Children flying under the radar

Your child hasn’t been diagnosed with dyslexia, dyspraxia, specific learning difficulty, ADHD or any other condition, but is often unhappy, unmotivated and underachieving.  This is possibly a child with hidden difficulties. 


Such difficulties can cause frustration, leading to poor behaviour, erratic performance or emotional outbursts as outward signs of underlying and unidentified difficulties.  They may well learn to tolerate school and their schools tolerate them but they are actually underachieving academically, have low self-esteem and may rebel against society or begin to accept themselves as losers or somehow less capable than others. 


These are the children who fly under the radar and struggle with what may well be developmental immaturities.  They don’t receive the help they need to overcome developmental delays but these are impacting on their higher level functional skills such as handwriting, maintaining concentration and postural control and a whole lot more.


When a child has obvious challenges, either physical, mental or emotional, their needs are usually recognised and attempts are made to support them.  The trouble is that sometimes parents feel something about their child’s development is not as it should be but don’t get confirmation from doctors, teachers or other professionals.  A mother may have a gut feeling that her little girl is just not doing as well as she should be, when compared to others of her age. She is reassured and told not to worry, because children develop at different ages and her daughter is probably just a little slower.    I wrote previously about the importance of ‘following your gut’ and want to remind you of that in this post.  When you acknowledge your instincts and act on them by seeking out information you might create early opportunities to prevent longer term problems.


Integrated Learning Therapy (ILT) works with many children with developmental immaturities.  The underlying cause of children not coping with skills needed to succeed academically can begin very early on in the child’s development. Understanding some of the underlying factors makes it possible to ensure that their challenges are addressed.  In this way, underachievement can be prevented.


As parents, we hope that our children will develop normally, even though we expect that there may be some small delays along the way that will resolve themselves over time.  However, not all children will ‘grow out of’ developmental delays unless they get support.


As an example, consider Sam.  His behaviour and academic performance depends on underlying and invisible interacting activities in his body and nervous system.  He may be a wriggler, but rather than merely being naughty or ill-disciplined, he may have sensory systems that are making it physically uncomfortable to remain still and focused.  Sitting still and paying attention can only happen if a child has adequate postural control and balance.  Being able to do this is the result of bodily systems working together.  The vestibular system (the system of balance) arouses the child’s brain so that he can focus; his proprioceptive system (which gives us information about where we are positioned in space) help to maintain an erect posture; his tactile system (sense of touch) allows him to selectively pay attention.  If these systems are not functioning as they should, no matter how hard Sam tries, he won’t succeed in doing what his teacher asks of him.  He will try to please but in doing so, all his attention will be focused on keeping himself still in his chair.  He certainly won’t be attending to the lesson.


When learning difficulties continue to go unrecognized, children learn strategies to cope with or simply avoid aspects of school life that are too hard.  Progress is so slow – they are simply unable to learn as efficiently as their above average intellectual potential should allow.  So some work really hard just to keep up their position at the bottom of the class; some struggle every day with extra reading; others take work home regularly because they cannot finish it in class.


As a general rule, parents know their children better than anyone else.  Their concerns are often accurate indicators of a child’s underlying developmental problems.  To help confirm this, there are a number of early indicators of slow development that need to be noted[1]:

  • Attention: difficulties sustaining attention in class
  • Sitting still: children who wriggle and squirm
  • Receptive language: understanding what is said to them
  • Expressive language: how they are able to communicate to others
  • Pencil grip: how they hold their writing instruments and cutlery
  • Visual skills: eye control and seeming difficulties with early reading games and activities
  • Body awareness of themselves and in relation to others
  • Understanding body language and being able to respond to others who express themselves through body language
  • Coordination: throwing and catching balls, walking, skipping, climbing, running
  • Immature behaviour: difficulties sharing, taking turns, controlling impulses


Look for support

Follow your gut feeling by becoming knowledgeable about what to expect at certain stages of child development, the possible causes of underachievement and where to go for support.


In the field of neurodevelopment ILT practitioners can be a useful resource as they deal with brain development and the underlying causes of learning difficulties at very low levels (meaning they look at very early development to trace back to areas of concern).  Many of them also have backgrounds in occupational therapy, psychology or teaching, meaning that they can call on knowledge from various fields.


For more information and a list of practitioners around the country, visit the website www.ilt.co.za.  Also lick on the video link to see and learn more about the ILT approach: https://youtu.be/OC_UIi26tNE


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[1] Goddard-Blythe, S. 2009. Attention, balance and coordination: The ABC of learning success. Wiley-Blackwell.

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