A brain-based education is the only real option for our children struggling with academic, social, emotional, and physical challenges, because these challenges speak of a central cause of their sometimes complex issues. In virtually all cases, the best approach to a central problem is a central solution, addressing the brain itself.
The cortex, our powerful learning center, our source of coordination, art, communication, and adult living skills, is the peak achievement of the human brain. It is a brain supported by underlying drivers, levels of the brain that are no more under our control than our ability to control the growth of our toenails! Yet that is the brain that often interferes with the full expression of our cortical brilliance. This is the brain that we are going to explore in this article.
Our discussion of Realms of Intelligence will include Motor Sequencing, Vision, Speech, Reading, Social Cueing, and the unique role of the corpus callosum in coordinating our two cortical hemispheres. However, rather than focusing solely on the cortex, our goal is to help readers understand how even the activity of the neonate brain, as well as every brain level below the cortex, is influencing the above listed skills. Viewed from the perspective of Neurological Reorganization, we can come to understand how to help our children become academically, physically, socially, and emotionally whole.
Each level of the central nervous system is dependent upon the levels beneath it to achieve maximum integration, and in this discussion we will explore the preconscious brain and how we can work with those levels of integration, along with an explicitly cortical approach to help all of our students move more quickly to neuro-typical skills and academic success.
Realms of Intelligence: Motor Sequencing and Coordination.
Motor sequencing is a realm of intelligence deeply dependent upon the pre-cortical brain. This complex topic involves not only the left hemisphere with its capacity to influence vision, hand, and oral function, but also areas of the central nervous system that begin to organize as early as a few weeks of age.
In the first two and a half to seven months of life, on average, the pre-cortical brain is dominated by the pons and the amygdala which come on board as early as one month of age. During this stage of development, given the appropriate developmental opportunities such as crawling, time spent on the tummy, and the integration of early reflexes, the proximal joints (shoulders and hips) gain stability and flexibility. The hand, during tummy crawling, learns to supinate and pronate in preparation for writing, a skill that will not be used by the student for years, but is offered to us as an option as early as a few months of age.
Older children who have not achieved mastery of this early developmental stage may walk like little bears, or without arm swings, or feet turned in.
As the baby matures into the mid-cerebrum, between about 7 and 12 months, and still without cortical control of their mind or body, the organization of the medial joints (knees and elbows) is completed if the child is allowed to creep on hands and knees and do related reflex activities. At this time, the cerebellum begins organizing the sequential motor firing. Additionally, sequencing in general is dependent upon a healthy cerebellum. The cerebellum, which is gaining skills during the first year of life, is a big factor in determining visual motor skill level, and that of balance, coordination, and proprioception.
The child who has not mastered this developmental level may not seem to know where their body is in space, may have knees that align poorly, poor balance, inability to hop on one foot, or in general an ‘awkward gait’ when walking and running. They are frequently unable to skip.
Realms of Intelligence: Vision
The coordination of early visual motor skills comes about between two and seven months as the baby, prone on their tummy, tracks the whereabouts of her caregiver, and that primal need results in eye tracking that will later be used for reading.
The active 7 to 12-month old child, given the appropriate environment, is easily able to integrate the critical skill of visual convergence. The nerves that go to the muscles that turn the eyes in, thus creating visual convergence, run through the mid-cerebrum and many children whose eyes turn out do not need vision therapy so much as they need the experience of mid-brain/mid-cerebrum activities. This is the way nature gave all of us visual convergence and this original plan can be reactivated to bring visual convergence to our children. When both eyes look at the same thing at the same time, reading becomes much easier than when words move on the page, turn from black to gray, black to gray, or when all the letters have ‘shadows’ around them.
Children who have not mastered the early phases of vision development may appear to need glasses and may suffer from poor reading and visual fatigue.
Realms of Intelligence: Speech
Speech is a Realm of Intelligence deeply dependent upon pre-cortical areas of the brain.
Babbling and cooing, the ability to make a wide range of sounds, experimentation with the tongue, lips and cheeks, are all well-known components of speech arising from the pre-cortical brain between 7 and 12 months. It has been observed by this practitioner that children diagnosed as ‘on the spectrum’ have often skipped the babbling phase of speech, and thus bring little prosody to their speech. Other children with poor social cueing skills are often lacking in tonality. Poor spoken tonality and inability to carry a tune may be unrelated to cortical brilliance, but rather may be a product of an injury to the brain, or lack of brain integration in the first months of life.
Sequencing problems are illustrated when the word ‘spaghetti’, is heard and pronounced in many young children as ‘busgetti’, with the cerebellum unable to process the ‘p’ and ‘s’ in the proper order. The P is explosive, while the S is sibilant and travels more slowly through the brain. The cerebellum matures as a result of stimulation, including vestibular activity, creeping on hands and knees, and other related activities. The child’s cerebellum matures and sequencing at all levels becomes resolved. The word spaghetti is no longer a problem!
