Your Body is a Brain…

Great writers and painters have known this fact for decades: The body acts like a brain…

Walt Whitman understood that the flesh was the source of meaning; Auguste Escoffier discovered that taste is actually a smell; Paul Cézanne realized that the brain can decipher an image from minimal brushstrokes.

Jonah Lehrer has written a book called Proust Was a Neuroscientist

In my own trauma-informed trainings I discuss how our central nervous system, specifically the nerves surrounding our “guts”, acts as a second brain.

Did you know that there are 43 different pairs of nerves which connect the nervous system to every part of our body. Twelve of these nerve pairs are connected to the brain, while the remaining 31 are connected to the spinal cord.

Did you know that the gut has 100 million nerve cells that make up it’s own nervous system separate from the brain!

Did you know that one of the major nerve pathways from the gut to the brain is called the Vagus Nerve. The brain interprets signals from the Vagus Nerve as actual emotional information. It really doesn’t know the difference. 

Did you know that there is more and more research on how the gut and gastrointestinal conditions are linked to depression, anxiety, autism, and ADHD. What we are talking about here is nutrition and not just medication can change our mental health.

And did you know that there is a reason we call certain kinds of food “comfort food”? Comfort foods affect our moods. Can someone say chocolate please?

Understanding the brain/body connection can help us overcome trauma in ways that traditional talk therapy cannot. This is because a lot of times there are no words to express what trauma is doing in our lives or the trauma is so far back in infancy and during pregnancy that there was no ability to form words.

This will require a new approach to doing therapy that involves movement, sensory processing, art therapy and my own NeuroResilience Play Therapy Approach. Click here for more info.

What is your body telling you?  Perhaps its time to follow your “gut” instincts today and find the help you need. Hey, writers and artists have been telling us for years this truth about our body acting like a brain. Let’s listen to what it is saying!

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(via Weighted Blankets for Anxiety Autism Insomnia Soothing Comforting by Mosaic Weighted Blankets in Austin Texas|Seen on NBC Parenthood Show)

Mosaic Weighted Blankets for sensory processing disorders in Autims, ADHD, Trauma and more. 

The Benefits of Mosaic Weighted Blankets® for Anxiety, Stress, and Insomnia

Adults, teens, and children can benefit from weighted blanket therapy. Mosaic Weighted Blankets are a safe and effective non-drug therapy for anyone seeking a solution for loss of sleep and relaxation.

“In psychiatric care, weighted blankets are one of our most powerful tools for helping people who are anxious, upset, and possibly on the verge of losing control,” says Karen Moore, OTR/L, an occupational therapist in Franconia, N.H.

“These blankets work by providing input to the deep pressure touch receptors throughout the body,” Moore says. “Deep pressure touch helps the body relax. Like a firm hug, weighted blankets help us feel secure, grounded, and safe.” Moore says this is the reason many people like to sleep under a comforter even in summer. (Source: Psychology Today)

The 101 on Fidgets:

I think of a fidget as any small item or toy that helps keep one’s hands busy and helps them focus while completing an activity. Almost anything can be a sensory fidget. Even basic household items or small party favor toys can make great fidgets. You can make your own fidgets, or buy them from catalogs, online or even in local stores such as Target, a party store, a craft store, or the dollar store.

A Toy or a Tool?
I have found fidgets to be a very helpful tool for me for many years. When I was much younger, I was taught that fidgets were to be used as a tool, and not like a toy. A tool is something that can help one focus, while a toy can distract both the individual playing with the fidget and others around them. This can be a hard thing for an individual to understand as some of the best fidgets that I have found are indeed toys, but they make great tools.

Let Ron Huxley help your child succeed at home and school. Click the Get Parenting Answers in the nav bar.

What Is Sensory Processing Disorder? How To Diagnose Children With Sensory Issues

Sensory Issues

Written by Beth Arky.

This story is part of Speak Up for Kids, an annual public education program held during National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week (May 6-12, 2012).

