Look closely at a child’s reading difficulty: It may be a symptom of an underlying problem
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!
It isn’t simply a question of seeing. An optometrist finds that Mat has perfectly normal vision. The truth is that efficient reading depends on many skills, not only the health and visual acuity of the eyes. The problem may be more deep seated – caused by faulty wiring in the brain, that we call ‘neurological disorganization’ or ‘incomplete neurological organisation’. If the child’s inability to read is the result of incomplete neurological organization, there will be other significant clues. If his eyes don’t function well together, he will most likely get tired quickly; he may find that certain sports are difficult; most likely his coordination will be poor and he may show awkward movements.
Many children with learning problems show a lack of coordination stemming from poor neurological organization. These children are not stupid but merely need help in rewiring the brain networks to bring about organized neural pathways needed for reading, writing and numeracy. ILT practitioners see this day after day. Once the correct connections have been made in Mat’s brain, he might suddenly take off and develop rapidly in many areas.
Clues to neurological disorganistion
Here are some of the signs of a disorganized brain that many children with reading problems (also labelled as dyslexia) show:
They lack coordination. Running, walking even crawling seem awkward and lack grace and smoothness
- They have undecided or delayed dominance, meaning that they show uncertain preference for writing, for throwing, stepping on a stool, etc. This lack of a clear dominant side exists way beyond the age of six years, when most children have developed clear dominance.
- They seem to love music
- Their handwriting has no consistent slant: their letters seem to have different angles and go in different directions
- They show signs of visual difficulties – often holding their noses close to the paper when reading or writing
- Many reverse letters and numbers, mixing up the directions of letters such as ‘b’ and ‘d’. They may read ‘saw’ for ‘was’ or write numbers backwards
- Most are poor spellers who may be drilled for a test but forget what they learn in a very short time
- Many seem to manage maths better than reading and speak more fluently than they can express themselves in writing
- Most seem to understand spoken language but struggle with written language.
The importance of neurodevelopment
Very often the brain does not develop normally if a stage of development is missed. The eyes, for instance, learn to work together in the period when the child is crawling on hands and knees. When the leading hand feels the floor, the eyes will reflexively focus on that hand. This helps both eyes focus on one point at the same time. The two images from the two eyes are superimposed in the brain and the child sees one image and not two. Crawling is also very important in helping the child judge distance, an ability needed when writing.
During this all-important crawling stage, the ears are also learning to work together. As the forward hand hits the floor, the head moves gently from side to side as the eyes follow the hand. This provides stimulation to the vestibular system in the inner ears, and much of the information leading to the speech centre is coordinated through this system. The vestibular system coordinates visual perception with the ability of judging where the sound comes from and helps the brain make the postural adjustments to allow the child to move freely.
This is just one example to emphasise the importance of the crawling stage in infancy. Parents need to severely limit the time that babies are kept in playpens, walking rings, car seats and such like. These prevent the infant from learning the normal crawling patterns which are so vital for coordinating all the functions of the body.
How do we address this?
ILT practitioners look for clues that point to inadequate functioning or underdevelopment of brain areas that support learning in their young clients. They also appreciate the role of nutrition in brain functioning and know that a healthy brain depends on the body being healthy and well nourished.
Once the underlying causes of the child’s problem have been uncovered, a programme of individualized activities are given to the family to be done at home every day. The child’s progress is monitored through a series of programme reviews, in order to adjust the activities according to progress shown.
This process basically gives the brain a second chance to develop all areas and so make it possible for the child to ‘catch up’ on those difficult academic areas.