Can Learning Disabilities Be Mitigated?
- Dianne Craft, MA, CNHP Crosswalk Contributor
- 2013 20 Sep
On a sunny morning, twin 5-year-olds were practicing writing their names. Cara wrote her name on the paper and proudly showed it to me. John also wrote his name and proudly showed it to me. Cara’s name was written well, albeit with the primitive spacing and angles that 5-year-olds often use. John, however, wrote his name in total mirror writing! As a special educator, I knew that reversing a letter in writing is typical for a child who is just learning how to write, as 5-year-olds are. However, I knew that total mirror writing was a whole different story. That told me that this child was having big issues with an internalized midline that would only lead to bigger issues when older, if not addressed early.
To further explore this internalized midline, I asked John to do the simple cross-crawl exercise (touching the opposite hand and knee while standing). I demonstrated how to do this. He watched me and then did a homolateral crawl (touching the knee and hand on the same side of the body). Then I said, “You just march in place, John, and I will move your hands, touching the opposite knee.” We did this for a few moments. As soon as I stopped moving his hands, the movements went back to the original homolateral fashion. Meanwhile, his sister, who had been intently watching this process, said: “Look at me. I can do it! I can even do it going up the stairs, like this. I can do it while singing a song. Watch me!” John, who had been watching his sister do the cross-crawl without any effort said, “This is boring.” (As we know, boring is a euphemism for hard).
After doing some easy interventions with John at home, he began to write with ease, without the disturbing mirror writing. Later, he became a voracious reader, and now he is in college, majoring in journalism because...he loves writing.
When working with John, I used two simple interventions that parents can easily do at home with their children. These two interventions, if carried out consistently and faithfully, can make a huge difference in preparing a child’s brain and nervous system for easy learning and information processing. These interventions are (1) midline exercises and (2) nutritional interventions, particularly the essential brain fats.
Mitigating the Symptoms of Dysgraphia (fine motor or writing issues)
Make sure your child crawls for a few months. If you have a little one who wants to walk early, without crawling, then spend a few minutes several times a day (at each diaper change, possibly) touching the child’s knee to the opposite hand. This will be perceived as “crawling” by the brain, and it will make all the adequate hemispheric connections.
A child’s hand dominance is usually established by age 4. If your child is still “switching hands” after that age, then do an easy midline-establishing exercise called “Bilateral Drawing” to help the brain establish the correct hand dominance. Stand behind your child at a sliding glass door. With an erasable marker in each hand, help the child move each hand, drawing from the midline outwards. At the beginning, both markers touch each other, and then they should move way out, as far as the arm will go. Then slide them back to the middle, and repeat this movement down the glass door. Do this about five minutes a day for four weeks. After this time, the brain should have established a hand dominance for the child.
If a child does “mirror writing,” then do some easy midline brain training. Have the child lie on the floor. Kneeling beside him, touch his opposite hand and knee repeatedly, while the child’s eyes are in the upper left position (stimulating the right, automatic brain hemisphere). I do this movement with the child for two minutes. It helps to play some music with this, which further stimulates the right, automatic brain hemisphere. Do this exercise two times a week for three months.
To further establish the midline as the child’s “plumb line” and to internalize directionality, help your preschooler with midline fine motor exercise. Draw a large 8 lying on its side, on a piece of double-wide construction paper. With the child sitting with his middle lined up with the middle of the horizontal 8, have him trace around the track with a crayon three times (stimulating the right, automatic brain hemisphere) and then write the letters of the alphabet directly on the 8 diagram on the construction paper. Continue this process as you go through the alphabet. The alphabet letter represents the visual/spatial part of the exercise and stimulates the left brain, so this becomes a whole brain activity. With a preschooler, do this exercise for about ten minutes a day, using about five letters altogether, along with the three times around the track in between each letter. This needs to be done slowly as your hand is on the child’s hand, training his muscle memory for midline recognition and fluency. (If your back hurts from leaning over, then you are doing it right!)
Mitigating the Symptoms of Dyslexia (significant reading problems)
Do step one, as described above, for your non-crawler or quick walker.
