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.
Thanks to our friends at Brainblogger, here you can read the complete article. Happy reading!
Over the past decade, we have learned that for every student who is simple to understand or figure out, there are one or two who are a conundrum. Over this same decade we as separate and collaborative professionals have also discovered that the answer to these students’ needs being met is two-fold: 1. Education looks only at symptomology not etiology 2. Education fails to integrate disciplines effectively. Special education needs to stop being about labels and start being about the whole child.
Enter the practice of Execu-Sensory and Neuropedagogy. When we look at the child as a whole: brain, body and mind, we begin to understand that more than what teachers are taught in school is at play. Take child development, for example, this class may or may not be required to earn a Masters in Educations, especially if the focus is middle childhood rather than early or elementary. Yet, the brain is not done growing, literally, until the age of 19 or 20 and the prefrontal cortex continues to develop until the age of 25. Not to mention, the developmental surge that takes places during adolescence is akin to the one which occurs during early childhood. How then are teachers prepared to teach the ever evolving whole child if they lack the basic knowledge of brain development. The simple answer is they most likely cannot. The brain is a vastly complex system of electrical wiring and firing that is critical to understanding, given the goal is not only to teach, but teach effectively.
However for the purposes of this blogpost, we shall focus the discussion on the fundamentals of Neuropedagogy in practice with some aspects of Execu-Sensory components.
Structure of Neuropedagogy
Neuropedagogy in its most basic state begins with the executive function skills and the developing Pre-Frontal cortex. However when we attempt discussion with other educators, the typical response is, “Executive what in the where? Neuro?”
Understandable response, seeing as this predominantly European concept is commonly referred in the United States as Educational Neuroscience or Neuroeducation--or perhaps more commonly not discussed among educators at all. It was introduced during an educational summit in 2009 at Johns Hopkins University simultaneously with a “Learning and the Brain” wherein organizers and educators alike agreed there needed to be an interdisciplinary field that combines neuroscience, psychology and education to create improved teaching methods and curricula. It was bringing into focus new links between arts education and general learning, how learning physically alters the brain, and what goes wrong in students with learning disabilities.
Neuropedagogy however went further than Neuroeducation. The European definition of Neuropedagogy is when science and education meet and whose scientific aims are to learn how to stimulate new zones of the brain and create connections. It is targeted at stimulating the brains of all types of learners, not only those with students who have learning disabilities. Dr. Judy Willis a practicing neurologist made a conscious transition to the classroom as an educator feels that there needs be research about the brain’s neuroplasticity and the opportunities we have as educators to help students literally change their brains — and intelligence. To become a teacher without understanding the implications of brain-changing neuroplasticity is a great loss to teachers and their future students.
Based on the experience and the research we have done on current classroom structures in New York City, we have found that the most effective use of Neuropedagogy was in three sections: Brain Element Neuropedagogy, Body Element Neuropedagogy, and Mind Element Neuropedagogy. The hierarchy of training is dependent on the prior knowledge of brain function, thus beginning the discussion with the brain was the most functional and useful approach. The body then and it’s organic processes were the next step in the training and understanding connections between innervation and control, and lastly the mind which not all fields of classroom instruction fully develop or are able to reach without the clear understanding of how the brain and the body encompass the physics of the mind.
To say the least, one would need basic brain to facilitate the body and change the mind.
The Brain Element Neuropedagogy
The most obvious reason to share information is for learning, and learning can only be achieved if there is sufficient brain function. In our practice, we lay the foundation for understanding the Central Nervous System (CNS) neurotransmission, the utilization of approximate brain mapping of the cerebral hemispheres, and raise awareness of the unmistakable impact of the digital society on the organic brain.
By organizing the hierarchy of understanding based on the processes involved from brain neurotransmission in each section of the cerebrum at any given time, we shed more light into the powerful effects of neuroplasticity, the endless ability for the brain to change itself. There are four that have been identified for learning: Acetylcholine (ACH), Serotonin, GABA, and Dopamine. Ultimately these are the communicators responsible in delivering the information to all the lobes, including the Pre-Frontal Cortex. The PFC is not currently recognized as a lobe; however, the role that it plays in learning and behavior have been measured via Executive Function Skills.
