One of the hardest puzzles to crack about treating learning difficulties like dyslexia and ADHD is why does such a range of treatments apparently work? Balance & Coordination training, light therapy, sound therapy, phonics, sensory integration. All these treatments plus many more appear to work for some people some of the time but there is no clear reason why treatment X will work for person Y but not person Z.
One possible reason for this is what I call the Log Jam Hypothesis. During the nineteenth and early parts of the twentieth century a great deal of the forest of America where cut down to supply wood for the massive expansion of America’s population. In order to get the wood from the remote forests to the saw mills the logs were floated down rivers. This is easy if you are sending just a few logs downstream but when hundreds or thousands of logs are going down the river it only takes one log to snag on a hidden boulder or the river bank to cause trouble. Behind the first log, two more logs get stuck and behind those, ten more logs get stuck and so on until the river is jammed with logs.
Its possible that a similar problem is happening in learning difficulties. As an infant grows they have to deal with more and more complexity. They need to learn how to control the thousands of muscles in their body. They also learn how to decode speech, recognise people, read emotions and many other things adults take for granted. In our society this all has to be done according to a timetable. A timetable driven by social expectations and the speed that their peers develop. A timetable that is fixed with legal requirements to attend nurseries and schools at a certain age.
The problem arises when a child falls even slightly behind that timetable. This can happen because of a couple of weeks illness or because their parents were working hard to pay the rent and had little time or energy to play with their child. This slight delay is then exaggerated because as whilst the child’s peers rapidly develop social skills, the child is still mastering skills the others now take for granted. The lack of social skills makes keeping up with their peers even harder as they start to learn the next set of skills. And so on as each problem causes multiple other problems until this developmental log jam has left them so clearly behind their peers that the child is diagnosed with dyslexia or ADHD.
How do you free a log jam? You pick at the edges of it, find the weak spots, get those moving and then repeat the process until all of a sudden the jam breaks up and logs start flowing freely again. Every log jam is different, dependent on the nature of the river and the size of the logs. Every log jam has its own weak spots that can be used to break up the jam. This is why different treatments work for different people. Its a question of finding the right treatment to break the log jam of learning.
This post was inspired by the paper Cognitive Demands on Functional Decisions being covered on BrainBlog. The paper demonstrates how the ability to do a simple task will reduced as cognitive and visual demands increase.