Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

22 Adar 5759 - March 10, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly

















Home and Family
Preparing For The Future : Getting a Handle on Learning Disabilities
by R' Zvi Zobin

The group meets regularly, "somewhere in Israel". In an isolated cave, by flickering candlelight, they come to learn about the parshas hashovua from a well-versed Sefardi Rav. The shiur starts at about 9.30 p.m. and often lasts for about five hours. People sit on tiny, low chairs or lounge on cushions scattered on the floor. At the end of one shiur, the Rav commented, "You probably wonder why I choose to give the shiur in this little cave. Well, if you think about it, you will notice that during the entire period of the shiur, your mind did not wander from focusing onto the shiur. There is a special ability of a cave to shelter out all extraneous thoughts. Also, the arched shape of the roof is conducive to deep thought. And, of course, learning at night is the time for deep thoughts."

The comment shocked several of the participants. Looking back, they realized that not only had they indeed been listening intently to the shiur but also they had not been squirming in their uncomfortable chairs, as they usually do after even a short time of listening to a regular shiur.

During the next shiur, two of the participants deliberately tried to get their minds to wander off and think about other things. Both people are usually unable to maintain concentration on a shiur for very long. After the shiur, both commented that they had not been able to get their minds to wander. As one of them pointed out, "Usually, when I `dream off' and then `come back', it takes me a while 'till I can tune back into the shiur. During this shiur, I tried to think about other things, but I just could not, and afterwards I was able to immediately get straight back into the topic."

This experience suggests that the epidemic of "learning disabilities" might indeed be a product of our modern environment. The following anecdotes, all heard first-hand from the people involved, also suggest that many "learning disabilities" need not necessarily be regarded as "neurological dysfunctions" which can only be treated through medication and/or extensive and expensive therapy.

R' Reuven, principal of a prominent cheder, commented that his son used to take Ritalin for his ADHD, but now he does exercises before school and no longer needs the medication.

Shimon's mother asked his teacher how her son was performing in class. Shimon's reading had previously been very poor and he was now near to completing a course of remediation using the powerful FRAMEWORK system. The teacher commented that Shimon was now doing very well. Shimon's mother then disclosed that since starting the reading remediation, Shimon had not been taking his Ritalin.

Levi complained of being unable to study under the flourescent lighting of the bais hamedrash. I referred him to a neurologist, expecting him to prescribe Ritalin. Actually, the neurologist felt that Levi was suffering from a deficiency of the myelin sheath of the nervous system which causes him to be "nervous" under the stimulation of the lighting. The neurologist prescribed tablets of Vitamin B Complex.

Two weeks later, Levi told me that after taking the vitamins regularly, he was now able to sit in the beis hamedrash and concentrate on his learning.

I recently mentioned this story during a workshop. A Special Ed. teacher who worked in the prestigious Ramaz School in New York told the group that she had recently converted the fluorescents in her classroom to "full-spectrum" lighting. The result had been dramatic. Both behavior and performance had improved significantly.

This result tallies with the previous story because the myelin sheath of the nervous system is not completed until a child reaches about seven years of age. Probably, in some children it takes longer. This means that many young children are in the same state as was Levi and are being over- stimulated by regular fluorescent lighting.

Many parents relate how "super-nutritious" foods such as sprouts, algae and "juice" have helped their children's performance in class and enabled them to "come off" medication such as Ritalin.

Other parents report similar results when they wean their children off sugar, food coloring and other additives. Indeed, the Feingold Diet, which cut out all artificial foods additives as well as fruits containing salicylates, enjoyed a big following among parents of ADD children. Then came the backlash which "proved" that since the diet did not help "all" children, it was not THE answer.

Teachers were pressuring Chavy's parents to take her to a psychologist because of Chavy's inability to concentrate and her bad behavior in class. Instead, her parents took her to be screened by the FRAMEWORK schedule. The screening showed that she was suffering from serious convergence deficiency. Chavy was referred to a local behavioral optometrist. After several weeks of vision therapy, Chavy is now a changed girl. She can concentrate on her work, behaves well in class and her self-confidence has improved.

Yehuda was a happy, good-hearted boy who would do anyone a favor. At night, he stayed up very late and was always up for davening in the morning. But in class, he had a head made of pure wood! He just could not understand even simple parts of the gemora. One day, I asked him how much Coke he drinks every day. He replied that he only drinks six or seven cans a day! I replied that either he stops drinking so much or he has to leave my shiur.

Yehuda managed to go "cold turkey" and stopped drinking coke completely. After a few days, he started to feel tired at night and had to go to bed earlier than was usual. But in shiur, the change was dramatic. At last, he was able to follow the shiur and understand the gemora.

Yissochor was a real "live-wire." He could hardly sit still, talked like a racing-car and wrote like a high-speed, drunken spider. After my experience with Yehuda, I asked Yissochor what his drinking-habits were. Yissochor told me that he drank four or five cups of coffee per day, each with two tea- spoonfuls of coffee and three table-spoonfuls of sugar. When he changed to drinking water, he calmed down and his parents commented that for the first time they were able to understand him easily when he phoned home.

Zevulun, an eight-year-old New Yorker, had been having learning problems for a few years. Remediation was not being effective. Zevulun was chosen as a trial candidate for the FRAMEWORK screening. The last question of the 6 screening is, "How many hours of sleep do you get each night?" Zevulun replied that his mother takes him to bed at 10.00 p.m., but he does not go to sleep then. He waits until his mother goes to bed at 10.30. Then he goes downstairs and secretly watches television with his father until his father goes to bed at 1.30 after the late-night sports game. Then he goes to sleep until 5.00 when the sunlight coming into his bedroom wakes him up. Zevulun's teacher, who was listening, was aghast. She asked Zevulun why he does not close the shutters so that the light does not wake him up. Zevulun replied that the shutters were broken so he could not close them.

Developmental programs such as Brain Gym, One-Brain Kinesiology and the venerable Delcatto program all enjoy considerable records of success in helping children improve their ability to learn. Mrs. Shoshana Levine's Developmental Learning Readiness Program was introduced experimentally into three Torah Umesorah schools in New York and Monsey last year. The program was so successful that it is now being introduced into Lakewood.

No one system guarantees success for all children. Each has their antagonists who quote cases when that system did not help. No one factor can be cited as being "the cause" for learning deficiencies in children. Everyone knows someone who "had that factor" but "had no problems". But that is the challenge of chinuch.


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