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Frequently overlooked root cause of children struggling in school

Updated: Jun 23

When a child has a learning issue at school, the usual response is to begin academic interventions- things like IEPs, tutors, or maybe different curriculums. While academic support is important, we often miss the powerful interventions outside of the confines of the school system. What if the academic supports aren't needed if we address other root cause issues?


It is widely accepted now that, for adults, physical health IS mental health. We are forgetting this in children. You're never going to have your best performance at work after a crappy night's sleep. You will probably not write an award-winning novel on an airplane if flying makes you nervous. If your blood sugar is low, maybe don't expect to have a smooth discussion with your spouse about finances.

All of this is obvious, yes? Let's remember that as we shift focus to kids who are behind in reading, struggling with math, or getting notes home about their behavior.

I was talking with a mom just the other day that called me because her son was struggling in school, and not on track to advance to the next grade. She called me wanting to know about occupational therapy, reflex integration, and my in-person services. But I had some basic questions about his health first. (And sometimes primitive (primary) reflex immaturity or unintegrated reflexes can absolutely be root cause, but that's another post...)

I first like to ask:

Do they struggle to get to sleep?

Do they wake up tired?

Do they have bags under their eyes?

Do they snore do they mouth breathe?

Do they grind their teeth?

Usually, parents answer yes to at least one of those. This mama said yes to mouth breathing and teeth grinding. Red flag! With any of these symptoms, something is happening that is affecting deep sleep, getting enough oxygen, getting enough nitric oxide, repairing and regenerating during sleep!

With symptoms like these, the airway may be compromised, apnea episodes might be happening. Sleep quality is root cause for academic issues. It's possible it is only one of the contributing factors to learning difficulties, but you'll never know if it is a root cause without intervening here FIRST.

To really belabor the point, you could waste hundreds of hours on tutoring, therapy visits, or supplements and never help your child reach their full potential at school. The tutoring and therapy might help, but it would be limited by the poor sleep. If you improve sleep quality and still experience difficulty at school, then seek out other interventions. The upside is they will be even more beneficial, you'll see faster progress, and spend less time (and money) on them.

Sleep is a big deal- not much else matters if the sleep and oxygenation is poor. It will lead to difficulty at school, but it could look exactly like ADHD, learning disability, or “sensory” issues. There are a lot of other examples of how physical health overlaps and is directly related to mental and academic health in children. Sleep is just one!

So what else could be keeping your child stuck? There's an often overlooked, extremely powerful one at play here: Your belief systems and attachment to diagnosis and labels affect your kids development in huge ways.

Try this exercise that the incredible Tony Robbins uses:

I want you to look at the picture of the classroom and name 3 red objects. Go ahead.  Find as many red things as you can, but at least three.


Ok got those red items? Now, without looking back, tell me the things that are brown. You can’t right? AND, I bet in an effort to be successful to find the red things, you saw some maroon stuff, some pinkish stuff and called it red.

We find what we look for. And we find evidence to support our belief systems.

It's a very powerful, forgotten aspect of helping our children succeed.  Our thought patterns dictate our behaviors and habits. We are the most important people in our kids lives, so our beliefs shape them, not necessarily the other way around.

If we believe that their struggles in school are because they have a specific learning disability or diagnosis, then we will find reasons to support that theory, and we will use all of our attention and resources at confirming that assumption.

Most importantly, we will ignore and miss the very impactful ways physical health is impacting our kids. Remember, you don’t find brown when looking for red, and you lumped maroon in with red.

Story time: In the past, I saw problems that were actually a result of poor sleep, sunlight deficiency, and EMF over-exposure, but because I was under this academic paradigm and belief system that I was hearing from teachers, friends and other professionals, I was looking through a narrow paradign keyhole.

I thought my child just needed MORE academic support, more tutoring, and more time in school. In major ways, he did worse, not better as a result. His physical health crumbled while his academic abilities stagnated at best. Despite all this extra "support" he didn't make any meaningful progress toward his goals.

Fast forward to a year later, with focus on the physical health metrics that he needed, and less than a third of time inside a traditional classroom than before and he’s absolutely thriving.  His reading, writing and math all improved dramatically.

It’s so important to zoom out and pay attention to the other pieces of the puzzle; the ones that are foundational, root cause, cannot miss pieces.

This is an often-missed first step in healing.  Once you have the necessary paradigm or perspective shift, you can begin to pinpoint which interventions are needed in your specific case. And if you need help clarifying what could be impacting your child, set up a consult with me and I can walk you through it.

Here are some areas I investigate:

-reflex integration which supports immune function and sleep


-circadian regulation, sunlight leading to:

-mitochondrial function (since the brain is such a demanding organ!)

-sleep, sleep hygiene, sleep integrity

-airway dysfunction

-emf over-exposure


First, we have to understand the profound impact of basic physical health factors. Then we can see if the academic, behavioral, environment supports are still needed. Sometimes they are! Here to encourage you that sometimes, they're not.

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