My child can’t sleep

animal cat face close up feline

There are dozens of reasons why children can’t sleep but I should like to give you a couple of gems to try out.  Firstly, is the problem that they can’t get to sleep or is it that they don’t stay asleep; very different questions.

If they can’t get to sleep it may be there very active mind that is keeping them awake, dancing from one exciting topic to another. Some people will tell you to ban electronic equipment an hour before going to sleep, which helps,  but grounding is invaluable.  You can imagine roots coming out of your feet down into the ground and to calm your brain notice how many thoughts are circulating currently, vying for your attention.  Then move your conscious awareness down from your head, slowly into your gut.  Now notice how many thoughts are in your head; more often than not the number will have greatly reduced.  Of course, animals help you ground too!

For those that don’t stay asleep, there is an important fact to explore.  Regularly every night we nearly wake up, often about every 1-2 hours. Just after going to sleep the cycle can be as short as 30 mins. If the world is the same as when we went to sleep we just drift off again without realising.  If something has changed; like the light being switch off, radio off, etc we will wake up again and panic about what is going on. Of course, if you do this several times a night you will be exhausted and sleep deprived, as the whole cycle is repeated.  So just make sure everything in a child’s room is the same when they go to sleep as an hour later.

There are many more tips, but these we have found are a good place to start.

#sleep #can’tsleep #grounding

Olive Hickmott

Photo by Pixabay on

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Why do children get multiple diagnoses of different learning difficulties?

brain-linesWhen I started my journey into learning differences I was shocked to find that so many children and adults had multiple diagnoses; for example,  dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD or ADHD and ASD.  My thought was that there must be something going on here that we are missing.

Having literacy problems all my life, and a successful corporate career I started with the NLP spelling strategy; developed it and learned how to teach it to those with severe literacy challenges and diagnosed as Dyslexic.  Since those days, of the thousands of dyslexics we have worked with, 100% of them are not visualising words reliably, the skill that all those good at literacy use unconsciously.  This has been backed up by years of neuroscience.

I have a maths degree and was always good at mental arithmetic. I found that those struggling with very basic maths are not visualising numbers, essential for the way we are teaching maths to very young children, under the age of 7.

Then I looked at some of the ADHD population and found that they had loads of mental images all competing for attention, as they made superfast connections between various facts, A > B > C > D > …..Z   This is an amazing skill but can cause a major distraction in the classroom, as they leap from one topic to another through some tenuous link.  It leaves the audience in total confusion as they try to piece together how the student came to that conclusion.

When it comes to the Autism Spectrum, students are simply deluged in so many mental images, completely out of any control or structure, this in itself causes more anxiety and overwhelm.  When it is all too much it triggers meltdowns or withdrawal from the world.

A common theme that underlies all learning difficulties is Mental Images.  They are a fantastic strength for creativity, design, problem-solving, etc. but out of control mental images can be a nightmare and overwhelming. And then you need to check the environment;  being creative is great for storytelling and design but when it comes to a science lesson creativity probably needs to be turned down.

I believe, that we must teach our very youngest children, under the age of 7, how to use their images, how to control them, plus how to create images of words and numbers for literacy and numeracy.  We know how to do this, it is just a matter of inviting parents and teachers to understand the vital skills of mental imagery.

#nlp #dyslexia #mental images #ADHD #Autism #dyspraxia

If you want to learn more go to, download 2 chapters of my new book “Why Bright Kids Get left behind” or take a look at some of the other great resources.

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New Perspectives on ADHD

ADHD backwards

Empowering Learning launches a new initiative with Penny Perry and Olive Hickmott – A blended learning programme to help you take new perspectives on ADHD. Our objective is to give parents and teachers some simple new perspectives, ideas that they can offer to students and monitor progress.  Our major focus is to reduce anxiety, focus on strengths, help students to effectively use mental imagery to supercharge their learning, for literacy, numeracy, concentration and all aspects of thinking and learning. The short programme contains:

  • 4 short online teleseminars
  • A dedicated private Facebook page with additional resources
  • The Facebook page allowing people to exchange ideas, ask questions and report back on progress.
  • On-going support.

This new mini-series still has 3 live sessions to go: March 5th, March 19th, April 2nd – they are free online with a small charge for recordings, booked before April 15th. Please tell your friends, to sign up here for the live sessions. If you have missed one or more you can sign up for all the recordings here.

