When you look in the mirror, what do you see? You see a reflection of yourself, an image of your body, your face. What you perceive is also a reflection of what you have learned as a social being. You have an impression of whether the image is pleasing, clean or dirty, an appearance of some sort. You can also read the emotions in the face and if you were able to watch yourself and read your body language, you would find that it conveys much about you.
We come into the world knowing nothing about ourselves or anyone else, but as we grow and our brain develops, we assimilate a knowledge of who we are, our place in the world, and how we are to behave in our culture. Babies imitate everything they see. As they imitate, they are growing the neurons that will enable them to repeat that activity for the rest of their lives, barring physical damage to the brain. There are special cells in the brain that enable this to happen: mirror neurons. Mirror neurons trigger when a baby sees someone’s facial expressions and body postures, and simulate the same chemical responses in the brain when they imitate what they see. The imitations grow neurons, and the actions can be repeated. Have you ever noticed a child whose way of walking, or talking, or gesturing is just like one of the parents? The behavior isn’t necessarily learned, but rather assimilated as they observe and imitate.
Kids with FDS often have malfunctioning mirror neurons. They are unable to read facial expressions or body language. They haven’t assimilated culturally acceptable behaviors. Life for them is a constant barrage of not knowing what to do next, and they just do whatever occurs to them at the moment: read “they do odd and often unacceptable behaviors”. Sometimes the kid seems just a bit off, or maybe a bit overbearing; some kids are more obviously affected, suffering from tics or obsessive behaviors, or really being disconnected from the world, as many autistic children are.
I’m finding the “it will get worse before it gets better” stage to be very trying. The defiance is wearing on me. I know she can’t help it, but I‘m tired of the emotional “shoving”. I’ve spent so many years slogging through my attempts to discipline/teach Kate, with little to no success, and it seems like more of the same, only she’s more defiant than ever. I wonder: will it be harder to overcome since she’s had so many years of ingrained bad habits? This is how I understand the process: Behaviors are built on emotions: approach and avoidance, reward and punishment. With most kids, we use a combination to achieve the desired results. With FDS kids, we have to look at how their brain will process the emotion. Reward produces happy feelings, which come from the left brain. Punishment is felt in the gut, that wrenching feeling in the stomach, which comes from the right brain. In an out-of-balance brain, you have to target the emotion that is weaker. The weak right brained child is withdrawal deficient and overly reward activated; therefore you use negative reinforcement, or punishment. Mostly what I’ve seen in Kate is that neither rewards nor punishment make any difference. I suspect that over the years this has become more and more a part of her as she’s faced constant reprisals for her behavior. What do you do with it when all you ever hear are negatives? This morning she took the jar of jam out of the refrigerator and exclaimed about how greasy it was. I simply stated that she had been the last one to use it, and she went off on it. Basically what she said (yelled) was this: every time there’s a mess it’s always my fault, everyone blames it on me. It’s true- that happens a lot. It’s also true that she does leave a lot of disorder and mess in her wake, wherever she goes. And true to human/sibling nature, the sibs are surely going to point it out. (Of course, none of them ever make and leave a mess…) And now the recommendation from Disconnected Kids is that I use negative reinforcement to help keep her behavior under control until it subsides once the brain is in balance. But I have to wonder how deeply ingrained her behaviors are? Will they simply subside, or will we have to actively work at changing them from the ground up? Right now I think she is seeking boundaries. Maybe I have to reign in the boundaries a bit, make fewer allowances for her, and expect that she can learn more and more as her brain becomes more balanced.
Part of the journey of Brain Balance is seeing how God works along the way. I am trusting that He will answer my questions and lead the way if I am alert enough to listen and hear! I would be remiss if I didn’t relate how He has protected us on the road. I’m driving an additional 600 miles or so a week, which is a lot for someone who really doesn’t enjoy driving. Last Friday we were running a bit late because we had been delayed by paving near Manchester. I was in the fast lane, doing about 75mph, as were all the cars around me. The driver of a car in the 3rd lane tried to move over in front of the car in front of me, and in doing so hit the front bumper of that car, and swerved back into the 3rd lane, and lost control. Within seconds, I had slowed down a bit, as did the cars behind me, apparently, since none of them hit me, and as he hit the cement barrier in the center, I drove by in the 3rd lane, actually over some of the debris from his car. I think the car he hit pulled ahead out of the way. The only thought I had was “How can I keep from being in the middle of this accident?” I didn’t have time to look in the mirror and make sure that no one was barreling down that 3rd lane, or to see if everyone else was slowing down, too. I can only say that the Lord was in the working out of that situation! Thank You, God! And then there was the time I got forced out of a merge lane by an 18-wheeler. I don’t even know what happened with that- only that I made it safely out of the situation. And we mustn’t forget those infamous exits where there are folks trying to merge onto the highway in the same space you’re trying to get off in. Who designs these? Well, I am thankful that my stomach no longer ties up in knots as I approach these tight spots: I just offer up a quick prayer and cruise on through!