It is glaringly obvious to teachers across the US that the children have been changing in the last several years. There is a huge increase in hyperactive, impulsive, aggressive, obsessive, compulsive behaviors, as well as individuals with specific learning disabilities such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, and processing. This is due to a combination of many factors, such as the current technology use, current SAD diet (standard American Diet) and other environmental toxins. Our children's brains are being rewired and systems are being bombarded resulting in their brains becoming imbalanced.
In the past 8 years, I have spent every spare moment studying and researching what to do to help struggling students. Partly because that was the population I worked with and partly because I have a son with autism at home. Not to help them cope or compensate, but to help them recover, become more whole and no longer need assistance.
I have learned from functional neurology, Brain Gym, Rhythmic Movement Training, and functional medicine how the brain grows and develops, and how physiology effects brain growth and vice versa. I have also learned how to go back to earlier stages in order to support development so that learning can eventually happen more naturally. The brain develops beginning in the brainstem and connections need to be made from there to the basal ganglia, thalamus and frontal cortex. Also, the brain grows from the motor cortex out, so if there is difficulty in either the brain stem or motor cortex, the next parts are severely compromised. Many of our children do not have appropriately connected frontal lobes causing them to be impulsive and unable to make decisions. Some struggling children have weak right hemispheres (those with more affective and social disorders) and others are weak left (those that struggle with academics and processing).
In my role as math specialist I was able to use bits and pieces of what I had been learning and witnessed nice results, but it was only bits and pieces. My whole goal in spending all this time and money in research, learning, and intervention programs and equipment was that I wanted to give my students a $6000 curriculum for free in the public school system. If you take a student to a good learning specialist for a reading disorder, they will tell the parent that they are going to work on reading, not by reading. The specialist is really going to target brain development through the integration of primitive reflexes, strengthening early movement patterns, providing lots of sensory input targeted to the weak hemisphere, and cognitive activities that target weak areas, such as working memory, or auditory processing (as examples). This work is done for 1-1.5 hours 3-5 days a week, with extensions done at home, such as home movement programs and by removing gluten and dairy from the diet, which is usually a must as well because brain disorders are also chronic brain inflammation, which essentially have roots in food sensitivities - and gluten and dairy are the biggest culprits.
I have been around reform curriculum for quite some time and yes, we do need to think about our tier 1 instruction - it makes a BIG difference in overall school performance. However we still have about average of 3 kids in each classroom who are struggling on a more fundamental level. As a school system, we need to start to acknowledge this and strategize what we want to do about it. Occupational therapists across the country are seeing a rise of 30% of children who are not on the ASD spectrum in need of support in recent years.
If we really want to make a difference, we need to re-think how we are supporting students. Granted, some only need minor homework support, but many others need something deeper, whether or not they are on an IEP. In fact, in my educational experience, so many children who need support are not low enough to qualify for an IEP, thus end up falling through the cracks.
What can we do?
Ideally? Based on the laws of neuroplasticity the key is intensity, duration, and frequency. That means that 20 minutes a week of a therapy for anything is not very effective. To effectively change the brain, children need to be provided a daily 45 minutes to 1 hour program giving them 1-1 support with sensory stimulation targeting the weaker hemisphere (as determined by a questionnaire filled out by parent or teacher). That stimulation includes vision, auditory, tactile, and proprioceptive. While their hemisphere is being targeted, student engages in sensory activities that target the growth of the corpus callosum, reflex integration, development of core muscles (necessary for proper output of brain waves), fine motor development, and cognitive skills. Those cognitive activities include tasks such as auditory memory, visual memory, working memory, auditory processing, etc. One day a week, the child should receive an in-depth balance to help shift the body’s readiness to learn.
