- Balance as the Central Component
- Sensory Integration
- Spatial Awareness
- Integration Between the Two Hemispheres of the Brain
- Brain Timing and Reaction Times
- Binocular Teaming
- Neuroplasticity is Effected by Varying Difficulty Level of Activities
Balance as the Central Brain Process
In order to understand why the Learning Breakthrough Program focuses so much on balance stimulation, one must understand the central role that balance (vestibular system) plays in the biological functioning of all of the various brain processes. As a child grows in the womb, the vestibular system becomes the first set of structures and “sense” to develop and then serves as the fundamental organizational tool for the development of all the other brain processes.
The vestibular system gets its raw information from the vestibular organs, which consist of three semicircular canals and the otolith organ. The three semicircular canals are oriented along the X, Y and Z axes and define motion on each of the three dimensions of space. When the head moves, hair cells detect the motion of the fluids inside each canal. The brain uses this information to calculate changes in inertia, in much the same way that the inertial navigation system on an airliner senses changes in position and velocity. The otolith organ uses a pendulum-like appendage, the utricle, to orient the sense to the vertical force of gravity.
Because the vestibular system combines the inertial information from the three semi-circular canals with the gravitational orientation provided by the otolith organ, it is the basis of our inertial gravitational model of the world that is, our model of the world as three-dimensional space with a clear sense of up and down. As a child continues to develop in the womb, the other major brain systems motor, tactile, auditory, and visual also develop, but they develop in relation to the vestibular system, or sense of balance.
Because the vestibular system plays such a key role in the foundations of perception, balance problems can cause many, seemingly unrelated, problems in brain function.
Human beings are generally described as having have five senses, but live in one world. In order to form a complete and accurate picture of the world around us, we need to integrate the information from all of our senses so that we can match the sound of a jet engine with the small silver streak overhead, or small round object we feel with our hands with the white baseball we see with our eyes.
Our three-dimensional model of the world provides the framework into which all other sensory data must be integrated. Because the vestibular system is the basis of this three-dimensional model, our effectiveness in communicating information accurately between the senses and to the brain is limited by the precision of the vestibular system.
The Learning Breakthrough Program helps people improve cognitive function by improving the way information is transmitted between different sensory centers in the brain all of which rely fundamentally on the sense of balance. This is the reason that all program activities take place on our specially designed balance board.
Spatial awareness is the organized perception, tracking and monitoring of the objects in the space around us as well as our body’s position in that same space. Without this awareness we would not be able to pick food up from our plates and put it in our mouth. We would have trouble reading because we could not see the letters in their correct relation to each other and to the page. Athletes would not have the precise awareness of the position of other players on the field and the movement of the ball which is necessary to play effectively. It is another fundamental brain function that informs all higher level cognitive activities.
Spatial awareness requires that we have a model of the three dimensional space around us and it requires that we can integrate information from all of our senses. Studies have suggested a link between a well developed sense of spatial awareness and artistic creativity, success in math and analytical skills that are brught to bear on all problem solving tasks. It can also be important in the development of abstract thought. The ability to organize and classify abstract mental concepts is related to the ability to organize and classify objects in space. Visual thinkers, in particular, tend to use their visual imagination to organize abstract thought.
Because spatial awareness is so important in all activities of human life, from the most basic to the most advanced, deficiencies in spatial awareness can hold people back from achieving their true potential. However, because spatial awareness requires integrating the information from the different senses into the three-dimensional model of the world provided by the vestibular system, activities which refine the vestibular system and develop sensory integration help refine all aspects of brain processing.
Integration Between the Two Hemispheres of the Brain
The human brain is composed of two hemispheres, the left and right, which function like two networked computers. The left hemisphere receives motor and sensory input from the right side of the body and the right hemisphere receives input from the left side of the body. When we bring the two systems together and begin the task of developing harmony and synchrony, the first step is to achieve an efficient balance between the operations taking place in the two sides of the brain.
Most mental processes involve both sides of the brain. Therefore, integration problems between the two hemispheres can result in inefficiencies in brain processes. What results is the understanding that people with reading problems, central auditory processing disorders, language delay and other learning problems will be greatly aided by improved integration between the two sides of their brain.