Many definitions for executive function skills exist and they all essentially make the same point. The National Center for Learning Disabilities defines executive function skills as,” mental skills that help the brain organize and act on information… [it is the ability to use] information and experiences from the past to solve current problems.” These skills are critical to understand because when they are weak or delayed in developing, they can mask themselves as an educational disability which may lay the groundwork for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) as determined by a mutlidisciplinary team. For example, let’s say a child is referred for an evaluation for special education services because he is showing consistent negative behavior, such as being unable to focus for more than a few minutes at a time, constantly calling out, and failing to complete homework, all of which lead to decreased academic gains. The child will most likely be mis-classified as having ADHD or a learning disability, which ultimately leads to inefficient or worse ineffective solutions. If the interventionists applied an interdisciplinary Neuropedagogical Approach, a different and more effective outcome may have played out.
Now, let’s add a layer of dynamic complexity to Neuropedagogy. Neuroscience has looked at the brains, personalities, strengths and weaknesses of people born after 1986 and compared them with brains, personalities, strengths and weaknesses of people born before 1986. The studies show a significant difference between the two. The over-arching difference: access to the digital world. The first group is digital natives; the second digital immigrants. Digital natives have brains that have weakened pathways for interaction, decreased activity in anterior cingulate gyrus and medial orbital frontal cortex, increased isolation, aggression, passivity, loneliness, etc, increase in cortisol due to excessive brain fatigue, decreased hippocampal size. Digital immigrants, the ones who have the capacity to hand down life experiences effectively via examples and who can communicate thoughts personally are ones who are usually comfortable with familiar technology and shy away from change in that department. They have been found to have faster PFC circuitry as they have had abilities to strengthen neuronal circuits with numerous life experiences, including delaying gratification.
WIth all of the Brain Element Neuropedagogy, one can proceed to appreciate understanding the Body and it’s unique processes.
The Body Element Neuropedagogy
In our modern society, people are perceived initially from the way they present themselves. Usually what is displayed from the external body is what immediately connects one person to the next. The body’s senses take in the physical and external world, neuronally process the input and in the cortex it’s given meaning.
From a learner’s perspective, the body is both intake and output. As interdisciplinary brain-based practitioners, we shed light into the Sensory Processing Systems, the limitless potential of a person’s Multiple Intelligences and Emotional Quotient (EQ), culminating on the influence of what we have managed to call the 3 External E’s (Ergonomics, Economics, and Environment). The body by itself is a complete sensory organ, however it has been proven by evidence-based practice that the seven (7) senses are the checkpoints of the body: sight, sound, smell, touch, taste, movement and position in space. Research in this area was pioneered by Dr. A. Jean Ayres and current practitioners include Dr. Lucy Jane Miller and Carol Kranowitz all of who have contributed to the education and learning landscape. One simply cannot function by brain alone!
Multiple Intelligences Theory was pioneered by Howard Gardner, a developmental neuropsychologist,who played the violin well, wondered if a tool, aside from the Intelligence Quotient (IQ test), could be developed to measure additional attributes to determine a person’s complete intelligence. Another factor we considered was Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Quotient (EQ) as this too plays an important factor externally; even as the limbic system is brain centric in it’s processing of emotions, the manifestation on the outside is clearly body centric.
Education in the twentieth and now twenty first century tends to teach to two types of learners: visual and auditory. Yet, research has shown that multiple types of learners exist, not just two. Teaching methodologies need to start designing lessons, activities and classrooms not only for the typically forgotten or ever present kinesthetic learners, but for the quiet introvert and the shy extrovert and multiple combinations of them.
Simple modifications such as state changes, strategically planned brain gym breaks or yoga ball chairs have shown to improve the executive functioning skills of sustained attention and task persistence. Additionally, when inserting brief yet planned breaks of any type, students are given an opportunity to work on set-shifiting a skill in high demand in the modern digital-world. Modifications for the introvert include quiet spaces in the classroom or projects with an option to work alone. The shy extrovert, may benefit from group projects with assigned jobs. However, this type of differentiated instruction is believed to be fitting only to the special education population. The rest of these students, rather than adopting a label that may or may not fit, they are instructed to adapt their bodies to fit because that is what the ‘real world’ will expect of them. Meanwhile, that potential intelligence lays mostly dormant because teachers are not teaching to them, and were probably never taught how. Neuropedagogy recognizes the learning process that processes from a brain and proceeds into the body offers perspective and solutions to teaching with the body in mind.
