Neuroplasticity has become a big deal in my life. Not only through my Mindset work and research but also because my daughter was born with a hemiplegia. This was caused by an area of damage to the brain through a bleed before she was born. It is a mild form of cerebral palsy which, for my daughter, means the right side of her body is weaker and muscles can be over-toned. Cerebral means having to do with the brain. Palsy means weakness or problems with using the muscles.
The ability the brain has, to rewire itself means that, with repetition of specific movement, other parts of the brain can pick up the movements that other parts of the brain can't through damage. For me, Neuroplasticity also = possibility. It drives our motivation to get her practicing those movements she finds difficult because we know the brain can be rewired with concentrated effort. We are looking for the healthy parts of her brain to pick up the movements that the damage areas should be supporting her to do.
Like a well-travelled path, the neurons in our brain must be able to connect when synapses fire across the gap between them. When this path is travelled across repeatedly (as we practice a new skill), it becomes more and more familiar each time we step up and down it. On a real path, that might be overgrown with foliage, the more we 'push through' the easier the way becomes until we can move down it with ease. At this point whatever the skill is we are doing, the easier we will find it. It has become part of our comfort zone and then we move onto the next thing to start the process again. Learning should never be static.
I have taken the opportunity this week to really start exploring the brain and what it does, not just in terms of Growth Mindset but generally, with my 5 year-old daughter as I am putting together this exploration of the Brain on my social media platforms.
We have played a card sorting game produced by ‘My Happy Mind’ where she has had to sort into two piles, activities that the brain helps us with and those that it doesn’t help us with. We have made a brain hat during which I talked to her about neurons firing when we are learning a new skill so that a gap is bridged between them. I realised how powerful this activity actually was as I was doing it with her because, whilst I might know seemingly intuitively what things the brain helps with, I realised she had very little concept! It sparked a lot of discussion and it was very much an activity of discovery rather than testing what she knew. I actually bathed her tonight and she started talking about it so I know it is something she is processing and we can keep referring back to.
These activities also opened-up a discussion about her hemiplegia. We navigate her questions and challenges in this area when required but this exploration of the brain gave us a calm, informed space in which to talk about it and why she experiences the challenges she does.
I am hoping that the continued discussion will support her understanding of why we need to persevere with exercising her right hand and stretching her muscles. For me, neuroplasticity is not only integral to my Mindset work but it equates to possibilities and the hope that we can improve her movement by working on structural change in her brain. You can imagine, as a Mum I have done a lot of reading around this!
My daughter not only is supported in knowing about the brain’s ability to rewire itself because of the hemiplegia but also from the Growth Mindset point of view of learning. There will always be challenges for her to face, problems to solve and strategies to find when the way that everybody else does things just doesn’t work for her. She must use the skills that Growth Mindset ideas enhance and therefore build her own resilience. This is something I can already see in her and long may it continue. By adding some understanding about neuroplasticity, I believe this can only help build her motivation.