The child who has not mastered the earlier developmental levels may have a flat tonality, garbled speech, and poor pronunciation of words.
Realms of Intelligence: Social Skills
Social skills, too, are often challenging for our children, and are dependent on multiple levels of brain functioning. While the pre-frontal cortex is known for its role in helping us achieve sophisticated social skills, the seeds of our social behavior start at birth.
Mirror neurons that begin to come on board during the first weeks of life can be prompted again at any point in the lifespan by replicating the activities of the first months of life in the context of appropriate parenting and understanding teachers and aides.
The seeds of compassion start with our own ability to feel deep pain, which allows us to understand that others can feel this, too. It is the beginning of understanding our impact on other human beings. If I know that I can hurt, I know that you can hurt, as well, and I am less likely to do things that will bring about pain for you. Injury to this area of the brain can cause behaviors that display a lack of regard for others, and may even appear as a lack of conscience.
The mid-cerebrum is the area of the brain that we humans share with other pack animals and our pre-conscious brain is the driver. A healthy brain naturally sees and responds to posture, gesture, spatial distance from others, tone of voice, volume, etc., and creates appropriate body language in return without cortical intervention. The best public speakers, teachers, managers, and actors have these skills naturally and it is their ease in this area that gives us confidence in their presentation of themselves.
In the pack animal, the individual who cannot pick up on the body language of their pack, and who does not display the appropriate body language may be kicked out, may become the ‘lone wolf’, and it is the same for our children. And while we do our best to train in more appropriate responses, the natural skill, when lacking, is hard to replicate in any but artificial ways.
Children who have not mastered this level may have few friends, not able to understand how to work in a group or team, may seem to lack compassion, always seem on the ‘outside’ of any social circle. When the mid-cerebrum is stimulated by replicating the developmental sequence, the skills can be gained in children at any stage of development.
Realms of Intelligence: The Unique and Diverse Role of the Corpus Callosum
Reading comprehension, memory, and impulse control are further enhanced during the second half of the first year and are dependent upon the bridge that runs between the two hemispheres of the brain. The corpus callosum is a part of the cortex, but does not develop to maximum efficiency without the critical activities typical of the 7 to 12-month old. These mid-cerebellum/midbrain activities also include hands and knees creeping, vestibular activities, and reflexes that are usually not re-visited after the child has begun to walk.
Those children who experience high fluency and low comprehension are those children who cannot pull the word recognition skills of the left hemisphere together with the picture and meaning-making skills of the right hemisphere. Rather than practicing making pictures out of words, we have found that the deepest way to permanently resolve the issue is by replicating the developmental activities of this level of the brain.
Impulse control, while certainly something that one can think about and manage temporarily, even building up more and more habits of self-control, is a product of an efficient corpus callosum. While the ‘Little Brother/Little Sister’ right brain wants to mentally or even physically chase and touch every bright and shiny object (‘Squirrel Squirrel’ brain), the ‘Big Brother/Big Sister’ brain has a role in taking charge of the situation to remind the child that this is not the time or place.
All of these responses happen at a pre-cortical level, and thus when the brain is healthy, there is little effort in self-regulation, impulse control, seeing ‘pictures’ when reading, etc.
Children with poor mastery of the activities needed to integrate the corpus callosum may have fluency/comprehension differentials, poor impulse control, poor short-term memory, or ability to follow multiple step directions, among other issues.
The extra effort used by so many children to notice, think through, and control their behavior, would be so much better devoted to learning, and when a child repeats the missing elements of the Developmental Sequence, the skills are integrated at the brain level originally responsible for these skills.
While we have left out areas such as Math Proficiency, Attention, Regulation, Fine Motor Skills, Auditory Processing, Sensory Seeking or Sensory Avoidant Behaviors, Anxiety and Phobias, all of these too have their roots in the organization of the brain in the first year of life.
Neurological Reorganization has a 75-year history of helping the disorganized brains of children with challenges to reclaim their birthright, the full Developmental Sequence, which is the master plan for the organization of a human brain. The addition of a pre-cortical plan for brain organization in addition to the cognitive programs at Eaton-Arrowsmith Schools can ease the pathway for maturing our children’s brains and optimizing their academic success. For more information about Neurological Reorganization contact Bette Lamont: developmentalmovement.org. Website: www.neurologicalreorganization.org.
Article by Bette Lamont
Certified Counselor, State of Washington
Certified Neurological Reorganization Practitioner
Laban Movement Analyst
No part of this article can be replicated online or in hard copy without the author’s permission.
© Bette Lamont 2019