The Mind Element Neuropedagogy
Of all of the Elements that we train, it is the Mind Element that is the most challenging to explore.The brain and the mind are used interchangeably in the realm of education; however, scientists have discovered that although they do seem to be influential of the other, the brain and mind affect each other in very different but significant ways. The psyche in psychology practice have also been associated with the mind, and pop culture usually uses the word mind loosely as choice or state of one’s mental being.
In referencing the brain, it is the material organic matter that has the physical manifestation of the neuronal processes while the mind is where consciousness and active thinking occur. However a thought may occur from consciousness which may alter the neuronal process that was intended to happen and vice versa. The mind discussion includes: theory of mind, the belief-desire reasoning in learners, and neuroplasticity in the habit loop, Behavior Modification and Habit Routine change that can have both positive and negative effects.
Neuropedagogy of the mind starts with the premise that the mind of a child is complex. The Belief-Desire Reasoning from H.M. Wellman’s The Child’s Theory of Mind Mechanism shows just that. Thinking, perception, sensations, beliefs, cognitive emotions, physiology, basic emotions are all interconnected and simultaneously interacting to produce desires, intentions, actions and inevitably reactions. Actions are merely the tip of the iceberg to the ongoings of a child’s, and ultimately a learner’s mind. Educators who understand and teach with Executive Function Skills such as Metacognition, Emotional Control and Response Inhibition in mind, essentially have x-ray vision, which provides them the insight to ask the questions that will reveal the iceberg. Intention is marked by a WHOLE person, a product of perception, inception and conclusions.
Conclusion: The Neuropedagogy Synthesis
When science and education meet it is called Neuropedagogy, whose scientific aims are to learn how to stimulate new zones of the brain and create connections. The information that is presented here may appear overwhelming and less comprehensive in practice however it the changing the lens and perspective that allow best practices to occur, to remind those involved in direct service that people are not formulaic in their learning.
The Neuropedagogy synthesis demonstrates just that. One of our current partnerships, The Teaching Firms of America Professional Charter School in Brooklyn, New York applies these principles by tying choice and action to their basis in the brain, Theory of Mind, and most importantly, the brain has the ability to change. They empower their scholars to be thinkers and owners of their actions and choices by giving them knowledge from the world of neuroscience. Finally, the utilize the principles of Neuropedagogy to guide and inform their instruction, interactions and interventions. It is a common occurrence to hear students say, “I can change my brain.” From initial classroom set-up to end of day classroom clean up, they created and continue an atmosphere of curiosity and intellect, which always seems to start and end with the brain.
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.
When a person interacts with the immediate external environment, they utilize the seven senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, hearing, vestibular and proprioceptive senses. One is a complement to the rest of the senses, and ultimately, it is through these senses that we are able to function and respond appropriately to our environment.
Vision is one of the richest senses that happen to cross both gray and white matter, and one that requires all of the brain to give ‘meaning’ and attach this ‘meaning’ to an emotion. It touches all of the cerebrum before it gets completely processed by the Occipital Lobe.
We have a responsibility, especially to the young humans in our lives, to consciously select the visual stimulation we are viewing and/or exposing others to. In no way, can we or should we eliminate exposure to the 24/7 media that proliferate nearly all aspects of living in the twenty-first century. However, we do have some control over the reading material, games (video vs. educational) and outings ( movies vs. museums) to name a few. These experiences are processed in all areas of our brains before we have even visually processed the image in our occipital lobe.
When video games became a part of mainstream culture and presented as mostly games focused on violence, social psychology professor Dr. Bushman began investigating the effects of excessive exposure to these video games. He and his colleagues have found that exposure to violent video games increases aggressive behavior as well as
desensitize players to violence, which leads to an increase in aggressive behavior. It goes without saying that these experiences, which are highly visual, are leading to negative emotions. Furthermore, the opposite has also been proven: exposure to images that may be classified as serene or non-stressful, reduce stress, which can indirectly lead to positive emotions.
Creating environments with visually positive imagery can then plausibly decrease cortisol and other stress-related hormones from flooding our brains. This in turn will keep our pre-frontal cortex functioning, since cortisol is known to block access to it, sending us into fight, flight or freeze mode.
Imagine the possibilities of streaming the visual processing skill with positive, stress reducing imagery on the state of consciousness–not only for the individual, but for the those that individual interacts with!