Q: How does the Spark Development & Learning Program™ differ from tutoring programs like those sold by Sylvan Learning Centers or Huntington Learning Centers?
A: Unlike tutorial programs that focus primarily on the delivery of content (school subject matter),
the Spark Development & Learning Program™ identifies potential underlying physical and cognitive issues that make
attending to, and learning, content difficult.
The physiological skills needed to easily and efficiently take in content are assessed and strengthened. Particular focus is placed on the child’s sensory integration skills (vestibular, visual and auditory processing). Issues at this level might include subtle visual, balance and information processing difficulties that could prevent the proper intake of the content presented to the child. Thus, the child either is deprived of correct content or is forced to work that much harder to accurately assimilate information.
And, as noted by the neurologist authors of "The Mislabeled Child," the more difficult a task, the more easily one is distracted from doing that task.
In addition, on a physiological level, nutritional counseling is available. Proper nutrition plays a pivotal role in physical and cognitive development. Food allergies and sensitivities, deficiencies, and gut and flora problems can result in problematic attention, behavior and learning issues.
Underdeveloped foundational cognitive skills also are assessed and strengthened. Once the content is assimilated by the senses, it must be processed on a cognitive level. For example, if a child has trouble in math, the program does not supply additional math content. All that does is give the child more of what he is having trouble with in the first place. Instead, the Program works to strengthen the underlying cognitive skills necessary to understand and process math. Once those underlying skills have been strengthened, learning math is now possible.
As an additional service, Spark Development Centers offers students instruction in Advanced Learning Techniques™. Such techniques make memorization, note taking, and organization, more effective.
Finally, each child’s learning style and preferred learning environment can be assessed. Based upon such assessment, reasonable accommodations may then be fashioned (for example, auditory instruction as opposed to written instruction, soft lighting rather than bright lighting, global explanations instead of detail-oriented teaching) so that learning will be easier and more comfortable for the child immediately.
Q: What are sensory motor skills? What is sensory motor integration?
A: Sensory motor integration deals with the manner in which one's senses and body take in and respond to (or fail to respond to) external stimuli. Such integration should develop well before a child even enters school.
Examples of sensory motor problems can be found in children who do not possess an unconscious sense of where their bodies end. These are the children who drag their fingers on the wall while they walk down the hall or bump into desks on the way to the front of the classroom or run into the person in front of them when they are walking in line and then get singled out as "troublemakers."
Another example of a sensory motor integration problem is the inability to cross one’s imaginary mid-line. This imaginary mid-line is the natural result of the separation of the two hemispheres of the brain. Without proper left and right brain hemisphere integration, a person will have trouble physically and mentally “crossing” his mid-line. This translates into trouble reading and writing since information will be lost when that information is presented first on one side of the body and then the other – just like reading or writing from the left side of the page to the right. In addition, children with mid-line problems often will have trouble telling their left from their right, following directions, and decoding.
Fortunately, the brain is exceedingly adaptable (neuroplasticity), and the brain’s ability to integrate sensory and motor functions can be strengthened through specialized training and exercises.
Q: What are cognitive skills?
A: Cognitive skills are the toolbox of the brain into which the intellect reaches when posed with a learning situation.
Of the approximately 144 cognitive skills we possess, twenty-six form the foundational thinking skills necessary to process content-based teaching. For example, in order to read, a student must demonstrate, among other things, good visual closure. This cognitive skill involves the ability to see the whole letter, word or phrase. In order to learn geometry, one must have good transformational thinking skills. This cognitive skill involves the ability to hold information in one’s mind and mentally change it, whether it is a shape or a number. Other underlying skills such as memory, comprehension, and creativity also are necessary to the learning process.
A cognitive skill in its developed form is an exquisite thinking tool with a highly specified function. Conversely, each underdeveloped cognitive skill is a barrier to efficient thinking. When confronted with a tool that is incapable of accomplishing the task for which it was designed, the intellect is forced to compensate. It attempts to use another tool, a less appropriate cognitive skill, to accomplish the same task. Compensations create frustration and energy expenditure, which ultimately leads to inattention, confusion and stress.
Q: What are “Advanced Learning Techniques™”?
A: Based on the latest research into how children learn best, Advanced Learning Techniques™ enable students to process information in a format that matches the natural processing function of their brains (“brain-based learning”), rather than process information as taught in most traditional schools. These brain-based techniques are designed to help students master spelling, reading, math, foreign language, and to develop superior memory skills.
Q: Does the Program cure Attention Deficit or Hyperactivity ("ADD" or "ADHD")? What about children on the spectrum ("ASD")? Will it help my child to behave better?
