The Waldon Approach is an integrated developmental approach that provides the learner with appropriate guidance and suitably flexible play materials to build their basic understanding of ‘how things work’ as well as practicing spatial awareness through exploring and discovering the similarities, differences, regularities and patterns of the world, i.e. learning how to learn. It helps child and parents to find something purposeful to do, supports focussing, attention and motivation as well as visuo-spatial processing, hand-eye coordination, sensory integration, crossing the mid-line and staying with a task. These activities are most beneficial, when done daily at home with parents.
The ‘Learning-how-to-learn’ Waldon Approach helps children and adults with autism, developmental delay and/or communication difficulties to ‘learn how to learn’ by building up their ‘general understanding’, the basis of all further learning. It is based on the work of Dr. Geoffrey Waldon, a paediatric neurologist who believed that learning difficulties are the result of a lack of ‘general understanding’ and a lack of ‘understanding understanding’.
Dr. Geoffrey Waldon questioned standard educational practice as inhibiting the child’s learning through their emphasis on instructive teaching and doing things for the approval of the teaching adult. This creates anxiety and other difficult feelings, including a habit of mindlessly going through the motions without understanding, interest and emotional engagement in order to ‘get it over and done with’ using minimal effort and attention. Such an attitude is in fact the opposite of what is required for genuine learning.
It is a theory about the most basic elements of human learning and development. Children with developmental delay, learning difficulties or various disabilities often do not spontaneously explore and learn from their environment. By helping the child through the developmental sequence of simple movement activities with everyday objects we can help them to build the foundation on which language and all further learning can build.
Every child can learn, if our focus is on the child’s potential, i.e. on what the child CAN do rather than on what they cannot do, whatever his challenges, diagnosis or learning difficulties. With well enough informed help, a child who has missed out due to sensory-emotional or learning difficulties or other challenges can catch up with what he has missed out and continue to learn, whatever his diagnosis or developmental delay.
Frequently Asked Questions
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The child who is aimless, lacks interest and motivation to play and explore the world around, misses our on a wide range of vital experiences that are the necessary foundation of all learning, language and mental development.
Without using their hands to explore and act purposefully on the world, a child will become increasingly stuck in repetitive auto-sensuous habits that will exacerbate his developmental delay leading to increasing behavioural problems.
The Waldon approach provides us with a developmental model and simple practical activities that are easy to do and materials that are easily available to parents at home. The main problem is usually how to field the child’s refusal and resistance, which the Autism Home Consultant will help you to understand and manage.
The Waldon approach is a developmental approach that starts with where the child is at developmentally and focusses on helping the child gain confidence in small steps.
The Waldon approach is directive, but developmental. Initially we work with the child hand-over-hand and without talking, so he can feel and sense ‘how it works’ without the added complication of listening and decoding spoken instructions. But the focus is not to teach the child, what he cannot do yet, but on helping him/her to learn from his own experiences through simple movement activities and to always be successful.
Movement is really a child’s first language. Babies need to explore the world around them, first their own body, then the world of objects through adults providing everyday objects that are interesting for a baby to touch, hold, suck and investigate with all his senses. Already this requires movement.
But once the child has become more mobile, he must be allowed to move about so he can encounter more of the world around him. This is essential for learning and healthy brain development, including language and play. Children, who have not gone through the natural experience of all these developmental movement stages, need to catch up with what they have missed (see also our section: ‘Every child can learn’).
Sensory-motor play, movement games or body-gymnastics are sometimes the only way in to reach and engage children who spend a lot of time in their comfort zone. Movement integrates the nervous system and is therefore extremely regulating and organising.
Sensitive sensory stimulation from an attentive adult can ‘wake them up’ and get them more interested in the world around them. However, we must be careful not to let it turn into mechanical movement of just going through the motions. Make sure you keep the play alive, soulful, interactive and emotionally engaging. Have fun TOGETHER!
