Classrooms, Unique Issues

Can We Play in School?

Spring has arrived in full bloom here in Texas, and with the beautiful weather, I am gratefully reminded of how enjoyable it is to see our kids play. Here at Shady Oak Learning, we take play seriously. It is embedded in our school day. Children who come here have about an hour and a half of free play time outdoors throughout the day. Why? Because research supports that play is an essential part of brain growth and behavior development. Children who move and play show significant increase in IQ.

According to David Elkind, professor emeritus of child development at Tufts University and author of The Power of Play, children spend 50% less time out doors than they did in the late 90’s while passive leisure, such as watching television and playing electronics, has increased dramatically. Research especially shows that the kind of play that promotes sociodramatic play, where children participate in make-believe activities, can increase children’s success in school.

When we found the spot for our current school, one of the requirements was that there was a play space big enough for our kids to run and play. Fortunately, we walk to a neighborhood park a half a block away. I was concerned at first that there was no playground equipment; it was just an open space with trees and a sidewalk surrounding it. I have been fascinated with the play activities the children have come up with, such as making castles with princess and knights, cops and robbers, and, of course, cowboys and Indians. Sometimes I observe them just running laps or walking and talking around the park, Continue reading “Can We Play in School?”

Unique Issues

SOI and Dementia/Alzheimer’s

I am often asked if SOI can help people with dementia or Alzheimer’s. I immediately answer with an emphatic “YES!” In working with SOI for over a decade, I have found that when improvements in brain function are made in a person who does not suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s, said improvements remain even after SOI sessions are completed (barring any future damage to the brain). However, once improvements are realized with a dementia or Alzheimer’s patient, the results may not remain after sessions discontinue.

Here’s why:

Dementia is not a disease. Dementia is a set of symptoms, the most prominent of which is memory difficulty (with additional problems in at least one other area of cognitive functioning, including: language, attention, problem-solving, spatial skills, judgment, planning, or organization (the SOI test evaluates all of these). There are many possible causes of dementia; some are reversible, while others are not.

Alzheimer’s is a disease that worsens over time. Alzheimer’s causes the symptoms of dementia that are irreversible. Unfortunately, it is not possible to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease with 100% accuracy while the patient is alive; it can only be accurately diagnosed after death, when the brain tissue is carefully examined by a specialized doctor.

Roy Cunningham with daughter, Pat (circa 1950)
Roy Cunningham with daughter, Pat (circa 1950)

When I opened MindMenders in 2008, I had the privilege of working with my dad, Roy Cunningham. At the time, Dad was 83 years old and was experiencing many signs of dementia: very poor auditory memory, slow mental processing, less language, and withdrawing in social situations. The causes of Dad’s dementia were chemotherapy treatments for cancer and mental inactivity (he had retired 10 years before). Even though my dad never finished high school, I always knew that he was very intelligent, so I was not surprised at the results of his SOI test; many areas of his test were still in the gifted range!

Dad and I had SOI sessions twice a week that fall. After 40 hours of sessions, I re-tested his below-average SOI tests and all areas improved significantly, Continue reading “SOI and Dementia/Alzheimer’s”

soi-ipp, Unique Issues

SOI/IPP Success for a Student on the Autism Spectrum

In 2004, our IPP clinic was working with a number of mildly autistic students.

We were receiving referrals from a psychologist who offered sound therapy based on the work of the French physician Tomatis. All of the autistic students he tested had auditory processing issues – some of them quite severe. The psychologist was open to the benefits of IPP for his clients because he understood how improvements in auditory processing deficits need to be built on the foundational skills of sensory-integration. He had seen that for sound therapies to be fully effective long-term, a strong vestibular system is required.

One of the referrals, whose parents could not afford the Tomatis therapy, came to us.

Shawn was in fourth grade when we first tested him with SOI and IPP. The cognitive results showed that he had both above average and below average scores. His IPP scores were quite an eye-opener. With perfect 20/20 vision for both distance and close-up, his vision screening showed all his scores at the severe level. He also had poor balance and cross-over.

In SOI/IPP classes, Shawn enjoyed most of his modules or brain exercises. Not surprisingly, he struggled with most of the sensory-integration and vision exercises. Fortunately, his parents were patient with the time needed to develop each of the physical exercises to a mastery level. He took twice as long as most IPP students to complete. It was worth the time invested! Continue reading “SOI/IPP Success for a Student on the Autism Spectrum”

certified learning, Classrooms, inspiration, learning skills, SOI News, soi-ipp, Testing, The Basics, training, Unique Issues

Building a Real Student Support Team


What if you were able to…

  • anticipate, identify, and intervene with ninety percent of your “at-risk” students in kindergarten or first grade
  • help eliminate students’ self-esteem issues related to failure in school
  • bypass reliance on the observations of overextended classroom teachers for most intervention referrals
  • develop an individual and developmentally appropriate plan to effectively intervene with students by the first semester of kindergarten
  • develop an efficient, systematic, easily documentable Student Support Team/RTI procedure for teachers as well as students
  • significantly reduce your Special Education referrals and greatly reduce the number of non-qualifying referrals

What do schools need besides money?

More important than money, they need the information to make good decisions. We have an education system that demands more of young children than they can deliver developmentally.

The system is demanding academic skills that are not accessible to a child until their motor sensory, visual, and cognitive skills are in place.

Our frenetic lifestyles, work schedules, and testing agendas rob our children of appropriate early learning experiences both cognitively and physically. As a result, we are labeling some students with learning disabilities that, given the right interventions, might never cross the threshold into Special Education.