A: Spark Development Centers does not label students, so the better question is, can the program lessen or eliminate the symptoms associated with diagnoses such as "ADD" or "ADHD." And the simple answer is “yes,” if the child does, in fact, demonstrate underdeveloped sensory motor integration, cognitive processing skills, or nutrition related issues.
Sensory motor integration, cognitive skill development, and proper nutrition are foundational, and therefore critical, to the success of your child. Many times, inattention, frustration, poor academic skills, and behavior problems associated with the diagnosis of disorders such as ADD or ADHD can be traced to underdevelopment in one or more of these areas.
Dyslexia, for example, has been linked to poor visual processing, mid-line integration problems, and over-all sensory integration issues. One study found that severely dyslexic children with unstable eye control who used specially designed glasses were reading at levels far beyond those who did not use the glasses. Explaining the results, Professor John Stein of Oxford University stated “[I]f the two eyes do not point steadily at print, letters can seem to dance around and change order, so the child becomes very confused.”
Indeed, the National Parents Teacher Association has recognized the link between visual processing problems and learning problems. Noting that “many visual skills are necessary for successful learning in the modern classroom; and skill deficiencies may contribute to poor academic performance,” the National PTA resolved, among other things, to “provide information to educate members, educators, administrators, public health officials and the public at large about learning related visual problems and the need for more comprehensive visual skill tests.”
Simply put, if the child’s visual processing, sensory motor integration or cognitive processing skills are underdeveloped, it will be physically impossible for him to do what he is asked to do in an academic setting, and neither he will know it nor you. He may become bored. His attention will wander. He may withdraw into his own world. He may refuse to show interest. Or, he may get frustrated and act out – all symptoms associated with diagnoses such as ADHD.
Likewise, a child with nutritional deficiencies, allergies or aversions also may exhibit similar symptoms. Certain foods or additives may "irritate" the child. A gut flora imbalance can affect the immune system. Nutritional deficiencies can affect brain function. Problems in these areas will, by definition, impact a child's ability to attend, learn and behave.
The same holds true for ASD children. Again, the Spark Development & Learning Program™ should not be viewed as a medical program designed to "cure" ASD. Instead, the Program is designed to lessen, if not eliminate, many of the issues associated with such a diagnosis. In this way, we help to alleviate many of the symptoms related to ASD. It must also be noted, however, that given the nature of the various components of our Program and the manner in which such components are delivered, certain aspects of the Spark Development & Learning Program™ may not be appropriate for or deliverable to all ASD children.
An interesting note for athletes: visual training has been used by many professionals to improve their games. We too have noted that children with weak processing skills often experience a noticeable improvement in athletic performance once remediation of these underdeveloped skills takes place.
Q: Who can benefit from this Program?
A: In a word, everyone. The Spark Development & Learning Program™ evolved, in part, from a learning enhancement program designed for, and used in, hundreds of schools across the country. With a proven track record of helping struggling students achieve academic success, the in-school enhancement program continues to help strengthen the foundational cognitive and sensory integration skills of struggling students.
However, some students required greater intervention than could be provided for by an in-school program. in response, we created Spark Development Centers. With a more personal and attentive instructor to student ratio, broader array of exercises, nutrition counseling and Advance Learning Technique™ based tutoring, we are able to help not only those who need assistance in achieving academic excellence, but also those who demonstrate greater attention and learning issues.
While obviously the struggling child will likely demonstrate the most dramatic improvement, even "A" students can benefit from this "academic training." This is an enrichment program designed to strengthen the cognitive and physiological skills that underlie academic success. just as the professional athlete continues to train physically and mentally to further strengthen and sharpen his athletic skills, the "A" student can likewise strengthen and sharpen his academic skill.
Moreover, just as athletes seek coaches to teach them the best techniques, all students can benefit from learning and applying the Advanced Learning Techniques™.
The Spark Development & Learning Program™ requires patience, hard work and consistent effort. Furthermore, we have found the Program is most appropriate for children and adults ages seven (7) and older.
For younger children, we recommend The Listening Program® and nutrition counseling. Enrollment in the Spark Development & Learning Program™ may be considered on a case-by-case basis for six year olds.
The Advance Learning Techniques™ training is appropriate for middle School children and older.
Our programs have successfully helped students who find learning difficult, those who are in constant need of tutoring or for whom tutoring has failed, and even students who have been diagnosed with an attention or learning issue such as attention deficit disorder ("ADD" or "ADHD"), learning disabled ("LD"), dyslexia, and even high-functioning autism spectrum disorder ("ASD").
Q: How do I know if my child’s skills in these areas are underdeveloped?
