Wednesday, September 29, 2010

More information on the negative effects of BPA

I know I have blogged this before, BPA is something I avoid for our family. That can be challenging since it is a very prevalent component in many commonly used things. Plastic bottles, containers, canned goods, etc. all can have BPA exposure. Below is an article talking about why BPA may want to be avoided. We have switched to glass for most food storage and I never put hot food into plastic anymore, even in plastics without BPA. Canned foods are a no-no for me unless they come from EDEN FOODS. Eden foods has a commitment to provide quality foods without GMOs and their cans do not have BPA. Here's a link about their cans, click HERE. They are one of the only companies that does offer a BPA free can. If I find any others I will certainly pass that info on. Food storage is something I have been learning more about for the last few years. I like to be prepared for anything and that means being able to feed my family in the case of an emergency. But, unless they are Eden Foods, we don't use too many cans. I do break down once in a while and get the organic pears from Fresh and Easy but that is about it. Eden Foods has canned tomatoes (which will leech more toxins from cans since they are acidic) along with beans, rice and lentil combos, etc. Check them out and I would encourage you to support them.

BPA: Studies suggest it should be avoided
By Dr. Terry Gaff
Sunday, 26 September 2010 00:00
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical used to make plastic and epoxy resins, among other things, that have been both common and useful in our day-to-day life for more than 50 years.

The problem is that it may be toxic, especially to fetuses, infants and young children.

BPA, a key ingredient in polycarbonate plastic, which is clear and nearly shatter-proof, is used to make a variety of common products including baby and water bottles, sports equipment, medical and dental devices, dental fillings and sealants, eyeglass lenses, CDs and DVDs and household electronics.

Epoxy resins containing bisphenol A have also been used as coatings on the inside of almost all food and beverage cans. BPA is also a color developer in carbonless copy paper and thermal paper, commonly used in receipt paper at your checkout counter. BPA-based products are also used in foundry castings and for lining water pipes.

There are literally millions of tons of BPA produced every year. However, in the U.S., less than five percent of the BPA produced is used in food contact applications. Even that small percent may be too much.

When you look at the bottom of a plastic container, there is a little triangle with a number inside. That number indicates which of the seven classes of plastics is used in making the product.

Type seven includes several types of plastics, some of which contain polycarbonate (identified with the letters PC near the recycling symbol). Type three (polyvinyl chloride or PVC) can also contain bisphenol A. This is particularly true for “flexible PVC”, but not the PVC pipes used in household plumbing.

The concern about bisphenol A is that it can mimic the body’s hormones and may lead to health problems. However, some of that concern is more opinion than science.

A panel of experts appointed by the National Institutes of Health determined that there was “some concern” about BPA’s effects on fetal and infant brain development and behavior. This was seconded by the National Toxicology Program (NTP), regarding “the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants and children at current human exposures to bisphenol A,” as well as a small concern for effects on the breast tissue and an earlier age for puberty for females in fetuses, infants and children at current human exposures.

On the other hand, the NTP expressed no significant concern about exposure of pregnant women to BPA resulting in fetal or neonatal death, birth defects or reduced birth weight and growth in their babies.

Other reviews of BPA data have concluded that BPA exposure before and after birth may increase body weight and obesity.

Some research has suggested a connection between BPA and interference with brain cell connections vital to memory, learning and mood. Highly controversial claims have been made that BPA could be involved in attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and other neuralgic problems.

There are lots of studies about whether BPA is related to cancer or the sensitivity to chemotherapy treatment of specific tumors. However, those questions have not been clearly answered.

A large study of health effects on 1,500 people associated with bisphenol A exposure found that higher BPA levels were associated with heart disease, diabetes and abnormally high levels of certain liver enzymes. However, these findings need to be confirmed and a second study found an associated increased risk for heart disease but not for diabetes or liver enzymes.

