We have touched on the subject on our previous articles on how negative behavior is often times intermixed or interpreted as willful or choice-driven, while in some cases, these behaviors have an underlying sensory processing root. To cite a specific example, let’s say that one who utilizes public transportation when going to work daily is unable to tolerate other people’s conversations on the shared space and would require noise cancelling headphones to be able to survive the commute. What we oftentimes call as our preferences or likes boil down to what ‘makes sense’ or ‘computes’ with the section of the brain that processes all of the sensorimotor experience: the temporo-parietal sliver that receives and interprets all of what surrounds us and is experienced within us.
Because these systems are so automatic, just as the heart beats without us having to remind it to do so, we often take it for granted that without the ‘correct’ interpretation of what is going on, we will not make the appropriate response. Majority of our reflexes also come from this section of automaticity due to either a retrieved and learned sensory experience (e.g. touching a boiling kettle once before will permanently recall the sensory experience of fight-or-flight burning pain on the particular body part).
The Sensory Processing of a Learner: Many Intelligence Types
Let’s Look at the two pictures below. On the left side you will notice that we have named the seven (7) senses of the body as primarily responsible in processing the information from the environment. The vision, hearing, smell, touch, taste, movement or kinesthetic sense, and proprioception or position in space sense all come together and interpret the environment for the person based on each of the sensation’s primary function. Thus we call this the Stimulation Source. We will discuss the details of processing science in the next section. The Stimulation Source in the simplest sense is the interpretation of the sensations in the brain after it had been given meaning by the cerebral cortex, specifically the temporo-parietal sections. These are the many directions an interpretation of the sensations can be expressed by a person: visual-spatial, bodily kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, musical, linguustic, logical-mathematical, and ecological. These were initially introduced into the mainstream by Howard Gardner in his Theory of Multiple Intelligences. In our practice however we take it a step further and consider it as the Learner’s Response. What we have seen is that the interpretation of the senses can only be expressed accordingly based on the abilities of the brain to coordinate the meaning of the sensations received, thus the Learner’s Response is tied to a person’s natural inclination dependent on the correct release of the information to the external environment.
If we created an example from listening to ones ipod, as soon as the brain realizes that it’s the sense of hearing that is stimulating it, the sound is processed and given meaning by the cerebral cortex and then sent back out to the Learner. Depending on the Learner’s natural abilities, the responses will vary from person to person. One who is kinesthetic may decide to get up and dance. One who is visual-spatial may decide to research the singer online for a live version of the song. While someone who is intrapersonal may become reflective and try too recall an association of the song with a memory or a personal thought. This explains why even if the senses are receiving the information from the environment accurately, the responses vary from person to person depending on their natural ability.
Sensory Processing Science: A. Jean Ayres in User-Friendly Language
Dr. A. Jean Ayres, the pioneering Occupational Therapist in sensory integration theory summed up best the process of the body’s ability to process sensory input. She posited that there were 7 steps that went into the brain’s processing: reception, detection, integration, praxis, discrimination, postural responses and modulation. She also did say that these steps are done in heirarchy, in order. If one step is missing, then the processing becomes faulty and the brain will not be able to send out the accurate interpretation to the learner to respond to. And of all of these steps, it is Sensory Modulation that is externalized by the Learner; by having a sensory modulation disorder, that is the obvious signal there is a hiccup in the flow of the sensory system from the einformation gathering to the brain processing, to of course the Learner’s responses.
Focus on Sensory Modulation Disorder: Impact on Learner’s Consciousness
As was mentioned in the previous section, it is the Sensory Modulation Section that mist if not all sensory issues are evidenced, based on Learner’s Response. Now there are several types of Sensory Processing Disorders: Sensory Modulation Disorders (Sensory Hypo and Hypersensitivity, and Sensory Seeking), Postural Disorders, and Sensory Discrimination Disorders. Of all of these however, it has bern shown that Sensory Modulation, the very last step of the hierarchy of sensory pricessing has the most damaging effects on the Learner’s ability to process academic and social information.
For specific details on the manifestations of Sensory Modulation Disorder, we created a table using research information by Carol Kranowitz in her book, The Out of Sync Child.
Refer to the table below:
Now that we have made the connection between the Learner’s Response to Stimulaton Source, how then can we correct the sensory modulation deficits? The answer: An Executive Functioning- Sensory Based Diet of course, composed of targeted activities from a sensation to cognitive develomental perspective that are aimed to correct the gathering-interpretation process in order to align the learning responses as well . That discussion will be part two of this discussion, the next post to this series. In the meantime, check out our ESNP Recommends tab for more resources and our articles under Body Breakthroughs for additional ideas.
If you live in a metropolitan area, chances are you have had the pleasure of using public transportation to get around. Buses or trains, or both, and the many others who accompany you in the journey to and from destinations. In these modes of transport, rush hour can get harrowing; packed like a can of sardines until it wouldn’t even matter if you had a bar to hold on to to maintain your balance. The sheer volume of people in your personal space is enough to keep you stuck wherever you are sitting or standing.
