In last week’s post, it was explained that there is a difference between sight and vision. Having good eyesight means that the eye is doing its job well and is able to clearly see the world both near and far. This is what optometrists look for when children have their eyesight tested.
Vision, on the other hand, depends on how the eyes function as directed by the brain and also how children use the information from the eyes. This means that they have to be able to correctly interpret the information reaching the brain from the eyes.
The first category covers some of the visual abilities mentioned last week, such as fusing two images from each eye into a single, clear image (binocular fusion); being able to shift focus quickly between near and far images (accommodation); to be able to stablise the eyes so that they can locate a target and ‘fix’ that on the retina so that it is seen in sharp focus (fixation) and to be able to move the eyes along a sequence of numbers, letters or words (ocular motility or ‘tracking’).
The second category encompasses visual perception. This includes several abilities that are necessary for schoolwork:
Figure-ground perception: This is the ability to separate targeted images from surrounding ‘clutter’. For example, being able to discern
Direction in space: Being able to see the difference between letters that go up or down, left or write. For example, the difference between b and d.
Form perception: The ability to realise differences in shape, as for example, the shapes of letters.
Visual-motor coordination: The ability to coordinate body movements with visual information. For example, hand writing, copying, catching balls.
Visual imagery: The ability to picture an image in the mind’s eye. For example, to mentally picture a spelling word.
Visual-verbal match: The ability to match what we hear with what we see. For example, forming a mental picture of what is described as we read.
These perceptual abilities develop with age. Some children may not be ‘visually ready’ when they begin school and as a result, will ‘observe less, remember less, learn less, and in general be less efficient in what they do’ (From the book 20/20 is not enough, by Dr A.S. Seiderman and Dr S.E. Marcus).
Some of these children will learn to read but others may struggle as a result of developmental or perceptual lags. They may become labelled as having learning difficulties. So if a child is struggling at school, don’t only think of having eyesight tested. While good eyesight is crucial, there are other, important aspects of vision to be considered.
Integrated Learning Therapy (ILT) considers everything that may impact a child’s ability to thrive in school. Visit our website www.ilt.co.za to learn more about our approach. We list practitioners who may be able to help and we list courses that we offer. These courses, accredited with SACE and ETDP-SETA, offer CPTD points and credits towards further qualifications in Special Needs education. They can be studied over distance.
You are welcome to write to us for further information at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article # 1 2018
Happy New Year to all our educators!
I’m sure that 2018 will bring new challenges but also moments of satisfaction and pleasure in your chosen career. Integrated Learning Therapy would like to help these happen more often than not, so we’re going to try to help you better understand the behaviours that you may observe in your learners.
To begin with, what would your thoughts be if you were 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. 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 with lessons? Is he showing signs of hyperactivity?
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 stiller on some days – maybe he is wearing softer clothes (not a starchy, stratchy new school uniform!) or tighter clothing.
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.
Integrated Learning Therapy aims at helping teachers, parents and other helping professionals with greater understanding of children’s learning and behaviour difficulties, and ways of helping.
Our courses are listed on our website, www.ilt.co.za. They are all accredited with SACE and are offered both as correspondence (over distance) and attendance courses. Visit the website to learn more about us and perhaps join the hundreds of teachers who have benefitted and grown through studying with us.
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Some teachers believe that older children or learners in High School who struggle with academics and the demands of school are too old for therapeutic interventions. They stop looking for signs that could indicate the underlying cause of the problem and instead revert to other ways of helping. Ways of organising their daily routine, courses in study skills and other remedial aids are offered instead. But is this the best way of helping? If the cause of the learning difficulties was not correctly identified and addressed during Primary School years, why is the older learner denied help or even further help once he reaches higher grades?
Older learners and even adults carry with them unresolved neurodevelopmental issues that can make life more difficult for them. As an example, I remember clearly how, during one training session, a mature adult was found to have a retained primary reflex. Anyone who has studied Integrated Learning Therapy will be aware that we teach how the reflexes play a significant role in the development and subsequent functioning of the brain. This is the reason why we include reflex testing in our assessment of learners – no matter how old. The adult in question showed a strongly present ATNR (Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex) – which means that movement of her head initiated overflow movement of her arms. On hearing this, she exclaimed that it explained why she had such trouble driving her car. She was forced to look straight ahead at the road because if she turned her head to look sideways, her arms would involuntarily turn the steering wheel in the same direction. A dangerous thing to do when driving! A few months of daily repetition of an activity helped her to resolve this problem.
The fact is that we’re never too old to restore more efficient functioning of the brain. For hundreds of years this idea was inconceivable because mainstream medicine and associated fields of study believed that brain anatomy was fixed after a certain age. It was commonly believed that after childhood, the brain only changed when it began to age and decline in functioning. If brain cells failed to develop properly in the first place, or were destroyed due to illness or injury, they could not be replaced. Today we know differently. We all accept that after severe brain trauma, such as a stroke, the patient has a chance of recovering part or even full functioning. This is because the brain finds a new way to function if part is damaged; often it builds new neural pathways around the site of injury.
So the brain is capable of changing – and it can do so across the lifespan. This is due to what is called ‘neuroplasticity’. Neuro stands for ‘neuron’, the nerve cells making up the brain and nervous system, and plastic for ‘changeable, modifiable, malleable.’ Even eighty-year olds can use neuroplasticity to sharpen their memories and regain earlier mental abilities.
With this knowledge, it is clear that we might be neglecting our older students if we fail to consider what might be interfering with their brain’s ability to cope with schoolwork. By evaluating the way their brains developed, assessing vital brain systems that support learning and considering all other factors that could have negatively affected brain structure and function (and perhaps still are), learners of all ages can be helped.
For more information about Integrated Learning Therapy and our neurodevelopmental approach, visit our website www.ilt.co.za. We offer training courses to parents, teachers and helping professionals and details of those are on the website. In addition, you can contact us at email@example.com.
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