Understanding the Brain and Learning DisabilitiesThe Brain and Learning Disabilities
The brain is a very complicated and poorly understood even after numerous research projects. Medical personnel are learning new things about the brain and its functions every day. There are many new findings and many ongoing research projects that may some day lead to a better understand of the brain and how the brain is connected to learning problems in children. In discussing different concept, ideas, and research conclusions; it is important to remember that all brain research is a work in progress and most conclusion are still controversial and open to further research and data.
Studies of early development of the brain have been very revealing. Most researchers would agree that during early brain development, the brain is more sensitive to trauma and toxins. Research my Yvonne Brackbill found that neurotoxins greatly affect the brain's developments of neuro-cells. It was also noted that malnutrition has been found to decrease the number of certain nerve and brain cells. Decreases in these brain cells have been connected to lower IQ scores, developmental problems, and lower achievement test scores. (Neurological, n.d.).
When one considers the enormous connections and intricacies of the brain, the mere size and complicated parts, it tends to stagger the mind. In the earliest stages of development, the brain reproduces and creates as many as 250,000 cells per minute. The human brain has approximately 100 billion neurons and about one trillion supportive cells. There are trillions of connections the brain must make between neurons connecting different parts of the brain; the concept that something could go wrong is not so incredible. (Fierdorowicz, 2005).
The most obvious research tool concerning most genetic studies is of course twins. Early research projects have discovered facts that seem to indicate there are some genetic connections between learning disabilities and brain development and function. Identical twins have been found to have a sixty-eight percent change of sharing a learning disability. Fraternal twins; on the other hand, have only a forty percent chance of sharing a learning disability. Familial studies have also been conducted and findings reveal that individuals with a family history of reading disabilities are more likely to also have a reading disability. Early research suggest; although have not been able to positively conclude, that there may be a defective linkage on the sixth and fifteenth chromosomes. (Fierdorowicz, 2005).
Nutrition also greatly effects the brain development. In early pregnancy or early childhood, children with iron deficiencies show a decrease in brain development. When this iron deficiency is addressed in later childhood, the damage cannot be undone. The child still seems to suffer from problems connected with that early lack of iron. Asymmetrical problems have also been noted in children with learning disabilities. The right hemisphere temporal lobe of children with learning disabilities seems to be large in size than the left temporal lobe in the left hemisphere of the brain. Though this indicates difference, there is no real specific connection or understanding yet as to how these effects the child's learning. (Neurobiological, n.d. ). Postmortem examinations of normal brains and brains of persons with learning disabilities also show and prove these abnormal asymmetric problems in the brain. (Fiedorowicz, 2005). Because the right side of the brain is larger it would be considered to be more developed and left side less developed. Since most academic learning is associated with the left side of the brain, it can be deduced that those skills associated with the left side of the brain are also underdeveloped. (See appendix 1). With new imaging techniques such as CT scans, MRI, PET, rCBF, SPECT, EEG, ERP, and AEP; scientist are better able to get clearer and more precise pictures and information of the brain and its development. (Fiedorowicz, 2005).
Though so much has been learned in recent years, there are still many more unanswered questions. New neuro imaging techniques have been able to show under activity in certain parts of the brain of learning disabled children as compared to their normal learning counterparts. There have also been studies that show less electrical activity in certain parts of the brain of dyslexic children. Researchers have also been able to connect a lack of right and left brain functions to a deficiency in the development of those corresponding hemispheres of the brain. Due to these and other researches, many scientists have concluded that learning disabilities have a neurobiological basis, although clear connections and understandings have not been made; nor has treatment or cures. (Neurobiological, ). These researches do not conclude that learning disabled students cannot learn, only that there are brain differences. Learning disabled students can learn, but they must learn in different ways, different rates, and possibly with different areas of the brain. (Fiedorowicz, 2005).
There are numerous studies and theories about specific learning problems and treatments for students with learning disabilities. It will be interesting to review some of those studies and suggestions, though all cannot within the confines of one short paper.
