Children With Learning Differences

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 Millions of children struggle with learning differences, while there are others who are being diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorders on a daily basis. Neurobiological disorders often interfere with a child's ability to process information in conventional settings. A learning difference can be a life-long condition challenging individuals in many areas such as education, relationships, employment and daily routines. However, with support in utilizing their strengths, children with learning differences can grow up to be extremely successful and happy. As parents, it's important to remember that everybody learns differently. We are all faced with different learning challenges at every age. JustMommies.com spoke with Lauren Culp, LMFT, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, a teacher and a birth & postpartum doula.... who gave us some excellent tools in order to improve the outcomes of children with learning differences and children who may later be discovered to have Autism.

Every child benefits from…

During Pregnancy
There are so many expected and unexpected feelings during pregnancy and our emotional state may affect our baby. In addition to supporting the developing baby, many birth practitioners recommend identifying any issues or emotions that might interfere with the process of giving birth in the most natural way with the least amount of medical interventions. Some of the latest research shows that at 5 weeks gestation, the human baby is developing his/her sensory system. Disruption of that nervous system can possibly cause some developmental challenges and learning differences.
1. WRITE, JOURNAL and TALK to a professional or a trusted friend.Just thinking about our fears or uncomfortable emotions doesn't help, but we know through research that talking and writing helps improve the immune system, cardiac system, digestive system and our whole physical well being.
2. DIET.A good, balanced diet is important at all times of your life, but during pregnancy, it's extremely important. The foods you eat are the main source of nutrients for your baby. Load up on foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals, learn the five food groups and balance your meals. In addition to your OBGYN or midwife, you may want to consult a nutritionist, because there are supplements you can take as well. For ex: DHA- fish oil that is mercury-free, is a "brain building" food during pregnancy and breastfeeding for both mother and child. Calcium is one of the most important minerals you will need during pregnancy. You can easily increase your calcium supply by reducing your salt intake and adding broccoli, almonds, and lowfat dairy products such as skim milk or yogurt. Folic acid is essential for a healthy baby and helps in the development of the fetal brain and spine. Some excellent sources of folic acid include dried beans, tofu, dark green vegetables, peanut butter and fortified cereals. Check with your doctor and see if you would benefit from extra non-constipating iron taken toward the middle to end of the pregnancy when your blood supply is doubling.
3. YOGA, PRE-NATAL MASSAGE and MEDITATION.Once your doctor has given you the go-ahead to exercise, yoga can be an ideal workout. It involves the whole body and mind and it combines building strength with improving flexibility, helps you learn to breathe and decreases stress levels. Pre-natal massages are a wonderful way to relax and have a wide range of benefits, which include: increasing circulation, reducing fatigue and improving digestion. Add time to reflect, because new research shows that meditation can actually change the structure of the brain and grow your prefrontal cortex~ which is really exciting.
4. NATURAL CHILDBIRTH.Educate yourself about the various options for birthing. The fewer the medical interventions and medications, the better for the baby. Find a medical professional or midwife who helps you feel empowered, surround yourself with supportive individuals during the birth, and especially prepare for the first twelve weeks after delivery.

During Infancy
1. TOUCH.When working with pre-mature babies, doctors discovered that if you feed a baby AND touch a baby, the baby grows twice as fast as a baby that is just fed. There is an amazing thing called "the kangaroo hold," where you have the baby on your breast, skin to skin and you can increase your milk supply, just from the 24 hours of skin contact. Skin to skin is powerful.
2. BABYWEARING.When we pick up a baby, we are actually helping the vestibular system, which goes back to that part in their brain which is helping them self soothe. We are furnishing that initially- by holding, carrying, touching- we are helping brain development.
3. MASSAGE.Body movement and massage can really help the brain as well. When you massage a baby, you want to read the baby’s cues. Always massage the tummy clockwise, following the intestinal tract. You want light, but firm pressure. You want to clear off the baby's toes and fingers. In Chinese medicine, moving your hand down the spine 10 times releases excess chi, which is energy, helping to calm your child. This also integrates right and left brain activity, and improves our body's sensory-integration. (Some babies initially have difficulty with being touched. If your baby does, ask your pediatrician to refer you to an Occupational Therapist).
4. BREAST FEEDING is so important.It’s not just the nutrition and immune system boosts that benefit the baby and mother. The sucking actually helps the skull shift into healthy alignment and helps the jaw go into alignment with the palate, which means that it helps speech. The sucking also helps all the sphincter muscles in the body, which includes the eyes, which means better focus and attention. The World Health Organization, UNICEF and The Canadian Pediatric Society recommend breastfeeding until at least two years of age (and beyond) which is being called “complete nursing.” The AAP advices mothers to breastfeed for at least one year, and thereafter for as long as both mother and child desire it.
NOTE: When your baby starts eating solid foods, you may want to consider any food allergies in your family. Many children benefit from having a gluten free- dairy free diet, because allergies can wreak havoc with the brain and interfere with learning and behavior.
5. VACCINATIONS.It’s a good idea to research vaccinations before the birth of your baby with a medical and a holistic practitioner. Find out which vaccinations are best for your child and how to assess an appropriate course for your particular family.