Studies have suggested that BPA exposure is associated with recurrent miscarriage, altered hormone levels in men, declining male sexual function and other concerns.

The problem is that plastics with BPA can break down, especially when they are washed, heated or stressed, allowing the chemical to leach into food and water and then enter the human body. In fact, the CDC has found BPA in the urine of 93 percent of surveyed Americans over the age of six years and 90 percent of newborns.

The Environmental Protection Agency has set the current U.S. human exposure limit set at 50 micrograms/kg/day. The federal government formally declared bisphenol A as a hazardous substance in October 2008 and has placed it on its list of toxic substances.

Companies like Nalgene have stopped using the chemical in their products and Toys-R-Us said it too will stop selling baby bottles made from it. Many U.S. states are considering some sort of BPA ban and other countries, like Canada and Japan, have restricted and/or eliminated the use of BPA in many products.

Even Sunoco, a producer of gasoline and chemicals, is now refusing to sell the chemical to companies for use in food and water containers for children younger than 3 years.

What I recommend is that you heat your food and drinks in glass, stainless steel or BPA-free plastic containers, which are marked with recycling codes 1, 2, 5 or 7 without the PC (polycarbonate) marking. Also, store food or drinks in these types of containers.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

What a difference a new teacher makes

So I just blogged our experiences from school the last few weeks. As I said, our new teacher has been staying in constant contact, what's even better is that it has all been good news.

So in keeping with that theme, I received a reply from her yesterday. The special ed director was wanting an update on how we felt the transition was going. Since I have not been in the class yet to volunteer, I emailed the teacher to find out how things were going from HER perspective. I heard that all reports had been good into the Principal and special ed from their viewpoint but it really comes down to what the teacher is seeing daily.

The email I got back was insightful and very, very positive! She said he needs gentle reminders to stay on track, but they are nothing out of ordinary from what all of the other (neurotypical) first graders need. He is getting help from parent helpers on the math sheet in class but she feels that once he gets into the groove he won't need that since he is doing really well working independently on the "math facts" sheet already. She said he is a very happy little boy who is very proud of his hard work. She has assessed that his self-esteem can be low and when you encourage him, he thrives!! Usually this is a concept that I have to tell teachers about and she already knew that 1 week in. Positive reinforcement is key with my son, his fear of failure is huge. She had good things to say about his ability to sit and focus, as is age appropriate, and that he is not needing any more "wiggle breaks" than what she is already providing. One of the things I liked best about her class were those chances to move along with learning. She said he is a great kid and she is glad to have the opportunity to work with him.

Hmmm, very different than "He's just not getting it, and he's not going to get it, even with the supports being suggested". OK, I confess, I have been slipping him a "get it" pill for the past week. I know, snarky comment, I couldn't help it. There is an amazing world out there for our special kiddos, and for those who teach them. They will gain as much from these children and the children do, if you are open. So I end this week with a very positive message from his new teacher and the hope that we've once again found a teacher (like his Kindergarten one) who sees him not for his disability but for his ability to shine and to illuminate those around him with the right help, the right direction and the right understanding.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Educational choices for our children with Autism

So here comes the drama post! It has been a very busy month or so. Here's what happened. I had been in constant contact with my son's teacher. I was volunteering weekly and in contact via email in addition to address some issues we were both seeing. The main issue being focus and needing to be redirected for weekly math tests and math worksheets. It was a very different classroom this year, a big change in classmates as well as schedule and amount of work expected so I expected a period of adjustment. So the teacher and I spoke about many things and one of those was whether the all day format was a better fit for him or not. He was currently in a program where the day is shortened, they only had 1 recess, but he was at school for less time. Now, this is a mainstream school, they support our IEP but it is not a school specifically for children with special needs. At the end of last year we all spoke about which format would be best. I personally believe that our kids spend too much of their time in school and we expect way too much of them too soon at these early ages. I understand people have different viewpoints on this but that is how I feel. That and the fact that we had a very good therapy schedule set and less time in the classroom really seemed like a good idea. I was assured by our 1st grade teacher when I broached this topic that the longer day really wouldn't help in the areas where we needed it and that the pace was not that much slower. OK. So what do we need to do to help him be successful? I came up with some ideas, as did the teacher and I contacted special ed at the school.

