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?
Last week we suggested some physical activities that are known to boost healthy development – mainly related to sensory motor systems.
‘Sensory-motor’ refers to the relationship between information coming in from our senses and movement. Sensory messages are picked up from our environment mainly through the ‘outer’ senses of vision, audition, touch, smell and taste but we also receive information from inside our bodies. These come from the ‘inner senses’ – in other words, those sensory organs we cannot see, for example, the proprioceptors (which tell us where our bodies are in space) and vestibular (which is responsible for our ability to maintain balance). We use all this information to make appropriate movement responses, to generate thought and feelings.
When children can move efficiently in response to sensory inputs, they find movement activities to be fun. Some children have greater problems integrating the sensory information with motor responses. It is possible that they don’t experience physical activities and challenges as ‘having fun’ and may try to avoid them. These are often children who show clumsiness, dislike climbing on jungle gyms or swinging off monkey bars, find bicycle riding difficult, and so on. They are amongst those who will benefit from planned and carefully chosen physical activities. Remember, though, that they might need encouragement to engage in these and persevere until they are able to master them.
The activities last week were aimed at the vestibular system. Here are a couple of examples to enhance sense of body position (or proprioception).
Fun with a hoop: For this activity, you’ll need one or two hula hoops and perhaps some cushions or a blow up mattress or lilo for introducing later changes.
The idea is to hold the hoop in different positions and ask the child to move through it without allowing any part of her body to touch the hoop. Start with the hoop in a vertical position with the lower edge at about knee height so that the child can step through it. It’s a good idea to tell the child that the hoop has a built-in alarm which will go off if it is touched (make loud alarm sounds when this happens and tell the child to begin again). The child is not allowed to dive through the hoop; the movement must be slow and careful.
Once the child has succeeded in climbing through the hoop, she returns through the hoop from the opposite direction. Then ask her to think of a different way of getting through. After this, change the position of the hoop – horizontal to the ground, tilted at different angles, etc.
You can add variations once the above becomes easy. For example, use two hoops, parallel and about two feet apart; perform the activity on an uneven surface, like cushions or an air mattress; add other items to get through without touching, like through the legs of a chair or table.
Fun with a rope: For these activities, you’ll need a fairly long rope – ideally about 6-8 metres.
- Have a tug of war. Hold tightly to your end of the rope and have the child try to pull you forward.
- Hold your end of the rope and have the child pull himself towards you, hand over hand or, even better, on a scooter board if you have one.
- Put a heavy object on one end of the rope and have the child try to pull it out. You can even park your car on one end of the rope if no heavy objects are at hand.
- Tie the rope to a post or anything else upright and swing it backwards and forwards. Have the child jump over the rope. Once this becomes easy, do it to a beat or to a rhythm.
Fun with a ball: For these activities, choose fairly large, plastic balls. Soccer and netballs will be too heavy and hard.
- Kick the ball up into the air. Try to repeat this action so that the ball is sent into the air with each kick.
- Play a gentle version of soccer with him. Kick the ball back and forth between you.
- Dribble the ball across an open space.
- Put a target at one end of an open space and try to kick the ball so that it hits the target. You can also make pretend soccer nets by placing two objects on the end of the space and aiming to get the ball between them; or use a hoop and try to kick the ball through the hoop.
Fun with tools: For this, the child will need a very sturdy chunk of wood (or ideally, a log lying in the garden), a hammer and some nails. Don’t think a toy hammer will suffice – he’ll need a real one to get the job done! The rest is simple. Let him enjoy hammering the nails into the wood. If you have no wood at hand at all, use a large, dense piece of polystyrene, like those that are used to pack appliances.
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.
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.
How can I help my child become emotionally strong?
These days, many parents are concerned that children seem to be emotionally immature. They want instant gratification, they demand entertainment rather than managing ‘own time’, they find it difficult to sustain attention, they are easily frustrated and act out their emotions rather than controlling them. Can you help change this?
Remember that your child was born with the desire to be the best person possible, to grow up and do what she is best fitted to do, to be healthy and happy. For this to happen, she needs to develop physically, mentally but also emotionally. Your job is to give her the opportunity to meet her desires.
Parents play an important role here. In the first place, you should be aware of the different factors that can affect her during the growing years. You also need to realise that she will meet obstacles along the way – either stemming from herself or from her environment. For example, she may show a reluctance to try new things which could be the result of criticism or being compared with others. You’ll need to know how to act to help minimize negative things and maximize the positive.
Let’s start with the most basic factors that a child needs in order to develop to full potential.
Obviously children need shelter, food and clothing in order to thrive. After these, health is an important factor. Being healthy helps a child face problems more vigorously while ill-health can have negative effects. During illness, children become less active and muscles may lose some tone leading to fatigue and even arrested development. Illness makes children irritable and anxious and they may show this with temper tantrums. Being frequently ill may be the starting point for problems such as picky eating and behavioural difficulties. Chronic diseases (epilepsy, diabetes) may cause emotional instability by having to be heavily dependent on family members. More minor conditions such as eczema or allergies cause physical discomfort, affecting emotional control, concentration and the lack of will to persevere with something or complete a task.
Malnutrition and lack of a balanced diet can also lead to low energy levels which in turn will limit curiosity, a will to explore and be independent.
Side-effects of these conditions may include shyness, depression and anti-social behaviour which will impact on her emotional development.
