Creating an Atmosphere of Chill for your LD Child
Welcome to post 5 in the Help my Child has Learning Disabilities Series. Today I am writing to you about atmosphere.
No matter if you are dealing with an LD child or not, take a moment to take stock of the environment around you. The atmosphere you are in matters. I want to use an example that has nothing to do with LD to emphasis how atmosphere impacts us.
It is Monday morning. You are starting a new eating plan. To prepare, you bought all the food you will need. You have studied all the ways to be successful. Your alarm goes off and you wake up, go for a walk and on your walk, you twist your ankle, badly.
Hobbled, you limp back home. Your mind is reeling with the setback and the pain. As you make your way to your room to shower, you hear running water. To your dismay, your toilet is overflowing and the bathroom and your bedroom now hold an inch of standing toilet water. In spite of your plans, early rising, and the best of intentions, by the time you clean up the mess and doctor your ankle, it is nearly 10:00 am. Coffee would help, but as you gimp about the kitchen, you cannot find the coffee.
You just bought it? And it is nowhere to be found.
When you are finally dressed for the day, you are ravenous and desperate for coffee. The house smells of stale toilet water and your throbbing ankle is sending a continual 911 to your brain…”COMFORT.”
An egg white omelet sounds less than comforting. The smell of the flood is nauseating. And the good intentions you had for your day are a distant memory. You pack up the kids and head to a cafe down the street. After a mind-clearing gulp of hot coffee, your senses come alive to the smell of bacon and Belgian waffles. You are just about to order that egg white omelet when the 4-year-old knocks over her cup and everyone is drenched in sticky apple juice.
You bark at the waiter, “Belgian waffles, for everyone. Extra whip cream and extra bacon. And, a bagel… also, a side of beignets, with extra powdered sugar. And BRING MORE COFFEE.”
To heck with egg whites.
Physical atmosphere deeply impacts our mental atmosphere.
And while you cannot control every single bad day, you can have an arsenal of tricks to make an atmosphere as non-disruptive as possible.
And my first suggestion is to always remember how you personally deal with atmospheric turbulence.
We are all affected by our atmosphere.
If your air conditioning is out, and it is 105 degrees outside, it impacts how you function. It impacts your atmosphere.
If a teenager, who will remain nameless, burns scrambled eggs, and your house smells like burnt human flesh all day. I know for me, it impacts my mood, my feelings for said teen, and my ability to focus. This is the blessing and the curse of our senses.
The point is, imagine if you were already unable to stay focused and driven. Imagine if you hadn’t already mastered your time’s tables and you could not read anything you wanted, anytime you wanted. And these life happenings weren’t just a nuisance, they altered your entire ability to succeed?
If you are struggling to accomplish the tasks before you and smell, sound, the general stress of another person, light, or temperature in the room completely paralyzed you, how can you learn?
Atmosphere factors were absolutely was a conviction for me when it came to working with my LD children.
As I am writing this, I have been in my progressive contacts for less than 48 hours. And my sight is making no progress. My husband has been out of town for two weeks, Sophie is trying to master the entire score from Hamilton (Jesus, send help,) she has been at it for 7 hours. And the vandals (Charlie and Sam,) have to be told 400 times a day to keep it down.
I have work to do. And, I have emails to answer and a toilet to unclog. I can’t remember the last time ate.
The ability to concentrate is not always a given.
When it is never a given, but a struggle within itself, well, it is imperative that atmosphere is taken into account.
What happens to a child who gets in trouble for not paying attention? Or failing an assignment he was unable to focus on. Most likely, a rush of the three stress hormones Adrenaline, Cortisol, Norepinephrine go into sympathetic mode. These hormones main job is to keep a human alive if a lion is chasing them.
And a plain white sheet of math facts is not a lion.
But the brain doesn’t know that, they just know that the human where they are housed, is producing stress hormones. So if stress is present, those hormones kick in and the child’s reaction is fight or flight, not add, subtract, or any other equation. They need to get out or put up a fight.
All this said you cannot control every mishap, otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this in ankle deep toilet water (I hope that’s not true.) But there are ways to recover. If you are homeschooling, this might be a lot easier to achieve. If your child is in school then you send the arsenal with them.
