Unique Learner Solutions
Copyright © 2017 by Suzanne Cresswell
All rights reserved.
Library of Congress Cataloging-In-Publication Data
Printed and produced by Printopya.
Cover Design:
Interior Design:
Printed in the United States
ISBN: 978-1-947165-04-5
To Margery and Glenn, Arline and Al, my mentors and heroes, each one.
And to my husband, Tom Cresswell.
Our son, Brian, just graduated from college. Not that long ago my husband and I weren’t sure that was possible.
Brian was diagnosed with Sensory Integration Dysfunction (now called Sensory Processing disorder) at age 4, after evaluation by a major urban medical center. Our small town medical professionals were largely unfamiliar with this unique brain wiring issue in December of 1996, so it seemed like a miracle to find occupational therapists specifically trained in sensory processing therapy in our small town. It was a true blessing because at that point Brian was unable to tolerate the typical activity of a traditional preschool setting and we were at our wits’ end wondering why.
Following his diagnosis, Brian received occupational therapy from Suzanne and her fellow therapists for almost two years. We are convinced their treatment and the principles we learned started us on a course of better understanding and support for Brian’s unique learning needs. Since that time, Brian has surpassed our expectations socially, athletically and academically.
The day our son successfully completed a Bachelor of Science degree, we visited Suzanne’s clinic to say thank you for turning Brian’s life around more than 20 years ago.
We now have high expectations for his future and for countless families like ours who, through this book, will also benefit from Suzanne’s expertise, insight and caring treatment of unique learners.
It's All About the VPT
The VPT Sensory Systems
The Vestibular System
The Proprioceptive System
The Tactile System
The VPT Works Together
The VPT and the Learning Connection
Parenting and Teaching a Unique Learner
Unique Solutions for the Unique Learner
The Unique Learner and Social Interactions
The Role of the Detective/Observer
Calming the Chaos
The Difference One Parent or Teacher Can Make
From Chaos to Coherence: The ADHD Predicament
Strategies to Try
The Autism Spectrum: Optimize the Environment
Strategies to Try
The Real Issue: Dealing with Gross Motor Problems
Strategies to Try
The Messy Printing Syndrome: Poor Fine Motor Skills
Strategies to Try
Reading to Learn: Dealing with Reading Problems
Strategies to Try
Heroes and Other People Who Change the World
I am convinced that the very factors that contribute to a unique learner’s disabilities are the same factors that cause his or her remarkable abilities. It is because they think differently, see the world differently and solve problems differently that they are capable of making a massive contribution to the world. The “normal” mainstream of humanity has created problems that “normal” thinking can’t always solve. We need a different approach and different is what people with autism spectrum disorder*, attention deficit disorder, Asperger’s* and hyperactivity do best.
Unique learners learn differently. The unique learners throughout this book provide examples of children and adults who process information differently and come up with unusual and surprising responses. It is important to remember that these individuals may have a different way of acquiring knowledge, but that doesn’t suggest that they lack intelligence. In fact, their responses are sometimes better than those generated from more typical learners. These individuals can become true difference-makers in our communities. Unfortunately, this optimism is seldom the general perception.
When students cannot follow the exact model of education made available, there is a tendency for them to be viewed as a problem. Sometimes unique learners are thought to be lazy or disruptive and, generally, an annoyance. When intelligent students who have a unique style of learning recognize themselves to be the class problem, their lack of confidence creates more obstacles to their own success. It is similar to a self-fulfilling prophecy: the adult sees them as a problem, so they become a problem.
Unique learners often feel a sense of shame. Older students whom I work with tell me that they are not what they “should” be, they are not “normal.” The capabilities and talents of this population tend to be marginalized. Shame can be one of the most painful experiences for unique learners and for the people who love them. Their particular skills and abilities frequently are not relevant to the requirements of traditional education leading to traditional careers.
The irony of this injustice is that these individuals could very well change the world because they have a unique perspective. These essential members of our society are capable of causing change, development, and advancement. Though many unique learners tend to live on the outer fringe, often as a castoff of society, they are truly modern heroes. Our human community depends on these brave individuals to push the margin of our thinking.
Attempting to make a child “normal” creates shame and fear- based behaviors. I know, because of spending too much time on the wrong approach before letting these children teach me what I now appreciate. I am a physical therapist* and occupational therapist* and have worked with the developmentally delayed population for three decades. This book is a reflection of what my patients and students allowed me to witness and learn. Being a unique learner is often challenging and discouraging. Throughout these pages, we will focus on how to improve the unique learner’s ability to participate in a typical educational environment. It is important to understand that the purpose is not to change the unique learner or somehow make them “normal.” Instead, the strategies are meant to make life a little easier for the unique learner, parent and teacher.
