Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Right Brain, Left Brain... Part 3

Brain Dominance affects more than handedness.

We tend to think of our dominant side only in terms of right or left handedness. But brain dominance controls a whole lot more than that. 

As you probably know, the left side of your brain controls the right side of your body and the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body.

Typically, brain dominance not only determines handedness, but also which foot we lead with, which eye we focus with, and much less well known, which ear we listen better with.

Kit is extremely right dominant. To the point that I several times looked up information on cerebral palsy, though I have been assured she is fine. It's really a matter of communication in her brain itself.

Miss V explained to me recently that the left side of the brain is our logic center. It is very linear and pattern based, thus it is  where we process language and math. Whereas the right hemisphere is our emotion center. This is where we process music, abstract and spacial thinking, creativity, and emotional expression.

This does NOT mean, however, that right handed people are not musical or artistic, or that left handed people are bad at math. Not even close. Our brain hemispheres cooperate and communicate to enhance an individuals skills in a broad range of development and abilities. 

In some individuals though, some areas come more highly developed from birth, or can become so through training in a specific skill, such as music lessons. Did you know that part of the brain is physically larger in those who learned an instrument than those who haven't? It can actually be seen in images of the brain. So no doubt there are other parts that are similarly affected in areas dealing with other specialized skills.

In Kit's case, and likely Zak's also, though to a lesser degree, her left hemisphere appears more highly developed than her right for the time being. As a result, it's working harder than it should and there is an imbalance between her two hemispheres. They aren't communicating as well as they should to each other, and thus are not sending consistent signals to the rest of her brain and body, and they are not interpreting those they receive properly.

As a result, she has some somewhat disproportionate skills.

While her ability to execute speech regressed and was delayed for a time, her language abilities themselves are quite remarkably advanced. Her vocabulary is enormous, her pronunciation well above her age level, and her ability to use sign language and spoken language seamlessly is fascinating. I believe she has a brain for the spoken word and could easily learn several languages and speak them nearly flawlessly if provided good instruction to begin with.

Her ability to provide emotional expression is far less developed. It took her a very long time, and she is still learning that the words for emotions are specifically connected to and described feelings. This is a very abstract concept for her, and on her bad days completely eludes her, especially when her words fail to surface. She has a difficult time differentiating between any emotions that are not to the extreme, and even then can't tell the difference between someone who is pretending to express an emotion or is actually expressing it. Some of this is purely age related, but she is not likely to simply "pick it up" as most other toddlers do. We will have to explicitly teach her, and a great deal of her understanding may simply come from memorization rather than intuition. She is not without empathy, she is simply confused about when and how to show it.   

Her linear, pattern recognition (math and reading skills), and logic skills are all very strongly established. This can well be used to her advantage, as this lays a great groundwork for helping her develop other learned skills.

Her abstract thinking skills are much weaker, as is her ability to "pretend" or use her imagination. We have seen some improvement in these areas, but the majority of her play is still mimicked behavior, rather than spontaneous and creative pretending.

One of the most interesting things that Miss V shared with me though has to do with the way Kit hears. Kit displays and always has displayed an overwhelming preference to listen with her right ear. As an infant and still to this day, she primarily sleeps with her right ear exposed, listening even when she sleeps. When attempting to get her attention, she is more quick to respond when her name is said on her right side, whereas her response time on her left side takes her twice as long, if she responds at all.

I insisted on having her hearing tested thoroughly, because even though I knew she could hear, I wanted to make sure that she didn't have and impairment in hearing certain tones, either low or high, or that there wasn't a minor deformity that could cause distortion. She doesn't, her hearing is in fact impeccable.

She simply prefers to listen with her right ear. This is likely because she is such a logic and pattern based thinker that she can easier process things that primarily enter that ear better. It allows her to sort and identify and execute responses faster.

This means that her left ear is not processing proportional stimuli. To improve this we have been encouraged to engage the emotional side of her brain by way of humming, instrumental music, general sound effects, and emotional language.

Basically it boils down to, when we need her to follow instructions, understand a new concept or word, or identify facts or objects, we need to talk to her on her right side. But when we are trying to appeal to, or, express emotions, commendation, and bonding, we need to talk into her left ear.

An interesting side effect of Kit having such strong brain dominance on one side is that the right side of her body is much more developmentally advanced (she was clearly right handed from about four months old), it is also her most sensitive side and most prone to sensory issues . Her right leg and foot are enormously more sensitive than her left, she runs mostly only in circles to the right, she is much more willing to let me hold her left hand than her right, but she prefers to walk and sit with her right side next to me.

In order to help calm her right side, we always begin her OT protocols on her left side. This has a two-fold purpose. One, it helps ease her mind into the routine. And two, we are using her less sensitive side to "teach" her more overstimulated side. Even so, there are many days where we get through her left side work only to be very nearly kicked in the face when I go to work on her right side. I've learned to duck and weave pretty quickly, and this is where electronic distraction comes in especially handy. That, and the promise of lollipops if she lets me "work on" her legs.


Well, that is the general gist of the Occupational Therapy that we have been implementing with Kit over the last three months. We still have a long way to go, and her needs will grow and change almost as quickly as she does. But now, I'm beginning to have a better idea of how I can best help her navigate her daily disagreements that take place between her hemispheres!

We are making progress.

Some days more than others, but progress indeed!


  1. Excellent observations and research. Eye opening to read and see the same actions being done by my daughter. Thank you. It's incredible how complex ourselves and our little ones can be.
    I suppose we all need to eat much more candy ;)

  2. I agree. Enjoyed the information.