They’re all increasingly difficult – and expensive – to cope with
We presume that there’s no real way to remedy them
They all have the same very broad fundamental cause: poor neuronal connections, particularly at the sub-cortical level. And they can all be significantly helped with basic interventions to make and strengthen those connections.
The Developmental Pyramid
Whether you say “problems,” “issues,” or “challenges”, we human beings are certainly busy with them! They’re most obvious in our children, but we’re starting to also hear of adults with:
dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalcula
social skills deficit
“failure to launch” delays in maturation
What accounts for the profound changes that babies, children, adults, and seniors experience?
Let’s back way up and take a look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
In the 1940’s, psychologist Dr. Abraham Maslow proposed a hierarchy (not in a pyramid form) where he suggested that our attention and energy are focused on increasingly abstract needs. The first two levels are concerned with survival: long-term and short-term. The next ones are centered around relationships and belonging needs, then about competence and how we manage life. Finally, we arrive at self-actualization, the full flowering of who we were meant to be.
Comparing this hierarchy to the structure of the brain yields interesting insights.
Notice how the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy is largely accomplished by the brainstem, lying at the bottom of the brain. Likewise, the pinnacle of Maslow’s hierarchy is a function of the very top, last-developed part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex. The in-between layers, depicted in yellow, green and blue, correspond largely to one another as well, with tentacles reaching up and down to other layers. For instance, what Maslow termed “love and relationships” is accomplished by the Limbic system, in the midbrain, but requires the lower level’s security as well as the upper level’s attention.
Things become really intriguing however, when we compare those two to a schedule of central nervous system development, also termed neurodevelopment.
At the base of our nervous system, we rely on our basic senses – the five that we’re taught in elementary school, plus proprioception – the knowledge of where we are in space (you can tell whether your elbow is bent without looking at it, for instance) as well as interoception (hunger, thirst, cramping muscle, etc). The hierarchies continue to have largely horizontal congruence, with interweaving into more basic and more advanced layers.
The payoff comes when we consider all three together and look at the big picture.
Self-actualization/Prefrontal cortex/Judgment, common sense, setting priorities, focus/attention:
The US Army calls this “Be All You Can Be.”
Religious people look at the same thing and call it “Holiness.”
Psychologists term it “Maturity” or “Adulthood.”
The medical community? They see it and say “Robust Mental Health.”
You look at what happens in the blue section with the Esteem/Cerebral Cortex: among other things, this is where academic learning takes place.
We strive mightily to help people at these levels. Programs, education, support for addiction, mental health and more can help with coping, but we’re still coping around a basic problem.
When we can’t directly address mental health issues, we mask them with expensive and sometimes damaging medication. We’ve even tried grading test papers with different color ink to minimize the impact on the test-takers. That struck me as effective as telling me to breathe and meditate during labor: I still know I’m trying to deliver a 9 pound baby! The child still knows he got the answer wrong.
All our efforts at dealing with these issues ignore a crucial point: they presuppose that we’ve mastered the bottom levels! And increasingly frequently, we haven’t – or something has happened to break the mastery of those levels.
This means there’s a physiological component to our difficulties! When we intervene at the bottom levels, especially if we employ holistic methods of sensory input to develop reflexes that should have been learned in our earliest months, facilitating pathways for sensory processing and motor coordination, the rest of learning and maturation are thus enabled.
Over and over, I am gratified to see people’s faces break into amazement, relief, and glee as they realize that obstacles they’ve struggled with for years are suddenly melted away. Parents particularly are delighted to finally see the changes they’ve known could happen – suddenly do.