#newperspectives  #adhd  #empoweringlearning

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Learning Differently doesn’t mean you have learning difficulties

People learn differently; it is part of being human and it would be very boring if we were all the same.

Talk to your friends and relatives and ask them how they do simple everyday tasks. How do they remember their way to school/work, how do they remember a phone number, how do they solve a puzzle, how do they remember a shopping list. It is really interesting to see how people differ in learning and thinking.

But who is right, there is no real right or wrong, it is just a question of what works for you.

But when it comes to literacy, according to the government there is only one way; you must learn phonics, whatever the language. For a perfectly phonic language like Italian this is reasonable but for English it is very hard when most words don’t sound like they are spelt.

If you told an artist that there was only one way to paint a landscape they might just laugh at your ignorance.

So why, when people learn differently to the way they are being taught in school, do they become labelled as having a learning difficulty or worse still they are learning disabled.

To learn more go to

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Barking up the wrong tree

Barking2Has anyone noticed the actual problem with idioms and highly visual children?  Children with Dyslexia, ADHD, Aspergers and Autism are likely to have excellent visual strengths so mentioning an idiom to them sends them off into trying to sort out expressions like, Barking up the wrong tree!

Here is an extract from my new book: Misunderstood Greatness….and How to Change this.      Neurodiversity through the Lens of Mental Imagery…pre-publication, get 2 FREE chapters here.

An idiom a common word or phrase with a culturally understood meaning that differs from what its composite words’ denotations would suggest. For example, an English speaker would understand the phrase “kick the bucket” to mean “to die” – and also to actually kick a bucket.  Idioms are a big challenge to many highly visual students. Reflecting on this through the lens of mental imagery, I realised what the problem is.  Idioms are very visual, here are a few examples, that will send a visual thinker off into the wrong train of thought:

A hot potato                                               A penny for your thoughts
Actions speak louder than words         At the drop of a hat
Back to the drawing board                     Ball is in your court
Cut corners                                                Be glad to see the back of…….
Beat around the bush.                             Best of both worlds
Best thing since sliced bread                  Bite off more than you can chew
Blessing in disguise                                  Burn the midnight oil
Can’t judge a book by its cover              Caught between two stools
Costs an arm and a leg                             Cross that bridge when you come to it
Cry over spilled milk                                Curiosity killed the cat


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Your child will fail maths without this simple skill

numberspersonsmallThere is an underlying problem with the way maths is taught in primary school; the curriculum assumes that very young children can picture numbers as controlled mental images. This is a presupposition of the whole system.  For even the most basic mental arithmetic mental images are essential; students need to be able to picture numbers, in any of their formats, as mental images. There is no alternative, this is, after all, what ‘mental arithmetic’ means. People who are good at maths will tell you they can see numbers in their mind’s eye.

We should be checking every 4-5-year-old – it only takes seconds to check and minutes to teach the skill. Why don’t we tell every parent and teach it as a simple “how to” skill that everyone can use?  It can’t do any harm.

These are some of the Symptoms of not having good mental images of numbers:

  • Difficulty remembering how numbers are written.
  • Numbers reversed or rotated.
  • Problems with estimating and counting.
  • Poor memory for simple maths facts, like the area of a circle.
  • Difficulties understanding mathematical symbols.
  • Fast moving mental images can also encourage numbers and symbols to rotate, e.g. 6 turns into 9 and + into x.
  • Problems counting backwards
  • Problems remembering shapes.
  • Confusion with similar looking numbers and directions, e.g. 92 or 29.
  • Takes a long time to complete mathematical tables.
  • There can be a lot of words in maths that will trouble poor readers.
  • A hundred squares and multiplication tables can put neurodivergent students into sensory overload.
  • Some students who use mental imagery are so fast they just know the answer and really struggle to show the workings out.
  • Algebra can be meaningless, e.g. 2x+3y.
  • Why teach students to use number triangles and don’t check they can visualise them.

Neurodivergent students are thinking differently, predominantly in pictures and may never think of visualising numbers!

For those who want to know “why”numbers are the shapes they are, teach them the origin of numbers:


To learn more go to, sign up for 2 chapters of my new book Misunderstood Greatness or buy a copy of Bridges to Success: Why bridht hids are being left behind and what you can do to change this.


