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Movement therapy provides a solution to learning disabilities

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REDDING, Calif. - Suzanne Cresswell is a physical occupational therapist, author and owner of Cresswell Physical Therapy.

She studies children who have trouble with traditional learning who live with dyslexia, ADHD, autism, Aspergers syndrome and other challenges.

She's learned her students have some things in common in the way they learn.

"What I discovered is, there (are) some things in common with all of these children that have unique learning styles," Cresswell said. "All of us learn in our own way but there's a population of people, and adults as well, that really take in information differently and as a result come up with sometimes different and often better solutions."

The common ground, in her experience, is the way they move, balance, and experience touch.

She said the ability to read and write is connected to movement abilities.

"I know that if I lean to the right too far, even if my eyes are closed, I don't need my eyes to tell me that gravity is operating on my body and I'm going to have to flex my trunk to the left because if I continue that way I'll fall over that's my movement system talking to me," Cresswell explained. "That is the crucial system that needs to be in place for a child to do reading writing and arithmetic."

Another aspect is the sense of touch. Cresswell said once a child begins to touch and feel things, it can categorize things that are hot, fuzzy, wet, etc.

"You have to have the sense of touch to be organized," Cresswell said. "That type of categorization process is seen in reading and writing. It's distinguishing the difference between a lowercase 'b' and a lowercase 'd' It's a vertical line and a lump. Understanding that spatial alignment is dependent on your gross motor muscles."

To help children that have trouble reading she has them read while balancing on an exercise ball or bouncing on a trampoline.

She said by doing this, you are asking different muscles to do different actions. The movement wakes up different parts of the brain.

One of her clients, second grader Emily Erickson, has been doing these techniques. Her mom, Becky said she has seen an improvement.

"Emily's therapist realized that her brain was not recognizing her two little fingers. So, she couldn't move her fingers independently from each other," Erickson said. "So, she said 'I'm going to teach her' and she did. I remember the day she came in and was so excited she was like 'show your mom what you can do' and she lifted up each finger individually. About four or five days later her vision teacher came to me and was like 'I can't believe the jump in her reading.'"

Emily's reading improved when she developed more mobility in her fingers.

These are just a few of the techniques Cresswell practices and talks about in her book, Unique Learner Solutions.

Cresswell said it's important for parents to try and understand how their child learns explaining that kids can't all be taught in a cookie cutter way.

She said there's also some techniques to prepare your child to go back to school.

"The parent doesn't need the child to sit down and do worksheets or dot to dots or what have you," Cresswell said. "It would be helpful, however, for the parent to ask the child to think through what it is that they are doing just one more step longer. Maybe at the ice cream shop when you always know they are going to get chocolate, ask them 'what might the cherry custard' be like?'"

"Take normal, happy, non-school related things but move them one step further to add that cognitive component."

Cresswell said to think of your child's brain as a muscle you are warming up before the school year begins.

Another idea is to mix them with kids their own age to get them used to being around other children.

You could also take them to their classroom before classes begin to meet the teacher and get an idea of how it will look and feel. This gives them less to be distracted by once they are in the room with a other children trying to focus.

You can learn more about Cresswell's studies in her book, Unique Learner Solutions. It is sold on Amazon and her website.

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