Reflection from a report by HELP University students

On September 24, 2014, a team from HELP visited BEST Centre to conduct an interview with one of the directors, Ms. Phoebe, and to carry out an observation of the children at the centre.

After this first visit to BEST Centre, the group members gained better insight into children with learning disabilities (LD), as well as the people involved in their education and care. We were all enlightened as to the difficulties and struggles they face in day-to-day situations. We frequently hear only of how children with LD struggle in school because they do not fit in with the rest of the students. After the interview, we learnt that the disabilities can be such a hindrance that they are forced to be pulled out from school.

The centre meets these children’s need for education, catering to their strengths so that they can progress in life- as most centres involved in LD would do; we seldom think very far when it comes to the progress of children with LD, focusing, mainly, on their current situation. The trip reminded us that there is still a long road ahead for these children, and that this period of time is only a small part of their journey. By empowering them at a young age, it provides them with skills that they can make use of in the future in order to live an independent life. It was comforting to see that the centre we visited took this into account and equipped them with basic life skills. Not only that, they also believe in pushing the children to reach their best potential by offering them opportunities which they lack in normal schools.

Another thing we learnt from the visit was the burdens of parents who have children with LD. One of our members mentioned that she has always sympathised with the parents as they required more time and energy to take care of their children as compared to other parents. They also face the problem of being judged by others because of the disabilities associated with their child. BEST Centre not only works to help the children, they also educate the parents because they recognise that family interaction also affects the children’s wellbeing. They train and advice parents as most are not prepared and knowledgeable in the ways of caring for children with LD. We were rather impressed at the amount of thought the Centre puts into making sure the children grow up in a nurturing environment. The workshops and classes for parents also act as a form of support for parents, particularly those that feel helpless in their situation.

One thing we all agreed on is that Ms. Phoebe, the person we interviewed at the Centre, is a very passionate and amazing educator especially when dealing with children with LD. Before the trip was made, a few of us had the mind-set that the Centre would be one that acted as more of a day care for parents who do not know how to take care of their children with LD who also face troubles  at school. We were delightfully surprised to find out how much effort the Centre puts in to make sure the educators are well equipped and trained to help children.

We found the Centre to be flexible and considerate of the children’s needs as they craft a wide variety of structured activities to facilitate the education of the children, moulding activities in order to best suit each individual need. Furthermore, caring for the children can be mentally exhausting and physical injuries can be quite common. During the visit, a child kept interrupting the interview session and Ms. Phoebe had repeatedly ask him not to disturb. Once, she had a toe fractured due to a child throwing tantrums. Knowing that children with LD are more difficult to manage than “normal” children, they still push on and do the best they can provide education and opportunities for them that they would otherwise never get the chance to experience. Their deeds are highly admirable and the whole experience was an eye-opener for us.

Definition of LD. Children with LD merely have a different approach to learning as compared to the general population, consequently, there is scare accommodation to their needs. The lack of early awareness concerning these children’s “difference” further deteriorates their situation, causing them to be unable to live up to the fullest of their potential.

The main etiology of the perpetuation of LD, as opined by Ms. Phoebe, is lack of nurturance. Thus, it was concluded that children come complete as they are; however, it is deficiencies in their environment that preserves their disability.

Concerning  the use of diagnoses, to help all parties involved to identify an area of focus, there is a time and necessity for such specific labels, in order to better assist children with LD through problem-focused solution and/ or teaching strategies which could be tailor made to fit their needs. However, the labels should not extend beyond such a use because it is discriminatory, causing stereotypes which could potentially harm the already-hampered development of these children.

LD in Malaysia. Many parents either deny their child’s LD or are angry that society at large, fail to understand the full implications of a LD. Although the general public remains relatively ignorant of LD, with the forming of special schools, awareness is perceived to be gradually building up as authorities begin to take notice of and address this particular pocket of community.

Ms. Phoebe also felt that there is over-pampering of children with LD by their parents, resulting in a lack of independence, which again, perpetuates the children’s LD. Hence, the rational of the Centre’s adopted values and approach regarding their involvement  with children with LD, as  discussed in the next section.

