Rhythm and Reading

Did you know that rhythm and timing are related to reading, attention, and language skills? Let me explain how.

Rhythm of Life

First of all, everything in life has a rhythm. Nature’s daily rhythms guide all that we do — from the rising and setting of the sun to the changes of the seasons.  In addition to having these external rhythms and cycles, our bodies also have their own internal rhythms and cycles.  It is these rhythms that impact our very existence.  Our breath and heartbeat are constant reminders of life’s pulsing rhythm that moves within and around us.  Our body rhythms are called circadian rhythms, and they govern when we sleep, when we wake up, when we are active, and how much energy we have.  These circadian rhythms are as predictable as clockwork, which is why we are said to have an internal body-clock.

In and Out of Sync

When our rhythms are in sync, life flows easily — we have more energy and tend to view things more positively.  We are more socially connected and find life more satisfying.  But when they are out of sync, we can feel stressed and anxious.

Imagine this —

You are taking a new fitness dance class.  At first you are getting the steps and dancing on the beat, and everything feels good. Suddenly the beat gets faster. You can’t keep up and get completely off beat. You focus on your footwork, but you lose track of the arm movements.

Would you feel overwhelmed, stressed, frustrated, or maybe even angry?  How would you respond? Would you get silly to cover your embarrassment, because you knew you couldn’t do it? Or would you keep trying, but always with the feeling of being behind everyone else?

A few months ago, I attended a training for a new program, and it got me to thinking about my students who don’t seem to have a sense of their internal rhythm, let alone the external rhythm of life, and how it impacts them in every area of their lives.

At our school, we have a number of students who seem “out of sync.” They have no sense of time. They are almost always late for school. It takes them forever to unpack and get their things set up in the morning. Even after months of being school, they struggle to keep up with the rhythm of our school. Their poor timing impacts their motor skills, their handwriting is sloppy, and they often bump into others and things. They struggle to follow conversations. Their overall speech and reading fluency lack the rhythm that is expected. And it makes me worry for them.

How must it feel to experience these feelings everyday?  Are they frustrated or even angry?  Do they feel like giving up, or do they try but always feel they are behind everyone else?

Impact of Rhythm and Timing

I have been interested in the impact of rhythm and timing on reading and language skills for some time. Much of what we do includes the use of a metronome, which requires students to keep the beat as they complete an activity.  I have noticed that there are some students that just can’t seem to get that beat.  And while this might seem strange, there is a correlation in how these students progress compared to the students who can easily keep the beat.

Timing is the foundation of nearly everything we do. That sense of rhythm and timing begins when a baby is in utero and hears its own heartbeat. The sense of timing is crucial for coordination. When timing is automatic, we function better. When it is off, it impacts everything.  For example:

  • Behavior – in order to have self-control, the timing system must be operating normally. We have the time think about how to react, and then respond in a timely fashion.  If we are always running behind, we only have time to react and cannot think through the consequences.
  • Perception of Time – lack of awareness of our “bodyclock” influences our understanding of time.
  • Motor Skills – timing affects the body’s ability to coordinate timely body movements.  This affects every part of your daily activities from brushing your teeth, to eating, to getting dressed, to walking, to pouring a drink, to handwriting, etc.
  • Turn Taking/Communication – some students know when is the appropriate time to speak, while others have a tendency to “jump the gun” and interrupt when others are speaking.
  • Listening – the brain must process time-dependent information. If the timing is off, it affects how the brain perceives and responds to sounds, which can then impact how well a person can follow directions and comprehend what is heard.
  • Reading Comprehension – similar to listening, but with written words.
  • Word Retrieval – finding the words you want to say and then putting them together quickly.
  • Reading Fluency – language has a natural rhythm and flow to it. Being able to naturally find that rhythm increases your ability to read smoothly.

In the past 13 years of working with students with learning and attention challenges, we have found that improving timing and rhythm

  • Improves attention
  • Improves coordination
  • Improves mental alertness and overall mood
  • Increases the overall flow and understanding of speech and language

There have been a number of recent studies showing that the areas of the brain that are involved in motor planning and sequencing were activated while listening to rhythmic sound. Even more exciting, is a 2013 study by Professor Nina Kraus, PhD, and Adam Tierney, PhD, at the Northwestern University Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory showing that people who have a better sense of rhythm showed more consistent brain responses to speech than those with less rhythm. The researchers suggest that the findings could apply to reading, because hearing speech sounds and associating them with letters and words are crucial for kids learning to read.