A: Underdeveloped visual processing, sensory motor integration, cognitive processing skills, and nutritional issues can be reflected in poor grades and/or poor behavior. Clumsiness, poor athletic ability, dizziness or reading induced fatigue or headaches also may be signs of underdeveloped visual processing, sensory motor integration or cognitive processing skills. Interestingly, even “A” and “B” students who spend many more hours than seem necessary to complete their work may be demonstrating underdeveloped skills.
On a more severe level, such impediments to learning can be reflected in behaviors associated with disorders ranging from dyslexia to Attention Deficit, including low attention span, poor coordination, reading comprehension trouble, and failure to follow directions and remain on task.
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Q: How are these issues addressed?
A: Physical coordination sessions in a Spark Development Centers Sensory Integration Room™ are the cornerstone of the Program. A specific sequence of exercises for each child develops and strengthens his or her sensory motor skills.
In addition, each child in the Spark Development Program works on cognitive skills such as visual and auditory memory, the ability to use language and manipulate figures, and the ability to understand and use symbols. Weak cognitive skills are strengthened through paper and pencil cognitive exercises.
Auditory processing issues are addressed through The Listening Program® which is undertaken by the child at home. For more information regarding The Listening Program®, please visit www.thelisteningprogram.com.
Nutrition/dietary issues are tackled with the help of our Nutritionist, Catherine Stevens, BS, MS clinical nutrition (with distinction) through dietary changes, nutrition protocols and supplementation.
Q: What role does nutrition play in attention, behavior and learning?
A: Proper nutrition beginning even at the prenatal stage is absolutely essential for proper cognitive, neurological and physical development. Many nutritional deficiencies lead directly to weakness and underdevelopment in these areas.
In addition, when a person is especially sensitive to certain types of food or food additives, has gut or flora issues, or is lacking essential vitamins or nutrients, their attention, behavior and learning abilities may be drastically compromised.
Q: How often does my child attend sessions?
A: Your child will attend two to four, one hour session each week, Monday through Saturday. Remember, improvement does not happen overnight. The Program is designed to develop foundational skills on both a physiological and cognitive basis. Just like going to the gym, such development takes time and consistent effort.
The more often you attend, the better (and faster) the Program works.
Q: Does my child have to do any exercises at home?
A: No. Consistent attendance at the center is sufficient.
Q: How long does it take?
A: It depends upon your child. For some, especially those with nutrition related issues, improvement may be seen within the first few weeks of enrollment. However, for most students, held back by underdeveloped sensory motor or cognitive skills, improvement will usually be seen in three to six months. In general, the entire program is designed to be completed in a six to nine month period. Actual time is dependent upon the amount of remediation necessary to develop and strengthen your child's sensory motor and cognitive skills, frequency of attendance and consistency of attendance.
Students who take advantage of the Advanced Learning Techniques™ program should experience a noticeable improvement in learning ability that translates into better grades and better focus almost immediately.
Q: Who created this program? Is it scientifically based?
A: Spark Development Centers integrates research in the fields of Neuroscience, Cognitive Psychology, Developmental Optometry and Auditory Processing through the employment of programs that have been tested and validated nationwide.
The sensory integration portion of the Program was designed with the assistance of professionals in the fields of child development, developmental optometry and auditory processing.
The cognitive development aspects of the Program are based on the work of Dr. J.P. Guilford, a psychology professor at the University of Southern California, and on the research of Drs. Mary and Robert Meeker.
In the 1940’s, Dr. Guilford was commissioned by the U.S. Department of Defense to identify and measure the learning skills that make a successful pilot. He discovered that successful pilot trainees share certain measurable cognitive abilities. The Meekers applied this research to the broader question of what enables people to learn in an academic setting. They found that 26 cognitive skills were critical for academic success for all students.
Invariably, Drs. Robert and Mary Meeker found children who were having difficulty in school had specific underdeveloped skills. Dr. Mary Meeker proved that these skills could be assessed and enhanced through exercises designed to strengthen the brain’s ability to absorb and act on sensory information.
The learning strategies portion of the program is the culmination of experience in research, teaching and staff development. These enhanced, brain-based learning techniques find their basis in decades of research and practical application.
Q: Are the results permanent?
A: As long as the newly developed visual processing, sensory motor integration and cognitive processing skills are used on a regular basis, there is no need to repeat the program. However, if the new skills are not used, there is a chance that they will weaken again. In other words, “use it or lose it!”
Fortunately, to use these skills and not lose them, all that need be done are ordinary classroom learning tasks.
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Rob Stevens was a guest on Special Needs Long Island. Listen: .