Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Parent's Journey III

Okay, first grade is completed and I am proud (and relieved) to say that our daughter is reading above grade level. In fact, through the standardized measure (Gintey) she is reading at the 85%ile! Her decoding is lower than her comprehension so I know that she needs context, but knowing that her auditory processing is an issue, that's to be expected. What has made the difference? That's the fascinating thing about human beings - who knows for sure.... but, as a professional, I can make some very educated assumptions:

Her classroom environment fits her very well. Research is showing that the brain performs better when the person is comfortable, both physically and emotionally (a good summary is in: Emotion: The gatekeeper to learning).

Our daughter is comfortable with her teacher, her classroom and her school. She is in a Montessori class so she is allowed lots of movement and she creates a plan each day so she knows what to expect and can see her own progress. She will also be in this class with this teacher until 3rd grade - it works, so we are THRILLED!

Amygdala: An almond-shaped structure in the middle of the brain, connected to the hippocampus, which detects the emotional content of sensory data and plays a role in
the formation of emotion-laden memories.
a.k.a.: the Gatekeeper.

We know that she knew all of her letter sounds and we knew that she often confused similar sounds or syllables when she heard them which caused her to write them that way too. A friend summarized children with reading difficulties and auditory processing to me the other day as the kids in whom the switch seems to flip. They seem like the geniuses in any reading program they are involved with when that switch flips. Nic would be like that I think. Don't get me wrong, we read with her at home, she was working on sounds and blending at school, but one day it just clicked. We gave her room and tried not to stress her about it (let the amygdala do its job!). Her homework from school was to read 20 minutes every night and they had sustained reading at school every day and that sustained practice does help! The first time she curled up next to me while I was reading and she read her own chapter book I admit I was all misty. Some of my favorite times now are when we sit in my sun room, each with a book and then chat about something funny or scary that we just read.....

Supporting Her Development
And, one of the last pieces was truly her sensory development. There was no question that it had not developed "as would be expected for her age" and that was an issue. How can a body be relaxed enough to learn when it's tight from the inside out? Then trying to process inefficiently all the auditory stimulation on top of that - impossible.

What we have done is:
* remind ourselves to modulate our voices to not add to her frustration when she is starting to escalate.
* use the weighted blanket every night at bedtime to help regulate her sleep
* think more actively about our schedule and hers, what type of activity is required, what stress may it put on her nervous system and how will that be balanced out afterward
* wrestle with her and/or provide some intense tactile stimulation each day
* remind ourselves (frequently) that she may be processing what we've said when she's staring out into space - give her think time and phrase our cues as cues not as criticism (for example: in a firm but calm voice as "what were the directions again" or "could you hear what I said" instead of "were you listening" or "what did I say".
* limiting screen time (overstimulating for the brain neurons) particularly for the hour before bedtime. She does seem to be soothed somehow if she is on the computer for 10-15 minutes first thing in the morning.

What About the Anxiety?
I find that the anxiety often comes out when her sensory is heightened or when there is a lot of auditory stimulation - her system is overloaded and doesn't know what to do to survive. I also find that acknowledging it with a clear answer also helps. For example, every night Nic asks me if I will check on her after she goes to bed. She is frequently sure that she will never fall asleep and I'm not sure what the other worry is, though I know there is one. I have learned that if I just reply "Of course I will. I always do." I can see the tension decrease and she heads off to bed. I

In the classroom, I often use humor or a cue such as "remind yourself that Mrs. B will take care of it - that is what they pay her for after all" and that helps. Our anxious children, especially is there is something else going on in that brain are often not using self-talk to calm themselves down. I figure that as a teacher, that can be one of the best gifts I can ever give them.

Last Thoughts (for today)
Unfortunately, there is no one fix for all children who struggle like ours did, so I can't just publish a recipe card and say "do this"; but I can say try this and keep trying this and, while it might not "fix" everything, it may make life a little easier in your house or in your classroom!

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