The building blocks for learning begin well before we are born. We begin inside a buoyant environment within the womb, not yet directly appreciating the effects of gravity. Upon birth, the gravitational pull of the earth’s surface that acts on our body begins a chain of responses. Our first physical relationship with the outside world is with gravity. When this is secure and intact, the infant can better develop the nurturing bond with their parent.
As a newborn is positioned in tummy-lying, the infant feels gravity and responds to it by lifting and turning the head, ensuring ease in breathing. The feeling of gravity (processed through the vestibular system*) is integrated with the feeling of the head moving (processed through the proprioceptive system*). With the head upright, the auditory and visual system are then in an ideal orientation to process the external environment through listening and looking.
Feeling gravity and moving the head to listen and look are all early exchanges that occur between the infant and their environment. This exchange is a continuous action that develops as we mature. Sensations from the environment as well as sensations from the infant’s response to the environment are fuel for the growing brain. Organizing and translating information from one sensory center to another allows perception*, intelligence, and memory to develop.
We continually test our perception by responding to the world and obtaining feedback from our actions, making further adjustments until the desired response is obtained. This feedback process occurs throughout life and progresses at each developmental stage. The human is born with an inner drive to develop and learn. Learning, in this book, implies any means of acquiring knowledge. Learning acts as a life force.
Our brain and sensory processing system* develop through repeated experiences. Each experience is impacted by our expectations, thoughts, and beliefs. We unconsciously categorize these experiences, leading to a more expedient response with each repetition. We avoid having to recreate the wheel at each stage by lumping experiences together. Our responses become automatic and fluid. When the vestibular, proprioceptive, tactile (VPT)* and other sensory systems* integrate well, we are able to perceive and respond to our world very well.
Unique Learner Solutions is written for parents and teachers. Perhaps your copy of this book sits on your bedside table beside all the other to-do lists and must-read stacks of papers. I hope that even the exhausted and over-burdened adult could feel drawn to open the pages and find immediate hope and relief that there are solutions to help the learning disabled child or adult in your life.
When parents find solutions, it can be life changing for the entire family. Recently I was visited by a father of a unique learner I had worked with 15 years ago. He described how well his son was doing and, just that very day, had graduated from college. He said that “Every time I drive past your office I feel close to tears because of how far my son has come since those days in OT.”
This book is also written for older students and adult unique learners to give language to what they experience on an everyday basis. The “Strategies to Try” sections located at the end of chapters three through seven can become a starting point for the unique learner to brainstorm their own ideas. Adult unique learners can be helped to customize their own approach to day-to-day living. The How to Use This Book section (that follows this Preface) is helpful to read first.
I hope that there is something in Unique Learner Solutions for my colleagues, fellow occupational and physical therapists, medical providers, and school personnel. The language throughout the chapters has been carefully chosen to provide professionals with a manner of speaking in an understandable fashion to their own patients, clients, families and students. The importance of using language our patients easily understand is paramount in promoting wellness. Research indicates that when a doctor and patient hold a similar vision of the problem, their ability to collaborate and resolve symptoms increases. It becomes imperative that our language is understandable to all those involved.
Writing Unique Learner Solutions would not have been possible without the encouragement and support of many, many people in my life. Both of my college-aged children challenge me to think carefully and write thoughtfully. They helped me become brave enough to complete this manuscript. My husband’s support and patience helped me feel strong. My writing coach, Julie Marsh, provided me with the skill of writing by attempting to mirror her concise method of making a sentence sound like music.
I was helped by friendly editors who knew my passion for this topic and were, therefore, brutally honest with their feedback. In most instances, their good advice improved the manuscript unquestionably. Additional friends, employees and patients shared their expertise in other areas. I would like to thank Shari Arribere, Colin Bennett, Garnett Callahan, Karen Cannon, Sean Cloud, Lois Cole, Phil Copitch, Heather Haddleton, Alice Hajdu, Laurie Hallum, John Kelley, Henny* Kupferstein, Barbara Anne Lamont, Reese Legerton, Joel Marsh, Tim Marsh, Janice McLeod, Anthea Milne, Debbie Milne, Lauree Montgomery, Molly Rankin, Linda Robathan, Lori Stotko, Bev Stupek, Russell Terra, Lexi Thomas, Luke VanMol, Jeremiah Walsh, Wyatt Walsh, and Kirk Wayman.
