Monday, January 27, 2014

Right Brain, Left Brain...Part 1

A brain divided cannot stand.

Quite literally, in fact. When connections and synapses in the brain are not communicating well, one can have great difficulty with both simple and complex motor tasks. But it can affect much more than just that. The ability to perform multi-step actions, to interpret information received from the senses, to use more than one sense at once, and one of the most noticeable, the ability to execute speech.

One of the most obvious examples of this is when an individual suffers a stroke or brain aneurysm. It is part of what can cause asymmetrical paralysis. And occupational therapy helps to not only retrain the muscles, but also to reteach the brain how to communicate with itself.

This is the roll occupational therapy is playing for Kit as well. We are teaching her brain to communicate better with itself, and with her body. While many of her motor skills are actually quite advanced, there are many other areas that connections are lacking or need strengthening. Her sensory issues being the most obvious. Her inability to process and interpret the information to and from, and to regulate her own senses causes her daily distress. And when your two year old is in distress, everybody is in distress.

Like many with Autism, Kit's brain, operates differently than many other people's. We've had evidence of this since she was born, probably even before.

I am far from understanding the whys and hows of Autism, but I am becoming more and more enlightened regarding what is happening in her brain. So I am going to attempt to shine some light on it for others who may have similar struggles.

Our Occupational Therapist, the Incredible Miss V, or as Zak likes to call her, "the one who talks really fast" (she has to talk fast, she has so much to teach me in so little time!),  has educated me far beyond what I would ever have been able to dig up in my own research. Out of all the bleak and stress of this year, she has helped set up the fog lights that are going to help us until the sun starts to shine again.

Here is some of what I have learned so far and how it is helping Kit, and hopefully eventually Zak as well, and even Grace some also. I am breaking it up into three separate posts to make them shorter and more digestible. Here is part one...

7 is the key.

It takes a minimum of seven seconds for the brain to "reset" to any new sensation. That is how long it takes to get the brain out of "fight or flight", know as the sympathetic nervous system,  and allow the central nervous system to take over and regulate brain functions once again.

This is very important because when we are in a state of fight or flight our bodies are flooded with the hormones adrenaline and cortisol, stress hormones. In order to stop productions of these and send out the feel good hormones,  one of which is melatonin (the hormone that helps us fall asleep), the central nervous system has to be back in the driver's seat.

Learning this made me a  little sad when I realized that Kit has spent a very large portion of her first two years a little bundle of stress hormones, even when she slept, which was a major contributor to her terrible sleep problems. My poor baby.

As we do Kit's OT exercises, most of them consist of putting pressure on specific parts of her hands, back, legs, feet, and arms. And each pressure point, stretch, or movement must be held for at least seven seconds so that the brain has time to make the switch and discern that touch is acceptable, even pleasant and relaxing.


3-6 repetitions.

Most of her protocols also have to be repeated several times. Some three times, others 4-6.

This gives the brain practice at receiving these new messages. Plus it helps to instill muscle memory.

As the body relaxes and her brain begins to properly interpret the new information, a transformation begins to take place. Stress hormones are replaced with endorphins, breathing becomes regular, muscles becomes less tense, the heart rate slows and becomes steady.

These are the optimal conditions for a brain to work in. Parts of the brain begin waking up and communicating better. Focus increases. Muscles all throughout the body begin to receive clearer instructions, and can respond with greater accuracy. All of these responses combine to create a more cooperative setting inside the body.

Sometimes the results are not immediately visible.

We are literally rewiring her brain and teaching it things that most people automatically learn. This can take weeks to months to really see results, and we will have to do regular maintenance and tweaks for years.

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