By Lyn Waldeck
“Children with significant challenges can be typical, typical children can be exceptional, and exceptional children can change the world.”
—Robert J. Doman, Jr, Founder of NACD
NACD has been at the forefront of developing modalities to address a population of children that are most commonly “written off.” We have children that we have brought out of the autistic spectrum, children with Down Syndrome who are academically accelerated, children with severe speech and language issues speaking and conversing with proper articulation, and brain injured children whose parents were told they would not walk—running. As staff members we have a group of children who fall into the “icing on the cake” category. These are typically our clients’ siblings who end up being some of the smartest kids, and later adults, on the planet. In looking at the statistics of the siblings on our program, the profiles are all over the place. We have seen children who are in public school, children who are in private schools, children in college preparatory academies, as well as a number of children who are homeschooled. We have siblings once diagnosed or given labels such as ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, accelerated and gifted, disorganized, class clowns, “C” students, etc., etc., etc. We like to refer to these bright kids as “the easy ones.” While we realize that any specific difficulties they may be having may not seem easy to them or to you, to us they are the kids with a small number of developmental pieces that can be addressed in a relatively short amount of time. A so-so student can become a good student, and a good student can become top of his or her class.
A dangerous trend in education today is the overwhelming desire to “identify” a child who may be having a little bit of a tough time as having an incurable disease. On the surface parents are led to believe that to “identify” the child is in some way going to be to their advantage in that the child should get additional help. However, more often than not this is NOT the case. From our observations with thousands of children, within the educational system the mentality is “once identified, there is no need to seek a solution…these children must have an incurable disease.” NACD, on the other hand, understands that the vast majority of learning and attention issues are derived from developmental pieces that need work and do not need to exist long term.
So what does this mean to our families? Well, that totally depends on the age of the child, the number or areas we need to work on, and the overall dynamics of the family that we are working with. For many of our families, they benefit greatly by getting those preschoolers “off to a good start” so to speak. As a staff member, for my last little guy this meant that he was met out of the womb with a weekly data sheet. There are so many things than can be done so early that take very little time to provide insurance against problems occurring down the road. It is really backwards to think that for ages 0-5 there should be little attention paid to a developing brain, and then somehow when they are ready for Kindergarten they should be able to magically provide tons of academic output. There is the myth that the brain will “ripen” at that point and be able to handle an overloading, poorly input, chaotic amount of data. Our perspective is very different. We start off by developing mature sensory channels, along with creating a solid foundation of auditory and visual sequential processing skills and the ability to progress and balance visualization and conceptualization so that information can then be understood, retained, and retrieved as needed. A favorite memory I have with one of my children was when he was about 20 months old and we were checking out at a doctor’s office. There was a painting of an eagle soaring through clouds with mountains in the background. He pointed his little finger towards it and said “Look, Mommy.” The receptionist nicely said, “Yes, birdie,” to which he replied, “No, an eagle soaring through the mountains of Utah, and there is a Monet painting in the hallway.” It had not taken endless hours of my time to work on such vocabulary for a child who was less than two. It had only taken the knowledge of key activities so that this developing little brain could experience a sense of critical mass and soak in so much of the richness that it was exposed to.
After our preschool population comes one of our very crucial groups, the elementary child and middle school student. You have no idea how many times we have heard the same story over and over again. A smart little guy growing up can do magnificent things that Mom and Dad are so very proud of. Then within weeks of starting school, “problems” start to occur. The year that this happens typically depends on where the child’s sequential development or conceptualization/visualization balance has stalled out. Parents are given reports that the child does not attend well, gets distracted, fidgets in their seat, or doesn’t complete and/or hand in independent work. Before long the teacher is traveling the path of getting the child tested for these “incurable diseases.” Fortunately many of our families already plugged in to NACD realize that this is not the right path in resolving the problems so that the child can truly reach their full potential. So many of the children we have seen, including siblings to more involved children, have been able to have programs developed for them that took short amounts of time each day to address these difficulties, fix them and therefore change the course of their lives. A young woman in Texas comes to my mind as I think back over the years. She had a sister who was diagnosed with Autism and a brother within the spectrum labeled with Asperger ‘s Syndrome. As if this mother did not have enough to deal with, her bright young daughter was showing all of the signs of ADD, which this mom was told “ran in the family.” When seeing this young girl the thought came to me, “This race is a sprint. We need to hit the road fast and intense and be done quick.” Where is this young lady today? She is off at college on a full ride scholarship at a major university—the school that was blessed with her after she turned down several other offers. The reality is that when you hit a very damaged brain with the correct activity delivered with the appropriate frequency, intensity and duration, it changes. When you hit a relatively healthy brain with this mentality, it changes—FAST.
As we progress through the age continuum we need to address our older students along with our adult population. This is a time when individuals are more and more dependent on having good critical thinking skills as well as an organized thought process and the ability to retain large amounts of information. It is also a time in life when time is a scarce resource. The ironic thing about this time period is that too many parents think that they do not have the time to invest in their older children or themselves when it comes to increasing brain function. This is a destructive thought in that the lower the processing skills are, the more time it takes for information to be retained and the more damage control has to be done based on poor decision making abilities. On the other hand, by spending 15-20 minutes a day in working on these root abilities, effective use of time starts to occur and stress starts to reduce. Even taking a good student and giving them better processing skills can make all that they are required and desire to learn occur so much easier. I love getting calls many years after the fact and getting reports on previous clients—children that we saw when they were eight or twelve or fifteen that are now living successful lives full of the many good things that they have achieved. I also love watching this play out in our own family and knowing that it was those times that we put some things aside to spend a little bit of time working that brain that led to a fruitful and joyful adult.
Whether you are a large family or a small family, whether you homeschool or not, whether your child struggles to walk or struggles to understand quadratic equations, it just might be the time to consider making things a little bit easier today and for many years to come. To do so we can develop a TDI, Targeted Developmental Intervention Program®, to help your unique child reach their full potential. Contact our home office to find out about multiple family-member discounts and have a wonderfully productive year.