The publishing process represented a steep learning curve. My manuscript would be unrealized without the formal editing and publishing assistance provided by Ryan Sprenger at Printopya Book Printing.
Finally, I would like to thank my patients, clients, school-aged students, teachers, and parents who were the true impetus behind this work. Each chapter depicts several individuals who represent a combination of children and adults with whom I have worked during my 30 years as an occupational and physical therapist. Any similarities to real patients exist only because the experiences of unique learners can be very much alike. The names and circumstances have been changed to provide the reader with a clear understanding of the unique learner in all of us.
* See Glossary for definition
Unique Learner Solutions is meant as a reference guide to improve the performance of children and adults with learning challenges*. Being a unique learner can be a difficult road and this book is intended to make that journey a little easier. It is a book written for unique learners as well as those who work with and love them.
The glossary contains definitions of terminology that may be unfamiliar. When a word is followed by an asterisk (*), you will find that word in the glossary. To minimize distraction while reading, the asterisk will only follow the word the first time it is used in a chapter.
I do recommend reading chapter one and two (and reviewing the glossary if you like) before reading the other chapters. This is because the ideas in these first two chapters are foundational to understanding and implementing the strategies presented in the chapters that follow. However, chapters three through eight do not need to be read in order. If you are more interested in reading about the child struggling with reading, then feel free to read chapter seven after chapter two.
At the end of chapters three through seven, a “Strategies to Try” section provides the reader with specific ideas that can be implemented immediately. You may notice a similarity between the strategies in different chapters. As you will learn as you read, this is because the underlying difficulties that unique learners struggle with are similar. This means, for example, that you should feel free to try a strategy from a chapter that covers fine motor* difficulties for a unique learner who is having trouble reading.
For the most part, these strategies do not require any additional materials (other than what you likely already have on hand). However, there are products that can be used to help your unique learner improve in specific areas. Some of these products have household alternatives. For example, a resistance bar will help strengthen the wrist for improved printing. Resistance bars come in varying degrees of stiffness. A household alternative is a hand towel twisted into a tight rope. It can provide a similar benefit by modifying the exercise slightly.
You can find these products on the resource page at The resource page also contains other helpful information. These are provided for your benefit, so I encourage you to take advantage of them.
More than anything else, I want this book to be an ongoing reference for you. I hope that you will return to these pages for guidance throughout your unique learner’s journey. As a unique learner’s ability to function improves, their ability to access their potential increases exponentially. I am totally convinced that unique learners hold the potential to solve the problems of this time in history. Understand as you read this book that its entire purpose is to do just this—improve the unique learner’s ability to access and use their true potential.
Throughout the manuscript, I wrestled with using plural pronouns (they, their, them) with singular subjects. Though strict literary purists would say that a singular subject (your child) should always be followed with a singular pronoun (he or she, he/she, s/he), others find the mixed usage acceptable because it is such a normal part of the way people speak currently. Some sources suggested going back and forth—he in one chapter and she in another.
In the end, I chose to use plural pronouns with singular subjects for two specific reasons. First, I didn’t like the idea of alternating genders between chapters because when you read about a “him” that has this challenge and your unique learner is a “her,” you might not connect in the way that is most helpful. Second, because this book is specifically about the unique learner in your life, the individual child or student is referred to so many times that using “he or she” each time was cumbersome and distracting to read. I felt confident that as you read “your unique learner,” “your child,” or “your student,” followed by they/their, your brain will automatically read “they” as your specific child, regardless of your child’s gender.
* See Glossary for definition
Picture yourself at a train station in Italy with no knowledge of the language, no understanding of the train schedule or monetary system. You must be at a specific destination at a pre-established time to meet a friend. You stand in front of the ticket station having painstakingly entered what seem like nonsense words into your smart phone to translate. Although you have the skill and ability to do this, it requires strict attention and focus because it is a novel experience. On several occasions, you had to re-enter the information because of train station distractions. The man behind the counter is clearly growing increasingly irritated with you. The echo of the Italian voice on the loud speaker, the bustle of the families gathering together and the persistence of the long lines at the information desks combine to challenge good concentration. People flow around you, jostling and speaking quickly, adding to your tension and confusion.
After what feels like a very long time, you finally decide which train you need and attempt to speak with an attendant. This involves more translation as he doesn’t speak English. You hesitate, unsure if you understand correctly. You debate returning to your hotel and simply calling off the trip altogether. Stress has you feeling irritable and worried. When you finally sink into your seat, you are exhausted.
