Brains Need SYSTEMS to Develop


Learning CHANGES the Structure of the Brain:

Impossible in the face of chaos

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, A.C.T, MCC, SCAC

“You don’t cure a different organization of the brain;
you find ways and strategies of helping that brain learn [. . .] in a different way.
It’s not about cure, it’s about teaching different ways.

~ Maryanne Wolf
reading expert & author of Proust and the Squid

Building a Brain

While it is true that no two brains develop in a manner that is exactly the same, babies come into this world with a brain specialized for learning – a pattern-recognition device designed to bootstrap learning into a structure of additional patterns.

The brain develops in a manner not dissimilar to the way in which a computer uses certain hardwired sub-routines to locate and activate still more code that allows for the loading and interpretation of additional programs — which facilitates their use for creating new ideas.

The human brain builds the new structures and networks it needs to allow it to continue to learn.  The process by which it does that work is known as neuroplasticity.

Not all that long ago, most of the science-crowd mistakenly believed that there was a relatively early window in which neuroplasticity operated. It was once thought that all of the neurons our brains were ever going to have developed within that window, and the systems the brain used to learn were set after a particular point in childhood.

Baby brains develop amazingly quickly

If you’ve ever spent any time at all around an infant, you might recall their unfocused stare and their unselfconscious movements and facial expressions.

It may not be immediately apparent to parents who spend day to day time with the baby, but adults who visit only occasionally are usually amazed at how much more that child is able to interact with the world each time.

Suddenly, it seems, that tiny child is able to focus on an object of fascination.  S/he responds to the direction of a particular sound and reaches for things. The baby exhibits what adults recognize as curiosity about the world around them and develops preferences.

Order out of Chaos

Babies come into a world of seeming chaos: sights, sounds, temperature, texture and more, with little in place to help them make sense of it all. They have to build the brain that will help them learn for the rest of their lives.

The task of their amazingly neuroplastic infant brains is to learn to recognize the constants that help them to derive meaning from a cacophony of stimulation that the majority of us learn to filter out – eventually.

And it is the task of the adults around them
to provide those constants.

As infants learn to recognize the simplest thing, as far as adult sensibilities are concerned, their brains grow and change their structures. As the baby’s brain learns that certain types of vibrations need to be visually interpreted, others audially, and so forth, it reorganizes its pathways for the most efficient recognition and interpretation of incoming data. It condenses the complexities of sensory awareness to comprehend “meaning.”

Assimilation of the basic concept of Mom, for example, requires a complex network of connections that, very quickly, allows the baby to understand that the source of his or her food is mother, and that she is one single element:

  • those hands are part of my mother,
  • those arms are part of my mother
  • that face is my mother smiling
  • that other face is still my mother, frowning
  • those sounds make up my mother’s voice
  • and I have a voice too

A lot of brain-based learning must take place before the baby assigns emotional or intellectual meaning to what s/he observes, eventually able to extrapolate expectations of sensory awareness to form new ideas about his or her world like, “I have a voice too.”

A LOT for our brains to learn

It makes sense that it might have seemed that brain-development is essentially a childhood task. Because young children have so much to learn so quickly, brain growth and change seems, by comparison, to stop in adulthood.

It has been postulated that, because of the size limitations of the birth canal in an upright-walking human being, our babies are born essentially nine months premature.  The increase in size of the infant’s brain after birth is phenomenal, compared to the growth in an adult brain. A baby’s brain doubles in size in their first year alone. By age three it has reached 80 percent of its adult volume.

Highways and Byways

It is a logical extrapolation that after a certain point, the brain would use what it has built in a manner similar to the way in which a city uses it’s roads to connect grocery store to neighborhood to a particular location in the center of town. There may be a hundred ways to drive from place to place, but nobody sober cuts through yards to form new roads that were never there before.

Except, with the brain, that hasn’t turned out to be exactly true.
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Good news on brain-aging from The Nun Study


Healthy Brains for a Lifetime

We really DON’T have to lose it as we age

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, A.C.T, MCC, SCAC
Reflections on Cognitive Impairment and Dementia Protection

Cognitive decline is NOT inevitable

A quick review before some data that will bring smiles to a lot of worried faces (especially for writers!):

There is still a lot to learn from School Sisters of Notre Dame “Nun” Study — the longitudinal scientific exploration of aging and Alzheimer’s disease originally funded by the National Institute on Aging.  Data, tissue, and genetic material collected in this landmark study will, no doubt, prove invaluable to a great many meta-studies long into the future.

