Sunday, 19 June 2011

Memories Are More Likely To Stick If Learning Includes Regular Periods Of Rest

More evidence to support the way in which we deliver the Snowdrop programme; - That it should not be an intensive, concentrated programme of developmental activities, but should be spaced out during the day and incorporated into a more general 'lifestyle pattern.'

With thanks to MNT for highlighting this research.

Scientists and educators alike have long known that cramming is not an effective way to remember things. With their latest findings, researchers at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Japan, studying eye movement response in trained mice, have elucidated the neurological mechanism explaining why this is so. Published in the Journal of Neuroscience, their results suggest that protein synthesis in the cerebellum plays a key role in memory consolidation, shedding light on the fundamental neurological processes governing how we remember. 

The "spacing effect", first discovered over a century ago, describes the observation that humans and animals are able to remember things more effectively if learning is distributed over a long period of time rather than performed all at once. The effect is believed to be closely connected to the process of memory consolidation, whereby short-term memories are stabilized into long-term ones, yet the underlying neural mechanism involved has long remained unclear. 

To clarify this mechanism, the researchers developed a technique based around the phenomenon of horizontal optokinetic response (HOKR), a compensatory eye movement which can be used to quantify the effects of motor learning. Studying HOKR in mice, they found that the long-term effects of learning are strongly dependent on whether training is performed all at once ("massed training"), or in spaced intervals ("spaced training"): whereas gains incurred in massed training disappeared within 24 hours, those gained in spaced training were sustained longer. 

Earlier research suggested that this spacing effect is the product of the transfer of the memory trace from the flocculus, a cerebellar cortex region which connects to motor nuclei involved in eye movement, to another brain region known as the vestibular nuclei. To verify this idea, the team administered local anesthetic to the flocculus and studied its effect on learning. While learning gains in mice that had undergone one hour of massed training were eliminated, those in mice that had undergone the same amount of training spaced out over a four hour period were unaffected. 

Explaining this observation, the researchers found that the spacing effect was impaired when mice were infused with anisomycin and actinomycin D, antibioticswhich inhibit protein synthesis. This final discovery suggests that proteins produced during training play a key role in the formation of long-term memories, providing for the first time a neurological explanation for the well-known benefits of spaced learning - as well as a great excuse to take more breaks. 

Friday, 17 June 2011

Brain Injured Children. - Tapping the Potential Within.

Brain Injured Children. - Tapping the Potential within.
Click here to buy it from Amazon UK
Click here to download it from Lulu

Packed with information and clear explanations of many of the problems our children face. It also explains how Snowdrop utilises current research about neuroplasticity to stimulate the development of our children.  If your child has a diagnosis of cerebral palsy, autism, developmental delay, brain injury, learning difficulties, ADHD, Dyspraxia and many more, you will find this book to be useful and interesting.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Snowdrop vs Sensori -Motor Patterning: - The Difference.

Yesterday I was asked a question concerning the differences in the philosophy of Snowdrop and the various organisations which utilise the approach to therapy know as 'sensori-motor patterning.  Normally, I don't like to comment on other people's approach to therapy, but as I want to distance myself from this approach, I will answer.

The sensori- motor patterning organisations have many beliefs about brain function and child development, which can be proven to be patent nonsense and I will cover the major issues as follows.

It is a methodology which has come in for a great deal of criticism from many authorities and is judged to be one of the more 'controversial' therapeutic approaches, - so let's examine this desperately 'controversial' approach to treatment.

As I say there are many organisations applying many variations of the patterning treatment, so much so, that it is impossible to attribute all theoretical standpoints to one particular organisation; - Some adhere to some theories, whilst others denounce the same theories. Necessarily then, this is a generalised review.

One theoretical standpoint is the 'recapitulationist'theory.' Many proponents of patterning hold the belief that 'ontogeny' recapitulates 'phylogeny.' - All this means is that they hold to the idea that the development of a child from conception to maturity is a replay of the evolutionary development of our species. Of course it is absolute nonsense and allow me to demonstrate why?

The theory says that at any point in his development the movement patterns of the human child will replicate the movement patterns of species which are lower down the evolutionary ladder.  This seems an attractive theory and on the surface it does appear to have some truth in it. After all, does a new-born baby not wriggle like a fish? Does a seven month old child not adopt the same movement when crawling as an amphibian? Does a child who is crawling on his hands and knees not adopt the same movement pattern as a reptile? When a child first starts to walk, does he not hold his arms up in the air like an ape? The answer is yes, to all these questions. However, some of the proponents of patterning go further than to note these resemblances and attribute participation of definite levels of the brain to these developments. - This is where the theory falls apart!

