About Sentiometrics

Sentiometrics is a system of activities, tests and questionnaires designed to answer the questions: ‘How do I process information?’ and ‘What might be preventing me from developing and sharing my unique gifts and attributes?’. It is relevant to anyone of any age who aims to achieve a better understanding, either of themselves or their children.
Sentiometrics assessments can be conducted either in groups or individually. We are particularly interested in teaching other people how to use our test protocols. If people have access to appropriate testing when problems are spotted we can support them better, find suitable ways to help in good time and measure the effectiveness of any interventions properly.

History

Sentiometrics is an assessment system which grew from a complex multidisciplinary developmental approach to learning and behavioural issues in children spanning twenty years. The therapeutic approach involved every aspect of neurological, metabolic and emotional functioning and required a very thorough assessment and review protocol to measure progress effectively. The intervention often continued far beyond the point where the original problems were resolved so that emerging potential could be enhanced.

Experience of using this system with large numbers of children led to the development of increasingly sophisticated assessment protocols which enabled individual profiles to be understood and explained as they developed. This then made it possible for suitable advice and support to be given throughout the period of intervention so that resources could be focussed on developing emerging gifts and celebrating success.

In recent years Sentiometrics has been used extensively to help adults and has been found to be equally appropriate and effective.

Common issues

A new-born baby operates mainly from reflex behaviours. Acquiring the skills necessary to operate as an adult starts straightaway and is a slow but continuous process. Children gradually learn, for example, to move gracefully and to use their hands for intricate tasks, but they must pass through many stages to achieve this. We can see our children developing towards these goals and take pride in every new skill they acquire.
It is perhaps not so obvious that this gradual process also applies to children learning to remember things, using their ears to listen and their eyes to process what they see. The stages that they need to go through to acquire these skills are not as apparent as the first time they crawl or walk. Visual development, for example, is not complete until a child is seven years old. Emotional development and social skills are also long-term learning processes.
There are all kinds of things that can get in the way of normal development in these areas and can result in the behaviours and difficulties we observe in our children.

Follow the links below for information on the developmental issues that can lead to problems in specific areas where difficulties are commonly experienced.

Examples

  • Some children are over-sensitive in some or all of their senses, so their world can be too bright, too noisy, too smelly and they can over-react to things they touch and taste. Where most children are developing their ability to use all their senses effectively these children will be learning how to protect themselves from overwhelm. They will be constantly distracted by stimuli in their environment that others would ignore and so they will often not be able to concentrate properly. This is particularly the case in the noisy and vibrant atmosphere of an infant classroom.

    A classroom is a very noisy place. There is only about 15 decibels difference between the volume of the teacher’s voice and the volume of the background noise – and that’s when the children are working quietly! Classrooms are also very bright places, with lots of light and for young children lots of bright displays and pictures on the walls and this can be over-stimulating for sensitive children. Sitting on a plastic chair or on a scratchy carpet can be very uncomfortable for a child who is over-sensitive to things that touch their skin – if they are squirming around there is probably good reason!

    In order to be able to concentrate in the classroom you have to be able to listen effectively, use your eyes properly and connect up different bits of information in areas all over your brain quite quickly. You need to be able to remember things too. If a child cannot do some of these things well they will be having to work so hard at concentrating that they can only keep it up for short bursts – and if they have problems in lots of areas, possibly not at all.

    Some children have trouble processing what they eat and drink, and chemicals can be produced that affect brain processing or block vital nutrients – watch out particularly for aspartame and MSG. These metabolic problems are important, but they do not usually exist on their own. You will nearly always find that other areas of processing have been affected.

    If we don’t understand why these children are having difficulty and tell them off or get frustrated with them they get stressed. Stress affects your memory, your visual processing and your ability to connect up information in the two halves of the brain. The neuro-development that child needs to mature their processing then comes to a halt – it can even go backwards if a child is really upset.

    If these problems are carried into adulthood, the hypersensitivity which is behind many concentration issues can result in low stress tolerance and vulnerability to overwhelm. Underachievement is common, which can lead to low motivation and low self-esteem. For many, however, leaving school can be a release and when they have the space to move and freedom to choose where they want to focus their attention they can do extremely well.
  • When we are sharing a book with our children we assume that they are seeing what we are seeing. If they are struggling with their reading this is most unlikely to be the case.

    Children who are slow to read will almost certainly be having trouble with their visual processing so that they cannot scan a line of print and see it in the way we do. This is nothing to do with their ability to focus, which is checked by an optician. It has to do with the way the eyes are able to move from left to right and work as a team, whether appropriate eye dominance has been established and if the child can retain a visual image of a word. The child may also be over-sensitive to light. They may have trouble with all the usual eye-related reflexes which should be helping them adjust the amount of light coming into their eyes or change their focus from distance to near-point appropriately.

    Some children learn to read the words easily, but have very little comprehension of the text. This is a developmental problem with ‘brain integration’ which would be restricting access to the right hand side of the brain where the child gets a ‘picture’ of what the story is all about. The child can see the words but cannot see the story in their mind’s eye. This child may not have crawled properly, because the crawling stage of development is particularly designed to develop brain integration.

    Many people may have had no difficulty with learning to read and understanding the text, but don’t seem to be able to read quickly. They may also find they often need to re-read sections of text and struggle to read for long periods. These people will also have visual processing difficulties, particularly with photosensitivity and eye-teaming.