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/got-rhythm-study-ties-ability-to-keep-beat-with-language-reading-skills/

We are thrilled to announce that we now offer a rhythm based listening program called inTime. We are seeing it have a major impact on all areas of our students’ lives.  It is one more “tool” in our “toolbox” that we have to have students who struggle.

If your child struggles with any of above mentioned issues, they may benefit from our services.  Call us today to find out how we can help.

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Tutoring vs. Learning Enhancement Centers Services

Recently, there was an article in the local newspaper talking about the increase in tutoring services in our area. This subject is obviously something that is very near and dear to my heart. How do parents determine which service will meet their child’s needs? How do they know if all their child needs is tutoring, or if there is something more going on that is causing the difficulty in the first place?

At the Learning Enhancement Centers, we often use the analogy of a tree to help parents understand how we are different than a typical tutoring place. Starting from the bottom of the tree, we think of the roots. If you saw a tree dying, you would assume it isn’t getting enough nutrients from its roots. The same is true academically; if a student is struggling, it is usually due to weak underlying skills. These skills are the mental tools necessary to succeed. They are things like memory, attention, visual and auditory processing, and processing speed. If a student hasn’t acquired these foundational skills, school will always be a struggle.The Tree Analogy

The second part of the tree is the trunk or the stem. Its job is to take the nutrients from the roots up to the leaves and the branches. Academically, we correlate this to executive function skills. Executive function skills are the mental management skills, which impact things like time management, organization, and study skills.

The third part of the tree is the leaves and branches. We associate this part of the tree to the academic subjects such as reading, writing, math, and spelling. This is where most tutoring centers and schools focus. However, if there is anything wrong with the roots (processing skills) or trunk (executive function skills), tutoring might help for a while, but it won’t correct the problem for the long term. School will continue to be a struggle. You can try to support the leaves and branches, but the tree is still going to die.

Here is the bad news.  Weaknesses in processing skills (the roots) or executive functioning skills (the trunk) don’t correct themselves. They often get worse as the academic subjects become progressively more complex. Schools and regular tutoring centers don’t address problems in these fundamental areas. They assume that the underlying skills are in place. Many of the evaluations done by a typical tutoring center will report that a student doesn’t know his blends or certain vowel sounds, or his math facts. But that is still the academics (the leaves and branches). Rather, my question is why hasn’t the student gotten it yet? Where is it breaking down in the brain, and how do we fix it?

The good news is that building those underlying learning skills takes some very specific attention, but it can be done. The current research on the brain’s plasticity – the ability to change throughout life – is the basis of our clinically proven programs.

Trying to decide if we are the right place for your child? Want to know more about how we help? Come out to our next Parent Information Night on Thursday, June 25. We will explain what is keeping your child from learning as easily as he should, how we are different than traditional tutoring, and options for getting your child started. Meanwhile, if you want to read more about our services and programs, review our Services page.

By the way, if we feel that we aren’t the right place for you, we will tell you. We will even help you decide what other services may benefit your child.

 

 

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Summer Intensives

Does Your Student Struggle With School or Homework?
Next Year Can Be Dramatically Better!

Summer Intensives Program Will Make a BIG Difference For Your Family.

If your son or daughter is bright and struggles in school, there is a reason…and it’s NOT because they are lazy!

It’s because they are missing some skills. And it isn’t the obvious skills. It’s the underlying skills. Things like auditory processing, memory, attention, or any of dozens more.

In fact, about 30% of ALL students have either weak or missing underlying skills. We call those the “learning skills” because they make learning easy.

The effect on students and families can be devastating! Kids try really hard, but get accused of being lazy. Often schools say there is “nothing wrong.” Parents are baffled and tear their hair out trying to figure out the right things to do.

It can be miserable for the whole family.

The Bad News: Schools and tutoring DON’T actually fix those skills. They are focused on mastering curriculum. When you decide to hire a tutor, you are getting “more of the same.”

The GOOD News: Learning Skills can be FIXED…permanently, but only by using programs that are focused on training those skills. That means that, even though it is hard work, it’s not like school. Building underlying learning skills takes some very specific attention. But it can be done and it doesn’t have to be a “forever” process.

That’s why so many families decide to do an intensive session. And Summer is the perfect time because students aren’t trying to juggle homework in addition to working on skills.

If…

You have had enough. If you are at your “wit’s end.” If you just count the days until you don’t have to sit with your kid spending 4 hours to do 15 minutes worth of homework. If you’re tired of how your son or daughter feels about themselves. If you’re worried about their future…

Then it’s time to make a change.

There is only ONE Reason to spend the time and money to do an Intensive Program this summer – Because it will make a SIGNIFICANT difference in the life of your student and your family next school year.