Thanks to the Sisters’ unprecedented generosity of spirit, however, we now know a lot more about how the brain ages than we did, even a few years ago.  We also know more about dementia and what factors seem to be neuro-protective.

The oft-cited study centers on a group of a relatively homogeneous order of 678 Roman Catholic sisters (American, no drug use, little or no alcohol or tobacco, similar housing and reproductive histories, etc.) — which minimizes extraneous variables that may confound other similar research.

Along with, ultimately, hundreds of others in their order, a few brave nuns agreed to volunteer for a long-term study of aging and Alzheimer’s disease, hoping to provide evidence that might be used to teach the rest of us how to escape the worst ravages of this heartbreaking illness.

To repeat a comment from my last article [You don’t HAVE to lose it as you age: Moving Past Mind-Blips and “Senior Moments”]:

Upon autopsy, even some of the individuals discovered to have what used to be accepted as “positive Alzheimer’s identifiers” (senile plaques and neurofibrillary tangles), managed to escape the behavioral devastation of the disease.

Others had only recently begun to exhibit signs of mental decline in the year or two before their deaths (at 80 and beyond), despite brains that would have predicted a significantly earlier onset of dementia.

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You don’t HAVE to lose it as you age


Moving Past Mind-Blips and “Senior Moments”

Maintaining & improving your brain’s vitality as you age

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, A.C.T, MCC, SCAC
Reflections on Cognitive Impairment and Dementia Protection

“A mind equipped with a wide range of
previously formed
pattern recognition devices
can withstand the effects of neuroerosion
for a long time.”

~ Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg, PhD, from
The Wisdom Paradox 


Along with suggestions designed to help, this article begins to debunk the myth of “to be expected” age-related cognitive decline — as it explains the mechanics of memory and outlines the functional trajectory of the healthy brain as time marches on.

In the Memory Issues Series, anyone currently struggling to fit into a neurotypical mold, even if you are GenX or younger, will find a lot of information that will help you develop effective you-specific strategies to work around some of the things that give you fits and shut you down.


Our Worst Nightmare

Staying in SHAPE as we age (Source HERE)

Most people who have lived with cognitive decline in an up close and personal fashion (in particular, the ravages of any of the dementias in a loved one), frequently report a back-of-the-mind concern that they are looking into a mirror of their future selves.

Time marches on, and we’re all getting older. The first wave of Baby Boomers – that spike in the population statistics once Johnny came marching home from World War II – turned 65 in 2012.

With the third-act aging of more and more of the Boomers, this conversation will become increasingly frequent, as those back-of-the-mind concerns rise to conscious awareness and become the worries of a greater portion of our population.

Take a D-E-E-P breath — you don’t HAVE to lose it as you age!!

Prevention is the better part of valor

You wouldn’t wait until the day before the marathon to train for it, would you? Same thing with healthy brain aging! Don’t wait until decline begins to start doing something about it — if you want to experience the rosy finish you can expect if you begin to employ neuro-protective techniques NOW

Good news for most Boomers –
it’s not too late to start turning things around!

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How to live a life that doesn’t suck


from Selorm Nelson - click graphic to read

from Selorm Nelson – click graphic to read

Does anybody REALLY live
“a LIFE they LOVE?”

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
A Walking a Mile in Another’s Shoes Post
Part 1 in a Series

I know, it’s a bizarre way to begin

It is an ESPECIALLY bizarre question out of the metaphorical mouth of a coach.

For those of you who aren’t yet aware, “life” coaching is a profession renowned for holding the “Live a life you LOVE banner aloft (above a table marketing miraculous services that will transform your life with the click of a PayPal button).

I’ve used the phrase myself – more than a few times.  It seemed a handy “short-hand” in my attempt to describe the benefits of coaching. But today I’m giving that hyperbole a bit more thought.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been under the weather all week and I’m now in the grouchy phase where I’m feeling sorry for myself – but I think the topic merits some frank discussion, don’t you?