    Those who are battling against visual processing difficulties when they are reading will often develop a fear response, either conscious or subconscious. As a result of this, oxygen will be withdrawn from the cells required for the task and it will be even more difficult for them to perform. This is easy to spot because the child – and some adults too – will start to yawn. Beware of yawning – it hardly ever signals that a child is bored, more likely a time for the adult to stop!
  • If a child seems to be having trouble with listening they are often referred for a hearing test. If no problems are found with their hearing it is generally assumed that they should be able to listen, but listening is quite different from hearing. The brain has to do a lot of work to translate what the ears hear into an accurate perception and understanding of what has been said. This is referred to as ‘central auditory processing’.

    Sometimes children are so slow in processing what they hear that each individual sound has passed by before they have had time to fully process them. They are left having to guess the missing sounds, a bit like having to interpret a code. It is no wonder that these children get tired when they are listening. Other children have difficulty with putting together what they hear in each individual ear quickly enough. They may have trouble with processing language, understanding and explaining things. Some of them will start to yawn when they are having to deal with comprehension questions – oxygen is being pulled out of the cells because the task is perceived as too difficult.

    Strange as it may seem, a high proportion of children with listening difficulties actually hear too well. They notice sounds that others do not and are consequently easily distracted. If their hearing is very acute they will find the noise in a classroom very upsetting and will respond by turning down the volume, making themselves effectively deaf when under pressure. This is a reflex response normally designed for environmental noise such as pneumatic drills, but the child experiences the noise of the classroom as threatening in much the same way. If their teacher shouts or gets cross with them, their environment becomes even more threatening and their response will be prolonged.

    Some children can process what they hear perfectly well, but just can’t remember what they have heard well enough. They may have absolutely no memory for instructions, for example, so they will find it really hard to get on and do what they have been told to do. If they are constantly reprimanded it will make matters worse, because memory always suffers under stress.
  • Young children are constantly on the move and we don’t expect then to sit still, but there is an expectation in the UK that they will be developmentally ready for sitting still before they are five years old. There are a number of reasons why children might not manage this.

    Some children have a problem with the development of their vestibular system, which is associated with balance. Their listening and visual processing may have been affected as a consequence. These children will often try to ‘feed up’ information coming from their vestibular system when they are listening or focussing on print. You will see them begin to rock or be generally on the move as they start to focus their attention. You can spot this in adults too.

    Some children seem to be particularly gifted at moving and thinking at the same time – this may be true of some ballet dancers and professional footballers, for example – and they simply cannot learn properly if they are not allowed to move. For them, being forced to sit quietly at a desk when they are being taught will make it very hard indeed for them to reach their potential academically. Unfortunately, if they then perceive themselves as failures, it may also prevent them from achieving at the highest level in sport or the expressive arts.

    Some people have difficulty in isolating the muscle groups they need for a particular activity, so more and larger muscles become involved – you may notice that their whole head moves from side to side when they are reading, for example. This is associated with an immaturity in brain organisation and you will see a lot of overflow activity if this is the case, fidgeting, drumming, rocking, tapping – usually associated with trying to listen or focus their attention on an activity. Many creative people respond in this way.

    For those of us who do not have these difficulties it can look as though a child is being wilfully inattentive. Teachers and parents often respond by saying ‘sit still and listen!’, or ‘stop messing around and get on with your work!’ Possibly the child can sit still, but he/she probably cannot sit still and listen at the same time, so well-meaning intervention is actually damaging the child’s chances of success.
  • Problems with motivation are most often associated with a child feeling that a particular task is too difficult and they will not do it very well. For example, a child who is good at maths but struggles with Problems with motivation are often associated with people feeling that a particular task is too difficult and they will not do it very well. For example, a child who is good at maths but struggles with English will probably be well motivated to do their maths homework but find all kinds of ways to avoid tackling any English. They expect to be rewarded by doing well at their maths, but there is no reward associated with English homework.

    Motivation circuits in the brain work on either ‘reward’ or ‘punishment’. You do things either because you expect some kind of reward – like feeling good, pleasing someone, a sense of accomplishment – or because you will be in trouble if you don’t do it. Reward is a much more powerful motivator than punishment, but unfortunately for some people, work, leisure activities and school do not produce much in terms of reward. These people may need some help with their underlying problems.

    Some people have metabolic differences in their brain in relation to the neurotransmitter that is responsible for the motivation circuits – dopamine. They may find it particularly hard to motivate themselves and may not respond to the ‘punishment’ motivator at all. If your child seems to be one of those it is worth trying to instigate some reward systems for things the child really has to do.

    Many people are in fact specialists and can be extremely well motivated to do what is on their own agenda – they just find it hard to respond to anyone else’s. It is easy to see children with these problems as naughty – and adults as uncooperative- but this would be very unfair. They will often be doing their best and the ability to really focus on something that interests you and develop expert knowledge is usually seen as an advantage in adult life. The object of a child’s interest may be beetles now, but perhaps brain surgery as they get older!
  • Some children do really well at most subjects in school but have a particular problem with maths. This is usually to do with visual processing difficulties and the sort of visual integration that is tested in non-verbal reasoning tests, particularly Matrices. The reason for this is that maths concepts are primarily visually based and facts like number bonds and tables are also stored in the brain as a visual image. Children who also have auditory processing difficulties will struggle even more.

    Some children have a particular problem with their short-term memory so although they have a good understanding of maths they find it hard to do mental arithmetic and lose bits of information when they are trying to work something out. Others have difficulty with the symbols used in maths and easily end up doing the wrong calculation.

