In the last issue, I talked about pain, wondering if it is perceived like a “super-sensitivity”. This issue will focus on understanding sensory processing as a “bottom of the brain” function and how important this is when we are trying to change behaviors.
Brainwaves is a monthly newsletter designed to create some “brainwaves” within my community of colleagues, friends and clients.
Ever since the 1970’s when Jean Ayres introduced sensory integration into the occupational therapy world, O.T.’s have used the knowledge that changing sensory processing was pivotal for changing behavior. We have referred to this as “bottom up” processing. Let me explain further…
When researching theories for brain organization, I found a few “same but different” ideas. The original explanation from the 1960’s was from Paul MacLean who initiated the idea of the “triune brain” which includes three layers which are roughly based on human evolution. He felt the lower levels of the brain were basically compared to reptiles or primitive brains. The limbic system layer generally includes our emotional brain and the neo-cortex (cerebral cortex) layer is the largest part of the brain and comprises about 90 percent. This top layer is the gray, wrinkled surface that is actually only as thick as corrugated cardboard and, if you laid it out flat, could almost cover the top of your kitchen table. It includes 10-to-14 billion neurons!
Dr. Bruce Perry and The Child Attachment Academy propose a four layer understanding of the brain. http://www.childtraumaacademy.com/amazing_brain/lesson02/page01.html states that…
“The key observation in organizational process is that, in all cases, the brain has a hierarchical organization, with the lowest complexity at the bottom and highest on top. The most complex part of the brain is the cortex. When examining genetic homology across species, the frontal cortex (part of the neocortex) is the most “uniquely” human.”
His organizational system includes an extra layer between the reptilian system and the limbic system. He explains how our sensory processing occurs in the reptilian brain (brainstem) and this extra layer (diencephalon) that connects it to the higher brain centres.
Why is this important?
Well, Perry and many other brain scientists/therapists including Daniel Siegel are recognizing that unless we calm down and regulate the lower brain centres, we can’t learn and think clearly in our higher brain centres.
How do we regulate our lower brain centers?
Well, we have established that our lower brain centers are the sensory processing areas so using sensory and body strategies are the first step to creating a calmer nervous system which will enable learning. “Bottom up” strategies include ideas presented in previous . newsletters (blogs on www.discoveriesintherapy.com). Most of us naturally use sensory strategies to relax…think about having a long, warm bath; using lavender bath oil; enjoying the crackle and fragrance of burning wood in a fireplace; going for a walk in a warm spring shower; or getting on your favorite sweat pants. Brain researchers are also recognizing the significant importance of other bottom up strategies including exercise that raises the heart rate, meditation (even just 5 minutes), and the regulating effect of meaningful relationships.
“Bottom up” vs “top down”?
“Top down” …using language to instruct a child is our attempt at influencing a child’s higher brain layers (cortex). We are hoping that we can convince their brain to calm down or that maybe (if we are strict enough), that they can convince their brain to calm down! As you can imagine, it generally doesn’t work and if it does work for a period of time, it is exhausting for the child. They are focusing too much of their effort on sitting still and are not able to learn.
Understanding Behavior from a Sensation Point of View,
April 26, 2013 Dauphin, Manitoba, email [email protected] for more information
May 3, 2013 Aulneau Renewal Centre, http://www.aulneau.com/documents/Sensorytraining-May2013.pdf
Interesting On-Line Learning
Interested in the brain? The Child Trauma Academy has some great learning modules.