Intervention methods. In BEST Centre, Ms. Phoebe and her team support the children via experiential play, interaction and forming bonds with them. Intervention programmes are specially tailored with specific child in mind to best meet each individual need, as the institute houses children with various types of LD. Many of their intervention methods for the children’s learning are movement-based as they believe that a chief factor of the children’s difficulties lies in their poor motor skills. Specifically, one method used is Brain Gym. It is a specific movement activity to help children enhance their skills in various areas , for instance, memory, communication, and so on. Besides that, other activities, such as field trips, are also organised for the children. During these trips, the older children are given slightly more autonomy in choosing where they wish to go and, at times, participant in organising the trip itself.

According to Ms. Phoebe, children in the Centre are allowed to learn at their own pace. At times, some of the children may feel uncomfortable to participate in any class activities; the educators will not force them to learn. Besides that, basic life skills are also taught to them progressively. Among them are cooking and baking, the product of which the children will sell at their very own BEST Café.

Difficulties. Even though BEST Centre can be considered  a haven for children with LD through the provision of individualised education and honing of skills, there are still many difficulties that the students face on a daily basis. Firstly, the students at BEST Centre tend to have disputes among themselves. It was noted by Ms. Phoebe that the students there tend to be rather emotional; hence, quite frequently, some of the students will verbally- or worse, physically-fight with another student due even to minor disagreements. This is not restricted to disputes between students; the educators sometimes struggle with the children in this area as well.

Another difficulty the students at BEST Centre face is the lack of motivation, though it was noted that this usually applies more for the older children. They tend to sit around and do nothing, as they lack the motivation and initiative for activities unless given explicit instructions by the educators. Such was observed during the visit. However, it could just be that they had finished their tasks and thus, had no other tasks to complete.

As the Centre also concerns themselves with the future of the students- and not just the “here and now”- the lack of motivation to engage in activities that can assist and guide the children(especially the older ones) as to their future pathways is a primary concern.

Parents’ Testimony 家长见证

 

中心后的改

Jeremy Chu 的故事

四岁他上幼儿园启蒙班,课程大多是看图认字,考试那方面不成问题,我们也没发现什么状况。一直到五岁年初他无法完成幼儿园的英文听写, 他其实是完全拼不到字,也认不到字。他发音似卡通,像一般2,3岁小孩初步学语的阶段,说不出一个完整的句子,只能够说单字, Read more “Parents’ Testimony 家长见证”

"Teachers there are always flexible and creative …" – Soh Kai Yuen

An Intern’s Testimony

after being a full time assistant for 3 months at BEST Centre.

The best part during my practicum in Breakthru Enrichment Station was seeing those children with special needs improving and overcoming their difficulties little by little, even though within a short period of time. After all, those little improvements would become a big change in them, and all of the little happiness that I perceived from their improvement had become the best reward ever. Those little things can be the way they communicate with others, their sense of self-responsibility, or even their joyful expressions while learning. Other than that, I also learned a lot more than I expected. I especially like the way they help children about the brain development, like RMT and brain gym. Sincere thanks to Ms Phoebe Long who gave me the opportunity to get to know about these movement-based programs. I am so grateful that I could  absorb new knowledge and was able to gain experience at BEST centre.

During my internship, the important lesson that I learned was the importance of education. Education was not only about academic knowledge but also the living skills as well. All of us need to be educated, including people with special needs. I have seen so many cases in real life when parents who have kids with difficulties and disabilities, choose to give up educating them without trying or seek for help. I was part of this stereotype group before I got to know about special needs.

The internship also created awareness about special care for special needs children. Breakthru Enrichment Station has successfully given me a wider vision about hope when many think it’s hopeless. I am also glad to see the awareness is rising because of more and more special needs centres which establish goals to help the special children to overcome their difficulties and provide the support for the parents just as what BEST centre is working systematically now.

After completing my seven weeks of internship at BEST centre, I found that every action they take and their system running  have their own objectives and purposes. These help the child’s development. Besides, the teachers there are always flexible and creative in finding another way to help the children learn better as long as it’s suitable for the child. If I have to find out which part of their system have to be replaced by another way, I would say none. They just need to maintain the flexibility and creativity as they always do.