There are 5 Things you need to have for a successful Summer program that will actually change the skills to a degree that you will feel the difference next year:

  1. Focus on the right skills – You can’t be working on regular schoolwork and expect the skills to change. You have to find out which skills are not working and “attack” them. That way, when school starts in the Fall, your student will have much better tools to allow him to learn more easily.
  2. Intensity – Training learning skills is a little like going to the gym. To make real progress, you must work with some intensity. Lifting a 5 lb. weight will NOT make you very much stronger. Lifting 50 lbs. will grow the muscle. The same is true of learning skills. The process literally will form new neuro-pathways in the brain so that the skills will be automatic and your student more independent.
  3. Repetition over Time – You can’t run a mile just once and expect it to have any lasting change. It takes repetition over a period of time. Summer sessions allow you to compress the time so that the skills are built faster.
  4. One to One – There is just no way to make the kind of growth you want to see when the clinician is splitting attention between your child and someone else. Sessions are delivered with one clinician and one student so that adjustments can be made continuously as skills are developed. That’s how to make the fastest growth possible.
  5. Sessions need to be fun – There is no way for this kind of intense program to work if kids aren’t having fun. Don’t misunderstand…no one would mistake sessions for a trip to Disneyland. Students work hard. But it’s the kind of work that they enjoy.  They see the progress they are making each hour. They can feel the new skills becoming automatic. Students that can’t sit still in class for more than 15 minutes find themselves fully engaged for 3 hours each day (yes, there are short breaks at the end of each hour).

And it makes next year much different than it would have been.

Here is a quick summary of Summer Intensive Sessions:

  • Choose between a 5 week or 10 week session.
  • Come 2-3 hours per day, 2-4 days per week.
  • It doesn’t take all day – Plan fun summer activities after sessions are over.
  • Doesn’t take all summer –there’s still plenty of time for family vacations and down time.
  • Savings…..special pricing for Summer Intensives
  • Make up to 20 weeks of progress in just 5 weeks.
  • Make a tremendous difference in your life…yes next year can (and should) be better! Stop the pain and frustration.
  • Summer is easier because you can focus on the learning skills when you aren’t trying to keep up with regular schoolwork…you’re not trying to do 2 things at once!

“Does that mean when the 6 weeks are over my child will have no more learning challenges?”

Each student is different. For some, that’s exactly what it means. But for most students, the answer is, “No.” There is usually more that needs to be done.

The Goal of a Summer Intensive is to make a big impact on next year. It is a huge start in the right direction. And it is a difference that will make your life and your child’s life better when school starts again in the Fall.

Please know this – If we don’t think we can make a huge difference, we will tell you!

Everything we do is designed to make permanent changes.

  • It’s time to stop living with learning problems.
  • It’s time to stop taking hours to do short homework assignments.
  • It’s time to stop trying to find ways around learning problems and start solving them.
  • It’s time for parents to stop feeling guilty.
  • It’s time for families to live without the strain and stress of learning issues.

Are you ready to get started?

Call us and let us help you change the lives of your child and your family. Next year really CAN be better.

Contact us today or see our Summer Program 2015 page for more information.

 

 

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Dyslexia and Reading Difficulties

Dyslexia and Reading Difficulties

What comes to mind when you think of the word DYSLEXIA? 

I recently asked a group of people this question and here are some of their responses:

“Difficulty with reading… letters appear out of order or backwards….issues with spelling and numerical order…transposing letters and numbers…more than 2 years behind in reading.” 

Current Definition of Dyslexia

When I was in college, I was taught that dyslexia was a result of visual processing issues, and those issues caused the reversals and the difficulty with reading.  The meaning and causes of dyslexia have changed in recent years.  So while some people with dyslexia do have these problems, they are not the most common characteristics of dyslexia.

Experts now believe that dyslexia has little to do with recognizing the visual form of words.  They have found that the brains of people with dyslexia are wired differently; they have difficulty with phonological awareness, or the ability to blend, segment, and analyze the sounds in words.

Causes of Reading Difficulties

Although the definition of dyslexia may be good to understand, the thing I think is most important to know is this – difficulty with reading can be caused by different issues.  Personally, I don’t usually care about the label as much as I do about what is causing the reading difficulty.  In our practice, we use our evaluation to uncover the cause of the problem.  Then, we use the information to determine what strategies will work best to help that student improve their reading.

In the last 20 years of evaluating students with reading difficulties, I have identified 3 causes of reading challenges, each requiring a different type of solution.

