Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Brain Plasticity in Action, (on a trampoline)!

This young man is just 19 months old.   When he was 6 weeks of age he suffered a massive stroke which destroyed the left side of his brain.  His doctors told his mum that as a consequence he would never be able to use his right side limbs, which meant he would never crawl, never walk, and because language functions are situated in the left hemisphere, he would never understand or produce spoken language.  His mum refused to accept this and after many months of despair, she found Snowdrop via an internet search.  We instituted a programme of neuro-developmental stimulation, which he has been following for just 1 year.  The results have been astonishing and he did crawl, he does walk, (and run) and he most certainly does talk!  Here we see him coordinating both legs in order to enjoy the trampoline.  This young man is proof positive that not only can we stimulate brain plasticity, we can successfully direct it down a developmental pathway and thus restore the functions of children who have suffered brain injury.

 is trampolining using both legs in coordinated style! Go Max!

Monday, 26 November 2012

The Principles of the Snowdrop Programme

(1) Brain injury is in the brain and if we are to help our children overcome their problems we must direct our efforts towards influencing brain plasticity.

(2). The brain responds to 3 major influences, -genetic instruction, - its internal operating environment, - the demands placed on it by the environment. These three factors drive the development of the child forward. We cannot influence genetic instruction, but we can influence the other two factors.

(3). How do we influence the demands of the environment and therefore also influence brain plasticity? - We do so through repetition of stimulus. A brain injury acts as a 'roadblock' preventing stimuli from the environment from being processed properly in the brain and therefore the child fails to develop. The Snowdrop programme assesses where that developmental roadblock lies in each area of development and provides an appropriate developmental activity which is repeated over weeks and months and which acts as an increased environmental stimulus, helping to overcome the roadblock and allowing the correct stimulation to reach the brain.

(4). The brain prefers to take in information in short, sharp bursts, which is why most activities within the programme are carried out for between 1 and 3 minutes,

(5). The brain needs plenty of 'downtime' in order to process and organise information, for this reason the programme is not as 'intensive' as might be imagined.

(6). Children learn and develop in social situations with the help of family and friends. All new abilities begin as abilities which are just beyond the reach of the child and he / she can only perform those abilities with help from family / friends. The programme activities are therefore carried out with the child by family and friends.

(7). Those friends and family who are helping the child learn and develop in social situations are providing assistance which Bruner termed as 'scaffolding' to enable the child to complete developmental tasks which are just outside of his ability to complete them alone. As the child becomes increasingly competent at the ability through repetition of stimulus, the scaffolding is gradually withdrawn until the ability is 'internalised' and the child has attained that developmental ability. This is what Vygotsky termed 'passage through the zone of proximal development.' In this way we marry academically sound Vygotskian psychology with current evidence on stimulating neuroplasticity.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

The link between music and language development.

This is the reason why exposure to music is a primary factor within the Snowdrop programme for brain injured children.  With thanks to 'Medical News Today.'


Contrary to the prevailing theories that music and language are cognitively separate or that music is a byproduct of language, theorists at Rice University's Shepherd School of Music and the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP) advocate that music underlies the ability to acquire language. 

"Spoken language is a special type of music," said Anthony Brandt, co-author of a theory paper published online this month in the journal Frontiers in Cognitive Auditory Neuroscience. "Language is typically viewed as fundamental to human intelligence, and music is often treated as being dependent on or derived from language. But from a developmental perspective, we argue that music comes first and language arises from music." 

Brandt, associate professor of composition and theory at the Shepherd School, co-authored the paper with Shepherd School graduate student Molly Gebrian and L. Robert Slevc, UMCP assistant professor of psychology and director of the Language and Music Cognition Lab. 

"Infants listen first to sounds of language and only later to its meaning," Brandt said. He noted that newborns' extensive abilities in different aspects of speech perception depend on the discrimination of the sounds of language - "the most musical aspects of speech." 

The paper cites various studies that show what the newborn brain is capable of, such as the ability to distinguish the phonemes, or basic distinctive units of speech sound, and such attributes as pitch, rhythm and timbre. 

The authors define music as "creative play with sound." They said the term "music" implies an attention to the acoustic features of sound irrespective of any referential function. As adults, people focus primarily on the meaning of speech. But babies begin by hearing language as "an intentional and often repetitive vocal performance," Brandt said. "They listen to it not only for its emotional content but also for its rhythmic and phonemic patterns and consistencies. The meaning of words comes later." 

Brandt and his co-authors challenge the prevailing view that music cognition matures more slowly than language cognition and is more difficult. "We show that music and language develop along similar time lines," he said. 

Infants initially don't distinguish well between their native language and all the languages of the world, Brandt said. Throughout the first year of life, they gradually hone in on their native language. Similarly, infants initially don't distinguish well between their native musical traditions and those of other cultures; they start to hone in on their own musical culture at the same time that they hone in on their native language, he said. 

The paper explores many connections between listening to speech and music. For example, recognizing the sound of different consonants requires rapid processing in the temporal lobe of the brain. Similarly, recognizing the timbre of different instruments requires temporal processing at the same speed - a feature of musical hearing that has often been overlooked, Brandt said. 

"You can't distinguish between a piano and a trumpet if you can't process what you're hearing at the same speed that you listen for the difference between 'ba' and 'da,'" he said. "In this and many other ways, listening to music and speech overlap." The authors argue that from a musical perspective, speech is a concert of phonemes and syllables. 

"While music and language may be cognitively and neurally distinct in adults, we suggest that language is simply a subset of music from a child's view," Brandt said. "We conclude that music merits a central place in our understanding of human development." 

Brandt said more research on this topic might lead to a better understanding of why music therapy is helpful for people with reading and speech disorders. People with dyslexia often have problems with the performance of musical rhythm. "A lot of people with language deficits also have musical deficits," Brandt said. 

More research could also shed light on rehabilitation for people who have suffered a stroke. "Music helps them reacquire language, because that may be how they acquired language in the first place," Brandt said.