I got an immediate response. They had their Autism specialist observe him in the class and had some additional ideas at our meeting. My husband and I felt heard and supported when we left, having a clear vision of what they were going to do to help us make sure our son was successful. We grabbed lunch and then it was time for our parent/teacher conference next. As we walked in my husband said that basically this was just a formality right? I said yes, we've touched base so much, I thought I knew everything there was to know about the situation. The teacher knew about our meeting with spec ed prior and asked us about it. I expressed my enthusiasm and happiness over their response and shared some of what they said. The basic takeaway was that most of what they saw could be handled in the classroom with some supports/suggestions given to the teacher and that pull out did not appear necessary. Apparently that was NOT what she wanted to hear. Again, I thought we were on the same page as to the help my son needed and her feelings on the subject. The parent/teacher conference took a detour south at that point. The bottom line was that she was telling us he could not be successful in that classroom, not even WITH the suggestions/supports special ed had suggested. WOW. I told her that because of issues like fine motor delay and auditory processing and auditory sensitivities, we'd have to adjust the expectations accordingly. I told her how his kindergarten teacher really rolled with the punches and she figured out ways to asses what he knew so that when a task came where it really pushed him in those weaker areas, she could set attainable goals. We were told "I have higher standards". I told her that the Autism specialist at school had the same suggestions, we need to meet him where he is to encourage that feeling of success, not set him up for failure.

My husband said as we left "I thought you were going to ghetto on her". Over the years I have learned that you pull that out only when you really, really need it. Don't get me wrong, catch me on the wrong day and it could get ugly. But, I could tell her words were coming from frustration, not malice. Now my emotions quickly morphed into anger over that weekend but I have worked very hard on NOT responding out of emotion, especially anger, until I can process it a little and look at the various sides. But, here was a teacher who even said to me "I feel like a failure because I don't know how to teach him". I think we are going to see this issue as a common theme in getting our children educated. Especially those kiddos, like mine, who seems to be in "no man's land". They don't need the Autism specific programs anymore but do need a little help in a mainstream class. Sometimes the teachers have a hard time understand all of the issues that go into a disorder like Autism. And one big factor this year was class dynamics as well. Not only were there teacher issues but also kid issues.

So, I sent him back to school Mon/Tues and then said "forget it". I kept him home. I sent an email to the teacher basically saying I can't be fake, I cannot believe you said to me what you did about my child. I did not work the last 6 years of my life removing obstacles from my son's way that prevented him from learning more effectively to short change my son when it comes to his education. I told her that I felt she was telling us that we were letting him off easy in his education by changing the range of what we expect. I told her it was like telling a child in a wheelchair to walk up the stairs to reach the top because everyone else was.

Believe me, I was formulating my next step. Wed I got a call from the Principal. We played phone tag and I tried to set up an appt for the following day. Thurs I got a call from the head of special ed, she must have heard rumblings. I told her the whole story. She was shocked and dismayed. Within 30 min both she and the Principal were on the phone, scheduling a meeting for the following Wed (we had Labor Day holidays in between, Fri and Mon). They asked if I was ok sending him to school after the Labor Day holiday on Tues. I said I would.

