Neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to change, is actually the opposite mindset of any diagnosis. That’s because a diagnosis almost always comes with a prognosis—and with that, we often become limited in our beliefs.
There is always hope
For example, if our child has (fill in the diagnosis), then the prognosis for that diagnosis will dictate what we should and should not expect our child will be able to do.
Yet there are no self-imposed restrictions when we go the neuroplasticity route. Here, the mindset is: If given the opportunity, who knows how the brain might organize itself? Who knows what may result once the brain has different neural connections in place?
Now, I acknowledge that some may believe that such thinking sounds like denial. But I’ve had the incredible experience of working with over 5,000 people who chose to explore what might happen if they believed their brain (and then their life) could change. So, I have actually experienced that neuroplasticity is real, very real.
I also know that what we think greatly influences how our brain is wired. In other words, our brain can only believe what we tell it is true.
Since that’s the case, I, for one, choose to believe whatever thoughts bring me the most peace and joy. So, if the choice is between a prognosis that limits hope and neuroplasticity that dares us to dream, why not go for the latter?
What’s actually going on in the brain?
If so, we’d now ask this question if someone has a diagnosis, such as dyslexia: what is going on in the lower centers of the brain?
That’s key since the lower centers of the brain can be viewed as the ground floor in natural brain organization. In other words, if the brain develops from the bottom up, how might the overall development be affected if the brain was originally built on a foundation that was more like quicksand than cement?
Most importantly, when we focus on the lower centers of the brain, we look at what automatic functions we were intended to acquire if such development had been completed during that first year of life—and how we’re likely to perform and behave if such development is still incomplete.
Interestingly, many behaviors that are commonly associated with dyslexia parallel those that reflect incomplete lower brain development. Here are some examples:
- Problems with motor skills and handwriting are often actually signs of retained primitive reflexes. In natural brain organization, such reflexes help with survival and brain development. But these reflexes are supposed to be integrated during the first year of life. For example, if the Palmar Grasp Reflex isn’t integrated, we’ll see problems with fine motor skills and handwriting later in life. That’s because the brain is still “locked” into that early stage of hand development, which then interferes with developing a pincer grip.
- Our innate sense of direction will also be affected if we have poor proprioception and if our midbrain is not fully developed. Without such neural connections in place, something such as writing reversals is common.
- Likewise, we’d expect to see transpositions, omissions, and substitutions when reading and writing if eye tracking and eye teaming are poor (or nonexistent) as a result of incomplete lower brain development.
- And if the brain is not organized as intended, paying attention is going to be very challenging. For example, one of the functions of the midbrain is to prioritize and then filter unimportant sensory information from entering the cortex. However, if midbrain development is incomplete, all kinds of stimuli may now flood the cortex, making it very difficult to focus since everything is now competing for attention.
- Even poor spelling can be a sign of an underdeveloped midbrain. For example, when midbrain development is complete, we’re able to process more detailed information, including hearing the differences among similar sounds (e.g. how short i sounds in comparison to short e). However, without such awareness, it can be difficult to spell a word if we’re trying to sound it out.
Often, people get sidetracked and focus on a specific area of concern, such as auditory processing problems, without addressing the lower centers of the brain. But this, too, can often lead to a lot of frustration.
Understanding retained reflexes
As an analogy, suppose we have an empty milk carton with holes in the bottom, middle and top.
But what if we decide to plug the holes in the middle of the carton, and then we pour water into it? Well, since we didn’t first plug the holes at the bottom, the water is still going to gush out.
So, problems with auditory processing might also be viewed as similar to those middle holes in the carton. Namely, if we don’t first address incomplete midbrain development and a poorly functioning vestibular system, we may not move forward.
For example, the vestibular system is the very first to receive input before sending it on to the other senses. So, if the initial vestibular input is poor, then all the other senses—including the auditory system–will not have good information to act on. In such cases, the root of the problem may lie within the vestibular, rather than auditory system.
Of course, we’re not limited to making connections between lower brain development and dyslexia. We can ask that same question (What is going on with the lower centers of the brain?) to anyone—even those without a diagnosis.
But here’s what I love best about neuroplasticity. It’s so accommodating. It doesn’t require us to chuck a prior diagnosis or quit taking medicine or stop whatever other approach we’re currently using in order for it to work its magic. We don’t even have to be convinced that our brain might really change. We only have to give it a chance to finish whatever development is still incomplete.
Nancy Sokol Green is the creator of Brain Highways (www.brainhighways.com), a fun, educational program that provides a free online lower brain assessment and courses that teach parents how to facilitate their child’s lower brain development. The Brain Highways program also offers a screening course that teaches both parents and professionals how to facilitate a more comprehensive lower brain assessment, how to interpret those results, and how to apply such information to daily life.