I have always liked the number 7. This time of the year always makes me reflective as it was the first time students flooded into The Homework Club in Blanchardstown in 2009. Many of these first cases turned out to be hugely influential in my own journey.
The first parent to ever ring me seeking help had a teenager who had not attended school for months, having dropped out of the system. He took classes with us for 6 weeks and did so well in his State Exams the school rang his mother with the results wanting to know what had changed. We worked with him for the next 3 years and hence I found myself taking on a huge number of cases with Asperger's Syndrome. I'm now known internationally as an expert in an area I never expected or set out to be.
By the following September, even though I set the school up for second level students, I found myself taking on the transition age before you start big school. By the following January, a year after my craziness to set up my own school with my own teaching methods, the youngest students were now 4.
Within this time, I had been encouraged by people to go for a number of awards. These were important to me personally as the first outside validations of my work.
I guess all along the only judge of my work, research and methods had been the results my students have received. From there I have become a top referral for many organisations. I find it sad that in many cases I am the person who people are sent to when no one else has been able to help them.
Two years after starting the school, I realised I needed to convert all my work, experiences and methods into a formal system. This meant the birth of The Purple Learning Project. I have always felt there is a balance between supporting people currently in the system and making real change for the future.
I remember this odd moment of describing the basic Purple Learning method to someone and they asked, "Who's work is this" and saying, "It's mine." What book could they read it in? The answer was none - my head. It's always been a bit bizarre to be so outside the box. To work in a way that has not existed before. The Homework Club was, for me, about proving all the wacky ideas in my own head.
Along the way in those years, I developed all these ways of working with people with a whole spectrum of conditions including: ADD, ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome, Dyslexia, Audio Processing Disorders, Hearing Impairments, Home Schooling, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia, Confidence, Bullying, Self Harm, Sexuality, Learning Disabilities, Gifted Children, Exam Fears, Child Development, People Development, Team Development, Business Success, Bereavement and so on.
When I started the school I had one main question in my head. Why do no two dyslexics learn the same way? Through working with so many people and conducting interviews, which allowed me to create unique profiles for everyone, I now have the answer to that question 7 years later.
I now have the recorded patterns of how personality and learning styles go together.
I reached the next major crossroads in the school 4 years into the project. The students knew what we did. I collected many of their comments and feedback. It was a magic sense of achievement having created an environment they all loved so much. Hence, the tagline became, "Develop Your Love of Learning." But the parents had no idea in many cases what the project was about. I felt I was missing part of the puzzle. I also felt that many parents had lost involvement in their own children's education.
Confidence Club was born.
I was also itching to take the projects nationally and internationally. Every time I did a radio interview I would be contacted by all these people rurally in Ireland with no support. Confidence Club has been about supporting students in their own homes, with the support and understanding of their parents.
Along the way, the methods have continued to develop in the background. It feels like a back room factory sometimes. The most significant one being in 2013, Periodic Table of the Development of Results. Nicknamed Purple Success. It brought my science and creative brain together. It is the table of the elements each personality needs to succeed in life. Whether it is a 3-year-old I am helping to talk or a 5-year-old to read or a business to grow. It is always just about people and their personalities.
With all the work I have done to date, my key focus in life still remains to take literacy and intelligence out of the same sentence. Because even after all these years, I still remember what the teacher said to me in school at the age of 7.
Dr. Naoisé O'Reilly
It was a great surprise recently for me to count up the number of countries I have students living in and to find there are now 12 across the globe. These include: Australia, Belgium, China, Finland, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and United States. What technology truly brings to education is accessibility.
So, it's that time of year again when we wrap up and reflect on what we have done this year. Reflection is such a critical part in successful development that I encourage everyone we work with to go through the process. I'm always sending 'nagging' type e-mails asking, "so, where are you at now?"
For me, I started the year being congratulated by a series of very influential and hugely successful people internationally. It's impossible to work in a vacuum and this recognition has meant a massive step forwards for me. Especially in little Ireland! It's a sad fact that we are never truly appreciated where we come from. We have beaten our own records on financial success for our Clients this year with an American client making an astronomical amount for an individual in just 48 hours after working with us. But with the Podcast launch, Purple Psychology, it has meant that we are now reaching people in 62 countries internationally. This has also meant that I needed to find a way to work with more employees and hence I created the 4 hour employee system this year. And I said, "no one will listen to the podcast." How wrong could I have been? http://purplepsychology.com/
As always, we have seen a huge mixture of clients this year. From 2 years old upwards. I have helped people to win sporting events, turn their businesses around, get promoted in work, learn to talk, read and write in some of my shortest timescales yet. It's been a year of massive research into empathy creation, speech paths and integration programmes to focus on aspects of Asperger's Syndrome and Dyspraxia/Dyscalculia. My students have expanded across the continents too.
