The Myth of Practice-Makes-Perfect
When Sheila came to see me, seeking reading therapy for her son, Kyle, she was skeptical when she learned that reading therapy was not the traditional tutoring she had imagined. It’s normal for parents to think their child just needs more one-on-one practice.
For many of us ‘practice-makes-perfect’ is the only concept we have on how to improve learning. Practice makes perfect is practically a cult. Of course, practice is necessary but not if the wrong connections are in place—then we’re just reinforcing bad connections. Like many parents, Sheila expected straight-forward phonics drills and practice.
I explained if that had worked, chances are Kyle wouldn’t be at a standstill–in total all out grid-lock, still reading at a grade one reading level in grade four.
When I explained the processes and developmental milestones that are needed to be able to learn how to read—Sheila began to see why her son was struggling. It was first necessary to develop and strengthen the areas of the brain that was making it difficult for Kyle to read before we began drill and practice.
Extra-practice comes later when the weak connections that prevent a child from reading and learning well are strengthened so that learning is no longer an uphill battle.
Did Your Child Crawl? Did Your Child Creep? For How Long?
One of the first questions I ask at screenings are, “Did your child crawl? And for how long? Did they creep?” As parents we think of these early movements as cute and an indication that our child is developing normally. When they skip certain milestones and go right onto the next or if they progress quickly through it, we take it as a sign that our child is ahead of the game. I know I did.
What we don’t realise is that those early movements are crucial for developing the sensory-motor system, also known as the lower brain levels. This is the first area of brain to develop and it is literally the foundation for higher learning.
Crawling Improves Communication Between the Right and Left Sides of the Brain
Crawling has many purposes for brain development—one of them being it strengthens communication between the left and right hemisphere of the brain. The corpus callosum which joins the left and right sides of the brain is thick when there is strong communication between the two sides of the brain.
Brain scans have revealed that individuals who have high IQ’s and perform well academically have a thick corpus callosum. When it is not strong, the two hemispheres of the brain have difficulty sharing information and communication well. The result is a disorganized brain.
Information doesn’t get processed or stored properly, and certain areas of the brain are doing jobs they aren’t meant to. This is frequently the case in dyslexia and reading disorders where reading is taking place on the right side of the brain rather than in the language centre which is found on the left side of the brain.
Creeping and crawling helps to develop the lower brain levels. When those levels are weak or underdeveloped, there are going to be difficulties in varying degrees with learning, attention and behaviour.
Why Traditional Tutoring Doesn’t Work When There Are Weak Connections
While traditional tutoring is great for children who have a strong sensory motor system but simply need re-enforcement, reading therapy is about addressing the root cause of why your child is not learning or reading at the same level as their peers, despite their effort.
This reading therapy is specifically for developing those lower brain levels, strengthening weak connections in the brain and correcting why some kids have learning difficulties. A few of the many areas this approach involves are targeted exercises that improve:
- Eye-tracking and hand-eye coordination to improve poor visual processing
- Crossover exercises that improve communication between the left and right sides of the brain so that a child is reading from the left side of the brain—where the language centre is found.
- Development of core muscles which impacts the brain’s ability to focus, coordinate eyes for reading and even being able to sit still.
Parents often ask, how these exercises are supposed to help their child with letter reversals, phonemic awareness, sounding out words and reading comprehension.
Physiotherapy for the Brain
Think of movement therapy as physio for the brain. Different muscle groups and body movements are responsible for developing and activating the lower brain levels so the higher order skills in the brain can be optimal.
Around 95% of the children I see never crawled or for only a brief time. When screening them, I literally have clients crawl down the hallway. It should come as no surprise that most times, the more underdeveloped the crawl the more compromised is their ability to read, learn or focus.
Skipping developmental milestones like crawling is actually quite common among children with ADHD, Learning Differences and even Autism Spectrum and has been documented and researched for decades.
Developmental milestones like creeping, crawling, then walking and other more sophisticated movements develop the core muscles and vestibular system A.K.A. balance and coordination.
How Crawling Impacts the Letter Reversals & the Visual System
When the vestibular system is not fully developed it affects much more than balance; it can lead to weak hand-eye coordination (and poor attention).
Weak hand-eye coordination can hinder the eyes’ ability to effectively track words and to remain on target–which is why some kids continuously lose their place when reading. It can also impair the ability to decode and contributes to poor penmanship as well as fine and gross motor skills that we often see in dyspraxia and dysgraphia.
From Babies to Early Childhood—Kids Just Aren’t Moving Enough
The function of the vestibular system is further developed and maintained through regular exercise. We all know children do not move enough today.
Even when crawling did occur, not continuing regular and varied movement throughout infancy and early childhood can also contribute to weak connections and underdevelopment. If children are disinterested in or lack regular movement, they will be more vulnerable to a reading disorder among other childhood disorders.
How Core Muscle Development Can Correct Visual Dyslexia
It may seem hard to believe that the core muscles can have any effect on reading skills. Allow me to explain. Crawling develops the core muscles. When core muscles are weak, every other muscle in the body will have compromised coordination—and that includes the eye muscles! In a nutshell, if the vestibular system or core muscles are weak, the eyes will have difficulty tracking and remaining fixed on a target.
When core muscles are strengthened, eye coordination, tracking and scanning can improve greatly. Strong core muscles improve balance and hand-eye coordination. Children often complain that letters blur, move or bounce around when the core muscles are weak.
I recently had a client who after strengthening his core muscles, had marked improvement in his ability to sit still, focus and most importantly eliminated his letter reversals by 50%. We corrected the remaining exercises with vision and visual processing exercises. To say his mother, who was once skeptical, was both surprised and overjoyed would be an understatement.
Assess How the Body is Contributing to Reading Difficulties—Rather than Simply Testing Reading Levels
When I first meet with children who have reading disorders, I am less concerned with testing their reading level. Certainly, I do this to get a baseline, but what I am more concerned with is screening for vestibular function, core muscle development and countless other co-ordinated movements that tell me about your child’s brain organization.
Extra practice like tutoring is great for kids who need just that—but when a reading disorder is present usually the body and brain need exercises to strengthen weak and underdeveloped areas of the brain and the body.
Each child is different and there are numerous factors that can contribute to reading disorders. To learn more about how you can help your child rise above reading difficulties, schedule a free twenty-minute consult so I can help you identify the main reasons why your child is struggling with reading and learning.