And if this is most human touch you experience per day, that may not be enough. Reason: our brains are wired to be touched.
University of Miami’s Touch Research Institute in early 2014 had done extensive research in the area of human touch.Their results have revealed that human touch has wide-ranging physical and emotional benefits for people of all age groups. In the Institute’s studies, they discovered touch lessened pain, improved pulmonary function, increased growth in infants, lowered blood glucose and improved immune function. Human touch is extremely important for all ages, but by the time children reach their teen years, they receive only half as much touching as they did when they were infants. Adults touch each other even less.
The researchers in Miami also found that touch with moderate pressure stimulates the vagus nerve which is responsible for slowing the heart rate and lowering blood pressure. This produces a state that is relaxed, less closed off, but more attentive. Even the Institute’s medical staff and students that received massages for 15 minutes a day over the course of a month were more accurate and took less time on math performance tests than their counterparts who did not receive massages, more proof that touch also decreases stress hormone function and boosts immune systems.
It is then no surprise to learn of evidence pointing to the levels of aggression and violence among children is related to lack of touching.
Touch Research Institute conducted two separate studies, one with French children and one with American children to determine the degree of touch they received from their parents in relation to displays of aggression. The researchers found that French children received more touching from parents and their peers and were less aggressive than their American counterparts. American children on the contrary had less physical interaction with their parents and tended to touch themselves more than they touched their peers (e.g. playing with hair).
And in 2009, DePauw University psychologist Matthew Hertenstein studied the person’s ability to interpret emotional content via other non-verbal means with the sensory cortex. Hertenstein had volunteers attempt to communicate a list of emotions to a blindfolded stranger solely through touch, of which many participants were apprehensive about the experiment. “This is a touch-phobic society,” he says. “We’re not used to touching strangers, or even our friends, necessarily.”
The result? They did touch, all for the benefit of science after all. The results suggest that for all our Pre-Frontal Cortex caution about touching, we are hard-wired with the capacity to send and receive emotional signals solely by touching, one of our sensory systems. Herenstein was surprised at the results, thinking that the results were going to be at a chance level of 25 percent. Instead, participants were able to clearly identify and communicate eight distinct emotions (anger, fear, disgust, love,gratitude, sympathy, happiness, and sadness) all with accuracy rates as high as 78 percent.
Even for those who suffer from seizures can benefit from therapeutic touch. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) such as combining Acupuncture and Massage Therapy have been found to reduce seizures. Results from studies in China and Germany as per the College of Oriental Medicine have also proven to control abnormal brain activity that causes the seizures.
For the rest of us, average touch is relative. There is debate as to how many hugs one is required to receive per day to stay emotionally and mentally healthy — a range from 8-11 per day. And that is something we can all aim for, in spite of the speed we travel, the inconvenience of daily living, and the noise all around us.
Let’s have the animals teach us how it’s really done.
The University of Florida recently suggested that animals really wanted human contact after all. Lindsay Mehrkam, a University of Florida doctoral student in psychology with psychology professor Nicole Dorey have published a paper in the journal Zoo Biology that examined different types of enrichment preferences specifically in zoo-housed animals.
For this study, the pair chose three tortoises at the Santa Fe Teaching Zoo in Gainesville, Florida named Larry, Moe and Curly. They were given four choices of keeper interaction: playing with a large rubber ball or under a water sprinkler, or having their shells scrubbed or necks rubbed. The zookeepers had used all of these amenities at least twice a month for several years at the zoo.
The inanimate object and the human were placed on opposite sides of the enclosure while the tortoises were released from the barn and had five minutes to make a choice. Consistently, they chose their human companion over the object!
Mehrkam said, “Not only did they prefer keeper interaction overall compared to the traditional forms of enrichment, but the individual tortoises had preferences for the kind of interaction they wanted. Larry and Curly like having their necks rubbed. Moe liked the shell scrubbing.”
The momentum to the last few days the end of the year can only be described as lightning speed. The quick high from lights and decorations everywhere you turn, reasons to be giving and forgiving (including to one’s self), and the songs overplayed and remixed in ways they shouldn’t be are all reminders that the end of the year is going to be here before you know it.
There are those of us who dread the end of the year for the excess, the commercialism, the lack of potentially peaceful relative gatherings, or worse, the dreaded office holiday party with several colleagues one is challenged tolerating every work day. On a darker note, there are those who are in the constant state of loneliness throughout the year and this bright, loud, and extra hustled time of year pushes their fragile states even further inward, to a place of no physical return in some cases.
Now, stop. Just pause, and stop. There is silence if you don’t try too hard to listen for it. The world can move quickly and hurriedly around you but you are STILL. Just for 2 seconds, then 4, then 8…count up in two’s till you get to 12 and then, exhale to a smile.
You just gave yourself enough mind time to release whatever minuscule irritation, immaterial worry, or insane task load that was pushing your brain to the brink of emotional amygdala detachment. Do you need another one? Repeat…stop, just pause and stop. Be still for 2 seconds, then 4, then 8…count up in two’s till you get to 12 and then, exhale to a smile.
