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The Impossible Child - Page 7


For most of us, the delicate interaction between the brain and body known as sensory integration (SI) is nothing short of marvelous. It allows us to move purposefully through the world without being driven to distraction by the cacophony of sensory experience that bombards us each minute we are awake. It is how we can sit at a computer, concentrating on abstract ideas without thinking about how to position our body in the chair so that we don't fall on the floor, or where to move our fingers on the keyboard without looking at them or when to ignore the sounds of the wind at the window and the barking dog and when to tune in to the ringing telephone or the crying child.

Rebecca talked to us about "sensory integrative dysfunction," a malfunction in the brain's translation of sensation into meaning and action. For example, the brain might not automatically recognize that pressure on the skin and muscles of the abdomen is coming from a too-tight waistband. It may not judge accurately whether the sensation is important or trivial, dangerous or benign and, therefore, may not respond logically or efficiently. It's like there is a traffic jam in the lower brain. Important information that needs four-lane access to the thinking centers of the brain--like the awareness that you're about to lose your balance--can't get through. Other information that should be diverted into a parking lot--like the feeling of a shirt tag rubbing against your neck--gets full attention, creating havoc and confusion.

When brain-body connections are intact, the lower brain constantly interprets input from sensory receptors all over the body and responds with motor reactions. Those actions create more sensory feedback, which provides self-correcting information to the brain in a never-ending cycle. Thankfully, this occurs outside of our awareness in most instances. We are free to focus on conscious thoughts, while our subcortical brain and its agents, literally, keep us from bumping into walls.

Children like Evan are not so fortunate. They vacillate between states of over- and under-stimulation and, as a result, often act in ways that are erratic and inconsistent. Everyday tasks--washing their hair or brushing their teeth--quickly overwhelm them. Complex tasks--learning to ride a bike or cleaning up a messy room--totally confound them. They become discouraged, irritable, whiny, explosive.

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