I recently gave a lecture at Hummingbird Yoga on this topic.
Here is the handout that I distributed, which gives you an up-to-date idea of how I would like to approach these issues.
Dr Gene Nathan MD
Children and Families with School and Learning Problems
Gene Nathan MD
619 392 4313
47 S Main St Driggs ID 83422
I am an integrative doctor, with board certification in pediatrics. I have also studied development, early childhood mental health, and many alternative and complementary healing modalities. I apply these to issues that affect the brain, learning, digestion, structural problems, and the human spirit.
The first thing I want to say is that all of my efforts are to help each child and each family do what they came to do: that is fulfill as much as possible the promise of their natural endowments, their loving connection to each other, and whatever contribution they can make to our society.
Each person, and each family, I believe, is endowed by their creator with a unique and essential role, with talents and strengths, and also with vulnerabilities that cause us to rely on one another for our success.
For whatever reason, our educational system, and our schools have fallen into a rut: the current prevailing thinking of our society is “literate heavy”, so-called results oriented, and behaves for the most part in ways that are distrustful of the teachers who are the professionals who know how to teach best. As a result, most of our school budgets go to statistics, monitoring, testing, and responding to regulation and politics, rather than, as they did in my parents’ era, brick and mortar, books and supplies, and teacher’s salaries. It seems no longer sufficient to graduate high school to get a good job – higher education seems almost a must.
The average teacher today has to pay $500 out of their own pocket for the materials they need to do their jobs.
Also, our society at large is a very toxically stressful one. Parents are under great time, financial, and emotional pressures. Our down times are filled with digital programming, organized classes and tutorials for children, team sports, etc. Our children have much less unsupervised play than they used to. Parents are more worried than ever about their children’s safety, despite statistics which would point otherwise. Our environment is loaded with pesticides, plastics, heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury, lead and cadmium, emf broadcasts, information overload, which have all been shown to adversely affect our children’s development and our health.
These, in my opinion, are the main reasons why so many children and families are stressed around school performance and learning. While 30 years ago, ADD/ADHD was diagnosed perhaps in 5%, it is diagnosed today around 10%. Attentional issues which fall short of the diagnosis are more frequent, on the order of 20%. 20% of our children are believed to have sensory integration issues, 10-20% of teenagers are reported to have clinical depression or anxiety, and all stress related illnesses, which used to affect 10% of the population, are affecting 30-50% of the population and on the rise.
The number of children taking medications in school is higher than before, and the number taking more than one medication is much higher than before. Children as young as 2 years old are being medicated for ADD. This is not right.
Medications can be helpful in the short run, but they are not nearly as effective as most people believe and they certainly have shown little efficacy in long term treatment.
Fortunately, a lot of this can be avoided, if we act early, wisely, and thoughtfully.
That is what I want to talk with you about today. I have decades of experience in working with children with learning issues, schools, school boards, and medicine. I want to share what I have gleaned and the hope of restoring sanity to this area, using more natural and effective supports where they are needed, and some ideas of what I dream we can do in our schools and homes going forward.
So, I am experimenting with organizing this “talk” with 7 questions. I will put them to you, and take a vote. Whichever are most important, let’s go deep into them. And I will try to begin to answer your questions. Are you ready?
Why do some children have difficulties in learning and with school?
I will address 3 important factors: (1) normal learning differences and constitutions that are at odds with modern schooling; (2) aggravating factors in our environment that take normal differences and put them “over the top”; and (3) – actual physical and brain injuries and conditions that cause problems in how the brain or body learns or copes – this is the minority of children.
First, everyone has learning differences, we all have strengths and vulnerabilities in the way we learn. That is built into us by nature. It is advantageous for a tribe, a culture, a species to have many different ways of looking at situations and deducing solutions in a world in which the natural challenges can abruptly change and vary from generation to generation. Sometimes the ADD mind is exactly what is needed – at other times, careful slow consideration works better.
Learning differences are not diseases, disorders, or even “problems”. They are natural. Careful studies have shown that for every child with ADD, there are 3 with learning differences.
Why do these children present as “problems” or with conditions such as ADD or anxiety? Because of the rigid structure of school and the kinds of rigid types of learning that our society has evolved to favor. We are a society which is now based on reading, typing, a high literacy society.
Schools also have evolved into long days, with a great deal of seat work, much interaction in large classrooms, and high student to teacher ratios. Jobs and “success” in our society also depends on mastering these highly specific and selective types of learning.
There are fewer opportunities for children who learn by kinesthetic, touch, dance, song, story -telling, or other means to achieve esteem with their peers or their adult caretakers. Their days are spent in boredom or frustration. (airplane travel analogy)
Also, learning is high energy work, information processing is high energy work. The brain is the organ that has the most mitochondria in the body. Mitochondria are the batteries of the cell.
