Helping children to learn.

When a child is finding school a challenge, there are many factors that could affect this. Before an individual program is designed for a child at Yveher, there is a process of listening which occurs. Listening to the child, the parent and the teacher will indicate some common ground. Any learning challenge is researched with certain criteria as guidelines.

Academic Assessments: There are tests available to discern a child’s reading age, maths ability and spelling age. These are formal assessments. These, with the child’s latest school report will provide valuable information as to where the child can be assisted.

Physical Assessments: These assessments are able to focus on different skills that can affect learning in many ways. There are gross motor skills which involve large muscle groups in the body. The areas addressed are those of muscle tone, postural control, bilateral integration, balance, ball skills and general skills such as hopping, skipping etc. Fine motor skills which are smaller muscles are areas such as finger strength, pencil grip and pencil control, in-hand manipulation skills, block building, threading, colouring and cutting skills, pre-writing skills, writing skills and of course, hand-eye coordination. 

 Speech: Speech and language are assessed in areas such as speech articulation, phonological errors, and childhood apraxia of speech.

Oral apraxia indicates that the child has difficulty with volitional control of nonspeech movement. For instance, perhaps the child will have difficulty sticking out and wagging their tongue when requested to do so. Or the child may have difficulty sequencing movements for the command, “Show me how you kiss, now smile, now blow”.

Verbal apraxia indicates that the child has difficulty with volitional movement for the production of speech. This can be at the level of sounds, syllables, words, or even phrases (connected speech). This motor struggle is most often observed with sounds sequencing. Often oral apraxia accompanies verbal apraxia, but that is not always the case. (The word “volitional” in relationship to apraxia/dyspraxia of speech means that the child is experiencing the difficulty in nonspeech and speech movement when they are very consciously aware of trying to make movements or they are attempting movements when requested by others. Those same movements, sounds, etc. may be heard while the child is busy playing or he/she just seems to blurt out when no one is really paying attention. For example, a child may be playing happily and parents may hear sounds being made – “ma, ma, ba, ma,da”. However, when parents ask the child to use the sounds,eg. “Mama!” , the child is unable to do so. The struggle on the child’s face is evident. They may grope with their lips or silently posture their lips as if searching for the necessary position. When the child is not thinking about or attempting the task it comes naturally but when they become aware of the request and attempt to will their mouths to make certain movements, they struggle.)

Voice disorders like stuttering and stammering have many intervention exercises to remediate challenges.

 Language Impairment: This involves difficulties in understanding and expressing language. An area that would be researched is the grammar application in speech and written work, for example, word order, tenses, pronouns and prepositions usage. Another area is language content and meaning – vocabulary, understanding concepts such as opposites, associations and categorizations etc. The use of language, known as pragmatics, where the general rules of communication are applied, is included in eye contact, initiating conversation, assessing how much information to divulge, and allowing people to take turns in the conversation. Different tones in the conversation can show respect for others and assertiveness in certain situations. Young children use picture forms and drawing skills to communicate and it is important not to interfere with their drawing abilities as this is their only written form of communication. There are picture boards and games available which assist children who need more communication tools.

Auditory Processing Skills: These are listening skills where concentration and focusing is built up over time. One of these skills is called whole body listening. There are various interactive skills available such as a talking and listening chair, which guides the child to know when to talk and when to listen during conflicting opinions. Listening skills are not easily acquired and need to be gently taught over a period of time. Of course, keeping content interesting when a person desires to communicate anything is as much the responsibility of a speaker as a listener.

