Tuesday, 3 July 2018
Movement Therapy Programme
I would like to welcome the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, to the House. I met two ladies, Ms Aoife Caulfield and Ms Judy Breen, in Ennis two or three weeks ago. I have a particular interest in education, particularly that of small children. I am committed that they should be able to read and write as proficiently as possible. These two ladies brought to my attention that a child's ability to read and write can often be dictated by his or her reflexes and muscle movement if the child's neural system is developing correctly and appropriately. Certain movements in the neck, head and other parts of the body of many kids may not be developing, or may not have developed, appropriately and properly. There has been much research done on this internationally, although it is limited in Ireland. In England, it was proven beyond doubt that where children's reflexes and bodily movements are impaired, it leads to an literacy impairment.
We have seen a great commitment by the Government in recent times with more than 10,000 special needs assistants and significant resources put in to helping kids who have challenges reading, writing and so forth. That is very welcome but we need to think outside the box. I was struck by what these two ladies proposed, which they were able to back up by international research, that where programmes to help children with their reflexes were carried out their literacy skills improved dramatically.
I am not in any way suggesting this should be rolled out nationally immediately. It should be looked at for in-service training as part of the curriculum, particularly in primary and pre-primary education. Would the Minister consider doing this on a pilot basis with the proper analysis and reviews, and looking at the results? I have no doubt the results will be positive and we will see there is merit in looking at rolling this out at a national level.
At the very least, I am looking for a commitment in principle from the Department of Education and Skills that it will engage with these people and listen to what they have to say. They are doing it in schools on an ad hocbasis at the moment. They are getting the results. I would really encourage the Department of Education and Skills to engage with them and to carry out a pilot programme for the academic year 2018-19 in two or three schools. If it works, perhaps we could look at doing it on a more streamlined national basis. We need to think outside the box with these issues. When one thinks about it, it makes sense that, if children have issues with reflexes, movements and so on, it is bound to have a knock-on effect on their ability to read and write.
I thank Senator Conway. I apologise for taking this on behalf of the Minister for Education and Skills who has provided me with this response.
Officials in the Department of Education and Skills were contacted in May by the organisation which promotes this movement therapy programme. At its core, the programme has the aim to promote learning readiness in children. On 19 June, officials met with the organisation and listened to a detailed presentation on therapy intervention. The specific intervention is known as the Institute for Neuro-Physiology Psychology, INPP, method. The theory behind the INPP method is the presence or absence of certain primitive reflexes or postural reactions are key stages in a child's development, and provide signposts of the maturity in the functioning of the central nervous system. Examples of primitive reflexes might include sucking and grasping, while postural reflexes might include head-righting reflexes or certain rolling reflexes. The theory suggests where there is a presence of an apparent reflex or postural reaction, which is not explained by an identified pathology, the reflexes and-or postural reactions can be associated with a variety of neurodevelopmental problems and specific learning difficulties. In simple terms, certain movement characteristics can signal certain neurodevelopment problems or learning difficulties.
The theory further suggests that, by addressing these issues through the exercise programme, neurodevelopmental programmes and specific learning difficulties can be improved. The INPP method uses the assessment of primitive reflexes and postural reactions in school-aged children and beyond to identify signs of immaturity and the functioning of the central nervous system. The reflex profile of an individual child is then used as a clinical tool to identify the earliest point in development from which a physical remedial programme should be started.
The method requires that physical movements based on movements normally made during infancy or the first year of life are prescribed and practised daily. When applied, progress is assessed at eight-week intervals using tests for primitive and postural reflexes, gross muscle coordination and balance, and ocular motor functioning. If the exercises are effective, the score on all physical tests should, in theory, decrease. There should be measurable improvement in the range of neurodevelopmental problems, including speech and language problems, where they arise.
In order to ensure there is a full understanding of the method, including any evidence of its effectiveness or merit, or potential application in schools, the National Educational Psychological Service was asked to consider the body of evidence provided by the presenting organisation along with any other research or studies on this intervention, and to report back to the Department when this consideration has been completed. Until such time that the review, or any further review which may be deemed necessary to establish the merit of the programme, is completed it would not be appropriate to consider its inclusion in any existing or new programmes, or for pre-service or in-service provision for teachers. The Department of Education and Skills is committed to considering any proposal for new or innovative evidence-based interventions. Officials will remain in contact with the organisation during the review and will inform it of the outcome as soon as it is available.
I thank the Minister for a very detailed explanation of the theory, which I am getting my own head around. It appears to be very convincing. It is appropriate that it would be referred to the body to which the Minister referred. Is there a timeline? We all know about things being referred to bodies, and it seems to be an infinite timeline. Is there a specific eight-week, 12-week, three-month period in which the body can report back? The next move for the Department of Education and Skills will be dictated by the recommendations of this body.
I thank the Senator. I do not have a timeline and it has not been presented to me in the information I have been provided with.
As part of the negotiations on the programme for Government, I specifically had a commitment written in on page 86 that the Government would be determined to ensure every child leaving primary school could read and write. It should be a basic requirement that every child is literate and numerate leaving primary school. Every child should have the opportunity to do that but, sadly, it is not the case. The Senator has highlighted a particular initiative that may assist a small cohort of people, which I have consistently raised in the past. I have taken plenty of heat from this House and the Lower House on the issue. We have three separate databases that could assist us regarding the rate of truancy. If we could link up the Department of Education and Skills database with those of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and the national educational welfare service of Tusla, which comes under the remit of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, it would be an effective tool to identify problems and vehicles to address them. Sadly, for political reasons people have jumped down on it. Our priority should be to use all the available technology and information available to us to ensure that regardless of background every child has an equal opportunity to access a proper education particularly in primary school.
The issue of truancy came up again in the media today. We need to use the tools available to us as a State to try to ensure all children have the opportunity and are able to read and write when they leave primary school and progress to secondary school.