(With thanks to Svea Gold)
When Mat fails to learn to read at grade level, his parents are encouraged to help him with extra reading at home, or refer him for remedial reading. This often doesn’t help very much and the reason is that reading failure is a symptom that the child has an underlying problem. His problem may not be the act of learning to read at all. The struggle to read is a red flag signifying that there is something going on in Mat’s brain that is the real reason for his problem.
For example, if the two sides of Mat’s brain aren’t communicating properly, the eyes won’t function properly either. Most people see words with each eye. If you are reading the words THE CAT your right and left eyes will separately see the words (THE CAT and THE CAT), then send the signals to the brain. The brain, in turn, superimposes the two images into one and you ‘read’ the words: THE CAT.
If Mat’s eyes are not functioning properly, he might look at the two images and see: THE TCAT CAT. He can’t make sense of this so can’t read it. He blinks and looks again. This time he sees: THE CATHE CAT. Mat decides that he really sucks at reading and must be very stupid!
Most pre-school children amaze us with their ability. Little Hanlie, at aged two, can name all the animals in her favourite picture book. Hansie names most of the cars on the road before his third birthday and many four year olds are fascinated by dinosaurs and know their long, difficult names.
Then they begin school and the wheels come off. This can be devastating, especially if they have been encouraged to start school early because of their demonstrated intelligence. It is so important for families to know that even if their child has learned to read at a very early age, they may not be ready to learn. Things may go well in the first year or so but slowly progress falls behind. Very often parents come along (wisely) for a neurodevelopment evaluation and tell us that the child will be repeating
Grade R because of emotional immaturity. This is not entirely accurate. Failing to cope with school has far more to do with brain maturity – what we call a state of learning readiness at school-going age.
It’s hard being a parent in today’s world. It’s also hard being a teacher. They have to deal with classroom conditions that make it difficult to teach effectively. For this reason, we can’t blame them too harshly for looking for labels that match certain difficult behaviors in children and that result in help from other professionals in controlling the behaviour.
The most common label emerging in recent years is that of ‘ADHD’. Many medical and mental health practitioners find that there is a lack of evidence to support the actual existence of this mental disorder. It is difficult to justify the validity of an ADHD diagnosis because there are no tests to ‘prove’ it exists. In spite of this, it remains the term of choice to use when children fail to behave as they should in an educational setting.
There is another side to the coin – one that does not rely on snap judgements by medical practitioners or well-meaning but unknowing teachers. Children don’t need diagnoses. Children who have problems with attention, organization, hyperactivity and learning difficulties don’t need to be treated as suffering from disorders. They don’t need to be stigmatized by labels and poisoned by drugs that suppress their symptoms and do harm to their systems. They need real help to feel and function well.
The underlying causes of the symptoms of ADHD are many. Several children may carry this label because their behaviors tick the same boxes but they may have very different reasons for behaving the way they do. Very often there are neurodevelopment irregularities leading to immature brain areas; there may be nutritional deficiencies affecting the brain and body; poor gut health directly impairs brain functioning; emotional factors may play a role; environmental offenders such as heavy metals might be part of the picture. Nothing stands alone, so sometimes we don’t find a single, simple cause but have to address the problem holistically.
So don’t believe blindly in the ADHD label. We can see how children are behaving, just as we can see the tip of an iceberg. What isn’t obvious is what lies beneath the surface. Before allowing our children to be diagnosed with a mental disorder and treated accordingly with a potentially dangerous drug be prepared too look deeper.
A good starting point would be to explore the website www.ilt.co.za and read about the work of Integrated Learning Therapy (ILT) – an approach that seeks to address the real causes underlying superficial labels. ILT practitioners are available countrywide and you are also welcome to study an ILT course to help you learn more. Those teachers who have studied with ILT recommend it highly. They learn to look at children with very different eyes.