Soh Kai Yuen
Diploma Student in Counselling
TAR College

 

Stimulating Brain Growth – News Article

New Sunday Times, 8 Apr 2011 – An interview with Phoebe Long by NST reporter Chandra Devi Renganayar.

MOVEMENT: There are many programmes available now which addresses learning and behavioural challenges in children through natural body movements.

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Phoebe Long (left) and Paul Dennison, founder of Brain Gym(R)

 

The early reflexes or muscle movements of an infant are critical for the development of his or her brain functions, and ability to learn.

Under normal conditions, all reflexes will appear during the appropriate stage of a child’s development.

According to experts, when these reflexes are not initiated, integrated or inhibited in a child, they will prevent the natural maturity of the neural systems, leading to postural and behavioural problems, and learning difficulties in children.

Phoebe Long, an Educational Kinesiologist and consultant specialising in helping children with special needs, says the early childhood experiences of movement and play activate the brain and develop its neural networks.

She says that many children who do not have sufficient and adequate sensory experiences and physical movements during their childhood may experience learning gaps.

Many factors, Long says, can disrupt the normal progression of natural infant reflexes and developmental movements.

“For example, a baby delivered through a normal birth undergoes primary motor reflex patterns but when the child is delivered via Caesarean section, he or she does not engage these reflexes. “When a baby crawls, he or she develops connections between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, strengthening their corpus collosum. These movements develop the neural networks in the brain, which are essential to learning. Placing the child in a walker will hinder his or her natural progress”

She says allowing children to watch television for long hours or spend time on computers instead of interactive play with family members and friends may cause delay in speech and other developmental issues.

“The more we hinder a child’s natural developmental movements, the more we create a learning gap in the brain. The more a child moves, the better connected his or her brain is,” says Long who has been involved in teaching special needs children for more than five years.

In order for children to respond well to learning experiences, she says, the issue of retained reflexes should be addressed.

An approach that has gained recognition to deal with this problem, says Long, is movement-based learning.

According to her, movement-based learning approaches like Brain Gym, Rhythmic Movement Training and Sensory Integration have been widely used to support not only children with learning disabilities but also all children to discover their true potential.

Brain Gym, for instance, is based on the philosophy that the brain will develop via certain body movements. It emerged as a result of clinical studies since the 1970s by Dr Paul E. Dennison, an educational therapist who was looking for ways to help children and adults with learning difficulties.

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(The Lazy 8s movement uses a drawing of a figure eight to increase integration between the two side of the brain.)

Brain Gym addresses three specific learning dimensions called Focus, Centering and Laterality, all of which serve as neural ‘bridges’ of the brain.

The Focusing dimension deals with the coordination of the front and rear brain, and is connected to the ability to focus and comprehend.

The Centering dimension is linked to the coordination of the upper and lower brain and is related to emotions, relaxation and organisation.

The Laterality dimension, on the other hand, deals with the coordination of the left and right hemispheres of the brain and is useful for activities such as reading, writing and communicating.

“These movements facilitate the connection between the key areas of the brain. It engages the whole brain. When the three dimensions work together, the whole system is balanced, allowing a person to comprehend, communicate and organise better,” says Long.

She says there are 26 basic Brain Gym movements. “All the movements and activities are introduced based on observing the postural and behavioural patterns in a child.

“The Lengthening activities, for example, may be done to help children with ADHD and autistic spectrum disorders who often have problems sitting still and staying focused. One of the exercises used is the ‘calf pump’ which involves stretching the child’s right leg backwards while the heel is held for about eight seconds. It is then slowly released.

“The movement is repeated with the left leg for about a minute to lengthen the tendon in the calf. This is done to discharge the fear reflex,” says Long.

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Other preparatory exercises which may stimulate the brain and relax the body include the “Cross Crawl”, “Lazy 8s” and “Double Doodle”

The “Cross Crawl” involves taking the left arm of a child and crossing over to the right knee as it is raised. The same is done with the child’s right arm.

It is done to access both brain hemispheres and improve left-right coordination, vision and hearing.

The “Lazy 8s” movement uses the drawing of a figure eight to increase integration between the two sides of the brain, and the “Double Doodle” requires children to draw using both hands at the same time to improve visual perception and creative expression.