Now imagine that chaos every day of your life.
For those fluent, or even proficient, in Italian, the difficulty seems ridiculous. In the same way, many adults cannot understand why the child in their life is unable to do the simplest thing. Simple to them, that is, in the same way that boarding a train in Italy is simple for one who speaks Italian.
This is the case for many children who are unique learners.
Parents and teachers have admitted that they fail to grasp the difficulty of their child’s day. Their coaxing to “try harder” and “just focus” is intended to help. The inability of the child to put the well-meaning advice into practice results in high levels of frustration for the child, the parent, and the teachers. Teachers are often focused on areas related to academics or behavior. The parents are often focused on problems with clumsiness or following directions. The child may have expressed difficulty with making friends and the three parties never realize that the underlying issues are all from the same root cause.
In my observations and treatment of hundreds of different unique learners, I have discovered some remarkable similarities between their behaviors. Nearly all of these learners have difficulty in a similar part of their brain and body system. The messages taken in through any portion of their sensory system* can become compromised. The message cannot be coherently delivered to the brain. The brain, then, responds inappropriately. Input and output don’t work. The loop between input to the brain through the sensory system and output by the body in an action taken doesn’t flow smoothly. This can happen when just one small developmental building block doesn’t fall properly into place.
Many of the differences in how these students learn is a problem made even worse when trying to learn in the same way everyone else learns. This book will help you develop your own strategies for teaching and parenting a unique learner. This book will help you realize that it is precisely these differences in how unique learners learn that can offer tremendous benefits to both the individual and to the world in which they live.
The number of children and youth ages 3–21 receiving special education services is substantial. Some estimates exceed 13 percent of all public school students. Every year that these students move forward and enter adulthood, they continue to struggle to a greater and greater degree. Low self-esteem can further reduce self-confidence. Imagine spending the first 20 years of your life, as one of my patients explained, feeling as if you are a disappointment and a failure because you can’t learn in the same way as others. Imagine looking at the person seated next to you at school, as this individual had, who seems to have no trouble doing what requires huge effort for you. Feelings of inferiority are only one by-product of the difficulties experienced by unique learners.
Children and adults with learning challenges*, in this book, are referred to as unique learners. This is because for most of this population it isn’t that they can’t learn, but rather that they learn in a way different from typical learners. Unique learners are people you know, work with, play with, and with whom you conduct business. Maybe you have a boss, a roommate, a spouse, or a sibling who is a unique learner. Unique learners make sense of the world in their own fashion. Frequently, they gather and collect information more quickly and in a whole-picture fashion, leaving the more typical, sequential thinker far behind. They draw unique and multiple conclusions based on data that the typical thinker may infer to have only one logical outcome. Although their heightened sensitivities may sometimes seem to get in the way of learning, often these same sensitivities contribute to heightened awareness of complex solutions that benefits us all.
In my many years as an occupational and physical therapist*, I have yet to meet an individual who has not been profoundly impacted by his or her relationship with a unique learner. At a minimum, the individual’s level of compassion is heightened. They begin to see the importance of viewing concerns from a variety of perspectives. Jumping to conclusions and blaming become replaced by communication and support. Poor behavior begins to appear very distinct from actions driven by hypersensitivity. When improper punishment stops, appropriate coping strategies flourish. As parents learn to see that their child is struggling because of a sensory problem and not because of an attitude problem, they learn to support their child more effectively.
This book will help you understand and interpret what is going on in the brain and body of a unique learner. I have compiled years of data shared with me by my patients and will share with you the strategies that greatly benefit all kinds of unique learners. At the very least, I hope to enlighten those of you living, working, and experiencing the unique learner’s approach to life through the stories and strategies taught to me by this vital population. It is essential that the unique learner be given an opportunity to contribute fully to our busy world. We are a population of humans who believe in bizarre concepts such as: bigger is better, more and faster productivity is good, and degradation of our resources is natural.
The perspective of unique learners, with their unique sensitivities toward themselves and the world around them, can help provide answers to questions and problems that elude the more typical and mainstream mindset. Einstein once explained that you cannot solve a problem using the same paradigm from which you created it. Unique learners operate from a different paradigm and, therefore, offer us hope.