It usually happens in the preschool years. You notice that your toddler seems to have an unusual aversion to noise or light. A teacher observes that, compared to other kids her age, your daughter is clumsy and has difficulty with fine motor skills like wielding a pencil. You’ve noticed that she is very, very picky about shoes, which are often deemed too tight, and clothes that are “too scratchy.”

More baffling – and alarming – to parents are their children’s meltdowns over things like their faces getting splashed or being dressed. Or a child might crash into walls (and people), touch everything or put inedible items, including rocks and paint, into his mouth.

These behaviors are all signs of problems with what’s known as sensory processing, found in children who have difficulty integrating information from their senses. In its extreme form, when it interferes seriously with a child’s functioning, it’s called Sensory Processing Disorder, or SPD, although it’s not recognized by the psychiatrists’ bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.

Sensory issues are associated with autism because they are common in children and adults on the autism spectrum, though most children with SPD are not on the spectrum. They can also be found in those with ADHD, OCD and other developmental delays – or with no other diagnosis at all. In fact, a 2009 study suggests that one in every six children has sensory issues that impede their daily functioning, socialization and learning.

What parents often notice first is odd behavior and wild, inexplicable mood swings. For instance, a first-grader may do fine in a quiet setting with a calm adult. But place that child in a grocery store filled with an overload of visual and auditory stimulation and you might have the makings of an extreme meltdown.

“These kids’ tantrums are so intense, so prolonged, so impossible to stop once they’ve started, you just can’t ignore it,” notes Nancy Peske, whose son Cole, now 13, was diagnosed at 3 with SPD and developmental delays. Peske is coauthor with occupational therapist Lindsey Biel, who worked with Cole, of “Raising a Sensory Smart Child.”

Another response to being overwhelmed is to flee. If a child dashes out across the playground or parking lot, oblivious to the danger, Peske says that’s a big red flag that he may be heading away from something upsetting, which may not be apparent to the rest of us, or toward an environment or sensation that will calm his system. This “fight-or-flight response is why someone with SPD will shut down, escape the situation quickly, or become aggressive when in sensory overload,” she says. “They’re actually having a neurological ‘panic’ response to everyday sensations the rest of us take for granted.”

Children, teens and adults with SPD experience either over-sensitivity (hypersensitivity) or under-sensitivity (hyposensitivity) to an impairing or overwhelming degree. The theory behind SPD is based on the work of occupational therapist Dr. A. Jean Ayres. In the 1970s, Dr. Ayres introduced the idea that certain people’s brains can’t do what most people take for granted: process all the information coming in through seven – not the traditional five – senses to provide a clear picture of what’s happening both internally and externally.

Along with touch, hearing, taste, smell and sight, Dr. Ayres added the “internal” senses of body awareness (proprioceptive) and movement (vestibular). When the brain can’t synthesize all this information coming in simultaneously, “It’s like a traffic jam in your head,” Peske says, “with conflicting signals quickly coming from all directions, so that you don’t know how to make sense of it all.”

What are these two “extra” senses in Dr. Ayres’ work?

Proprioceptive receptors are located in the joints and ligaments, allowing for motor control and posture. The proprioceptive system tells the brain where the body is in relation to other objects and how to move. Those who are hyposensitive crave input; they love jumping, bumping and crashing activities, as well as deep pressure such as that provided by tight bear hugs. If they’re hypersensitive, they have difficulty understanding where their body is in relation to other objects and may bump into things and appear clumsy; because they have trouble sensing the amount of force they’re applying, they may rip the paper when erasing, pinch too hard or slam objects down.

The vestibular receptors, located in the inner ear; tell the brain where the body is in space by providing the information related to movement and head position. These are key elements of balance and coordination, among other things. Those with hyposensitivity are in constant motion; crave fast, spinning and/or intense movement; and love being tossed in the air and jumping on furniture and trampolines. Those who are hypersensitive may be fearful of activities that require good balance, including climbing on playground equipment, riding a bike, or balancing on one foot, especially with eyes closed. They, too, may appear clumsy.

