Stumbling Blocks to Learning
The most common stumbling blocks our clients deal with are:
Under developed or low academic abilities
Sensory integration disorder
Mental midline processing weakness
Visual spatial learning style
Auditory processing disorder
Developmental or behavioral visual processing disorders
Student learning style
Under developed or low academic abilities. These abilities are identified with the Structure of Intellect (SOI) evaluation. The SOI CR test evaluates for up to 27 abilities needed for academic success, and with the use of specific modules linked to each subtest, abilities are developed to average or above.
Sensory Integration disorder. Sensory Integration is the process of organizing sensory input so the brain produces a useful body response–useful perceptions, emotions, and thoughts. Sensory integration sorts, orders, and eventually combines all the individual sensory inputs into a whole brain function.
When the funtions of the brain are whole and balanced, body movements are highly adaptive, learning is easy, and good behavior can be a natural outcome.
The late Dr. A. Jean Ayres, an occupational therapist, was the first person to describe sensory integration (dysfunction) disorder, or the malfunctioning of one or more parts of the sensory integration process. According to Dr. Ayres, sensory integration dysfunction is to the brain what indigestion is to teh digestive tract. Dr. Ayres used the term “dysfunction” as to say “malfunction”. This means that the brain is not functioning in a natural, efficient manner. The term “sensory” is defined in terms of the inefficiency of the brain as it affects the sensory processing systems.
Sensory Processing Disorder refers to the brain not processing, or organizing the flow of sensory impulses in a manner that gives the indivdiual good, precise information about himself or the world. When teh brain is not processisng sensory input well, it often means it is also not directing behavior effectively. Without good sensory integration, learning is difficult, the individual often feels uncomfortable about himself, and he cannot easily cope with ordinary demands and stress.
Think of the brain as a large city, and the neural impulses as teh traffic within that city. Good sensory processiing enables all impulses to flow easily and reach their destination quickly. Sensory Integration Disorder is a “traffic jam” in the brain. Some sory information gets “stuck in traffic” while other informatio is able to flow smoothly. Sensory Integration Disorder is a malfunction, not an absense of function. The individual with Sensory Integration Disorder has all the neurons in place, but those neurons are not communicating with each other.
Many learning problems are the result of poor sensory integration, and most individuals with learning differences or disabilities have some degree of sensory integration disorder.
According to Dr. Charles Krebs, the brain seems to run by a program that says, “Do it in the most efficient way.” In all of its functions, the brain seeks optimum efficiency, or the path of least resistance. If one particular function is not accessible, the brain will automatically go on to the next most efficient process for doing that particular task. If the second task is not available, it will go on to the third or the fourth most efficeint way. Because each alternative process is less efficient, it becomes more stressful. The brain will keep searching for an appropriate processing method, until eventually, the activity may bcome so subconsicously or consciously stressful that teh person will choose to give up trying to do the task altogether. Dr. Krebs gives an example of water running down hill. Running water takes the most direct route possilbe. If you block the most direct route, it willl move towards the most direct route. Each nw block gives the water a longer journey to the bottom. Too many blocks means the water might be absorbed before it gets down the hill. This is exactly how the mind operates.
Mental Midline Processing
All specific learning difficulties result from either lack of access to specific brain functions, or the inability to efficently integrate those functions that we do access. main functions, like reading and writing, require the use of both logic (left brain) and gestalt (right brain) lead functions simultaneously and in highly integrated patterns. If an individual cannot integrate these functions, even though they can access them, that person simply cannot function in a neurologically organized manner.
A very small percentage of individuals (less than two percent) are fortunate to have good access to both gestalt (right brain) and logic (left brain) functions, but are not able to integrate them because of poor access across the corpus callosum (mental midline). What this means is that the two hemispheres cannot effectively talk to each other and integrate their activities. Some possible indicators of mental midline processing weakness affect reasoning abilities and include:
- Does not move easily from one idea to another
- Veers off from the subject at hand to follow some minor detail
- Has difficulty adjusting to changes in content, format, and mode of response
- Takes too long to solve relatively simple problems
- Is inconsistent in thinking and makes illogical arguments
- Has difficulty learning abstract concepts (freedom, pronoun, nation)
- Has difficulty organizing, grouping or forming concepts
- Has problems validating ideas
- Generalizes with difficulty
- Does not see cause and affect relationships
- Has poor short term retention for subject-matter facts
- Uses immature or low level problem solving and learning strategies
- Does not generate relevant ideas of appropriate depth
- Cannot organize ideas into a cohesive plan of action
- Jumps to premature conclusions
The visual spatial learner or “picture thinker”. Learning style is an important focus of the Power Tools for Learning program and individuals who demonstrates a divergent or visual spatial learning style, seems to have the most difficulty in a traditional classroom environment. (Most public education classrooms use a very linear curriculum design that are geared for students with the same linear learning style).Visual spatial individuals are adventurous learners—they are open to the multiple sights, sounds, and thoughts around them. The visual spatial learner can be an adventurous individual with a wondering imagination and a global perspective that can be anywhere at any given time of day. Many times when relating to the teacher or classmate with a linear sequential thought process, miscommunication and misunderstandings occur.