This book will open you to a new range of possibilities in interpreting the actions of unique learners and teaching them to cope, overcome, and participate in the very joyful day-to-day existence available to each one of us. By embracing unique learners and relying on their novel approach to problem solving, you will be able to help them learn as efficiently as they can. As the reader progressing through this book you will come to see that you can help your child become more organized. You can use strategies that will gradually allow your child to demonstrate productive behavior that leads to better school, job, and social success.
In Chapter 1 we will delve into an explanation of what is going on in the brain of a unique learner. The vestibular*, proprioceptive* and tactile systems*, also referred to as the VPT systems*, are introduced. Dysfunction of any of these systems can definitely affect learning. This scientific approach to the inner workings of your child will cause you to exhale and exclaim, “I knew all along that my child was always very smart. My child just had a different kind of intelligence!”
In Chapter 2 we will explore how you can guide and parent a unique learner, including some of the challenges parents and teachers face. We will look at parents’ concerns with a fresh approach. Natural solutions will be made obvious and they will continue to reveal themselves even long after you close this book. How to understand what motivates your child’s behavior and how to act and speak to your child are made clear. While all parents are vital in the lives of their children, the role of the adult in a unique learner’s life is paramount. You are the basis for their success.
In Chapter 3 we meet young Ranisha and Lynette, who is a more mature adult patient. Despite their age difference, they have very similar issues. In this chapter, you will learn about living with the gifts and challenges of children and adults experiencing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)*. As a parent or teacher, great gains can be made as you employ methods suggested in this chapter to assist unique learners. You can help them move from agitation and chaos* to a state of coherence*. The concept of self-regulation* is explored and strategies provided. The reader will fall into these pages and experience what ADHD is. They will feel what these people feel.
On her second appointment, 5-year-old Ranisha ran through the clinic like a small tornado. Her mother was unnerved, not realizing that Ranisha was providing me with valuable information regarding her self-regulation strategies. Ranisha wanted to minimize the possibility that poor behavior would happen, as it had during the previous OT* session. In the simplistic manner of a 5-year-old, Ranisha believed that if she knew everything about the clinic and its layout then she could behave properly for her therapy session. If she quickly explored the physical environment, she felt that there would be no uncertainty and, therefore, no stress.
Ranisha’s actions provided valuable information about what was happening in her brain. What appeared to be bad behavior was an attempt to ensure good behavior. Ranisha’s brain was gathering data about her surroundings and responding to the data as best as she could.
In this same chapter, Lynette is a mature, 35-year-old equivalent of Ranisha. Where Ranisha moved quickly, often damaging items in her path, at 35, Lynette had shifted this overt physical action to her mental landscape. Lynette was all over the place, mentally. Her mental trip and fall errors challenged her work performance. She was unable to reliably complete familiar tasks or to organize herself in terms of time management. Perhaps most aggravating, she never fully completed the spontaneous tasks her boss assigned her. Just as Ranisha randomly ran around the clinic, Lynette randomly approached her work.
In Chapter 4 we discover David and several students like him who will help illustrate what to do with your child on the autism spectrum*. The theme of this chapter is participation in a classroom curriculum and a tightly structured world while dealing with autism spectrum disorder* (ASD) and its classic signs and symptoms.
Second-grader David and tenth-grader Logan both participate in a general education curriculum. Cara, in 5th grade, is enrolled in a special day class environment. Each of these three students experience times when their behaviors are coherent* and very consistent with their environment. Frequently, however, these three students’ behavior is out of sync with those around them. David becomes revved up and overstimulated* when approached too directly, preferring to run away or hide underneath a table. Logan is confused by social cues and too frequently relies on negative strategies, such as task avoidance or obvious reticence to participate. Cara is described as a “wild child.” She has a disorganized approach to activities with difficulty following more than one- or two-step directions. Her movements oscillate from fast and furious to complete lethargy and sleepiness.
In this chapter parents and teachers are shown how to mindfully observe students on the autism spectrum as well as other unique learners and to bring into the student’s world that which promotes the most ideal brain mode for learning. The child becomes the teacher, in this case, and the parent becomes the student. The parent will learn their child’s method of making sense of their own world. If you take the time to look, the child will continually teach you what they need to be successful.
Chapter 5 introduces Claire and Adam. These two unique learners have gross motor* challenges with overall poor coordination affecting their ability to learn. The important theme of this chapter is that gross motor incoordination is really a problem with the child’s ability to relate to the gravitational effects of the earth’s surface. At this stage in the book, the reader will have familiarized themselves with the sensory system* and the importance that the vestibular (V), proprioceptive (P) and tactile (T) sensory systems have to do with setting up a child’s brain to promote learning.
