Interventional therapy should give meaning to the tasks presented. Without meaning, there is no understanding.
STIMULATING the mind of a child who has a brain disorder is more than just filling up the intellectual gaps. It is just as important to ensure that he is emotionally equipped, says Geneva-based educator and therapist Roland Hifler.
“A child’s development is marked by both emotional and intellectual growth. Both are mutually dependent,” asserts Hifler who has been working with children with autism for the past 10 years.
Hifler was in Ipoh, Perak, recently at the invitation of Autism Support Association For Parents (ASAP) to conduct a workshop on Cognitive Therapy For Children With Autism.
Hifler is influenced by the works of child psychiatrist Dr Stanley Greenspan. The latter pioneered the concept of “floor time” to engage children with learning disabilities, emphasising personal interaction through play rather than focusing on changing the child’s behaviour.
Overcoming developmental delays, Hifler stresses, is more than shaping appropriate behaviours.
Behavioural modification therapy which is widely applied in America and which is gaining ground elsewhere, has its limitations, he observes. For example, if the goal is to get the child to comply with the command “sit down”, and he succeeds in performing it, he is rewarded with food of his choice or tokens for other activities which he likes.
While such approach ensures compliance, to the critics, it is done without the child understanding what and why he is doing it.
Hifler believes therapy has to do more than that. He is among the growing number of educators who are advocating cognitive therapy which takes the holistic approach, incorporating the disciplines of neurosciences, psychology and education.
Children with learning disorders generally have problems processing information to make sense of the environment they live in.
“The whole point about interventional therapy is to give meaning to the tasks presented. Without meaning, there is no understanding. When a task is meaningless to the child, it could lead to frustration and worsen the very behavioural issues that the therapist is trying to solve,” he contends.
Children with autism and other learning disorders generally have problems processing, selecting, integrating and retaining information to make sense of the environment they live in.
Added to that, some also face sensory problems which present themselves as aversions to sights, sounds and touch.
Writing becomes an issue, too, for those with motor skill problems.All of which can be over- whelming and challenging for the affected children and their families.
This is where cognitive therapy comes in, by seeking ways and means to overcome these deficits.
Subscribing to Dr Reuven Feuerstein’s theory that the brain is modifiable given the right stimulus, Hilfer says the key to cognitive therapy is to re-condition the brain by teaching and replacing faulty representations.
Seeking ways to learn how to encode and decode meanings, retain memory, organise information and shape thought patterns are integral to cognitive therapy.
In order for the child to have a good foundation for learning, the therapist must be adaptive and expressive, shaping the language the child needs for emotions.
“The teacher/therapist must have the right attitude. You have to be calm, kind, patient, observant, creative and disciplined. When correcting the child, the teacher must be consistent,” he adds.
“The point is to build up the cognitive structure that is adaptive in a way so that we can retrieve what was natural but lost in the child,” he explains.
In teaching a child with a learning disorder, there is no short cut. “It is about consistency and keeping the child occupied as we don’t want the child’s mind to wander,” he says.
That means creating opportunities for the child to learn and socialise in different settings, be it in an art class or in sports.
Activities that involve honing skills for planning, organising, solving problems, following rules and taking care of oneself are part and parcel of getting the child to be adaptive to the environment.
“Cognitive therapy is about building an adaptive form of functioning. It starts from a little window of opportunity that can expand. Most of all, never give up and as parents, support each other,’ he concludes. n Hifler can be reached at roland. firstname.lastname@example.org, www.educationcognitive.ch
One Voice is a monthly column which serves as a platform for professionals, parents and careproviders of children with learning difficulties. Feedback on the column can be sent to onevoice4ld@gmail. com.
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