Jumping right in with some quotes from the conference.
“Diagnosis are descriptions, not diseases.”
In other words, they are ‘crude approximations’ of what is going on. The state of being that a child is in.
“Relationships are the tool to create change.”
If a child starts to layer many positive experiences in an array of ways, it will start to create a more positive outlook to the world. If a child has many negative experiences it creates templates in the brain that distorts the future experiences. It alters perception.
We all have a level of intimacy and a barrier. Also known as personal space. A child who has experienced trauma needs to be able to control who crosses their barrier into intimacy. Because allowing someone across the ‘barrier’ is so often threatening, children will usually show anger and rage to the people that are the closest, safest and most loving toward them. Children who are sensitized to abandonment and intimacy will want to draw close, or want you to draw close, but then will invariable withdraw or lash out. Things for us to do? Be present. When a child has lashed out from feeling threatened, don’t storm out of the room. Simply be silent and present. When the child comes closer, continue to stay silent and present. You can do some calm activity for yourself, even better if it’s parallel to your child, as opposed to in front of them. Examples Bruce Perry gave were: cooking, colouring, playing cards. Doing these activities beside your child mimics the early years of their development when parallel play happened, as opposed to engaged play. It’s very soothing for children to do things side by side with a safe person. Good parallel activities for both caregiver and child to engage in would be: walking, yoga, dance, drumming side by side, running, etc. Anything that can be done side by side and adds repetition and/or rhythm is wonderful. Knowing that I can calm my child down by calming down my own internal state is profound and challenging for me. If I am frustrated, overwhelmed, anxious and angry, it will only escalate the situation. For infants that have experienced trauma, and are sensory seekers, it is recommended to pick one soothing rhythm and to stick with that. Ideally, pick what soothes you. We are often told with fussy babies to keep trying different things, this can be very detrimental to infants that are traumatized.
“Kids need adults to be a consistent therapeutic web.”
Relevant (developmentally matched)
Rhythmic (resonant with neural patterns)
Respectful (child, family, culture)
Adults should be assessing a child’s history, their trajectory to the present. Create a therapeutic web for the child, a team. This is often a challenge, but so worth the effort and advocacy.Therapies should be gradual and repetitive.
“The brain is a historical organ”
Neglect is the lack of specific patterns and experiences during development which results in abnormal development of core brain function. This will show up for children in their emotions, social, cognitive and motor skills. Neglect can be episodic chaotic, or total global. Our culture has the worst neglect rates in the world. Sensory deprivation is a form of neglect.
Dr. Perry went on a tangent at this point to talk about the benefits of letting our children chew gum. It is a repetitive activity that supports brain stem development and healing. He passionately advocated for kids to be allowed to chew gum in stressful situations and showed that children that were allowed to chew gum during tests had better scores. It helps our children calm down and focus. On a personal note, I grew up with parents who didn’t let us chew gum. We were told that it was rude, gross and basically for those who couldn’t help themselves. I was also told that I would never digest it or poop it out if I swallowed it. If you swallowed enough of gum, it would clog your insides.
Needless to say I have been letting my kids access to gum lately (with boundaries) to great success.
Core Clinical Questions:
Is the dysfunction present due to lack of stimulation? The neural networks are present, but undeveloped?
Is the dysfunction due to abnormal organization? The neural networks are present but disorganized? More repetition…
Is the dysfunction due to lack of neural networks because of genetic, epigenetic, or toxic factors? While this sounds dire, often other systems of the brain can take over. Other routes in the brain can achieve the same results.
Find a child’s sensory preference!
Combine therapies, use activities that combine rhythm, movement, repetition, touch, relationships and verbal.
Regulation: we deprive children of most regulation options.
Self regulation starts with dissociation, the state of modulation. Then it moves up into the cortical areas and becomes self soothing habits.
Relational regulation is when regulation is tied into the relationships. Safety is found in people or a person. Relational sensitivity is when a child feels safer alone than around any person.
To use drugs to regulate a child will send a chronic signal to the brain. It will make space for change, but doesn’t change the brain. Patterned, repetitive therapies change the brain.
Introduce sensory breaks into your child’s day. Children will be more regulated and learn more when they receive these regular, frequent breaks. Stretching, deep breathing, walking, rhythm, are all simple options for sensory breaks.
Violent video games can physically change the brain to look like the brain of a person who has seen real combat. That being said, media can provide ideal dissociation. It can be controlled, safe dissociation breaks for children. If media is being used to regulate a child, give them plenty of time to transition out of their media time. Games like tetris have been shown to help remove the effects of PTSD in people.
Another form of controlling dissociation for regulation purposes would be self hypnosis. This is turning a vulnerability of a child, into a strength. A way of reframing a weakness.
Almost all traditional healers in other cultures use patterned, rhythmic, repetitive ceremonies for grief, loss, death and healing. It is also often a parallel and relationally rich experience. These situations often tell the same stories over and over again which makes them become a repetitive tool. Scenarios like this have been shown to have similar effects of EMDR, but are relationally deeper.
The average, healthy adult lies frequently. We expect children to be honest all the time. Lying is often rooted in trying to prevent someone from crossing the intimacy barrier. Focus on the insecurities that lead to the lying. Don’t ask a child why they lied, you will be opening up space for them to lie again. Simply address the motivation for the lie. It is important to call children up on their lies, but not shame them. Confronting a child who is lie is rooted in shame, insecurity or fear, will simply escalate them. Be creative with your responses. Use humor, use terminology like ‘we’ not ‘you’, come up with plans, and fix the mess together.
There is always hope. Be present. Don’t take my children’s behavior personally. Be consistent. Chew gum. Integrate multi dimensional sensory breaks through out the day. Parallel play. Repetition, repetition, repetition. Rhythm. Dance. Lighten up. Shut up. Create a village. Be patient. Ask for help. Skin to skin. Listen. Build and support resilience. Allow for solitude.