So many parents are being told that their children have concentration problems, can’t focus or show limited attention span. Along with these descriptors, they hear that their child daydreams, fails to complete tasks, loses things, fidgets excessively and so on.
Seeking medical help usually results in a prescription for a stimulant drug, such as Ritalin, Concerta and Strattera. We do know that behaviour can be changed using certain drugs. On Ritalin, for example, children are better able to pay attention, stay on task and sit still but the results are temporary; only with repeated dosages and sustained-release tablets will the benefits last all day. Increasing the dosage over time brings risk of potential side effects even if these don’t show immediately and prolonged use should be discouraged because of uncertainty about long-term effects. In addition, the drugs don’t address the basic problem. They may make children easier to manage but don’t make them smarter or happier. Children don’t learn any better when on medication – in fact, their work may show a lack of thought and originality. They help the children get through the day in a mechanistic way but don’t make them better prepared for tomorrow. Unfortunately, the drugs are often used alone, with no on-going programme to help the child in other ways. In short, they may be the quickest and easiest ‘solution’ for children with attention problems but they aren’t the best.
The reason is that drugs don’t affect the underlying problems. Behavioural problems and inattentiveness are symptoms of other problems and the answer isn’t to be found in medication. Let’s have a look at some case studies:
Little Anna was the smallest child in class and came across as being quiet, withdrawn and easily distracted. She stares at other children and plays nervously with her crayons and books. When evaluated for neurodevelopmental delays, she showed that her stress levels were very high. She had some early developing irregularities that interfered with her brain’s ability to cope with the sights and sounds in the world. She was simply overwhelmed by what she perceived as ‘threats’ from her environment. Once these were addressed, her stress levels dropped and she became more responsive.
John never sits still. His constant activity often makes him a nuisance in class and at home. Under investigation, ILT found that due to hitches during his birth and early development, he had mixed dominance, and had failed to develop left-right preference because he hadn’t integrated the two sides of his body. He also hadn’t developed the foundational systems needed for efficient motor functioning and stable posture. As these were addressed, he became better able to keep his body still and use it in developmentally healthy movement activities that he could not master before. This led to his behaviour becoming less annoying, increased ability to make friends and improvements in classroom learning.
Kevin is a daydreamer. He often stares out a window or at the television screen. He is slow to complete his work. He is clumsy and often drops things. He has allergies and is often ill with sinusitis and colds. An ILT evaluation showed that his body didn’t work automatically. He was using his mind to run his body so the brain’s higher levels, supposed to be used in learning and daily coping, were not available for cognitive functioning. It would have been so easy for Kevin to slip through the cracks without achieving his potential. A programme to help underdeveloped brain areas brought about noticeable improvements in his schoolwork and physical coordination.
Little Sam was asked to leave his nursery school because his ‘violent’ behaviour and tantrums became too much to manage. A full neurodevelopmental evaluation by ILT showed no irregularities in development or sensory-motor system functioning. What was suspected was a sensitivity to food colourants and preservatives. On a trial basis following this suspicion, Sam’s family excluded any foods containing these additives and Sam almost immediately became calmer, eventually returning to his school as a happy, friendly little boy.
So drugs aren’t the answer to behavioural problems or inattentiveness. Instead, these children need a comprehensive evaluation followed by an individualized programme that corrects identified areas of irregular functioning.
Interestingly, an ILT associate ran a programme with a group of over 50 children, all diagnosed with ADHD. They were given daily certain sensory-motor stimulation and other movement activities designed to recreate the movement patterns that function to develop the brain in the early years. About half these children were on Ritalin when they started the programme. All were taken off Ritalin from three to six months later with no need to be put back on Ritalin or other behaviour-modifying medication. For all children, the results showed the elimination of behaviour problems, better school results and dramatically improved coordination. Social skills improved significantly as well but most importantly, the children were clearly happier.
Correcting behavioural and learning problems isn’t easy. Effective intervention needs a holistic approach that reaches to the problems in the background and provides a supportive, encouraging environment. For this reason, ILT is practiced in the family – no weekly visits to a therapist but ‘quality time’ spent in movements in which one or both parents can be involved. The rewards are immeasurable. There is nothing better than watching a child who begins to feel good from the inside out!
 Shirley Randolph, Tree of Learning Centre, Boise, Idaho
In recent years, I’ve had parents phoning me with the news that they have a child who has had an assessment to find out their learning style. They usually go on to say that results showed their child to be a ‘right-brained’ learner and that they need help in convincing schools to change the curriculum. Seems that right-brained learners struggle to cope with a largely left-brained approach to schooling. What’s going on? Is there really a battle going on in children’s heads as the two brain hemispheres fight for supremacy? Are children really operating with only half a brain? Can their learning, future career and general future well-being in their careers be predicted on the basis of body and brain dominance?
It’s a moot question but despite hearing all about these evaluations and the significance of results, only two facts remain clear. Children, as with all humans, are whole-brained learners and the brain hemispheres prefer cooperating rather than conflicting with each other.
The terms ‘right brain’ and ‘left brain’ are used to oversimplify what is actually a highly complex research field. Referring to the two hemispheres as separate brains with specialized areas of functioning is more a metaphor than a fact. We would serve children better by improving our understanding of how we can sensibly apply brain research to help children use both hemispheres as an efficient and flexible system for learning and performing. To put this more simply: if a particular hemisphere is not supporting the child adequately and relies on the opposite half to do most of the learning work, the question to be asked is why? What is going on in the ‘weaker’ half and how can we encourage it to step up to the mark and do what it is supposed to do?
With thanks to Nancy O’Dell and Patricia Cook, who wrote the book: Stopping ADHD.
The Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR) is one of the primitive, reflexive movements made by all human babies. The STNR is an automatic movement that makes the top half of the body work in opposition to the bottom half. This means that when the top half of the body is straight, the bottom half bends, and vice versa. It also makes it possible for the right and left sides of the body to work together. The reflex is activated by a change in the position of the neck, which produces a change in the muscular tension (tonic).
The reflex makes it possible for a baby to crawl and then after a good long period of crawling – about six months – the child should have crawled enough to be in control of his body rather than having the STNR in control. If something goes wrong along the developmental path, the child may not be able to crawl easily and so find the attempted movement so frustrating that they simply get up and walk early. This allows the STNR to remain past it’s due date!
Early on, the interference of the STNR may not be noticeable because young children are allowed lots of freedom to sit as they like and move more. They are seldom required to remain at a desk to complete tasks and listen to the teacher for long periods.
If his body is controlled by the STNR, a child will feel more comfortable if his arms are straight when sitting with knees and hips bent, or sitting with straight legs when the arms are bending in order to write. If the STNR caused a child’s arms to actually shoot straight out in front of them when their legs are bent, adults would realise a problem. But the reflex is not so obvious. We are talking about normal children who are still experiencing the ‘pull’ of the reflex, rather than being totally under its control. This means that they may be able to sit normally for a while but they cannot sit comfortably and they cannot sit still for long periods of time.
What you might see.
Children start to move in ways that help to relieve the physical tension they feel when required to sit still. They may reach their arms across the desk to try and maintain straight arms; they may sit on one or both legs under them; they may try to ‘lock’ their bodies into their chairs by wrapping their feet around the chair legs; they may prefer to lie on the floor; they may slouch in their chairs, keeping their arms and legs stretched in front on them; they may prefer to stand at their desks; they may try to write with their head on one of their arms.
And the STNR doesn’t only affect sitting but also impacts on other aspects of learning. For this reason, it is important to check that a retained STNR is not part or whole of your child’s ‘disruptive’ behaviours and school difficulties.