Controversial Therapies in Learning and Behavioral Disabilities
Being the parent or teacher of a student with learning disabilities is not easy. Students with learning and behavioral disabilities often do not respond favorably to the first approach tried—or for that matter, to the first several. Failure and frustration can lead to the search for miracle cures. This problem is compounded by the fact that journals that publish research about the effectiveness of various treatments are not normally read by parents and teachers. Unfortunately, this void is readily filled by a steady stream of information, much of it not substantiated by research, from popular books, lay magazines, television talk shows (Silver, 2006). and now the Internet. Sinha and Efron (2005) recently surveyed Australian parents of children with ADHD and found that 68 percent of them had used or were currently using controversial therapies.
As a teacher, you need to be well informed about these therapies so you can give parents reliable, up-to-date information when they come to you for advice. The best way to get this information is to read professional journals. Any treatment may work for a few students, but this is not the same as demonstrating effectiveness in a controlled research study. If you or a student's parents decide to use a controversial therapy, you must monitor its effectiveness carefully and discontinue it if necessary. Several controversial therapies are summarized here, including the latest research findings for their effectiveness.
In this group of approaches, learning difficulties are seen as the result of dysfunctions in the central nervous system that can be remediated by having students engage in specific sensory or motor activities. One common example of this approach is patterning (Doman & Delacato, 1968), in which students are taken back through earlier stages of development (creeping and crawling). Another approach is optometric visual training, in which students do eye exercises designed to improve their visual perception and hence their reading skills. A third approach, vestibular training, takes children through tasks involving spatial orientation, eye movements, and balance, with the goal of improving their academic performance, especially in reading. A fourth neurophysiological approach is applied kinesiology. According to this chiropractic theory, learning disabilities are caused when "two specific bones of the skull shift out of position and cause pressure on the brain" (Silver, 2006, p. 393). The treatment, which consists of manipulating the bones of the skull as well as other bones and muscles, can be quite painful for the child (Silver, 2006).
A fifth approach is auditory processing training. This theory attributes learning disabilities to the failure of the body to organize incoming auditory stimuli into meaningful patterns, despite normal hearing. Training involves filtering out sounds believed to be interfering with the child's auditory perception, the eventual goal being to teach the ear to do this filtering on its own. Examples of auditory processing training include Bernard's auditory training integration and the Tomatis method.
A final neurophysiological approach is the so-called brain gym (Hyatt, 2007). The brain gym consists of a series of movements that are claimed to activate the brain, promote neurological repatterning, and facilitate whole-brain learning (Dennison & Dennison, 1994). The brain gym approach is based on the theory that learning problems are caused when sections of the brain and body don't work together, thereby blocking a child's ability to learn (Dennison & Dennison, 1994). The prescribed movements are intended to improve the integration of mind-body movements and in so doing enhance learning.
No research evidence suggests that any of these methods improves students' cognitive functioning or reading ability (American Academy of Pediatrics, 1999; Hallahan et al., 2005; Silver, 2006).
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