 Tips for parents on listening skills: Parents set an example for children. Children mimic everything they see. A wonderful way to teach children listening skills is to practise in front of them as well as with other children. Listening doesn’t always mean keeping completely silent while the other person speaks. “Active listening” is a great skill, and shows that you are involved in the conversation. You can hone your listening skills by asking follow-up questions, or asking for clarification on certain points. Simple, encouraging questions will allow the speaker to continue talking while you continue listening. Become a people watcher. Learn how other people listen, and take mental notes about the habits of people you think are good listeners as well as people you think are bad listeners. Make sure that there is no interrupting and maintain eye contact when you dialogue with your child. Take note of what really gets your child talking passionately. Everyone has a favorite subject, or a story they just have to tell everyone they meet. Try not to present your story every time you have a conversation with your friends or children. Allow them to tell their story and listen with empathy. Teaching a child this exercise in the ability to control yourself is a great step on the way to being a better listener and helps children to focus on listening more attentively in a classroom. By doing this exercise in self control you teach your child to stop allowing their brain to race ahead of the speaker. A child who thinks about what they want to say after the speaker has finished, has allowed their brain to effectively block out what the speaker is saying. They will not be thinking about relevant questions to ask. Things like television (even if it is muted) will distract a child and adult from effective listening. To be a better listener, attention must be completely on the speaker. When your child is raised with all these skills, they will naturally develop whole body listening skills. They will stand or sit still, have eye contact, keep their hands still and relaxed, and lean towards the speaker, eager to hear what they have to say with no distractions. Seventy-Five percent of all communication is non-verbal. Children actually sense these clues quickly. That means that as we speak, children are deciphering facial features, body language, and hand motions. Pay attention to your own non-verbal motions while you speak and look for non-verbal clues from others while you listen.

Auditory memory is an area that checks rote recall, instruction recall and story recall.

 Phonological awareness is developed through sound related activities such as nursery rhymes, rhyming activities such as card games, songs, fun alliterations to mention a few. Spoonerisms are the interchange of the initial sound of two words, such as when one has a slip of the tongue, eg: “He’s a boiled sprat” instead of “He’s a spoilt brat”.

Auditory Perception skills are developed through Auditory Analysis, eg: mat = m + a + t, Auditory Synthesis, eg: m + a +t = mat; Auditory Discrimination, eg: hat/mat (rhyming skills); and Auditory Closure, eg: ele_ant = elephant.

 Perception Skills include activities to make sure that the following areas are developed: Body Awareness (body image, concept), Concepts (shapes, colours, numbers, size), Directionality (the concepts of left and right), Spatial Awareness (orientating the body in relation to objects/people eg: above, below, under, in front, behind, next to, inside, on top etc), Visual Figure Ground (the ability to focus visual attention on one object eg: the picture of puzzle/picture within other pictures, to increase word focus in reading), Visual Discrimination (the perception of similarities and differences between objects, shapes and symbols such as numbers/letters, words with similar letters like: hand/land), Position in Space (orientation of body and objects in space leads to differentiating between “b” and “d”), Visual Closure (the ability to complete a figure, word, sentence which is perceived to be incomplete, eg: when reading different fonts/handwriting), and Visual Motor Integration (integrating the functions of the visual system and motor skills to copy pictures or drawings; enabling pupil to copy from a blackboard).

 Children with sensory integration dysfunction frequently experience problems with their sense of touch, smell, hearing, taste and/or sight. Some children also experience difficulties in movement, coordination and sensing where their body is in a given space. Individuals may be overly sensitive to certain textures, sounds, smells and tastes, while wearing certain fabrics, tasting certain foods, or normal everyday sounds may cause discomfort. The opposite is also possible – for example a child with an autism spectrum disorder may feel very little pain or actually enjoy sensations that neurotypical children would dislike: strong smells, intense cold or unpleasant tastes. When the brain is unable to balance the senses appropriately and/or filter out background stimuli to ascertain what is important, a child may have to deal with overwhelming amounts of sensory input during the day and night.

Sensory integration therapy with children involves occupational therapy with the child placed in a room specifically designed to stimulate and challenge all of the senses. During the session, the therapist works closely with the child to encourage movement within the room.

The therapy is driven by four main principles: 1. Just Right Challenge (the child must be able to meet the challenges through playful activities) 2. Adaptive Response (the child adapts behavior to meet the challenges presented)   3.Active Engagement (the child will want to participate because the activities are fun) 4.Child-directed (the child’s preferred activities are used in the session).

