Helping children with Learning Disabilities (LD)
Over the last few years there seems to have been an enormous leap in explanations for Learning Disabilities (LD). There is talk of genetic predisposition, drug therapy, processing times (e.g. slow auditory processing), brain imaging techniques and findings, quantified EEGs, brain biofeedback, sound therapy, light therapy, and many others. Each new avenue quickly gains a following of professionals offering help.
In the midst of all this, one might wonder if the ‘old-fashioned’ belief in movement programmes is outdated. With all the computerized programmes, new therapies and drugs that speed up processing times being more and more widespread, can we motivate the belief in the power of movement programmes? Why does Integrated Learning Therapy (ILT) still achieve such good results, even though the approach does not rely on technology or sophisticated equipment?
The answer lies in the simple truth that LD is not just a cognitive (intellectual) deficit. A really close look at children identified has having LD will show that they also have significantly high deficits in several motor (movement) areas. This was supported by research in England, which suggested that very refined, accurate tests of balance might be a quick way of screening for LD.
Integrated Learning Therapy (ILT) finds that movement training is wonderfully beneficial. It refines and speeds up kinesthetic (feeling of movement) processing as well as auditory processing, visual processing and the integration of all three to produce balanced, calmer individuals who become more proficient in reading, spelling, maths and writing.
ILT sees that the learning problem is in the brain of children who have difficulties – not because of lack of intelligence. The brain ‘wiring’ is faulty or incomplete, leading to neurological disorganization. Look at the behaviour of a child with LD. They reflect the disorganized neural networks in their brains with their disorganized ways of trying to learn and cope with the demands of home and school. They are struggling with information that is not getting through from skin, body, ears and eyes to the brain, or they are processing the information too slowly, or it may be scrambled along the way. Some children may be hearing only part of a word or sentence and, to make matters worse, what they do hear may be processed slowly and is confusing. They don’t hear full instructions from teachers and parents. Others can’t use their eyes to learn because vision might not be supporting them – even though optometrists declare their sight to be normal.
To add insult to injury, their two brain hemispheres may not be working together. You can see signs of this in school-aged children: they don’t automatically know their left from their right, they can’t do more than one thing at a time, handwriting and producing written work is tedious and really hard because they struggle to organize themselves or their work. Not surprisingly, they become frustrated with the daily effort and may have meltdowns. Simply put, LD children are usually working much, much harder than their more ‘learning ready’ classmates.
The good news
The good news is that we can speed up the rate at which information reaches the brain and is correctly processed. Brain networks can be reinforced to be more stable – and we do this with the knowledge that the brain is plastic and in a constant state of change throughout our lifespans.
As is true of other countries around the world, it is unlikely that our South African government will increase resources to help those with learning difficulties in the near future. We do, however, have resources in the form of trained people who can help introduce movement and perceptual training into school programmes. Several schools around our country use ILT as part of the school day to help – and the amazingly successful results speak for themselves. If you’re interested in knowing which schools these are, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ILT practitioners around the country help individual LD children but the ideal would be to have programmes in the schools. Schools should be the place where immature children are given the chance to catch up. Appropriate exercises can be done daily in the classrooms. With the right attitude, schools can use these professionals and helpful parents to improve the learning of LD and other learners.
This is why we offer courses to empower teachers, parents and other helping professionals to share the knowledge and acquire the skills needed to implement such programmes. If you are a parent of an LD child or teach LD children in your classroom, then the first step towards truly helping would be to study what we know and have been successfully implementing for nearly 20 years.
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 Angela Fawcett, in Pheloung, B. Help your class to learn. Manly: Australia.