Controversial Therapies in Learning and Behavioral Disabilities (page 4)
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).
Diet Control Therapies
A number of therapies involve using diet to control hyperactivity and other learning disorders. One of these (Feingold, 1975) claimed to decrease student hyperactivity by eliminating various artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives from the student's diet. Most research studies have shown that the Feingold diet is not effective in controlling hyperactivity (Bateman, Warner, Hutchinson, et al., 2004; Smith, 2004). Others have suggested that refined sugars in the diet lead to hyperactivity. Again, these claims have not been proven by research (Barkley, 1995; Rojas Et Chan, 2005).
Another diet therapy for learning disorders involves using megavitamins to treat emotional or cognitive disorders (Cott, 1977, 1985). This therapy has not been verified by research (Smith, 2004). One theory purports that deficiencies in trace elements such as copper, zinc, magnesium, manganese, and chromium along with the more common elements of calcium, sodium, and iron cause learning disorders, but these claims remain unsubstantiated (Silver, 2006). Still another theory claims hypoglycemia (low blood-sugar levels) causes learning disabilities. Clinical studies on this theory have been inconclusive (Rappaport, 1982/1983; Smith, 2004).
Finally, combinations of herbs, spices, and other ingredients have been recommended in recent years as a treatment for ADHD, as well as for learning disabilities. The effectiveness of these alternative medicines has yet to be validated by research (Silver, 2006).
Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome
This syndrome has been defined as a difficulty in efficiently processing light, which causes a reading disorder (Ir1en, 1991; Lerner, 2006). Symptoms include abnormal sensitivity to light, blinking and squinting, red and watery eyes, frequent headaches, word blurriness, print instability, slow reading, skipping and rereading lines, and difficulty reading at length because of general eye strain and fatigue (Irlen, 1991). Following a screening test. students identified as having scotopic sensitivity are treated with plastic overlays or colored lenses, which can be expensive. Although many people treated with tinted lenses claim that the lenses eliminate their symptoms and help them read better, research shows that the effects of the lenses are mixed (Silver, 2006). Caution is advised.
Although there seems to be a relationship between allergies and brain functioning, a clear cause-and-effect relationship has yet to be established (Silver, 2006). Two persons who have written a lot about the relationship between allergies and learning disabilities and ADHD are Dr. Doris Rapp and Dr. William Crook. Dr. Rapp suggests the elimination of certain foods from the diet, such as milk, chocolate, eggs, wheat, corn, peanuts, pork, and sugar. She performs an "under-the-tongue" test (not validated) that she claims determines whether a child is allergic to any or all of these foods. Dr. Crook's recent work has focused on child reactions to a specific yeast and the development of specific behaviors following a yeast infection. According to Silver (2006) and Smith (2004). neither Crook nor Rapp supports these findings with research. In addition, the established profession of pediatric allergies does not accept either of these treatments (Silver, 2006).
Rojas and Chan (2005) have reported on a number of therapies being recommended more often to treat learning and behavior difficulties often associated with ADHD. These therapies include fatty acid supplementation, homeopathy, yoga, massage, and green outdoor settings. Rojas and Chan conclude that the overall body of evidence does not support the use of any of these therapies either by itself or in concert with treatments of established effectiveness, such as medication and behavior therapy.
Controversial Therapies and the Internet
As the number of Internet sites created for specific disabilities and related health issues increases, so too does information about controversial therapies. Because information on the Internet is not reviewed for quality, Ira (2000) suggests that you do the following to determine the credibility of the various websites you visit:
- Click on the About Us or Contact Us links or buttons at a website. These links may inform you of who is on the team of people running a particular website. Many sites, particularly those that want to prove their credibility, feature a page describing their background, history, and affiliations (the About Us section) and mailing and e-mail addresses and phone numbers (the Contact Us section).
- Try to establish links with other sites. Sites with reliably usable information may have endorsements from prominent special needs organizations or may have links to other websites with more information on the subject. Look for links to other associations or educational or even government-supported institutions related to the subject. The more independent sites that validate a recommendation, the more credible it is. The following are specific sites that may address doubts about the credibility of a particular controversial therapy:
International Dyslexia Society
Learning Disabilities Association of America
National Center for Learning Disabilities
Council for Learning Disabilities
- Ask friends and special needs associations to recommend websites that are informative. You can also e-mail people you think can offer advice on the credibility of a particular site.
- Examine the content of the site for typographical and grammatical errors. As with books, magazines, and journals, credibility is often reflected in editorial excellence.
- Check to see how often the site is updated. A site that is updated regularly with new research findings is most likely to be run by people interested in learning the truth rather than perpetuating their own point of view.
- Check to be sure that a given finding has been validated by a credible, refereed research publication. Many of these publications are available on the Web.
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