    Many children develop a fear of maths and this creates real difficulties because it blocks a lot of the processing they require for the task. Their brain integration, memory and visual processing will be affected and fear-based reflexes may take over, paralysing the brain circuits they need to use. These children really need to be taken back to work on maths concepts from a point where they feel secure so that they can experience success.

    A difficulty with maths in childhood is often something people can laugh about as adults if it has no effect on their life skills, study or employment opportunities. For many, however, the difficulty can lead to problems in the workplace, stressful compensatory or avoidance tactics and a sense of failure which can stop them having the confidence to develop their gifts.
  • Writing is a really complex task, dependent on maturity in a large number of developmental areas and also a lot of practice, so it is not surprising that many children struggle to produce neat handwriting. A child’s sense of touch and muscle tone need to be mature, so that they can develop the right pencil grip and their spinal reflexes all need to be properly integrated so that they can develop a good writing posture and efficient action coming from the wrist. Their visual processing needs to be mature, so that they see how their writing is supposed to look, with the right spacing and punctuation and they have to be able to coordinate their visual and motor systems. Their auditory processing also needs to be well-developed, so that they can manipulate the sounds and sequence them in the correct order for spelling.

    One of the most significant causes of handwriting difficulties is a problem with motor planning. This involves a problem with the connections in the brain that turn the intention to write into the physical act of writing. Children with motor planning difficulties will tend to write their letters quite slowly, find it hard to join their letters and be very slow to commit their thoughts to paper. It can be quite difficult to understand that an otherwise bright and very verbal child struggles so much to do any written work. Often these children are accused of being lazy and poorly motivated, but no child is going to be well motivated to do something which they find very difficult.

    Many of these problems are avoided if children learn to type. This cuts out some of the difficult stages of motor planning, puts less stress on fine motor control and allows more space for thinking about the writing content.
  • One of the things that worries us most about our children is if they seem to be having a problem with making friends. This can be simply because they come from a different background or have different interests, but often there are particular reasons for their difficulty.

    Children who have difficulty from the time they go to nursery are often hypersensitive. They find their environment overwhelming and find it particularly difficult to cope in addition with other young children who can be loud, invade their space and do things they are not expecting. They may feel more secure staying on the sidelines or playing by themselves.

    Children who are slow to develop language will also tend to have difficulty socialising. They will probably be having trouble following what the other children are saying, as well as struggling to communicate. The problems which have caused them to be slow with their speech are also likely to cause problems with reading body language, so they can easily misread situations and find it hard to mix in with the others. They may plunge in regardless, and put other children off, or they may prefer to hold themselves back.

    Some children have real problems with social comprehension. They just don’t seem to ‘get it’. This is usually caused by problems with brain organisation, particularly the way the two halves of the brain are working together. Some children will tend to be obsessive, for much the same reasons. This may take the form of wanting to engage in a particular activity all the time, such as obsessively colouring, which may not interfere much with social interaction. Some may tend to go on and on about their particular obsessions, however, regardless of whether anyone wants to listen. This may cause them to become socially isolated.

    Any of these problems can lead to a child being bullied, and sometimes there are much more subtle issues which cause a child to put out ‘bully me’ vibes. Children very often do not tell anyone that they are being bullied for fear of reprisals, but bullying is now known to have serious long-term consequences and should be dealt with promptly./br>
    All of these difficulties will often continue into adult life, as an unwillingness to socialise, low self-confidence and low self-esteem.
  • Speech development is very complex and depends on maturity in a number of areas of development as well as plenty of practice. First of all, a child has to be able to hear properly and any disruption to hearing in the first few years of life is likely to have an impact on the development of the child’s language skills. Although many children with speech and language difficulties have had problems such as glue ear, many have shown no sign of hearing difficulties.

    In order to develop mature speech and language skills a child has to be able to listen effectively. This is a complex process, dependent on a number of underlying skills. They have to be able to process the sounds quickly, so that they can perceive every element of a stream of language without missing bits. They have to be able to direct incoming sounds rapidly to their language centre in the left hand side of their brain, which depends on right ear dominance being established. They have to be able to put together the information that comes in to each individual ear, to compare it to what they have heard before and make sense of it.

    Memory skills are important. If a child cannot remember what they have just heard they will not be able to recognise the words later, or reproduce them. Sequencing skills are also important, to get the sounds and words coming out in the right order. Some children have motor planning difficulties, so that they know what they want to say, but what they finally say is not what they intended. Motor planning difficulties can prevent them speaking at all, or cause a disorder in their language. Articulation difficulties can also be caused by a problem with muscle tone, so their speech lacks clarity. Speech and language issue in childhood often lead to problems with a lack of confidence and difficulty socialising as they grow up. This is because their difficulties tend to affect their understanding when people are speaking in a group or in difficult listening conditions and this can leave them feeling one step behind and unable to participate appropriately in discussions. This can sometimes also lead to social isolation or bullying, which can have long term consequences.

  • There are three basic types of memory, auditory, visual and motor, all of which can be long-term or short-term. Many people are very good at some sorts and very bad at others. They will often learn to compensate in weak areas, so they may translate a visual task into an auditory one, for example, or vice versa. For this reason we may not realise they have a memory problem and be puzzled when they do not perform in situations where compensation is not possible. A good memory is assisted by having good associative memory ability, which involves connecting one piece of information with one or more other things to make the memory stronger.

