AD/HD and the Learning Process
(The following was excerpted from a class given
to students in the Enki Teacher Training Program.)
Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. The term
is often tossed about as a possible diagnosis when children have
difficulty in school. But what does it actually tell us?
Any parent or teacher can tell you when a child is having trouble
maintaining an appropriate quality of attention. Maybe they stare
off into space and it seems nearly impossible to get them to do
anything. Maybe they can't sit still and seem always to be fidgeting
or rocking or darting about. Maybe they pay very close focused attention,
almost obsessing for a period of time, and then become irritated
and irrational at the slightest provocation. Maybe it's just a feeling
that they are never quite with you. It could even be that they keep
complaining that they are bored and seem constantly in need of new
and jazzier entertainment. Clearly they have an attention issue.
But the term AD/HD is really more of a description than a diagnosis.
It doesnt actually tell us about a cause, nor does it tell
us anything about a cure, or even a way parents and teachers might
be able to handle it.
To begin looking at these issues, we must first understand what
is needed to develop a healthy and dependable learning
process. We spoke earlier about the foundations of intellectual
development. (Editors note: see prior article Foundations
of Intellectual Development.) However, even a foundation must
sit on solid earth. What makes up the ground for the learning process?
No matter who we are or what our special issues may be, in order
to learn - that is to meet the new, engage with it, and grow - two
things are required. They are a healthy neurological system and
an environment that supports the process of learning over the product
or outcome. Without these, a child may begin to display that range
of symptoms now known as Attention Deficit Disorder. The first of
these, the development of a healthy neurological system, is the
focus of this article.
Healthy neurological development is quite straightforward and easy
to understand if we compare it to how we are physically nourished.
To begin with, we eat healthy food. Then we digest it and break
it down into useful material and waste. Finally, we are ready to
use the transformed food as energy. If there is a problem in the
digestive process, however, we can take in wonderful food and be
unable to break it apart for assimilation and discarding or unable
to discriminate what we need. Then we are left without the energy
we need to live well; we remain malnourished regardless of the value
of what we have taken in.
Our neurological system works the same way. We have to be able to
take in and work with the rich sensory nourishment that life offers
us. We have to filter out extra noise, discriminate between that
which is harmful and that which is nourishing, connect different
sensations into a meaningful whole and apply what is useful.
If we cannot do this, then all sensory nourishment, however wonderful,
becomes a source of irritation and distraction. If you imagine eating
something that gives you a low-grade case of hives, invisible to
the eye but constantly itching, you may get a feeling for children
who have difficulty paying attention! Now imagine that every new
thing in the environment is irritating that itch. Would you not
seek relief? Would any of us not either run around like a balloon
letting out air, or shut down and tune out, living deep within but
not feeling? This is what it is like to experience life with a poorly
functioning neurological system. For so many of the children currently
classified as having AD/HD, this appears to be the situation.
According to Dr. A. Jean Ayres, developer of Sensory Integration
Therapy, and Dr. Paul Dennison, developer of Educational Kinesiology,
and a host of other occupational therapists, researchers, and physicians,
healthy movement is the base food for the development of all aspects
of the neurological system. Unfortunately, in the last twenty years
there has been a real breakdown in the opportunity for healthy movement.
Children no longer spend the bulk of their time in real physical
activity - walking to school, running in back yard sports, riding
horses, hauling water, chopping wood and so on. Today most children
spend the bulk of their time, both in school and out, sitting. Sitting
listening to teachers. Sitting doing assignments. Sitting playing
video games and watching TV. Even in sports, instead of running
around freely, children spend so much of the time waiting, discussing
rules and arguing. As a result, the vast majority of children do
not get the sensory and physical experience they need to develop
a healthy neurological system. Thus, they are not learning up to
their potential. Nor are they thriving - bursting with confidence
What can we do? At home, many, many things can be done. A quick
glance shows opportunities found throughout our normal days: adding
physically demanding chores, limiting time spent in passive visual
activities (computer games, TV and video activities); simplifying
an over stimulating environment, establishing a calm, dependable
and safe rhythm or routine to your days. The opportunities are nearly
As well, we can do some things that have proven to be effective
right in the classroom. These center on work with movement. In Enki
classrooms, they work with movement activities very specifically
to nourish the neurological system AND to strengthen integration
of this system. Based on the work of Ayres and Dennison, specific,
strengthening movement activities are a part of each and every day,
integrated into every content area, from kindergarten right through
high school. Whether in the playground or the classroom, in an Enki
program you will find special equipment and special activities woven
into the curriculum content. For the most part, children do not
have separate classes for movement work or remediation. Rather all
the children join together in movement activities in the context
of their other studies.
You might find kindergartners are learning about the Lazy
Lazy Lion wakes at dawn
And growls with a toothy yawn.
Stretching up to meet the sun,
He knows another day's begun.
Reaching forth with mighty claw,
He opens wide his fearsome jaws.
Stretching up from tail to mane,
His roar resounds across the plain.
As they move like the lion, they are strengthening core muscles
and their entire proprioceptive system (the muscle and joint
which tells us the speed and pressure or force of how we are traveling
in space and how we are interacting physically with other beings
and objects). You might also find the sixth graders juggling as
they recite, When factors split up anything theres nothing left
to spare. And if it is divisible, remainders just not there,
and laughing freely as all bags drop to the floor when saying remainders
just not there. Maybe you will find fourth or fifth graders
doing specially designed sit up - cross over patterns
to strengthen the communication between the two sides of the brain
as they recite their times tables. Or you might see the same skill
strengthened through complex clap and toss patterns
done with songs and sticks, as part of a cultural study of Polynesian
games. The result is that everyone develops more fully and learns
the content more deeply. Throughout the day, meaningful, educational
movement is woven into all we do.
Over many years of working with little ones, I have seen how powerful
this work is. In the last few years, when I have been working
other kinds of school programs, I have been shocked to see the
movement handicaps and the accompanying learning difficulties
so many children, and I have been thrilled to see that even fourth,
fifth and sixth graders who are having these kinds of problems
remarkably quickly to the movement work. Soon, as many more parents
discover their children benefit from occupational therapy and
work, all schools may include this as a part of their curriculum.
Our goal for all children should be to ground them with a strong,
flexible neurological system so that a healthy and dependable learning
process can develop. Therefore, integrating meaningful movement
into all we do is both vital and nourishing to the development
of confidence and enthusiasm.