The Fish Isn‘t Sick; The Water‘s Dirty

by Patricia S. Lemer, M. Ed., NCC

This generation of children is living in a world more riddled with chemicals, toxins, and unnatural substances than any before. Despite massive efforts of individuals and advocacy groups to clear the air, food and water, people are eating, drinking and breathing substances which put enormous stress on their bodies. The end result is immune systems that are working overtime. Add to this mixture a child who may be born with less capacity to deal with poisons (in part because the parents‘ immune systems were also overloaded) and drugs to treat frequent illnesses, and what you get is a perfect formula for developmental problems ranging from attention deficits to autism.

As a diagnostician by training, I have spent over 25 years testing for educational problems. I evaluate a child‘s motor skills, language, perception, reading, writing, and arithmetic. The resulting scores tell me the strengths and weaknesses. Educators use these scores to decide categories of disability in which a child may qualify to receive special education services. These difficult behaviors and symptoms that mothers and fathers see early in development are then given a label.

So what is the problem? Evaluating a child‘s strengths and weaknesses and reaching a diagnosis has become an odyssey that ends there. We can now tell the child that he/she has a mis-wiring of the brain, and that we now know why it is impossible for him to sit through dinner, read a book or answer simple questions. It is more meaningful to do something that will help rather than label and blame the child. To accomplish this, I propose that we look at the child‘s environment and its components, and make changes there that will benefit the child.

First and foremost is the chemical environment. If a child‘s immune system is processing chemicals, the brain has little energy to deal with sitting still, talking, listening, reading, and writing. Take the chemicals out of your house by using natural alternatives for fleas, termites, head lice and scabies. Eat natural foods without preservatives, additives, colors and flavors. Buy water that is not laced with chemicals. Wear clothes made from natural fabrics such as cotton, linen, silk and wool.

Second is the home environment. It is crucial to provide a structured, organized, consistent daily routine at home. Give children a schedule that is broken only on special occasions. Have a wake-up time with morning rituals including breakfast. Assign everyone a chair at the table with an eye to special needs such as a cushion, footstool or arms to provide comfort and stability. For young children, child-size utensils, plates and cups are essential.

After daycare or school, evening routines are a must. Dinner, parent child play, and bedtime rituals at consistent times are imperative. Many children with developmental delays are not getting adequate sleep. Eleven hours are essential for children through age twelve.

Providing an individual bed, special toys, books, and sleepwear, as well as darkening the room at bedtime, all encourage children to regulate themselves to fall asleep. Parents sometimes stay with their children or put them in their beds to assist them. Initially this can be helpful, but it does not allow the child‘s own nervous system to learn how to regulate itself.
The final environment to look at is school. Many of our schools have lost sight of what is developmentally appropriate. Most kindergartens now have reading groups and journals. Five year olds still need a great deal of movement and are rarely ready to sit for lengthy periods of time and perform abstract tasks such as associating sounds with symbols to use phonics. Parents MUST stop the run-away train of teaching academics prematurely. Educators will listen to you before they will listen to outside experts like me. In addition, look at the food the schools are offering children for snacks and rewards. Help them to offer healthy alternatives to sugar and chemical-laden products.

DDR supports focusing on healthy environments, including structured, nurturing, natural, developmentally appropriate places in which children may grow and learn. Before spending endless hours and dollars looking for the right label for a child, look at the environment. These fish are not sick, their water is dirty.

(Patty Lemer is the Executive Director of DDR)

[Initially published in New Developments: Volume i, Number 2 - Fall, 1995]

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