It’s very common for families to report upheavals and arguments in the home as a result of a child’s struggle to learn. Some of the problems may be caused by the decisions that have to be made, both medical and educational that might also put pressure on finances. Others are more emotional, encompassing disappointment, guilt, blame and even anger.
Being privy to countless families who seek help for their child, it is clear that those families that cope best have both parents fully involved and sharing in the raising of the child, management of the learning difficulty and all aspects of the programmes chosen to help the child. When only one parent carries the burden of being responsible for everything, it can add tremendous stress. This stress becomes enormous if the other parent tends to criticize or even suggest blame for lack of success.
I’ve noticed that some parents tend to deny signs of difficulties. Unfortunately, my experience has been that this is more typical of fathers. Mothers are quicker to notice ‘at risk’ signs when the child is still young. These signs might be dismissed by the father and as difficulties escalate in higher grades, the disbelief of existing problems are expressed as the child being ‘lazy’ or ‘disliking school – like I did’ or needing discipline to produce more effort.
To help restore family harmony, it is important that both parents have opportunity to meet with the professionals who are working with the child. They need time to understand the reality of their child’s challenges because this realization can be painful. Following this, making an effort to understand the nature and needs of the learning difficulty is really important. It isn’t enough to merely know that a child has some or other diagnosed condition that carries a label. Insist that you are given all the facts of any evaluations or diagnostic procedures that are done and don’t be fobbed off by vague or professional terminology. Don’t leave the office before you feel enlightened and empowered with knowledge of what is needed at home and what role you have in helping the child. Remember that as parents, you aren’t responsible for the learning difficulty and you can’t cure your child. You can, however, provide invaluable help and support – both to the child, siblings and most of all to each other.
If both parents work together, they can plan how to adjust family life to ensure strong family bonds, positive self-concepts and a generally loving and effective family.
This post originated from an article written by Dr Betty Osman, entitled How learning disabilities affect family dynamicsand published by Great! Schooling. The article is available at www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/family-dynamics/
From virtually the moment of conception, human genes dictate that we will move. The earliest movements we make are not deliberate but are automatic reflexes. These ‘primitive’ reflex movements are truly magic because they help develop the brain.
Each time you feel the baby moving inside your uterus, you can celebrate, knowing that those movements are laying down the patterns of neural pathways that serve to connect the different brain areas. These are the pathways that are vital for learning, behaving appropriately, forming healthy relationships with the people in our lives and enjoying emotional well-being.
They also help develop ability to control the body, muscle tone, good integration of information coming in from the different senses and survive the early months of life.
At birth, our brains are far from completely developed so we depend on primitive reflexes to help us enter the world and then keep us alive. For example, the Moro reflex is a reaction to being startled. This reflex produces cortisol and adrenaline to help activate the birth process. Then the Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR) comes into play, helping the foetus twist down the birth canal during a normal birth. After we are delivered, the Moro reflex triggers our first breath and permits us to straighten out after months spent in the foetal position in the uterus.
After birth, the sucking reflex allows the mouth to take in nourishment and swallow, while many others are present to help in other ways. Slowly, these early reflexes are integrated as new ones take their place. Each reflex appears in a crucial time, does its important job and is then replaced in order for higher development to happen. Ultimately, primitive reflexes are replaced by so-called postural reflexes which allow us to crawl and then finally to walk.
Problems can be experienced later on if these primitive reflexes are not absorbed or integrated. Retained reflexes can cause emotional problems, timidity and fearfulness, attention problems and learning difficulties, depression, sensory disorders, lack of confidence, tantrums, bedwetting, fidgeting, thumb sucking and many of the challenges often seen in children. Unfortunately, children with learning, behavioural and emotional issues often fail to be helped. This is because the symptoms they show are treated, rather than being helped to overcome the underlying causes of their problems.
There are many reasons for reflexes to remain present and not be integrated. Included in these are the diet and general health and emotional well-being of the mother during pregnancy. Traumatic birth events including Caesarean birth and the use of instruments can interfere with amongst others, the Moro reflex. This has the domino effect of interfering with the integration of all the reflexes that should follow, setting up glitches in brain development that can persist for years.
When several unintegrated reflexes persist, normal tasks that are taken for granted by most of us become difficult if not impossible. When children experience sensory integration disorders, vision and listening challenges, extreme shyness and lack of confidence, ADHD, learning challenges and developmental delays, it is time to look for help. Reading and writing difficulties, language and speech delays, disorganisation, fidgeting and lack of focus all may be signposts to the need for reflex integration.
The good news is that it is not difficult to integrate reflexes by helping the child with a movement programme. Certain movements replicate the earlier movements that somehow failed to achieve reflex development or integration, so by showing a child different movements, we give the brain a second chance to reorganise those all-important networks needed for efficient functioning.
Movement is magic! Even more magical are the improvements seen in children when they are given the chance to overcome early setbacks in their development.
If you suspect that a child may have unwarranted challenges in coping with home and school demands, you should seriously consider a neurodevelopmental assessment.
Most of you have been faced with a child in your class who simply cannot sit still. He is always squirming in his chair and seems to have little bodily contact with the chair! When he does occasionally sit on the seat, he almost immediately puts one leg under him. He then keeps shifting the leg as it begins to ‘fall asleep’ from the pressure of his body. He may also keep playing with his clothes, his pencils, his books. All his teachers complain of his constant movement. Yet, if he stretches out on the floor to listen to a story or watch a programme on television, he keeps still and quiet.
What’s the problem here? Is he naughty? Is he bored? Is he ADHD?
What such movement can probably mean is that he can’t sit still because he is hypersensitive to touch, particularly in the area along his sciatic nerve (buttocks and legs). The fabric of his clothing rubbing against the chair and into the back of his leg (especially behind his knee) is ticklish. He may not even realise this since he has been trying to block that sensation and pay attention to the lesson for most of his life. He might be able to sit a little quieter on some days – maybe he is wearing softer clothes (an older, well-washed school uniform) or perhaps he is more relaxed today and feeling less stressed.
There are many reasons for a child behaving in restless ways. This is just a thumbnail sketch to help your awareness that too often adults jump to conclusions about the underlying causes of the way children try to cope in the classroom.