I have also formalised the work I do with Homeschooling (www.homeschooling.ie) and made a separate project for this work. We now support students across the globe and have students in practically every county in Ireland being supported in their homes and in mainstream school. Every year the reach just seems to grow.
I know the high profile client list and the business/sport profiling work I do brings more interest from the media but for me the special moments are still in the videos I get in my inbox of students reading who have never read before, especially when it's only 6 months later and they can read the school play for Christmas. For me my work is still all about others being able to do what I couldn't do at their age or in a way so much easier than what I have had to put in to get where I am now.
Oh, I almost forgot. We also launched an App on the iTunes store this year, the 365Success Productivity App. http://purplepsychology.com/365success-app/
To think Personality Theory Research can have such profound results. I have been told again this week in Washington D.C. that I look at the world differently to everyone else. I still struggle to see what people mean. All I know is that the answers don't seem hard to me.
Merry Christmas 2015 & Happy New Year 2016,
Dr. Naoisé O'Reilly.
From the very beginning, when I started my own 4 education projects we allotted time every couple of weeks to “Self Reflection.” This meant that even students as young as 5 were encouraged to think about how far they had come. Very simple questions like, “what can you do now that you couldn’t before? What is easier? What is still difficult?”
If you don’t check in with yourself you don’t know what you have achieved. Never mind comprehend what is left to do. A sense of achievement is vital. Otherwise, why do we do all this work? What is the point of learning if you don’t see who you are?
Also, this gave my teachers an opportunity to offer feedback on what was happening. Though, to be honest, feedback is something that is integrated into every task and exercise due to the comments we ask children, parents and teachers for. It’s second nature to mentor by encouragement and leave people with a very clear idea of where they stand at all times.
Feedback is vital in education because anyone with a sensing personality needs the reassurance that they are doing it right. Kinesthetic people look for feedback all day long all around them - even in their physical worlds - never mind emotionally. Anyone with a high feeling element to their personality takes criticism very badly and rarely finds it constructive.
There are a variety of personalities that thrive on praise - they stop functioning and lose all motivation when it is lacking.
In 1925 Dr. Elizabeth Hurlock showed in a study that students who were praised and encouraged got vastly different results from those who were not or were criticized.
By the end of the 5th day the results showed:
Those given praise – 71% improvement
Those criticized – 19% improvement
Those ignored – 5% improvement
This is huge and has been known since 1925. So, why are we still giving students such a hard time at such critical stages in the exam process? What I have to explain to parents on repeat loop at this time of year is that your daughter or son is not the same person they were in February of this year as they will be in June - 4 months is a lifetime in the development of a person between the ages of 15 and 18. So much will have happened. They will have changed their appearance, their friends, their music tastes and so on. They have been learning so much information and working so hard to understand how to study, how to answer questions and most of all they have learned from their mistakes in The Mocks! So, why would you think they were the person they were 4 months ago and would they get the same result now?
I have written about The Mocks before, the top tips for why we do them and how we get through. But this year I'd like to write about something slightly different. The "Chicken-Liken-syndrome" where students seem to genuinely feel like the sky is falling in on top of them! The mocks are a test run - you are meant to make mistakes. That is the whole point of doing them!
For some of The Students at The Homework Club®, Confidence Club®, The Purple Learning Project® and Homeschooling® this happens in a more spectacular fashion. I myself did very badly in my Mocks as do many students with learning
Some students haven't gotten to grasp the whole course in one "bulk" form - they are struggling to put all the sections together and maybe they haven't covered their best section yet! No one tells you how to sit an exam and for some students who really do need to do a visual map of the answer and the question, this is highly discouraged and implied to be a waste of time when it's not as all. It's a vital way of thinking for them. If you are going to use a laptop, perhaps you didn't get to do this in The Mocks? There are so many factors as to why students find exams difficult.
I call this time of the year "crushing season" because I watch the students who we have built up since September lose complete confidence in their abilities. We have to build them up again from the floor. I really question at this stage if The Mocks are a good exercise at all? Surely there must be a better way to have a test run?
