved communications and trust between parent and child and increased self-esteem – as long as parents never belittle anything their child writes, or dictates (in the case of young, pre-school children). Parents should never invade their child’s privacy without invitation
- Better powers of observation and sharpened senses as the diarist turns not only inward to feelings, but outward to record actual happenings – smells, colours, changing seasons
- Capture of early memories before they fade
- The development of a writing style (a diary is a good place to experiment freely, without having to pay attention to grammar or spelling)
- Improved language skills
- A more active imagination, perhaps inspiring further nonfiction or fiction writing and other creative projects
- Pleasure in the act itself.
Writing a diary can be an art form in its own right, providing pleasure in the writing and greater joy in simply living.
Reading the diaries of other people, especially of other children, may be the best inspiration for your child to begin her own journal journey. Try an internet search with him or her to find examples.
Content for this article is partly based on ‘Playing Smart’, by Susan Perry.
Quite a few children have been experiencing vivid dreams during the lockdown period. This isn’t strange, given the huge deviation from normal life we have all had to endure. Here are some ideas for introducing your child to dreams and helping them to understand why bad dreams happen.
Dreams are a universal human experience that begins even during infancy. They have a way of bringing out feelings that otherwise might be suppressed or not spoken about. Encouraging a child to accept her dreams and talk about them is a good, safe way of allowing her to discuss her feelings openly.
Don’t panic if a child seems to only have bad dreams. It seems that most of the dreams that children remember are the unpleasant ones. Happy dreams are unfortunately often forgotten once the child wakes up.
Nightmares are commonly experienced between the ages of 5 – 7 years. This is the age when children are usually faced with the demands of school and learning and could be the reason for scary dreams. Other causes could be disturbing life events – and certainly our battle against the corona virus and having our lives turned upside down supply more than sufficient reasons for all of us experiencing less than pleasant dreams!
To help children cope, you could encourage them to draw the dream (or their feelings about the dream). This helps them to externalize the dream and gain a measure of control over it, which reduces anxiety. They could also use clay and other materials to ‘make’ their dreams. Once they’ve finished, ask questions about the picture or object. Choose questions that can guide them to find their own solution to a bad dream: What will you do to help the person in the picture? How does the person feel? How can you make the situation less scary? If your scary monster could speak, what would it say? What would you like to tell it? If you had the power, what would you do to help yourself in your dream?
What you don’t want to do is to try to interpret children’s dreams for them. Let them try to make sense of what is going on in their worlds. We need to guard against simplistic, one-sized-fits-all interpretations.
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 Rateythe 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!
Former Grade R teacher: Milnerton Pre-Primary School
I am so glad that we were introduced to ILT! Lisa is an ILT practitioner at our school and all the learners that went to her improved drastically in all areas of development. The learners whose parents were hesitant to follow an ILT program and preferred sending their children to either Physio or Occupational Therapy (because they knew more about it) did not even show half as much improvement. It is AMAZING! One of my boys was clumsy, had a speech problem, could not concentrate for more than a second, etc…and after only two months of following his ILT program with Lisa his speech improved DRASTICALLY, he is able to concentrate, he can do fine motor activities, he is not clumsy anymore…if I did not know that he was following the ILT program, I would have thought it was a miracle. 🙂