When you learn in accordance with your nature it is easy. When you have to learn in ways you are not designed for, it is energetically stressful. When children are forced to concentrate on input in areas that they are vulnerable, they fidget, move around, and their attention fatigues easily. This may make them rate high on an instrument like a Connors scale.
I believe that all parents and children should find out how they learn, and that the learning environment adapt to them so that esteem, sense of self efficacy can build, not fade. (example of quizzing 4 year olds then after kindergarten).
Also, children and adults all have different constitutions, prakriti. The constitution helps us understand which foods, environments, and levels of physical activity are best for the child to thrive. Since school rooms for the most part, are one way, and training is one way, certain “types” are bound to fare better than others.
The family, the school and the culture can make or break a child with a mismatch, who is neither abnormal nor disordered. Stress, berating, bullying, lack of conversation leaving the child to figure out how to make sense of this all can lead to depression, anxiety, neurotransmitter depletion, hormonal issues, energetic issues, which need to be addressed. It is very important that children who are not sick not be “medicalized” by glomming onto symptom complex names which are not really well defined pathologies.
If parents don’t know how to make sense of this, they worry and fear for their child’s future, and perhaps even blame themselves or each other for “outcomes”. This is a grave aggravation.
The politics of who is going to pay for services, etc, drives schools to polarize with families, and the health care system, which has also driven some of this. Now that drug therapies have become billion dollar industries, pharma firms have a financial incentive and also the means to scare parents and schools and politicians into treating more children with more medicines, and labelling more children with a diagnosis, they have driven up the production and sales of these medicines all over the world by 500% in the last 20 years. I get that the jobs being created are important to our economy, but I am very worried about its effect on our children and grandchildren.
(What are some example of learning differences, and constitutions)
The issues of constitution and learning differences have been with us a long time, why are we seeing more of them now, and what can be done about them?
While there does not seem to be any increase in learning differences in children, there are definitely environmental and social factors that can make the variations greater, and the coping mechanisms weaker. Higher concentrations of pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, organic pollutant in our environment, all have been shown to aggravate these conditions. Social isolation and overuse of screen media also have been well shown. Changes in our diets, poorer nutrients in food, changes in the flora of our gut all are well known factors that lower IQs, change coping abilities, and aggravate school issues. That is why I want to help all families where they are even beginning to see issues. Plenty can be done about toxins and toxicants, digestion, nourishment, stress levels for the child and the family.
Genetic analysis can even give us prescriptions for supplements that can help vulnerable families do well, even in this environment.
(how do you approach this?)
What are the physical and medical conditions that can cause abnormal learning patterns and coping which can lead to these problems?
- Brain trauma
- Emotional or sexual abuse
- Divorce, grief, or other psychological shock
- Poisoning from mercury, lead, arsenic, mold toxin, etc.
- Developmental aberrations (hydrocephalus, abnormal structure of the brain)
- Need for asthma or allergy medication, allergies
- Hereditary neurotransmitter and metabolism variations
- Deafness, blindness
- Epilepsy and subclinical epilepsy
- Diabetes, hypothyroidism, pitutitary or adrenal problems
- Problems with circulation or heart disease
How to approach these conditions?
Mostly we approach them the same way as group 2, as these children also heave learning differences, constitutions, exposures that put them over the top, and removing or handling these will improve a great deal. Then specific additional modalities and testing are indicated.
What are these modalities and how to test for them?
Educational testing – bypass and drilling
Acupuncture or ayurvedic rebalancing
Supplements for brain health
Microbiome and parasites
Hippotherpay and rock climbing
Mindfulness and yoga
EFT and EMDR
Bach flower remedies and essential oils
Transcranial magnetism and light
Judicious use of medications
Testing includes educational testing, urine, blood, stool, SNPs, saliva, EEG, etc.
So, what would you suggest for all children in our modern age?
I think that every child and family deserves to know how they learn and what their constitution is. Children and adults should receive training in yoga, tai chi, chi gong, or other energy work and they should know how to calm themselves and each other down. They should be free of heavy metals and pesticides to the best abilities, and have a quiet and clean bedroom to sleep in. In this climate from time to time they should be screened for iron, vitamin D, zinc and magnesium needs and be adjusted for them. They probably should get omega 3’s, fermented foods and / or probiotics if their diet can’t be kept reasonable. If there is a strong history of toxicant exposure, or genetic issues with learning problems, allergies, etc., then you might consider testing for toxicant exposure, and doing SNP testing through 23 and me or similar agency. I think most children and mothers should get craniosacral therapy (CST) after birth, and after significant injuries or dental work.