In this scenario, one skilled teacher would be able to see 5 students daily. If the program were quarterly, then 20 students would be able to be serviced in the year. Ideally, learning centers run a minimum of 12 weeks. 12 weeks on a daily rotation would be 15 students and on an every-other day rotation would be 30 students, although time for assessment and program design need to be taken into account. One assistant trained by the skilled teacher would be able to double the case load, and so on. It is possible to see some students with similar issues in groups of 2, but a ratio more than that compromises the focus that the child is putting on his program.
Small groups can be run for students who need less intensive intervention and could be 20-30 minute program using the Listening Program in combination of specific exercises or sensory experiences.
Who is needed to make this successful?
Learning specialists (Reading, math, ESL, speech, occupational therapists, Special education teachers and their aides, etc.) are all perfect candidates. Imagine just taking 3 people and reallocating them to target struggling students, we could impact a lot of kids. The problem is that in the current structure of our educational system, each one of these professionals are pretty much handcuffed as to what services they can or cannot provide.
What will it take?
It takes the desire and guts to break away from the status quo and determination to significantly change the life of these children and not just to try to help them cope and put band-aids on their problems.
There should be an investment in equipment. If a school wants to do this right, they would need some equipment to set up a basic movement room, such as some gym mats, a mini-trampoline, and a balance beam. Some additional technology that I would highly recommend, based on research and efficacy, would be at least one license for the Interactive Metronome®, At least 6 sets of The Listening Program, a Visagraph®, and some sets of Forbrain®.
There also needs to be an investment in training. Obviously individuals need to be trained in how to use the above equipment, but they should also be trained in the fundamental principals of neurodevelopment. All teachers in a school should take at least the first course of Brain Gym®, so that they are all on the same page and using the same language. Children moving from class to class will be receiving the same message and support. Specialists should take at least 3 levels of Brain Gym® in order meet the needs of the individual student. Primary teachers and specialists should also receive training in Blomberg Rhythmic Movement Training®, where they learn deeper strategies for brain development and primitive reflex integration.
Classroom teachers should be able to conduct whole class and small group balances throughout the day, in order to increase learning readiness for the upcoming lesson. Specialists should be able to, and free to, conduct a deeper 1-1 balance at minimum of once per week.
A leap into the future
Our children are changing at an alarming rate through forces that are out of our control. The increase of wireless technology, social media, processed and artificial foods, GMO foods, pesticides and herbicides, and the near daily spraying of chemicals into our atmosphere are all some of the ways that are children are being bombarded from birth with toxins that they aren't developmentally ready to handle. The inability to inappropriately detoxify and deal with environmental and emotional stressors causes chronic inflammation in the gut and, consequently, in the brain, leading to learning, behavior, and motor challenges.
The schools might not be able to control all of the toxic exposures, though they could minimize much if children were to work on wired computers and only have access to real, unprocessed foods during the school day; however, they can shift their thinking into how we can take the child and support them by using fundamental brain developing principles.
Educationally, we are going in a direction as if the children were like those of the 80's, before the astronomical rise in the toxic burden. The educational shifts are great, but are not sufficient for those who have brains that are not making the connections as they should. We need to be bold and make that leap to address true individual needs, giving a whole new meaning to the phrase "No Child Left Behind."
Want to take the first step?
Why Everyone Should Meal Prep One of the tips you will be given often when you look up clean eating diets is that you should meal prep. The reason this is so effective is because it is more convenient and ends up saving time, plus it really gets ahead of those temptations you might have. Here are some of the top benefits of meal prepping and planning on the clean eating diet.
You Can Avoid Unnecessary Snacking
The first reason you should consider meal prepping is so you can avoid snacking on foods that aren’t clean. This is a very common pitfall among people who are used to hitting up the vending machine at work or grabbing a few cookies for a snack. If you prepare before the week begins, you should already have all the clean snacks you need, from fruit and nuts to homemade clean baked goods and won’t need to grab a candy bar while at the gas station.
