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 www.ilt.co.za 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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Dyslexia is a widespread diagnosis amongst learners who struggle with reading, spelling and/or or writing. Teachers and parents are often surprised when Integrated Learning Therapy (ILT) practitioners take little notice of the diagnosis and instead turn their attention to the individual’s inner ear functioning.
The part of the inner-ear so often found responsible for the problems associated with dyslexia is called the vestibular system. This little system has enormous implications for our learning and functioning – something which is only truly understood by those of us who have suffered from health conditions affecting the vestibular. To their surprise, irregularities brought about by inner-ear infections and similar prevent them from carrying out their usual daily routines altogether.
The vestibular system has several functions, beautifully described by Dr Harold Levinson in his books (see www.dyslexiaonline.com). Here are some, briefly summarized:
- The vestibular guides our eyes, hands, feet and various mental and physical functions in time and space. We need this for our eyes to fixate and sequentially track letters, words and sentences; to be able to write on the horizontal in a neat fashion; to pronounce words accurately as we speak.
- The vestibular fine-tunes all motor responses that make our movements coordinated and balanced. If dysfunctional, we show delayed speech; impaired ability to walk; difficulty tying shoelaces, buttoning buttons; holding and using pens and pencils. We may also take long to toilet train and show symptoms such as bed-wetting, soiling and more. This find-tuning function also makes it difficult to concentrate and remember what is seen and heard. You could compare this to the tuning function on a TV. Imagine how difficult to watch a programme if the picture and sound are fuzzy, indistinct and blurred out.
- The vestibular also has a compass function. It allows us to be aware of spatial relationships such as right and left, up and down, front and back, east and west and north and south. If the compass system isn’t working efficiently, the brain has to compensate by finding methods such as wearing a watch on one hand, or remembering which hand is which by the presence of a scar, etc. This compass system directs all body functions: sensory, motor, speech, thought, even biophysical patterns. It isn’t always true that all functions will be dysfunctional. One sequence may be misdirected or scrambled while another remains unaffected.
- The vestibular acts as a timing mechanism. If it isn’t functioning as it should, a child may have difficulty in learning to tell time and sensing time. Often, so-called dyslexic learners do not understand the difference in meaning of before and after and can’t sense whether a minute, an hour or several hours have gone by.
Impaired functioning of this very crucial sensory-motor system explains why such learners struggle to learn to read, write neatly and with clear meaning, reverse letters and words and more.
Take note that the vestibular system is located in the inner ear. This part of the ear is prone to damage through various avenues, including but not limited to ear infections. For this reason, ILT practitioners always ask about health history, because just one severe ear infection might underlie later problems in school.
So before treatment begins to help such learners overcome the symptoms they are displaying, it makes perfect sense to ensure that their vestibular systems are helped to restore functioning. A perfect example of why looking for the underlying cause of symptoms is often a quicker and more efficient way of helping those with learning difficulties.
Visit our website at www.ilt.co.za to learn more about our approach. We do list practitioners who are ready to help you or families that you want to refer. We also offer training courses to help teachers improve your understanding of brain development and function and how to recognise and help signs of difficulties you see in your learners.
The courses are accredited with SACE for CPTD points and with ETDP-SETA for credits towards further qualifications.
You are welcome to write to us for more information at email@example.com
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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?’