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St Albans Mental Health 24-25th Nov

Do take a look at this fabulous initiative – something for everyone.  I hope to see you there. I am speaking at 11:15 on Saturday 24th.

  1. The St Albans Mental Health and Wellbeing Conference is a partnership event between YC Hertfordshire, Sandringham School and The OLLIE Foundation.
  2. It runs over the weekend of the 24th –  25th November at Sandringham School in St Albans, Herts.
  3. It’s free for students and amazing value for everyone else –  £45 for professionals and £25 for parents.   We have been able to keep ticket prices down as almost everyone has been able to donate their time.
  4. Tickets include a full day of workshops and talks on the Saturday from some of the leading lights in wellbeing including Natasha Devon and Jonny Benjamin a full lunch and refreshments throughout the day plus entrance to a range of free events, talks and workshops on the Sunday*
  5. Attached also is the timetable for the Saturday which is just packed with great speakers including those from Mexico, Poland, South Africa and the USA –  all flying in at their own expense to support this important event.
  • Galina Dolya, one of the world’s leading experts on Vygotskan and Early Years Education will be making a rare UK  appearance to talk about the importance of emotional regulation.
  • Marcelo Lombard and Rosa Perez from Mexico are giving their only UK talk this year and will share details of their new anti-bulling programme.
  • Zara Phillips, an Adoption Trauma Coach from New York will support delegates to think through the life-long impact of adoption and how we can provide the most useful support when they don’t live happily ever after.  Zara will be joined by international adoptee Ella and her mum who will discuss the impact adoption has had on them.
  • Marta Piernikowska-Hewelt from Poland, will talk about her incredible work in improving communication skills in children and young adults with autism, cerebral palsy, emotional and or behavioural difficulties.
  • Dr Alan Barnard,  one of the world’s leading Decision Scientists, will be running a one day training  –  The Odyssey Decision Maker Masterclass Programme,  based on Behavioural Economics and Positive Psychology
  1. There are 47 talks scheduled for Saturday (full schedule is attached) that cover a range of subjects and issues that will be relevant to anyone who works with or supports children and young people.  The plenary will be delivered by the Head of Public Health Hertfordshire, Prof. Jim McManus.
  2. Sunday will have a more casual atmosphere with delegates simply turning up for the sessions they are booked on to.

I would like to highlight three of Sunday’ FREE workshops:

  • The Odyssey Decision Maker Masterclass Programme, developed by Dr Alan Barnard based on Behavioural Economics and Positive Psychology.  Dr Barnard also created the Harmony Decision Maker App to support his one-day Odyssey programme, and delegates attending will have free access to the App for 1 month. Alan believes this App is has the potential to make a significant difference to people struggling with all sorts of emotional issues including stress, anxiety and suicidal ideation (where no mental health illness is present) and why he has donated his time to attend this conference.  We know that over 50% of youth suicides are not the result of mental illness, but are instead due to an emotional crisis. Often the root cause of that crisis is an overwhelming problem or problems with no light at the end of the tunnel and no ability, or faith in our ability, to tackle the obstacles faced or imagine more effective solutions other than self-harm. The opportunity to attend a seminar with Dr Barnard will give our young people (and adults) a number of tools that will support them with this so they are more confident to think through their problems and find solutions that don’t result in self-harm of suicide.  Whether it be academic pressures, confidence and self-esteem or relationship issues, this FREE full course is suitable for EVERYONE but will be particularly useful to young people or those supporting them, to improve their problem-solving skills and develop their efficacy and agency to manage emotions that may currently be causing them high levels of distress.  You can learn more about Dr Alan Barnard, his work, this award winning decision making process and app as well as see testimonials from past Odyssey Alumni attendees from the video below:
  • OLLIE are putting on a fully funded suicide prevention training, this is a certified course for anyone aged 16 and above.
  • Adoption Trauma specialist, Zara Phillips will be running a work shop with teen international adoptee, Ella, to discuss their shared experiences and how and why we must not ignore the reality of the life long impact of adoption.

You can read more about the workshop hosts and speakers here:

And tickets can be bought here:

Summary here:

Thank you once again for helping with this –  its going to be amazing.

Debi Roberts
YC Hertfordshire Project Officer | Services for Young People |
Hertfordshire County Council | Postal Point CH0022 | County Hall | Hertford | SG13 8DF

01442 454 226  | Internal 84226

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