It Ensures You Have Enough Food for the Week
In addition to avoiding the little snacks that can add up fast, you can also make sure you have all the food you need for a week or longer. Another common pitfall of clean eating is that you run out of food for meals later in the week, leading you to getting fast food or ordering pizza, since it’s easier than going back to the store. By planning out all your meals, you can then prep them and have all the hard work done so that cooking is a breeze.
Your Week is More Streamlined
Nobody wants to spend time each day figuring out what to pack in their kids’ lunches and deciding on what to cook for dinner. If you spend a good portion of your day thinking about what to cook, you are stressing yourself out, and that mentality often leads to failure of these types of diets. This is a brand new healthy lifestyle and one that does take some prep work. Think about how easy it will be going through your day knowing your breakfast and lunch is packed and ready to go, and everything for dinner is scheduled, prepped, and ready to put in the oven. It really does not get any simpler than that.
Remember that meal prep isn’t always cooking ahead of time, but prepping ingredients like chopping veggies, putting smoothie packs together, and making salads.
Ready to Join our Clean Eating 14-day challenge Jan 3? Click here to sign up: https://lisaanndegarcia.synduit.com/LRFC0001
As we can see in the visual to the right, learning develops in steps or phases, and academic knowledge is the culmination at the top. Successful learning in school is dependent upon strongly developed underlying processes. Although each of the processes, or rungs, are not learned in isolation, they do build on one another and weaknesses in the lower part of the ladder effect all the rungs above. Therefore, when trying to address issues in the higher levels, it is important to look more closely at the steps below to determine where more hidden weaknesses lie. Addressing these areas will support the development of the upper rungs, sometimes without ever directly doing interventions in those areas.
This means that there should not simply be one approach when helping your child. The school's typical response, especially in this day and age of high stakes testing, is to remediate by providing more instructional opportunities. This method works best when the deficit is that the child has missed educational opportunities for reasons such as a move, undiagnosed hearing loss that is now being corrected with hearing aides, or illness that may have kept the child out of school for an extended period of time. Sometimes the child has matured since the time of when initial learning took place and is now more developmentally ready to receive it.
Experienced teachers can attest that children who struggle usually have other identifiable characteristics, such as not being able to jump rope, having poor balance and coordination, no being able to sit still, constantly falling or crashing into walls, and having poor fine motor skills in writing and/or speech. Their learning struggles are deeper than needing more instruction. If this is the case, the intervention needs to go beyond simply providing more academic support.
The understanding of the role that primitive reflexes play in learning disorders has been absolute key in helping these children overcome their obstacles. To go into depth of how to identify and all the ways to treat primitive reflexes that have been retained is beyond the scope of this website, however it is so critical to learning outcomes that I felt it needed to be addressed in at least a basic way so that others are aware of their existence and can research this topic further and at the very least incorporate some basic exercises that can help address the integration process of these reflexes.
Essentially, primitive reflexes are automatic movements that are mediated by the brain-stem, begin in utero and are present at birth. These reflexes have a variety of functions, such as helping the infant wriggle out of the birth canal and being able to find the nipple to nurse. These reflexes are elicited by specific sensory stimuli. For example, at birth, if an infant is having trouble nursing, a midwife would know to stimulate the palm of his hand to, in turn, stimulate the sucking response.
There are many of these reflexes that should integrate and become non-observant after the first year of life. During this first year, babies engage in a variety of rhythmical movements that allow them to practice and wire their brain for the next step. For example, when a baby is on his hands and knees, she rocks back and forth. This practicing allows her to gain conscious control of her body. As the reflex pattern is integrated, the limbs are no longer tied together and movements can be done at will. “If the baby is unable to inhibit his primitive reflexes at the appropriate time they will delay his motor development making it more difficult to follow the inborn programme. Consequently, there is a stumbling block to the maturing of his brain” (Blomberg & Dempsey, 2011, p. 50), causing problems with gross and fine motor coordination and sensory perception (Goddard, 2005).
