Emirates Today newspaper had this on 09 June 2007, all about ground-breaking research at the British Institute for Learning Development in Satwa. This might explain their recent advertisements saying "Talented Children Development School"
WORLD-SHATTERING - Learning made fun heralds a brighter future
SUE BRATTLE DEPUTY FEATURES EDITOR
Experts in child development say they are poised to change medical opinion with new research.
Ground-breaking research in Dubai has shown the ability of a child to learn can be increased – exploding existing theories on development.
The findings of a study are seen as revolutionary and will soon be published and read by experts around the world.
And attitudes in the field of child development theory could be turned on their head as a result.
The British Institute for Learning Development (Bild) carried out the research on students at its school in Satwa, Dubai. For the first time in the Middle East, children with learning difficulties were assessed on their improvement before and after a year’s sensory integration therapy – a mix of ordinary schooling and one-to-one play therapy.
The results, for 27 children aged between five and 16, surprised even the therapists involved.
One child improved by four standard grades – used to measure progress – and the others improved by an average of three grades.
This runs directly against the received wisdom that a child’s standard score of ability stays much the same throughout its development.
“This is world-shattering stuff,” Bild director Dr Chris Reynolds said. “It is a first for the Middle East, of course, but it is the range of children in our study that makes it unique.
“These were children with all sorts of diagnoses – and we still got good results.
“I will now be collating these figures for an academic review. Work is being done in Boston and California, but nowhere is this range of children being studied.
“The findings are fantastic. They show you can increase not just what a child knows, but also the brain’s capacity to learn.” The institute now plans to carry out a comparison study between its full-time pupils and the 70 children who attend after-school sessions twice a week.
“It will be interesting to see if there is a difference,” said Dr Reynolds.
The pilot study came about by accident. Dr Reynolds was leafing through papers produced by the institute’s staff – including his therapist wife Sheena – when he realised just how great had been the improvements achieved from 2006 to 2007.
“The therapists can find where a child’s ‘learning curve’ stops and work from there. IQ tests, school exam grades, all other testing is too subjective. We use five international standards of assessment and our findings have astounded me.”
Imagine you haven’t ridden a bike for years, then you get the chance to go out on one again. You may wobble a bit at first, but then the feel of the pedals, the handle bars and the whole action of co-ordinating eyes, hands and feet comes back and you’re off down the road.
It would take thousands of words to describe the complexity of what your brain has done to get you back on the bike in terms of memory, the senses and co-ordination, but probably the whole process would have taken a matter of seconds.
Imagine, then, a child is sitting in a classroom and each time he looks down from the blackboard to his exercise book he has no memory at all of what is written on it. It is as though his eyes have blinked and taken a snapshot, then the picture has been erased and his mind is blank.
The same sort of thing can happen with a child’s hearing, too, or their sense of touch, or their sense of the space around them or the outline of their own body.
The list goes on and on, and often the outcome is the same: a child suffering from low self-esteem coupled with depression or anxiety – who may well turn into a teenager on Prozac – and has probably been referred to several psychologists before reaching adulthood.
However, there are therapists who believe the brain is “plastic” rather than a fixed organ and so can be taught how to function at a higher level. These doctors are giving new hope to the parents of frustrated, under-achieving or troubled children.
Sensory integration therapist Sheena Reynolds explains: “I have children come to me who have been beaten by their parents because the parents just don’t know what to do with them.
“I had a six-year-old boy who wore a nappy all day after he wet his bed. Another had been told by his teacher in class: ‘Shut up, you’re already two years behind others.’ These children have low self-esteem, for obvious reasons.” Sheena and the rest of the 34 staff at the British Institute for Learning Development are excited by the results of their recent study of 27 children, diagnosed with a wide range of conditions, who have all improved over a year of therapy mixed with schooling.
The findings, yet to be published in academic circles, will create waves in child therapy, and the institute now plans to compare the improvements in their full-time pupils with those who visit from other schools twice a week.
However, it is very much business as usual when you visit their school in Satwa.
Sheena explains: “The art of therapy is to make the child feel safe, the child largely controls what happens. We would never embarrass them by making them do something they cannot do.”
Sheena, who trained as an occupational therapist in Glasgow, Scotland, before gaining expertise in neurological development, assesses each child who arrives at the institute.
Often, this is the first time the parents will find out what is wrong and what can be done to help.
Sheena says: “We get a lot of emotional denial here, with parents thinking: ‘If we don’t do anything, the problem will go away’. Others come here and are relieved to hear their child can be helped.” Of particular concern to Sheena is the fact that so many children are foisted onto psychologists before proper assessment. “If a child has a problem in our society, the answer is always to send them to a psychologist. A study has shown that 77 per cent of her referrals were children who actually had developmental problems, not psychological ones,” she says.
Children here have learning difficulties ranging from dyslexia to dyspraxia (poor co-ordination), attention deficit disorders to problems with processing what they hear or what they touch.
Some cannot draw a circle or a triangle; others fail to sit long enough for the assessment tests – which begs the question how other schools have managed to test their IQ.
If the institute’s pilot study is anything to go by, the answer to some of the problems is play integrated with schooling. Sheena says: “I am not happy with using the word ‘play’ too much, because it sounds too soft.” The children – 55 are enrolled in the school and a further 70 take part in an after-school programme – follow an ordinary school curriculum plus the therapy they need, some of which is one-to-one. The need is assessed by checking a child’s primitive reflexes, literally the movements it will have learnt in the womb.
The ‘play’ involves teaching the child to learn about speech, sound, touch, or spatial awareness and involves everything from a game of hopscotch to immersing their hands in shaving foam to get used to new textures.
Sheena says: “I would love to have time to talk to groups of pregnant mothers as part of an antenatal programme.
“Children who don’t like to get dirty, or don’t like to touch various textures, or have a delay in learning to speak, are all displaying problems that can get worse.
“Mothers will spot them, but need education.” The institute is run by Sheena’s husband, Dr Chris Reynolds, an Australian who has worked in The White House in the United States, as executive director of Sydney’s World Trade Centre in Australia, and for the Economic Development Council in Brunei.
He says: “IQ tests started 100 years ago, before neurodevelopment was understood. Fundamentally, we are dealing with ‘flat-brainers’ in education.The flat-brainers think that a child is born with a certain level of ability and will stick with that for life.
“But we have improved a bright child , which is a whole new approach to education. We can improve a person’s IQ.
“We like to think of our approach as brain-friendly, rather than blackboard-friendly.
“Just at the moment, we have been sent a child who is bright but bored. We can try to improve the interaction between the two sides of his brain, and increase his challenges.” The institute is on the move soon; it started life in Sharjah five years ago, moved to Satwa, and in September will relocate to Jumeirah.
There is talk of working with adults, too.
Sheena, mother of five sons aged from 23 down to four years, explains: “I hear adults say: ‘I cannot learn a second language’, or ‘I’m always bumping into things’.
“There is no reason why therapy cannot help adults to develop their brains, or to break old habits or old limitations.”