According to recapitulation theory, the following logic applies.
  1. They claim that because the dominant level of the brain operating in a fish is its medulla, and the fish produces wriggling movements, this means that the dominant level of the brain in a new-born baby, which produces similar wriggling movements, must be the medulla!
  2. Because the dominant level of the brain operating in an amphibian is the pons and the amphibian produces 'homolateral' movement patterns (moving the arm and leg on the same side of the body simultaneously), this means that the dominant level of the brain of a young child who produces these patterns of movement must be the Pons!
  3. Because the dominant level of the brain operating in reptiles is the midbrain and the reptile produces a movement pattern called the 'cross-pattern,' then the young child producing the same pattern of movement, must be operating at the level of the midbrain.

You get where I am going with this?

What seems to be forgotten in this simplistic view of development is that although yes, we do share the same brain structures as species lower in the evolutionary scale, in human beings the functions of those structures have been transformed! According to some proponents of patterning then, because the human cortex developed from the olfactory bulb, human beings must think by smelling! It is patent absolute simplistic nonsense!

The second major belief of many proponents of patterning is that of 'individual sequential development.' Put simply, this is the belief that the brain develops in definable stages, from bottom to top and that the brain stage above cannot begin its development prior to the completed development of the stage below. In this view, beginning from the bottom of the brainstem and working upwards, the first brain structure to develop is the 'medulla oblongata.' The next stage above the medulla, the 'pons' cannot begin its development until the medulla has completed its development. The stage above the pons, the 'midbrain,' cannot begin its development until the pons has completed its development. - This apparently continues all the way up to the cortex, which apparently is the final stage of the brain to develop!

This of course is absolute nonsense! We know and can prove that the cerebral cortex exerts a controlling influence even in a new-born baby!

The next claim is that the brain is under-used; - that we only utilise a small percentage (the claim is usually 10%) of the total capacity of the brain. The proposed implications of this proposed under - use are that even a child who is profoundly brain - injured will possess sufficient spare brain capacity to make recovery of function a viable possibility.

Let's nail this myth!

The idea that we only use 10% of our brains is probably such an enduring myth because it's comforting to think we have spare capacity. The 'unused' 90% could take up the slack after brain - injury or offer the possibility for miraculous self-improvement. This flexible factoid has been used not only to sell products to enhance our brain's performance, but also by psychics and their supporters to explain mystical cutlery bending powers!

Unfortunately the boring, tedious, but unavoidable facts point to this merely being a desirable myth and unfortunately there are four good reasons why it is false.
  1. If we only use 10% of our brain then damage to some parts of our brains should have no effect on us. As any neurologist will tell you, this is patently not true.
  2. From an evolutionary perspective it is highly unlikely we developed a resource-guzzling organ, of which we only use 10%.
  3. Brain imaging such as CAT, PET and fMRI shows that even while asleep there aren't any areas of our brain that completely 'switch off'.
  4. Parts of the body that aren't used soon shrivel and die. Same goes for the brain.
  5. Any neurons we weren't using would soon shrivel and die as the brain pruned unused connections.

The structure of the brain and its metabolic processes have also been carefully examined, along with the diseases that afflict it. None of this work has suggested there is a hidden 90% that we're not using, – Unfortunately!

Anyone who still maintains we only use 10% of our brains after this fusillade of fact has to come up with a counter-argument for each one of these points. I see no valid argument to refute these facts!

Snowdrop on the other hand, does not base it's treatment methods in theory.  We don't have theories, we follow the evidence!

We know that the development of the child depends upon an interplay between genetic expression and stimulation which the child gains from the environment; - with the environment being by far the most dominant force. - Fact!

We know that what a brain injury does is to prevent the stimulation from the environment from reaching the brain in the correct manner. - Fact

We know that the brain is plastic, - that by processes known as 'long term potentiation' and 'long term depression' the brain makes new connections and prunes disused connections in response to stimulation or lack of stimulation. - Fact.

We know that repetition of a stimulus is the crucial factor in encouraging long term potentiation. - Fact 

We know that although all children develop at different rates, that the developmental pathway in each area is orderly and can be charted. - Fact.

Using these four simple facts we are able to construct developmental activities, which can be repeated by a child's family, which will act as an increased environmental stimulus and encourage the forming of new connections in the brain, thereby producing developmental function in the child.

The difference could not be more stark.