Many children do not have fully integrated reflexes. Correct crawling for at least six months, for example, is critical for the integration of the Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR). However, many children, myself included, skip the crawling stage and go right to walking. Walkers and other devices that encourage children to be upright before they are ready also prevent infants from receiving the appropriate movement and stimulation that helps them to integrate their reflexes.
Reflexes integrate, but do not fully disappear. Their job is to present themselves during a flight or fight situation. Some individuals who had originally integrated their reflexes may have experienced trauma at some point in their life that brings the reflex back out. This may have been some type of accident, illness, or even some vaccinations are said to cause this to happen. Most adults have evidences, even if slight, of some of our primitive reflexes, which are magnified as we age and our brainstem and basal ganglia begin to deteriorate. An example is when we are driving and as we look to one side of the street, does our arm, thus the car, follow the direction of our gaze? Adults who are active in sports but experience injuries are most likely experiencing the failure of one or more of these primitive reflexes (Bell, n.d.).
As primitive reflexes integrate, postural reflexes develop. These reflexes, controlled by the midbrain, are those that should remain present throughout our lives. One example of a postural reflex is the headrighting reflex. In fact, this is thought by some to be the most critical indicator of learning difficulties (Gold, 2008). This reflex helps keep a steady gaze, even when we move in different directions. To test to see if this reflex is present in children, while a child is sitting in a chair at his desk, direct his attention to an object that is in front of him at eye level. Gently move his body to the right and observe his head. If it remains in the vertical position, then the headrighting reflex is present. If it falls with the shoulder, then it is not. Move the child to the left, forward and backwards too. Sometimes the reflex is present in one direction and not the other. If the reflex is not present, then the child is sure to have difficulties in school.
Several research studies have been conducted in the past thirty years, which have demonstrated the impact that having retained reflexes has on learning and behavior. Studies have also showed that students make significant improvements, to the extent of even completely eliminating their symptoms and, subsequently, their diagnosis, when engaged in an exercise protocol that directly targets the specific reflex. One study in particular, which tested 109 boys from ages 7-10 found an indirect and direct relationship between the retention of the Moro, Asymmetrical Tonic Neck, Symmetrical Tonic Neck, and Tonic Labrynthine reflexes with ADHD symptoms and mathematics achievement (Taylor, et al, 2004). To read research summaries around primitive reflexes, see Sally Goddard Blythe’s book, Reflexes, Learning and Behavior.
When the child makes a movement that “replicates the earliest reflexive movements, we ensure that the information goes to the exact place nature intended it to go. Nerve Growth Factor is created every time we stimulate any part of the brain or body. An initial period of three weeks is necessary to make that connection” (Gold, 2002, para.5). The exercises in which the students need to engage should ideally be done daily, but at least 3 times a week can result in positive changes as well. Children should do them for at least 3 months, but it may take a year or more before the challenges are permanently gone, especially in those with more complicated issues. “If the exercises are not done for enough time, the new pathways in the brain may not have time to consolidate and some of the symptoms may reappear” (Blomberg & Dempsey, 2011 p. 23).
When we are looking at children from a neurodevelopmental point of view, we are considering how lower functioning levels affect higher ones. Piaget (1952) maintained that children have to pass through and successfully master lower level skills before being able to attain higher level ones, because deficits at the lower levels affect higher levels of functioning (O’Dell & Cook, 2004). This is why understanding and being able to detect the presence of reflexes is so important, because it is through these observations that we can notice on which developmental level children are functioning. “Whereas many other methods of intervention work from the cortex down towards the brain stem and work up toward the cortex to access improved cortical control by providing more efficient pathways,” (Goddard 2002, p. 124).
There is a close correlation between the child’s behavior and physical maturity. Therefore, does a birthdate really measure school readiness? Programs need to look at the whole child, especially in the early grades. In the United States,
“we push too hard and too fast for academic success, all at the cost of the childhood of our children (Oden, 2004).” I worked in a district that made kindergarten much too academic and, as a result, children were not developing their visualization skills, as well as their basic cutting, coloring, and gluing skills. John Rosemond, a family psychologist, wrote in a syndicated article in 1998, “alter the meaning of childhood, and you alter brain development and behavior.”