Inability to Process Sounds — The first cause is the inability to process the sounds in the words. (This would be considered dyslexia based on the current definition.) If you have difficulties in this area, it is almost impossible to understand and use phonics.  In these cases, we need to train the brain to process the sounds, and then we teach phonics.  The results are quite amazing when you treat what was causing the problem in the first place.

Visual Issues — Visual issues, also, can cause reading challenges.  These students often have issues with visual-spatial skills and visual efficiency, such as tracking.  They are the ones who have reversals issues, who mix up letters, and who can’t remember the word from one line to the next.  They often can decode words, but struggle with reading fluency.  While we still teach phonics to these students, we do many other activities to increase their visual skills first.

Double Whammy — Finally, the third cause is the one that Sally Shaywitz, author of Overcoming Dyslexia, calls a “double deficit.”  (I call it a “double whammy.”)  These students have both issues.  Unfortunately, it takes much longer to address their issues.  They don’t connect the sounds to the symbols.  We can teach them phonics until they are “blue in the face,” and yet they won’t naturally apply the rules.  These students will need a combination of strategies to learn to read.Student with Reading Difficulties

Finding the Best Solution

We see students who have been diagnosed with dyslexia all the time.  The recommendation by the diagnosing medical professional is almost always for a reading program that teaches systematic, explicit phonics.  While I think this is the best way to teach reading, some students need more to overcome their reading challenges.  I don’t believe in a “one-size-fits-all” approach.  Frankly, the continuous recommendation of this approach makes me sad and mad!  Our students deserve more.

All this to say, if your child is struggling with reading, you need to know what is causing the problem in the first place.  If someone tells you, for example, that your child doesn’t know her consonant blends – that is good information, but you want to ask, “What is causing that to happen? Where is the breakdown occurring in her brain?”  After all, once you know the problem, the solution is easy to determine.

If your child is struggling with reading, we would love to help you find the causes AND the solution.  Contact us to schedule an evaluation.

 

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Exercise Your Body, Energize Your Brain

Small Changes, Big Results Series

Part IV:  Exercise Your Body, Energize Your Brain

The upcoming generation is known as Generation XXL due to the growing childhood obesity epidemic. Adding only a half hour of exercise to a child’s daily routine has not only benefits for weight management but brain function as well.

 

How Exercise Affects the Brain

Have you ever sat in a long meeting or seminar and found yourself getting sleepy, antsy, and dying for a break so you could get up and move around?
Exercise for Your Brain

Research shows that physical movement can enhance clarity, attention, and readiness for learning. Physical movement increases oxygen flow to the brain, improving alertness, concentration, and receptivity. Adding movement or physical action to a learning activity increases recall.

At the Learning Enhancement Centers, we find that integrative movements that cross the midline of the body are extremely helpful in bringing students to a calm, alert, and mentally and emotionally ready state for learning. We use the Brain Gym activities with our students. The movements can be easily integrated into the classroom or home. Here are two books that are great references:

  • Brain Gym Teacher’s Edition by Paul E. Dennison and Gail E. Dennison (www.braingym.com)
  • Hands On: How to use Brain Gym in the Classroom by Isabel Cohen and Marcelle Goldsmith (www.braingym.com)

Periodic brain breaks that involve movement throughout the school day and homework time will also improve learning, productivity, and attitude. Breaking up learning with Brain breaks help to keep the pupils in the most receptive state for learning. These short exercises increase oxygen supply, release stress, and allow learners to refocus.

Finally, deep breathing and water are also great brain energizers. Deep breathing immediately brings more oxygen to the brain and encourages relaxation, improving thinking and focus. Water improves the electrical transmissions in the brain and nervous system, providing energy for learning and attention.

 

How to Add Exercise to Your Child’s Life

Here are some links for fun, quick movement exercises that can be easily integrated into the classroom, clinic, or home:

This week, try adding some movement into your and your child’s day. My personal strategy is to work for 25 minutes and then move for 2-5 minutes. Do you notice a difference? Are you better able to focus? Do you notice that you have more energy for the task at hand?

 

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Choosing the Right Carbohydrates

Choosing the Right Carbohydrates

Small Changes, Big Results Series

Part III:  Good Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates, or carbs, are the main source energy for the body, but, as with fats, there are good and bad choices. In his book, The Ultramind Solution, Dr. Mark Hyman says that “carbohydrates are the single most important food for long term health.  Carbohydrates found in their natural form contain many essential nutrients and specialized chemicals that keep you healthy.” Since carbs are so important to our health, it is important to understand which carbohydrate choices are healthiest for us and our children.

