Thursday, March 21, 2013

Vision and Learning

When we talk about vision, most of us think of eyesight, also called visual acuity.  If it appears a child is having a difficult time seeing, he is taken to an optometrist for an eye exam where the child will be asked to read a chart on the wall to determine whether he has "20/20 vision".  The term "20/20" means the wall chart can be seen as clearly as expected at a distance of 20 feet.  The doctor will also check to make sure the eyes are healthy and free of disease.  A child who does not have 20/20 vision is prescribed glasses.  But if a child does have 20/20 vision, we are often told that her vision is fine.  But is it really?

What many parents, educators, and other professionals who work with struggling learners do not know, is that vision actually involves many aspects beyond visual acuity.  A student may have 20/20 vision but still have a significant vision problem which will interfere with academic learning.  The visual skills needed for sustained reading of small print at 11 to 16 inches from the face are greater and more complex than those required to read letters on a chart 20 feet away. 

Vision is the ability to receive visual information, process the information and obtain meaning from it.  Vision is not automatically acquired; it is learned as children explore and interact with their environment.  The visual skills a child needs in order to learn to read begin in infancy.  He learns to follow a toy with his eyes, to judge depth in order to reach for and grasp objects in space, and to converge his eyes on an object in his hands. He learns to follow and focus on his own hands as he crawls and to move his eyes independently of his head.  He figures out where he is in space in relation to the world around him.  Later he learns to catch a ball, hop, skip a rope, balance on a bicycle, all of which further develop his ability to process visual information.   These are just a few examples of the many skills which develop vision.  With the often excessive use of TV and electronics in our modern society, it is pertinent that parents and educators realize the importance whole body interaction with the environment to fully develop visual skills. 
At the beginning of this article, I referred to a typical eye exam for acuity, but there is a specialized area of optometry called developmental optometry.  Developmental optometrists have equipment and techniques to evaluate additional areas of vision beyond acuity. When developmental optometrists find weaknesses in visual skills they may prescribe glasses which help train the eyes and/or they may recommend therapy to address the missing skills.
Visual skills which developmental optometrists evaluate include:
  • Binocular coordination: the ability of the eyes to work together as a team.  Some children have difficulty coordinating their eyes, especially over an extended period of time.  The eyes may tend to drift apart, they may tend to drift together, or one eye may drift in or out.  Each eye is controlled by the opposite hemisphere of the brain.  The two sides of the brain must be well integrated in order to keep the eyes working as a team.  When a child has to expend excess effort to maintain eye coordination, comprehension is lost, and he becomes fatigued and "attention deficit".  When eyes do not coordinate together there may be periods of double vision, blurred vision, or words seeming to move on the page, especially when the eyes are tired.
  • Oculomotor skills: the fine movements of the eyes.  One type of oculomotor skill is the abiltiy of the eyes to make small jumps from word to word as they move across the page.  Inefficient eye movements cause children to confuse words, skip words, and skip lines. 
  • Accomodative functionthe ability to quickly refocus when moving eyes from point A to point B, for instance when copying from the white board to a piece of paper.  
  • Visual Perception: being able to acurately interprete and remember what is seen, such as recognizing the orientation of the letters "b" and "d," remembering sight words, and being able to visualize what is happening in a story.    
Some signs that indicate possible vision problems include:
  • headaches when reading
  • watery or itchy eyes
  • words becoming blurry
  • words looking "double"
  • words seeming to move around on the page
  • covering one eye
  • tilting the head
  • odd posture
  • bringing the eyes too close to the page
  • tracking with a finger
  • skipping words and/or lines
  • reading becoming slower and fidgeting increasing the longer a student reads
  • poor letter formation, writing may slope, not be "on the line,"  and spacing may be random
  • letters like "b" and "d" may be frequently reversed
Understandably, students with vision problems usually do not read for pleasure and tend to avoid tasks which require reading because it is tiring.  A child who has never experienced normal vision, is unlikely to realize there is something different about the way he sees.
When, for whatever reason, a child does not naturally develop the visual skills needed for academic learning, deficit visual skills can be taught through a program of therapeutic exercises.  Improving visual skills can take much of the struggle out of learning and greatly increase the success of academic remediation. 

In my practice as a private educator, I have found functional vision deficits to be a common problem among children who are having trouble with academic learning.  All children who are evaluated at ILC are screened for developmental vision problems.  Referrals to a developmental optometrist are given when needed.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Learning How to Learn

Do you remember when you first were learning to drive a car?  You had to work hard to judge where the car should be in the lane - not too close to the curb and not to close to the painted line.  Thought went into when to press the break and how hard.  Did you have to issue apologies for throwing passengers forward as you learned to make judgments about where your car was in relation to the car in front of you, how close was acceptable and how fast you could comfortably stop?  Did you bump over curbs while learning when and how far to turn the wheel when going around a corner.  New drivers must pay attention to traffic beside them, on-coming traffic, traffic turning into the road, pedestrians, motorcycles, road signs and lights.  Speed must be monitored, not too fast and not too slow.  In the beginning, your muscles were probably tense and you most likely fatigued quickly as your brain worked hard to think about all the multiple aspects of the driving task.   