"Only by carefully watching how the child moves, how the child functions, can we get an idea of where in the brain the problem lies. Then, by giving the child a chance to make these movements which originally should have made all the connections in that particular part of the brain, we allow the brain to repair itself."
--Svea Gold, 2008
Interested in learning how to test your child's primitive reflexes? Click here to purchase the Primitive Reflex Tutorial. When you complete the tutorial and fill out the recording forms for your child, I will give you videos to address the top 3 reflexes that appear to be unintegrated in your child.
Bell, R. Novel Testing Methods and Clinical Applications of Primitive Reflexes 3/12/2013.
Blomberg, H. & M. Dempsey. (2011). Movements that Heal. Queensland: Book pal.
Goddard, S. (2005). Reflexes, learning and behavior: A window into the child’s mind. Eugene: Fern Ridge Press.
Gold, S. (2008). If Children Came with Instruction Sheets. Eugene: Fern Ridge Press.
O’Dell, N. E. & P. A. Cook. (2004). Stopping ADHD. New York: Penguin Group.
Oden, A. (2004). Ready Bodies Learning Minds.
Taylor, M., S. Houghton, & E. Chapman (2004). Primitive Reflexes and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Developmental Origins of Classroom Dysfunction. International Journal of Special Education. 19:1.
Super Easy Clean Eating Smoothies
Smoothies are a wonderful addition to meals and snacks when you are eating clean. You can have smoothie during any time of the day, from breakfast to a post-workout snack, and there are an endless amount of combinations. Take a look at some of these easy smoothie tips and some ideas for putting it all together.
Formula for Making Smoothies
Before starting, here is an easy formula for putting your smoothie together:
Frozen banana or ice + fruit + greens (optional) + yogurt + liquid + optional flavorings
This is a really simple formula that will help you when creating your own smoothies. Of course, there are many variations on this as not all smoothies need yogurt and you may have just fruit and juice in your smoothie. However, this works great when you really aren’t sure what kind of smoothie you want to make.
Simple Green Smoothie
A green smoothie is ideal for clean eating if the smoothie is replacing a meal because it helps to give you more fiber, increases the nutrients, and makes you fuller for longer. A good green smoothie includes about a cup of greens, a cup of frozen fruit, ½ frozen banana or handful of ice, and some liquid. You can also choose to add a little yogurt, but since you have a banana in there, it isn’t required. Here is a fun green smoothie recipe:
1 cup of kale and spinach
1 cup frozen strawberries
1 cup almond milk
½ frozen banana
All Berry Smoothie
To simplify it even more, you can have a smoothie with just frozen berries. Bananas that are frozen are often used in most smoothies because they not only thicken it up and make it to where yogurt isn’t a requirement, but if it’s frozen, you don’t actually need ice. That way, if you are using fresh berries, but a frozen banana, your smoothie is cold even without the ice. So for a berry smoothie, try this simple combination:
½ cup strawberries
½ cup raspberries
½ cup blueberries
½ frozen banana
1 cup liquid – milk or juice
This is where you can really get creative with it. When your smoothie is for breakfast, and you don’t think fruit and veggies is enough to keep you full, add in some other ingredients that turn it more into a filling breakfast. For example, you can use oats or peanut butter in your smoothie. Try a simple smoothie with:
1 frozen banana
½ cup oats
½ cup peanut butter
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 cup milk
Want to join our 14 day clean eating challenge (to begin Jan 3, 2020)? Join here: https://lisaanndegarcia.synduit.com/LRFC0001
While clean eating is one of the simpler healthy lifestyles to understand, it does have its restrictions just like everything else. The important thing to remember is that you are eating whole, fresh foods, avoiding most things that are packaged and processed, and are beginning to read labels and cook more at home. Here are some additional tips to help with your clean eating diet.
