All of those programs involve regular practice of certain behaviors, and there are three behaviors we humans can hope to manage or control, our thinking, our feelings, and our behaviors, or how our body moves.
If you have read Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi’s book FLOW, which is treatise on the psychology of optimal performance, then you know that we process sound, visual, touch, smell, and taste information at the rate of seven bits of data every 1/18th second, so self help programs need to be learned and implemented in a very short period of time. (1/18th second is twice as fast as I can blink my eyes).
Self help then must be a process of awareness and management of sensory processing done very quickly and very frequently.
I liken the process for my anger management clients to steering a car, you make thousands of small adjustments to the position of the vehicle on the road, and are paying attention to hundreds of variables at a given moment, traffic in front, behind, traffic lights, children, the policeman six blocks ahead, ect. As you do this, you keep the vehicle going in the direction you want, at the speed you want, in a safe way for yourself and other drivers. You avoid potholes.
In that vein, the following article outlining "Summer Activities for ADHD Kids" is a sampling of some great ideas and general approaches for the ADHD parent that reminds us how a little bit of structure, combined with the good fun of summer, and input from our children, can make for fun days that build family connections and memories. Working with ADHD always takes more planning for those of us who work with it but it also affords us more time than usual (outside the stressful school year) to build skills, reconnect with our families and do some "brain boosting" over long summer days instead of walking straight into the feelings of "boredom" that ADHD kids readily default to.
A Big Hello to the Learning Breakthrough Blog Readers, I am delighted to have been asked to do my first guest blog post for Learning Breakthrough Program. Learning Breakthrough is one of the alternative therapy programs that I use and recommend to clients in my Hallowell Centers and also to my readers across the world. Clients continue to ask about the program, and the ones who have stayed in the program for an extended period of time have reported positive results.
I am asked regularly about my association with certain "alternative" approaches to learning disabilities. I was recently talking about vision therapy with a New York Times reporter who was asking me about skepticism observed in the medical profession regarding the topic. I told her I believe it is important to keep an open mind when it comes to alternative treatments. Most of these programs do not have the funds to undertake the multi-million dollar prospective studies that are needed to conclusively test these programs. Nonetheless, many of them, like Learning Breakthrough, have merit and have helped people a great deal.
I offer Learning Breakthrough in my offices as a powerful, approachable and inexpensive treatment that complements our other therapies wonderfully. I have found it valuable for clients with ADHD as well as dyslexia and other learning differences. It is not purely vision therapy, but rather an "integrative therapy" that makes use of several different brain systems. It is designed to get the brain working as an efficient, tight-knit system. Many of the clients who have completed the program have reported such improvements as a reduced or eliminated need for medication; better academic performance; increased organization skills; and heightened executive functioning. I hope you will read into the detailed background information posted on the Learning Breakthrough website to get a better feel for what I’m talking about.
With respect to vision therapy, I told the reporter I believe there is something to it. What the "something" is - is up for grabs, but we are learning more and more about how the vestibular system, visual system and auditory system can all be made to work better together and improve the treatment of attention deficit, dyslexia and other learning differences. My own son's reading problem was helped by his doing vision and vestibular exercises based on the same methods Learning Breakthrough uses which is how I came to gain an appreciation for this particular “alternative” treatment. This is not hocus-pocus. The fact that medication is the best researched intervention is due to the fact that the drug companies are the only groups with enough money to fund such expensive research. I referred the reporter, and I would refer you, to the work of Dr. Mel Kaplan, an optometrist in Tarrytown, NY who is, in my estimation, a genius and a true innovator in the field.
But note, developmental optometrists are not the only professionals that understand and apply Learning Breakthrough’s ideas. Occupational therapists, physical and speech therapists, audiologists, education specialists, and physicians have all seen client improvements along the lines of those that I’ve seen.
I tell my patients that I want to use whatever works, as long as it is safe and legal. If we wait for a New England Journal of Medicine article to report on the validation of every treatment, we'll be waiting a long time. To me, the integrative approach--making use of all the possible tools I have in the toolbox--is the best way to go.
All the best, Ned Hallowell
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MARRIED TO DISTRACTION
Announcing the publication of Dr. Hallowell's new book, Married to Distraction: Restoring Intimacy and Strengthening Your Marriage in an Age of Interruption. See a preview now! It hits the bookstores March 16, and is available to be ordered on Amazon and other online stores now.