The 19-year-old hippie baby might not like this little secret to get out, but he loved my perfume. And he suffered from a myriad of sensory disorders. Some of them were remedied with texture manipulatives while others were remedied with smell. Mine to be precise.
So, every morning before he left I would spray the wrist of his sleeve with my perfume.
John, on the other hand, had a tendency to get really drowsy. When he took classes at the university or junior college, he carried with him a small bottle of revitalize blend, eucalyptus, or lemon essential oil.
And yes, everyone is selling or committed to essential oils, but I am committed because I am wholly convinced that smell is an excellent sensory channel manipulative. It can be to our detriment, or to our benefit.
We have recently switched from an air diffuser to salt rock lamps for diffusing essential oils. And I will discuss lighting shortly, but if your child has sensory or processing issues, a consistent fragrance can help brain receptors to snap back to calm. Have you ever had a memory that was triggered by smell? A whiff of Aqua Aet and I have to have professional counseling for all the years between 1985-1990. Chicken noodle soup… oh, how I miss my Grandma Mickey.
So while you can’t always control circumstances, you can add elements that support clarity and mood, sometimes with just a sniff.
Another big effect on the atmosphere is lighting.
A small flicker in a fluorescent, might not faze you, but for a visual processor, it can be a nightmare. Our son and our daughter get cluster headaches from fluorescent lighting. Blue light is another factor to consider.
In an article by Levin Eye Care the author explains, “The main source of blue light is the sun, and our bodies are programmed to respond to that light. During the day, the blue light in sunlight boosts our attention, memory, energy levels, reaction times, and overall mood. It’s the signal to our brains that we should be up and about. Absence of blue light signals that we should be resting.
The problem in modern times is that we are surrounded by artificial sources of blue light that confuse these signals, particularly LED and fluorescent lights and the screens of our electronic devices. Blue light suppresses melatonin in our brains, which leads to a lower quality of sleep, which in turn can contribute to a variety of negative health effects.”
If blue light affects sleep, an essential element of survival, we must question what else it is negatively impacting.
By all means, get your child’s eyes checked because some of their struggles could be due to visual impairment, but more warm, natural, or orange light can lend to a less stressful atmosphere too.
And while most fluorescent lighting is being replaced with LED, and LED doesn’t flicker, it can give off a blue, yellow, or intensely bright light. In any case, lighting is an important factor. Again, we have been huge fans of salt lamps for a long time, but there are other soft light options.
In my classroom, when I taught in a private school, I had seven lamps in the room, all with pink soft light cosmetic bulbs. The reading center was well illuminated with subtle, soft, light. This created a casual and relaxing atmosphere where the new readers were able to focus on words, rather than obtrusive lighting.
If your child’s school has no natural lighting, which for years was a thing, no windows in schools, then it may be time to talk to your child’s teacher about adding such lighting. If you have to donate lamps or have a class collective to have other families bring healthy lighting to the classroom. Another option is blue light blocking glasses. These require no prescription, and they can be plain glass lenses.
With sensory issues in children, there can be many factors that encourage a positive learning atmosphere.
Even if your child’s school isn’t taking these factors into account, bringing them to their attention can greatly improve your child’s productivity, concentration and well being.
And while this may not seem like an atmosphere issue, atmosphere is everything around you.
Make sure there are no tags, buttons, or harsh fabrics that are complicating your child’s atmosphere.
Yeah, I could go into an entire series on sensory issues and clothing. And maybe I will, but the general conclusion would most likely be sometimes, naked is easier.
For now, here is a simple list of atmosphere helps to consider:
Gum chewing. I know, I can’t believe I said it either. But one of John’s most brilliant and helpful resource teachers told him to pick a favorite type and flavor of gum. The teacher would have him smell it, feel it, and then chew it while he worked on a concept. Then, when he would test, she would have him repeat the process, and then test. His scores dramatically improved. I will talk more about this in the next post on study helps.
Be cognizant of smells that distract and focus your child. And I will interject here, chemical smells can be the most distracting. Harsh chemical smells from detergents and cleaning products can have an intense negative effect on a child’s ability to focus. I am including my top picks for this on a seperate post that I am linking here. If you have any other suggestions please drop links in the comments.
Hunger and grazing isn’t the answer, but consistent high protein, healthy fat meals, and snacks can help. I will have a post about that coming soon.
