Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge ***

I belong to a great online support group, Hemi-kids, that I get a lot of information and understanding from. Though Puppy doesn't have hemiplegia himself, he does have the same underlying issue--stroke. Puppy had a blood disorder when he was born called NAIT. Though it can be complicated to explain, I'll just say it made him prone to bleeding. When he was born he was covered in bruises and because the doctor used a suction device to deliver him he had a stroke.

A couple of years ago some of the people on the list serv started talking about this great book that proved brain plasticity. Not only that, it talked about how plasticity doesn't go away when we get older. For those of us dealing either personally or as a parent of someone with a brain challenge, this information can make your hopes soar. Something can be done to help either regain or establish those connections lost to brain injury.

Norman Doidge is a psychiatrist, and maybe because of this his writing sometimes gets a little...dry. But despite that, the book compels you to continue reading. Three chapters in particular were not boring at all for me: Chapter 2, Building Herself a Better Brain; Chapter 3, Redesigning the Brain; and Chapter 7, Pain.

Chapter 2 is fascinating in that it is about a woman who was labeled mentally deficient and how she not only figured out how to overcome her own obstacles, but opened a school for children in order to help those with learning challenges. Two things I took from that chapter that I've already tried implementing with Puppy are tracing and memorizing. Tracing has been found to help with writing (duh!) by building up those neuro pathways in the brain that control that function. It's a low-stress way of dealing with it, but with good results. The memorization helps kids with poor auditory memory. Puppy has poor memory in almost all ways, but right now I've been reading poems to him at bedtime over and over in the hopes that it will help him memorize them himself, and help him to learn how to do that too.

Chapter 3 is fascinating because of a program that is being used at Puppy's school--Fast ForWord. A scientist named Michael Merzenich developed it to help people with learning disorders learn to read. But as a side effect, it was discovered to also help kids with autism and various other developmental disabilities. Basically he figured out how to rewire the brain using fun computer games that get results without kids even realizing it.

Chapter 7 was interesting because it was about V.S. Ramachandran. He's described in the book as the Sherlock Holmes of modern neurology, and that description is apt. He doesn't like working with fancy technology--he works with what is around him and comes up with startling and amazing discoveries. I won't go into how he does it, but he can make it feel like he's hit your hand with a hammer simply by hitting the table in front of you with one.

Overall this was a very good book. I have a very hard time reading non-fiction and this book was no exception. I start to feel like I'm back in college reading something I have to for a class, so even if it was my own idea to read it in the first place it soon becomes a chore. But I forced myself through it and I'm glad I did.

I don't agree with all the theories presented by Doidge in this book, but I do understand them. Overall it gives me some hope for Puppy's future. But I also worry--there is no such thing as a magic bullet. And even if there was one, do I want Puppy to be someone else? Thoughts to ponder.

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