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Hyperactivity, restlessness, aggression, cannot sit still, in constant motion, picky eater, emotionally sensitive, impulsivity, and meltdowns…..just to name a few. Has your child’s experienced any of these behaviors recently? Many experts will tell you these are simply behaviors that can be molded, shaped, or trained out of the child with proper parenting techniques. And for some behaviors there is a definite need for parent education in ways to handle the situation and help the situation best. But many behaviors are sign of something deeper. A sign that your child’s nervous system is not fully developed.
During infancy and through the first few years of life the foundation for the brain and nervous system develop according to movement and in response to sensory exposure. During this important time period if your child experiences any type of trauma (birth trauma, emotional trauma, injected chemicals, environmental toxins, etc), lack of movement opportunities, lack of sensory opportunities, or lack of proper nutrition, it is possible the brain connections being made were altered. The connections didn’t fully develop in one area of the brain, or the connections were not made strong enough across both brain hemispheres causing an imbalance.
The right and left brain hemispheres develop at different rates the first few years of life. The right hemisphere develops during the first approximately 12 months life, then the left hemisphere takes over for a couple years, before the right & left begin to alternate and balance. At whatever point in development your child experienced stunted brain growth could have affected the balance of the brain hemispheres. The right side of the brain is our inhibitory side, or the “brake”. The left side of the brain is our excitatory side, or the “gas pedal”. If your child’s left brain is more dominant they may be experiencing several symptoms stated above like hyperactivity, restlessness, can’t sit still, in constant motion, aggressive. Without a fully developed right brain hemisphere (and balance of the two hemispheres) your child doesn’t have the ability to stop themselves, or cognitively decide to slow down. They are always in hyperdrive.
Trauma and lack of movement, sensory, nutrition, can also have effects on the brain stem. The brain stem is also called our “reptilian brain”. This area is responsible for our “fight, flight or freeze” sympathetic nervous system. Once the brain stem is developed during infancy, it lays the foundation for the “thinking brain” to develop which gives us more control over our bodies, emotions, and cognition. When a child is stuck in the brain stem they are controlled by the sympathetic nervous system. Their body is on alert. Hypersensitive to noises and touch, possibly movement and even the taste of foods. The body (although unconscious) is ready to run away from danger, fight (aggression), or totally freeze. This is an innate experience our sympathetic nervous system does in order to protect us from danger. The problem is our kids in this state feel they are in danger most of the day when they are really in safe situations.
The primitive reflexes are also developed during this infancy stage and are a part of the brain stem. Primitive reflexes are automatic movements that keep us safe by alerting our caregivers if we are hungry, in danger, or need to be changed. The reflexes emerge during infancy, repeat several times through movement and in response to incoming sensory information, and integrate becoming postural reflexes that help us to stand upright. If a child’s primitive reflexes do not fully integrate the brain stem & sympathetic nervous system are still “on”. They are stimulated regularly and we see issues with emotional stability, poor body awareness, hypersensitivities, picky eating, aggression & mood challenges, and hyperactivity (amongst other symptoms).
Nutrition also plays a key role in behaviors. Nutrition is the building blocks we give our body and brain in order to function. Filling a young child’s body with sugar, processed foods, artificial ingredients and foods containing pesticides only hurt brain cells and the gut microbiome. Both of which are strongly connected. What happens in the gut affects the brain and vice versa. Research has shown that the opioid peptides that flood the body with particular processed foods can cause symptoms such as inattention/spacey behavior, aggression (to self or others), stimming, mood changes, poor eye contact, difficulty with speech, and anxiety/depression/irritability.
So YES, the answer is YES, your child’s behavior can absolutely have an underlying neurological component to it. The best news is that the brain is plastic, the nervous system can change, and your nutrition can always change as well. If you have been to a professional for your child’s behavior you have probably either been given a “sensory diet” or given a behavioral treatment plan. Neither of which actually change the underlying neurological disconnection. These treatments may help in the day-to-day living, which is great, but more needs to be done in order to fully develop the nervous system and stop the behaviors all together. Depending on which area is affecting your child’s development and causing the behaviors there are several ways we can help. Neurologically-based movement programs help to balance the brain’s hemispheres, integrate primitive reflexes, and the sensory system. Individualized nutrition can play a key role and improving your child’s diet can make a huge impact on behaviors and nervous system development. And finally doctors such as specifically trained chiropractors, functional medicine doctors, and the like are helpful to consult and work with.