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?
Our sense of smell is one of the earliest to develop – being operational at about two months after conception. We can’t actually use this sense in those early days because the forming nasal passages remain blocked until some 28 weeks into the pregnancy. When this blockage clears, we can and do pick up smells in the environment – one of the most significant being the smell of the amniotic fluid in which we grow. Incidentally, this is the reason why newborns are not instantly whisked away to be washed as in the past. They are put onto Mom’s chest, allowing amniotic fluid to be transferred to her body and thus giving the baby the comfort of having a very familiar smell to help overcome the traumatic birthing event and make the transition to a strange new world.
We understand that the early developing senses (others include touch and taste) are crucial to our survival and well-being and even though we no longer have to rely on our sense of smell to warn us of danger or tell us what foods we can safely eat, it has implications for our functioning and even our learning.
Smell (or more correctly, the olfactory system) is unique in the way it sends information from the sensory cells in the nose to the brain. Firstly, it is the only sense that cannot be prevented from reaching the areas of the brain that interpret and give meaning to the incoming smell. Most other senses rely on the Thalamus (the brain’s ‘gatekeeper’) to admit them to the higher cortex. Not so with smell because the neurons carrying the information bypass the thalamus. This means that all smells that we have ever encountered travel to the brain and are registered there. The area of the brain dedicated to processing smells is intertwined with the limbic system, which is responsible for our emotions. For this reason, smells last for ever in our memories and are connected to emotions. Smells from the past can trigger feelings and memory, as well as impact on mood and behaviours. This is why certain smells vividly bring back the past and the emotions that accompanied an old event.
The fact that smell is the most significant trigger of memories may be a clue to how it can be used to support learning. When we study, we try to store information, facts and figures in our memory. What if we use smell to help register and then nudge those stored memories back into our conscious mind in order to answer questions or solve problems? It’s worth trying.
If a student finds a smell that she or he considers pleasant and soothing, having that smell present in the study area will form connections between the smell and memories being formed while studying. If the same smell is taken into the test situation, it is theoretical possible that the smell will help access the memorised content
To do this, using good quality essential oils may be the best way to go. A cotton wool ball soaked in the chosen oil can be carried along to a venue in a closed container, and surreptitiously sniffed on occasion.
Smell, being an important sense, has other implications for our functioning, which will be discussed in a following post.
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.
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. 🙂
These courses are the best I have every attended – out of many, many, many!
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.
Content summarized from the book “Solving your child’s reading problems” by Ricki Linksman. Published by MJF Books.