    There are many different types of auditory, visual and motor memory as well. Someone may have a good ear for a tune but struggle to repeat a simple instruction. Some children may have a really good geographical memory but have no memory for the shape of a word for reading and spelling or number bonds and tables facts. Others will be very good at recalling what they have heard, but have a very poor visual memory for where they have left things or how sums are laid out on a page. Many people have motor memory problems, so they find it hard to learn to write easily or pick up technique in sport. And let’s not forget procedural memory, which involves remembering to put the tops back on felt-tip pens or to flush the toilet.

    Memory is really important for learning, of course, but it is also damaged by stress. If a child has a problem with memory we need to be sympathetic, help them to make associations with memory systems that work for them and make sure we teach to their strongest memory channel while the problems are being sorted out.
  • Disorganised children can drive us mad. They never seem to be in the right place, at the right time, with the right equipment. You send them upstairs to clean their teeth, put their tie on and get their school-bag and then ten minutes later they are still there. After much shouting you finally get them into the car and then find they still don’t have their tie. You come home from the school run, go upstairs and find the top left off the toothpaste, the tap still running and a bedroom that looks as if a major burglary has just taken place. As you are beginning to calm down you get a phone call to say that they needed their sports kit, can you bring it in? Similar problems occur in the evening around work not handed in, assignments, books and equipment for homework.

    It takes a great deal of patience not to get cross under these circumstances and the teachers experience the same frustrations at school. If a child can’t read easily we are sympathetic. If they can’t organise themselves we usually get cross. They make us late, create a lot more work, upset other people and we think that if only they tried they could be just as organised as us. The trouble is, they can’t and the more we tell them off the more stressed they get.

    Unfortunately stress does further damage to the brain integration they need to be organised. There is a large area of neuro-development that has to do with how the brain is organised to support who we are and what we are going to do with our lives – the terms are ‘brain integration’, ‘differentiation’ and ‘laterality’. If that development is not complete the child will have organisational difficulties.

    Sometimes things simply get in the way to disrupt the development of organisational skills and it is fairly easy to sort out. Sometimes it is a little more complicated. It is no coincidence that a high proportion of children who are very disorganised are actually very bright and very creative. That creativity may not always be in terms of art and construction, but in a tendency to be original and a little bit different in the way they approach things. These children may be destined to do things a little differently from the way they have been done before and a rigid brain organisation may interfere with the flexibility they need in their thought processes.

    Disorganised children often grow up to be disorganised adults. If they can be very focussed and organised in all the things that matter to them, this should not be a major cause for concern. If they have not found a focus in their lives, however, it suggests that brain organisation is not yet complete and they might benefit from some support with that process.
  • Some children seem to develop perfectly normally at the pre-school stage but are just a little clumsy. They are the ones who tend to fall over nothing and have a knack of knocking things over at the table. They may also tend to be ‘in your space’ too much or unaware that they are walking in front of you or across you. Once they get to school they seem to have unexpected difficulty with writing easily and quickly. They tend not to be very interested in sport, but some may be very keen and very frustrated that they do not do well. They are often very disorganised.

    Some children have a lot more difficulty than this. They may have been slow to develop motor skills such as dressing and seem ungainly when they run. They may be slow to get changed for games and struggle with fiddly fastenings. For them sport is a nightmare, to be avoided at all costs. They will have had huge difficulty in colouring in between the lines and they will hate having to write or draw.

    These children will have problems with their ‘body in space’ awareness and the brain circuitry which is involved in carrying out a planned motor task. There may also be issues with their muscle tone, sense of touch and sense of balance.

    When these children grow into adults they may carry a legacy from these issues. The most common problems are disorganisation, a slowness with written assignments, low self-esteem and anxiety issues associated with poor body-in-space awareness.

Assessments

  • The visual system is often considered our lead sense – we tend to believe our eyes – and good functioning is very important for effective performance skills. Both reading and maths ability are very dependent on visual processing maturity. Visual processing is not the same as eyesight and visual focus, which should be checked and, if necessary, corrected by an optician.

    Visual processing concerns the way in which our brain processes the information it receives from each eye and this happens at a neurological level. It underpins a huge part of our daily activities, from the visual-motor coordination skills required on the football field or manoeuvring a car in tight spaces to extracting information from a computer screen or developing literacy and maths skills.

    Near-point visual processing tends to be more complex and more vulnerable to stress factors than distance functioning. Here we need to consider how well everything is operating for close work, when we might be using our eyes when seated at a table. Visual processing difficulties may not only affect our immediate performance, but also our ability to stay focussed, develop concepts, fully comprehend and lay down effective long term memories.
  • Movement is a function vital for learning and performance. The area of the brain that directly processes movement, the cerebellum, actually contains over half the neurons in the brain. The cerebellum itself processes posture, coordination, balance and movement but it makes powerful connections with parts of the brain controlling visual processing, attention, memory, spatial perception, complex decision making and complex emotional behaviour. Any problems with movement systems, developmental or acquired, can potentially affect any or all of these processes and hold us back.

    Movement issues often affect us in quite subtle ways and this is particularly the case where there are motor planning difficulties. Motor planning requires understanding the task, planning how to perform the task and carrying out the task. If there are any problems with efficient motor connections in the brain the correct messages do not get through in time.