The sky really isn't falling in and there’s loads of time left to fix the mistakes - but it is very hard to show people your mistakes when you are made to feel so bad for making them. We do The Mocks as a test run to get feedback, encouragement and hopefully some praise for what we are doing well. To learn from our mistakes.
Many people reading this might find all of these reasons lacking in the current system. They may find that it is an ultimatum to drop down in a subject. Even if it is worth whatever risk going for the higher level and getting more points - valuable points you need. Doing a subject and passing it is of no benefit if you don’t have the level you require for a course or the points at the end of the day. After all, these are the only reasons we sit exams in the first place - to get the qualifications we need!
Dr. Naoisé O’Reilly,
This is why when I now do Psychological Assessments of young children I am very focused on a fun enjoyable experience - a trauma free zone if you like.
I was 8 when I had my second Psychological Assessment and 16 when I had my third. I have lived with hereditary Profound Dyslexic Spectrum Disorder since birth and it still impacts of every aspect of my daily life - but I developed ways to cope.
I remember there were pages and pages of how I did not measure up to other children my age. There was never help given to my parents and I to assist me in working the way I needed to work. The only focus was on what I could not do.
Hence, this is why I started to develop my own methods of learning from 4. I was also acutely aware at 4 that I was completely incapable of doing what the School and Government Shrinks wanted me to so.
These days, I set children and families up for success no matter how “behind” the rest of the world perceives a child’s cognitive development and behaviors.
Every family I have dealt with personally, and that is thousands of people at this stage, are set up to succeed in the precise ways that their child is capable of learning and developing.
Personality is a massive factor in development. Some people are more independent that others. They may walk faster, they may be quieter. Some people are born chatterboxes and others do not speak until much later on. Some will not play by themselves others are loners. No one can be put on a scale and expected to fit.
Even children who have hearing impairments and a great big long list of conditions I deal with can develop better and learn faster with the right interventions. It does not matter what it is - no two children can rise to their challenges in the same ways.
How can a professional determine if a 4-year is up to task with cognitive development?
Most professionals rely on standardized test. Personally, I do a session with the child using my “toolbox.” This involves a whole series of games with everything from Playdoh to magnets. This allows me and my Team to test abilities across a whole spectrum without the child even being aware of it. All the testing is completed without the child feeling like they are being examined.
What if the 4-year old cannot do all the cognitive skills for his/her age?
Should a parent worry?
I do not deem tasks age appropriate. I strongly believe development is a little bit more complex and I think it is unfortunate that a lot of learning difficulties are determined on an age scale. This ends up making parents feel very bad about their child’s development. During my initial assessments, yes sure it is always very obvious to me what people cannot do, but it is equally obvious if they have fantastic visual pattern recognition or memory association skills. These can be used to develop the areas that are lacking. Just the same ways I achieved a First Class Honors Degree followed by a Doctorate when told as a teenager that University was “beyond my status.”
I think the system sets up parents to worry. But one of my key tasks in taking on any new case is to put everyone’s mind at ease and make everything doable. Families always walk out the door with a way, structure, plan an if necessary Team support to do everything.
How can a parent help a child develop these skills?
I set up programs for parents to use the everyday in their own home to help their children. I think one of the disadvantages of our technological world is that it is very removed from other people and parents. Yes, I do like to use some Apps but I like to develop skills using less remote games. Child cookery, for example, builds time management skills and the use of a radio in the background helps children filter information.
Dr. Naoisé O'Reilly Expression Developist™
I always see ADD and ADHD as an affect of what is really going on with the students who come to me looking for help and support with their school work. This has helped me to coin a term over the last 4 years called "Diffuse Focus™" to describe what is really happening for them. I equally see these patterns of behaviour carried through to adult life with our business clients!
Dr. Naoisé (Expression Developist™)
Some highlights from this year for me are a very young child not only talking better but starting main stream school despite years of challenges, 9 out of 10 in spelling tests after only a few weeks work, from illiterate to teaching your little brother to read in weeks, from failing to an A in State Exams, learning to read after years of having been in a Special Needs School with no results, staying in school despite all the challenges, now averaging a 2.1 after failing at University level, changing schools with new hope after completing the State Exams - Just a few of the many stories that I feel the Team should be so proud of!