Tues he got held in from recess, for not finishing his writing. Oy vey! Can you say fine motor issues??? My meeting on Wed went well, but again, we had very good meetings with special ed before. I told them he was held in from recess, the special ed director looked very upset at that and immediately said that would not happen again. We had even been given suggestions from spec ed to give him MORE opportunities to move, the child (and EVERY child) needs movement to facilitate the learning process. Holding him in from recess is only going to make all of those issues worse, not better. They asked if we were in a place where we'd consider working with them on new placement or working with the teacher to determine how to move forward. We said yes. All that week my son was sent into the hall because he "got frustrated". To me that is a sensory issue that was not addressed and escalated when it probably didn't need to. Or it was (as I saw first hand) an issue of another child antagonizing him to the point where he melts down and yet unless you were watching you can't really tell that it was the interaction with that other child that caused the reaction. On Fri he was sent into the hall 4 times. No one else is sent into the hall. Way to set him apart even more. Mom is done at this point.

I did not send him to school Monday. He'd also had a very busy weekend, his bday party and a friend's birthday party and the foods with sugar and possible cross contamination were catching up. Sending him in with those reactions would have been a recipe for disaster anyways. I got an email saying they wanted to put him into an all day class. I told them no thanks and proceeded with homeschool. We have great therapy schedules set and losing those was only going to make all of the issues worse in my mind. I had already begun to think of the unthinkable....dun dun dun.....homeschool. I only say this because I thought I would fail miserably at it, I was resistant to it, said I would "never" homeschool, etc etc. But you do what you have to do. The school came back and said they were heartbroken over our decision, wouldn't we consider looking at the new class. Then I began to think about potentially regretting it if I did not explore ALL of the options. We sat in for an hour and a half of the new class. It seemed to be made up of those "gentle souls". The teacher gave the kids many chances to move their body in the time we saw, we watched their math lesson since M was struggling there. They use a smart board (which is so cool) that the kids get to use.

After class let out I stood and talked with the teacher. She was honest, she said she had never had a child with Autism in her class before but she considers communication very important back and forth. I totally agreed. I explained some of the issues (food allergies, fine motor, auditory, etc). The next day I took M in to see the class and meet her. Every Fri is a half day so we went just after the kids were released. There were only 2 children in the room, one boy he really seemed to hit it off with in just those few minutes. After just a few minutes, we were ready to leave and he gave her a hug, a good sign. I spoke with a mom whose daughter is in the class, one of our kindergarten families. She had only good things to say about the teacher thus far.

Monday was his 1st day in that new class after being homeschool all of the prior week. We are still in the adjustment period. He is seeing old kindergarten friends he missed in the morning before the whistle blows which he loves. He is coming home with completed math sheets (something he was not able to do before) and math seems to be "clicking" for him this week. I have gotten emails from the new teacher every day after school. I love that! And they have been "He had a good day, stayed focused and on task". NICE! I love to hear that.

See, I KNOW our kids can be successful, it takes the right teacher and the right environment. And that is why I am so thankful (yes you heard me) for this experience. Up to this point, we have had nothing but good experiences with school/teachers. This experience taught me that not only will I do exactly what is necessary for my children, but that I CAN homeschool if I choose. I also see homeschooling in a whole new way. It gave me the freedom to teach my child in whatever way he/she learns best. I could use whatever format, medium, curriculum I needed to. And, I know them best, hands down. We got SO much done in just a few hours! It was amazing how much you could cover without all of the "processes" of school. I am also not scared of the social issue that so many want to bring up when you say homeschooling. Knowing me, I polled lots of people, including my therapist friends who know a lot about Autism and social issues. They all consistently said the same thing, the social part is easy! Parks, playdates, karate class, boy scouts, etc. are all various ways to encourage that social component. My issue was the social interaction he was getting in school was BAD. To me, bad social is not better than less social.

All in all, I only have good things to say about the way special ed and the Principal responded and handled this issue. It clearly was an issue with bad teacher/student fit. As I told the teacher, I get how frustrating it can be *I really do*! I had my own ideas of mother hood and M came along and pulverized them! He challenges you to think outside the box to motivate him, to teach him, to enrich him. It is possible, it can be an amazing experience, and YOU get to grow right along with him. I speak from experience on this one, heck he got me homeschooling him, LOL. M will make YOU grow as much as you make him grow. He is an amazing child, as are both of his sisters, and my commitment will always to give them what THEY need, no matter what.