    Motor planning difficulties will affect such things as organisation, handwriting and speed of output. People may be slow to get down to things and find it hard to get things finished. Procedural memory is often affected. This involves automatic processes such as putting the top back on the toothpaste, getting dressed or preparing for the day’s activities. Such difficulties cause stress at any time in our lives, but particularly when they are not understood and the individual is regarded as lazy or deliberately unhelpful.
  • Listening ability is central to human interactions. Any difficulties, particularly unexplained difficulties, can cause a great deal of stress. Listening is not at all the same as hearing, which can easily be checked by using an audiometer. Most people with listening difficulties do not have hearing difficulties.

    Listening involves processing information which is heard and happens at the neurological level. It is assessed by using tests of central auditory processing. For children, listening ability is particularly important because listening and learning go hand in hand. If a child cannot process and recall auditory information at the level of their underlying ability they may never reach their full potential.

    Genuine listening difficulties rarely go away as children grow up, although adults learn to compensate and organise their lives to avoid exposing themselves to stressful or embarrassing situations. Stress factors which strike later in life can also cause listening difficulties, but older people may often conclude that their issues are age-related and cannot be meaningfully addressed.
  • Emotional and metabolic factors can be either the cause or the effect of processing difficulties. Negative emotions and toxins form the majority of the stress factors which inhibit brain development or cause regression. They can be inherited through an epigenetic route, acquired from the environment or result from damage to our emotional and/or immune system functioning as a result of stressed processing and overload.

    It is important to identify any factors which are causing stress which can easily be changed. It is also important to ensure that people are receiving all the nutrients they need for optimal brain growth and are not exposed to unnecessary toxins.

    Many people are vulnerable to the effects of stress because they are particularly sensitive in one or more of the basic senses. Extra sensitivity in general can be a very useful attribute, but if a system is pushed into hypersensitivity it can be very hard for the individual to manage incoming sensory stimuli and their processing is compromised. Overload over a long period of time can begin to affect immune system functioning.

Types of assessment

Individual assessments

Individual assessments can be conducted by visiting a trained Sentiometrics Profiler and a full report can be provided. A wide range of assessment materials is available for personal visits but tests and activities will vary according to need. The focus is always on investigating motor, visual, auditory, metabolic and emotional functioning and the way all these systems interact.

Group assessment

Sentiometrics has been used for many years in a group assessment situation and is ideal for family, school, college or workplace groups. Sentiometrics group assessments can be organised as four separate two-hour sessions or as a two-day event. Full diagnostic reports are provided for each individual where appropriate. Please contact us to discuss specific requirements.

Assessments for children and young people

Two types of assessment are offered. One is for examination preparation, where baseline scores are obtained and academic potential is monitored at six-monthly intervals. The second is for children with clear difficulties, where a very full report and further support is required.

Adult assessments

These assessments are suitable for adults who have had problems in childhood or who have suffered some form of trauma later in life.

Remote assessments

Jane can also support people by telephone and email, using detailed sensory integration questionnaires and reports.

Listening

  • Speed of Processing – Auditory Order Threshold

    Is this system able to operate fast enough to process each incoming ‘bit’ of information before the next one comes along? If not, subsequent processing may be based on only partial information and more auditory concentration will be required to help fill in the gaps. The basic fast processing system for auditory information is controlled by the magnocellular system in the brain.
  • Speed of Processing - Auditory Integration

    Is the system able to put together information received by each separate ear quickly and efficiently? For this to happen the corpus callosum, the bundle of nerve fibres which connect the two halves of the brain, needs to be operating effectively.
  • Speed of Processing - Ear Dominance

    Is auditory information getting through quickly enough to the systems that need to process it? The vast majority of people, including left-handers, have their language centre in the left side of the brain This means that ear dominance needs to develop on the opposite side, on the right, for a direct route and fast processing. Lack of dominance results in slower processing and left ear dominance may lead to information being processed initially, and perhaps exclusively, in the right hand side of the brain, from the emotional point of view. This may reduce logical processing capabilities and can result in people being emotionally over-reactive.
  • Sound Location – Directional Hearing

    Can the system accurately locate the sounds it needs to focus on? Sound location requires triangulation based on two sound sources – two ‘ears’. The information from these two sound sources must be put together quickly and efficiently to pinpoint the sound effectively. If this does not happen some information may be missed.
  • Sound Discrimination

    Has the system ’learned’ to recognise each individual sound packet (phoneme) without confusion? It will need to process fast to achieve this – sounds like ‘b’ and ‘d’ pass by in no more than 70 milliseconds.
  • Focussing on the Sound Source

    Is sound sensitivity so acute that background sounds are competing overwhelmingly for attention? There is often very little difference in volume between a sound source of potential interest and background sounds – this is particularly the case when a number of people are gathered together in a workplace or learning situation. Hypersensitive or hyperacute systems will struggle to ignore background noise.
  • Short-term Memory

    Does the system ‘remember’ what it has just heard for long enough? Processing and storing incoming auditory information takes a little while to do, so it must be held on file for a short time while this is happening. If the information is ‘wiped’ too quickly as a result of other information taking precedence or dysfunctional processing, it will not be transferred to long-term storage.
  • Complex Short-term Memory Words

    Is there confusion with word recognition? It is relatively easy to teach a system to recognise just nine ‘packets’ of information corresponding to the digits 1 – 9, which is the way short-term memory is normally assessed. It is not so easy to teach it to recognise a huge number of whole words of varying length. If there is any confusion with whole word recognition then the information you are asking the system to hold in short-term memory will be corrupted at the outset and subsequent processing will be affected. This is particularly likely to be the case if other aspects of the listening process are weak.
  • Complex Short-term Memory Sentences

