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Thursday, 24 April 2014
 
 
Neurodevelopmental Reorganization Print
About six months after my child arrived home as an infant, I began to notice some subtle areas of concern. Issues with sleep, behavior, mood—although in the range of “normal,” a factor frequently pointed out by friends with bio children—were occurring with frequency, intensity and/or duration that I had never experienced with my other children. Reading about how in-utero stress, early separation, moves and transitions may have had an impact on the developing brain, I felt scared. Although my child had been in good foster care, it was still not permanent and certainly not the way anyone would choose to begin life. If professionals were correct, that the less-than-optimal early environment had wired the brain in unhealthy ways, I wanted to know what I could do to make changes, especially since the young brain was still in a highly malleable state.

We visited a neurodevelopmental center, where the practitioner explained some basics. The brain develops from the base, up. When a child has less-than-optimal beginnings--including separation from the birth parent, foster care, or institutionalization--the brain may wire in dysfunctional ways. She presented us information that described how wiring problems at various levels could lead to certain symptoms. When I read the symptom list, I quickly recognized symptoms that come up again and again on adoptive parenting lists: problems with attention, sleep, speech, behavior, attachment or sensory issues. Visit one list at: Neurodevelopment Interrupted: Signs and Symptoms


Through a series of non-invasive tests—creeping, crawling, eye movement, cross-midline movement, walking, and more—a neurodevelopmentalist pinpoints areas of the brain that need attention. Children who begin life in less-than-optimal circumstances are often found to have wiring issues in the lower, more primitive neurological levels. The brain may have flooded with stress hormones in-utero. Early infancy may have been spent in transitional environments instead of a sensory-rich surrounding with a single known caregiver present consistently from the moment of birth. In the case of a child who has undergone trauma (including separation from the birth mother, moves & transitions) or medical issues, it's feasible that the fight/flight/freeze parts of the brain were activated for months on end...when other parts of the brain that have to do with self-control and regulation should have been developing. The brain may be developmentally immature...or may have wired in unhealthy ways. That doesn't mean the child isn't smart or that the child is immature in other ways...it simply means that the brain development was altered because of those early life experiences. Unfortunately, problems associated with lower brain levels may not show up until a child reaches school age and begins to depend on his cortex. The cortex, the higher-level “thinking” part of the brain, relies heavily on the lower, “foundations” of the brain. When blocks in the foundation are missing, the child may not be able to function at his maximum potential.

Yet adoptive parents have the ability to impact those primitive parts of the brain -- the earlier the better. Research demonstrates that the human brain has certain windows of opportunity in which the brain is more “plastic” and open to change. Although some professionals are learning about later windows, most agree that changes can be made more easily and with more success when a child is still young. Children who retain birth reflexes can be given daily exercises to diminish and eventually eliminate these primitive responses that, while needed at birth, are no longer necessary and can hamper development as a child ages. Lower levels of the brain can be “rewired” or reorganized through movement specifically targeting areas that are not functioning at optimal levels. Specific exercises can diminish the signals to the fight/flight/freeze centers and increase the pathways in the regulation centers.

When I first heard about the connection between behavior and movement, I wondered if I was being sold snake oil. The neurodevelopmentalist detected what to me seemed like very benign problems, things that I never would have noticed without her professional eye: uneven midline movements, eye tracking difficulties, slight imbalances (virtually imperceptible to me) in creeping and crawling. Yet she assured me that these indicators of my child’s neurological function were directly tied to the emotional/behavioral issues we were seeing. She gave us a list of daily exercises including: creeping, crawling, patterning, sensory stimulation, vestibular movements, and masking. Over time, the exercises were modified based on our child’s progress. It wasn’t easy to complete the number of required repetitions, but we knew it was essential to the program’s success.

And slowly but surely, we saw changes. Through a local support group, we came to know other adoptive families who were experiencing similar breakthroughs.

After just 7 months of work, one mom reports on the progress of her daughter:
“She has "graduated" from pons work (YIPEEE!!!!) and has made a lot of progress in her midbrain work, and residual birth reflexes are gone. One area that has really improved is her eye tracking. This improvement has had a great impact on her visual acuity--she had perfect vision at her well-child check-up. Since the pons seems to be functioning normally, she no longer has that constant "DANGER!!” warning going in her head. I've been able to use a question or statement to redirect her from an anxious downward spiral in the past few weeks. Before, she couldn't stop herself. In addition, her dominance (eye, ear, foot, tactile, writing) is all moving toward the right. Previously she was all over the board--left eared, right eyed distant, mixed eye close, mixed tactile, right handed, left footed.

Here is a partial list of some of the things she has done in the past 2 months (keep in mind that she has always been an obsessively cautious child): ridden her bike with no training wheels (undeterred by multiple crashes) ;-); slid down fire poles on play structures; swung upside down on trapezes; walked Boomer, some friends' German Shepard (she has been TERRIFIED of dogs--now she says, "Mom I'm still afraid of strange dogs, but Boomer is nice so I'm not afraid of him"); and gone to her first day of kindergarten with enthusiasm (just yesterday). She did great in K, aced her "Primary Literacy Assessment," and can't wait for next week. She has become so much more affectionate and snuggly. I'm so encouraged and have fallen head-over-heels-in-love with my first great love all over again.”
Another parent shares about her son’s success:
“Our therapist began requiring all of her clients (working on attachment/trauma issues related to adoption) to get a neurodevelopmental evaluation. She found that when her clients did a neurological reorganization program that impulse control issues resolved that weren’t “cured” through therapy. My son used to have outbursts of anger. He whined constantly. No “normal” parenting methods seemed to curb this behavior. The neuro work in conjunction with therapy resolved it.

In addition, our son used to have inappropriate response to pain. Our neuro evaluator has taught us that pain response is rooted in the pons part of the brain...an area we've worked very hard on. He’s gone from not noticing when stung by a bee to normal pain response. He went from regular nightmares, night terrors and nap terrors to none. New situations and changes used to be very stressful for him and are no longer a great cause for concern.”
Another mom reports that while they first had a neurodevelopmental assessment in the hopes of helping her daughter’s speech that the first improvement they noted was a surprise.
“[At our first reevaluation], there were some areas where our daughter had improved, but speech was not one of them. You may find it interesting that the areas we noticed involved how affectionate she was. She has always been sweet, but hugging and kissing and cuddling have never been part of her personality. Well, she is so much more affectionate now, even hugging sometimes on her own. She babbles much more now, and picks up on words that we say and will try to say them.”
A local center provides support for families with older children who are working at neurological reorganization, as the process is even demonstrating success with teens and adults.

Two years into a neurodevelopmental reorganization program, our child is happy and healthy. We credit neurological reorganization as being one of the primary tools of healing.
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