I am also thankful for my newly acquired meditation skills or the last month would have been harder than it was. This whole process has been stressful but I think my way of dealing with the stress is better, at least I keep on trying anyways! So here's to change (since that is the only thing constant in this house!) and new beginnings! Change used to be a scary word but I have realized, change is much better than sticking with something that isn't working. Hope YOUR last few weeks has been a lot less stressful than mine!!

And my next blogs will be about yummy treats!!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Great information on learning and brain development

OK so blogging has been lagging, drama on the homefront. The drama deserves its own blog and will get one once we get things a bit settled. I feel as though all my "balls" are in the air right now and I am trying to put my stress aside to focus on a certain someone's 7th birthday this week! But suffice it to say that this article has come at a perfect time for me, as we re-evaluate placement for my son and once again consider the unique education that Waldorf schools provide. This article is amazing and tells us how we SHOULD be teaching, we need to honor brain development and to quit forcing our kids to learn things their brain is simply not READY to learn yet (and I am talking ALL kids, NOT just ones with developmental delays!). It seems like every year they add more requirements, more assessments, even starting in kindergarten, ENOUGH ALREADY! Our children can be forced to learn things too early but then bad things are going to happen later on. They have 1 chance to be kids, they have their lifetime to do tests. Anyways, here is a wonderful article and some enlightening information on ways to tell when your child's brain has developed enough to progress on to reading and writing. Enjoy.

Teaching our Children to Read, Write and Spell

Author: Susan Johnson, M.D.
Issue: Fall 2007: Issue #49, Vol. 12
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Proprioceptive System
There is a widely-held belief that if we just start teaching children to write, read, and spell in preschool, they will become better writers, readers, and spellers by the time they reach the first and second grades. This is, however, not true. The truth is that children only should be taught to write, read, and spell when their neurological pathways for writing, reading, and spelling have fully formed. There are many neuropsychologists, developmental specialists, occupational therapists and teachers who are concerned that our current trend in this country of pushing “academics” in preschool and kindergarten will result in even greater increases in the number of children, particularly boys, diagnosed with attentional problems and visual processing types of learning disabilities.
In order for children to be able to sit still, pay attention, and remember abstract shapes, like letters and numbers, they first need to have developed their proprioceptive system.
In my clinical practice I see children who are being asked to sit still at a desk who can’t yet “feel” where they are in space. They have to keep their muscles and body moving all the time or sit on their feet or wrap their feet around the legs of their chair in order for their mind to locate the position of their body. They also have difficulty balancing on one foot while their eyes are closed. Their drawing of a person is more like that of a younger child, being stick-like in form and lacking hands and feet. These children are often given the label of Attention Deficit Disorder because they appear fidgety in their movements, have difficulty paying attention, and have poorly developed fine-motor skills. In addition, these same children are often labeled as having learning disabilities in visual processing (for example, dyslexia or other types of nonverbal learning disabilities). They have difficulty recalling letters, numbers, and shapes that are shown to them, and they are unable to recognize letters, numbers, and shapes that are drawn with a finger on their back. These children have difficulty remembering the orientation and direction of letters and numbers when writing, reading, or spelling. They often will confuse the letter “b” with the letter “d” and may write the number 2 or number 3 backwards and not even notice.
The proprioceptive system is strengthened by physical movements, like sweeping with a broom, pushing a wheelbarrow, carrying groceries, emptying the trash, pulling weeds, or hanging from monkey bars. When children do these types of activities they stimulate pressure receptors within their muscles, tendons, and joints, thereby allowing their minds to make a map of the location of these various pressure receptors within the body. A connection is made between the mind of children and the various parts of their physical body. In this way children develop a sense of where their body is in space (proprioception), and even if their eyes are closed, the children will be able to feel or sense the location of muscles, joints and tendons within their trunk, arms, legs, fingers, and toes. In addition, as the children move their arms, legs, hands, and feet forwards, backwards, up, down, left and right, they will start to gain a sense of the spaces around them. Now, when these children look at the shapes of letters and numbers, their eyes will follow and track the lines and curves. The memory of these movements will then imprint upon their mind. They will have the capacity to make mental pictures or images of these numbers and letters. They will easily remember the correct orientation of numbers like 2 and 3 when they are writing. There will be no more confusion between the letter “b” and the letter “d.” The correct orientation of the letter or number will be seen within the mind before it is written.
This proprioceptive system impacts other areas in children’s lives beyond being able to sit still and having a visual memory for abstract forms. It also affects their ability to fall asleep by themselves at night and to stay asleep throughout the night. When the proprioceptive system is not fully developed, children will have difficulties falling asleep at night by themselves. They will frequently wake up during the night and then need physical contact with their parents in order to fall back to sleep. Since their own proprioceptive system is not yet developed, lying next to their parent will activate their pressure receptors and allow them to feel their body, relax, and fall back to sleep. For these children, closing their eyes at night makes their body disappear because their mind has not made a connection to the pressure receptors within their muscles, tendons, and joints. This is why so many children want the light on at night when they go to bed. They need to see their body and the spaces around them since they cannot “feel” their body when in darkness.