When learning something new and multi-faceted, like driving a car, our brain has a lot to process and remember all at the same time.  Once driving becomes routine, most of the driving task is moved from the executive brain centers to areas of the brain that handle automated functions.  The secret of automaticity is that performance can become better with much less brain power.  An experienced driver can think about other things while driving, unless something out of the ordinary happens and a quick decision must be made.  I have noticed that as long as I am going somewhere familiar, I can listen to music or carry on a conversation with a passenger; but if I come into unfamiliar territory and have to start thinking about directions or if it starts pouring down rain, then my passengers must be quite and all music is turned off.    My mother used to say, "Be quiet; I can't see."
Have you met children who are operating like new drivers in their own bodies?  Perhaps they are unaware they are standing on your feet or in your personal space.  They don't realize they are too loud.  They don't adjust their speed appropriately - too fast or too slow.  They forget what they were just told to do on the way to do it, because something else got their attention.  Staying in their chair is like trying to keep the car between the lines.  Staying in the chair, finding their pencil, figuring where to put their paper, listening to the teacher, finding the correct page in the book, ignoring the person who just walked by in the hallway, and on and on, requires more brain energy than is available because nothing is automatic for them.  NeuroNet Learning founder, Nancy Rowe, says, "Children who struggle with cognitive multi-tasking are self-distracted learners who must constantly work to recover their train of thought."  The child may be exhausted and tense like the new driver; or he may just give up and end up in trouble for poor behavior and/or not getting his work done.  

NeuroNet Learning offers several  movement-based programs to train children to automate basic sensory-mortor skills which are the foundation for all other learning.  All NeuroNet exercises are done in rhythm, because skills are not truly automatic unless they can be done on-time.  Once a child knows how to automate skills and realizes that she is capable of doing so, she can successfully apply that knowledge to other learning tasks.  Learning to automate skills is learning how to learn. 
NeuroNet Integrated Rhythms is offered through ILC.  Integrated Rhythms consists of 8 levels of exercises.  As children Improve with practice, they qualify for higher levels of the program while building confidence and proficiency.  Most students require 16-24 weeks to complete the program.  Integrated Rhythms is designed specifically for school-aged children.  Before the end of the year, it is my plan to become a certified provider of NeuroNet Early Learning as well.  You can find additional information about NeuroNet Integrated Rhythms by clicking on the NeuroNet tab in the top menu bar of this blog.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Rhythmic Movement Training Workshop

Rhythmic Movement Training Levels 1 & 2
Presenter: Sonia Story of Move, Play, Thrive
Where: Little Rock at Pediatrics Plus
When: April 18-20, 2013
Early Registration Deadline: MARCH 11

Rhythmic Movement Training, Level 1 & 2 is a combination of 17 gentle rhythmic movements and primitive reflex integration activities that effectively stimulate brain pathways and optimize potential in all areas of life. Excellent results are being seen for children and adults with challenges. Rhythmic Movement Training (RMT), developed by psychiatrist Harald Blomberg, MD., and Moira Dempsey, has been used for over 30 years to help children and adults overcome learning, sensory, motor, emotional, social, mental health, physical and behavioral challenges. Using these simple yet profound movements tremendous gains are being seen in calming, sensory integration, speech acquisition, strength, posture, and overall functioning. RMT is appropriate for those who have challenges with sensory processing disorders, autism, Aspergers, cerebral palsy, sleep challenges, visual processing, ADHD, coordination difficulties, anxiety, panic, depression, low self-esteem, FASD, poor stamina, Parkinson's, TBI, emotional outbursts, developmental delays, speech delay, dyslexia, and learning challenges.

Rhymic Movement Training is ideal for OTs, PTs, SLPs, RNs, social workers, counselors, clinical psychologists, psychiatric workers, developmental optometrists, special educators, massage therapists, parents, and other caregivers.

For more information clink on the link here.

To see case studies click here.
Here is a short video about the benefits of RMT from an interview with a special education teacher.  (1 minute, 10 sec. video clip shared with permission of author Susan Phariss, at Brain Fitness Strategies
Read what OTs and PTs are saying about Rhythmic Movement Training:

"RMT provides such usable information. The results are so quick and powerful. In 45 years of doing Physical Therapy, these are the most valuable tools I've ever learned."-Maxine Hoffman, PT Dayton, Ohio

"RMT provides the "missing piece" in my practice of school based OT"-Becky Beals, OT Ionia, Michigan

"Great information and the key to work with clients and help them." Michelle Mintz, OT W. Bloomfield, Michigan

You may e-mail Lisa Lipe for full details and workshop brochures: integratedlearnermail AT gmail DOT com