    Can real sentences be recalled accurately? Recall of sentences is a different process from recalling a string of words or digits. It can be supported by ‘visualising’ the meaning rather more than with a string of unconnected words, by using knowledge of syntax and grammar and also by recalling the musical ‘shape’ of the phrase. A number of integrated systems are necessary here, based all over the brain. Is the focus the meaning of what was said or accurate recall of every detail of what was actually heard? Different processing approaches are beginning to come into play. What is this system programmed for? What is the listening objective?
  • Working Memory

    Can the system hold information ‘in store’ while doing related calculations or following thought processes? If it is performing complex calculations it needs to store the original information, and the results of subsequent calculations involving that information, on ‘short-term memory shelves’ and it needs to find that information again uncorrupted. This system requires efficient initial filing of information and rapid retrieval. All the relevant related systems need to be in instantaneous communication. It also requires focus to be maintained when other stimuli may be competing for attention. Many efficient working memory systems use visualisation techniques to ‘hold’ information. Once again the question that needs to be asked is, ‘What is this system programmed for?’ Differences in underlying organisation will support functional differences.
  • Comprehension and Verbal Reasoning

    What level of understanding is this system achieving? Effective listening involves an ability to think through what has been heard to achieve an appropriate level of understanding and this is what is meant by comprehension. The term ‘verbal reasoning’ takes this a little further and involves problem solving at various levels. Good brain integration and the ability to connect up pieces of information held all over the brain are vital for this. Knowledge of vocabulary also comes into play. This is dependent on exposure to a wide range of words and their meanings, accurate listening and memory systems and also the ability to make rapid connections to other systems and senses to achieve a full understanding of what a word implies. An understanding of grammar and syntax is also relevant, a product of good listening ability and experience.

    As with working memory, verbal reasoning skills will be more effective when supported by visualisation and visual processing systems. We may also consider how something ‘feels’ to us, how it might ‘feel’ to someone else – in fact the whole brain and all the senses are involved, not just certain aspects of processing. Verbal reasoning skills are most likely to function at an optimal level if all the processing systems on which they rely are working perfectly and are in perfect communication with each other. Coherent systems produce coherent thought.
  • Creative Thought

    There is a popular misconception that if people do not appear to be listening they are in the wrong, disrespectful or naughty even. In most cases this is probably very unfair. Very often they will not be listening because the task is far too difficult due to a of host listening difficulties which have not been recognised. This possibility can easily be investigated by using the appropriate tests. Sometimes they will not be listening because the subject matter is inappropriate or simply does not engage them. That should not be too difficult to sort out with a bit of thought.

    Sometimes people will not be listening because they have a compelling drive to follow their own thought processes and inhabit their own creative world. For children growing up, it is essential that we are aware of this possibility, because if we crush their creativity and fail to respect their processing differences we may stress their systems so much that they never develop appropriately to share their gifts with us. Creativity can easily be seen as ‘absent-mindedness’ or, much worse, ‘attention-deficit’. We need to be cautious.

Visual

  • Visual Transport Skills

    Visual processing development is rooted in movement and for this reason young children who spend long periods strapped into car seats or buggies, watching TV or playing on electronic devices may not develop the full extent of the visual functioning required for developing literacy skills and maths when they start school. To begin with it is important for both sides of the body to learn to work together and this is aided by the repetition of cross-patterned movements, such as crawling. Development starts with the big muscles, so plenty of rough and tumble and outdoor play is important to achieve mature functioning.
  • Eye-Hand Coordination

    Later, children can work on the smaller muscles and start to develop fine motor control. The development of maturity in eye-hand coordination is crucial and children will normally naturally seek out the activities they need for this, provided that the opportunities are made available. Problems with eye-hand coordination may not stop a child from succeeding in the early stages of literacy and numeracy. However, problems often become apparent as more sophisticated integration skills are required.
  • Visual Tracking

    Activities such as reading across lines from left to right, working in columns in maths, copying from the board, reading music and finding information on a page all require effective eye movements. Tasks will be stressful and inefficient if the eyes cannot move smoothly in all planes and if those movements cannot be sustained over a long period.
  • Visual Integration

    We have two eyes, set at different points in the head, so they each send slightly different visual images to the brain. These images must then be put together, overlaid in the central visual field, to form one clear, crisp image. This process is known as ‘binocular fusion’. Difficulties here will result in a separation into two images at the neurological level. This forces the brain to develop compensatory strategies to avoid seeing double. This results in stress and inefficient processing and we may see the results of this in poor reading stamina or ‘careless’ spelling errors.
  • Eye-related Reflexes

    When we are reading there are a number of automatic reflexes which we rely on to make the task efficient. We have a pupillary light reflex, for example, which automatically changes the size of the pupil to adjust to light levels. If this does not happen effectively we may struggle with the glare from the black print on the white page. The accommodation reflex allows us to change our focus from near to far, to assist activities such as copying from the board and reading music. The blink reflex has been found to be amazingly finely tuned, timed to enable us to miss the bare minimum of important information. All of these reflexes can be disrupted by stress factors. This may affect us all the time or only in certain contexts, such as if we perceive a task to be stressful.
  • Eye Dominance

    As the brain matures and develops specialised processing centres in one side of the brain or the other it is generally important to develop a dominant eye. If this does not happen, or if dominance settles on the wrong side, there may be confusion and delay in visual processing.
  • Individual Processing Styles