If your child has a difficult time (has to think about it) performing the cross-crawl movement standing up (touching opposite hand and knee repeatedly for one minute), then do the brain training as described in step number three, above.
Since research shows that dyslexia, dyspraxia, and ADHD run in families that have an essential fatty acid deficiency, it is good to mitigate dyslexic-like symptoms by giving the essential fatty acids early. Research strongly indicates that the DHA in fish oil helps to increase the integrity of the connections in the brain. For most moms, this just means that they give a teaspoon of flavored, emulsified (best digested) cod liver oil daily. Since the cod liver oil contains DHA and another important brain fat, Vitamin D, it has been found that many learning disabilities can be reduced when this supplement is taken. Researchers are finding a strong correlation between a deficiency of DHA and Vitamin D and dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADD, autism, allergies and asthma.
Take repeated ear infections seriously, because these can be one of the causes of auditory processing problems later in life. In Dr. Mary Ann Block’s clinic in Texas, children never have more than one ear infection, because she replaces all dairy and soy products in their diet. If a child is given an antibiotic for an ear infection, many moms know that by also giving a good probiotic, like Primadophilus, the child’s memory and behavior are not negatively impacted by the temporary yeast/fungus overgrowth that tends to come with repeated antibiotics.
Mitigating Symptoms of ADD/ADHD
In pregnancy, research shows that moms who take adequate amounts of fish oil (especially when Vitamin D is included) have fewer issues with learning and focusing with their children. Always check with your doctor before adding any supplements while pregnant or nursing. Have your Vitamin D3 levels checked first.
Try to nurse your child exclusively as long as you can. When introducing foods, select fresh, whole foods as much as possible. Many parents do this by just making many of the baby’s first foods by simply mashing bananas, steaming carrots, or making pureed chicken in the blender, etc. Make sure the child is getting good fats like avocado, butter, and whole fat dairy products. If a child has had early ear infections, or antibiotics, it is good to put off introduction of dairy products as long as possible.
Limit intake of sugar and packaged, processed foods as much as possible. Use whole oatmeal for breakfast with berries, rather than packaged cereals.
If your child needs an antibiotic or steroid, also give a good probiotic three times a day for several months after the medicine has been given, to restore the child’s gut ecology. Remember that the bowel is the manufacturing plant for the calming, focusing neurotransmitter, Serotonin.
Play much outside in the sunshine, without sun block on for part of the time.
If the child has hypotonia (low muscle tone), research the information on the role that Vitamin D plays in this condition. It is fascinating.
Consider giving emulsified, flavored cod liver oil to any child with speech delay or articulation issues, sensory processing issues, or difficulty sitting still. This has worked for hundreds of years with children. We have just forgotten the importance of this food in our children’s diets.
This information is not intended as medical advice. Everyone is encouraged to make their own health care decisions, with advice from qualified professionals.
1. Dianne Craft, MA, CNHP, Brain Integration Therapy Manual.
2. Dr. Jacqueline Stordy, Ph.D., The LCP Solution for Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and ADHD.
3. Mary Ann Block, D.O., No More Ritalin.
4. Leo Galland, M.D., Superimmunity for Kids.
5. William Crook, M.D., Help for the Hyperactive Child.
6. “Fish Oil Supplements for Pregnant Moms Boosts Kids’ Eye/Hand Coordination and Learning,” Science Daily, June 29, 2012. www.sciencedaily.com.
7. “Giving DHA Supplements to Pregnant Mothers,” Science Daily, May 1, 2010. www.sciencedaily.com.
8. Michael Holick, M.D., The Vitamin D Solution.
Dianne Craft has a master’s degree in learning disabilities. She speaks widelyat homeschool conventions across the country. Her books, Brain Integration Therapy Manual, Right Brain Phonics Program, and her DVDs, Understanding & Helping the Struggling Learner, Teaching the Right Brain Child, Smart Kids—Who Hate to Write, and The Biology of Behavior have helped hundreds of families remove learning blocks in their struggling children at home. Visit her website, www.diannecraft.org, for many articles on children and learning and to download her free Daily Lesson Plans for the Struggling Reader and Writer.
Copyright, 2012. Used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine, October 2012. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.
Publication date: September 20, 2013