Proprioception and Specific Learning Disabilities

"Why Developing Proprioception Might Be The Most Important Aspect Of Overcoming Specific Learning Disabilities"

 

Yet Everything About Our School System Is Making Proprioception Problems Worse

 

Proprioception - Our awareness of our body and its position in space. Strongly correlated with sequential thinking, logic, and reading skills

Two decades ago we made an amazing discovery. School children who had been struggling with learning difficulties were miraculously becoming great students, without studying, getting extra tutoring, or any other additional help in school.

 

What they were doing was learning how to coordinate their bodies in very special ways.  They were developing better balance. They were developing spatial awareness. All things seemingly unrelated to reading, writing, spelling, or math.

 

They were only working on developing coordination and yet their grades improved. Their reading improved. Their attention spans improved. They improved in all academics. And their parents began telling us what a joy they were to be around. They followed instructions and even sometimes cleaned their room without being told.

 

In addition, they became happier, calmer, and simply more enjoyable to be around.

 

What exactly were they doing to make such big improvements? They were learning a very special form of kung fu. And it was changing everything about them.

 

We'd Seen The Magic Happening For Years

We knew we could help these struggling learners. Because we had seen it work so many times. Over the years we had helped literally hundreds. And because of our reputation for doing this, they kept pouring through our doors. Even the local school principal sent us every struggling student he had. We had success after success. 

 

Back then we didn't know why it worked, Yet the results were undeniable. So we studied it for the last 20 years. Finally, we figured out what was causing all these kids to improve in school performance. And as it turns out it was proprioception. 

 

Neuroscience Finally Caught Up With Us

Only recently has neuroscience began reporting the effects of developing proprioception. In this time those scientists have also discovered that the brain does actually change and grow. And what they found is that proprioception exercises are what cause that to happen. We were teaching proprioception as a part of our courses. It's just that we were getting this strange side effect. And back then that was unexplainable because science had not discovered it yet.

 

Developing proprioception may be the most important aspect of developing learning skills. Yet the most overlooked. There are a number of reasons for this. Many known, possibly many unknown. Professionals in a variety of fields have noticed the profound effects that occur from developing proprioception. We probably were not the first. But we did see far more dramatic effects than others. We're certain this is because of several factors:

 

  • The motions were more defined
  • We had more cross-lateral motion (Bilateral coordination exercises)
  • The environment promoted self-confidence

 

These factors together made our students soar academically

 

A Sense of All the Senses

We refer to proprioception as a sense. We perceive it as such as well. Yet if you think about it, it is really a cumulative effect of all of the major senses. It uses the kinesthetic, auditory, and visual input to create the master sense of proprioception. 

 

Dominant in proprioception is our kinesthetic sense. We feel the ground we are standing on or the chair we are sitting in. Our brain senses the contraction and relaxation of each muscle. We sense the position of our limbs. But we do much more than that. We also use visual input for these things and for sensing the area and things around us. In addition we are also capable of using auditory input. This is much more subtle but auditory is an integral part of proprioception. Think about a blind person with extremely developed auditory skills. They can sense the shape of the room and much more using auditory skills.

 

The auditory component of proprioception has been mostly overlooked. Some of our drills brought it out and we noticed.

 

Because we train each sense individually we noticed the effect each had. We especially noticed the effect it had on kids with specific learning disabilities.  We weren't doing anything new. In our discipline these drills have been carried out for literally thousands of years, just never with kids, and especially never with kids with specific learning disabilities. That's because, before us, the art was rarely taught to children. 

 

Our drills honed in each sense. Proprioception developed very strongly through the training, and it had a profound effect on learning.

 

How We Discovered This

About 20 years ago we started realizing that we could recognize certain proprioception difficulty patterns and that these patterns corresponded to specific learning difficulties.