To help parents determine if their child’s behavior indicates possible SPD, Peske and Biel have created a detailed sensory checklist that covers responses to all types of input, from walking barefoot to smelling objects that aren’t food, as well as questions involving fine and gross motor function, such as using scissors (fine) and catching a ball (gross). The SPD Foundation also offers a litany of “red flags.” The list for infants and toddlers includes a resistance to cuddling, to the point of arching away when held, which may be attributed to feeling actual pain when being touched. By preschool, over-stimulated children’s anxiety may lead to frequent or long temper tantrums. Grade-schoolers who are hyposensitive may display “negative behaviors” including what looks like hyperactivity, when in fact they’re seeking input.

Peske sums up the way sensory issues can affect kids this way: “If you’re a child who is oversensitive to certain sensations, you are not only likely to be anxious or irritable, even angry or fearful, you’re likely to be called ‘picky’ and ‘oversensitive.’ If you rush away because you’re anxious or you’re over-stimulated and not using your executive function well because your body has such a powerful need to get away, you’re ‘impulsive.’ If you have trouble with planning and executing your movements due to poor body awareness and poor organization in the motor areas of the brain, you’re ‘clumsy.’ Because you’re distracted by your sensory issues and trying to make sense of it all, you may be developmentally delayed in some ways, making you a bit ‘immature’ or young for your age.”

Amid this confusion, there may be relief for more than a few parents in recognizing what may be causing otherwise inexplicable behavior – and in the potential for kids to get help in the form of specialized occupational therapy and what are called sensory gyms.

“When I describe sensory issues to parents whose kids have it,” Peske says, “the usual reaction is ‘Oh, my gosh, that’s it!’ They’ve been trying to put a finger on ‘it’ for many months, even years! The sense of relief that they finally know what ‘it’ is is humongous.”

Child Mind Institute’s Speak Up for Kids is an annual public education program held during National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week (May 6-12, 2012) aimed at ending the stigma, lack of awareness, and misinformation that cause children to miss out on treatment that can change their lives.

Read more articles about children’s mental health here.

Video for World Autism Awareness Day, 2 April 2012

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via un.org

Ron Huxley Supports: Help spread awareness of Autism by spreading the word about it. If you child has autism, share your thoughts and experiences with us at http://www.facebook.com/parentingtoolbox or commment below…

New Definition of Autism May Exclude Many, Study Suggests

The definition is now being reassessed by an expert panel appointed by the American Psychiatric Association, which is completing work on the fifth edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the first major revision in 17 years. The D.S.M., as the manual is known, is the standard reference for mental disorders, driving research, treatment and insurance decisions. Most experts expect that the new manual will narrow the criteria for autism; the question is how sharply.

The results of the new analysis are preliminary, but they offer the most drastic estimate of how tightening the criteria for autism could affect the rate of diagnosis. For years, many experts have privately contended that the vagueness of the current criteria for autism and related disorders like Asperger syndrome was contributing to the increase in the rate of diagnoses — which has ballooned to one child in 100, according to some estimates.

The psychiatrists’ association is wrestling with one of the most agonizing questions in mental health — where to draw the line between unusual and abnormal — and its decisions are sure to be wrenching for some families. At a time when school budgets for special education are stretched, the new diagnosis could herald more pitched battles. Tens of thousands of people receive state-backed services to help offset the disorders’ disabling effects, which include sometimes severe learning and social problems, and the diagnosis is in many ways central to their lives. Close networks of parents have bonded over common experiences with children; and the children, too, may grow to find a sense of their own identity in their struggle with the disorder.

The proposed changes would probably exclude people with a diagnosis who were higher functioning. “I’m very concerned about the change in diagnosis, because I wonder if my daughter would even qualify,” said Mary Meyer of Ramsey, N.J. A diagnosis of Asperger syndrome was crucial to helping her daughter, who is 37, gain access to services that have helped tremendously. “She’s on disability, which is partly based on the Asperger’s; and I’m hoping to get her into supportive housing, which also depends on her diagnosis.”

The new analysis, presented Thursday at a meeting of the Icelandic Medical Association, opens a debate about just how many people the proposed diagnosis would affect.

The changes would narrow the diagnosis so much that it could effectively end the autism surge, said Dr. Fred R. Volkmar, director of the Child Study Center at the Yale School of Medicine and an author of the new analysis of the proposal. “We would nip it in the bud.”

