By Jan Bedell, Ph.D., Master NeuroDevelopmentalist, SPED Homeschool Board Member & Therapy 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.

 

An autism diagnosis has become alarmingly more prevalent, moving from 1 in 10,000 births 25-30 years ago to 1 in 66 in recent reports. This increase is not explained away by better testing or the “gene pool” theory. So many children today fall into this label because of the broad spectrum of symptoms that are currently included under the umbrella of autism. As neurodevelopmentalists (NDs), the thought process is that the symptoms causing behavioral triggers resulting in this label should be addressed directly and not simply labeled. The question is, where do you start? 

 

Every individual on the planet learns through their senses. The bulk of the information comes primarily from three of the five sensory avenues – auditory, visual, and tactile. In the case of a diagnosis of autism, these sensory messages can be too sensitive (hypersensitive), not sensitive enough (hyposensitive), or a scrambled message. All of the above cause misinterpretation of sensory input by the brain. Every child does the best they can to function with the information provided through these sensory input channels. If one or more channels are giving distorted information to the brain, it compounds the challenge of the daily demand to function in a typical manner.

 

The NeuroDevelopmental Approach uses brain plasticity (its ability to grow and change) to improve the functional ability of the child. We also acknowledge the huge part that the chemistry of the body plays in individual progress. There isn’t enough space to expand on the metabolic aspect of spectrum disorders, so we will focus here on the ND help that is available. Let’s look at the main areas of input to the brain for some examples.

 

Vision:

When peripheral vision is hypersensitive, it means the detail or central vision is not working well, and the peripheral is working too well. When this happens, it is easy for a child to “play” with their vision by moving objects, flapping arms, or moving fingers, just to name a few common repetitive actions that we refer to as sensory play or stimming. These actions produce endorphins that are the same chemicals that make you feel good when you run. Running to get this feeling is good and very different from continuously pumping this chemical into your system by engaging in sensory play. The more this destructive behavior happens, the further the child retreats from the world around them. NDs encourage a multi-pronged approach to this situation. 1. Discourage the sensory play and redirect as much as possible. 2. Work to improve the central detail vision through specific stimulation so the child’s payoff (endorphins) is no longer there and the behavior stops.

 

By addressing the root cause, these symptoms can diminish significantly and allow more typical functioning to emerge.”

 

Tactile/Touch:

Many children with an autism label have an aversion to light touch. Certain clothes bother them, hugs are rejected, washing hair, haircuts and showers can be a nightmare, and food sensitivities make it hard to get nutritional meals consumed. At the same time this hypersensitivity exists, children may also have trouble distinguishing deep touch or pain (hyposensitivity). They might have unexplained bruises or ear infections that are not acknowledged as a problem until the eardrum bursts. All of these examples reflect a brain that is not getting the right messages from the tactile sensory stimulation in the environment. The ND’s solution again is to provide enough tactile input to change the brain and thus the reaction to the outside stimulus.  

 

Auditory:

Many autistic children are so hypersensitive to sound that much of the auditory stimulation in their world is painful. To combat this pain, many children simply turn off their auditory systems. This results in two very negative outcomes. 1. Withdrawal from friends and family as well as struggles with negative behaviors in noisy environments. 2. Lack of use of the auditory channel creating deficits in auditory sequential processing, which is holding pieces of information in short-term memory. This results in the inability to follow directions, stay on task, comprehend what is said or read, understand cause and effect as well as posing a challenge to reading with a phonetics approach. This deficit causes behavioral and academic challenges. For example, if you have a 9-10 year old that is only processing like a 2-year-old, you may have behavior and even academic abilities more like a 2-year-old. 

 

To address the first issue of hypersensitivity, the auditory system needs stimulation to reduce sound sensitivity. For low processing (short-term memory), the children need to learn to stretch their ability over time to be more age-appropriate. This is done through specific 1-2 minute interactions that happen multiple times a day. The results have astounded parents as well as professionals working with these children. To find out more about this important aspect of the autism diagnosis, visit this link. You will find a free test kit to check your child’s short-term memory level for yourself, information about the importance of auditory processing for successfully navigating life, as well as how to enhance this extremely valuable, life-long skill. 