Eat Lots of Fruits and Veggies
The first big change you might make is eating more fresh and frozen produce. A good portion of your meals and snacks will be of fruits and vegetables. If you currently eat a lot of fruit, but not much veggies, it’s time to switch it up. By having a good amount of both throughout the day, you stay full, get plenty of nutrients, and have enough variety in your diet so you don’t get bored. Frozen produce and even some canned veggies are okay, just make sure you are checking the ingredients to ensure it is clean.
Enjoy Your Whole Grains
If you are coming off diets like low-carb or Keto, you might not be used to having this carb, but clean eating is not a low-carb diet. While it is a reduced carb diet simply by taking away things like white rice and processed breads, you still want carbs for every meal and snack. Your meals should consist of a protein and a carb, many times with whole grains like brown rice and quinoa. Filling up on whole grains increases your nutrients and keeps you energized for the day, so ti is definitely recommended.
Always Have Snacks Ready to Go
You want to be as prepared as possible to survive clean eating and get to the point where it is a simple lifestyle change. One way to do this is by having enough snacks on hand that are clean. This means enough fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds in portion-controlled containers or bags, and any homemade snacks you have prepared like granola or oatmeal bites.
Meal Plan and Prep Weekly
Along these lines, you should also be planning out every meal for the week and prepping as much as possible. With clean eating, getting convenience foods while you’re out is not as easy, and most fast food is not considered clean, so you still need to plan to provide the majority of your own meals and snacks at home. If you can prep things like casseroles, making salads, and chopping veggies, then you are more likely to eat those meals instead of getting pizza.
Interested in joining our 14 day Clean Eating Challenge? If so, join here: https://lisaanndegarcia.synduit.com/LRFC0001
As you go through your clean eating journey, you will begin adding more meals and snacks to the mix, but don’t make it difficult in the beginning. If you want to be successful and live a cleaner lifestyle, then it should start simple. Here are some meal ideas when you are just starting out with clean eating.
Components for a Balanced Clean Meal
Before getting into the meal ideas, it helps to know what to include in each of your meals and snacks. This includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks between meals, and any desserts you want to enjoy. For clean eating and to stay full, you want to be sure you have carbohydrates and protein with every meal. These together provide enough energy for your day and ensure you are getting the nutrients you need. You should also add some healthy fats to as many meals as you can.
Make Meal-Building Simple
If you are new to meal planning, here is a simple formula:
1 protein + 1 carbohydrate + 1 fruit or vegetable + 1 healthy fat
This can be adjusted as needed, but it is a good way to figure out your meals. For example, a very simple meal might include salmon (protein), brown rice (carb), broccoli (vegetable) and olive oil (fat) that was used to cook your salmon. Don’t worry about adjusting it later on and just make your clean eating meals simple to put together.
Use Ingredients More Than Once
Another tip that is going to help you with your first week’s worth of clean eating meals is to choose ingredients you can use more than once. This allows you to save money and simplifies both the grocery shopping and cooking processes. For example, you can get a whole rotisserie chicken that easily works for more than one meal, and buy your rice in bags and cook in larger batches to be used for multiple lunches and dinners.
Meal Ideas for the First Week
Now for some meal ideas. These are just a few easy ways to put breakfast, lunch, and dinner together. There are of course many other options.
Breakfast – Avocado toast w/whole grain bread, mashed avocado, and fried eggs on top for some added protein.
Lunch – Chicken salad with greens, cooked chicken, veggies, and some vinaigrette as your fat.
Dinner – Chicken (same as used during lunch), quinoa w/black beans, and some roasted asparagus.
Interested in joining our 14-day Clean Eating Challenge? If so, click here to join: https://lisaanndegarcia.synduit.com/LRFC0001
Lisa Ann de Garcia, MA, MEd.