Experts working for the Psychiatric Association on the manual’s new definition — a group from which Dr. Volkmar resigned early on — strongly disagree about the proposed changes’ impact. “I don’t know how they’re getting those numbers,” Catherine Lord, a member of the task force working on the diagnosis, said about Dr. Volkmar’s report.

Previous projections have concluded that far fewer people would be excluded under the change, said Dr. Lord, director of the Institute for Brain Development, a joint project of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, Weill Medical College of Cornell University, Columbia University Medical Center and the New York Center for Autism.

Disagreement about the effect of the new definition will almost certainly increase scrutiny of the finer points of the psychiatric association’s changes to the manual. The revisions are about 90 percent complete and will be final by December, according to Dr. David J. Kupfer, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh and chairman of the task force making the revisions.

At least a million children and adults have a diagnosis of autism or a related disorder, like Asperger syndrome or “pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified,” also known as P.D.D.-N.O.S. People with Asperger’s or P.D.D.-N.O.S. endure some of the same social struggles as those with autism but do not meet the definition for the full-blown version. The proposed change would consolidate all three diagnoses under one category, autism spectrum disorder, eliminating Asperger syndrome and P.D.D.-N.O.S. from the manual. Under the current criteria, a person can qualify for the diagnosis by exhibiting 6 or more of 12 behaviors; under the proposed definition, the person would have to exhibit 3 deficits in social interaction and communication and at least 2 repetitive behaviors, a much narrower menu.

Dr. Kupfer said the changes were an attempt to clarify these variations and put them under one name. Some advocates have been concerned about the proposed changes.

“Our fear is that we are going to take a big step backward,” said Lori Shery, president of the Asperger Syndrome Education Network. “If clinicians say, ‘These kids don’t fit the criteria for an autism spectrum diagnosis,’ they are not going to get the supports and services they need, and they’re going to experience failure.”

Amy Harmon contributed reporting.

Ron Huxley’s Reply: The DSM 5 (Diagnostic Statistical Manual) is one of those necessary evils. We need it for mental health professionals to communicate with one another and for qualifications for reimbursement through insurance companies or treatment services. We hate it because it labels people and can stigmatize them for life. How have you loved or hate your child’s diagnosis? Share with us by clicking the reply link.

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3 Keys to Behavior Chart Success

I used to joke with parents that if they could make a grocery list, they could change a child’s behavior. The idea behind this is that most behavioral change takes parental attention and consistency. The truth is that we are constantly shaping our child’s behaviors every day. And, one might say, they are changing ours too! This is a natural process of interaction. The question is really, what are your shaping? Our you modeling positive habits? Do you reward positive behavior? Shifting our attention away from negative behavior (what you don’t want) and refocusing on positive behaviors (what you do want) can be as easy as making a list or creating a chart.

 Here are 3 keys to successfully changing a child’s behavior with a behavior chart:

1. Have a clear, achievable goal in mind: If you don’t know where you are going, you won’t get there. Don’t confuse the goal by making it too vague or complex. Focus on a specific behavior you WANT to see happen. Don’t write it in the negative. State what you want to see different. Be age appropriate when focusing on change. A 4 year old can’t do what a 14 year old can do.

2. Make it rewarding: The power of a behavior chart is that a child will get a reward for doing what you want. What motivates your child? What can you realistically afford to do? How long will it take to get the reward? Some children need daily, if not hourly rewards. Break a big reward down into smaller rewards if necessary to keep children motivated. The last thing you want is a defiant child who refuses to do a chart because it is too difficult or they feel like they will fail and so they don’t even try. Also, remember the best reward is you! Your smile, hug and words of praise should always be given regardless of any other physical reward.

3. Be open to change: If  the chart is not working, make changes. It is just a parenting tool, not a magical wand. Use the success or lack of it as feedback on how to create the chart. Use family meetings and intimate discussions about what is working for the child. Continue to celebrate any small success or effort. You might find that using a chart changes your parenting time and energy as well. That is good modeling and parenting improvement.