My child can’t handle change – Why?


When browsing through my library recently, I opened one of the older books on the shelf.  Very soon, I was reading with delight some words of wisdom that are as relevant today as they were back in the middle of the last century!  I’m talking about the book published by the Gesell Institute, titled Child Behaviour and written by Frances Ilg and Louise Ames, with numerous reprints, in the 19550’s (yes, no typo – it really was written so long ago).


The section I enjoyed dealt with the still common problem experienced by many children today who find it difficult to make shifts. This means that they cannot move easily from one thing to another, or from one behaviour, activity or situation to another.  Without help, they simply become stuck.


We all have unique personalities and they may present us with certain problems. Indeed, most people have aspects of personality that they find problematic.  A struggle to adapt easily to change is one of these. It isn’t because the child is bad, naughty or difficult.  It isn’t a ‘fault’ in the child but simply an aspect of personality.  She may be perfectly normal in all respects except for her inability to handle change.


Such children may resist new foods and prefer eating the same thing for every meal.  They may find it hard to go to sleep at night, then (after sleeping well) find it difficult to shift back to wakefulness.  When playing, they may be able to entertain themselves well for hours but resist shifting from one form of play to another. For example, he may continue to play with lego because he will find it too hard to shift to another toy.  Typically, parents of such children find it hard to encourage them to leave their play to come to supper, visit a relative, go shopping, or anything else.


In relationships with others, this personality trait may cause such children to be fine with one person at a time, but find it hard to shift from one person to another.  For example, from mother to nursery school teacher.  They will find it hard to leave a parent when it is time for school – and then find it hard to leave school to go home with the parent.


How do we help such children?  Certainly we can’t scold or punish them when they resist change.  They truly need help from their parents whenever there is a transition to be made. Sometimes it helps to provide the changes which she needs and can’t manage herself. An example would be to have the child go find her mother in the playground rather than being met in the classroom, or having a new pair of pyjamas to put on in order to break the bedtime ritual that has become such a struggle.


Of course, some children show reluctance to change in very particular situations and something else may be found to underlie their behaviour.  There are many possible reasons for what can be seen as Separation Anxiety, or fear of change due to a traumatic event.  What is discussed here is different – we’re describing children who are born with this aspect of personality.  


If a child has a personality that resists change in general then it is likely that she will keep that personality trait throughout her life.  Accept that there is nothing you have done to cause this, and nothing you can do to change it.   You can help her understand herself and provide the kind of situation that makes her feel most comfortable and able to cope with change.  But don’t try to change her or make her feel guilty.  Individuality is inborn.


Integrated Learning Therapy (ILT) is forever searching for ways of helping children cope better with problems associated with development, neurodevelopment and learning.  Visit our website to learn more about our approach and find practitioners near you to offer help.   We also offer courses to parents, teachers and other helping professionals to better understand the reasons underlying children’s learning difficulties and puzzling behaviours.  The courses are accredited with SACE, ETDP-SETA and HPCSA.


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Baby movements – building the brain


As young parents, we are all too aware of the movements our babies make.  They are such wriggly,  animated little beings from birth on – seeming to be seldom still unless they are asleep.  Talk to them and arms and legs wave in response; hold them upright and they seem determined to try and walk; before long, true mobility begins with their learning how to roll over, then sit, crawl and finally walk.


These movements are what we call neurodevelopmental movements and are far more significant than we might think.  They are the genetically determined, automatic movements that all healthy babies do while still in the womb and during the first year of life.  We call them primary reflexes and they are precisely the mechanism that enables the staggering rate of brain growth during the early months of life. 


At birth, our human babies’ brains are only about 21% developed.  This is why they are so helpless and dependent on us.  But the stimulation of brain neurons from the movements we feel and then see results in the gazillions of connections between brain cells that cause the baby to show such amazingly rapid development in the first year and beyond.  In short, baby movements are going to be responsible for the child’s future learning and ultimately, her performance and happiness in school.


