Resource Room with Christine Field

An interview with Christine Field

Learning Disabilities and Sensory Integration Therapies

The parent of a learning disabled child who looks for private services can become overwhelmed at the choices available. There are multiple theories and therapies which all promise to address your need. How do we choose? How do we sort out which will be truly beneficial to this particular child with this particular difficulty?It’s not easy. We must be wise and discerning. We must do our homework.

The Old Schoolhouse wants to help you sort out the views and the vendors in this arena. While we can’t diagnose your child or give a specific learning prescription, we can endeavor to introduce you over the months to some ideas and possibilities.

Several ads in magazines for Essential Learning Institute piqued my curiosity. They stated that they could help parents deal with their child’s special needs in the home setting. Eager to know more, I contacted them and spoke with Robert Salzman, founder of the company, and Faye Westover, Educational Service Director of ELI, and this month we bring you parts of our discussion.      Christine Field

TOS: Mr. Salzman, why was your company started?

Mr. Salzman: Essential Learning Institute was founded to help small Christian and private Schools and Homeschooling families gain access to quality Learning Disability programs at affordable prices. Most programs available to smaller schools and home schoolers can be very expensive costing between ten to fifteen thousand dollars. Either the programs are administered over several years or special schools are established with high additional annual tuition. Often these programs are no more
effective than the special education programs in most school districts. In 1990 Essential Learning Institute decided to invest in several of the best computer-based sensory integration training programs available and set up delivery systems that allowed the individual school or family to access these programs on an individualized basis, thus spreading the cost over many students and lowering the price per client.

Over the years we saw pain and frustration in students and their families as a result of learning problems. Parents tried everything from vitamins and eye training to expensive tutorial programs, usually to no avail. From the moment we started ELI we saw and experienced incredible success both within our Clinic and in our home therapy programs. As an Educational Consultant to private and Christian schools and home schooling families I am familiar with virtually everything in the educational marketplace. Tragically, schools and families today are in even worse straits then they were when we began almost 13 years ago. The same educational programs are being administered using the same ineffective methods as in the past and the LD and at risk student numbers increase every year (54%) .This is what caused us to get involved and to keep on through the years. There is nothing more satisfying than to see a child who thought he couldn't do it, or felt he was dumb or stupid, suddenly find himself reading and learning and succeeding. Seeing students who had given up on themselves, unable to even look the teacher in the eye, now functioning at grade level with
the whole world before them is very satisfying!. There is nothing like it! We have thirteen successful years working with children, young people and, yes, even adults (25% of our clients are over 18 some as old as 64). The wonderful thing about it is we can count on one hand the number of students we haven't been able to help, out of almost 1500. The new programs now include additional components including online curriculum and 24/7 tutorial assistance and much more. The good news is Learning disabilities and learning differences can be corrected...we see it all the time!

TOS: That is exciting, as more and more homeschoolers are choosing to educate their special needs children at home. Others lack the confidence to do so. What does ELI offer homeschoolers to help them tackle this task?

Ms. Westover: Our program will allow us to correct the areas of struggle, as well as place the student at the skill level where they can best perform,

prescribe a full curriculum from now until graduation, maintain report cards and transcripts as they complete the program, and award an accredited diploma once they complete the requirements for graduation. Our curriculum is designed for independent study and is  easily administered. It is an outstanding curriculum that prepares students to succeed after graduation, whether they attend a university or enter the workforce.

Our program is individualized to each student using both the LD testing (described below) and the diagnostic testing which will enable us to find exactly where the academic difficulties lie and address those before moving the student on. Many times a student has missed key foundational skills which effect their ability to succeed in more strenuous work. Our testing allows us to find those areas and fill those learning gaps.

TOS: We understand that a learning disability is often a processing difficulty, whether visual processing or auditory processing or both. Can you briefly describe each of these deficits?

Ms. Westover: To process information, one must first of all make sense of what they see or hear, then process it properly, next store it in memory, and later be able to retrieve it when necessary.

Visual processing basically means that the student has difficulty processing what he/she sees and storing it in memory.

Auditory processing means that the student has difficulty processing what he/she hears and storing it in memory.

TOS: And these are some of the issues addressed in your program, which involves Sensory Integration Therapy. Can you give us a layman’s definition of Sensory Integration Therapy?

Ms. Westover: Sensory Integration Therapy (SIT) is a series of neurological exercises that interlink the visual, auditory, and motor pathways in the brain in order to aid the implanting of information. In its simplest form, SIT stimulates the brain in one sensory mode, asks for a recall of information from memory using a second sensory mode, and then asks for a response using a third sensory mode. By going through this simple, multi-modality task, correctly sequenced and timed, the brain proceeds to interlock the sensory pathways or “patterns” of neural connections.

The connections that take place during learning increase, and within a matter of minutes following training, new connections are in place. These connections are the basis for memory retention of any skill. Repetition of the skill reinforces it and places it more firmly into long-term memory. SIT provides massive multisensory stimulation  through simple interlinking sequences to affect this learning process.

In this way, the brain is provided with so many positively reinforced and correct neurological stimuli that it proceeds to select proper learning pathways. Learning then takes place easily and fluidly.

TOS: What does your Testing Kit consist of? Can this be done in the home by a parent?

Ms. Westover: There are several components, including a Learning Efficiency Test, Diagnostic Screening Tests for Reading and Spelling

Upon the completion of the evaluation, parents receive a Multi-page Evaluation Report including:
General Reports that summarize test data in both graphic and narrative formats by explaining how the student’s responses point to particular strengths and weaknesses,
Teacher Reports that explain barriers the student may face in learning and make simple suggestions for classroom accommodations and lesson modifications,
Parent Reports that recommend activities for home, provide tips to help with schoolwork, and provide a suggested reading list.