 

We were (and still are) Kung Fu instructors. A local grade school principal recognized our strong teaching abilities and our ability to help kids with learning difficulties. He started referring every struggling student from the school that he ran. Soon we had classes overflowing with children with dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, ADD, and ADHD. Despite the wide array of learning difficulties we had highly regimented classes where a great deal of learning took place. The students were all uncoordinated in different ways, but accepting of it. They just laughed it off and had fun with the learning.

 

At that time it was not our goal to solve learning problems. We had no idea that we could. We were just trying to teach Kung Fu. But solve we did. Every student in our classes began to excel in school. More parents got wind of it and more students came.

 

Over and over parents would come and recount stories of the changes in their children. They told us how the children followed directions better, did better in school, had more confidence, and were generally happier. We didn't know how we were causing it, we just kept doing what we were doing.

 

Turns out it had a lot to do with proprioception.

 

With so many kids with so many different specific learning problems, we started to recognize patterns in body motion. These patterns seemed to correspond to certain specific learning problems.  Over the course of a few decades of this we got pretty good at "diagnosing". We would see a certain pattern and make note of it. Pointing it out to each other when we noticed. Sure enough, some days, months, or even years down the road the parent would mention the learning difficulty and usually also mention how it had seemed to be better. We never responded that we already knew. We just kept this knowledge to ourselves. The solution was happening, so no need to seem like know it alls. Plus, at the time, before we understood it, it all seemed a little crazy. 

 

We knew what we were seeing but couldn't explain it to someone without our years of teaching body mechanics. We were able to see the coordination problems. We could tell, through our training, which of the senses was causing the most difficulty. Then we'd work on that sense.

 

We'd give the student challenging coordination exercises as well. A lot of concentration was required to learn them. This was a whole bofy concentration. By training in this way they developed more sense about their body. Body awareness and coordination followed.

 

As soon as we saw the coordination problem clear up the learning problem started to dissappear as well.

 

Integration of the Senses

Proprioception uses all of the senses in multiple ways: 

  • Kinesthetic input tells us about our bodies pressure on the floor or whatever is supporting us.
  • Kinesthetic input also tells us the position of our limbs
  • Visual input tells us our relation to things around us
  • Visual input also senses the horizon and helps with balance
  • Auditory input also gives us positioning. We know where we are in relation to sounds.

 

We could tell when inputs were confusing or non-existent. Some were quickly evident, such as noticing instability in the eyes. Others were more subtle. Yet, each revealed a pattern. And that pattern told us what was going on.

 

Balance Problems Shut the Brain Down

Balance is not just the inner ear or vestibular system. Balance happens through a combination of vestibular input, kinesthetic input from our feet, and visual input. Each of these systems should be highly developed to ensure balance but usually they are not. In most individuals, kinesthetic input from the feet is lacking. This is because we wear hard sole shoes most of the time, never allowing our feet to develop the muscles and nerves that they need to become strong balancers. Culturally babies first shoes is a big deal. Yet no one mentions that hard shoes too soon will diminish this much-needed sense. Fear not, it can be fixed.

 

Developing balance relieves the cognitive overload experienced by those in which it is underdeveloped. This is a bigger deal than one might think. This is because when balance is off the brain will completely override everything else until balance is corrected. So if there are even tiny momentary unnoticed balance problems the hard wiring of the brain will put all mental function towards correcting this. Nothing else can happen mentally when balance is off. Absolutely nothing. And if these tiny micro-intrusions into thinking exist everything else will go completely haywire. You simply cannot think.

 

Balance may not seem important to thinking but when it is off, all thinking is shut down. 

 

Balance, Proprioception and Attention

When proprioception is not fully developed and an attempt at teaching academics is made, this will always lead to attention difficulties. Proprioception must be fully developed for learning to occur well.

 

  1. We learn from the outside in. Proprioception is the cumulative input from our senses. This input is what our brain interprets and learns from. If it is jumbled it is difficult for academic learning to occur
  2. When proprioception is not a thought-free skill then the processing required to maintain balance or uprightness will diminish the processing necessary to learn new skills.
  3. Proprioception is highly correlated with the hippocampus, the logical and spatial part of the brain.