These days, our society and lifestyles can have a negative impact on these neurodevelopmental movements.  For example, too much reliance on baby seats and limited tummy time can impede natural movements. When this happens, children can be left with underdeveloped brain areas that are needed to serve as a foundation for school learning.  In other words, they may lack the maturity and connectivity that is needed for ease of learning, even though they show high intelligence.


The result is unexpected difficulties when they enter school or progress beyond the early grades.  The good news is that the brain can be given a second chance to catch up – at virtually any age.  Thanks to the plasticity of the brain, we can help individuals across the lifespan. 


By replicating the early, brain-building movements we can help the brain mature and connect to sensory systems. This leads to less stressful learning as well as better social-emotional development.


Most parents (and teachers) believe that if a child is struggling with a learning area, they need remedial teaching, usually involving more engagement with the particular academic skill.  For some children, extra work isn’t successful and can lead to even more stress because the reason for their difficulty isn’t their lack of ability – it’s due to lack of maturity of certain brain areas.


Once the foundations for learning are in place, the brain is able to function as nature and genetics intended.


If you feel your child needs this kind of help, visit our Integrated Learning Therapy (ILT) website at to read about our approach. You will also be able to find a practitioner near you to help and see that we offer training courses for parents and teachers to help gain more understanding of how the brain develops and functions and the many reasons that can underlie a child’s learning challenges.


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Learning about Learning Disabilities. Part One

Perhaps you sense that your child is not performing up to her potential. Perhaps she is struggling academically or doesn’t show the same mastery of age-expected skills as older siblings.  Could she have a learning disability?


For reasons not well understood, learning disabilities are fairly common these days.  This has led to increased interest into the relationship between brain functioning and a child’s ability to cope with school demands.  As a result of many studies, we now know that a child who finds schoolwork hard is not ‘naughty’, lazy or stupid.  We know that even exceptionally intelligent children and those who have the privilege of attending the best schools can still show problems with learning.  But we also know that children with a learning disability are not doomed to lifelong failure.


As a parent, the more you know about learning disabilities the earlier you’ll be able to recognise the symptoms.  This is important because timing can be crucial to addressing and perhaps resolving a problem before school going age, when children begin to find learning hard, lose interest, develop a lack of confidence and even develop unhealthy coping techniques to compensate.


But there is a difference between recognising symptoms of a learning disability and being able to identify and define its nature.  This is where you need a specialist to help you correctly identify the source of the difficulty and know what to do to eliminate it.  Remember that sometimes the symptoms of a difficulty may have no clear connection to the underlying cause.   Steven might have problems with mathematics but hiring a tutor or remedial teacher to help him with his computational problems may not be the solution.  If he has a language processing problem, for example, he may not understand the problems presented to him as ‘story sums’ (e.g. ‘If Betty has seven Rand and loses five ….).  Trying to ‘fix’ a symptom without addressing its source can only lead to frustration and a loss of time (and money).  To the child, such efforts can compound the problem because in spite of trying, they don’t show improvement.  They become discouraged, frustrated and even angry.  Some might begin to act out or withdraw, but either way, the family experiences a deluge of emotions which affects all members.


As a parent, you feel responsible for finding the best solution possible for your child.  But before you seek out the help of professionals, you could try to understand more about learning disabilities so that you can speak to professionals on a more equal footing.  It is also important to project confidence to your child.  If you display anxiety and become stressed because of your concerns, your child will also begin to feel more anxious.  Remember that there is help out there, and you’ll be doing all you can to help in the most effective way possible.


As a start, these articles will give some answers to frequently asked questions. Then I’ll try to outline some of the more commonly encountered causes of various learning difficulties. 


If you miss one of these articles, don’t despair because they are all published on the blog on the Integrated Learning Therapy website.  So visit the website – – to read more about our ILT approach and also to check on any blogs that you might have missed.


We also offer courses to parents, teachers and helping professionals and those are listed on the website as well.


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When does my child need help?


