Saturday, 21 July 2012

The Reticular Formation and Sensory Processing.

We are constantly taking in information from the environment through our senses. It is something we cannot help but do and we use this sensory information to each construct our version of reality. But what is reality?

None of us really have any idea what reality is actually like: all we have is a limited sensory system, which interprets visual, auditory and tactile information and relays it to our conscious awareness. But people can only iterpret a small part of reality, being unable to detect, for example, radiation or broad colors on the light spectrum.

This is one reason why there is folly in totally accepting the world your senses provide you with. But there is another reason, one that you have more direct control over: the sensitisation of your reticular system and what it means for how you experience life on a daily basis.

The general rule of your reticular system is that whatever dominates your thoughts - both conscious and unconscious - will also dominate your attention, whether you like it or not. Ever had a toothache and then noticed that there seem to be an awful lot of adverts on TV about toothpaste and dentists? This is your reticular system at work. When a mother has a baby, she becomes acutely aware, even in sleep, of every noise her baby makes. - This is her reticular system at work, - tuning attention to what is dominating her thought processes.

Now let's consider what happens when the functioning of the reticular system is not as it should be. Many children suffer from sensory oversensitivity, whether it be visual, auditory or tactile; - or all three! This might present itself as a general oversensitivity in the affected modality, or a more specific oversensitivity, such as being oversensitive to specific sights, sounds and / or sensations. This is again the work of the reticular system, (inconjunction with the thalamus) Because of a dysfunction within the brain, whether caused by genetics or brain injury, the reticular system of the child becomes sensitised to particular stimulus, whether visual or auditory, etc and works in conjunction with the thalamus to excite the cortex so that the stimulus is processed. However, because of the dysfunctional reticular system, the cortex becomes over-excited and the child, not understanding why the stimulus is triggering this reaction in his system, reacts wildly. Here we have the basis for sensory oversensitivity in many types of developmental disability, including cerebral palsy, autism and Asperger's syndrome. or any other type of brain injury.

Fortunately, these neurological structures can be re-tuned, as they constantly are in uninjured human being, as our awareness and attention are constantly redirected to salient features of our environment. Snowdrop has developed techniques to help children who suffer from this type of difficulty to re-tune the dysfunctional reticular formation, thus allowing the opportunity for normal developmental processes to resume.

If you would like more information about Snowdrop's treatment programmes for brain injury, visit

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