    It is important to discover which eye is dominant, because this is a major indicator of processing preferences. If we consider right-handed people, most will be right-eye dominant. Left-eye dominance generally indicates an individual who has particular creative abilities and it is very important to know this and seek to find out where those particular talents lie. Those who are right-eye dominant can also be creative of course, and they will probably have more ability to work from a structured, sequential point of view.
  • Visualisation Ability

    Visualisation skills are necessary for such things as recalling images or the shape of a word for reading and spelling, recalling maths operations not recently practiced or planning creative writing. Fundamentally visualisation is related to being able to see things ‘in your mind’s eye’. This skill develops as a result of the preceding stages in visual development maturing correctly.
  • Conceptualisation and Advanced Abstract Reasoning

    This is the final stage of visual development and this underlines the close association between visual processing ability and cognitive functioning and also performance in non-verbal intelligence tests. Significant improvements in visual processing are generally matched by improvements in performance in non-verbal IQ tests, particularly the Matrices test, which is also very closely associated with underlying maths ability.
  • Maths Processing Styles

    Many children underachieve in maths not because they lack underlying ability but because they are not being taught in the way they learn. This is particularly true of those who operate strongly as simultaneous rather than sequential processors, seeing the big picture but rejecting a step by step approach.
  • Reading and Comprehension

    Reading and comprehension skills are heavily dependent on visual processing ability, although there is also an important auditory component, particularly for comprehension. In general, good reading skills are an outcome of good visual processing ability and issues with reading behaviour and the pattern of reading errors and comprehension issues can be predicted from underlying visual processing difficulties.

Emotional

  • Hypersensitivity

    Hypersensitivity occurs when an already sensitive system becomes stressed. If danger threatens, one of the body’s defences is to raise sensory awareness so that we are alert to potential threats. So for example, a child with naturally acute hearing who is stressed by a difficult birth may become hypersensitive to sound. They may develop early speech extremely well as a result of this extra sensitivity, but when they go to nursery they may not be able to screen out all the background noise. They will then not be able to listen, and may even protect themselves from overload by making themselves effectively deaf at times. In this state, learning will be inhibited and behaviour may be affected.

    Any or all of our senses can become hypersensitive as a result of emotional or toxic trauma and some people are already hypersensitive at birth. Hypersensitivity to light may cause the print to swim around when reading. Hypersensitivity to taste may cause picky eating habits. Hypersensitivity to smell may limit our food choices too, but it can also affect our behaviour and social relationships without us knowing. Mostly odours are processed entirely at the subconscious level, firstly in the emotional parts of our brain.

    Hypersensitivity to touch is a big issue, because the tactile system is such an important building block for movement development. Problems with being touched may affect early emotional bonding and later aspects of human contact. Foods are often rejected on the basis of their texture too, which can limit intake of nutrients.
  • Fear-based Reflexes

    The Moro reflex, based in the vestibular system, is strongly associated with hypersensitivity. This reflex should be present at birth, but is normally integrated at about three months of age. If it remains active it can result in a generalised hypersensitivity and problems with anxiety and insecurity. Problems with low blood sugar are also common.
  • Fear Paralysis and Withdrawal

    Fear paralysis and withdrawal reactions may be associated with retention of the Moro reflex. Fear paralysis is a freeze, ‘I’m stuck’, response, triggered only in certain circumstances. The withdrawal response can lead to a physical withdrawal – under the table, out of the door – which is also triggered by overload. Individuals who are confronted in this state may protect themselves by being physically aggressive. It is important that this response is understood because it can lead to children being unfairly labelled as having behaviour problems when in fact their processing systems have been overwhelmed by the unreasonable demands made on them.
  • Body-in-Space Awareness

    If there are any issues with the development of the sense of touch, body-in-space awareness may be insecure. This often leads to problems with both physical and emotional security. There may be a fear of the dark and a constant need for reassurance. It may be hard for those affected to recognise physical and social boundaries too.
  • Arousal

    Arousal is a term used to describe how alive we are to the world around us. Under-arousal may affect attention and participation. Over-arousal may result in hyperactivity. Often the causes are to be found in problems with auditory, motor or visual processing. Sometimes there are problems with nutrient deficiencies or certain foods which cause an adverse reaction.
  • Toxic Foods

    Any food is potentially toxic to certain individuals in the sense that it can cause an adverse reaction. In practice, the possibility is worth investigating if there are unexplained problems with paying attention, conforming to the accepted norms of behaviour or suffering obvious physical symptoms. Where there are problems with attention and behaviour, food additives and preservatives and particularly MSG and the artificial sweetener aspartame are common causes. Dairy products can be a problem if there is excessive mucous being formed and if this causes ear to be blocked intermittently it can significantly disrupt the development of listening skills. Gluten, the protein in grains, can be a problem where there are bowel issues. Both gluten and casein, the protein in dairy products, can cause toxins to cross the blood brain barrier and disrupt processing.
  • Environmental Factors

    People vary in their responses to the output from electronic gadgetry. For individuals who show signs of hypersensitivity in general, are not in good health, or who find it hard to get to sleep, it is wise to be cautious. Screens before bedtime can disrupt the wind-down to sleep mechanisms and lack of adequate sleep is now known to seriously disrupt our functioning. In general it is best to make sure everything is turned off, not left on standby, well before bedtime and devices are charged away from sleeping areas. These devices can be very addictive, but parents need to be firm.
  • Deficiencies - Fish Oils