Reading, Spelling, and Writing
Our current educational system is teaching children to read in a way that doesn’t make sense developmentally. Children in preschool and kindergarten are expected to memorize letters and words before their minds have developed the necessary pathways to identify letters, easily read words, and comprehend what they are reading. We are asking these young children to read, when the only part of their brain that is developed and available for reading words is the right hemisphere.
The right hemisphere first develops for reading, usually around four to seven years of age. This right part of the brain allows children to recognize words by sight. It enables children to focus on the first and last letters in a word and the overall length and shape of the word. It allows children to guess at words without paying much attention to spelling or matching sounds to letters (phonics). In contrast, the reading center in the left brain and the connecting bridge-like pathway between the left and the right brain don’t start developing until seven to nine years of age (girls may develop these pathways a little earlier, while some boys won’t develop these pathways until ten or 11 years of age). It is this reading center in the left brain that allows children to match sounds to letters and enables them to sound out words phonetically. Now they can remember more accurately how words are spelled.
Because the reading center in the right brain sees abstract forms like letters and numbers as pictures, it makes sense to first teach children to read by relating the shapes of letters to actual pictures that children can relate to and draw. For example, the letter “M” can be represented by two mountain peaks with a valley in between. As teachers we can tell children that the sound “M” is the first sound one hears when saying the word “mountains.” Other examples might include drawing a king out of the letter “K,” a bunny out of the letter “B,” or waves out of a “W.” What doesn’t make developmental sense is expecting children to just memorize the abstract shape of the letter “F,” or memorize phrases like “F” as in the word FOX, “B” as in the word BOY, or “C” as in the word CROCODILE. These words do not make any visual sense to the reading center in the right brain. The letter “F” doesn’t look like a FOX, the letter “B” doesn’t look like a BOY, and the letter “C” does not look like a CROCODILE.
When we push young children to read when they only have access to their right hemisphere for reading, we create learning problems for them in the future. Since children using the reading center of the right hemisphere look at the first and last letters of a word, the length of that word, and then make a guess, they will look at a word like “STAMP” and may guess that the word is “STOP” or “STUMP.” If you show them the word, “TGOEHTER” they may read the word as “TOGETHER,” but will not realize that the word is misspelled. Words like “FRIEND,” “FIND,” and “FOUND,” as well as “FILLED,” “FILED,” and “FLOOD,” will all seem the same.
It takes a lot of mental effort to read words using only sight memory. Sight memory was meant to be used for only small words. Children who are reading using only their right hemisphere often are exhausted after reading just a few paragraphs, and can only parrot back words or sentences by memory. In addition, their minds are busy deciphering each word and therefore are not free to create the pictures and actual scenes associated with the words they are reading. This limits their overall comprehension. These are the children who plagiarize or copy a text verbatim, word by word, when they are doing a report. This is because they can only recall the exact words they read and therefore can’t summarize, condense, or comprehend ideas very easily.
For all of these reasons, reading should be taught in school only after children have developed both their right and left reading centers. This will enable children to use sight memory for small words and the more efficient method of phonics for larger words. In addition, children need to have developed the “bridge” pathway that connects the two reading centers together. When children have developed this connection between the right and left cerebral hemispheres (bilateral integration), they can access both the right and left reading centers of their brain at the same time, and therefore can decide at any given moment whether to read a word by sight, if the word is short (a right hemisphere activity), or sound out the word phonetically if the word is long (a left hemisphere activity).
A physical sign that children have developed bilateral integration and can now read both by sight memory and phonics is shown by their ability to do the cross-lateral skip (swinging their opposite leg with opposite arm forward at the same time) without thinking or concentrating. This is because movements on the right side of the body are connected to the left hemisphere of the brain, while movements on the left side of the body are connected to the right side of the brain. If children can move their opposite arm and leg at the same time, then the right and left hemispheres of the brain are “talking” or connected to each other. If children can only skip using their feet or only skip extending the same arm with the same leg (the homolateral skip), they are not ready to read, since they can’t access both sides of the brain simultaneously.
