Rebecka Spencer, SPED Homeschool Consulting Partner
April is Autism Awareness Month and we here at SPED Homeschool understand how autism can affect learning and the education process. SPED Homeschool Founder and CEO, Peggy Ployhar, started their family’s homeschooling journey after their son’s autism diagnosis 19 years ago. We hope that our resources will empower your homeschool and your student will reach his/her full potential.
I remember the day well. Bright blue eyes gazed into mine on that very first day of school. Her curly blonde pigtails bounced as she played by herself on the monkey bars at recess. During the day, we played get-to-know-you games and used manipulatives such as blocks and alphabet letters to enter the world of learning for the newly-established writing workshop class. Then, the tears and awkward mannerisms started. Just a few minutes later, this sweet child was curled in the fetal position in the reading center of the classroom. We soon became familiar with the word to describe what we saw – autism. Autism is a spectrum disorder. It is also the most extreme on the continuum of disorders that we call Functional Disconnection Syndrome (FDS). This was the beginning of our story.
Autistic kids can appear healthy but often act abnormally. They may stare into space for hours, become fixated on a spot on the floor, act out or throw tantrums. Each one is different. I wanted to get to the bottom of this problem, and that is when I found the importance of brain balance and primitive reflex integration methods.
What happens when the left brain becomes more dominant? The right brain falls behind. What can be done to balance the left and right brain? Brain Hemispheric Integration is simple stimulation exercises – the process of finding the underactive areas of the brain, exercising those areas, and then bringing about more connections. When this happens, they do not cross-communicate well. We want to strengthen the weak side and bring about higher functions of the brain. Through stimuli taken in through the senses, the brain develops and builds connections between the neurons. The brain uses stimuli from all of the senses to create what it knows, does, and it learns and adjusts according to successes and failures. The brain is very adaptive. The brain begins to control the body, learn, remember and recall.
We learned five senses in school, but not proprioception, which helps us know where we are in space, or the vestibular sense, which helps sense rotation and movement against the gravitational pull. These extra senses are very important in brain development, and especially in kids who have suffered from a developmental issue like Autism.
In less than a year, a baby learns what food is, what foods it likes or does not, and then approaches or moves away from food. If the baby wants food, he will have to move in a direction to move towards the food, then take the food and finger clasp, then put it in the mouth, and repeat. There are a lot of things involved in this seemingly simple process.
Babies also learn emotion at a young age through senses. They learn language and language sounds connect to symbols in different orders so that something can be said. What does this mean? Some neurons did not develop at the normal rate. or some developed a bit smaller or quicker than needed. This is one reason milestone checks are very important.
In dyslexia, the left side is not as active as the right side, and the left side is the one needed for reading to occur.
Hemisphere exercises stimulate the side of the brain that is underactive, and that is exactly what we began to do with our little learner. We incorporated brain exercises and primitive reflex exercises to help our sweet girl get her brilliant brain back into sync. Typically, it takes about six weeks to integrate all of the primitive reflexes.
These exercises can help start the process of balancing the brain so that your child can overcome developmental delays. Parents can also do these exercises since as many as 40% may also have retained primitive reflexes. Rest assured that this initial step in remediation is easy and does not take long. From here, we want to balance both sides of the brain. Generally, autistic kids have a heavier RIGHT side of the brain than the left. We started doing brain exercises and primitive reflex exercises with our little girl.
Our struggling learner with autism is now finishing up her eighth-grade year and we continue sessions together to make sure we are exercising the needed areas. She is making exceptional grades in all academic areas, taking coding classes, presenting before her classmates with ease, and tutoring on the side. She has friendships she may not have had due to her increased social skills and understands where she is in space, hence integrating all of the reflexes and spatial awareness. When recently asked her career path choice upon enrolling for classes for her freshman year, she confidently exclaimed she wants to enter the field of education.
Interested in learning more on this and other autism related research? Use this link to receive research updates from Dr. Rebecka