Everything about learning has to do with the VPT systems. How gravity feels and how we respond underlie most human behavior. The accuracy of our vestibular and proprioceptive systems is confirmed by our sense of touch. Our VPT systems allow us to sit without falling, to successfully reach out to a toy and not overshoot the mark. Our sense of touch and our sense of vision are also involved in this success. We learn not to oversqueeze and break a toy. We also learn not to undersqueeze and drop the toy through the collective interaction of the vestibular, proprioceptive, tactile, and visual systems. If someone urges us to hurry up, this auditory sensory information further contributes to the speed and quality of grasping the toy.
In Chapter 6, our unique learners Micah and Lauren also have motor incoordination problems. In this chapter, we focus on fine motor* challenges that really just look like sloppy printing. Fine motor control* is the result of a highly integrated brain and body system, which both Micah and Lauren lack. There are a huge number of developmental milestones that must be correctly put in place before we can ask children to produce highly coordinated fine motor activities. It’s not as simple as “just practice more.” Poor handwriting and slow or incomplete homework are usually indicative of problems in fine motor control. The best fix is through the integration of all the sensory and motor components that impact precise movement. When, “just try harder” hasn’t helped, you need to read Chapter 6.
Chapter 7 introduces Noah and other children and adults who have a hard time reading. This chapter explores solutions through visual-motor* exercises, while the reader is made aware of the powerful integrative functions of each aspect of the sensory system. For a student to improve their reading ability, reading needs to have importance in and of itself. In other words, we need to connect the act of reading to the enjoyment of the story or to a topic that deeply interests us. When reading becomes interesting, it gains importance to the student. Their belief in their own reading ability improves and their general academic skills are made less difficult.
Methods to promote a student’s enthusiasm for reading, and to foster a positive self-esteem for trying yet again where they have failed before, are illustrated in this uplifting chapter. Strategies and concepts inspired by the recent brain biology field of study known as neuroplasticity* are also reviewed in this chapter.
Chapter 8 looks at the heroes who have overcome all kinds of obstacles to make a difference in their own lives and the lives of others. These heroes are the unique learners themselves as well as those who teach and parent the unique learner. The heroes in this chapter may think that their field of influence is limited to their classroom or their home, but my observations suggest they have reached a much, much broader platform.
While we will explore several classic learning challenges (ADHD, dyslexia*, ASD), it is important to remember that the strategies and ideas contained in each of the chapters apply to unique learners of all types, not just to those we are discussing in a particular chapter. As the adult in the unique learner’s life, your strategies will come from an understanding of the VPT sensory systems* and by observing your child and your students. This book is not a recipe book; it’s a game changer. For some, it’s a life changer.
This book is intended to help unique learners function in an optimal way.
* See Glossary for definition
Older children who can’t tie their own shoes, younger children who can’t look you in the eye, school children who can’t sit still, and adults who can’t stay organized enough to hold down a job are all suffering. Even though well-meaning and loving adults in their lives have tried to help by providing extra attention, support and patience, they still have problems. You know it and they know it. They’re different. Their path is often a painful one. They hurt and those who try to help them are also hurting.
A mom said to me, “It hurts my feelings when the teacher tells me my son was naughty today. How is that possible? He’s so young.” That mom was hurting.
A teacher said to me, “I’ve taught elementary school for 20 years. I’ve never met a child with a problem like this. What am I doing wrong? He can’t even trace a line. When I ask him to put the pencil at the top of the line, he doesn’t know what that means.” That teacher was also hurting and feeling inadequate.
Children with learning problems can be helped, but we need to understand their problem from a new perspective. Teachers and parents must watch and learn. Each student may look very different, but their problems are of similar origin. Therefore, we need to become keen observers*, almost detective-like*, in observing and interpreting what might be going on in the brain of a unique learner.
For the school-aged child, most academic models tap into certain portions of the brain and sensory systems* more than other portions. Classroom work relies on the student’s ability to use the senses to look and listen much more than using the sensory system to move and feel. Learning that takes place in a typical school classroom requires a student to be sitting at a desk, looking, listening, reading, and writing. What we consider the basics (reading, writing, and arithmetic) are not basic at all. They are very complex skills taught in classrooms that require children, even those who are kindergarten age, to sit quietly and to listen. These young students are asked to take turns, but they are unfamiliar with sequencing. Many times there is a discrepancy between what is required of a kindergarten student and what they are developmentally capable of performing.