Why is my student struggling in school? (Part 2)

The school year is underway, and my mind is on those students in every elementary school, every middle school, and every high school who are struggling in one way or another. Perhaps their challenge is academic, perhaps behavioral or social. Or maybe they struggle with basic daily activities (getting dressed, brushing teeth, etc.). Children and teens with these challenges walk the halls of every school. Maybe it sounds like your student, or one you know.

What we established in part 1 of this post is that these issues may very well have underlying causes, and until they are addressed, students, parents, and teachers will all be frustrated.

We shared with you the Pyramid of Learning (go back and see), showing that before academic learning can take place, several other elements must be present – the most vital of which are the Hidden Senses. In this post, we’ll unpack these senses for you!

Vestibular Processing

The vestibular system is our sense of movement and balance. The inner ear contains the receptors which are activated when our head moves and changes positions in regards to gravity.  Along with the visual and auditory systems, it tells us about our position in space.

Essentially, the vestibular system informs us if we are moving – and if so, what direction and how quickly.  It is the system primarily responsible for keeping us in balance, responding to gravity and alerting us to know which way is up.  The vestibular system is also important because it communicates with our muscles to keep our posture upright and helps to integrate the two sides of our bodies so they can work seamlessly together. In addition, the vestibular system coordinates the working together of the head, neck and eye movements.

  • Signs of an over-responsive vestibular sense: withdrawing from others; being overwhelmed by movement; quick to become dizzy; afraid to leave the ground (swinging or playing on playground equipment);poor balance/clumsy; and difficulty with hand-eye coordination (i.e. catching a ball).
  • Signs of an under-responsive vestibular sense: difficulty sitting/standing still (i.e. they are always on-the-go); seeking out movements such as jumping, spinning, etc.

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Proprioceptive Processing

Where the vestibular system is activated by receptors in the inner ear, the proprioceptive system is activated by various receptors throughout our muscles, joints, ligaments, and tendons. As a result, these receptors provide our bodies with feedback pertaining to the following: the force necessary for a muscle to use to perform a task (i.e. writing not too hard and not too soft), knowing where a specific part of our body is in space (without seeing it), and the feedback needed to perform both fine (small) and gross (large) movements/activities. The same receptors are also responsible for providing our brain with constant feedback which is crucial for obtaining postural tone and balance.

A child that has proprioceptive challenges may present with signs such as writing too hard/too soft, chewing and biting objects, wanting deep pressure (i.e. tight clothes, purposefully jumping or crashing into things), pushing, playing rough, poor motor planning and body awareness (i.e. bumps into people and objects, difficulty riding a bike), and poor postural controls (i.e. slumps, must rest head on desk while working).

Now What?

It is easy to see how a child with these underlying difficulties can become frustrated with school and feel defeated. With the right help, they can begin to behave at an age-appropriate level and perform academically. But first, they need to be taught strategies to help their bodies become regulated so they are at an optimal sensory state to learn.

Below is a basic guide of common terms regarding sensory processing disorder and signs. It is a very complex subject, but we are here to help! Please reach out to kot.christiana@gmail.com or call (540) 324-5330 for more information, to have your questions answered, or to set an appointment!

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