Keep a bottle of essential oil with you or your child. Consider Sweet Orange, Lavender Flower, Wild Marjoram & German Chamomile essential oils, or a blend like Serenity for calming effects. For concentration and sleepiness consider Lemon, Rosemary, Peppermint and Sweet Basil essential oils or a blend like Revitalize.
Adjust the lighting in study areas with warm or natural light. If your child does work somewhere other than your home, ask administrators about lamp lighting or get blue light blocking glasses.
Explore different white noise options for your sensory sensitive learner. White noise machines, fans, or apps are a great option.
Some children balk at consistency, others crave it. Provide your child with a space to work that is indicative of their study behaviors. For example, a lightly colored room with substantial light, a white noise source, a pleasant but not overwhelming scent, and a comfortable place to sit or stand. And yes, standing needs to be an option. “SIT STILL!” Is not always a pleasing atmosphere for a child. And there is no proof sitting equals National Merit Scholar. If your child is a wanderer, let them explain to you why they are choosing a work area. I heard various answers like, “the fireplace feels good,” or I can see the tree house from here,” or my favorite, “I like to know you are close by.”
Try fresh flowers or a plant in your child’s study area, just like the call of the ocean tides or a mountain range, the scenery can add an element of tranquility.
Used textured manipulatives. A scratchy wool ball or rubbery toy in one hand doesn’t mean that concentration isn’t activated, in fact, it might just ground your learner in the moment and help them focus. I will talk more about this in a study helps post.
Sweep the study areas of distractible elements, like television noise, a lava lamp, or distracting screen saver. Many times my child was distracted and it was something I hadn’t considered. In one case it was a picture carousel on my desktop computer. And, organization can also help, shoving things aside to clear a spot to work was always detrimental to my learners. Once I was folding laundry while one of the children was working on math. I noticed he was becoming more and more irritable and unable to focus. Finally, I moved the laundry off the table and when I was out of his line of vision, he finished up and went about his evening.
Favorite music in the background could be a big help. It is often assumed that children aren’t learning if there is noise. This can be the case, or their brain may self regulate and multitask, listening while learning.
COMFORT. No tags, binding waistbands, or lumps in socks in clothing. Yes, this a big factor in personal atmosphere.
And if you are homeschooling, or helping with homework in the evening, there are plenty of ways to improve the routine by doing a check of the surroundings, and then even trying something new or different after a bath or a walk around the block. Resetting the mental landscape of a learner sometimes mean just taking a break and trying again somewhere else or after expending some stress hormones.
Primary to this is also knowing when to let it go.
Yes, there could be negative consequences for not finishing homework, but there are graver consequences for not knowing when to walk away. If a child is in fight or flight mode, the struggle is multiplied not solved by forcing an issue.
I confess, once when John had just gotten his braces tightened, I was hell-bent on getting an assignment done. We both ended up crying and I finally went to bed. A few hours later I found him wandering the halls. He was in excruciating pain. What I neglected what the human side of pain and suffering for the goals of educating.
Sometimes a child is just not in the physical or mental atmosphere to successfully learn.
Which in conclusion is absolutely the point of this essay. Childhood learning is not the end all of the human condition. I know it feels like it. Yes, I know there is a grade system in play. And, I fully understand what it is like to know that your child isn’t “on track” with the collective norm. But you know what, good.
When you were first handed this human being you thought there was no one as wonderful on the planet. They were perfect and at the very top of the scorecard. I believe, they still are. A struggle doesn’t negate the sum of the human. Our job as mothers is to teach them their value. And that value has no equal.
So, my best advice is for that to be the atmosphere.
“You are great. And I think you are ever greater when the atmosphere around you suits all the things that make you uniquely you. Now put on your toboggan and cape and let’s get your math homework done! You strange and wonderful human being…” (say that part in your head.)
Jesus be all over you! See you tomorrow! Love, Jami
Get your I am Cards for Struggling Learners here now! Speak life and truth into your baby!
I have made this set of “I am cards” from journal entries I had when John was just a boy. I am in awe of the work that God had before John and I even realized it was to be. Things no eye had seen. literally no ear had heard. I know that you might be scared with all that is before you with a struggling learner. So, I pray these cards offer you hope in the future God has planned for you and your child.
I recommend printing these on card stock and cutting them in half.