Purposeful placement in classroom for the child with brain-based disorder works wonders

Children with brain-based disorder often have ocular motor or visual system abnormalities leading to poor visual attention, lack of ability to track objects across the midline easily, make fine adjustments of the eyes required to scan during reading and line up columns of numbers in math. It is common for them to pay more attention to one side (either right or left) of the world, the classroom, the desk, the paper, and have poor awareness of the other side. A number of underlying causes, including nervous system immaturity, retained primitive reflexes and lack of communication between the two hemispheres of the brain are to blame.

There are many techniques to improve awareness, but purposefully placing the child in the classroom can have such a powerful effect on overall learning and function it is worth discussing here. Teachers already put a lot of thought into classroom arrangement and student placement so adding a few more steps to the process will benefit everyone.

First we want to find out if the child has an issue with not paying attention to certain areas of their visual field, whether it be to the right, left, upper or lower right, upper or lower left of just straight up or down. Assume all children with atypical development and or a diagnosis of a brain-based disorder have eye issues, no exceptions, just screen them all before deciding where to place them. If the child doesn’t lack awareness to any parts of the visual field the teacher will use whatever method they have used in the past for seating.

How to test:  Have the child seated with feet on the floor, hands on knees, sitting up nice and tall. You need to get yourself at their eye level in front of them. Use a colorful piece of plastic, like a highlighter, and hold it about 10-12 inches in front of their nose. Ask the child to follow the plastic with their eyes, but keep their head still. The head must be in neutral position.

Move the plastic slowly on a horizontal line from one side to the other and watch how the child’s eyes track the object. Take the plastic to at least the girth of the child’s shoulders and do it at least 4 times to each side. The child with visual attention problems may have difficulty keeping his eyeballs on the target and you may have to say, “look at the plastic, not at me” a couple of times. Do the child’s eyes track the plastic fully to both sides, or do they short cut and jump back to the middle?

With the piece of plastic back resting in front of the nose now bring it vertically and slowly above the child’s head at least 6 to 8 inches and then down towards their belly button. Do the child’s eyes stay with the target all the way or continuously jump back to center?

From the starting point move the target horizontally to one side and then at the shoulder go upward and then downward. Make a big “H” with the plastic target going from one side to the other, up and down at either shoulder and watch how the child’s eyes track. Repeat this at least 4 times to each side.

Children lacking of awareness to a particular visual field short cut and lose sight of the target, bringing their eyes back to resting before the task is complete and are consistent with this. Repeat the tracking enough times to see consistency. Some of these children will also try and compensate for their eyes not moving well, by moving their head so you may need to place your hand gently on top of their head so it stays in neutral.

So what to do? It would be intuitive to make it easier for the child and place them in a position to accentuate the visual field they were paying more attention to, but since the brain needs more connectivity we want to place the child in a position they will need to work a little harder to seek the target, and the target in this case the teacher and the board.

For example, a child who has a lack of awareness to the upper left needs to be placed so their head and eyes have to turn to the left to see the teacher and board. So this child needs to be on the very far right of the classroom and preferably as close to the front of the room as possible. The more extreme the over correction, the more likely the brain will forge new pathways. Doing this doesn’t cause suffering or put the child at a disadvantage, it is merely challenging the sensory pathways in the brain that need to the challenged.

Let’s make this one of the best, unique and collaborative school years ever. Our children are totally worth it!

Julia Grover