She stresses that for proper neurological development to take place, these activities must not be forced but incorporated smoothly throughout the day.

“The improvements in learning and behaviour among children are progressive and sure. However, it is not a panacea to solve children’s learning difficulties or cure neurobiological disorders,” says Long.

Read more: Connecting the brain – General – New Straits Times http://www.nst.com.my/nation/general/connecting-the-brain-1.71852#ixzz1rQTZiIvC

Our Child – Jin Hao is on NST today!

THREE years ago, Chong Jin Hao was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

 

(Chong Wei Meng with his son Chong Jin Hao, who has improved through the programmes.)

Like other autistic children, he had significant communication, social and behavioural issues. The little boy liked to be left alone and was very emotional. He overreacted to certain sounds and fine motor skill weaknesses.

The biggest challenge for his father, Chong Wei Meng, was to get his 4-year-old son to talk and behave like other children of his age. His expressive vocabulary was limited and, most of the time, it did not make sense. Hence, he had difficulties expressing his feelings or understanding other people’s feelings.

Jin Hao had a short attention span and was hyperactive.

“The only thing he liked to do was watch television. So we allowed him to spend as much time as he liked in front of the television. When he was 5, I tried enrolling him in preschool, but two schools turned him away as they did not know how to handle him,” said Chong.

He was then recommended to try the movement-based learning approach to help his son. Almost two years into the programme, Chong says there has been tremendous improvement.

“The activities improved his expressive vocabulary, reading and writing. He can now communicate with others, understand instructions, is generally more obedient and likes to participate in activities.

“He is ready to be placed in the mainstream school system like others in his age group.”

While movement-based learning can help children with special needs, he says it will not be effective without support and commitment from parents.

It involves a lot of hard work and sacrifice, says Chong, who gave up his job as an accountant to focus on helping Jin Hao.

“Parents must be fully committed to help their children develop. You have to be involved in their learning process every step of the way. What the child does in the classroom alone is not enough. You have to take all that is taught in the classroom to your home and put it into practice daily without fail. Only then will you see results.”

Read more: Parents need to get involved – General – New Straits Times http://www.nst.com.my/nation/general/parents-need-to-get-involved-1.71939#ixzz1rREN4PYT

[Testimony] After 13 years, he initiated a conversation.

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My son was diagnosed with autism when he was about 3 years old. We travelled frequently to Kuala Lumpur from Sibu to seek help for him.  He went through numerous therapy sessions with established speech therapist, occupational therapist, music therapist, psychologist and others. We eventually moved to Kuala Lumpur as we found that there were more therapists here compared with Sibu. When my son was 12 years old, he started having mood swings. When he was angry, he would “attack” us, especially the maid. He would pull our hair, squeeze and scratch us.

My mum then told us about the Breakthru Enrichment Station (BEST Centre). I was at first sceptical about enrolling my son there considering the distance from our home.  In August last year, I finally checked it out.  My son, then 14 years old, joined the afternoon cooking session. Within a month, he was able to join the full-session of  Learning Breakthru and Homeschool Guidance Programme. Within six months, he started eating vegetables and other food/fruits, instead of fried stuff. He was calmer and a lot less angry. We noticed an amazing change in him. My daughter, who is studying in Singapore, also noticed much improvement in her brother. For the first time, he initiated a conversation with her by saying “How to play?” when he wanted her to show him how to play a piano gadget on her i-phone. Another occasion was when my son asked “New car?” when he saw our new car. Even, he is able to remember the Car’s registration number. Also, he always requested: “I want to play computer game”

We are so thrilled that he is making an effort to communicate with us. We are happy  that we found BEST Centre. It is well worth the time spent travelling daily from Seri Kembangan to Danau Kota, Setapak for the sessions.

Hereby, we wish to express our sincere thanks to M/s Phoebe Long & all Teachers for your utmost teaching & learning programmes in your BEST Centre. God Bless you all.

Mr. & Mrs. Chiew

 

[Testimony] Our relatives noticed a lot of changes in her

Cassandra

My husband and I learned that our daughter has mild autism when she was 3 years old. Now she is 10 years old. When she was seven years old, we noticed that she was deteriorating in her lessons and had developed behavioural problems.

