The brain builds from the bottom up – from the brainstem which is the least complex area, to the cerebral cortex, the most complex area – and from side to side – the left hemisphere and the right. Surprisingly, the two different sides of the brain do not grow in unison.
The right side of the brain, often thought of as the intuitive side, starts to grow first and stays in control the first few years of life as baby interprets the world and learns to take first steps. Later, around age three, the emphasis switches to the left brain, which is often referred to as the more logical side. The left hemisphere will use skills learned from the right to make sense of the world and help your toddler hear detailed sounds, hold a crayon, and see with great clarity the faces around him/her. Growth will then move back to the right brain and development of the hemispheres will continue to flip-flop back and forth in perfect rhythm and timing, building new neurons and pathways and strengthening others as the brain regulates and fine-tunes each new behavior until baby grows into a young adult.
Body and Mind are Codependent
The brain is dependent on the body to provide the stimulation necessary for growth as much as the body is dependent on the brain to send out the neurotransmitters that signal the muscles to move. Studies have shown that without proper stimulation, a child’s brain suffers. Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine found that children who don’t play much or are rarely touched develop brains 20 to 30 percent smaller than normal. The senses are the vehicle that drives stimulation to the brain. The outside sources of natural environmental stimuli on which the brain depends are:
- Sound or vibration
- Pressure or gravity
The more the brain cells are stimulated, the more it will increase in terms of size and processing speed, strengthening its connections and forming new synapses. Successful development is dependent on three factors:
- Frequency of stimulation
- Duration of stimulation
- Intensity of stimulation
Think of a child learning to ride a bicycle. On a three-wheeler a child learns how to steer. He will go round and round in circles until something snaps into place – a new synapse – and eventually can aim and travel straight down the sidewalk. By repeatedly working on training wheels, a child advances to a two-wheeler and masters the skill of balance.
It Takes the Whole Brain
To fully understand the world and react to it, a child must use both sides of the brain as a whole. The brain’s in-sync timing mechanism is the foundation of all thinking, movement, behavior, sensory response and vital functions such as breathing and digestion. If the brain is out of sync, I believe learning and behavioral dysfunctions arise – resulting in a disconnected kid or a child with what I call functional disconnection syndrome. If one half of the brain is significantly slower than the other, the two halves cannot compare or share information accurately. As a result, a child’s interpretation of and reactions to the world will be “off” and behavior will appear to be abnormal. To learn more about how the brain develops and functional disconnection syndrome, check out chapter 2 of my book Disconnected Kids.