Because I think we’re focusing on the wrong objective, which will continue to lead us astray.

I’m coming to believe it’s a set up, actually — for an expectations mismatch that will make us truly miserable, regardless of what our lives look like at any particular moment.

If it works for you, carry on. I’m all FOR hyperboles that work, but I’m not sure this one does.

I’m wondering if it’s time to move on to something that works better with the way our brains are designed. Do your best to read with an open mind.

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Expectations set by appearance


The comments to this post add content – don’t miss ’em!

DeceptiveAppearances

original source unknown

Getting PAST the Visual?

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
A Walking a Mile in Another’s Shoes Post

A recent conversation on a TBI article, Laughter is Brain Injury Medicine – Relieved it’s not me … new what?  launches a conversation that deserves an exploration here — thus, the article below.

(Regular readers have probably noted that Edie, a TBI advocate, frequently comments on the articles I put together to help, primarily, a readership that has attentional struggles and challenges. I comment on her blog as well.)

I hope you will take the time to investigate Brain Injury Self Rehabilitation, the blog sustained by the life experiences and research of former nurse Edie Flickinger.

MUCH of the information that she shares about Traumatic Brain Injury is also relevant to the rest of what I call “the alphabet disorders” population: ADD, EFD, ASD, MDD, BPD, OCD, ODD, etc.

Appearance Expectations

In her article, Edie’s point about appearance expectations (they look good, therefore we expect them to “work good”) is something I had never really thought very deeply about in terms of its impact on the functioning of those whom I have coached and trained — at least, not quite so consciously.

Sometimes Size DOES Matter

BigLittleI have long observed certain manifestations of that particular “expectations set by appearance” dynamic with adults and groups of children.

I have repeatedly noted the greater number of frustrated adults when kids who are much bigger or taller than same-age children struggle with accomplishment (even when a “big” kid performs at a higher level than his or her peers.)

People subconsciously expect a particularly “big” kid to be able to do (or learn, or already know) what they would expect of a child several years older.

If the child performs at an advanced level cognitively or intellectually, it frequently seems to be taken for granted, even discounted (in a manner similar to the way we admonish bigger kids not to physically bully those who are smaller or frailer).

Should the “big” kid be even the slightest bit delayed in development, adult concern can be intense!

“Little” kids (most often if they are female), seem to get a “pass” on functional or behavioral issues more frequently than their “standard-sized” same-age buddies as well — an example of the same dynamic from the other end of the see-saw.

But I’ll bet Edie is absolutely correct that many of our expectations of what a person “should” be able to handle functionally and intellectually are set by appearance standards, regardless of age. After all, we do “dress for success!!”

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Science and Sensibility – the illusion of proof


The Illusion of Proof


© By Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, A.C.T., MCC, SCAC
Foundational Concepts of the Intentionality Series

Observation, Anecdotal Report and Science

I have a love/hate relationship
with science.  

I’m hoping to encourage the readers of this blog to develop a similar approach to what we like to think of as “proof.”

I’d like to convince you of the wisdom of stepping away from black and white thinking to embrace the possibility of the pragmatics of gray.

(By the way, the perils of  black and white thinking is one of the most useful concepts I write about, so if you haven’t clicked over to read, don’t miss it!)

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Open Loops, Distractions and Attentional Dysregulation


Remember – links on this site are dark grey to reduce distraction potential
while you’re reading. They turn red on mouseover.

The Importance of Closing Open Loops


© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, A.C.T., MCC, SCAC
Part of the Intentionality & Memory Series

photo credit: Matthieu Aubry via Flikr - (c) Creative Commons

photo credit: Matthieu Aubry via Flikr – ©Creative Commons


An
“open loop” is my term referring to a step to be accomplished before an activity or thought process can be “put away.”

Only once a task has been “put away” does the Prefrontal Cortex [PFC] voluntarily let it go.

Until then, it continues to “ping” the stored reminder of where we were in the process —
to keep it “active” in our working memory banks, even when we are not “actively”
thinking about it.

