Brain Plasticity: How I Changed My Son’s Brain to be More Environmentally Aware in a Summer

I read a book a couple of years ago that was recommended to me by a friend, “The Brain That Changes Itself”, by Norman Droidge. When I read it I couldn’t help but wonder how it would impact me and the raising of our son. Essentially the book presents the idea that the brain is far more malleable and trainable than we truly know; the term he used is “plasticity.”

Having a child with additional needs brings on its additional responsibilities and concerns. I don’t call them “special” needs because I don’t perceive Jack’s needs to be any more special than any other child. There are just additional concerns.

For instance, my lovely son had this instinctive habit of not being aware of his surroundings. He would literally be running on the playground or just around and inevitably he’d hit a wall or trip on an uneven surface. As a parent, I felt that I took the term “helicopter mom” to a new level. I was not only watching out for obstacles my son would possibly fall from or run into, but I also literally began hovering.

As a stay-at-home mom, I had the summer to dedicate myself and him to build up his environmental awareness. I chose two methodologies that summer. Initially, I chose to take Jack to multiple playgrounds, and integrated one more often than others due to its monotone coloring and the fact that it also had multiple levels of steps that, even for typical children, if they were unaware, would cause them to fall. Secondly, I took him to a gymnastics gym that was open once a week for free to those with additional needs. It meant that Jack would be playing with other children who also may not be the most environmentally aware children, and would have to watch for others in this confined space. My goal was accomplished over this one summer, as this basically retrained his brain to become environmentally aware and have an ability to decipher depth perception. The timing of this achievement was perfect as he was going to be immersed into a typical classroom with a minimum of 16 children, which was double the class size from the previous year.

I recently had the need to re-address the issue of Jack’s challenge of depth perception in a different environment: the pool.  It became clear to me one day as we were swimming under water that Jack couldn’t tell where the bottom of the pool was as he accidentally hit his head. My new approach was to get dive toys. So I bought some, but they didn’t do the trick as they didn’t provide depth; instead they laid flat on the bottom surface. Then, during a play date with a friend, I found the perfect solution. They brought dive rings that stood up at the bottom of the pool. My hypothesis worked! After sampling different dive toys, those that actually stood up at the bottom of the pool allowed Jack not only the safety of not hitting bottom, but the knowledge of depth!

1. http://www.brainfacts.org/about-neuroscience/ask-an-expert/articles/2012/what-is-brain-plasticity

2.http://www.brainhq.com/brain-resources/brain-plasticity/what-is-brain-plasticity

3. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroplasticity

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