Saturday, May 17, 2014

Years 35 to 37: Elementary Learning Specialist for Central Valley Schools: The "Learning Zone"

Over the years, I've met and worked with many students with extreme ADHD. I'm not talking about students who were a little wiggly in their chairs, or needed more time to run at recess, I'm talking about students who might be eating, forget mid-bite, and end up with the food on their cheeks! Seriously; that's a concern!

When I worked at Spokane Schools the first time as a preschool teacher, I had the great fortune to meet Nancy Royse. Nancy was a physical therapist with a great understanding of our body's central nervous system. Nancy could take a look at students and assess what kinds of activity they might need to do in order to get their central nervous system into what she called "the learning zone". She maintained that if a student's "system" was running too high; no learning would take place. And if that system was running too low;
again, they would not be in the "zone" to learn.

Through Nancy I learned all about using the different sensory systems our body has in order to regulate and organize the central nervous system. We are not talking about just the usual five senses of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching. We are also talking about the vestibular (movement and balance) and the proprioceptive (muscle and joints) systems. These additional sensory systems can be instrumental in organizing a student and getting them into the zone.

So over the past at least 25 years, I've tried to pass on this information. Preschool teachers, self-contained special ed teachers, resource room teachers, and yes, even general ed teachers have all heard my spiel on  how to integrate sensory activities into their daily routine in order to get their students into the zone. "Heavy work" is the backbone of my talks. Using the big muscles in our bodies, the upper arm muscles or the thigh muscles of the legs; will really help kids "engines" that are running high.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to go into my favorite first grade teacher's room. She had a little guy that was having a lot of trouble attending. I came in to do a time on task data sample. In the 25 minutes I observed, this student was on task less than 2 minutes. Wow! How can you learn in that situation? How can anyone learn? And this was with medication! So we decided to add some planned heavy work into this boy's daily routine. And we also worked with him to recognize when he needed to do this work in order to be ready to learn. Pushups, wall sits, and wheelbarrow walking are the heavy work exercises that work best for him. He is getting extremely good at knowing when he needs this kind of help and tells his teacher. His ability to work and focus has increased dramatically and his grades have improved. The teacher is a believer!

I will be forever grateful to Nancy and the many other PTs and OTs I've worked with for helping me understand and spread the word about sensory systems and the importance of being in the "zone". If anyone is interested in more information about this, The Alert Program is a good resource. Check it out!