 

An ADHD Cause (and cure)

 

If balance is off, or any sensory input is off, paying attention is nearly impossible. Constant erroneous signals disrupt the mind. The mind is constantly distracted by these errant signals. It's generally not a discipline problem (although we are very strict on discipline) it's an input problem.

 

The really amazing thing about kids with ADHD, and just about every specific learning disability is that they loved the motions we taught them. They would practice them over and over without prompting. It's as if they knew somehow, that these were the exercises they needed. Soon they to became model students. 

 

Many stopped taking their ritalin and just trained. The ritalin was no longer needed and it just dulled their senses, making learning more difficult. Their parents were very gratefull to get them off that drug.

 

Proper Development Must Precede Learning Academics

There has been a trend for children to learn reading and spelling earlier and earlier. This has had the negative effect of frustrating the children, thereby turning them off to learning. In addition, our sandbox kindergartens are gone. It was in these play environments that kids developed these developmental skills. With the advent of technology and the pressure for schools to teach academics earlier and earlier the developmental stages are being skipped over and it shows. All specific learning disabilities are on the rise. The reason why is quite evident.

 

Lacking Proprioception a Cause For Learning Disabilities

It's not uncommon for children who struggle with some academics to be able to do some learning tasks better when lying on their backs or in a big comfy chair. This is because the mind is not working so hard at proprioceptive tasks. Proprioceptive tasks should be innate and not require processing, so this is one sign that proprioception training is needed.

 

Because proprioceptive signals, if not innate, can interfere with cognitive processing, this can cause extreme attention problems. You can tell them to pay attention all day long but what they really need is to move their bodies. 

 

We have seen over and over that when proprioception becomes more highly developed attention problems just fade away. ADHD and ADD children are especially benefitted by developing proprioception. 

 

How to Develop Proprioception

 

What we do day in and day out is teaching proprioception.  Doing what we do, we are experts at developing body awareness and body mechanics. It has long been assumed that the reason that ADHD and ADD symptoms are diminished through kung fu training is because of the discipline developed and the confidence that is developed. This is certainly very true. Discipline and confidence are both integral to success in anything. But by assuming these to be the only beneficial factors causes proprioception to be overlooked. In our opinion proprioception is as important as these factors and an integral part of developing learning ability.

 

There are a number of disciplines which are highly proprioceptive. It is in these fields that professionals have noticed a variety of positive changes in their students. Although these fields are non-academic they can often have an amazing effect on academics due to their ability to develop proprioception. Specifically, these are:

 

  • Kung Fu
  • Ballet
  • Horseback riding
  • Tai Chi / Chi Gung
  • Yoga

 

These are all very good. Each has proprioceptive benefits. Yet we are especially biased towards the kung fu based proprioceptive exercises. The reason for this is that in Kung Fu there is the added visualization training. You must not only be fully aware of your body and the space around you but you must also visualize your imaginary opponents moves, reactions, and distance line. This highly develops the visual memory manipulation skills and these are key to all sorts of learning. That being said, we certainly do not discount the others. Each develops proprioception slightly differently and each has benefits.

 

The point is to develop proprioception in every way possible and as a lifelong endeavor. There is nothing that will keep the mind more sharp than continually learning new ways to coordinate the body. This is what develops our brain in the first place and it can continue to develop our brain for a lifetime.

 

We have put some of the most highly proprioceptive exercises into the Learning Success System. After decades of teaching Kung Fu we were able to decipher exactly which body motions were the most beneficial. We have broken these down into a format that is easily learned by the non kung fu practitioner. After all, the point is not to learn kung fu, but to gain the mental benefits. The Learning Success System has these special exercises so that anyone can gain the benefits of developing proprioception.

 

Now you can easily help your child recieve the benefits of proprioceptive training without needing any experience to do so. All our exercises are well broken down and easily followed. No experience necessary, just follow the videos. You can get all that and more in the Learning Success System.

 

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