When these students are confronted with teachers or classmates who appear to be critical, the visual spatial learner may not understand the communication and may take it as a personal attack. Critical examination may not come easily to visual spatial learner and the individual may need to be taught these skills.
When the visual spatial learner is placed in a structured learning environment they become restless and possibly disruptive. These individuals, when assessed using the Structure of Intellect evaluation are many times gifted in a number of areas. Unfortunately, their visual spatial giftedness can also create a situation where abilities needed in a traditional learning environment may not develop to a level that creates success in a learning environment. Once these lower abilities are identified and remediation occurs (development of low abilities), the visual spatial learner can be successful in most learning environments.
Perceptual Conflict. Many of our clients are divergent or visual spatial learners. In other words, these individuals think in pictures. During perceptual conflict, perception is distorted. When the perception is recorded in memory, the individual’s understanding of that memory may also be distorted. An example of perceptual conflict with a symbol is when the letter “b” appears to be the letter “d”, or the letter “M” may look like a “W”, or the letter “n” looks like a “u”. Perceptual conflict also occurs when sight words have no pictures. For example, “this” “that” “the” “and” have no visual representation for the word. The visual spatial learner may not have a visual image of the word, and therefore cannot recognize the word, unlike words such as “elephant” “house” “pizza” “car” or “mother”.
When perceptual conflict occurs, the child feels confused and becomes restless and unfocused. If the confusion is severe, the child may act out with symptoms that are many times diagnosed as Attention Deficit Disorder or (ADD).
Auditory Processing Disorders (APD)
Auditory Processing Disorder is the inability or decreased ability to attend to, discriminate, recognize, or understand information that is presented by listening. Most language is learned by listening. In order to learn in school, a child must have normal hearing, to be able to listen attentively during the school day, and be able to separate out important speech (like the parents or teachers’ verbal directions) from the other noises present at home and at school. When individuals’ auditory skills are compromised, learning is more challenging, and sometimes too difficult without special assistance. Most people with APD have normal intelligence and normal hearing, and may or may not have some sound sensitivity. Children with APD may demonstrate some of the following characteristics:
- Inconsistent response to sound (sometimes hearing and sometimes not)
- Short attention span, especially when asked to listen
- Easily distracted by sounds and visual disturbances
- Difficulty telling where a sound is coming from
- Become upset by background or loud sounds
- Frequently request that information be repeated
- Trouble remembering things they have learned auditorially
- Trouble with phonics
- A long and repeated history of ear infections
APD has several possible causes, and more research is needed to understand these possible causes. APD may be caused by neurological (brain) disorders, birth trauma, meningitis or other viral infections, head trauma, or a history of chronic or repeated ear infections early in life. Because the brain develops rapidly the first few years of life, auditory input needs to be consistent for the brain to develop normal pathways. Uncorrected hearing loss may cause delay in both language and processing skills in some children, and hearing loss due to repeated ear infections (or fluid in the ears) can contribute to APD. Sometimes, no cause can be determined.
Usually, a parent or teacher may suspect a hearing loss because the child is inattentive or inconsistent in responding to sound. The first step when these concerns are expressed is to have a complete basic hearing evaluation by a certified or licensed audiologist. If the hearing evaluation shows normal hearing, a follow up exam should be done to determine the individuals’ ability to hear in difficult conditions, like those experienced at home or school. Consulting with a speech-language pathologist, neurologist, occupational therapist, and psychologist may also assist in determining a possible cause of APD and the extent of the problem.
Listening skills can improve with careful attention and control of the learning environment. A number of auditory training programs are available. I am trained in The Listening Program by Advanced Brain Technologies. Additional information on this program can be found at www.advancedbrain.com. Your child’s listening problems are not willful, nor are they the result of a behavioral problem, but may appear as though they are behaviorally related. Each program must be tailored to the individuals specific needs.
Vision is an extremely complex process that allows individuals to identify what he or she is seeing, and to anticipate what is “coming at us”, and to prepare for a response. Vision should not be confused with eyesight. Eyesight is the basic ability to read the eye chart at the optometrist office. Eyesight contributes to basic visual skills called ocular-motor skills (eye movement or eye motor skills). The vestibular system has a profound effect on these motor skills. When assessing an individual’s visual processing skills the following visual motor skills are considered:
- Fixation – shifting the gaze from one object to another, such as reading from one word to another across a line of print
- Tracking – following moving objects with ease and accuracy, such as when catching a ball or watching a tennis match
- Focus Flexibility – moving the eyes smoothly between near and distant objects, such as when copying from a chalkboard, and
- Binocular vision or eye teaming – forming a single mental picture from the images that the two eyes separately record, such as looking into the sky with both eyes to see the moon.