It’s hard being a parent in today’s world. It’s also hard being a teacher. They have to deal with classroom conditions that make it difficult to teach effectively. For this reason, we can’t blame them too harshly for looking for labels that match certain difficult behaviors in children and that result in help from other professionals in controlling the behaviour.
The most common label emerging in recent years is that of ‘ADHD’. Many medical and mental health practitioners find that there is a lack of evidence to support the actual existence of this mental disorder. It is difficult to justify the validity of an ADHD diagnosis because there are no tests to ‘prove’ it exists. In spite of this, it remains the term of choice to use when children fail to behave as they should in an educational setting.
There is another side to the coin – one that does not rely on snap judgements by medical practitioners or well-meaning but unknowing teachers. Children don’t need diagnoses. Children who have problems with attention, organization, hyperactivity and learning difficulties don’t need to be treated as suffering from disorders. They don’t need to be stigmatized by labels and poisoned by drugs that suppress their symptoms and do harm to their systems. They need real help to feel and function well.
The underlying causes of the symptoms of ADHD are many. Several children may carry this label because their behaviors tick the same boxes but they may have very different reasons for behaving the way they do. Very often there are neurodevelopment irregularities leading to immature brain areas; there may be nutritional deficiencies affecting the brain and body; poor gut health directly impairs brain functioning; emotional factors may play a role; environmental offenders such as heavy metals might be part of the picture. Nothing stands alone, so sometimes we don’t find a single, simple cause but have to address the problem holistically.
So don’t believe blindly in the ADHD label. We can see how children are behaving, just as we can see the tip of an iceberg. What isn’t obvious is what lies beneath the surface. Before allowing our children to be diagnosed with a mental disorder and treated accordingly with a potentially dangerous drug be prepared too look deeper.
A good starting point would be to explore the website www.ilt.co.za and read about the work of Integrated Learning Therapy (ILT) – an approach that seeks to address the real causes underlying superficial labels. ILT practitioners are available countrywide and you are also welcome to study an ILT course to help you learn more. Those teachers who have studied with ILT recommend it highly. They learn to look at children with very different eyes.
What is learning readiness?
All children can learn and their mental development, seen by the changes in ability that they show from infancy to adulthood, is due to their immense capacity for learning. The stage at which children are thought to be learning ready and so ready to benefit form formal or academic education, usually around the age of 6 or 7 years, is decided by normal mental and physical development.
At around this age, they should have reached a stage of being ‘ready’ for school. The concept of ‘learning readiness’ includes the idea of ‘school readiness’ but the two terms are not identical in meaning. A child may pass a school readiness test but not be learning ready.
It is because school readiness tests do not include the child’s level of neurodevelopment. This means that they don’t consider how the child’s brain and nervous system has developed and whether the child’s various sensory motor systems are functioning well enough to support learning. School readiness tests look for signs that certain abilities have developed that are needed to perform in the classroom. These include the ability to sit still and follow instructions, manipulate a pencil, get along with peers and show certain perceptual and intellectual skills. Perceptual skills include recognizing and being able to name colours, letters and numbers. Intellectual skills include knowing one’s home address, and so on.
Many children show these abilities but the foundation of neurological systems on which these abilities rest is shaky, and they may start showing problems in school either within a short period of time or even after two or more years. Some children may seem to do well academically but their lack of learning readiness will mean that they have to use up a great deal more energy than should be necessary to cope with the behaviour and learning expected by their schools and communities.
To summarise, in order to be able to learn easily and cope with the demands of the classroom and life in general, children need to have reached a level of brain and body development that will support their functioning. This will depend on how well they have developed certain systems in their brains and bodies that are needed to support their learning.
A system can be described as a number of separate parts that work together in order to get something done. For example, a bicycle is a collection of items that are needed in order to provide transport. It needs a frame, saddle, handlebars, pedals, chain, wheels, tyres and brakes. If all those parts are in good working order, the bicycle will work well. Think of what would happen if one or more of these components are not working as well as they should. A tyre that is slightly flat will mean that one has to work a lot harder to get the bicycle to move quickly. It will place stress on the wheel itself, which might in turn affect the stability of the frame, the way the brakes work, and so on. In other words, the inefficient functioning of one of the parts of a system will have a ripple effect throughout the whole system.
In the same way, every child has certain systems that support his or her ability to learn easily. These include the components of the sensory-motor system, such as vision, hearing, touch, smell, balance and sense of body in space. If one or more of these are not functioning as they should, the child will be handicapped in that learning becomes difficult and stressful and seemingly simple tasks cause tiredness and distress.
- Delay in reaching any milestones or skipping milestones, such as crawling
- Difficulty learning to ride a bicycle
- Delay in learning to get dressed independently and tying buttons or shoelaces
- Problems with sleeping, being restless in bed, preferring to have someone sleep with him
- Difficulty keeping upright without slouching, leaning on furniture, and so on
- Tendency to chew on collars and necklines, pencils and anything else!
- Constant movement – always on the go and sitting in a chair is torture for them
- Challenged by gross motor and/or fine motor activities
- Signs of visual difficulties – holds head at a strange angle or close to page when colouring or looking at books
- Seems to have trouble listening and is easily distracted by sounds. Might also make his own irritating noises
Any of these signs (and more) could be clues that the brain hasn’t developed as it should or that the sensory systems are immature. This in turn means that faulty foundations will affect higher level skills – those demanded by school. Simply put, the child is not yet learning ready.
What to do?
See an ILT practitioner click on the ‘Find a Practitioner’ for a full assessment of whether or not a child has developed to the point that he or she is really learning ready. If not, much can be done to help ‘catch up’.