Weak integration between the two sides of the brain can lead to a vicious cycle. A person who has a learning problem may suppress one eye (corresponding to one side of their brain). This may be a symptom of a lack of good hemispherical integration skills. But because suppressing one eye means that the person reads with one eye only, the “strong eye”, the brain networks used to support the “weak” eye will become further disorganized through lack of use, exacerbating the initial lack of integration.
Since the left hemisphere of the brain controls movements on the right side of the body and the right hemisphere of the brain controls movements on the left side of the body, a person can refine the integration between the two sides of the brain through activities involving both sides of their body. These movements bring the two systems into closer collaboration and calibrate an appropriate balance between the two sides of the system.
One of the most significant points about a person’s perceptual and motor skill development continuum is the establishment of a synchronized cross pattern creep (crawling). This is the point where both sides of the body and both hemispheres of the brain are operating within the framework and under the control of a consistent timing system. This is a system in which the standards for measure of both sides of the body are matched perfectly. For the left leg to move forward synchronously with the right arm and for the same pattern to occur when the right leg and left arm move, there is a requirement that the time and space increments for both sides of the brain be in phase.
As the child begins to learn to walk, the sensory integration and balance requirements become much greater. In order to achieve synchrony the child must achieve a higher level of integration between the two hemispheres of the brain. The most efficient possible walking pattern for a human being is the one in which the two arms are swinging as pendulums counterbalancing the movement of the legs and setting the rhythmic pace for the total movement pattern.
Successful integration between the two sides of the brain is necessary for improving all brain processes including those for reading, writing, academic achievement, motor skills development, and all other higher order cognitive processes. Performing Learning Breakthrough activities is an excelent way to improve this hemispheric integration.
Brain Timing and Reaction Times
Brain timing is very closely related to integration between the two hemispheres of the brain. Successful integration of the two hemispheres of the brain cannot be accomplished without efficient brain timing. The most basic element of a computer chip is its clock. The result s that the clock speed of a chip is the most significant measure of its ability to process information.
In order for the brain to become more efficient in processing information, the processing speed must be faster. Because slower brain processing speed is manifested in motor skill deficiencies, the following simple concept provides a framework for the analysis of movement: the greater the balance requirements, the faster the brain must process information provided by the various senses AND the faster the brain must process the information coming from the two hemispheres of the brain.
When we observe movement, we can indirectly observe the efficiency of brain processing. Smooth, coordinated movements are the result of precise timing and good integration between the two sides of the brain. Suppressions, rigidity, and uncoordinated movements are the result of bad timing and faulty integration and are indicative of poor brain processing ability that can manifest itself in learning problems, learning disabilities, poor academic performance and other struggles. Studies have also shown that slow brain timing is a critical factor in attention difficulties like ADD/ADHD as well as in Central Auditory Processing Disorder.
The inefficiencies that result from poor brain timing or slow reaction time are improved by performing activities that refine and repair the timing processes in the brain. Activities that require the individual to move both sides of his body synchronously are dependent upon the timing resolution in the brain. Brain timing can be improved by engaging in these types of activities.
Studies have validated the premise that Attention Deficit Disorder is a reliable predictor of motor skill deficiencies. It has also been identified that approximately half of all children with developmental coordination disorders suffer from varying degrees of ADHD and that children with motor skill disorders experience restricted reading abilities. A variety of motor skill and sequencing abilities are also necessary for cognitive and social interactions with others and the environment. Individuals must be able to construct complex patterns in order to carry out multistep activities at home, work and school. There is significant correlation between the neural network weaknesses that have been identified in connection with ADD/ADHD and those involved in the regulation of brain timing, motor skills and planning.
A person’s ability to improve motor skill efficiency and brain timing impacts their ability to improve basic sequencing needs. It is apparent that these abilities are necessary for academic achievement and that the failure to master them is a significant inhibitor of academic success. Activities that are designed to address the inefficiencies in the neural networks that are involved can be very helpful in changing the physiological conditions in the brain that are contributing to the difficulty. It is in this way that the Learning Breakthrough Program improves brain sequencing.
