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Neurodevelopmental Approach for Learning and Sensory Integration Inefficiencies (short version)

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A Learning Disability is a hidden condition. The child’s ability to process information is inefficient in one or more areas. Those who manifest these symptoms will say that they feel “stupid.” Like this comment: “I just can’t figure out what the teacher is saying. So I just stare and I think: am I the only person in the world who is so dumb?” Receiving the label of “Learning Disabilities” somehow alleviates this depressive feeling in providing a reason for the child’s learning difficulties. However, it is only when some of the root causes are identified that pertinent interventions can be planned. As a neuropsychologist, in order to efficiently address these difficulties and increase the person’s brain processing, the best approach is a neurodevelopmental-educational approach to learning.
Learning disabilities lie in some of the central nervous system’s inefficient functions. An interruption of the natural development of the central nervous system (CNS) brings incomplete brain organization that prohibits the child from achieving his maximum potential. The sequential development of the CNS from birth, and the simultaneous development of the different domains like vision, auditory, tactility, language, mobility, and manual functions should bring complete brain organization, for the person to achieve his maximum potential. The child with learning disabilities cannot access his potential because of neurodevelopmental inefficiencies.

Specific inefficiencies are identified by looking at what and how the child’s brain is receiving information through the different senses. Consideration is given to how the skin and the muscles, the ears, and the eyes are communicating the proper information to the brain. For example, convergence is often a problem.
Convergence is the ability of the two eyes to work synchronously together. When the eyes do not converge, a degree of double vision is experienced which confuses the child who will then “squint” in his attempt to eliminate the double vision. Eye exercises can correct this problem. Another problem is the difficulty of the child to multi-task. Often these children have not developed an efficient cross-pattern movement and are lacking in their processing speed. Sequential rhythmic developmental exercises can be used. Understanding how the child’s brain receives the information allows, in subsequent steps, to concentrate on how he processes, stores and utilizes information.

Attention problems are frequently involved with learning disabilities. Attention problems present a wide range of symptoms. One of the frequent symptoms is a weak tactile function also known as delay in sensory integration. Children who experience sensory distortion often display learning difficulties. Each of the senses has a specific function in the learning process that channels the information to the brain. When facing behaviour problems such as impulsivity, hyperactivity, aggressivity, and reduced attention span, investigating the sensory system broadens our perspective and increases our efficiency in treating the symptoms. We recognize two types of sensory dysfunction: the “hyper” which leads to an over-sensitive reaction to information, and the “hypo” which yields an under-sensitive state.

Here are a few examples of children with these difficulties. Children who always ask to remove tags from the back of their clothes are hyper-sensitive to surface touch. Children who are seen as “very tough” to pain when at the dentist, or children complaining of ear infections only when the eardrum bursts, would be considered hypo-sensitive to deeper touch. These hypo-tactile children rarely keep still. They often need to feel pressure and consequently will move, lean on or over things, and can be aggressive toward other children. The surface and the deep touch sensation are being processed in two different parts of the brain.
The child who is sensitive to sunlight and fluorescent lighting would be considered hyper-visual. The hypo-sensory visual child will have difficulty in keeping order in his room even though his mind is able to perceive complex, three-dimensional designs.

Children who are hyper-sensitive to noises will be easily distracted in a larger group or to any sharp sounds. These hyper-auditory children have difficulty concentrating because they do not adequately filter noises. They will often disconnect from the environment if they are forced to stay in this auditory overload.
These brains seem to misinterpret the information brought from the senses. The objective of the treatment is to normalize the brain’s perception of information received by the senses. The treatment, through specific and targeted repetition of sequential activities, aims at the stimulation of functions of the central nervous system (CNS) responsible for an efficient learning process. Neuroplasticity (new pathways can be generated in the brain) and repetition allow these pathways in the CNS to be permanent and constitute the basis for the therapeutic training.

Suzanne Day, Neuropsychologist (Québec)

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