The Brain Develops in Layers. It is important to know how the brain works and which parts of the brain are responsible for primitive functioning, emotional regulation, and learning.
An infant’s brain changes and grows very rapidly, which is why at younger ages they absorb certain things so quickly. A good example is language, where within the first seven years of life children we have a critical phase (learning from exposure) for learning language. Similarly, with other parts of our sensory processing system such as movement, sound, and visual stimulation, proper development of the brain and nervous system occurs within the first few months of life.
The four layers of the brain hierarchy in the order of development that are used for learning, sensory integration and the emotional status of your child include the following:
1. Brain Stem
The brainstem controls basic survival functions such as heart rate, breathing, sleeping, digesting food and maintaining consciousness. It is considered the lowest, most primitive part of the brain. When a baby is born, the active part of the brain is the brainstem. During the first six months, higher regions of the brain including the cerebellum start developing to control movement and expand their motor skills (crawling, walking, lifting their head).These stereotype automatic movements are termed primitive reflexes and their integration are crucial in maturity of the rest of brain layers.
Children with sensory processing difficulty have poor eye coordination, posture and balance due to poor development of lower brain centres which relies on gravity for its function. Children did not have enough movement in the first 6 months after birth.
Movement is the cornerstone of brain development. Movement creates the optimal environment for neural plasticity and the ability for the brain to adapt to change. Movement, breathing, sound integration, timing, balance and the right nutrition help the brain create neural connections improving the vestibular, tactile & auditory systems; providing positive gains in attention, coordination, proprioception, sensory integration/ processing and emotional regulation.
The Cerebellum is one of the most important parts of the brain when it comes to helping your child learn and develop. What information the Cerebellum receives could mean the difference in how your child pays attention in the classroom, copies notes from the chalkboard, sits still in class and is responsible for much of the proprioceptive system (movement, position of body in space), balance, coordination, attention and rhythm. This brain structure is essential in skilled movements and helps to build learning pathways in the brain. Cerebellum works closely with the vestibular system . The vestibular system contains five organs that are sensitive to different types of movement. Information about these movements is sent from the vestibular system to the cerebellum, which coordinates the motor movements needed to maintain posture and balance.
3. Limbic System
The limbic system is the central station for emotions and sensory integration. It is located within the temporal lobe and that is why it controls fear or the fight or flight response your child may encounter. The amygdala in particular, is constantly aware of emotions that are needed for basic survival such as fear. Memory pathways are created here as well as bonding and regulating aggressive behaviour.
4. Cerebral Cortex
Also known as the Cerebrum, is the largest brain structure and is responsible for your child’s personality, thinking, motor skills, reasoning, and sensory input. It’s divided into four lobes that are each accountable for different parts of learning and are broken up into higher and lower functions of the brain. Here is the breakdown and learning aspects that go with each
Lower Working Levels
Occipital Lobe: Visual system, visual information, sight (letters, shapes, sizes, numbers)
Temporal Lobe: Speech, auditory processing, hearing, behaviour, emotions, short-term and long-term memory (processing what the teacher says, fear, fight or flight, recalling facts and details)
Parietal Lobe: Senses, sensory integration, sensory input (taste, temperature, smell, touch)
Higher Working Levels
Frontal Lobe (prefrontal cortex): Highest levels of learning and activity used for problem solving, executive functioning, reasoning, motor skills, organizing, abstract thinking, analysing, expressive language (telling stories, organizing thoughts on paper, starts and completes tasks, retains information, choices between right and wrong, social skills)
However, when the critical phase is over and the brain is no longer learning from exposure to stimulus and experiences, the brain is plastic in the sense that it can still build new connections and learn new skills and capacities under certain conditions. It is important to know the conditions for wiring the brain, particularly when tailoring a program for children who need support in helping their brains develop and grow more rapidly than they are predisposed to do, such as in cases of developmental delays and ASD.
Lower Centres integration is Crucial for Higher Learning
When your child’s development occurs in a natural order with a stimulating environment, the lower centres of the brain refine the sensory motor skills and balance so that future physical movements can become automatic, which free up the frontal lobe for higher learning functions.
For example, if your child is constantly fidgeting, up out of their desk, chewing on pencils and distracted by noise or other students in the classroom because they have poor sensory, vestibular, visual and proprioceptive systems, they can’t read, write, spell, remember facts, or complete math problems. That is why we need to improve those lower levels of the brain FIRST and make them AUTOMATIC before we can focus on the higher levels of the brain. This is why before you decide to tutor your child in reading and comprehension you need to strengthen their auditory and visual systems.
Learning readiness involves a child’s neurological and physical readiness, both of which are typically achieved through infant and toddler movement. When normal brain/sensory stimulation takes place in those early stages of life, critical sensory systems are matured, which means that by the time a child enters school, the brain and body are ready and capable to learn.
Children who struggle to self-regulate, meaning they can’t sit in their seat, stay focused and have limited motor skills, may become mentally fatigued when they try and concentrate to learn and interpret information.
As you monitor your child’s development, if you notice your child has issues with their sensory, auditory, vestibular, or visual systems, which prevent them from fully developing.
We will devise specific exercises to help their learning behaviour, attention and focus, and fidgeting in the classroom. Without these exercises, you may continue to notice delays in your child’s learning or side effects that can cause toe walking, W-sitting, bedwetting, poor balance and coordination, underdeveloped vestibular and proprioceptive systems, and trouble with motor planning. If your child struggles with any number of these issues, it could be an indication that the nervous system is underdeveloped.