Sensory integration happens in the child’s body-mind, when children move and explore, when they climb trees, sweep the floor, wash the dishes or the car. It involves a child feeling their own body when making their own effort, so that their hands, arms, legs, eye, ears and mind all work together. With feelingful support and focus on emotions, human beings can overcome all sorts of internal or external challenges.
Waldon activities clearly have sensory integration aspects, starting with a focus on movement as being primary to all learning as well as additional elements that are not usually part of office-based sensory integration sessions like ‘continuant behaviour’. Children learn how far they can reach with their arms and hands, about crossing the mid-line, visuo-spatial processing, hand-eye coordination or trunk stability in order to turn around to pick something up from behind. The focus is on learning to play using their hands, and learning to sit and stay.
Sensory integration is not limited to sessions in OT’s playrooms. It also takes place when making things using the hands and imagination, including crafts, and when doing house hold tasks and everyday chores activities that involve movement and arise every day at home.
In a Waldon Lesson the adult helps the child to experience movements/activities that develop his general understanding of 'how things work', including his/her own body.
During this time we do NOT focus on social or verbal communication, which is why Waldon called it ‘The asocial lesson’. However, you will find that precisely because of this there is a great deal of non-verbal emotional communication.
- The facilitator is behind/beside the child to show, prompt and assist, initially hand-over-hand, - without praise.
- The child may resist at first, because he has never done it before. After a few times, he will begin to anticipate and understand ‘how it works’, and begin to look forward to these experiences.
- AVOID talking (too much) as it distracts the child from figuring out for himself, how to understand.
- Best progress: up to 1 hour every day.
- The aim is to allow the child to feel and have new experiences about the world, which he may be able to use spontaneously at other times, i.e. avoid testing or teaching.
Visual problems are among the ‘hidden disabilities’ that often go undetected. In fact more than a quarter of children with learning or behavioural problems have underlying visual processing difficulties, even though they have been measured as having perfect 20/20 vision.
But their brains cannot make sense of what their eyes are telling them, e.g. to sort out the difference between foreground and background, forms, sizes, distance, speed, position in space. These issues are also addressed by the movement activities of the Waldon approach.
The EYES do the LOOKING. But it is the BRAIN that does the SEEING.
‘Functional Reading’ is a playful developmental approach of sorting and coding activities to help children to learn to read without requiring speech or language comprehension through association, matching and coding.
Depending on the child’s developmental levels it supports the growth of the child’s general understanding and communication through graded activities of pairing, sorting, matching, sequencing and coding. It is an advanced form of Geoffrey Waldon’s ‘Learning-how-to-learn’ approach, and can also help with ‘reading disabilities’ and dyslexia.
Crossing the midline, which relies on good bilateral coordination, means using part of one side of the body in the space of the other part. Some examples of crossing the midline include sitting cross-legged on the floor or drawing a horizontal line from one side of the paper to the other without switching the pencil to the other hand.
Why is bilateral coordination and crossing midline important? Having efficient bilateral coordination enables both feet or both hands to work together. This allows you to play and work with fluid body movements. Bilateral coordination and crossing the body’s midline also support a child’s development of fine motor skills, ability to use tools, and ability to visually track a moving object.
Geoffrey Waldon described 2 complementary kinds of understanding:
‘General Understanding’ is the universal understanding of how the world and how our bodies work, which is basic to all human beings and similar in all countries, climates, and cultures throughout history. General Understanding cannot be taught, but is acquired internally by the child as he plays and explores his environment. It is the world of the child in the first 1-2 years before there are rules or ‘right and wrong’, and it lays the foundations for language development and imaginative play.
‘Cultural Understanding’ comes later, is moulded by the specific external requirements of the family and their culture, and varies as much as all the different languages in the world. It differs according to country or region, social classes within the area, and every family style and history, including the gender of the child. It is meant to prepare the child to fit into the society in which he is growing up. It is taught to the child by the people around him, directing and supporting him to learn to ‘do it the right way’. To take his place in society a child needs to learn the particular cultural norms of that society. But these cannot develop without a solid foundation in ‘general understanding’.