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Unraveling Neurodevelopmental and Behavioral Disorders

Childhood neuro-developmental and behavioral disorders are rising at astounding rates. The goal of this blog is to give parents, educators, and other health professionals an understanding of what links these developmental delays together.

Disorders such as ADHD, AUTISM, SENSORY PROCESSING DISORDER, OCD, ASPERGERS, PDD-NOS all share a common thread – delayed neurological (brain) development. That same delayed neurological development can also play into difficulties with learning, maintaining attention, and behavioral problems that many children face in school and other social settings!

Put simply, alterations in early childhood brain development create learning, attention, and behavioral problems. With school just starting, there is no better time to make sure your children are equipped to face the challenges of learning.

If children do not have a solid neurological foundation, that learning is nearly impossible! Let’s give our children the tools to OVERCOME THE ODDS!

Before we dive into how the nervous system develops, we must first understand the purpose of the nervous system and why alterations within this system can lead to developmental, learning and behavior issues.

“The function of the nervous system is to PERCEIVE its environment and COORDINATE the BEHAVIOR of all other cells.” – Dr. Bruce Lipton, PhD. Biologist.

Three key words to understand are perceive, coordinate and behavior. Because what do kids suffering from neuro-developmental and behavior issues struggle with? They struggle with their ability to perceive their surroundings and act appropriately! Therefore, if we are attempting to improve these issues, we must focus on improving/strengthening the nervous system.

And this is the exact system we strengthen and re-train every day in our office. Once the neurology is positively impacted and these kiddos are better able to perceive and coordinate, behavior naturally improves. All of these issues are rooted in their nervous system!

Now, let’s dive into some “Pediatric Neurological Development 101.” It’s important to understand the general process by which the brain develops.

The brain stem, which is located at the top of the neck/bottom of the skull helps build/develop the Cerebellum; which sits directly on top of the brain stem. The Cerebellum then begins to develop the Vestibular System, located even higher within the brain. Lastly, the highest area of the brain, known as the Cerebral Cortex, is the last to develop.

Brain Stem – Cerebellum – Vestibular System – Cortex

The Cerebral Cortex, the last part of the brain to develop, is where higher level functioning occurs. Higher level functioning includes decision making, critical thinking, attention and focus, behavior, etc. Each of which are important!

To summarize, the brain is built bottom-up, but functions top-down. Therefore, if there are developmental delays/issues within the brain stem and/or Cerebellum, the Cerebral Cortex will never fully develop. If this lack of development occurs, developmental delays and missed milestones will become present, eventually the child with struggle with aspects of daily life and at some point, he/she will probably be given some sort of diagnosis.

However, we do not focus on the label of these children, we focus on the ABLE!

Now, let’s dig deeper by focusing on the brain stem because remember, development starts within the brain stem. This is exactly why we call the brain stem the “foundation” to appropriate neurological (brain) development.

When a child is born, they have primitive reflexes and these reflexes are located within the brain stem. The purpose of these reflexes is two-fold: automatically provide survival instincts for the child during the first 6 months of life and begin to build the brain!

There are a handful of primitive reflexes, but two of the more common primitive reflexes include the rooting and the palmar grasp reflex. The rooting reflex occurs when you stroke a baby’s cheek. When this happens, they naturally move their mouth and head toward the side that was touched. This happens reflexively (automatically) to help the baby eat (survival) and learn to use their mouth/facial muscles.

The palmer grasp reflex occurs when a baby’s palm is touched. What do they do? They attempt to grasp the object that touched their hand! This is helping the child learn to use their hands (survival).

However, these reflexes are not only helping the child survive and learn to use certain body parts. They are also building pathways to the brain! Each time that reflex is utilized, signals are being sent from the brain stem, through the Cerebellum toward the higher functioning centers of the brain. Why? To build the neurological pathways to the brain! Then, once the pathways are strong and properly developed, these reflexes go away.

Now, back to “Pediatric Neurological Development 101.” Since you now understand how the Cerebral Cortex develops via the brain stem and Cerebellum, you should also be able to understand that if the primitive reflexes located within the brain stem did not effectively build the pathways to the Cortex, developmental and behavioral issues would arise.

Let me summarize. The primitive reflexes located within the brain stem are responsible for setting the foundation and building the neurological pathways to the higher centers within the brain.

Therefore, if the primitive reflexes for whatever reason were not able to fully develop the pathways to the Cerebellum, then the Cerebellum never fully developed. If the Cerebellum did not fully develop neither did the Vestibular System nor the Cerebral Cortex. Since the Cerebral Cortex is a higher-level functioning center of the brain, improper development of this system results in developmental as well as other behavioral and learning issues!

What we now understand is that many children with neuro-developmental delays, learning and behavioral issues often have primitive reflexes still present! If these reflexes are still present in a child over 6 months of age, we know the brain stem did not fully develop and therefore, the pathways to the higher functioning centers were unable to fully develop. In other words, when primitive reflexes are still present past 6 months of age, we know the brain did not fully develop.

So why are these reflexes still present in kiddos with neuro-developmental, learning and behavior issues? Think about it. The foundation (brain stem) to appropriate growth and development was never set and therefore, the rest of the structures were never able to fully develop.

My point? In order to positively impact the higher functioning centers of the brain that impact learning and behavior, we must first make sure the foundation (brain stem) is set. Therefore, during the examination I look to see if primitive reflexes are still present in these kiddos. If they are, the great news is we can perform adjustments and specific exercises to target the specific weak area(s) of the brain stem!

Basically, we re-build the brain from the bottom up and what do you expect to happen when the brain becomes stronger? Yes, learning and behavior issues improve! Because remember, “The function of the nervous system is to PERCEIVE its environment and COORDINATE the BEHAVIOR of all other cells.”

Give us a call today to see if we can help your child OVERCOME THE ODDS! 630.608.2885

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