Teachers are frustrated and dismayed because at least twenty-five percent of their students are not able to do what they are asked academically. They come to a Student Support Team meeting with their concerns. “Student can’t read, can’t spell, can’t do math, and can’t pay attention.” What are we to do? How can the student go to the next grade level without the requisite skills in place? How will they ever pass the standardized tests? Continue reading “Building a Real Student Support Team”

Testing, Unique Issues

Why Gifted Students Can Benefit from SOI Assessment

There are many kinds of giftedness. One of the most common misconceptions about gifted individuals is that they will excel in all areas.

Some individuals who are highly academically gifted can be very average when it comes to creativity. The reverse is also true. Some of the most highly creative individuals have gaps in their ability to thrive in a primarily academic setting.

Dr. Mary Meeker, who was given the Torrance Creativity Award (a prestigious national award given to an educator of gifted children), was concerned about meeting the emotional needs of the gifted child. She wrote, “Since the gifted have a tendency toward acute sensitivity, with feelings of being different and lonely, their motivation is easily diminished or extinguished when they are locked into an environment at home or at school which is neither supportive nor accepting.”

To ensure that gifted students meet their full potential, they need to be acknowledged for their giftedness, assisted with any learning issues, and given an opportunity to express themselves in ways that are meaningful to them. SOI (the Structure of Intellect) – the brain child of Dr. Meeker – offers a way to assist the gifted by giving important feedback on areas of giftedness and by identifying and correcting learning problems.

The SOI-LA, is an assessment tool that measures abilities. It measures multiple intelligences with the intention of empowering a person to develop their full potential by first understanding their own strengths and weaknesses. SOI has a long history in the field of giftedness. Dr. Meeker, who created the SOI assessment based on the theory of J.P. Guilford, was herself very gifted. And misunderstood.

When she began testing students in the school system in California, she discovered an interesting fact about gifted students – that many of them have learning difficulties that are seldom addressed. Continue reading “Why Gifted Students Can Benefit from SOI Assessment”

Unique Issues

Case Study: Atypical Gifted/Learning Different


As a psychologist and the director of the SOI Diagnosis and Testing Center of Manhattan Beach, I assessed Ryan, 11, using a variety of ecologically valid tools to measure neuro-processing, including the following: developmental history, parent and teacher-report checklists, clinical interview, visual motor screening, the Structure of Intellect (SOI) Test of Learning Abilities, the Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS-2), and the House-Tree-Person Personality Screening.

Ryan presented with a history of poor reading comprehension, hyperactivity, sensory issues (difficulty turning pages while reading), an awkward pencil grip, “quirkiness,” poor frustration tolerance, and under-performance problems. He has great difficulty finishing his work on time, or starting a reading or writing assignment. Ryan wears glasses, which correct his visual acuity to 20/20. He is double-jointed, twirls his shirt, and makes verbal clicking sounds. When asked to read, Ryan states, “It’s just too hard; I can’t read.” He often gives up and cries. A review of his symptoms would elicit diagnostic questions including dyslexia, ADHD, spectrum disorder, learning disabilities and/or visual processing disorder.

Ryan presented with some difficulty following the test instructions, especially on reading speed and memory tests. His handwriting and fine motor (NFU) coordination appeared impaired. He did not exhibit symptoms of an attention disorder. His checklists were negative for ADHD. Ryan’s SRS-2 was negative for a Spectrum disorder. Ryan did present issues relating to a visual processing disorder – Reading Disorder (DSM-5: 315.0) – which slows down his response time and makes his academic efforts frustrating and inconsistent.

My overall diagnosis for Ryan can be summed up as follows: Ryan has a classic “learning different” brain. Continue reading “Case Study: Atypical Gifted/Learning Different”

Unique Issues

The Rest of the Story

I gave my friend Sean a call the other day to see how he was getting along.

“Great,” he said. “In fact, I’m doing really well. You knew that I’m working on my Master’s degree, didn’t you?”

Yes, I knew Sean was doing well. I always make it a habit to inquire about his well-being. Since I met him in 2010, shortly after his return from two tours of military service in Afghanistan with the U.S. Marine Corp, he has become someone I often think about.

When I asked about his field of study, he shared, “My area of interest is Engineering Technology Management. While I’m finishing my studies, I’m also working at the university’s engineering department in the study of micro- and nanofabrication. They call it micro-electric systems.”

Rewind back to 2011.

My daughter, Krista, called me about a year after I first met Sean. She was very concerned about him. His job in the military was in forward reconnaissance. As a result, he had been in close proximity to multiple IED explosions. He shared with her that inattentiveness, memory problems, and coping skills were causing him difficulty in his attempts to regain a normal life and resume his dream of attending college to become a physicist or engineer.

He also mentioned that he had been diagnosed with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and probable traumatic brain injury due to blast concussions. His doctors had recently advised him to think about choosing a less academically challenging career option. In Sean’s words, “They think engineering will not be an attainable goal for me as I am now damaged goods, and they say, it will probably get worse.”

Krista, who had recently been trained in SOI Basic and Intermediate, quickly told Sean, “You need information! Let my mom test you using the SOI and see how your intellectual abilities really look! If there are weaknesses, you will know it. But, you will also know your strengths, and how to use those strong areas to develop your weak areas. You can’t just assume that your experience will be the same as every other person just because you have gone through similar events. At least this way, you’ll know and be able to build from there!”

Sean was willing to give it a try, Continue reading “The Rest of the Story”