Binocular teaming is the ability of both eyes to work together to provide accurate information to the brain. Binocularity and stereopsis (the working together of the two eyes in providing different views to the brain which are integrated into one image) are important visual processing skills and are responsible for providing depth perception. These visual perception skills are necessary in order to perform a variety of visual tasks such as tracking, fixating, converging and visual motor integration. These tasks are important for reading, writing and functioning in the classroom or workplace. Inability to perform these tasks well has a detrimental effect on an individual’s ability to function in society. It also has a tremendously negative effect on children in the classroom.
In order to deal with binocular deficiencies it is important to become involved in some type of vision therapy. There are many types of therapies available which help to address these problems. When choosing a vision therapy approach it is important to remember that vision is a brain process of which the eyes are only a part. It is also important to remember that vision is not a process unto itself but is tightly integrated with, and dependent upon, the vestibular system (sense of balance). A variety of vision problems occur when both eyes do not work properly together. For instance, one eye might not be processing as much information as the other, one or both eyes may not focus at a specific point due to over or under-convergence and/or there may be vertical or horizontal alignment problems that cause the aim of the eyes to be incorrect.
Since the visual system is closely integrated with the vestibular system (sense of balance), the Learning Breakthrough Program is designed with products and activities that make demands on the brain in terms of balance while simultaneously stimulating the visual system to improve binocular teaming and visual processing.
The brain constantly engages in a process designed to position the body based on the information it receives from our senses. This ability is made possible because of the existence of proprioceptive processes. Proprioception can be explained as the awareness of movement and body position. Sometimes is is also defined as the body’s joint and muscle positioning system. Effective proprioceptive processes are dependent upon the ability of the brain to integrate information from all of the sensory systems including feedback from muscles, joints, vision, the tactile sense (touch/pressure) and the sense of balance (vestibular system).
Joint stabilization is the ability of muscles that have been appropriately activated to stabilize a joint. The process of joint stabilization/joint positioning is critical to athletic performance and injury prevention. Often times an athlete who has suffered multiple ankle injuries will assume that he or she has weak ankles. This may not be the case particularly in the case of those in excellent physical shape. The more likely scenario is that the joint positioning systems (proprioceptive processes) that the brain uses are not positioning the joint properly in the midst of athletic movements. Over time this poor joint positioning may lead to injury. By improving the brain’s ability to integrate all the information being received from the various senses and formulate appropriate movement responses the chances of poor joint positioning and injury are reduced.
Balance activities that integrate the visual, auditory, kinesthetic, tactile and vestibular senses have the effect of improving the proprioceptive processes that help to reduce injuries and improve performance. These improvements can be realized because sensory integration activities increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the neural processes in the brain. As neural capability and efficiency increases, a variety of other benefits are realized. Timing improves, vision improves, sense of balance improves, mental processing improves, reaction time improves, proprioception improves. In short, athletic performance improves.
Because balance therapy is so foundational to efficient brain processing, balance activities that improve brain processing lead to significantly improved performance in both academics and athletics. This is obviously of great importantance for student athletes as the Learning Breakthrough Program provides a system that improves academic success and athletic performance at the same time.
Neuroplasticity is Effected by Varying Difficulty Level of Activities
As the difficulty level of an activity increases the brain must utilize more neurons to achieve the precision necessary to complete the activity. For example, throwing a ball and hitting a small moving target at 8 meters as opposed to 4 meters requires the brain to involve 64 times as many neurons to achieve the same degree of accuracy. Waht this studies example indicates is that increasing the difficulty level of a task increases the brain “efficiency” (neural involvement) needed to complete the task.
If a person has difficulty executing a particular sensory integration activity this may be because the activity is more complex than their brain is currently capable of organizing to complete. In order to avoid a sense of failure, everyone should start out with activities that are simple enough to perform and gradually increase the difficulty level. At each stage the neural networks in the brain improve their level of efficiency and organization, enabling them to be stretched to reach the next level. As the difficulty level of an activity increases, the required spatial awareness, brain hemisphere integratin and brain timing precision are all increased along with it.
The Learning Breakthrough Program meets the critical requirement of a varying difficulty level of activities (with an adjustable, individualized balance challenge) with the goal of providing a program that helps people at every stage of development. It is here again that the program’s unique balance board design is used to provide a precise level of challenge to keep users operating at the edge of their ability. The effect is to maximize performance improvement for each user and to do so in an individual and continually challenging way.