Be personal to yourself. Make mental notes to yourself as you lift your own consciousness from the recesses of living. Write yourself an air note of happy holidays and great next years, and have resolutions that resolve in minutes and not months. You’d be surprised how much more realistic these promises to yourself as your own person can be.
Branch the material with the immaterial…how did you get here to the end of the year in the first place? Flashback key moments of the year, happy, sad, angry, moments of triumph and heartbreak — those pathways lead you to the very place you are standing in right now.
Reach in, dive in. You aren’t done yet, many compartments of your consciousness are resurfacing. Just because you haven’t seen them before or are seeing them again for the first time in a long time doesn’t make them non-existent. Set them free, 2 seconds at a time, 4, 6, till you get to 12.
Happy holidays have just planted themselves in your consciousness…you took time for yourself just now. Thank you to you. Now resume life a little bit lighter than when you began.
How many times have students been pigeon-holed into the category of displaying bad or negative behavior when opposing class work or during transitions from a state of play or break back to the classroom and vice versa?
When the body appears like this during an overt meltdown:
The Brain Actually looks like this:
The Emotional Brain that is highlighted are two specific parts of the limbic system, the amygdala and the hypothalamus. The amygdala controls the brain’s ability to coordinate many responses to emotional stimuli, including endocrine, autonomic, and behavioral responses. Stress, anxiety, and fear are primary stimuli that produce responses. Mediation by the amygdala allows control among the stimuli.
The hypothalamus plays a significant role in the endocrine system and are effected by the amygdala. It is responsible for maintaining your body’s internal balance, which is known as homeostasis. This includes the heart rate, blood pressure, fluid and electrolyte balance, appetite, sleep cycles and is the key connector between the endocrine system (glands and hormones) and the nervous system.
Now we are painting this picture of the brain developing at a functionally optimal manner; without aberrations from either genetic means or environmental factors. However, when faced with students who have underlying imaging differences in brain imaging due to the said factors and manifest a type of negative behavior that can easily be mistaken and categorized as a regular tantrum, the subtle elevations in amygdala and hypothalamic responses are now pushed to abnormally erratic levels in these brains.
For example, take the Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Brain in comparison to the Normal Brain:
We see clearly that the shape alone of the cerebrum of the ADHD brain is not elongated or similar to a normal brain’s saddle
type shape. It is oblong and with heavy concentration on temporal and occipital real estate versus the butterfly formation of the normal brain. What is also fascinating is the corpus callosum (where part of the amygdala and hypothalamus are housed) is lighter in the ADHD brain. What that means is that there is no clear path of communication between both hemispheres as compared to that of a normal brain. The blues indicate calm sections of the brains and the greens are considered to be the brain in an even keeled state, balanced and not in fight-flight mode.
Here’s also an image of a person with and without ADHD medication:
With Adderall, the brain is utilized in full functional capacity, the chemical connections between neurotransmitters is efficient and there are little if any underutilized processing areas. When Adderall is wearing off, the results are unimaginable: the only sections of the brain that have any residual function left are the orbitofrontal area of the Pre Frontal Cortex (responsible for sensory integration and some decision making), and spotty areas across the 4 lobes. What is fascinating to mention here is the loss of Adderall effects are from back to front of the cerebrum.
These images provide a very clear picture of the typical versus atypical brain, especially the differences between one with ADHD and one without. If ony it were that easy as a classroom teacher to distinguish a student with ADHD from a student with sensory overload. The list below is not as ‘yellow’ and ‘red’ as the brains above, but hopefully it will provide clarity and a concrete direction for you to take in order to best meet the needs of your students.
First, it crucial to note that boys and girls with ADHD display different symptoms; therefore, they are distinguished below. Second, students with meltdowns as a result of negative behavior, will most likely present with similar symptoms; therefore, it is an undertaking for teachers to take quantitative data on the targeted behaviors. Forms like the one below:
- Fidgety while sitting
- Talk nonstop
- Constant motion, may include touching items in their path
- Difficulty sitting still
- extreme impatience
- Always “bored”
- Lack verbal filter
- Interrupt others’
- Trouble with organization
- Forget directions
- Forget or incomplete homework
- Lose or misplace papers, books, personal belongings
- Much Less Likely
For students with ADHD, these symptoms as well as sensory overload meltdowns will be manifested consistently throughout the day across environments, unless the student is highly engaged in a preferred activity. Students presenting with negative behaviors will have meltdowns at specific yet intermittent periods of the day or throughout the day as will be shown in the ABC Chart above. For example, when the medication is wearing off, one may see a spike in ADHD symptoms in any combination. Once you can answer when, where, how long and make valid hypotheses as to why students are displaying the behaviors below, you should be able to have a pretty strong understanding as to whether your student is having a meltdown because of learned negative behaviors or as a result of having an ADHD brain on sensory overload.