What Does Neurodevelopment Have to Do with Learning?Feb 08, 2022
Quite simply: EVERYTHING!
Neurodevelopmental Education (and training others in this field) is what I do. So, here's my answer:
An understanding of neurodevelopment and learning go hand in hand and should not be separated because neurodevelopmental education is all about HOW we learn to learn and how our body and brain support our learning processes.
Neurodevelopmental Education is a functional perspective and a developmental approach that can not only help us understand HOW we learn but it can also be used to help improve the learning of those with learning challenges no matter what age they are.
(The more formal description of what a neurodevelopmental educator does is that we investigate and address underlying developmental, neuro-motor, sensory and physiological aspects of how we function and that are necessary to support learning.)
We learn through the body.
Learning is, initially, a physiological function – a neuro-physiological function that occurs in and through our body and doesn’t just occur in our brain. At a basic physiological level, it involves neurological change triggered by events or stimuli perceived by and through our senses. It involves chemical transmitters and electrical potential within our brain system that help form neurological pathways and networks, which allows our brains and bodies to function in complex ways.
"Learning" is more than just deliberately "thinking about" and "focussing on" what we are hearing, seeing or feeling. It is also much more than a concentrated effort to rote learn and imprint an action or information in our brains so that we can tap into it at a later stage, like an automatic information filing and retrieval system.
We need mature body and brain systems that function well and together to support learning at an academic level. For example, vision, hearing and interpreting information obtained through those senses enable us to make sense of language-based information and data in our world. Those sensory reception and processing processes need to be working well so that we can use the language data we gather to make sense of our environment and learning opportunities.
Learning is a highly complex physiological activity and ignoring the basis of that physiology when considering learning is like building a house without considering the structural support and foundations necessary to make that house strong and capable of withstanding the environmental and physical conditions in which it is situated.
The development of neurological and physiological processes that enhance and support learning begins well before we are born and continues through early childhood and into adolescence and adulthood.
How does it all start?
Let me introduce you to Mary Jane. As soon as sweet Mary Jane is born she begins to learn about her world and her place in the world through movement. It all starts with movement.
Mary Jane has already been tumbling and turning in her mother's womb and has spent the last few months developing and preparing her sensory and neurological systems to help her learn. Once she is born, however, her learning environment and responses change. Her experience of the world begins to form her ability to respond to her world and learn within that world. How she moves and learns to move in that environment is extremely important.
Mary Jane's physical experiences, the opportunities she gets and her genetic predisposition help her learn to function. Her natural movement patterns form a major part of how she learns about her world and how her body works in that world. This physical learning process enables Mary Jane to function independently in the world. It all starts with primitive reflex movements.
Primitive reflexes are natural responses to stimuli that we see in babies usually younger than 6 - 8 months. We are born with them, they need to do what they do to help train our body and brain. They are extremely important and help Mary Jane respond to her environment. But, they then need to mature and be integrated into a mature central nervous system that has more sophisticated movement patterns, postural and motor control. Together, these movement patterns help develop the skills, body tone, control and posture to help Mary Jane stand in a gravitational environment and move as an upright being, sit on a chair at a desk, move in a coordinated manner and learn from others around her. They also impact her ability to learn from books and other sources of information. Primitive reflexes help train Mary Jane’s eye movements and other sensory systems and provide the neurophysiological foundations she needs to learn in school and other places. They need to develop and mature.
Primitive reflexes are there for a specific job and once they achieve their purpose, they should be integrated and then be replaced by postural reflexes. If the primitive reflexes are still present beyond the first year of life, then it is possible that the reflex hasn’t done its job. While we may still be able to function and override some of these reflex responses, we generally require more brain energy to do that. That, in turn, may mean we have less energy to access our higher functioning capacity. For some children and adults, this can impair function and their ability to learn academically. It can also be quite tiring. The "automatic pathways" to higher function become more complex because the primitive, slower pathways still require physiological attention and energy to deal with them.
Here's an analogy:
Imagine learning to drive.
At first, you must learn each skill and gradually put them together.
You don’t go and practice driving on the fastest interstate freeway before having the skills of starting and controlling a vehicle.
The multi-tasking capacity of an experienced driver is far more developed, complex and efficient than that of a novice driver. The skills required for controlling the feet, hands, eyes, incorporating information from sounds, understanding how to move at speed, controlling a moving object much heavier than ourselves (sometimes with several passengers and additional cargo), innately understanding the physics of movement within that vehicle, and so on, eventually become automatic. As a result, not only can we drive on the busy highways and freeways, but we can also listen to music, discuss complex concepts with our passengers and think about workplace conversations while driving at speed towards our chosen destination. Sometimes we even forget how we even got to our destination because the process is so automatic.