All children, and adults, go through periods of difficulties.  Children’s development occurs in stages and sometimes they may show unusual behaviour that may simply be a sign that they are ‘going through’ a growth stage.  So when do you sit up, take notice and realise that your child may be in need of help?


Obviously families have periods of crises and stress, so if this is the cause of a child’s learning difficulties, you’ll probably be able to put two and two together and determine how best to help. But how do you know when the trouble is probably school-based?


Perhaps this list may be useful.   Your child may be having trouble in school that needs your immediate attention if you notice any one or more of the following:


  • Your usually cooperative child begins to be disobedient at school
  • Your usually social child becomes aggressive and even hurts other children
  • Your child shows a reluctance and even refusal to go to school
  • Your child has tummy aches or headaches on most school mornings
  • Your child becomes quieter, seems sad and disinterested in schoolwork
  • Your child is said to be restless and unable to sit quietly at school
  • Your child is reported to be doing less well than expected in schoolwork
  • Your child gets poor marks for tests in spite of having learned the work at home
  • Your child has difficulty learning new skills or simply remembering things


The first step will obviously be a meeting with the teacher. Be sure to discuss what happens on the playground as well as what is observed in the classroom.  Sometimes interactions in the peer group or even bullying might be a problem.  Find out what the teacher has done to help the child in the classroom, but if the problem persists, you might have to look further for help.


One source of help is from Integrated Learning Therapy (ILT) practitioners. We follow an holistic approach, looking carefully for underlying causes of learning difficulties and puzzling behaviours. Often the problem is based in the child’s neurodevelopment, meaning that his or her brain is underdeveloped and needs ‘catch-up’ time to mature in all areas.  Sometimes the problem can be caused by environmental offenders (think nutrition, allergies and the like) that need to be addressed.


ILT doesn’t believe in ‘one size fits all’ or that there is an easy, quick way to help a child overcome learning difficulties. We do, however, know that our careful, thorough assessment and dedicated work with children result in changing their attitude of “I can’t” into “I can”.  Our reward is their renewed pleasure in school


To learn more about our approach, visit our website at  You’ll also find a list of practitioners near you to help as well as courses you can take to further your understanding of how children’s brains develop and what might go wrong.  As a result, you’ll be in a better position to help.  After all, parents are the first source of help for all children!


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Learning about Learning Disorders – Part Two


If you missed Part One of this series, you’ll find it (and other articles) on the blog of Integrated Learning Therapy’s website –


In this article, some answers are given to some of the most often asked questions that parents pose about learning disabilities and difficulties[1].


  1. What is a learning problem?

Typically a learning problem is defined as a difficulty acquiring academic skills such as reading or maths.  Some children show very subtle problems which are hardly noticeable. Other problems are very severe and make it virtually impossible for the child to progress in a certain academic area.


Learning problems can be rooted in emotional factors, such as fears, a highly stressful environment, family troubles and so on. It can be based on a mismatch between the child and her environment – for example, a school that is too unstructured for her her.  It could be biological – and due to irregularities in brain development and functioning.  If fairly severe, the term commonly used is ‘learning disability’. If not, ‘learning difficulty’ would be appropriate.  Either way, it would be unwise to ignore it and hope it will go away.  Better to have a comprehensive evaluation to try and determine the root causes underlying the learning problem. A learning disability, on the other hand, cannot be due to emotional problems.  See below for more about this.


  1. What is a learning disability?

A learning disability is usually understood to be a learning problem that is severe enough to impact negatively on a child’s academic progress and that can be attributed to some or other inefficient brain functions.  It is NOT the result of lower intelligence, severe emotional disturbance or a physical challenge such as sight or hearing impairment.  Some learners are incorrectly labelled as ‘slow’ learners, suggesting below average intelligence when, in fact, they are suffering from an unrecognised learning disability.


Some intellectually gifted children who are coping at school but failing to realise their very high potential may also have a learning disability.