Best Carbohydrates — Complex Carbs

Carbohydrates are important to our health by providing energy for our bodies and helping protein (in the form of tryptophan) enter the brain cells. The best carbohydrates for us and our children are called complex carbohydrates. These carbs digest slowly, enter the bloodstream gradually, and create a gentler rise in blood sugar. Whole grains, legumes, and vegetables are examples of complex carbohydrates.

Complex carbohydrates provide a stable supply of energy for our bodies. They slowly break down and release sources of sugar and prevent surges of blood sugar and insulin. The slowly released carbohydrates from whole, unprocessed plant-based foods also keep our serotonin levels balanced. Serotonin improves feelings of well-being, hopefulness, organization, and concentration. Low amounts of complex carbohydrates affect brain function, making you feel foggy- or light-headed. You also may have a hard time concentrating  and feel sad or depressed. Complex carbs contain all the vitamins and minerals, with the exception of Vitamin B, that are needed for our bodies to operate normally and optimally.

Bad Carbohydrates — Refined Sugars

Sugar and white flour are two of the worst carbohydrates. They are a type of simple carbohydrates called refined carbohydrates or refined sugars.  Refined carbohydrates are highly processed sugars which are easily digested and therefore are absorbed into the bloodstream very quickly.  They rapidly raise blood sugar levels (which is associated with memory problems). Refined sugar robs our bodies of B vitamins and nutrients needed to support a stable nervous system and blood sugar balance, thereby affecting our health, moods, attention, memory, and behavior.  Examples of refined carbohydrates are soda, white bread,  white rice, and candy.

Not all simple carbohydrates are considered bad.  Some simple sugars occur naturally in healthier food options, such as fruits and dairy.  In these more nutritious simple carbs, the natural sugars are digested along with the natural fiber and nutrients of the food, which slows the absorption of the sugar into the bloodstream. In contrast, refined sugars have little to no nutrients or fiber to slow sugar absorption.

Why Making Good Carb Choices is Important

Maintaining consistent blood sugar levels allows the brain to get the steady flow of sugar (glucose) needed to keep it fit and functioning. Spikes and fluctuations in blood sugar cause sugar overload, which can cause an individual to have very high, sometimes excessive energy, followed by low energy, sleepiness, or moodiness.  William Duffy (REFINED SUGAR: The Sweetest Poison of All) writes, “Excessive sugar has a strong mal-effect on the functioning of the brain. Too much sugar makes one sleepy; our ability to calculate and remember is lost.” This is definitely not a good prescription for learning!

What To Do About Kids Who Crave CarbohydratesHealthy Carbohydrates

Instead of getting rid of carbs, simply choose more of the right ones. Replace refined carbs with complex carbs, like whole grain cereals or bread, potatoes, corn, and beans. Substitute unhealthy simple carbs (refined sugars like soda and candy) with more nutritious ones, like fruits (apples, oranges, cherries, and grapefruits) and dairy (milk and low-fat yogurt).

Remember, it is about balance. The brain needs good fats, healthy carbs, and protein to function optimally. Teach your kids how to make wise choices. This will leave them feeling healthy, energetic, and empowered.

How is your year going so far? Have you been making any of these small changes in your diet? Next time, we are going to talk about the impact of movement on attention and learning.

 

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Protein for Improved Focus and Attention

Small Changes, Big Results Series

Part II: Protein

“Is your child eating protein as a regular part of their diet?”  This is a question I often ask parents, because few people understand how important protein is to our brain function and learning.  High-quality protein foods allow optimal brain function so that a child feels motivated, energized, and focused, not hyperactive or inattentive.  Here is how it works.

How Protein is Processed in the Body

Foods with high-quality protein have amino acids, which provide the building blocks for neurotransmitters.  Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers that allow the brain cells to communicate with each other.  Two of these neurotransmitters are serotonin and dopamine.  Serotonin improves feelings of well-being, hopefulness, organization, and concentration.  Dopamine is responsible for attention and focusing.  It allows you to maintain an action plan, regardless of other things trying to divert your attention. It also motivates and stimulates you to engage in life.

When protein enters the stomach, it is digested and exits the stomach as tryptophan.  Tryptophan aids in the production of dopamine and serotonin.  Tryptophan cannot cross the blood/brain barrier independently – it requires the assistance of carbohydrates/insulin – like a limo service to open the door and allow entrance.  Once in the brain, tryptophan converts to serotonin and helps us in organization, feelings of well-being, and satiation.   In fact, a study published in the September 2011 issue of Behavioral and Brain Functions showed that children with ADHD appear to have 50 percent lower levels of tryptophan.

