Tuesday, 16 December 2014

The growing brain

A few weeks ago I attended a course about Neurobiology and Early Life Trauma delivered by Grant Sinnamon. Although it was largely designed for counsellors and therapists as a teacher and a bit of a neuro-nerd I found the content really relevant and useful. There was so much content that was amazing but for now I will concentrate on just a couple of points.
One of the take aways from the event was that trauma in early years of brain development can present in a whole lot of different ways later on (please note in this context trauma isn't necessarily major injury or intentional harm, it may be a change or loss, it could even be the result of a minor concussion).

Brain development is hugely important for us to consider as teachers. There can be standards set and expectations established for various age groups but in reality when our children enter school they come in at their own stage of development and their progress from there could be dependent on things like any early life trauma encountered. Grant Sinnamon suggested that if a trauma occurred at a time of significance in the development of the brain then there could be an impairment but with correct diagnosis this could be remedied or mitigated at least by building or strengthening pathways that may have been underdeveloped earlier in life. He stressed that interventions must mirror development, starting from the bottom and building up.

This is a challenge for schools. A powerful consideration offered to us during this seminar was if a child is struggling in some way academically such as learning to read and it is due to an interruption in their brain development (for arguments sake think about developing left/right cross over) then putting them in intensive remedial programmes and giving them extra reading to do may in fact not remedy the situation properly and could even cause greater problems by increasing anxiety and stress related to reading as a task. So the suggestion is that we go back to the earliest point of development that seems to be interrupted, with the reading example start with crawling and build up to remedial reading programmes.

He reminded us that the brain develops from bottom to top and inside to the outside. For most of the session we talked about the brain stem development. The brain stem controls our most basic and vital functions and it is where our options are most limited: flight, fight or freeze. If through early life trauma we have created a strong pathway to react with flight or fight then that will almost be an automatic reaction to any stressful situation... think about some of the challenging bahaviour we see in classrooms, could this possibly contribute to some of what you have seen? In order to support the learner it might be that we need to strengthen other pathways that may be underdeveloped, such as learning breathing techniques to calm down and therefore be able to respond better to stressful situations by accessing our thinking part of the brain. This fits beautifully with Glenn Capelli's Three Rooms of our Magic Brain. Grant talked about blowing bubbles being one strategy to help build slower breathing in a fun, non threatening manner. Creating a safe environment for these students is vital.

He has developed a model called REPAIR(tm) and is talking about this all over Australia and New Zealand. It makes good sense, and much of it relates to how we can create safe environments for children. I do recommend if you get a chance to hear him speak it is well worth the effort.

Clearly I have only just touched on a couple of small ideas from our whole day together... there is just so much more I want to learn!

The thing is that I am a classroom practitioner, not a therapist. As a teacher I would love to learn more from Grant Sinnamon and how we can use what he has developed so we are better armed to support the children we work with. For me it is about how we support the range of individuals we work with and finding ways we can help them to build secure foundations for their learning. Knowing more about how our amazing brains work must surely help us to achieve this end.

Further reference:
Slides by Grant Sinnamon from a similar seminar- http://www.academia.edu/1688621/Early-Life_Trauma_and_the_Brain_Consequences_and_Interventions
Grant Sinnamon talking about his REPAIR (tm) Model- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HBWmT_TBebA

1 comment:

  1. Sounds fab - there is so much to know about the brain and evidence is showing more and more how those early years are so important...