 

In conclusion, it is the author’s opinion that we must pay much more attention to the cause of those negative indicators. By addressing the root cause, these symptoms can diminish significantly and allow more typical functioning to emerge. The best place to do this is at home, so homeschooling a child with autism is highly recommended. When parents are equipped with the right kind of information to stimulate the child’s brain at the root cause, progress toward typical function can be achieved. This is in stark contrast to public schools that have rooms that overstimulate with random stimulus. When there is a room full of children with sensory issues and non-typical behavior, how can you expect your child to gain typical development or behavior? Home with the model of parents and siblings is a much better option. 

 

 

 

 

 


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By Jan Bedell, Ph.D., M ND, SPED Homeschool Partner and  Board Vice-Chair

This month, we have featured articles about Individual Education Plans, or IEPs, for homeschool students. But what if your child still struggles with achieving goals? Do you think your child is capable of meeting their goals but he or she may have a mental block for retaining information? Maybe your child can say all the letter sounds but struggles to put them together when reading. Or does your child still struggle with handwriting goals? An INP may be your missing link to success.

So, what is in INP, and what is the difference between an IEP and an INP? An INP is an Individualized NeuroDevelopmental Plan. NeuroDevelopment (ND) has to do with the brain’s development in three strategic areas of input (getting information accurately into the child’s brain) through the auditory, visual, and tactile channels. We all process information through our senses of hearing, sight, and touch. The brain’s three areas of development for output are language, fine motor, and mobility (ability to move body parts in space, including coordination). To respond to our environment, our brains help us speak, write, and move. Why is this important? The brain controls everything we do, and if the input isn’t right, the output will not be satisfactory. The IEP focuses only on output, or specific performed ability, as the goal. The INP focuses on stimulating the brain to make the goal more easily achievable.

Let me give you an example. If the educational goal is to increase handwriting skills, the traditional approach is to have the student practice writing with specific verbal instruction or a visual example. But, what if the tactile pathway from the brain to the fingers is immature? What if the fingers are not getting the correct feedback from the brain to make the letters well? Or, what if the central detail vision is not fully developed or the eye-tracking and convergence are off, and the visual images are distorted as they are writing? All the practice in the world is not going to overcome these areas of incorrect information from the brain to help the handwriting.

Instead of focusing on the child’s performance, the emphasis should be the root cause(s) of the deficit. Here is where an INP can be very helpful. Allow me to give you an example from my own experience homeschooling my daughter that was developmentally-delayed. On my homeschool IEP, I had the goal of her reading phonetically past CVC words. Of course, a step toward that goal, in my mind, was the mastery of all the phonograms that make up larger words. We used a phonics program with 70 cards representing the sound(s) of each phonogram. My daughter mastered all the cards, even the phonogram with six sounds! But, she was rarely able to hold the sounds together to read beyond three-letter CVC words. 

The brain controls everything we do, and if the input isn’t right, the output will not be satisfactory..”

After getting her INP from a NeuroDevelopmentalist, I understood the additional developmental issues that held her back from reading with phonics. The first issue was her low auditory processing ability. Her processing (short-term memory) was so slow that it prevented the retention of the sounds to make a word after the laborious pronouncing of each phonogram. The second issue that caused reading to be a struggle was my daughter’s central vision had not developed well and, because of this, she kept skipping lines, words, or parts of words. Her INP addressed these areas of neurodevelopmental need. Her plan included eye-tracking activities, specific activities for developing the central vision, and lots of practice for her auditory short-term memory. By adding this input, along with other short, brain-stimulating sessions, she was able to read longer words, which would have been the goal on an IEP but able to be achieved through an INP. 

If you are interested in finding out if an INP (Individualized NeuroDevelopmental Plan) is right for your situation, call for a free personalized consultation  with a NeuroDevelopmental Specialist. Or, to see if low auditory or visual processing is an issue for your child, go to www.BrainSprints.com and scroll down to “Tools” to get the free processing test kits.

 

 

 

 

 


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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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