Knowledge Is Power
“Knowledge is power,” is an old saying, and I believe it encapsulates an important truth. Sir Francis Bacon, an English scientist, wrote that quote in 1597. I also believe that it is the truth that you know that can set you free. With that prologue, I will share the process I have walked through in driving dynamic changes in the “eye gates,” “ear gates,” and “motor gates” for my patients.
The “eye gates” are the eyes and they will directly affect the visual cortex that processes sight. The “ear gates” are the ears and they will directly affect the auditory cortex which processes sound. The “motor gates” includes all of the skin and muscles that receive sensory information that directly affect the somatosensory cortex and the somatomotor cortex, bilaterally. You want to help your child use his “ear gates,” “eye gates,” and “motor gates” to gather information in to the brain.
In 1997, I first learned about “brain plasticity” and the importance of rapid temporal (timing) processing in speech and language skills. Dr. Mike Merzenich’s research was revolutionary at that time. It is through “brain plasticity” that the brain can and does change itself and develop new neural pathways. This research proves that with proper experiences you can develop new pathways, no matter the age of the person. Dr. Paula Tallal’s research was also revolutionary. She proved that it is through rapid temporal processing that a child can discriminate sounds as small as 10’s of milliseconds. If a child is able to make that critical discrimination, then he/she will be able to be an effective speech and language learner. I was at a conference where Dr. Paula Tallal presented this information and it changed my complete approach to remediation.
In 2003, I learned about “neural pruning.” A new born baby has a given set of neurons and synapses. The synapses between the neurons will continue to expand, grow and connect. They “link together” the brain cells by way of experiences. Then, a massive synaptic pruning occurs around 6 years of age. A neuronal trimming removes the weaker synapses and prudently modifies the remaining synapses. By the time the individual becomes a mature adult, they have one-half as many synapses as they did as a toddler. Brain cells (neurons) will continue to “link together” throughout life, but at a slower rate.
It is this pruning that is a concern. Pruning is a natural process of growth and maturation for every developing child. This allows those areas of the brain to become even better connected, better organized and more efficient in learning new information. But, if a child is already delayed in speech and language skills before the age of six and the pruning occurs, then those critical areas will be pruned too.
Later in 2005, I learned about the principle that neurons that are activated at the same time help form new strong connections; a concept that is referred to as “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” My approach had been to maximize the “eye gates,” “ear gates,” and “motor gates” in synchrony. Now I understood even better that as those neurons in those three distinct areas of the brain activate together, they enhance new stronger neural pathways. These stronger neural pathways are no longer at risk for being trimmed back.
The “eye gates” that affect the visual cortex is in the occipital lobe. The “ear gates” that affect the auditory cortex is in the temporal lobe. The “motor gates” that receive sensory information and sends motor information is in part of the frontal lobe and part of the parietal lobes of the brain, bilaterally. This synchronizing of the occipital area, temporal area, frontal area and parietal areas of the brain enhances new neural pathways.
Remember, when a gardener prunes his fruit trees, he does that so that those branches that are healthy and productive will produce better fruit. The auditory areas, the visual areas and the motor/sensory areas, ideally in a young developing child, are receiving and sending good neural impulses. I do not want those areas to be pruned too severely. The areas that will be pruned will be trimmed back due to lack of stimulation, poor nutrition, inadequate physical activity, minimal social interaction, genetic predisposition and/or even neglect.
The brain gathers information through its senses and it builds perception skills. From the brain, all thoughts and actions emanate and originate. It is important to help your child receive the best sensory information through all their five senses and build strong perceptual skills. Strong perceptual skills will help your child see, hear, feel, smell, and taste the distinctive differences and similarities in their surrounding world.
A child who has good visual processing skills, good auditory processing skills and good motor processing skills, is a child who has the tools he/she needs to be a good learner, throughout their entire life. Remember our brains retain lifelong Neuroplasticity; the ability to rewire the brain responding to experience. Hopefully, you have now been empowered with this pertinent information and will be in a better position to help your child.