(Although our brain needs carbohydrates to complete this process, they must be the right types of carbs.  We will discuss this topic in the next Small Changes, Big Results article, Choosing the Right Carbohydrates.)

The Small Change

As much as possible, increase protein at all meals.   Protein increases dopamine and serotonin and can stabilize blood sugar, whereas a high-carb meal increases insulin and can make your child feel foggy and have less energy.  Many children go to school after having a sugary carbohydrate breakfast, and many teens choose to go to school with no breakfast at all.  A low sugar breakfast and lunch with 12-20 grams of protein can make a vast difference in a learner’s performance.

Breakfast High in ProteinSome great sources of protein are:

  • Greek yogurt (be careful as dairy can often be an allergen)
  • Lean meats – chicken, turkey, and other lean meats
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Fish
  • Plant-based protein sources – beans, barley, brown rice, broccoli, potatoes, spinach, etc.
  • Protein shakes

Often times, asking students to reduce carbs/sugar can be difficult, so a great baby step is to add a high protein food item to their meal.  For instance, if they are having a waffle for breakfast (carb), they could add a hard-boiled egg.  They could also have an apple or celery with peanut butter.  It is a great compromise, and one that can help your child feel more focused.

Remember the goal is to balance your food consumption to provide optimum brain function.

Do you find it hard to get your child to eat protein? Have suggestions of things that you found that your child likes and have been easy to implement? As always, we would love to hear your thoughts.

 

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Healthy Fats For Healthy Brains

Small Changes, Big Results Series

Part I: Healthy Fats

Every January, many adults make resolutions to get healthy by eating better, exercising more, and getting more sleep.

We seem to know that these things are important to our own health. And yet, the impact that diet, movement, and sleep have on attention and learning is frequently overlooked. As a parent or teacher, it isn’t too late to think about adding these things to your student’s daily routine (or even yours). Small changes today could bring about major changes in your child’s life.

In this series of blog posts, Small Changes Big Results, we will discuss some small changes you can make that can positively impact your child’s learning and behavior.  We will begin by looking at the importance of healthy fats to your child’s brain.

Feeding Your Brain

Studies have shown that what we eat affects how we feel, how we think, and how much energy we have. Memory, thinking, and attention are strongly influenced by food. Optimal nutrition is the most important factor in keeping your brain healthy.  Because of this fact, small changes to our children’s diet and nutrition is a great place to start making big impacts.

Let’s Look at Healthy Fats First

Healthy Fats positively impact the brain

Believe it or not, the most important nutrient for the brain is fat because the brain is actually made up of fat. Omega-3 fats, EPA and DHA, are essential for brain function. In fact 60 percent of the brain is made up of DHA. DHA is essential for the brain cells’ ability to transmit signals to one another. This is what makes learning and memory possible.

Studies have shown that dopamine activity, which is critical for brain function, is improved with essential fatty acid consumption. A study from UCLA published in the May 15, 2012 edition of the Journal of Physiology showed that fatty acids can counteract the disruption in memory and learning causing by diets high in fructose. Another study published in Plos One in June 2013, showed that lower levels of DHA were linked to poorer reading and working memory performance as well as behavioral problems in healthy school aged children. Research has also shown that children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are more likely to have low omega-3 fat levels.

In the last 150 years, our fat intake has greatly changed. We need to make sure that we are consuming the best fats for brain health. For instance, if the majority of our fat intake is from trans fats and beef fat, our cell membranes become stiff and hard like lard. This makes it difficult for information to pass from one cell to the next. However, if they are made from omega-3 fats, our cell membranes will become fluid and flexible, allowing easy communication between cells.

Where Do We Get Healthy Fats?

Omega-3 fats come from wild things, which can be hard to find in today’s society. Our bodies can’t produce enough DHA, so we must supplement through diet. The best sources of DHA are cold water fish (salmon, sardines, herring, halibut), walnuts, omega-3 eggs, and flaxseed. Dr. Daniel Amen, author of many books, including Healing ADD Revised Edition: The Breakthrough Program that Allows You to See and Heal the 7 Types of ADD, recommends supplementing dietary intake of omega-3s.

It is important to realize that not all supplements are created equal; it is important to choose quality products. Third-party testing for independent verification of active ingredients and contaminants is crucial. Also, consider from where the products are sourced.

I would love to hear your thoughts. Do you already take essential fatty acids? Are you considering adding them to your diet?

Fats are just one piece of the “nutrition puzzle.”  For Part II of the Small Changes Big Results series, we will look at the importance of protein to brain health — Protein for Improved Focus and Attention .

