Bryce wants to be like his friend who is excellent at soccer, can memorize anything quickly and always has a witty comment to share. So he asked me to explain how his brain works and what he can do to be more like his friend. We discussed his strengths and weaknesses and how they affect his processing of information. In my explanation to Bryce I realized that he is not as worried about his academic levels as he is about his ability to interact with his friends. The same processing difficulties he is having learning new information in the classroom are hindering him in his social interactions.
Helping Bryce process information quickly will make all learning and social interactions easier for him. Once the brain is smoothly processing new input; social interactions along with reading, writing, and math skills will be mastered more easily.
Many students come to the K&M Center with diagnoses of a processing disorder, a developmental delay, dyslexia, processing speed issues, ADHD, executive functioning disorder, dysgraphia, language processing issues, and auditory processing issues. Each diagnosis identifies a difficulty in absorbing new information, effectively storing information and/or retrieving the desired information efficiently. The question changes from, “ How do I teach a child to read?” to “What neuro-pathways need to be developed so this child can read fluently?”
How do we build new neuro-pathways? Memory and learning are related but different and it is important to understand their relationship. Memory is dependent on learning because memory takes learned information and stores it so it can be retrieved at a later time. Learning is dependent on memory because the stored information in memory provides the framework used to create associations and inferences to further learning and strengthen memory.
The Process of Creating New Neuro-pathways:
- The memory/learning process starts with perception and attention, which cause neurons to fire.
- Once the neurons fire a trace memory is created and the consolidation or stabilizing of a memory begins.
- This is considered the encoding or storage of information.
- During this process synapses increase in strength and number.
- When a group of neurons frequently fire together they form a pathway and the brain “re-wires” itself rearranging its organization.
- These neural pathways are what make learning possible.
The brain is designed to process information along the path of least resistance. Pathways that are frequently used become stronger and faster, so information that is learned and practiced allows that information to be retrieved more quickly.
Frequent use of neurons builds quick, strong neural pathways. Educating students with learning disabilities requires finding activities that stimulate the desired neurons to develop new pathways. Finding the right activities for each student is the key to successful learning.
How frequently the pathways need to be stimulated is not clear. Most research indicates that intensive intervention requires 60 hours, with daily sessions.
Bryce has a unique and wonderful brain. In our discussion we talked about how every person has strengths and weaknesses that make them valuable. Bryce wants to learn and he is willing to do the work, therefore his brain will continue to build new neural pathways that will help him in his social interactions. We also discussed that he will most likely never be exactly like his friend and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Learning to accept ourselves, while continuing to improve ourselves is what makes life interesting.