If, however, as an experienced driver, you find yourself in a new city, town or country, the freeway is busy, traffic is merging, and you are in the middle lane of a 5 lane freeway requiring an exit that you aren’t sure about, you tend to turn off the radio, stop the conversation with your passengers (in fact, often tell them politely to “be quiet”) and intensify your concentration on the more basic tasks of driving and navigation. You pay attention to the more basic features of driving. You minimise the distractions and concentrate on the tasks involved in keeping the car moving in the traffic to avoid an accident and arrive at your destination safely. You may even experience physiological stress symptoms: sudden perspiration or sweaty palms, faster breathing or breath-holding, faster heart rate. You feel yourself in a much more alert state, and you possibly arrive exhausted by the experience.
That's kind of how it is for a student/child/adult who may have immature neuromotor and sensory systems when they are in a classroom.
Instead of relaxing into the drive and being able to ignore automatic tasks and sometimes even add complexity to those automatic tasks, like our experienced driver in a familiar setting, the student with neuromotor immaturity is like the driver in the middle of a complex highway system in a new city, trying to work out how to drive and get to where they need to be. They don't have the capacity to listen to the radio, pay attention to the other passengers or even be aware of those aspects of their environment. They arrive at their destination exhausted, and some, get lost along the way.
So, what does this have to do with neuro-developmental approaches to learning?
Neurodevelopmental practitioners trained in the INPP method help those who have sensory and neuro-motor immaturity (a bit like the novice drivers in our analogy) address some of the underlying issues that may inhibit their capacity to learn and function in the world. School, life and even home and daily life situations can be like a 6 lane superhighway for these drivers. A child/adult with neuro-motor immaturity is like the novice driver being forced into that high-intensity advanced driver situation of the busy freeway in another country with a carload of chatty passengers and the radio blaring. They really don’t have the skills or capacity to drive well in that situation, and, they fatigue more quickly than the experienced driver. In some cases, that situation could be an accident or traumatic experience waiting to happen.
INPP trained neurodevelopmental practitioners identify Neuro-Motor Immaturity (NMI) and help address the underlying issues that may be contributing to the difficulties the person is experiencing. The processes we use incorporate neurodevelopment and principles of neuroplasticity to build and enhance the neurophysiological foundations required for learning.
The INPP method of reflex integration is non-invasive and drug-free. It has been used internationally for over 40 years. INPP Practitioners have helped many children and adults with diagnosed difficulties including ADD, ADHD, ASD, dyslexia and other learning and behavioural issues; as well as those who just seem to be "underperforming" or not reaching their learning potential. Our practitioners address this underlying aspect of our client's limited capacity to help them function more effectively in school, home or social situations.
Practitioners across many disciplines, including optometrists, occupational and speech therapists, physiotherapists, educators, literacy educators, nutritionists and others, use the INPP method to identify and integrate neuromotor and sensory immaturity, helping to provide learning and functional solutions for individuals and families. We use processes informed by human neurophysiological development to offer options to help negotiate the complexities of educational settings and other learning environments. We address learning challenges by keeping the body and brain developmental learning process in mind.
So, what does neurodevelopment have to do with learning? Once again, EVERYTHING!
I train practitioners in the INPP method here in Australia. I am part of an international team of Principal Trainers and Educators Licensed to deliver the programme developed by Dr Peter Blythe (PhD) and currently under the Directorship of Sally Goddard Blythe, author of many books on early childhood development and the importance of neuromotor maturity for learning and function in later life.
I trained directly with Sally and Peter in the UK and have since delivered INPP Practitioner training to over 30 practitioners here in Australia.
Suppose you want to know more about our training opportunities, you can find more information on our integratingthinking.com.au website or sign up for more details about training opportunities as they become available.
The next INPP Practitioners Course is due to start later this year (September or October -- dates to be confirmed).
Understanding and applying the Body to Brain Learning™ process helps students and teachers attain better academic learning outcomes. It's a neurodevelopmental approach that impacts the well-being of students and teachers at school, and can help support neurodiverse students and those who work with them. It also assists those who are underachieving academically and are experiencing learning challenges because of neuromotor and sensory immaturity.
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Dr Christine Payard (PhD) is a Neurodevelopmental Educator, founder of the "Body to Brain Learning™ Professional Development Series", Director of "Integrating Thinking" and the INPP Australia Principal.
She is an experienced teacher, a passionate educator who could talk all day about learning, how we learn, the body, the brain, and a functional and developmental approach to learning.
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