Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Neuroplasticity and FASD

At the present time there is no research that demonstrates the use of neuroplasticity principles to help individuals diagnosed with FASD.

However given the fact that neuroplasticity strategies have been applied successfully to individuals that suffered brain damage, stokes and even to those diagnosed with OCD, autism, and other FASD related disabilities, may let us speculate that these strategies would be effective if applied to individuals with FASD.

What is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

In the case of the prenatal exposure to alcohol, the developing brain cells and structures are underdeveloped or malformed. Due to exposure, they often create an array of primary cognitive and functional disabilities (including poor memory, attention deficits, impulsive behavior, and poor cause-effect reasoning) as well as secondary disabilities (for example, mental health problems, and drug addiction) (Streissguth, A. 1997)

Why do we think that Neuroplasticity can help FASD diagnosed individuals?

The neuroplasticity principles have been used successfully with individuals suffering from other brain related conditions. Strokes, or brain attacks, are a major cause of death and permanent disability. They occur when blood flow to a region of the brain is obstructed and may result in death of brain tissue. Yet neuroplasticity has been used successfully on some patients that suffered strokes. This shows that as long as there is adjacent living tissue, because the tissue is plastic, there might be how that it might take over.

Neuroplasticity has also been used to help individuals with various conditions, including learning disabled children improve their cognition and perception. (Doidge 2007, 47) According to Michael M. Merzenich, professor at the University of California and well known neuroscientist with numerous contributions to the field of neuroscience, “when learning occurs in a way consistent with the laws that governed brain plasticity the mental machinery of the brain can improve so that we learn and perceive with greater precision, speed and retention. (Doidge 2007, 47). The principle of “Compensatory masquerade”, which is a form of plasticity identified by the American researcher and scientist Jordan Grafman, also comes to support the idea that Neuroplasticity principles can be used with FASD individuals. According to this principle, the brain is assisted to find an alternative strategy for carrying out a task when the initial strategy cannot be followed due to impairment (the other three forms of plasticity identified by Grafman are Map expansion, sensory reassignment and mirror region takeover). This form of plasticity was used in the past, before neuroplasticity to help children with learning disabilities (by exploring alternative methods of learning such as switching people with reading problems to audio tape). According to this form of plasticity, there is more than one way for our brain to approach a task. Since the brain is able to find “alternative strategies” it very likely that this principle can be used to understand the brain of FASD patients in helping them to use other areas of the brain to take over lost functions. This can be another argument in favour of the neuroplasticity principles applied in the case of FASD individuals. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, one example is when a person attempts to navigate from one location to another. Most people, to a greater or lesser extent, have an intuitive sense of direction and distance that they employ for navigation. However, a person who suffers some form of brain trauma and impaired spatial sense will resort to another strategy for spatial navigation, such as memorizing landmarks. The only change that occurs in the brain is a reorganization of preexisting neuronal networks (http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/410552/neuroplasticity/276923/Compensatory-masquerade).

1. Streissguth, A. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: A Guide for Families and Communities. 1997. Baltimore: Brookes Publishing, 1997. Print
2. Doidge, Norman. The Brain that Changes Itself. 2007. New York: Penguin Group , 2007. Print.
3. Neuroplasticity, Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 05 July 2009 .

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