Sensory Integration is a term that describes how we organize and fully process the information gathered from our senses. The study of sensory integration describes how the brain functions to instantly and automatically interpret where we are, what we see, what we feel, and what we hear in a meaningful framework. Efficient and accurate processing of sensory inputs is a key element of cognitive development and enables us to interpret abstract concepts. We assign meaning and extract value from contextual information of all kinds due to sensory integration and predictably, which is also how we learn what those meanings and values are, enabling the most basic cognitive concepts. Without well-functioning sensory processing abilities, the brain receives sensory signals that don’t get organized (integrated) into appropriate responses; which in turn leads to all sorts of challenges...including learning challenges.
But, why is it not possible for us to understand cognition by only evaluating one sense as it is necessary at the moment; why should they all need to work automatically and in unison at all times? To explain, let’s step out of the abstraction of developmental and neurological theory and into analogy.
Imagine, if you will, being present as a symphony prepares to play one of your favorite overtures. Your senses come alive; your vision tells you that they are getting ready to play as you see the woodwinds bring their instruments to their lips and your auditory senses tell you they have begun by the blast of sound that emerges on the first note. However, there is a problem—something is not quite right. Instead of hearing all of the instruments in full concert with one another, you can only hear the violins. The sounds of the other members of the orchestra are not allowed to reach your ears. Thus, what you are experiencing is much more like a solo than a symphony. Without the support of the other instruments, what you hear is only the supplemental backdrop to a much grander tune.
Let’s take this analogy one step further. What if someone told you that the reason why you could only hear one instrument out of an entire symphony was because you simply couldn’t appreciate music—that you were incapable of knowing how to properly listen so that you could experience the full range of sounds? Chances are, this would bother you—you would instinctively know that the reason was not so simple or base. If this strikes you as an unfair thing to say, rest assured, it is. For those who lack full sensory integration and suffer from learning disabilities based on this deficit such as dyslexia, for instance, the problem has nothing to do with the subject matter to be learned (letters, words, sounds)—but is much more a matter of overcoming neurological barriers that keep sensory processes operating in isolation (i.e.- with poor levels of integration).
For anyone to fully hear the concert of sounds during a symphony or, for that matter, to adequately process the visual information of text into auditory, written, and other symbolic information, a well-calibrated set of sensory integration skills is necessary. If it is not present learning difficulties can occur simply because this relatively simple cognitive processing ability is lacking. However, it is possible for those with sensory integration problems to spark a new phase in their learning development. With proper training that orients sensory functions to the unchanging reference point of gravity, sensory integration and cognitive deficits can be overcome so that the full symphony can be heard in all its intended depth.
Balance is a multi-sensory activity. Our “sense” of balance, from the time of our embryonic development through full-fledged adulthood, is based on the proper functioning of the vestibular system in close conjunction with our visual, motor skills and positioning (proprioceptive) systems. Body position, muscular-skeletal control, tactile feedback, motor coordination and visual processing inputs all combine to form a “multi-sensory network” with many functions. This seamless system of inputs and feedback must work precisely to form what we call our sense of balance. Highly calibrated sensory integration skills are required for good balance and a range of learning, reading and other difficulties occur when the relationship between balance and our other sensory systems is upset or out of sync.
Without a well-functioning vestibular system, any child or adult will have extreme difficulty balancing on a beam or standing on one foot, for instance, but the complications certainly do not end there. Those with deficits in their vestibular function can also experience a range of other issues that are indirectly related to balance, even though we tend not to think of them in the same way we do tiptoeing along a balance beam. With a system as complex and multifaceted as the human neurological system, the system’s basic inputs (in this case sensory) must be calibrated to an external constant (just like other complex systems are) in order to function in a measureable and repeatable fashion. Gravity, actually the acceleration of gravity as interpreted through the vestibular, is what provides this critical reference point and is what enables our senses to integrate thoroughly in reference to an unchanging environmental constant.
Although the vestibular system develops in infants, the developmental process continues throughout childhood. Around age thee, children are making the transition from vestibular control based on vision, to control that becomes somatosensory (which broadly means it is rooted in the sense of touch and sensation). “As early as the pre-school level, an in-tact vestibular system contributes to sensory integration and the maturation of eye movements that are required for efficient reading and learning.” (Solan, 2007) Without an effective transition from basic balance and sensory integration, learning and reading development (dyslexia, for example) can be significantly delayed.