One research theory and proposed theory is dealing with ADD and ADHD children. Since it is estimated that nearly five percent of children in North America suffer from one of these disorders, it is a significant disorder to discuss. One such treatment and theory is called. Neurofeedback or EEG Biofeedback. Joe Lubar is a pioneer in this field of EEG Biofeedback. People have different levels or states of attention and they are classified as; Delta (sleep state), Theta (Meditative state), Alpha (Relaxed state), Beta1 (Focused attention state), Beta2 (Alert state), Beta3 (Very alert, vigilant state), and Beta4 (Hyper Vigilant state). The theory of course is to increase and even create a state when an individual can control and increase his or her Beta1 state (focused attention). Lubar discovered that ADD, ADHD, and LD students were producing low amount of the Beta1 brain waves. After forty to sixty training sessions these same students were able to increase their Beta1 waves at will. Lubar was able to show increased intelligence by increased IQ scores of these students. (Gottfried, 2005).
Another researcher, Monastra, found that Neurobiofeedback could also be effective for ADD and ADHD students in the long term. In this study 100 students from the ages of six to nineteen, all diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, were place in a study involving Neurobiofeedback. All 100 students received parental counseling, academic support, and Ritalin. Half of the 100 also received Neurobiofeedback training. At the end of 12 months, all of the students were removed from taking the Ritalin. All of the students showed improvement after the initial 12 month period. But after the removal of Ritalin from the students' routine, only the student how had received the Neurobiofeedback training were able to maintain. (Gottfried, 2005).
New computer programs have also originated from Neurobiofeedback research. SharperBrain is one program that using Neurobiofeedback information to stimulate and improve attention problems. This program is designed to first, improve brain wave activity by increasing the Calm, Focused, and Alert attention levels. The program also helps students to develop certain cognitive abilities such as; multitasking, speed of processing, memory, visual/auditory skills, and others. The most important part of this new program is that the program can be used independently by students without direct supervision. (Gottfried, 2005).
In another study, a very complicated and detailed study was made to study the brain, dyslexia, and the metabolism of lactate in the brain. The study was designed to further emphasize that there are structural or functional differences in the brain of children that are dyslexic and normal children. The study involved the use of an MR imaging and Proton Echo-Planar Spectroscopic Imaging (PEPSI). The study demonstrated that the students with dyslexia have more lactate production and the production was located in different areas of the brain. The authors were quick to add though; this was early stage research and was not appropriate at this stage to use as a diagnostic tool. Furthermore the significance of the findings is still unclear because we do not know how lactate clearly affects the brain and learning. All that can be concluded is that dyslexic students seem to produce more lactate and in other areas of the brain compared to their normal counterparts, or the control group. (Richards, 1999). (Appendix 2).
Though brain studies and technology have been around for many years, and great improvements are being made every day; there is still volumes to be learned about the brain and its connection to learning disabilities and problems. New studies and technologies are being utilized constantly, and though no diagnostic devices or techniques exist currently, one can expect that in the near future as research progresses.
Fiedorowicz. C. (2005). Neurobiological Basis of learning disabilities: an overview. The Learning Disabilities Association of Canada Research. Retrieved February 8, 2006 from, http://www.ldac-taac.ca/Research/neurobiological-e.asp
Gottfried, B. (2005). Innovative therapies for ADD, ADHD, and LD. Holistic Web Directory. Retrieved February 7, 2006 from, http://www.holisticwebdirectory.com/healtharticles/addtherapy.html
Neurological basis of learning disabilities, (n.d.). Learning Disabilities Association of BC. Retrieved February 8, 2006 from, http://www.ldav.ca/articles/neurological.html
Richards, T. (1999). Dyslexic children have abnormal brain lactate response to reading-related language tasks. [Electronic version].American Journal of
Neurology, 20, 1393-1398. Retrieved February 8, 2006 from,
Richards, T. (2001). Scientific accomplishments of the LD Center Brain Imaging Project. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Retrieved February 8, 2006 from, http://faculty.washington.edu/toddr/dyslexic.htm
Commenting has been disabled by the author for this article
Common DestinationsClick an icon below for some of the commonly accessed pages at Articles for Educators
Click here to read questions submitted by other teachers, and help them out from your own experiences.
Write up a lesson plan, or just a paragraph or two about your favorite teaching trick.
Articles for Educators provides high quality resources for teachers, administrators and students.