Neurodevelopmental Treatment for kids with learning disabilities is offered by various practitioners. Many claim NDT is a panacea for all learning disabilities such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, attention deficits, Down Syndrome, etc.
There is certainly scientific evidence that the brain is developing from birth throughout the teen years, and evidence increasingly shows that brain plasticity allows people to overcome neurological damage in surprising ways. Although kids with learning disabilities don’t have neurological “damage,” they do have neurological deficits that can be strengthened.
Additionally, when we were first seeking solutions to my son’s learning difficulties, we were told children with dyslexia often never crawl–as this WAS the case with my child who had severe dyslexia. He always did this hoppy-scootching thing on all fours rather than crawling. My son walked at 10 months having never crawled right, and he exhibited difficulties with gross body skills such as running and kicking a ball, running to catch a ball, etc.
I had read a lot about cross-body patterning after we were told that tennis, karate, gymnastics or swimming would be good for my son’s neurological development.
From the ages eight through fourteen, my son swam on a swim team. Likewise, he spent six years kayaking from age eleven through seventeen, spending many seasons in a developmental sprint kayaking program. The three years of overlap, ages 11-14, were the first three years of homeschooling when my son’s reading level went from a kindergarten level to college level reading skill. Was it the neurodevelopmental activity that caused his reading skill to advance?
Given what I know about dyslexia, dysgraphia, and other learning disabilities, I found myself skeptical that neurodevelopmental treatment alone could help a child overcome learning disabilities, but I could not discount the fact that my son was engaged in activities that involved intensive cross-body patterning for a span of nine years.
While my son was involved in neurodevelopmental cross-body patterning types of activities at a very intense level, particularly for the middle three years, we also undertook a purposeful, intensive, Orton-Gillingham-based reading program, which I attribute most strongly with his reading improvement. You can see more about our academic program for overcoming dyslexia at “How we remediated dyslexia.”
Thus, given recent ‘sales pitches’ regarding Neurodevelopmental Training to overcome dyslexia shared with me, I decided to go read research papers to find out if neurodevelopmental treatment is effective as a means for remediating learning disabilities.
Here’s what I found:
“Overall, the results regarding the efficacy of NDT were largely inconclusive since there were a similar number of published research studies supporting the benefit of NDT intervention (n=6) as compared with no benefit (n=9). One study did not specifically address the efficacy of NDT, while another study was unclear as to whether or not NDT was beneficial.
The studies that included the use of NDT with paediatric subjects diagnosed with cerebral palsy also had inconsistent results regarding the efficacy of NDT. The studies that included the use of NDT with high-risk/low-birthweight infants did not support the usefulness of NDT with this paediatric client group.” (Brown G.T.; Burns S.A., (2001) The Efficacy of Neurodevelopmental Treatment in Paediatrics: a Systematic Review. The British Journal of Occupational Therapy, Volume 64, Number 5, 1 May 2001 , pp. 235-244(10))
“The research purporting to show efficacy of the treatment does not show sustained gains in literacy scores in treated vs. control children. Furthermore, the intervention has not been evaluated on the clinical groups for which it is recommended.” “Overall, family doctors and paediatricians need to be aware that the published evidence does not support the claims of a ‘Miracle Cure’: on the contrary, the data from comparisons of treated and control groups lead to considerable scepticism that the intervention improves anything other than those skills that are trained in the exercises.” (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2835859/)
While the research does not show neurodevelopmental treatment alone to be an effective means of remediating learning disabilities, research does show it to be an effective means of treating gross motor and fine motor difficulties. Thus, neurodevelopmental treatment could benefit children who have neurodevelopmental delays, but it won’t automatically enable the child to overcome learning disabilities without a proven academic program to address the learning that needs to take place. Research was supportive of neurodevelopmental treatment for children with significant neurological impairments as follows:
“This study examined the effect of neurodevelopmental treatment (NDT) and differences in its intensity on gross motor function of children with cerebral palsy (CP). Participants were 34 children (12 females, 22 males; mean age 7y 3mo [SD 3y 6mo], age range 3 to 14y) with mild to moderate spasticity and hemiplegia (n=10), diplegia (n=12), and tetraplegia (n=12). Gross Motor Function Classification System levels were: I (n=10), II (n=10), and III (n=14). The paired sample, which was obtained by ratio stratification and matching by sex, age, and distribution of impairment from a total of 114 children with CP, was assigned randomly to two groups: group A underwent NDT twice a week and group B five times a week for 16 weeks. The outcome measure used was the Gross Motor Function Measure, which assessed the performance of the children before and after intervention. The paired-sample t-test revealed that gross motor function of children from both groups improved significantly after intervention (p<0.05). Children in group B performed better and showed significantly greater improvement than those in group A (p<0.05). Results support the effectiveness of NDT and underline the need for intensive application of the treatment.” &Child Neurology, 46: 740–745. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-8749.2004.tb00993.x)
That said, I do think neurodevelopmental treatment exercises can help with learning disabilities by enhancing alertness. The exercise-based increase in oxygen to the brain will help the child focus on the learning task for a period of time. Thus, I don’t think there is harm in undertaking neurodevelopmental treatment, but it should not be used alone as the only form of addressing a child’s learning disability. Appropriate and proven programs should be used in addition to neurodevelopmental treatment if NDT is going to be used at all. For example, a child with true phonemically-based dyslexia requires remediation with a proven reading program. He may also have Neurodevelopmental treatment alongside the reading program to provide the maximum amount of possible learning benefit, but NDT should not be used as the only program provided or sufficient learning to overcome a reading disability will likely not occur.