Neuro - Cognitive Therapy
by Simon Kingsway
The approach is based upon certain irrefutable facts concerning brain function, which are applied to the treatment of children's developmental difficulties. The first of these is brain plasticity. It is now unchallengeable that the brain is capable of changing its structure and functioning in response to the environment in which it finds itself. We can see this in the growth of new synaptic connections and the pruning of inefficient ones.
The question then is, what do we mean by 'environment' and how can we manipulate this variable in order to encourage the brain to respond in the way we wish?
The brain takes in information from the sensory environment, through the eyes, ears, nose, mouth and skin. Specific areas are responsible for processing this information and then re-routing it to the appropriate part of the cortex for further attention, evaluation and action. When the brain is working as it should, then all of this is achieved with the maximum efficiency, without you or I ever noticing what is occurring. However, as we are all aware, the brain does not always work as it should! For many children, this sensory information either does not reach the relevant part of cortex at all, or if it does, the signal has been weakened sufficiently so that processing becomes almost impossible. For other children, the sensory stimuli reaches the cortex for processing in a distorted manner and the child is overwhelmed by the world it perceives.
These 'distortions of sensory processing' are primary problems, which affect many conditions; - cerebral palsy and autism, yes indeed; - but also many other conditions. What Snowdrop try to do is to manipulate the sensory environment to which the child is exposed in order to encourage the regions of the brain, which are responsible for processing the sensory stimuli, (the sensory - attentional filter of the brain, - the ascending reticular activating system and the thalamus), to re-tune and to process information more normally. This is done sometimes by providing an adapted sensory environment designed to dampen the incoming sensory stimuli (in cases where children are hypersensitive) and sometimes by designing activities intended to enrich sensory experience.(in cases where the child is hyposensitive). In this way, (because as we know, the brain grows new synapses and prunes disused ones), we can influence not only brain function, but the development of it's structure.
Another aspect of our approach is aimed at any learning difficulties the child might have and is informed by research from Vygotskian psychology.
Recent research has provided ample evidence concerning how children learn. (unfortunately, often children do not learn in the manner by which schools teach)
The research findings which inform Snowdrop's work in this field are all provided by respected, mainstream psychologists so you can be reassured in advance that they are not operating some 'fly by night' fanciful theory on brain plasticity and learning; - everything they do has an evidential basis. The evidence behind this research is compelling, as any reading will testify.
I also encourage parents to read one of the books available for purchase through this site. They are titled, 'Cerebral palsy' and 'Autism.' Despite their titles, they are packed with information about
many developmental problems, they also provide a full explanation of their work.
This approach to learning dfficulties utilises Vygotky's concept of the 'zone of proximal development.' Looking at the child's current developmental level in terms of his / her cognitive development these abilities are reinforced. They then look at the next stage of development for the child (his proximal development) and in recognition that learning is a social activity, provide support to enable him to attain that ability (this support encompasses Bruner's concept of 'scaffolding' and Rogoff's concept of 'apprenticeship.') This may also entail breaking the developmental task down into smaller, simpler sub-components thus enabling the child to succeed. As the child improves his functioning at the desired cognitive / developmental task, the scaffolding (support) is gradually removed until he is performing the desired task automaically. This is not just the way in which children learn, - this is the way we all learn.
So what would a programme of developmental stimulation look like?
This would depend upon the specific difficulties faced by a child and how much time the family could practicably spend on it. It might consist of as little as thirty minutes of structured stimulation per day, up to as much as three hours per day.
An example of this approach can be highlighted by exploring the area of mobility development. One of the primary problems a child with CP and many other developmental disabilities will face is in the area of mobility development. He has two factors working against his development of mobility. The first thing, obviously is his lack of muscular strength and coordination, the second is the fact that the effect of gravity is obviously further compounding these difficulties. So a situation has arisen where attempts at movement ultimately end in failure. This creates a lack of motivation, which leads to further failure and so, the child simply stops trying. How is this overcome? - Well, it involves the creation of a situation where gravity works for the child. Using specialised techniques, which utilise the effects of gravity for the benefit of the child, Snowdrop teach the child that movement is easy and pleasurable. This creates motivation within the child and this leads to further success. Gradually, as the child grows stronger and more able, the level of difficulty of the mobility task is gradually increased, until hopefully, the child is able to crawl unaided.
Let's also look at language development. As far as this area of development is concerned, often children who have suffered developmental difficulties have missed out on some of the earlier, but essential stages of language development and need to be taken back through these precursor stages in order for language to have a chance of developing. For instance, many children for whatever reason, do not make eye contact and do not like to look at faces; - two essential precursor components of later language development! Snowdrop utilise techniques to encourage these precursor stages, thereby laying the foundations for the development of spoken language. My own child who suffers from profound cerebral palsy, has greatly benefited from this approach.
Neuro - Cognitive Therapy has been designed by 'Snowdrop,' who can be found at Snowdrop
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