 

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Sensory Processing Disorder vs ADD

In our last two blogs, we talked about how weaknesses in auditory processing and reflex integration can look like attention deficit.  In this article, we talk about the impact of sensory processing on attention.

Sensory processing refers to how our brain receives information from the senses of the body and processes it.  The brain then has to decide how to respond and then commands the body to respond appropriately.  For most individuals, this is done without issue.  However, someone who has difficulty processing this information and responding appropriately is said to have a Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).

Most of us are aware of the five senses:  sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing.  However, there are two other very important senses:  Vestibular and Proprioceptive.

The Vestibular sense is housed in the inner ear.  It helps us to make sense of where our body is positioned in space.  It allows us to make changes in our posture and balance.  It detects head acceleration, head position, and the pull of gravity.  (Most older people have a poor vestibular system.)

The Proprioceptive system allows our body to judge the space around us, know where we are in relation to that space, and know where our body parts are and what they are doing.   It is housed in the receptors in the joints, muscles, and ligaments.  It tells us how much pressure and force is needed to do something, and is stimulated by heavy work, pulling, pushing, carrying, jumping, hugging, etc.   Without movement affecting the muscles and joints, the receptors go to sleep.

Sensory processing can be so difficult to explain.  Some students can be overstimulated by the sensory information, while others can be understimulated.  Students can vary in how they respond.  Some will act in accordance and others will try to counteract their response.

For example, a student who is overstimulated becomes overloaded by the sensory input, and if they are acting in accordance, they will become distractible, hyperactive, or silly.  But if they try to counteract the stimulation, they might become avoidant, or rigid or ritualistic, or resistant to change.

If understimulated, the student may respond in accordance and appear bored, tired, or apathetic.  Whereas, the student who is trying to counteract this understimulation might try to get more sensory input by seeking the sensations, and seem active, fidgety, and excitable.

As my friend, Denise, says, “If you have met one kid with Sensory Processing Disorder, you have met one kid with Sensory Processing Disorder.”

Here is a very short checklist of sensory symptoms.  (A long one can be found at http://www.sensory-processing-disorder.com/sensory-processing-disorder-checklist.html)

  • Responds negatively to loud or unexpected noises
  • Holds head upright even when bending over or  leaning (i.e. Maintains a rigid position/posture during activity)
  • Seeks to make noise for “noise’s sake”
  •  Rocks/twirls/bounces frequently
  • Seeks hugs or other deep pressure
  • Avoids getting messy
  • Has difficulty standing close to other people
  • Appears sensitive to changes in lighting
  • Reacts emotionally or aggressively to touch
  • Exerts too much or not enough pressure when handling objects
  • Gags easily with certain food textures
  • Touches people or objects to the point of irritating others

 

  • Dislikes playground equipment or moving toys
  • Seeks all kinds of movement
  • Takes movement or climbing risks that compromise personal safety
  • Appears lethargic (no energy, sluggish)
  • Is sensitive to certain fabrics or clothing
  • Limits self to particular foods or food temperatures
  • Prefers long sleeved clothing when it’s warm or short sleeves when it is cold
  • Displays unusual need for touching certain toys,  surfaces or textures
  • Insists on removing shoes as soon as possible, or insists on leaving shoes on
  • Decreased awareness or response to pain or temperature
  • Chews, licks, or mouths non-food objects

 

Sensory Processing Disorder is something we screen for during our evaluation.  Learning Enhancement Centers has many strategies that can be used to help a student with SPD.  However, there are times when we feel that the student should work with an Occupational Therapist (OT) first.  Once again, this is why an evaluation is so important to make sure that the cause of the problem is being addressed, not just the symptom.

 

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Primitive Reflexes Impact Attention and Learning

Last time we talked about how weak auditory processing can affect attention.  In this newsletter, we discuss primitive reflexes.  Primitive reflexes are involuntary movements that develop in-utero and are essential to the survival of the newborn.  Typically, these reflexes will be integrated by age one.  If they don’t “disappear,” they continue to fire and cause neurological interference that inhibits efficient development and easy learning.

Okay, so what does this mean in layman’s terms?  Basically, if a reflex is present, the brain has to divert energy to prevent the reflex from occurring.  This means there is less “brain” to pay attention to the task at hand.  This is why we evaluate for the presence of reflexes.

Below, we talk about 5 primitive reflexes that are known to affect educational progress.

