This past February, we were contacted by Matthew’s (not his real name) mother, as he was having “loads of trouble with his learning.” He didn’t like his teacher or the school and didn’t have many friends to play with at break times. Pretty sad space to be living in, when you’re only 9 years old. Mum had tried everything she new or that was suggested to her; speech pathology, OT (occupational therapy), counselling, even spiritual balancing – nothing seemed to provide either of them with the constant outcomes they needed i.e. a nine year old boy who was happy to attend school and engage with a healthy circle of friends.
Matthew was referred to us by a client we hadn’t heard from in nearly 5 years. Matthew initially presented as an extremely nervous and quite agitated child. His eye-contact was good and his natural curiosity to examine the many puzzles and playthings in the room, indicated a robust intelligence. However, no matter how he tried, he simply found it difficult to stand still. Still enough even, to have a simple conversation. Still enough to look like he was even remotely connected to his own little body. I could see that this was quite involuntary and was very disturbing for Matthew too.
We administered all the usual academic testing with Matthew. As it turns out, his reading and especially his spelling, were better than age-appropriate. He could pretty much read whatever he needed to but was choosing to somehow be completely dis-engaged with the entire school process.
We established an appropriate learning support program for him. His program was primarily vertical in nature. Although still in Year 3, his thinking and reasoning skills were very advanced and often very intuitive. So, he focussed on skill-sets more appropriate to Year 5. We also exposed Matthew to a variety of texts that required some higher order critical thinking skills. Matthew seemed engaged enough in his program but one hour a week of intense focus wasn’t enough. Mum was increasingly concerned about Matthew somehow ‘wasting’ his other 30-odd hours of structured learning.
Who knows where, when or how, some things come from? Who knows where inspiration comes from? That spark of, ‘Aha!’ That ‘out-of-the-blue idea’. No matter where these things originate, when I receive one as download, I’m impelled to take action. Taking my surfboard off my car this morning, was my latest cosmic offering. I have absolutely no idea about the celestial link between Matthew and surfing but somehow, the planets aligned this morning. Years before, I had attended a workshop, where we were exposed to successful non-medicated, alternate methods of working with ADD/ADHD children and adults.
One of these strategies for learners like Matthew, was to eliminate as many static devices as possible and replace them with objects that engaged the body and the mind. Things like chairs replaced with inflatable gym/exercise balls; soft squishy hand-held ‘stress balls’; chewing something that required some type of mouth focus; soft 80 beats-per-minute music, specific essential oils; even creating a roll-around floor space so that Matthew ( and others if they chose), could literally roll around gently on mats, pillows and rugs.
I contacted Matthew’s mum and shared my insights. Most were implemented before the end of the day!
I’m delighted to say that Matthew is now fully integrated at school, has many friends (he was invited to one of his first birthday parties last weekend and was tickled pink) and is just loving working on ‘hard Year 6 stuff’. Matthew’s story reminded me of the importance in working with who we are and not what others want us to be. Being willing and humble enough to really ‘look outside the square’ for solutions. To embrace new ideas and strategies in our lives. We never know, we could even be the solution to many of our own problems. 🙂