Children who can simultaneously access their reading centers in the right and left hemispheres of their brain will read easily and will create visual images and pictures in their mind related to the content of what they are reading. They will be able to discuss or write about what they have read using their own words, because they can replay the scenes in their mind and don’t have to think so much about the specific words used in each sentence. Therefore, they will have an easier time understanding the meaning behind the stories and books they are reading. Learning to spell will be easier too.
Besides pushing children to read and spell before their minds are developed, we also ask them to hold a pencil and write before they are developmentally ready. I see very young children being asked to write with one hand while they still have overflow movements occurring in the fingers of the opposite hand. Before six or seven years of age, the vertical midline of the child is not fully integrated. When a child moves the fingers of one hand, the fingers on the other hand will also move, often without the child’s conscious awareness. Children should not be forced to write until this vertical midline is integrated. If we force children to hold a pencil or pen and write before they have integrated this vertical midline, they will develop a tense pencil grip, a cramped writing style, and a spatially compromised and jerky penmanship. It makes more sense first to teach children to write the small letters of the alphabet in cursive before teaching them to print these lower case letters. When doing form drawings or writing in cursive, the right and left hemispheres are both active and working together. Printing of the lower case letters is a more abstract and advanced developmental task that requires the left hemisphere, which often isn’t developed enough for this task until seven to nine years of age. Girls may be ready to do this task by age six while boys often can’t do this task until after nine years of age.
My greatest concern is that I am seeing more and more fourth, fifth, sixth, and even seventh graders from public and private schools who can’t spell easily and are still reading mostly by sight memory. They can now use their left brain to sound out words, but they approach every word they read first by using the reading center in right brain (by sight). For example, when I give these children a sentence to read like: “Six byos wnet on a vaccaiton tohgeter and tehy wnet fsihing in a bule baot,” they often do not notice any of the misspelled words. Furthermore, when I have these same children read another paragraph where every word is spelled correctly, they often tell me that both paragraphs are exactly the same or only note one or two words where the spelling is different.
My worry is that these children were pushed to read too early, when only their right brain was developed enough for reading. They compensated by learning to read everything using only sight memory. When the reading center in their left hemisphere finally developed, the habit was still to read by using the reading center of the right hemisphere. Therefore, these children first looked at the words in a sentence using sight memory, and if the words didn’t make any sense, then they accessed the left reading center to sound out the words. The problem was they weren’t using the reading centers in the right and left brains simultaneously. Many of these children still lacked bilateral integration in their physical movements as well as in their reading. For some of the children, reading was slow and took a tremendous amount of effort. For other children, their sight memory was so strong that they could read quickly but their comprehension and spelling were still poor. Neither group of children could easily picture the scenes from the words they read or remember how individual words were spelled.
Many of these children need cranial therapy because of a history of a c-section birth, prolonged labor, induced labor, or use of suction forceps at delivery. In addition, these children need lots of cross-lateral types of movements (where the opposite arm moves at the same time as the opposite leg) to strengthen bilateral integration. Movements like walking or hiking with the arms swinging, swimming the various strokes, rock climbing and playing tennis will all strengthen bilateral integration. Also, specific movement therapies such as Therapeutic Eurythmy, Extra Lesson, Parelli horseback riding, Spacial Dynamics, Bal-A-Vis-X, Brain Gym, HANDLE, and sensory integration therapy will foster the development of these neurological pathways. These movements need to be noncompetitive, and the therapists needs to avoid over-stimulating the children or activating their fight and flight “stress” nervous systems. For neurological pathways do not form well when children are stressed. Once these pathways and connections are formed, many of these children will need tutoring to relearn the rules of spelling and phonics and to start using their left brains for reading. Even if these children were taught phonics in the first or second grade, they need to revisit these reading skills because they didn’t have access yet to the reading center in their left brain.