During Childhood/Adolescence
1. CALM THE NERVOUS SYSTEM.Autism, Asperger, Attention Deficit Disorder are spectrum disorders which means that there is a blueprint of possible behaviors, but each child has a unique set of challenges-not a cookie cutter. Children present in all different ways. Some may have sensitivity to sound and cover their ears, others may not. You really want to look at each the child. The most important thing is calming the nervous system. There is research that suggests that children on the Autistic spectrum may be in a constant fight-or-flight state. According to Steven Porges, PhD., our nervous systems are wired to keep us safe from perceived danger and our sensory system responds. For instance, let's say we are walking down an alley, talking to someone next to us and we hear footsteps behind us... It’s very difficult to hear the person speaking, because we are paying attention to the footsteps behind us. It’s just a primitive reaction. When parenting children, we have to find ways to remain calm, while teaching children to calm themselves down. This helps a child stay more present in the moment, so they can be more of who they are.
2. PLAY.Many scientists, researchers and educators actually feel that there is not enough play in the school system currently and there would probably be a reduction of ADHD symptoms if there was. Parents can take their children to school a little early and allow them to play outside or play in the backyard before going to class. Usually, they have more success in the classroom. It’s very healing for children to be playing in nature. Hiking, swinging, and swimming are great. Children who are non-verbal sometimes benefit from riding horses and their speech improves. Big balls that you might have used for birthing- the bouncing actually helps children focus more during their homework. Drinking through silly-straws may help improve attention as well.
3. KEEP ROUTINES CONSISTENT.Parenting all children is more successful when we focus on keeping routines consistent. Try to prepare for transitions and changes. It's inevitable that things may come up, but children who have learning differences and are the Autistic spectrum really benefit from knowing what’s going to happen and being prepared for it.
4. FOCUS ON STRENGTHS.Identify a child's strengths and build on these. Some children are audio learners, some are visual learners. Remember, everybody learns differently. You want to teach children their strengths at the appropriate age levels, which will benefit self-esteem and build confidence in learners. Help kids see themselves for who they are- with talents, strengths and abilities. Encourage your children to tell you what makes them most comfortable as well. It’s a joint effort in finding solutions to help children be more successful.
5. EDUCATE YOURSELF.There are tons of resources out there for parents. It’s important to educate yourself. Two wonderful websites to explore:
www.allkindsofminds.org or www.mindgains.org, You may also want to check out the books: Healing the New Childhood Epidemics: Autism, ADHD, Asthma and Allergies (Bock), Prescription for a Nutritional Healing (Balch), and Parenting from the Inside Out (Siegel/Hartzell).
6. PARENTAL SUPPORT.Get support and nurture yourself if you are a parent or a couple with a child with a learning difference or Autism.
Lauren tells us, "I actually know many adults that have ADD/ADHD or had ADHD as a child and adults that were non-verbal Autistic when they were very little… and they now say they would not change that for the world, because it makes them who they are. There are many people who are very successful professors, technology leaders, etc. that have behaviors on the spectrums. There is no limit for a child’s potential. It’s unlimited. The goal here is to help parents discover that challenges and learning differences can become assets and encourage growth in all members of the family. Embrace your child's differences. When parents are comfortable and in the present moment...children feel empowered!"

For more info on our expert or to ask a question, please visitwww.laurenculp.com

 

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