The Moro Reflex is also known as the “Startle Reflex.”  When an infant becomes startled by a loud noise, sudden movement, or bright light, he responds by extending their arms outward and inhaling sharply.  The reflex is normally integrated by 2-4 months of age, and is replaced by the adult startle reflex.  If it isn’t integrated, the individual will often over-react to auditory stimulation.  The retention of this reflex causes the person to remain in a “fight or flight” mode.  Staying in this fight or flight mode causes the nervous system to be over activated.  This can cause the child to become fatigued and the child may have a weakened immune system.

moro

Symptoms of a retained Moro Reflex include:

  • Excessive blinking
  • Fixation/Staring
  • Difficulty maintaining eye contact
  • Vestibular problems (Imbalance, dizziness, motion sickness, vertigo)
  • Sensitivity to bright lights
  • Anxiety
  • Frequent ear and throat infections
  • Depleted energy, fatigue, mood swings
  • Easily overloaded by sensory input, hypersensitivity to sound
  • Difficulty catching a ball or processing visual stimuli
  • Dislike of change

 

The Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex (TLR) helps prepare the infant for rolling over, creeping, crawling, standing, and walking.  This reflex is linked to balance and muscle tone.  If it is retained, it will disrupt balance and gross motor skills.

To see if the reflex is present, have the child do a “superman” movement.  Lying flat on his stomach, have the child raise his chin off the floor, bring his extended arms overhead close to his ears, and lift his straightened legs off the floor.  His body should be taut, only touching the floor at the midriff.  A school-aged child should be able to hold this for 20 seconds (see picture below).  If the child bends his legs or his body is shaking, it indicates the reflex is still present.

superman

Symptoms of a retained Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex include:

  • Poor posture
  • Toe walker
  • Poor balance and coordination
  • Poor eye movement control
  • Information processing problems
  • Visual-perceptual difficulties
  • Afraid of heights
  • Weak or rigid muscle tone

 

spinal galant

The Spinal Galant Reflex is present at birth and usually disappears by 9 months of age.  It is activated when the child is touched on the side of the spine.  The child will usually flex toward the side that is stroked (see picture).

A student who has this reflex usually can’t sit still because every time his back is up against the chair, the reflex is activated, so he wiggles in his chair.  The student will want to pay attention, so he focuses on sitting still, but then he isn’t able to focus on what the teacher is saying or his assignments.

Symptoms of a retained Spinal Galant Reflex include:

  • Can’t sit still; fidgety
  • Short term memory problems
  • Bedwetting beyond age 5
  • Sensitive to tight clothing around waist
  • Constant noise making

 

The Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR) is fully developed at the time of birth.  It helps with movement down the birth canal.  If there is intervention during birth, such as use of forceps or caesarean birth, it can disturb the integration of the reflex.  The ATNR should go away between 4-6 months of age.

This reflex is caused by the rotation of the neck.  When a baby turns its head to one side, the limbs on that side straighten, and the limbs on the other side bend.

ATNR

Now clearly, when an older child turns its head, the arm doesn’t pop out, but what happens is that the brain has to divert energy to prevent the reflex from occurring and it takes away from the attention to the task on which the child was supposed to be focusing.

The retention of this reflex causes the most interference with the learning process.

Symptoms of a retained Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex include:

  • poor handwriting
  • heavy pencil grip and tension in the body when writing
  • All the energy that goes to the physical part of writing distracts the student from the writing content.  There is often a big discrepancy between the child’s ability to express themselves orally and in writing
  • Difficulty reading and tracking
  • Left-right confusion (Mixed laterality)
  • Difficulty copying from the board
  • Difficulty learning to ride a bike
  • ADD and ADHD characteristics

ATNR handwriting

Sample of a student with retained ATNR

 

The Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR) allows the baby to straighten its arms and bend its legs when in looks up.  It should be gone by 9-11 months of age.  This reflex allows the child to be able to crawl.  Crawling allows the baby to learn eye-hand coordination.

Symptoms of a retained Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex include:

  • Poor posture (– when head bends, the arms will bend causing a tendency to slump when sitting – often will end up almost lying on the desk to write)
  • Clumsy
  • Problems with copying from the board
  • Inability to crawl on hands and knees
  • Difficulty sitting with legs crossed ( “W” position when sitting on the floor)
  • Poor upper and lower body integration, affecting gross motor skills
  • Poor hand-eye coordination
  • Messy eater
  • Difficulty learning to swim

STNR handwriting

Sample of how a person with a retained STNR might sit when writing.

 

Part of our evaluation at Learning Enhancement Centers includes testing of reflexes.  If we find that an individual has retained reflexes, we will assign exercises to help integrate them.  It takes time, but we have found that these exercises can increase a student’s attention abilities and have a great impact in all areas of their lives.

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