    30% of the brain is formed by the EPA and DHA found in fish oils and many people cannot manufacture EPA and DHA from other sources of Omega 3 fatty acids. These nutrients are particularly important for the development of visual and motor functioning. It is vital that children have access to these nutrients both in utero and in early childhood and they continue to be important throughout life. Such things as sardines, mackerel, herring and tuna are inexpensive and readily available. Salmon is also a good source. If oily fish is not eaten regularly it is important to take good quality supplements.
  • Vitamin/Mineral Supplements

    To absorb and utilise the foods we eat effectively we need to have the full range of vitamins and minerals available. If we are unable to eat a full range of healthy foods, or if we are under a great deal of stress, a good quality multi-vitamin/mineral supplement appropriate for an individual’s age might be advisable.
  • Vitamin D

    Recent research has highlighted the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in the UK. This is obtained mainly from sunlight and foods have been found to be an inadequate source. Government advice is that supplements should be taken by all pregnant and breast feeding mothers, all children under five, all those over 65 and also people with dark skin. A quarter of under-fives have been found to be significantly deficient. Poor summers, the use of sun creams and a tendency for people to be outdoors less have all contributed to the current problems. Vitamin D has been found to be vital for immune system functioning, not just bone health, and most people would probably benefit from supplements.

Movement

  • Balance and the Vestibular System

    The vestibular system in the inner ear works together with the cerebellum to process information about movement in the body. There is also an important connection to part of the brain called the reticular activating system (RAS) which regulates incoming sensory information and helps control attention. We use these systems to keep our balance, but also to control movement and turn our thoughts into action. The vestibular system is also responsible for the control of eye movements. A large body of research has shown that there is a close connection between dysfunction in balance skills and problems with learning and attention. It has also been shown that improvements in balance as a result of therapeutic intervention can have a remarkable effect on learning and performance.
  • Tactility – the Sense of Touch

    The sense of touch is also hugely important for motor development and learning. Lack of sensitivity, oversensitivity or a lack of tactile experience as a result of illness or neglect, may have a major impact on both physical and emotional development. Infants who have insufficient tactile stimulation may also never develop the movement-pleasure link in the brain so they will not naturally seek out the movements and activities which are important for development. They may also have little interest in taking exercise and engaging in sport, which may impact on their health later.
  • Kinaesthesia

    This sense tells us exactly where all the parts of our body are and how they are moving. All movement develops from just three basic building blocks – kinaesthesia, tactility and the vestibular system. These senses start to develop long before a baby is born and development continues throughout early childhood. Any problems in the development of these three senses will affect functioning somewhere and problems may be seen in the systems described below.
  • Muscle Tone

    Muscle tone is a constant state of readiness for action in our muscles. Lower than average muscle tone can affect posture, endurance, motor skills, eye-teaming. Sometimes speech and non-verbal communication skills can be a problem. Higher than average muscle tone may result in action before data is fully processed – apparently impulsive behaviour. Sometimes there are also jerky movements and problems throwing overarm.
  • Body-in-Space Awareness

    The proprioceptive sense tells us where we are in space without having to look. Problems here may make us feel that we cannot trust our bodies. We may feel emotionally insecure, frightened of the dark, in need of constant reassurance. Good proprioceptive skills are necessary for mature motor control and motor planning. People with difficulties in proprioception generally dislike team games or do not perform as well as they would like and they may be less active than their peers. Fine motor skills will also be affected. It may be hard to judge the weight of objects, such as a glass of water, or to hold a pencil effectively and write across a line. Most people with proprioceptive difficulties also find it hard to draw people because they do not quite know where they themselves begin and end in space.
  • Brain Integration and Cross-patterned Movements

    Cross-patterned movements bridge the right and left hemispheres of the brain and programme our nervous system, spinal muscles and coordination. They help all our bodily systems work as a team. The main early stage of motor integration is the point when the infant begins to crawl and if a child fails to go through the crawling stage properly it can lead to problems later. Sometimes later trauma, either physical or emotional, can jumble these messages too. Brain integration is very important for all our cognitive skills as well as for motor coordination.
  • Differentiation

    This is the ability to control the movement of one part of the body without another becoming involved. As it matures it is part of the development of the systems which help to establish specialised centres in the brain and individual learning approaches. You will see immaturity in differentiation in young children when they stick their tongues out as they write. Late maturity often results in involuntary overflow movements when people are concentrating – fidgeting, humming, drumming on the table – and this can distract both the individual and those around them. They can sit still, or they can concentrate, but they may not be able to do both at the same time. They may also have problems with fine motor coordination if they cannot isolate exactly the muscles required for the task.
  • Lateralisation

    Lateralisation is all about deciding which hand, eye, ear and foot to use and on which side of the brain specialised control centres should be. With brain integration and differentiation it works to organise the brain for individual processing styles. If it does not mature appropriately it can result in confusion in processing. People may have directional confusion and difficulty in perceiving left and right, but hidden issues with visual, auditory and/or motor development may present more significant problems.
  • Organisation

    The ability to organise yourself and your ideas is very dependent on having an organised brain. A host of systems are involved here, including memory of all kinds, but the most common reason for difficulties is immaturity at the brain organisation level, involving brain integration, differentiation and laterality. These difficulties are often unrecognised, individuals are deemed to be at fault and an enormous amount of stress can result. Organisational skills will develop if the underlying causes are successfully addressed. Meanwhile, for those family members affected, it is wise to refrain from scolding and give some secretarial assistance!