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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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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Auditory Processing or ADHD?

In our last newsletter, we talked about the symptoms that can manifest in someone with attention challenges.  While we are not opposed to medicine, we don’t feel that it should be the first line of action.  To make sure that we are actually treating what is causing the attention difficulties, we generally evaluate five other areas that can cause attention difficulties separate from, or in addition to a biochemical reason.

One area we evaluate is Auditory Processing.  Auditory processing is different from hearing.  Basically, it is how you think about what you hear.

A central auditory processing disorder (CAPD) occurs when the auditory signal is received accurately by the ear, but becomes distorted, confused, or compromised in some way before it is received by the language area of the brain.

It’s Hard to Get the Message When You Have a Bad Connection

Perhaps the best way to understand a central auditory processing disorder in our “modern age” is to think about what it is like to be in an important conversation with a bad cell phone connection. You have to listen extremely hard, and any extra noise around (i.e. kids, traffic, etc.) becomes extremely irritating and hard to block out.

Because the signal is not clear, you miss part of what the speaker is saying and you find yourself saying, “What did you say?” and struggling to fill-in the gaps.

You’re not exactly sure what the speaker said, but you don’t want to sound stupid or uninterested, so you make what you think is an appropriate response.   Oops! That backfired. Now you have to explain about the bad connection and why you misinterpreted what they said and made an “off-the-wall” response.

You don’t quite understand the speaker, yet when you have a clear connection you really don’t have a comprehension problem.

It takes so much energy to keep up with this conversation, that you find your attention drifting. You feel distracted and frustrated, and doggone it, important or not, you just want to get off the phone.

Luckily for cell phone users, the way to a better connection is to hang-up and dial again. But for students with CAPD, this is life.

Common Symptoms of Central Auditory Processing Deficit

In more clinical terms, here are some symptoms that most literature on CAPD include:

• About 75% are male

• Normal hearing acuity

• Difficulty following oral directions

• Inconsistent response to auditory stimuli (the signal isn’t always confused, just sometimes.)

• Short attention span; fatigues easily during auditory tasks.

• Poor long and short term memory

• Difficulty with phonics, reading, or spelling; mild speech-language problems

• Says “Huh?” or “What?” or often asks for things to be repeated

• History of ear infections

 

There is a strong relationship between language, language development, auditory skills, and attention.  This can make it hard to identify individuals with auditory processing disorders because similar behaviors are exhibited among students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

It is widely accepted that both ADHD and CAPD may co-exist or occur independently.  It can be like the chicken-egg scenario.  Does someone have poor auditory skills because of ADHD, or does the auditory processing cause the ADHD?  If the attention difficulties are due to an auditory processing, medicine might mask the symptoms, but it is not going to treat the root cause of the problem.  This is why an evaluation is so important.

Only an audiologist can confirm the presence of a Central Auditory Processing Disorder.  However, there is pattern that occurs in LEC’s evaluation that can indicate if there is an auditory processing deficit.

At LEC, if we determine that an individual has an auditory processing deficit, we will often recommend sessions and a home based sound therapy program.  We call this Auditory Stimulation Training.

Auditory stimulation training has been effective in treating a variety of disorders, including auditory processing disorders, speech and language disorders, learning disabilities, autism and spectrum disorders, attention deficit disorders, and reading and spelling disorders.

Some of the changes that we see as a result of Auditory Stimulation Training are

• Improved sleep

• Better ability to follow directions

• Improved auditory comprehension

• Improved vocal quality

• Better organization

• Improved social interaction

• Increased balance and coordination

• Improved language

• Increased attention

• Improved communication

• Reduced sound sensitivity

• Increased frustration tolerance

 

We have found Auditory Stimulation Training and sound therapy to be a tremendous tool in aiding in the development of attention, communication, and learning with individuals of all ages with a variety of learning challenges. We are seeing dramatic changes occur in the lives of children, teens, and adults.

 

 

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Does my child have ADHD or is there something more going on?

Many people think of Attention Deficit as the proverbial hyperactive child in the classroom, running and jumping around with lots of energy and enthusiasm, but ADHD is much more complex. The core symptoms that define ADHD include hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention. Learning Enhancement Centers knows that not all kids (or adults) with ADHD will have these symptoms in the same way or to the same degree, and you will certainly see differences in the way the symptoms present themselves.

Hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention are really just the tip of the iceberg for kids who have ADHD. There can be additional impairments that may not be as obvious. With the hyperactive example, it may be that the individual has trouble slowing down enough to process information accurately. It might also be that he processes information so slowly that he has already acted before thinking through the consequences.

