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 www.ilt.co.za. 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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If you missed Part One of this series, you’ll find it (and other articles) on the blog of Integrated Learning Therapy’s website – www.ilt.co.za.
In this article, some answers are given to some of the most often asked questions that parents pose about learning disabilities and difficulties.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Can medication ‘cure’ a learning disability?
No known medication addresses the root cause of a learning disability.
- 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.
- 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.
If you would like to learn more about Integrated Learning Therapy, visit our website – www.ilt.co.za. And to receive more articles like this, remember to Like our Facebook page and Share with all your friends.
 With thanks and acknowledgement to Barbara Novick and Maureen Arnold who wrote the book ‘Why is my child having trouble at school?’
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. 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 www.ilt.co.za. We also have a list of practitioners around this country and others.
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 Joshua Leeds. 2001. The power of sound. Vermont: Healing Arts Press