Prevention of Learning Disabilities
Overall, schools and parents can support a child’s learning by serving healthy foods that are rich in protein, good quality fats (especially omega-3 fatty acids), and fresh fruits and vegetables, while eliminating partially-hydrogenated oils and trans fats which occur when cooking or frying foods in corn oil. Adequate sleep will increase the percentage of rapid eye movement or REM sleep. A lack of sleep leads to less REM sleep and therefore, less consolidation of the previous day’s learning. Limiting screen time (television, videos, and computer games), and eliminating it altogether on school nights, will keep the mind free to do its own picturing and not stress it with violent images and rapid sequences of pictures that the brain cannot fully process. Regular rhythms and routines in eating and sleeping as well as daily activities will promote a more relaxed nervous system for learning.
In addition, children can’t learn and neurological pathways can’t form as easily when children’s nervous systems are experiencing stress. Forcing children to write, read, and spell, and giving them “standardized” tests before they are developmentally ready, will stress their nervous systems. Furthermore, children will dislike reading and will not want to go to school. If we insist on pushing writing, reading and spelling before the children’s minds are ready, we will continue to create an epidemic of behavior and learning difficulties, especially in our boys.
First grade is the time to introduce form drawing, learn the capital letters (as pictures that children can draw), and practice cursive writing. As the majority of children in the classroom strengthen their proprioceptive skills and integrate their right and left hemispheres (as evidenced by their ability to stand on one foot with their eyes closed, remember the shapes that are drawn on their backs, jump rope forward and backwards by themselves, and easily perform the cross lateral skip), then children can be more formally taught to read, and to learn how to print the lower case letters.
It is time to remove the desks from kindergartens and preschools. Our preschools and kindergartens need to fill their curriculums with play consisting of lots of sensory integration activities that will strengthen fine motor movements, visual motor abilities, balance, muscle tone, proprioception, as well as strengthen children’s social and emotional development. Activities like imaginary play, climbing, running, jumping, hopping, skipping, walking the balance beam, playing circle games, singing, playing catch, doing meaningful chores, painting, coloring, playing hand-clapping games, doing string games, and finger knitting will strengthen their minds for learning. Children need these healthy, harmonious, rhythmic, and noncompetitive movements to develop their brains. For it is the movements of their body that create the pathways in their mind for reading, writing, spelling, mathematics, and creative thinking.

Susan Johnson, M.D. is a Behavioral and Developmental Pediatrician in Colfax, California.
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