For others, it may be that the individual is having difficulty processing what he hears. It can be like having a bad cell phone connection – getting “a piece here” and “a piece there.” If someone is having a hard time hearing the other person, they can ask to call them back when they are in a better location and getting a clearer signal. Unfortunately, individuals can’t say that when they are listening to a lecture or speaking with someone else. So, they might tune out or have difficulty staying focused on the conversation.

What if you went to the doctor because your foot hurt? He prescribes morphine and sends you on your way. The pain does subside with the medicine but, had he looked at your foot, he would have seen there was a nail in it. Wouldn’t it have been better to remove the nail – the cause of the pain in the first place?

The same is true with attention problems. It is important to recognize that there are many possible causes of attention challenges. The outside symptoms might be that the child is energetic and active or that the individual is always daydreaming. The individual might truly have ADHD or there might be another cause of the attention challenges. This is why an evaluation that looks at all of the possible causes of the attention challenges is so important. In addition to the typical checklist that parents and teachers fill out, students can also do a computerized continuous performance test. At Learning Enhancement Centers, we evaluate five possible causes of attention challenges. While we are not opposed to medicine, we feel that it shouldn’t be the first thing that is tried. If the cause of the attention problems is due to auditory processing, for example, medicine isn’t going to help.

In our next few posts, we will discuss other possible causes of attention challenges and how to address them.

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Sometimes It Takes More Than A Tutor…

When a student struggles, there can be many reasons.  Some students have just missed some information along the way.  Others simply take a little longer to “get it.” And sometimes some information is just difficult. But none of those characteristics should be on-going.  Getting “a little behind” should be a very temporary condition.  It shouldn’t last months or years.  If it does, it normally means that something else is going on.

One of the things that really frustrates parents is when they can see that their child is bright, but certain “roadblocks” keep making school difficult. Things like:

  • Taking 3 hours to do 45 minutes worth of homework
  • Need someone sitting right there with them in order to get their work done
  • Can’t keep their attention on their work for more than a few minutes
  • Don’t get it, in spite of lots of help and repetition
  • Appear lazy or unmotivated
  • Don’t recognize words from one line to the next
  • Can’t seem to get the “big picture” in a story or textbook
  • Seem disorganized
  • Can’t follow directions

When time and attention don’t solve these roadblocks, what can parents do? Frequently they hire a tutor…someone to provide academic help for their student.  When that doesn’t work, they start “tearing their hair out!”

Often, the characteristics listed above (and others) can indicate simply underlying thinking and “executive function” skills that are weak or have not completely developed.  These are the skills that allow “academics” to make sense.  They make it possible for a student to process all of that information that is covered in school, in their reading, and even in their life experiences.

 

What are these underlying skills?

Here is a list of the technical names for some of these skills:

Auditory Processing: to process sounds. The major underlying skill needed to   learn to read and spell.

Divided Attention: to attend to and handle two or more tasks at one time.  Such as: taking notes while listening, carrying totals while adding the next column. Required for handling tasks quickly as well as handling complex tasks.

Logic and Reasoning: to reason, plan, and think.

Long Term Memory: to retrieve past information

Processing Speed: the speed with which the brain processes information.

Saccadic Fixation: to move the eyes accurately and quickly from one point to another.

Selective Attention: to stay on task even when distraction is present.

Sensory-Motor Integration: to have the sensory skills work well with the motor skills -such as eye-hand coordination.

Visual Processing: to process and make use of visual images.

Visualization: to create mental images or pictures.

Working Memory: Holding information in your memory while deciding what to do with it.

 

While these skills develop naturally in some students, others have a number of areas that need “exercising.”

So how can someone strengthen these skills?

Through the years there has been research in each of these skill areas.  Programs have been developed and implemented.  These are the types of programs that Learning Enhancement Centers have been using for over 10 years.

The focus is not on academic subjects, but rather on building those skills that hold some students back from the kind of academic success they are capable of.

The best part of this kind of approach is

that the goal is for students to become

INDEPENDENT!

And because those underlying skills are brought “up to speed,” they start supporting a student’s academic work, and the need for extra help diminishes or disappears.

“Will this brain training ‘fix’ all learning problems and my student get A’s?”

What the brain training can do is strengthen those underlying processing skills.  After any “program,” the next step is always to transfer/transition those skills into academic work.

How do I know if my student needs processing skill training?

At Learning Enhancement Centers, an evaluation is done to determine a child’s areas of strengths of weaknesses.  This evaluation helps to verify which program(s) would be best to meet the child’s needs.  A plan is made for each individual student, and if we aren’t the right place, we will tell you.

I am tired of watching my child struggle, what should I do next? 

Call or email us today, we will talk about your child and your concerns.  If we think we can help, we can schedule an appointment for an evaluation.

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