Children do not demonstrate adult-like use of sensory information until they are around 12 years of age (Peterson, 2006), which means that the initial process of vestibular development extends almost into puberty. This means that there are ample opportunities available over a long period of time to help children, even those without dyslexia, ADD, ADHD and learning disabilities, improve their developmental skills. With focused efforts on improving balance and sensory processing skills, children with healthy vestibular systems can thrive and those with challenges or weaknesses in these areas can begin to improve, often dramatically.
“Therapy using a sensory integrative approach is the most common treatment for [those with sensory integration issues] and has been shown to be effective in more than 80 studies.” This type of therapy presents the child or adult with a movement activity that they are to perform while the vestibular, proprioceptive, and tactile stimuli are presented. This treatment method, again with its roots in balance and sensory integration, “has been shown to improve pursuits, saccades, convergence, fusional reserves, accommodative facility, visual perception and reading skills in children with sensory integration issues and dyslexia.” (Allison, 2007) For a child without a learning disability or problems associated with sensory integration and balance issues, this type of therapy (which is similar in nature to that provided by the Learning Breakthrough Program) can enhance the skills that exist and prevent compensating sensory behaviors from forming.
Allison CL. (2007). An optometric approach to patients with sensory integration dysfunction. Optometry- The Journal of the American Optometric Association (St. Louis, Mo.), 78(12), 644-51.
Peterson ML. (2006). Children achieve adult-like sensory integration during stance at 12-years-old. Gait & Posture, 23(4), 455-63.
Solan, H. A. (2007). Vestibular Function, Sensory Integration, and Balance Anomalies: A Brief Literature Review. Optometry & Vision Development, 38(1), 13-17.
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From the upcoming release of A Life In Balance: Discovery of a Learning Breakthrough
The Still-Missing Core
"One of the basic principles of a two-engine airplane is the synchronicity between the two engine systems that are fixed on either side of the plane. If one engine puts out more thrust than the other, it causes problems in flight. If the disparity is sufficiently severe, it can cause the plane to go out of control and crash. Remembering this principle caused an idea to begin to percolate: was the issue these children were experiencing related to the balance between the two sides of their bodies?"
"In the mid-1960s, It was not a popular idea to look for learning ability in the body, but the more I observed the children in my classroom, the more the two problems seemed corollary. And why shouldn’t they be? The movement of the body through space is defined by brain functions, just as the ability to read and do arithmetic are defined by brain functions. If the knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone, wouldn’t it make sense that the various departments in the brain are connected, too? I began to wonder: what if an individual’s body provides a graphic representation of the inner workings of the brain?"
MS Comment: There are so many background insights in this book relating to "basic operating principles" and basic common sense that sensory integration, vestibular remediation and somatosensory become actually exciting to study. A more profound model of human cognition than you would ever expect upon initial reflection.
Learning Breakthrough activities are physical, balance and sensory integration exercises that improve cognitive and literacy ability as well as motor skills and dexterity. This integrated approach is used to strengthen underlying brain processing skills necessary for simple, efficient resolution of the following problems:
Poor or sloppy handwriting
Below average academic achievement
Inadequate verbal fluency
Inability to pay attention and stay focused
Poor memory and comprehension
Poor athletic performance
Difficulty following instructions
Low self esteem
Learning Breakthrough sessions are performed at home and become part of each client's daily routine. Daily program use along with the precision of the equipment and movement exercises is what delivers benefits to each user.
Program attributes include:
Vestibular challenge and development - precise and individual adjustability enable calibration by all of the body's sensory processing centers.
Sensory motor work - bean bags, eye-tracking exercises, pendulum ball routines, super ball tossback skills, fina and gross motor skills development and refinement and thorough sensory integration work sessions.
Grapho-motor - handwriting, drawing, writing, and fine motor "eye-hand" skills
Auditory training - analysis, segment work, blending with decoding and spelling issues, auditory reception difficulties, auditory expressive issues and lingual motor control integration.
Visual Processing skills - training and development through each activity segment.
Attention, focus, and concentration training—focus is on divided attention, sustained attention, and increasing frustration tolerance.
Memory training—call, recall, assessment, evaluation, validation and finally: calibration.
Neurofeedback and proprioceptive feedback - self-regulated motor control processes are refined through iterative work with specialized equipment referencing the common sensory input of gravity.
Logic and reasoning—skills improvement in seeing patterns and sequential processing challenges are developed in a critical sensory mapping model of the physical space in which our senses operate.
View the program's neuroplasticity-enabling equipment along with a detailed description of each component's design and attributes.