  1. Can a learning disability be outgrown?

It is more likely that a child with a learning disability may learn how to compensate for her difficulties.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because it can help to build resilience and strength that can help enormously throughout life. In fact, many of us have ways of compensating for areas of weakness.  An example of a compensatory technique is reading through study content in preparation for a class if you cannot follow spoken language easily, or reading content out loud  (or making an audio recording of it to play back) if you can understand and remember better through auditory channels.


  1. Can a learning disability be caused by an emotional problem?

No. The root of learning disabilities lie in irregular functioning of certain brain areas. A child may, of course, show accompanying emotional problems which are caused by the distress of her learning disability.  In this case, the emotional problems may be helped by therapy.  It is rare for a child with a learning disability to not show low self-esteem and a sense of being a failure.  Years of struggling result in confusion about one’s self identity, anger, despair and frustration.


Trouble at home, parental discord and so on are never the primary, underlying cause of a learning disability.  Neither is poor parenting, abusive parenting or inattentive parenting. These factors can exacerbate the effect the disability has on the child and how well she can cope with it, but they don’t cause disabilities.


  1. Can medication ‘cure’ a learning disability?

No known medication addresses the root cause of a learning disability.


  1. Can disabilities be inherited?

This is a difficult question. Some research suggests that some learning disabilities may be inherited and that others are not.  Often those in the field of neurodevelopment find that a weakness in a certain brain area or other important brain system might be inherited. This might result in a learning disability but the child may have a different experience to the family member which results in her not showing any lack of ability at all.  ILT practitioners have had the experience of seeing parents experienced surprising improvement in certain areas if they participate in their child’s therapeutic programme.  This is because the underlying brain area has benefitted and becomes more efficient.


  1. When should I consider placing my child in a remedial or special needs school?

The fact that a child has a learning disability doesn’t necessarily mean that she has to leave mainstream schooling.  If the prognosis is good, it might be better to seek out the support of the current school while the child undergoes a programme to help.  It is sometimes not easy to return from remedial or special needs environments to mainstream education so a child who can cope might benefit more by staying put.  However, school personnel and other professionals need to be in agreement with this and together you can decide on the best course of action if it is warranted.


Most children with learning disabilities can be helped and ILT has a very good track record when it comes to turning dis-ability in ability.  However, we can never guarantee 100% success – we are regularly humbled by children who present with very puzzling problems.  In spite of saying that, a child with a learning disability will not flourish over the long run without proper assessment and treatment.  Don’t delay in getting your child the help she needs.


In the next article, I’ll be discussing the most frequently encountered underlying causes of learning disabilities and difficulties.


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[1][1] With thanks and acknowledgement to Barbara Novick and Maureen Arnold who wrote the book ‘Why is my child having trouble at school?’

Sound safety

Sound and hearing are vital aspects of being human, learning and functioning optimally in the world.  If our ability to hear is hampered, the effects are widespread. A weakened auditory system may result in auditory sequential processing problems. This affects short-term memory – the important ability to link pieces of auditory information.  Auditory processing can also lead to difficulties focusing listening – another symptom of auditory dysfunction.  These weaknesses negatively affect communication, language learning and attention skills.  It seems reasonable, in the light of this, to ensure that your child is ‘sound safe’.


There are two primary forms of hearing and listening impairment[1].  Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) occurs when protracted loud sounds damage the inner ear.  The delicate cilia hair cells in the inner ear are destroyed and cannot be repaired.


In addition, stress can interfere with the way we absorb sound. This is called Stress-induced auditory dysfunction (SIAD).  An expert in auditory impairment claims that “Poor listening can begin at any age and for any number of reasons. “It might result from a health problem, an accident, a major lifestyle disruption or from stress.”


Hearing loss, be it noise or stress induced, with the addition of auditory dysfunction, can result in muddled thinking and out-of-balance emotions.  For this reason, we need to become more sound aware.  Sound can be healing, comforting and an aid to learning. In the form of noise, it can also disturb us and negatively affect our functioning. We need to help our children take precautions to protect their ears.


