A baby's brain has the capacity to grow at a phenomenal rate. At birth it is only one quarter of its adult size, but by three ears of age it will be 80% the size of an adult brain. At birth it is one of the only organs which has not yet fully developed and it is sensory stimulation derived from environmental experience which drives this growth and consequently which drives the development of the child.
Billions of neurons are created throughout the primary stages of foetal development and through birth. Indeed at birth, the only brain structure which is developed to anything like its mature form is the lower brainstem. This part of the brain controls the primitive reflexes and vital functions such as respiration, cardiovascular function, etc. Immediately after birth, baby's higher brain regions begin to make billions of connections between neurons. These connections, called synapses, are used to transmit information based upon sensory experience. Stimulation through the senses of touch, hearing, vision, smell and taste, in addition to vestibular and proprioceptive experience, directly influence these neurons and help in establishing these connections.
The more frequently the neuron connections are used, the stronger and more efficient the new connections become, this is a phenomenon known as 'long term potentiation.' If some of the neural pathways are not used, they become weak and are pruned, (this is known as 'long term depression.'). This is why the repetition of the activities within a Snowdrop programme of developmental stimulation are so important.
We know that babies who are born into an impoverished environment do not develop the rich connection between neurons which develop in other babies. Children who are neglected, exposed to stress, trauma, abuse, have negative experiences which can have a detrimental effect upon brain growth and development. It has been shown, that those infants or children who are not exposed to adequate sensory stimuli because of these factors can develop brains which are smaller then those who have had those "good" sensory experiences.
So, you might ask, how does this apply to children who have suffered brain injury? Well, what effect does brain injury have on a child? It acts as a barrier between the child and his environment. It does so because it prevents the child from interacting with his sensory environment. Because he is unable to gain the necessary sensory experience from his environment, due to the 'roadblock' of the injury, or because the injury is acting to distort incoming sensory information in some way, the brain is unable to make the same number, or quality of connection as it would otherwise have done and as a consequence baby's developmental processes are either stopped, slowed, or distorted.
Is there anything which an be done to rectify this situation? Well yes, at Snowdrop we believe there is. We take children who have suffered brain injuries and as a consequence are experiencing developmental difficulties and we provide them with an 'adapted sensory environment.' Where the injury is acting as a barrier between the child and his sensory environment, the adapted environment acts to amplify the sensory stimulation to which the child is exposed, breaking through the barrier and giving the child's brain the opportunity to form connections. Where the injury is acting to distort incoming sensory information, making the child hypersensitive, or unable to selectively tune in, or to mask sensory information, our adapted environment seeks to re-tune the neurological structures which are responsible for this. Again, in this way we encourage the brain to make the appropriate number and quality of connections and to consequently improve the developmental prospects of the child.