The ELS Recommendations Report suggests a specific therapeutic course for each student, Support Service and Recommendations where staff are ready and willing to walk you through the results of the testing reports and offer suggestions and recommendations for the needs of your child.

TOS: After testing, you give a course of sensory integration therapy. Is this primarily computer based? What exactly does the student DO? What is the parent’s role?

Ms. Westover: Yes, the sensory integration is primarily computer based. The student works on 7 main exercises on the computer – SENSE IT, DUPLICATE IT, MATCH IT, CHOOSE IT, EDIT IT, RACE IT, and REPEAT IT. All parts of the menu are designed to work on a specific learning skill, but each is dependent upon the others for success. In addition, it is recommended that the students do 4 worksheets to supplement each session, do a short term recall exercise, and do a long term recall exercise 3 weeks after completing a lesson.

Essential Learning Systems uses warm up exercises (SENSE IT) to enable the student to see, hear and respond to the words that will be used in the session. The four exercises in SENSE IT focus on specific modality (visual, auditory, kinesthetic) combinations. This process is highly effective for learning and developing language skills because the exercises criss-cross various pathways and enable reflexive learning.

Following the warm up exercises, the student will do integration tasks designed specifically to move the information from short to long term memory thus helping them to automatically be able to decode and encode this stored information through concept repetition.

The first integration task is DUPLICATE IT, which implants the lesson words while simultaneously practicing eye tracking. DUPLICATE IT also helps students recognize words through their visual and speech patterns.

Next is MATCH IT, a sensory integration exercise that connects lesson words with similar patterns, word definition, visual image, and sentence. Students must take every part of a word – definition, sentence, and graphic – and merge them into one comprehensive element. Match IT is a visual and mental exercise and results in an auditory clue providing links in memory. There are four versions of Match IT, each with two variations.

CHOOSE IT is an exercise that practices visual and auditory closure skills by showing and saying a “cloze” sentence. The student must use context clues, auditory memory, and visual memory skills to correctly complete the sentence. Choose IT was designed to combine auditory and visual input from the computer.

RACE IT is a timed exercise that practices high-level auditory and visual discrimination skills. In this exercise, the computer displays three words on the screen and says one of them. The student must discriminate between the auditory and visual similarities of the three words to make the correct selection.

REPEAT IT is a test of endurance. This exercise can be likened to a flash card drill; each word is quickly flashed upon the screen and the student must read it aloud. Repeat IT requires close visual attention, visual discrimination, knowledge of the lesson’s word patterns, and quick motor response skills.

The WORKSHEETS included with program play an integral role in consolidating the various sensory information acquired during the day’s lesson.

Parents need to monitor the student as he/she does the exercises. During SENSE IT, the parent will need to listen to the student read a list of words three times. On some exercises, parents must watch and listen to be sure the student is talking aloud with the computer. Help is needed for the scoring of some of the supplementary worksheets.

TOS: How long does this take - the amount of time per day as well as the expected duration of therapy?

Ms. Westover: The student works for 45 minutes to 1 hour per day, 4 consecutive days per week, for 9 months or a minimum of 130 sessions.

TOS: Are there certain types of disability for which this therapy is most appropriate? What kinds of kids would NOT benefit from this?

Ms. Westover: We deal with about 95% of all learning difficulties including visual and auditory processing, ADD, ADHD, and dyslexia. Students with autism, aspergers, and ODD are enrolled with discretion.

TOS: You also offer complete curriculum for students in your program. Can you tell us about that?

Ms. Westover In addition to the sensory integration therapy, we have many different individualized curricula available including self-instructional textbooks, interactive CDs, and online curriculum. The self-paced, individualized curriculum usually works best for struggling students because it assures mastery before proceeding to higher levels. It has been carefully compiled to introduce children to concrete and abstract reasoning skills at appropriate age levels. Vocabulary has been meticulously chosen to spiral from simple to complex, and from concrete to abstract. Character traits such as honesty, kindness, and loyalty are woven throughout the curriculum.

Parents can be assured of 1) a solid, back to basics education, 2) a course of study individualized to meet a child’s specific needs and learning capabilities, 3) a program incorporating character-building and wisdom principles, and 4) a curriculum using advanced computer technology to help ensure the finest education possible in today’s
high-tech society.

Because every struggling student has individual needs, following a proper assessment, we select from a variety of curriculum. We generally choose an individualized, self instructional, mastery based curriculum such as the Accelerated Christian Education, Inc. publications. We also have a number of other vendors we pick and choose from.

TOS: I want to thank you both for sharing with our readers about your program. Your website,, is full of informative articles about learning disabilities, as well as complete coverage of your program and pricing.

This is one approach to dealing with learning disabilities in the home. Parents of differently-abled children have many resources to choose. Over the months in this Resource Room feature of The Old Schoolhouse, we hope to bring you solid information about what is available to help you make an informed choice. The presence of a
particular company or approach in this column does not mean it is endorsed or recommended by TOS. The course of therapy is an individualized decision for parents and must be entered into with great thought, research and prayer. Our goal is to equip you with information to help you make informed choices.

To contact Essential Learning Institute, call
1-800-285-9089, or write for a packet of information to:
ELI, 334 2nd St., Catasauqua PA 18032. Their email address is and they are on the web at

Until next time, press on .... and happy researching!

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