The word noise comes from the Latin nausea meaning seasickness.  Noise generally refers to any loud, unmusical or disagreeable sound.  Your classification of noise will, of course, depend on your subjective opinion.  What you call loud and noisy may reflect your audiological health and personal taste.  What I call unmusical and disagreeable depends entirely on my taste in music; one person’s noise is another’s delight.


Nevertheless, noise damages ears.  Acoustic trauma happens when an extremely loud sound strikes in an instant.  One blast from an explosion can rip apart the ears’ inner tissues, leaving scars that cause permanent damage.  Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) develops more insidiously over a period of time.  Repeated or extended exposure to dangerous noise levels attacks the delicate sensory cells in the ear.  Their function is to transport airborne vibrations from the inner ear to the brain.  Without them, hearing is inefficient.  In addition, loud sounds cause constriction of blood vessels in the cochlea, which is the hearing organ in the inner ear.  A lack of a proper blood supply may result in damaging changes in the inner ear.


For these reasons, workplaces try to protect workers from hazardous noise levels, but what is being done to protect children?


In human adults, 80 dB is the maximum sound intensity that will not produce hearing loss.  Above 85 dB, you run a risk of damage which worsens with length of exposure and higher dB levels.


Here is a table showing the decibel levels of common noises:


Watch ticking – 20 decibels

Whisper – 30 decibels

Average conversation – 40 decibels

Dishwasher, microwave – 60 decibels

City traffic – 70 decibels

Noisy restaurant – 70 decibels

Vacuum cleaner – 80 decibels

Busy city pavement – 80 decibels


Then we move into danger zones:


Lawn mower – 90 decibels

Screaming child – 90 decibels

Power drill or chain saw – 100 decibels

Blow dryer – 100 decibels

Car hooter – 110 decibels

Noisy video arcade – 110 decibels

Rock concert – 100–130 decibels

Jet engine at 40 metres – 140 decibels

Jackhammer – 180 decibels


While we can cope with a certain amount of noise (if our auditory system is healthy), we should avoid prolonged exposure.  The next table shows a 1984 standard of noise-level safety based on decibels and time-exposure levels.  It was created for the workplace and the duration per day may be higher than what is truly healthy for your children’s ears.


90 decibels – not more than 8 hours

92 decibels – not more than 6 hours

100 decibels – not more than 2 hours

102 decibels – not more than 1.5 hours

115 decibels – not more than 0.25 or less hours


So how do you teach your children sound safety?   You don’t want to be paranoid but neither do you want them to innocently damage their wonderful auditory systems.  The result of damage is not always hearing loss; sometimes damage substitutes sounds for others and they are replaced with tinnitus, or ringing or buzzing sounds in the head.  Hearing damage is not something to take lightly.


Here are some precautionary measures:


  • Limit exposure to sounds over 85 decibels. If you have to be exposed for longer, wear ear protection. Ear plugs must be worn to really noisy events such as rock concerts or firework displays. Earplugs are made of foam, silicone or wax and are designed to reduce noise levels from between 20 to 30 dB.  Cotton wool doesn’t effectively diminish excessive sound waves.
  • When using headphones, do the following: Keep the volume down. If your child listens with headphones to music with a ten-digit volume wheel set at 4 or higher, hearing loss may result. Limit listening to one hour at a time and let the ears rest. Be very careful if using headphones when exercising.
  • Give the ears a rest. Alternate quiet and noisy activities. Don’t go to a noisy party or club after a loud sports event.


Our ears don’t actually bleed after a blast of fireworks or a rock concert.  That doesn’t mean that we have incurred self-inflicted damage.  Our society is an increasingly noisy one.  Sound pollution means that we have to teach our children to be aware of sound and to practice sound safety.


Integrated Learning Therapy (ILT) practitioners take a keen interest in auditory functioning. If you would like to read more about our approach, visit our website  We also have a list of practitioners around this country and others.


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[1] Joshua Leeds. 2001. The power of sound. Vermont: Healing Arts Press

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