Sensory Integration therapy is careful to not provide children with more sensory stimulation than they can cope with. Children with lower sensitivity (hyposensitivity) may be exposed to strong sensations, while children with heightened sensitivity (hypersensitivity) may be exposed to quieter activities. Treats and rewards may be used to encourage children to tolerate activities they would normally avoid.

Guidelines for children with heightened sensitivity

Parents can find it very distressing if their child rejects hugs, cuddles and other demonstrations of affection. This can be misinterpreted as a personal rejection when it is a discomfort with unpleasant touch.

These suggestions may assist in more appropriate touch with autistic children who have hypersensitivity: the child finds it easier to initiate hugging than receive it;  touch is more tolerable when the child anticipates it;  firm, unmoving touch is better than light or moving touch; light touch may be tolerable after firm unmoving touch;  initial stimulation may be unpleasant at first but tolerated later.

The sense of touch varies widely between children experiencing sensory integration dysfunction. When children enjoy the feel of sticky textures, materials such as glue, play dough, stickers, rubber toys and sticky tape can be utilised. Other materials that can be useful for tactile sensation include water, rice, beans and sand. Mnay children on the autism spectrum enjoy a sense of firm overall pressure. This can be achieved by wrapping them up in blankets,  squashing them between pillows and firm hugs. These activities can form a basis for play, interaction and showing affection. Many experiences that may be claustrophobic for neurotypical children may be enjoyed, such as being squashed between mattresses, and making tunnels or tents from blankets over furniture. Parents may be aware of a child’s response to the smell of substances, and may experiment with putting different fragrances in play dough or rice. If a child actively likes strong odors, specific toys with this feature can be used positively in therapy. Sound can be focused on by experimenting with talking toys, games on computers, musical instruments, squeaky toys and all sorts of music, especially classical. Rhythmic sounds like clapping together, rhymes, repeating phrases and tongue twisters are good activities. If a child on the autism spectrum responds more to music than voices, a melodic or “sing-song” voice may be preferred. By trying different tones of voice and pitches, one can assess a child’s response.

  The Proprioceptive System helps children (and adults) to locate their bodies in space. Autistic children often have poor proprioception and need help to develop their coordination. Playing with weights, bouncing on a trampoline or a large ball, skipping or pushing heavy objects can be used to improve this.

The Vestibular System is located in the inner ear and responds to movement and gravity.  It is involved with the sense of balance, coordination and eye movements. Hanging upside down, rocking on rocking chairs, swinging, spinning, rolling, somersaulting, dancing and doing cartwheels helps. Activities that involve the head moving in different ways stimulate the vestibular system. Parents will need to observe the child carefully to make sure that the movement is not over stimulating. Back and forth movement is regarded as often less stimulating than side-to-side movement. Rotational or spinning movements are the most stimulating and should be used carefully. A rocking motion will usually calm a child while vigorous motions like spinning will stimulate them. Some favoured activities include going on merry-go-rounds, being tossed on to cushions or jumping trampolines.

 Learning new skills involving movement such as tying shoe laces or riding a bike can be difficult as they involve sequences of movements. To help in this area, parents may use swimming, mazes, obstacle courses, constructional toys and building blocks. Difficulty with using both sides of the body together can occur in some cases of sensory integration dysfunction. Children can be encouraged to play games with crawling, hopscotch, skipping, playing musical instruments, playing catch and bouncing balls with both hands to help with bilateral integration. Hand and eye coordination can be improved with activities such as hitting a ball with a bat, popping bubbles, and throwing and catching balls, beanbags and balloons.

Yveher has included many of these activities in specially tailored programs in The Brain Train which is enjoyed by all the children who participate. They leave each session with a sense of wellbeing and increased self esteem. To receive an advice or make a booking, please contact yvette@yveher.com with your email and contact details and we will respond to you promptly.

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