The TASC List: Little engines that can

New initiatives in the field of neuroscience are being revealed where the structure and functionality of the nervous system and in particular the brain are studied and described. They promise improved diagnosis, treatment, and possible correction of many adult conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s,  Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, stroke, and field of fire damage from weapons, explosives, and shrapnel.

More recently, the field of neuroplasticity has focused upon work related to the brain’s ability to reorganize its neural networks and to adapt the pathways to changing factors and new requirements. This would offer much optimism for both children and adults suffering from dyslexia, ADHD, concussive injury, or other conditions that affect learning, reasoning, and turning experience into action.

Imaging techniques and measurements combine in an extraordinary number of research laboratories, universities, collaborative partnerships with medical centers, and other development enterprises to provide analytical platforms for experimentation and discovery. Scientists are fascinated by the methods underlying how we learn. Families are anxious to see if there are any remedies or methods that can ease the pain for those struggling with the symptoms, or frightened by the future outcomes that may include progressive neurological deterioration.

One very interesting development has just emerged from the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT about infant learning. There a neuroscientist reports, “I could not believe how beautifully organized these tiny baby brains already were!” She observes: “Babies are the fastest, most efficient learning machines ever invented.”

In the past, others have noted how much about their world young minds can process, including facial image differences and the association of words with objects. So it is not surprising that the field has developed both in gaining insight into early learning and recognizing the effects of plastic change on the ability to recapture prior skills and otherwise improve cognitive performance.

I first became aware of the delightful and interesting results of this field in the work of Dr. Glenn Doman, director of The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential in Philadelphia. Much of his findings are found in a 1964 Random House book How to teach your baby to read. They derive from what in those days was ground-breaking clinical research with brain-injured children. Doman and colleagues moved profoundly injured children from “neurological disorganization to neurological organization of an average or even superior level by employing the simple nonsurgical techniques which had been developed.” They then reasoned “that these same techniques could be used to increase the amount of neurological organization demonstrated by average children. One of these techniques is to teach very small brain-injured children to read. Nowhere is the ability to raise neurological organization more clearly demonstrated than when you teach a well baby to read.”

Doman’s methods are structured by patterns of visual, vocal, and standardized formats, involving familiar objects, and an environment of fun and patience. They have evolved into a rich set of variations and offerings. It should be noted that not all professional educators and reading specialists today would agree with the process and its delivery. But almost everyone accepts that the earlier one begins with the child, the more likely the outcomes will range from truly beneficial to absolutely remarkable.

What better gift for a lifetime can be offered than the ability to read, upon which almost all learning depends, and which involves the most important functions of the human brain?  Doman called this early entry into the world’s storehouse of knowledge “the gentle revolution.”

From recovering abilities for brain-injured children to instructing well babies with astonishing results, the reorganization of neural networks and construction of new pathways is still evolving. From recognition of human potential to new developments in cognitive dependencies, the field of neuroscience is making huge strides.

You can acquire and apply the instructions of Doman and others through his book and related materials widely available on the internet. Be part of the revolution. Observe for yourself those most efficient learning machines.   

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