Sunday, 08 April 2012 20:45
My studies in neurology have recently been focused on the concept of Functional Disconnection Syndrome (F.D.S.). I know this sounds like a big long word - but hang in there for a moment. This novel diagnosis has presented a new basis for understanding the potential
pathogenesis of autism, ADHD and other diseases on this spectrum. It is certainly worth some attention. And for parents and children suffering with the affects of this epidemic - I dare say some real hope can be derived from the pursuit of neurologically repairing this disconnection. Take a few moments with me to review some necessary background.
In our exploration of the brain’s anatomy as it relates to learning and behavioral disorders, two areas are particularly interesting. They are:
1. A part of the frontal lobe, called the prefrontal cortex, which is the seat of so-called executive functions (attention, planning, organization, impulse inhibition, self-control).
2. A system of circuits connecting the prefrontal cortex, the basal ganglia and the cerebellum.
In order to better understand spectrum disorders, we must also understand how the brain integrates all the information it receives from the senses. The brain: a question of timing, synchronization and wavelength. Each second, our brain is bombarded with thousands of sensory information coming from numerous sources: sight (eye), hearing, olfaction, taste, touch, organs and viscera, skin, muscles, and articulations; in short, from our internal and external environment.
The brain cannot make sense of all this information unless it is integrated into a meaningful experience. Only then can the brain react optimally to its environment. However, there is no single physical area in the brain where all these information can meet. To solve this problem, our brain integrates and synchronizes this information in a temporal manner.
This means that two pieces of information coming from the same sensory experience can only be integrated – and therefore become meaningful - only if they are synchronized in time (happen together). In contrast, two pieces of information coming from the same sensory experience, which are not synchronized in time, cannot be integrated by our brain.
Imagine that you are watching a French movie that has not been properly dubbed. Imagine for example that the image and the sound are not synchronized. Imagine how the lips of the characters are sometimes immobile while the voice still speaks or imagine how the lips keep on moving although the sentence is already finished. The coherence is lost and it becomes annoying, shocking, meaningless, or even ridiculous. After a while, you would stop
watching that movie. Children and adults suffering from most spectrum disorders have the same problem. Except that for them, the de-synchronization is ongoing and never stops. Moreover, the de- synchronization does not only affect the senses (such as hearing and sight in our example) but all of the other sensory information that is coming in from our various senses.
In order for the various pieces of information to be synchronized in time, our brain must have a very precise timing mechanism. And this timing mechanism requires a basic rhythm; the same as a music student uses a metronome to acquire his tempo skills. In our brain, the metronome is our cerebellum. It gives the timing mechanism upon which all the incoming information will be synchronized. Any malfunction of the cerebellum can therefore lead to a de- synchronization of the information, a frequent problem in children suffering from spectrum disorders.
In addition to good timing, the different parts of our brain must be on the same wavelength or frequency to communicate properly. In order to illustrate this concept, let’s imagine that you are using walkie-talkie with your child who is in the garden. If both devices are on the same frequency (the same wave length), you will be able to communicate without any problems. However, if they are on two different wavelengths, there will be some crackling sounds on the line and communication will be more difficult. If both frequencies are too different, it becomes impossible to communicate. Our cerebral hemispheres and our cortex function at a 40-hertz frequency (40 times per second). This frequency is the basis for human consciousness. At this speed, timing must be very precise or any error can be devastating.
Our brain functions at its best when both hemispheres are coherent, which means when they oscillate at the 40 hertz frequency. When this situation happens, both hemispheres cannot only communicate together through traditional neurological relays, but also energetically. This 40-Hertz frequency originates in the thalamus, the relay center for all information going toward the brain (except for smell).
In order to better understand this concept, let’s imagine an experiment where the right side of someone’s body isn’t stimulated anymore. The left hemisphere – because the information from the right side of the body crosses to the left side of the brain - will not be stimulated any longer, and the 40-Hertz rhythm cannot be maintained. In consequence, we develop a lack of coherence, a de-synchronization between the two hemispheres. In this situation, the brain cannot work at its best.
In functional neurology, we use the word “cerebral hemisphericity” when both hemispheres « are no longer in accord anymore » and when, in consequence, one side of the brain is “weaker” than the other one. A neurological lesion (reversible) is a term, which describes a part of the brain that is not functioning 100%. The malfunction that is causing the lesion can be due to a lack of stimulation or to a delay in development of the brain. The neurological lesion is one of the principal causes of de-synchronization (loss of timing) of information and of the loss of coherence between parts of our brain. The loss of coherence is called « hemisphericity » if the affected parts are the hemisphere. We also sometimes call this problem a “functional disconnection syndrome”.
Numerous scientific studies carried out in the past ten years have shown that neurological lesions and the brain hemisphericity were the underlying brain problem in many spectrum disorders. We can therefore conclude that most spectrum disorders are due to some hypo functioning or delayed development of some circuits of the brain that link the prefrontal cortex to the basal ganglia to the cerebellum. Many studies also showed that these parts are smaller in children suffering from a diagnosed spectrum disorder, than in “normal” children when they are measured by magnetic resonance.
A health care professional specially trained in functional neurology is therefore able to evaluate the deficient areas (neurological lesions) in a precise manner for each individual and to develop an individualized program aimed at rehabilitating naturally these parts.