Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Wiring of the Brain

One thing that we have been taught while here is the wiring of the brain - especially in children who were born prem.  This is not the greatest of pics but....

This shows the seven senses of the brain.  We all know about the main five, which are smell, taste, hearing, touch and sight, these are also known as the external senses.  The other two are another two big ones.  Balance (or if you want to be technical "vestibular" sense), and Body Awareness, which uses that word we have mentioned a few times, proprioception.  

So all these senses work together and are always decoding and processing information that we are receiving from all our senses.  All these sensory inputs allow us to understand the world that we are functioning in.  But if one of these senses is not working properly, or the wiring has not been completed properly (due to premature birth), it can be a struggle to decode and manage the sensory input, and create sensory issues.   These can manifest in three different ways, the over-responsive child, the under-responsive child or a sensory seeking child.

Normally, all these senses are wired up and properly work.  Our brains are firing hundreds of messages around without us even being aware of it.  We pick up a piece of food, and within split milli-seconds, it has hit all our senses before we have even put it in our mouth.   

With a premature baby, they have missed out on those weeks of floating around in a lovely warm bath.  A full-term bubba enjoys the muffled sounds of the outside world.  Working out how to swallow the warm liquid, move their hands, suck their thumbs and just oblivious to the madness and chaos of the outside world.  They float around blissfully unaware of it all.

For a precious prem, they are burst into the world, and subjected to hundreds of different sensations, touch, feel, sight, smell, taste and hearing. Their little brains are not wired up yet to cope with all these sensations.  As a parent of a prem, you will know that you have to keep touch to a minimum.  They cover the incubators with blankets, muffle the sounds and dim the lights where possible.  Unfortunately it is the nature of the beast - that all these interventions that are keeping our babies alive, are also overwhelming their sensory systems.  Saying that, we dont mind because we would do anything to keep our babies alive.  It is also not the fault of the medical teams, they do the best they can.

But in knowing this, when prem babies leave the hospital and start to explore the world on their own, it is important that they have an excellent support network around them to pick up if their sensory systems are not wiring up correctly, or if something is not quite clicking.

Unfortunately there is often not the follow-up that pick up these issues.  Also, through no lack of the specialists around, some of them do not have the proper training to pick up on these issues.

But anyways, the past few weeks, Emma's therapists have been re-wiring Emma's brain.  Starting at the very basic sensory feelings, and working up and up and up.  This, combined with the steps to eating, is helping Emma's brain to start connecting up and making the connection that food is good, and that she is a girl who is learning to eat, not a girl who does not eat.   

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