Understanding Brain Function ImbalanceAug 03, 2014 03:28AM ● By Kristina Crivellone
illustration provided by Brain Balance Center, Norwalk
Neurodevelopmental disorders are on the rise, and our children need help. In 2011, approximately 12 percent of Connecticut’s school-age children had an Individualized Education Program (IEP). There are also a large number of children who struggle in school but don’t qualify for services. A decade ago, you might never have crossed paths with a child with autism. Today, it’s rare not to know someone affected by the disorder. Twenty years ago, a hyperactive and disruptive child was viewed as a “discipline” problem. Today, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) is one of the most prevalent childhood problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2011, approximately 6.4 million U.S. children carried an AD/HD diagnosis. A short time ago, most parents had never even heard of Asperger’s syndrome, bipolar disorder or oppositional defiant disorder. Today, these diagnoses are in the consciousness of many parents.
What’s causing this epidemic rise in neurodevelopmental issues? The well-researched theory of epigenetics steps in to help explain what many people have suspected for decades; Environmental factors are interacting with our genes to make them behave differently. The “environmental” term refers to physical environmental factors as well as everything your developing child encounters. The genes behave differently by turning on or off in new ways or at odd times, resulting in a change in the way the two hemispheres of the brain develop. When one side of the brain is significantly less developed than the other, the result is called a functional disconnection. This means that the two sides of the brain are unable to communicate and work together as a whole.
Long-standing research has shown the different functions of the right and left hemispheres of the brain. The right brain is about the big picture, including gross motor, non-verbal communication, social and reasoning skills. The left brain is more about details, such as fine-motor and verbal communication skills, and logical and sequential thinking. These two sides of the brain have to work together to handle higher-level tasks.
Imagine the brain as an orchestra in which many skilled musicians are playing at different speeds or in different keys at the same time. The result would be chaotic and inharmonious. Similarly, children suffering from functional disconnection may feel as if they’re in the middle of a jumbled, chaotic mess. This makes even simple tasks seem overwhelming and often results in unpleasant or even disturbing behaviors.
Functional Disconnection Syndrome (FDS) encompasses a myriad of symptoms. Each child is individual and presents his/her own blend of issues. When a child is dealing with a right brain underdevelopment, hyperactivity, a lack of social understanding, impulse control and behavior issues, anxiety, and emotional reactivity or distractibility can be seen. When a left brain weakness is present, the children are much more socially adept but may have an abundance of academic issues, auditory processing and speech problems, poor motivation, depression, memory issues or problems with task completion. Additionally, the underdeveloped hemisphere can also hold back the more developed hemisphere.
Understanding these processes brings increased ability to remedy the problems associated with FDS. The brain behaves much like a muscle—the more it is used, the stronger it gets. The brain is comprised of neural pathways which are easiest imagined as trees. A weak, underdeveloped tree has few branches and roots; conversely, a strong tree has a full volume of each. The more that specific neural pathways are exercised, the more “branches and roots” they will sprout, and the closer they are to full function. Finally, when both sides of the brain are on equal playing fields, the brain will start to work together, to integrate. This is achievable through a process termed Hemispheric Integration Therapy. In the therapy, only one side of the brain is worked to help it develop further. Higher-level tasks are then introduced which require both sides to work together in an integrated fashion.
Because of advances being made in our understanding and research about the brain, parents seeking help beyond a pill may have an answer and a way to provide their children with more hope.
Kristina Crivellone is the center director for Brain Balance Achievement Center. To find out more about functional disconnection and corrective treatment, email [email protected] or call 203-847-3000. Brain Balance Achievement Center is located at 15 Cross St, Norwalk.