In chapter 2, Dr. Levine describes his theory. He starts with a story about Fritz, a boy he worked with who was very mechanically oriented. He once fixed one of Dr. Levine's medical instruments while on a visit, and the first thing he did was to look it all over and wonder, "Let me see, how is this supposed to work?" Dr. Levine calls this the Fritz Principle, and has applied it to figuring out how learning works.
Neurodevelopmental functions are the tools that allow us to learn things. They work in groups-- different arrangements for different kinds of learning. There are many different neurodevelopmental functions, and some are stronger or weaker than others in each person. Sometimes the weakness is so pronounced that the function is actually a dysfunction. He calls these neurodevelopmental dysfunctions. (Ta-da.)
A lot of times a neurodevelopmental dysfunction goes undetected. The parents and teachers see the child doing well in other areas and come to think the child just isn't trying hard enough when it comes to writing, or math, or remembering things.
There are eight neurodevelopmental systems in which these functions are categorized. Dr. Levine gives small explanations of each in this chapter, but I am just going to list the systems because he also devotes a chapter to each later in the book:
1. Attention Control System
2. Memory System
3. Language System
4. Spatial Ordering System
5. Sequential Ordering System
6. Motor System
7. Higher Thinking System
8. Social Thinking System
Dr. Levine calls the unique combination of strengths and weaknesses found in each child that child's neurodevelopmental profile. This profile determines what will come easy and what will be hard for the child. He also emphasizes that there is a niche for each kind of profile, but that niche isn't always going to be schoolish, and that is tough on kids in our society because we are so concerned with schooling.
He makes the point that not only is there a niche for each profile, but it is also possible for children to change their strengths and weaknesses over time. (Neural plasticity?) This is such good news, and is why I think that we do need to work on strengthening kids' weaknesses (without making it a moral issue if they fail at tasks or understanding, ie., he is just lazy). Dr. Levine says there may be ceilings where improvement in an area is concerned, however.
So how does a person come to have the profile he or she possesses?
2. Family Life and Stress Level
3. Cultural Factors
7. Educational Experience
(A lot of these may be closely guarded/guided by the parent-- family life, stress, cultural factors, friends, educational experience-- especially if the family homeschools. Education is an atmosphere...)
Dr. Levine then gets into how lifestyle may affect the way a child learns. He says, "I have been finding in all my clinical work that many aspects of contemporary life can stunt the growth of key neurodevelopmental functions." (p. 43) Some of the culprits:
1. Television. You're not surprised, are you?
2. Unsophisticated language, and he mentions modern popular music lyrics especially, and bemoans the lack of good lyricists today. (I'm thinking poetry and hymn study help alleviate this problem greatly!)
3. Modern popular music, which consists of simplistic lines and monotonous repetition. He believes the ability to recognize patterns in memory was once strengthened by listening to music, and because of the simplifying of music this is no longer the case. (So listening to great music can actually improve a child's ability to recognize a pattern in math word problems.)
4. Electronic games. He does grant that these games can improve eye-hand coordination and spatial ordering, but says that these skills do not improve intellect in a big way. (I am always confused about what the word "spatial" means. Here is the definition: pertaining to space. Of course. But what does that mean in clinical terms? Spatial ordering is the organization of information using spatial clues such as left to right, top to bottom, etc. Still doesn't help. Is it organization? Is it figuring out where you are in space?)
5. Internet. Dr. Levine calls it a mixed blessing. The downside to the Internet lies in its capability of presenting such huge volumes of information. Students can download and utilize information without really understanding or processing it-- a superficial skimming of knowledge rather than depth. (I can totally identify with this.)
6. Family life. He is talking about rush, stress and struggle here. He is really big on family discussion and sitting down for dinner together, and says it is crucial for children's language development.
7. Nightlife. In his observation, children are staying up later and later, and while this might benefit them in some future profession, it is not good when you need to get up on time and be alert in school the next day.
8. Visual-motor ecstasy, Dr. Levine's own term for the thrill that comes from intense physical activity. He believes the thrill can become addicting and cause the child to neglect academic pursuits in favor of rollerblading, driving fast, or even becoming too interested in sports. (We must remember that he himself has said he is inept at sports, so it is interesting that he sees so little value in them. The book is about academic development rather than physical, but, especially for some folks, lots of exercise is crucial to their thought processes.)
9. Visual appearance, or caring too much about the way you look.
10. Overly programmed lifestyle. Kids need time to think, be bored and entertain themselves. (Free afternoons, anyone?)
11. After school employment. A teenager may feel that school is unimportant compared to the work at McDonald's that is earning him enough money to buy a car.
12. And, of course, drugs and alcohol.
Our job as parents is to keep all of these things in check, to monitor whether one area or another is assuming undue importance.
Dr. Levine then talks about lumpers and splitters. Lumpers are folks who group kids into labels. Splitters are folks who detail each individual child's functions and dysfunctions in order to pinpoint exactly what is going on with the specific child.
He mentions as well that although early detection of a dysfunction is to be desired, despair ought not to set in if a dysfunction is detected late. It is always possible to alter weaknesses (or, alas, strengths), no matter your age.
In the next chapter he begins to deal in detail with the different mind systems in each person. I really like the way he has these next chapters laid out: he describes the system, describes strengths and weaknesses that can be inherent in the system, then lays out "normal" development of the system throughout childhood into adulthood, and then gives some practical considerations for the strengthening of the system. Very good stuff. The first system he deals with is attention. I will blog on that a little later.