Completions are “closed loops” – whether we have completed an entire task or an identified portion – a “chunk” that we have set before ourselves – fulfilling our expectation that we will take the step or accomplish the task or activity, which “closes” the loop.

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Cognitive Impairment and Dementia Protection


Remember – links on this site are dark grey to reduce distraction potential
while you’re reading. They turn red on mouseover
Hover before clicking for more info

Maintaining Cognitive Vitality

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, A.C.T, MCC, SCAC

treadmill_GreenSuit“A mind equipped with a wide range of
previously formed
pattern recognition devices
can withstand the effects of neuroerosion
for a long time.”

~ Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg, PhD, from
The Wisdom Paradox 

Our Worst Nightmare

How we hate the idea of losing our
hottie-bodies as we get older!

But that’s not the worst of it.

Probably the most frightening thing — for most of us old enough to truly understand that we will not live forever, anyway — is the idea that we might lose control of our MINDS as we age.

What strikes fear in our hearts is that we’ll lose the links to words, places, our fondest memories, the names of our children — the very things that define our sense of SELF.

Those who have lived with cognitive decline in an up close and personal fashion (in particular, the ravages of any of the dementias in a loved one), frequently report a back-of-the-mind concern that they are looking into a mirror of their future selves.

The first wave of Baby Boomers – that spike in the population statistics once Johnny came marching home from World War II – turned 65 last year.

Wow.

With the third-act aging of more and more of the Boomers, this conversation will become more and more frequent, as those back-of-the-mind concerns rise to conscious awareness.

Take a D-E-E-P breath — you don’t HAVE to lose it as you age!!

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New Study: CBT Looks Promising for ADD Teens


New Study shows Teens w/ ADHD helped by
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Guestpost from David Rabiner, Ph.D.
Associate Research Professor;
Dept. of Psychology & Neuroscience, Duke University
ATTENTION RESEARCH UPDATE
August 2012

=====================================================================================
I have been a huge fan of Dr. David Rabiner’s ATTENTION RESEARCH UPDATE since its inception in 1997. Not only do I count on his comprehensive, plain-English explanations of up-to-date research trends and developments as key resources in my drive to keep my information base current,  I also archive them for future reference.  

For those who aren’t already among the over 40,000 people currently subscribed (sponsored now by CogMed, so no longer a charge to you), at the conclusion of this post I tell you how to get your own monthly copy in your very own email box.

I urge any professional working with individuals on the Attentional Spectrum — whether teachers, counselors, coaches, therapists or physicans — to sign yourself up the second you see those instructions, before it falls through the cracks.  (Parents and ADDers themselves can benefit too!)

Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, A.C.T, MCC, SCAC

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Processing slower or more to think about?


How FAST can you sift & sort?

Intro by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
Part THREE of the Brain-Based Processing Series

How fast can you FILTER? 

THAT is the question.

CLICK HERE for Part I: ABOUT Processing Speed
CLICK HERE for Part II: Processing Efficiency

Introduction

EFD: TBI & ADD (and more!)

There are a great many disabilities that are manifestations of Exectutive Functioning Disorder [EFD] – some inborn, and some acquired subsequently.

Some EF struggles are a consequence of damage to the frontal cortex, others are a consequence of another disease or disorder and its impact on hormones or glucose metabolism — or anything that has an effect on the neurotransmitter balance in the Prefrontal Cortex [PFC].

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Is Your Child on the TEAM?


TEAMS: A New ADHD Treatment for Preschoolers

Guestpost from David Rabiner, Ph.D.
Associate Research ProfessorDept. of Psychology & Neuroscience, Duke University
ATTENTION RESEARCH UPDATE – April 2012

=====================================================================================
I have been a huge fan of Dr. David Rabiner’s ATTENTION RESEARCH UPDATE since its inception in 1997. Not only do I count on his comprehensive, plain-English explanations of up-to-date research trends and developments as key resources in my drive to keep my information base current,  I also archive them for future reference.  

For those who aren’t already among the over 40,000 people currently subscribed (sponsored now by CogMed, so no longer a charge to you), at the conclusion of this post I tell you how to get your own monthly copy in your very own email box.

