By Dianne Craft, MA, CNHP

Are you working with a bright, hard working child or teenager who has to work too hard to learn?  This is the child who does not respond to other curriculum or materials and teaching strategies that have worked so well with your other children. In fact, you may be on your fourth reading/phonics program, your third math program, and your fourth spelling program.  

If it is your first child or student who is struggling, you may now have a younger sibling or other students who are yelling out the words from the corner of the room. That’s when you decide, “Something isn’t right” with this child.  You wonder if this child has a processing problem, a learning disability, or Dyslexia.   You are puzzled because orally, he/she is so good in many things, and loves to listen to stories.  What is going on?

According to Dr. Mel Levine, MD, in his book, One Mind at a Time, all learning requires energy. He refers to it as “battery energy.”  I like this term.  It clearly describes what we see happening with the struggling learner. This child is using way too much battery energy to write or remember sight words or phonics for reading.  We see the battery drain happen before our eyes.  Our question is, why does this child have to work so hard at things that should not take so much energy to learn or remember?  

This energy drain is generally because this child has one or more of the Four Learning Gates blocked.  We think of these learning gates as information pathways.  Children who learn easily seem “smart” because they don’t have any major blocks in their information pathways.  Our struggling learner may have many blocks.  When we speak of a blocked learning gate, we mean that the processing skill has not transferred into the Automatic Brain Hemisphere. The child continues to need to concentrate on the processing task because of this lack of transfer.

 

Exploring the Four Learning Gates
As you look at the list of characteristics of a struggling learner, it is important to remember that many children have one characteristic, but aren’t struggling.  Conversely, a child does not need all of the characteristics to be struggling.  It is also common to find that a child has all four learning gates blocked.

 

1. Visual Processing Gate
The act of moving the eyes over a page from left to right is not a naturally developed trait.  For example, in Israel they read right to left, and in Japan they read in a column.  We teach this process when a child is first learning to read, by having him track with his finger across the page to train his eyes to move in this fashion.  After some practice, this should transfer to the child’s automatic hemisphere.  

 

How do we know if this process has not transferred and is taking too much energy?  

These are some of the characteristics this child will exhibit:
  • Reading reversals (on=no; was=saw…after age seven)
  • Skipping of little words, but can read longer word
  • Reading begins smooth, but soon becomes labored
  • Older children who can read, but tire easily…yawning shortly after beginning reading.

 

2. Writing Processing Gate
When the child’s visual/spatial skills, or the act of writing, haven’t transferred into the automatic hemisphere, he often looks like he’s “sloppy, lazy or unmotivated.”  His papers are poorly spaced, or he refuses to write much of anything for the parent or teacher. This is the most common learning gate that is blocked in gifted children.  It seems like they are “allergic to a pencil.”  Transferring his thoughts into writing, or just copying something, takes a huge amount of battery energy for this child.  

 

Characteristics of this gate being blocked include:
  • Frequent or occasional reversals in letters after age seven (even if only “once in awhile”)
  • Copying is laborious
  • Poor spacing in math papers
  • Great stories orally, but writes very little
  • Does mental math to avoid writing

 

3. Auditory Processing Gate
A common myth about Auditory Processing is,  “My child has an auditory processing problem because he can’t remember three directions at once.”  This is likely more of a focusing/attention issue.  For example, if we would ask him to ”Go into the kitchen and get a candy bar, a glass of chocolate milk, and a dish of ice cream for you,” the child would likely remember these directions.

 

A child, who is suffering with an Auditory Processing Problem, generally has trouble with reading.  

  

Common characteristics of this gate being blocked are:
  • Phonics sounds don’t stick; no matter how many games you have played.
  • Sight words are hard to memorize…even learning alphabet letter names can be hard
  • Sounds out same word over and over in a story
  • Can’t easily sequence sounds…like months of the year or skip counting
  • Is a “Word Guesser”
  • No phonetic pattern to spelling…doesn’t hear consonants.  “Thursday is Tuesday”

 

4. Focus/Attention Gate
This can be the most puzzling blocked learning gate to identify. A child may look like he has no memory, or a true learning disability, when what is really going on is that this child has to use too much battery energy to remain focused during the instruction, or completing the lesson.  The child may look like he is “paying attention” to your lesson by giving you good eye contact.  However, in his head, he is “two doors down playing with his friend, or in the dinosaur village.”   

 

Here are some characteristics of a child who has to use too much battery energy to remain focused:
  • Inconsistency in performance from one day to another
  • Needs to have someone sit with him to finish work
  • Forgets previously learned work much of the time…seems to have a “memory” problem
  • Can have impulsive behavior…easily getting upset when things go wrong.
  • Sensory Processing problems (little things bother him a lot, like tags on shirts, loud noises, transitions, foods, etc.)

 

Be assured, you do not need to be an “expert, or professional” to make learning easier for your child or student.  In the many articles I have on my website, I discuss each learning gate individually, and show you the corrections that I developed when I taught these wonderful children in my special education classes.  

 

You will see that it is not hard to do.  It just requires some tools, strategies and techniques that you may not be familiar with right now.  

 Bottom line:  Learning does not have to be so hard for your child.

 


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The holidays are rapidly approaching and sometimes our schedules fill up before we know it.  However, for parents of children with special needs; specifically those with sensory differences, the holidays can be an especially stressful time.  What can you do to make them better?

 

Keep as much routine or rhythm to your day as possible
Often times due to holiday closings, parties or family commitments, many of our days are not “typical” during November and December.  However, if you can, keep some routine in your days.  Try to keep meals, naps and sleep schedules the same, if at all possible.  Even if the times are a bit off, having the same routines (reading a story, brushing teeth, praying before bed) can make a big difference in how your children react to the holidays.

 

Consider preparing your child for new events
This looks different for every child.  But if your child needs to know what is going on, consider making a visual schedule or a social story to introduce them to new people, events, or new sensory experiences.  Talk about the event, show them pictures, or even pick out a video (YouTube is fabulous for this) to show them what the event will entail.

 

Put yourself in your child’s shoes
As you schedule your holiday plans, try to step back and really look at how much you have scheduled. Think through what your child typically has trouble with or what triggers problems or meltdowns?  Are there modifications to be made?  If you have children who love something, and others who don’t, could part of your family participate?

 

Don’t be afraid to say NO!
This is probably my best tip: Don’t be afraid to say no.  Though the holidays are special, we tend to over schedule and cram every social event into a month’s time.  It can get overwhelming, even for adults who are extroverts.  Sometimes we just need to say no.  This involves prioritizing what is really important to us and our families.  We don’t have to do everything in order to make memories.  In fact, some of things that make the best memories, are those we do at home and without planning.

 

Let go of your expectations
In this fabulous of age of Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest, we tend to want all our memories to look “picture perfect”.  Guess what?  That’s not real life.  Sometimes the greatest triumph you will have is keeping your children alive or getting everyone a bath.  Remember, when you see pictures of perfection that is literally one second of that person’s day.  I can guarantee you that the other 86,399 seconds in their day do not look that way.

 

Embrace simple family traditions
Reading Christmas stories, playing with a nativity set, singing Christmas carols, decorating a tree, baking Christmas cookies, coloring and decorating the house all are fun ways to celebrate.  You don’t have to be out at light shows or at a party with 100 people to make memories that your children will cherish.  Just as you can do school “outside of the box”, you can do Christmas “outside of the box.”  You can do it any way that works for you and your family.  Don’t be afraid of embracing new traditions or trying different things.

 

Whatever you choose to do this year, we at SPED Homeschool pray it is an amazing time for you and your family.

 


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