The fundamental differences between self harm & eating disorders – vital in helping students with these conditions
One of the keys to helping in any situation is awareness and understanding. So what is it about when someone chooses to harm themselves? This can be through starvation, cutting themselves or purposely making themselves sick. All of these behaviours can seem extreme and difficult to relate to for many parents, teachers or friends.
All of these actions are firstly about control. You have lost control in some way in your life. Everything just seems to be out of your grasp and you need something to focus your attention on and have control over. Eating, food, routines and exercise are all very easy to control. There are no external factors and so these become the focus for you. The first time I ever came across Anorexia was when I was still in school myself. Oddly there were a number of female students in the same year who were all experiencing eating disorders. Their behaviour stuck in my head and when I later started university I was exposed once again to people around me with the condition, especially through my work in the students union. All of the people either controlled how much they ate, over exercised compulsively or took some sort of solace in making themselves ill after eating.
I wasn't exposed to self harm until much later when I became an educational mentor and education administrator. From a distance this looks to be a very different condition and in the same way as my school days I saw there was a tendency for there to appear to be groups of students with the same behaviour patterns. This made me ask is it fashionable? Is it something you do because others around you do it? What are the reasons and the triggers? How different are these actions? Is cutting yourself the same as starving yourself and most importantly what are the keys to helping someone?
So aside from control or loss of it what else do these conditions have in common? The simple answer is self image. But the self image is not created in the same way and this is vital to understanding the difference in helping people with eating disorders and self harm.
The classic picture of self image for a person with an eating disorder is that they will stand in front a mirror and see a much fatter, heavier and unpretty image of themselves. This can be very hard to understand from the outside. How can they see something that is so distorted?
This important point is that the "self image" they have of themselves is created from inside. My experience has always been that they have developed an image of themselves that is untrue and doesn't easily seem to have stemmed from anyone else. There may in fact be a deep trauma or experience that has happened to them that has led them to think very badly of themselves and hence see themselves in a very negative way and especially in a very physically unattractive way. Getting to the route of this trigger that has lead to their own self image is key to solving the condition.
With self harm there is also a poor self image but this has been created in a slightly different way. There is always an external pain that the student is trying to drain away very literally. There will be someone in the background who is making them feel very bad about themselves. They will be bullied either directly by someone or through an indirect way. I have seen a huge correlation between academic achievement and self harm. If there is a sense that you are doing very poorly in school or not keeping up with others expectations of you this can make you feel very bad about yourself. I have seen that students with learning difficulties very often don't feel they are good enough in school. There can be a huge pressure that builds up. There is a great fictional example of this in the book Casual Vacancy by J.K Rowling. Parminder Jawanda is in a very high achieving family and as a culture educational achievement is given a huge priority and status. As she is dyslexic and misunderstood in the family she never feels that she comes up to the mark. This in itself would probably not be enough for her to resort to self harming but as she is being anonymously cyber bullied it's all too much! She doesn't have a way to express all that is happening to her and so she finds control in cutting the pain away. I have seen many examples where people self harm because they don't feel they come up to other peoples mark or expectations coupled with an inability to express what is happening in their world.
If we go back to one of my earlier questions - why is there a tendency for groups of students to self harm in the same schools? Well one of the correlations that I have seen is that schools that are not seen as centers of excellence but would like to be higher on the league tables put their students under enormous pressure to achieve academically. Schools that are consistently doing well have an expectation but it's almost taken for granted that a certain type of student is going to do very well. So there is often not the same pressure as a whole on the class. Schools from disadvantaged areas unfortunately often behave as if they don't have any great expectations. So schools that are middle ground and striving to be better are the ones where students often feel under huge pressure - I have even seen this from the time of the entrance exams. In these schools I have seen pockets of self harm. It's like it is a way to alleviate the pressure cooker effect and yes of course when one person does it then others follow.
So in summary - understanding that these actions are about control and expression is vital. There is always a trigger for poor self image which is key. In the case of eating disorders this can be hard to trace back as it is a very internal bench mark of self image that the person has created for themselves. With self harming the self image is created externally by someone else making us feel like we are not good enough or causing us to feel a pain that we need to get out of our systems.
Finally the key to all of this is expression. Being able to unravel the triggers. When you can truly create your own self image and feel good about yourself you will no longer have the need to cause yourself pain in any way. This is the process I have taken many people through.
Dr. Naoisé O'Reilly, Expression Developist.™