We sought help from Phoebe of Breakthru Kids.  In three months, my daughter showed improvement. When Phoebe started BEST Centre last year, our daughter continued with her Breakthru learning and home school guidance.

I also attended the Brain Gym (R) 101 International Certificate Course.  I’m calmer and more positive in my outlook now. Brain Gym is a useful course for me and others, too.

During the Chinese New Year last year, our relatives were impressed by my daughter’s ability to read and spell difficult words. They noticed a lot of changes in her.  This Chinese New Year, my daughter again impressed our relatives. She helped with our Penang reunion dinner preparations by cutting the vegetables.  Even when everyone had finished and it was late into the night, she was still eager to do more. She also wrote down a list of things that she would like to do. My mother-in-law was so touched that she saved the list. I see light in my daughter’s future better now.

– Joanne

What Participant Says about Brain Gym 101 Course

Year 2011 Classes

I especially liked applying the skills learned straightaway by working with partners to create balancing movements.  The instructor adopts a personal approach and is very knowledgeable.  I loved the snacks, too!

Through self-reflection, I learned that I have more confidence now.  I am better able to change the way I think, feel and act. Brain Gym is more than just music and movements. It involves scientific evidence that proves we can learn (grow and change) through a series of coordinated movements.

– Jeni Nelson
Kindergarten teacher

 

I learned that I  am able to achieve my goals easily. The movements help me to improve myself.

I am also able to understand brain functions better. Brain Gym has helped me to identify the aspects of life that I can change.

This course is not only about doing exercises for the brain. Most importantly, it helps one to achieve his or her goals in a simple way yet successful way.

Melodie Lim
Secondary school student

 

I’m calmer and more positive in my outlook now. Brain Gym is a useful course for me as well as others.

Ho Yee Noi
Retired teacher

 

I noticed much improvement after going through the Brain Gym movements.  I feel I know myself better now. It is an amazing course.

Lo Siew Yung
Senior executive

 

I learned how to set positive goals and to use Brain Gym in my everyday life. My reading has improved a lot and I am more focused now. This is a good course that can help in many aspects of life.

Joy
Secondary school student

 

We attended the Brain Gym 101 course recently. We practised the Brain Gym movements with our sons three times a day. Within a week, I noticed that my 7-year-old son, who has learning and behavioural challenges, was able to spell all the words correctly in his spelling test at school. He is able to remember his lessons easily, too. He also performs the Brain Gym movements on his own in school whenever he feels down.  He says that he feels better after doing the movements.

Mr and Mrs Thein

 

Learning how the brain functions is the best part of the Brain Gym course. It is a very good and helpful course.

MLEH
College student

 

I enjoy doing the Brain Gym activities. I notice positive changes in me because I feel more relaxed and comfortable after attending the Brain Gym course. This course can really help people.

Teoh

 

I gained the knowledge of performing the Brain Gym movements and how to become a better person. I am more comfortable in setting my goals and able to do the activities easily.

Claire
Homemaker

[Testimony] In two months, we noticed a great leap in our son’s development

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After my son was rejected by two kindergartens, my wife and I sought professional help. He was diagnosed with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) by a psychologist at four years old and later with Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) . As parents, we were confused and  did not know how to help our child.

Being full-time professionals, my wife and I struggled for time.  Many times, we missed our son’s appointments with his occupational and speech therapists. Then, we were introduced to BEST Centre by our OT. In two months, we noticed a great leap in our son’s development.

We understand that our child, now six years old, is at his prime learning age.   We also realize that besides the external assistance, we also need to give him our best support. This desire led me to temporarily resign from my job. My wife and I attended the Brain Gym (R) 101 International Certificate Course. During the course, I discovered the need of change in my attitude and the missing part in search of strategies to solve my child’s learning problem. Learning the Brain Gym ® course helped me to integrate my new initiative and reinforce willingness to implement my goals.

I also signed up for Diploma in Special Need Education at the Linguistic Council and attended many other workshops. In this journey, I discovered more creative ways to communicate with my son, which include replacing TV hours with outdoor activities like kicking ball and swimming.

In a few months, we noticed that our son was able to better manage his behavioral problems. He is now more willing to adapt to changes and is more obedient, too.

Mr Chong