I urge any professional working with individuals on the Attentional Spectrum — whether teachers, counselors, coaches, therapists or physicans — to sign yourself up the second you see those instructions, before it falls through the cracks.  (Parents and ADDers themselves can benefit too!)

Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, A.C.T, MCC, SCAC
=====================================================================================

TEAM Training

In this month’s issue of Attention Research Update I review a recently published study that examined a new intervention for preschool children with ADHD called TEAMSTraining Executive, Attention, and Motor Skills.

The premise of this interesting and important study is that through regular parent-child engagement in games designed to exercise important neurocognitive skills, it may be possible to affect enduring reductions in core ADHD symptoms.

Thus, in contrast to current evidence-based interventions like medication treatment and behavior therapy, the goal of TEAMS is to produce more fundamental and enduring change.

I think this is very important work for the field and I believe you will find this to be an interesting study.

Sincerely,
David Rabiner, Ph.D.; Associate Research Professor
Dept. of Psychology & Neuroscience; Duke University; Durham, NC 27708

———————————————————————————————————
mgh note:
 Although this post is longer than usual, I chose to present the entire April issue instead of writing a summary, in answer to the many requests I have received for more information about non-pharmaceutal treatment alternatives.

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Juggling Invisible Balls



By Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, A.C.T., MCC, SCAC
Part 2 of a 2-part article in a series of excerpts from my upcoming book,
TaskMaster™ – see article list below

Some Juggling is an INSIDE Job

 

Juggling invisible balls is my term for the conscious attempt to screen out persistent, irrelevant, or intrusive, off-task, background “noise.”

“Noise” refers to input from any modality (an area of information processing using our sensory apparatus);
“juggling” is a metaphor to help us understand the mechanism by which we handle life’s many demands.

In the previous TaskMaster Series article, Taking Your Functional Temperature, I introduced several analogies that help illuminate what’s going on “behind the scenes” to help explain WHY we struggle with focus — and WHY we struggle in ways that make it difficult-to-impossible to get things done.

If you haven’t read the previous article, I STRONGLY suggest you start there, or I doubt the content below will be as valuable to you as it could be.

In this second section, we’re going to take a closer look at some of the reasons why functioning can be so erratic.

As I said in the first part of this article, on an average day, you may well be able to handle a great many things that, on another day, you simply cannot.

  • It makes sense ONLY if you start becoming aware of – and counting – invisible balls, so that you can better predict your functioning level BEFORE you attempt to take on more than you can manage.
  • Part of the value of ADD Coaching is helping you develop the habit of taking your functional temperature to help you take on the type and number of tasks that will keep you stimulated but not overwhelmed.

You will find tasks easier to manage if you learn to think of your day as if, like Alice, you were faced with one long  juggling  performance for The Red Queen.

You may certainly plan what objects you TAKE to her palace, but you must determine the order of your performance in the moment, so that the objects don’t come crashing down around you to the tune of, “Off with your head!”

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Taking Your Functional Temperature



By Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, A.C.T., MCC, SCAC
Part 1 of a 2-part article in a series of excerpts from my upcoming book,
TaskMaster™ – see article list below

Functional Temperature

artwork courtesy of artist/educator Phillip Martin

Some days I don’t wanna’

When I look at my wide and wonderful list of things I DO want to do, it seems the items I must do to keep a roof over my head, food on my table (and some semblance of organization and order in my life) are seldom the items that make me drool.

I often fantasize about what I’d do if I were to win the lottery, so I know, without stopping to think, exactly what I’d do first: I’d prepay everything for a decade or so!

Next, I’d throw a couple of years of generous support to a would-rather-be-a-stay-at-home Mom to add me to her list of charges.

THAT would allow me to coach and train, and write, and jump on the speaker’s circuit to advocate and educate for NOTHING — following my bliss every single second of every single day — freed from the constraints of capitalist imperatives.

Alas! Since I would probably need to drive someplace to purchase a ticket to said lottery (and my car is currently feeling too lazy to run), I doubt I’m likely to experience said windfall any time soon.

So if anybody knows somebody in that 1% who’s in
a philanthropic mood, send ’em my way.  

Until then I, like you, must figure out an effective way to bob and weave between the tasks that allow me to make a living and the activities that make life worth living.

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