A happy childhood isn’t necessary a guarantee of success in later life but it certainly provides a good foundation for success. Happy children are normally healthy and energetic. Happiness in itself is a strong motivation to do things and it seems to help children face obstacles with calmness and a lack of fear. It is also a habit, so happy children very often grow up to be happy, optimistic adults. Being happy and projecting cheerfulness also helps social relationships, which is a huge boon as children need to interact with others for good social-emotional development.
Unhappiness, on the other hand, drains a child’s strength and energy and can also affect general health. It stifles motivation, leads to withdrawal and self-occupation which in turn prevents children from learning from experience. Temper tantrums and difficult behaviors are more common in unhappy children. Generally, happy parents tend to foster happiness in their children so your attitude plays a role as well.
Your feelings about being a parent and the role you adopt as a parent are important. Here are some ways to ensure your attitude is positive:
- Build confidence and self-acceptance in your child by being confident and accepting of her. Don’t have unrealistic expectations of her and hold idealized wishes for a ‘dream’ child.
- Set realistic goals to try to avoid failure and keep self-esteem high.This means helping your child know her own strengths and weaknesses – without harping too much on the weaknesses – so that she develops self-understanding. It is important that she knows about possible limitations.
- Help her develop her individuality by providing opportunities for learning and experiencing different things. Watch that you don’t overdo this as children need time out from activities to play and interact with their families. Also watch your timing. Don’t expect her to enjoy, master or learn an activity if she is not developmentally ready for it.
- Often a child reaches a temporary plateau in her development.Don’t be misled into believing that she has reached her limit. It may be that with a little encouragement from you, she could advance further.
- Teach your child to relate to and be aware of others. She needs to learn to make friends. Model empathy for others as well so that she can learn compassion too. Happy, healthy children show empathy quite early on in their lives. And if unsocial behaviours are noted, don’t ignore them. Try to correct these before they become habits and possible lead her to being excluded from her peer group.
- Be careful not to stereotype male and female roles. These are found to stunt personal development – especially if they include beliefs about superior male and inferior female roles. Each child, regardless of gender, has to be encouraged to reach his or her own potential, without guilt or apology.
There are three main components of personality: emotionality, which is a tendency to become upset or distressed easily; levels of activity, which children show in terms of amount of movement, speed of talking or amount of energy put into any activities and restlessness; and sociability, the searching out for social contact and preference to be with others and sharing activities.
Your child will show a mix of these three components in varying amounts. It will be possible to note that your child has a bias in one or more direction, being more emotional, more active or more sociable. Emotional babies cry a lot and are hard to sooth; active babies don’t sleep very much and are restless; sociable babies respond to cuddles and being easily quietened.
Your job is to accept any of these traits shown in excess but also to encourage your child to move in the direction of the other two. Emotional children need reassurance, support, guidance and help in dealing with strong emotions so that they can feel secure and less emotional. A child who is always on the move can be helped to slow down by you showing lots of attention and gentle restraint. Playing games with an active child can encourage her to concentrate and increase attention span.
A good parent
- Supports the child at all times but does not indulge or allow over-dependency
- Can be depended on by the child; you need to be consistent and predictable
- Is reasonably permissive and giving within firm boundaries; use your own sense of values and don’t simply follow the herd if you disagree with society’s current practices
- Is fair in discipline; be sure the child knows the boundaries and consequences for challenging them
- Respects the child’s individuality
- Inspires love not fear
- Sets a good example and models expected behaviours
- Is companionable and does things with the child; sets time aside for this
- Is good natured most of the time;
- Shows the child affection and expresses affection as well; let the child know what her most loveable qualities are
- Is sympathetic when the child is hurt or in trouble and gives plenty of time to listen and help
- Encourages the child to bring friends home
- Is interested in and focused on making a happy home
- Grants independence appropriate for the child’s age
- Does not expect unreasonable achievements
Dr Miriam Stoppard
Food allergies in children are more widely recognised and treated than food intolerances. Yet foods that a child’s body considers to be unfriendly and possibly harmful can and do cause all manner of undesirable, difficult to handle behaviours. The realization of this has dawned very slowly among many professionals and there are still medical people who find it hard to believe that such a wide variety of behaviours can be due to the food we give our families.
Food intolerances affect not only behaviours and general health. Symptoms may not only be seen in ailments such as headaches, rashes and asthma but also in, for example, low muscle tone which may in its turn negatively impact coordination, handwriting, reading, speech, bladder and bowel problems.
One of the pioneers who paved the way to our current understanding is Sue Dengate. If you’re interested, she has a brilliant website at www.fedup.com.au which makes excellent and informative reading. She designed the Failsafe diet, which has helped many food sensitive children around the world.
Here is a concise list of behaviours compiled by Sue that may indicate an intolerance to one or more foods:
Inattentiveness, forgetfulness, unexplained tiredness, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, depression, panic attacks. Such children may be diagnosed with Inattentive ADHD.
Irritability, restlessness, inattention, difficulty settling in to sleep, restless legs, night waking, night terrors. Such children may be diagnosed with ADHD including hyperactivity.
Losing temper, arguing with adults, refusing requests and defying rules, deliberately annoying others, blaming others, touchy and easily annoyed, angry and resentful, spiteful and vindictive; kicking, biting, hitting, spitting and punching. Such children may be diagnosed with Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD).