On June 20th, Joey’s Foundation hosted Physical Therapist, Karen Pryor, author of Ten Fingers, Ten Toes for a full day workshop on neuroplasticity. This being one of my personal favorite topics, I was thrilled to be able to attend.
There is so much of her presentation that I wish I could capture here. It is hard to narrow down everything we learned throughout the day. Some of her recommendations were so simple, and yet have the potential to make such a large, lasting change on a child’s development.
One key – yet simple – point that she made was that “vision is neurologically connected to over 80% of the central nervous system” (Pryor, 34). If we want a child to master a skill, first we need to make sure we are involving their line of sight. Are we making it as easy as possible for the child to view what they are being asked to do? She even had us test this by walking through a series of exercises, changing where we looked each time. When we looked away, the task became increasingly more difficult, if not impossible.
The next time I visited Joey’s house after the presentation, his family asked me to change where I sat. In observing Joey, Karen Pryor realized that we all typically sat on his left side, which is his stronger side. Because of how the room is set up and materials are stored, this had become the logical place to sit for anyone walking into the room and sitting down to work with Joey. And yet, in doing so, we’ve been changing Joey’s eye line for tasks. We were holding items more towards the left, which required him to look further toward the left. Anything we ask him to do with his right hand is harder for him to see. Once we switched sides and Joey had a better view of the task, he was able to perform the task with his right hand. Such a simple fix, but it had never occurred to any of us.
Neuroplasticity excites me so much because it continues to push us to presume competence, and challenges our assumptions of a child’s abilities and potential. We’d all accepted that it was harder for Joey to use his right hand, and so while we continued to encourage him to use both hands together, we accepted the fact that anything he did with his right hand was going to be more difficult for him. And yet – when we simply changed where we placed the task, and changed his line of sight, movement with his right hand was much more possible. But if we’d never changed our placement and his view point, we would have continued to assume his right arm wasn’t as capable of performing as his right.
I am hoping to capture more of Pryor’s tips, insights, and recommendations for supporting neuroplasticity in the weeks ahead.