Older Child

Attention Parents and Physical Therapists:

  • Is there any help for elementary through high school students who are struggling in school?
  • What can we do for the child who won't listen or sit still?
  • The teacher says my son is lazy, but he really tries hard.
  • My child has just given up. I am at wit's end. Help please!

Welcome to our Older Child Information page. The answer to the above questions is a resounding YES. There are many learning strategies that can be implemented with the older child who is struggling in school.

It is important for parents, teachers and therapists to know that when a child develops the gross motor skills of crossing the midlines while balancing on one foot, grades usually go up. Developing specific core strength is a must. A child without core body strength will not have the stamina to do a full day's class work. Compare how an adult would feel if they were told they had to go Christmas shopping and carry all the packages home every day of the week. Or if they were asked to drop and do 50 push ups right now.

The Clumsy Child Syndrome Presentation (Clumsy-Child-and-School-Success.pdf, 1.2MB) shows why gross motor deficiencies will affect learning in the classroom and what therapy strategies Ms Jennings used with her students. Parents may want to find a pediatric PT familiar with these strategies if they feel their child might benefit.

Participating in some form of gross motor, large muscle, stress reducing exercises should make homework easier. If some form of exercise is done before homework, the amount of time it takes to do the homework will be shortened and the memory retention of the material will increase (see Crossing Midline Exercises PDF below). Spelling words learned on Wednesday night will still be learned on Thursday morning. TV or computer games do not count and should not be done until all other beneficial activities are completed.

Rote Memory Tips: Rote memory activities (spelling words, multiplication tables) practiced while marching in place, or written in the air with both pointer fingers or written on the arm with the finger are more apt to stick. If handwriting is weak, writing the words 10 times is just painful not productive.

Assistance from the School

If a child is really struggling in school, the parent has the right to ask for a conference to get help from the school personnel. An evaluation by the school psychologist is usually the first step to setting up an individual program for your child. An individual plan might include modifications in the paper work ie 10 math problems instead of 50. Other participants in the plan may be a physical therapist, occupational therapist, speech and language pathologist, and a teacher assistant. Many students I have worked with who needed an individual plan through school, eventually graduated from college.

It is important for parents and professionals to understand that early baby development affects academic performance in preschool and kindergarten. And certainly if the core strength deficiencies are not corrected in kindergarten, the problems can follow the child all the way through school.

The incidence of core strength problems in a preschooler was 25-30% in our mid-western middleclass school district.

Children with speech problems should be evaluated for core strength problems as well!!!

Correcting Deficiencies in Preschool Prevents Years of Academic Struggling

Ms. Jennings has worked in school-based therapy programs with students 0-22 since 1980. Her programs with the children with learning disabilities or Ausperger's Autism have been extremely successful. She found that best results were obtained if she could work in a team approach with the preschoolers. When the whole educational team (administration, teachers, psychologists, speech pathologists, occupational therapists) understood that subtle gross motor deficiencies might be impacting the success of a child, an entire program was utilized to help the child be ready for kindergarten. When the teachers or psychologist noted any unusual motor patterns during preschool screening, a full battery of evaluations was done by PT, OT, and Speech Pathologists. The 3 year old child might walk well, run well, and climb very well, but the following mannerisms indicated that early developmental "holes" warranted further evaluation by the entire special education team.

  • The child would not assume or tolerate being placed on his belly on the floor.
  • The child would not be able to do a log roll on the floor after demonstration.
  • The child would cling to the parent and not be able to interact with a stranger or even work with the parent.
  • The child would not respond to verbal directives or seem to understand spoken language.
  • The child would not be able to do the requested gross motor tasks of walking backward, sideways, or on a line.
  • Sensory issues reported by the parent became triggers for a sensory evaluation. Even gifted children can have academic challenges if they have severe sensory integration problems.

Increasing the gross motor core strength, integrating retained infant reflexes, and decreasing sensory defensiveness consistently helped:
- Self esteem go up
- Attention and focus improve
- Impulsivity decrease
- Weird mannerisms dissipate
- Cognitive processing improve

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