Every parent and school should know and value the child’s strengths, individual path forward in life, and spirit, as well as affinities and proclivities.
How about if there are school or learning issues that are beginning to show up? I would consider screening for lead, blood testing, thyroid, magnesium, zinc, vitamin D, homocysteine, urine neurotransmitters, toxicants, inflammatory indicators, digestion issuesand start with dietary, methylation support, and systemic balancing, such as with ayurvedic and / or Chinese medicine. Some work with neurofeedback can also help. I would reinforce all of the above. Looking for learning differences, and working to clarify any family issues is important. Interventions would be based on findings and response.
If the school environment is contributing, consider an alternative schooling situation.
Every parent and school should know and value the child’s strengths, individual path forward in life, and spirit, as well as affinities and proclivities.
If there are already significant issues, what else? I would study digestion, toxicants, EEG, plasma amino acids and urinary organic acids. If this came on suddenly I would look for PANDAS or PANS support, and do a Cunningham panel. Active detoxification, immune, metabolic support, treatment of infections. Of course, if there are specific therapy needs, such as ABA, occupational therapy, speech and so on, that should be ongoing.
Above all, I would give the student and family a lot of support.
Every parent and school should know and value the child’s strengths, individual path forward in life, and spirit, as well as affinities and proclivities. While “labelling a child with a DSM 5 diagnosis can open the door for services, it is important to understand that these are symptom complexes, “diagnosed” for the most part by subjective questionnaires, and don’t really explain why an individual is behaving that way. Look deeper for causes that can be addressed, and good results can often happen!
What do I mean?
Well, “fever” is a term for a symptom complex, it does not tell you why someone has a fever. In this day and age, we wouldn’t treat all fevers with Tylenol, without trying to figure out why the body responded by creating a fever. “ADD” is a symptom complex. Many conditions could be contributing to those symptoms. While medication may symptomatically improve many children temporarily with ADD, in the same way that Tylenol could take down most children’s fever, it is better to look for and treat the cause. Here are some examples of conditions that I find could cause school issues and attention deficits.
Potential causes of school issues and learning problems:
SLD: (specific learning differences) – psychometric testing, PEERAMID, ANSER
Divorce and grief
Aggression secondary to norepinephrine, epinephrine effects, bipolar
Fidgety from parasites
Sensory integration issues (sensitive, reactive, hardiness)
Giddiness from SIBO chemicals, endorphin release
Medications effects (asthma meds, etc.)
Methylation issues (MTHFR, MS, etc.)
COMT, MAO SNPs
7 kinds of ADD (Amen) SPECT scan, Loreta QEEG.
Type 1 –classic ADD stimulants, rhodiola, pycnogenol, green tea, ginseng, tyrosine,
Type 2 – Inattentive ADD
Type 3 – overfocused ADD – 5 HTP, stimulating, SSRI
Type 4 – temporal lobe ADD – GABA, etc, stimulating, Neurontin, valproate, etc.
Type 5 – limbic ADD – SAMe, stim,
Type 6 – Ring of Fire ADD – GABA, 5 HTP, stim, anticonvulsants, SSRI, guanfacine
Type 7 – Anxious ADD – l – threonine, relora, Mg, tulsi, stim, Strattera, desipramine
Behavior issues, conduct disorders
OCD, Tourette’s tics
Organic brain syndrome secondary to infection or injury
Aggression from toxins, POPs, metals, biotoxins, mold,
Prenatal drug exposure, fetal alcohol syndrome, marijuana
Hormone – low T4, elevated thyroid, adrenal issues, type 2 diabetes
That’s a lot to keep track of – why so many?
Actually, there are a few mechanisms that disorder the brain, they manifest differently depending on when in the brain development they occur, whether they are ongoing, and where in the brain the disorder happened.
Fundamentally we are dealing with trauma, stress, oxidative stress, infection, dysbiosis, inflammation, adverse methylation and toxicant exposure – which is coupled with difficulties in attachment, emotional environment and etc. Almost all conditions will improve when the correct disorders are addressed over time. This may take a while!
What can the family do to help?
Support, support, support
Discover talents and affinities, interests and support those
Learn when to discuss and confront, and when to defuse the situation
Be the child’s advocate
Keep an open mind
Be alert for bullying
Address issues that cause family violence, shaming, discord and uncivility
Give plenty of physical activity, especially cross lateral
What are the assets and constraints in schools that can aggravate or alleviate these issues?
Monoculture of learning
Insufficient resources for individualized support
Bullying and social isolation
Physical exercise, mindfulness, yoga, dance, movement
What do I think would be ideal? Can it actually happen?
Movement for every child
Assessment for learning differences in kindergarten, 3rd grade, 7th grade with parents present
Skills labs after school
Multidiscipline review panels