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When sitting is just plain uncomfortable: The role of the STNR reflex

With thanks to Nancy O’Dell and Patricia Cook, who wrote the book: Stopping ADHD.

The Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR) is one of the primitive, reflexive movements made by all human babies.  The STNR is an automatic movement that makes the top half of the body work in opposition to the bottom half.  This means that when the top half of the body is straight, the bottom half bends, and vice versa.  It also makes it possible for the right and left sides of the body to work together.  The reflex is activated by a change in the position of the neck, which produces a change in the muscular tension (tonic).

The reflex makes it possible for a baby to crawl and then after a good long period of crawling – about six months – the child should have crawled enough to be in control of his body rather than having the STNR in control.   If something goes wrong along the developmental path, the child may not be able to crawl easily and so find the attempted movement so frustrating that they simply get up and walk early.  This allows the STNR to remain past it’s due date!

Early on, the interference of the STNR may not be noticeable because young children are allowed lots of freedom to sit as they like and move more.  They are seldom required to remain at a desk to complete tasks and listen to the teacher for long periods.

If his body is controlled by the STNR, a child will feel more comfortable if his arms are straight when sitting with knees and hips bent, or sitting with straight legs when the arms are bending in order to write.  If the STNR caused a child’s arms to actually shoot straight out in front of them when their legs are bent, adults would realise a problem.  But the reflex is not so obvious.  We are talking about normal children who are still experiencing the ‘pull’ of the reflex, rather than being totally under its control.  This means that they may be able to sit normally for a while but they cannot sit comfortably and they cannot sit still for long periods of time.

What you might see.

Children start to move in ways that help to relieve the physical tension they feel when required to sit still.  They may reach their arms across the desk to try and maintain straight arms; they may sit on one or both legs under them; they may try to ‘lock’ their bodies into their chairs by wrapping their feet around the chair legs; they may prefer to lie on the floor; they may slouch in their chairs, keeping their arms and legs stretched in front on them; they may prefer to stand at their desks; they may try to write with their head on one of their arms.

And the STNR doesn’t only affect sitting but also impacts on other aspects of learning.  For this reason, it is important to check that a retained STNR is not part or whole of your child’s ‘disruptive’ behaviours and school difficulties.

Fidget toys: Fact or fiction and some food for thought

 One of the latest fads seems to focus on the supposed need every child has for a fiddle toy.  What do we make of this?  Do we follow the herd and rush off to buy the latest product, so skillfully marketed as being essential for school success or do we scorn the idea, keep our money in the bank and tell our children to get on with it?

 

The hype isn’t all wrong.  Most of us like to fiddle and find it helps us focus.  Some don’t and can keep quite still while attending to important matters.  In general lots of children benefit from being allowed to engage in some subtle behaviours when rooted to their school desks and listening to the teacher.  Those benefitting most from ‘fiddling’ tend to have problems with concentration.    It’s become customary for helping professionals and even teachers to suggest fiddle toys to improve attention span.

 

But what kinds of fiddling would be most helpful, and following this, what kinds of fiddle toys would be really beneficial?

Is your 4-year-old being labelled as ‘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.

Children and stress

With thanks to Drs Yiming and Fung, authors of ‘Help your child to cope: Understanding childhood stress’

 

We all experience stress in varying amounts in our lifetimes.  Adults under stress are advised to talk to others, get help in managing stress, increase physical activity to work it off and so on.  Children don’t have as many options. They need the help of caring adults to cope.

 

Stress is reaction to a situation seen as being threatening and fearful.  We react with a ‘fight or flight’ response which triggers an outpouring of adrenaline and cortisol.  This results in changes to our physiology, including increased heartrate and breathing, more rapid blood circulation and the closing down of oxygen supply to various areas of the brain and body.  In times of danger, we need oxygen to be sent to our muscles to help us flee or fight, so blood supply, with the oxygen it carries, is sent in less amounts to higher brain levels and other bodily systems.  This is why young people so often experience a ‘blank’ in an exam situation.  They simply don’t have enough oxygen in the higher brain areas to access the information learned and stored there. They also experience tummy aches, because their digestive systems stop working under stress.

 

What stresses children?

Stress is part of the daily life of all of us and is not limited to only a few really traumatic events. The same goes for children.  They, like us, have to adjust to coping with all kinds of minor stressful events, such as missing a bus, failing a test, fighting with a friend and so on. 

 

More serious, damaging stress can be caused by:

How can I help my child’s emotional development?

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.

Reading difficulties: A symptom not the cause of problems

(With thanks to Svea Gold)

When Mat fails to learn to read at grade level, his parents are encouraged to help him with extra reading at home, or refer him for remedial reading.  This often doesn’t help very much and the reason is that reading failure is a symptom that the child has an underlying problem.   His problem may not be the act of learning to read at all.  The struggle to read is a red flag signifying that there is something going on in Mat’s brain that is the real reason for his problem.

For example, if the two sides of Mat’s brain aren’t communicating properly, the eyes won’t function properly either.  Most people see words with each eye.  If you are reading the words THE CAT your right and left eyes will separately see the words (THE CAT and THE CAT), then send the signals to the brain.  The brain, in turn, superimposes the two images into one and you ‘read’ the words: THE CAT.

If Mat’s eyes are not functioning properly, he might look at the two images and see: THE TCAT CAT.  He can’t make sense of this so can’t read it.  He blinks and looks again.  This time he sees: THE CATHE CAT.   Mat decides that he really sucks at reading and must be very stupid!

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