The Computer… A Medical Necessity!
There was no doubt in my mind that the child with autism or the person with mental illness could indeed teach man a great deal about man himself. As I had completed my second book, Breaking The Code To Remove The Shackles of Autism: When The Parts Are Not Understood And The Whole Is Lost! I had come to the very painful realization that a great deal of what I had seen in my son could actually be explained if I assumed little or no communication among the various parts of the brain. Since the writing of that book, I had thought about these issues a great deal. I considered Zachary – at three years of age – verses now. Clearly he had made a great deal of progress and continued to do so each day.
When I considered the “then” verses the “now”, as I watched my son as he played, as he engaged in so many activities in life, it had become evident that connections that had been once severed now seemed to be developing. So much in my son – especially in regards to the “then” - had been explained by this theory that there appeared to be little or no communication among the various parts of the brain. Yet, in looking at Zachary “now”, I knew those connections were somehow beginning to form again. Indeed, this made a great deal of sense since, over time, as one learned more and more, the brain made more and more connections. But the key to that had clearly been “getting to Zachary” – in drawing him out of his own world and making him become part of the “real world”.
I had read articles stating that the child with autism had a “starved” brain. Indeed that was true – if the child was left in his own world and not made to be part of life all around him – if the child failed to be integrated into the family unit, and ultimately the social unit, etc. The key was truly – “getting to that child” – making that “first crack” in a shell that so often seemed so impenetrable! Once that happened and “some” communication was established – even if only a small step forward - then there certainly was a great deal of hope, in my opinion.
Language and overall communication issues were such a huge part of understanding the child with autism and helping him overcome his limitations, that upon completion of this book, I would immediately begin a fourth book – to share my thoughts on these issues specifically. This fourth book would contain more than simply language issues. It would provide my thoughts and opinions in matters relating to “how” to communicate with the child with autism and show how to apply that to many, many situations – situations involving much more than “just language” because “communication” involved much more than simply words.
Although language and communication constituted an area so huge that it required a separate text (what would be my fourth book – my “next project”), there were other areas… other bits and pieces… I now wanted to share. These were bits and pieces to what I had seen in Zachary… things I had seen in my son that I now understood so much better. It was these things I wanted to share with other families in the hope that these observations and thoughts would help others put their bits and pieces in place too – in the hopes that my bits and pieces could help other children further leave the shackles of autism behind.
Although I discussed issues as they related to autism, clearly there were things that could perhaps also be applied to the further understanding of schizophrenia and/or Alzheimer’s as well.
In attempting to understand Zachary, in seeing his progress over time, in trying to understand “what had worked”, clearly, one thing I could honestly say I felt had been the very important to Zachary in the making of “new connections” in his brain – after that initial “crack in the shell” had been made had to be – the computer! Other than interaction with his family, there was no doubt that this tool – the computer – had been absolutely key in Zachary’s progress.
As I compared the “then” and “now”, I realized that over time, Zachary had to have created “new connections” in his brain because now, things just seemed to “work together more”. Whereas once he appeared to have almost total lack of communication among the various parts of the brain, now, clearly that communication was being re-established as he learned more and more each day.
I would spend time explaining a great many of those things I had seen to result from this “lack of communication”, but, I also wanted to let families of children with autism know that, in my heart, there truly existed a great deal of hope for all these children – that to a great extent, their progress depended on helping them to “break the code” in many, many areas of life.
In my opinion, there was no doubt now that for children with autism, a computer was – literally – a medical necessity. In my opinion, we had made a very serious mistake in society. We had assumed that because these children had difficulty communicating or expressing themselves, that they simply “did not understand” very much. As such, therapy methods for children with autism focused on using a flashcard or a word – simple things – presented one at a time. And herein was the biggest mistake of all.
I came to realize this as I rested one evening in our living room. I had found it to be more quiet than usual in the house. Zachary was playing on the computer and he was totally captivated by one of his favorite online games.
In the past, I had always preferred to focus primarily on “educational software” as opposed to games, yet, now, I was beginning to see that games, too, in moderation, could be quite useful in activating key parts of the brain and helping to make further connections where perhaps few existed. Since I knew Zachary lived “via reference”, games that looked pretty realistic or had a lot of violence and aggression were pretty well out. I certainly did not need “those types” - of references - for Zachary. I also very closely monitored what he watched on television. We had disconnected cable a long time ago – having much better things to do with our time than “watch tv”. When we did look at anything, they were videos, carefully selected based on content. It was amazing how much time you could find to do things that mattered if you simply turned off the television.
Anyway, on this particular evening, as I enjoyed a few moments to myself, I started thinking about Zachary's playing of these computer games and several things now came to mind. In playing this computer game, I considered the functions in the brain that were involved. Clearly, almost all parietal lobe functions were involved in playing this game: spatial processing, visual attention, touch perception, manipulation of objects, goal directed movement, etc.
Interestingly, in playing this game, it almost appeared as though there was definitely some sensory integration going on here, when so often, in other instances, that integration was clearly lacking. For example, in playing this game, Zachary was obviously aware of sounds, movement, motion, etc. I wondered why that was given that on walks, I knew he did not integrate sensory input as well. Was it because he perceived the "computer" as a whole as opposed to the way he perceived other objects in his world - in his actual environment - when that integration was simply not there, as explained so often in my second book? Clearly this computer game stimulated almost the entire parietal lobe. Was that why he functioned so well during a computer game? Could the amount of activity at one time within a specific area of the brain actually result in better overall functioning in all functions located in that entire area? And if true for one part of the brain, would that not be true – overall? In my opinion, this very much appeared to be the case!
In working specific functions separately, Zachary did seem to have "greater issues" - more difficulty in focusing his attention, more difficulty with eye/hand coordination and drawing of objects, manipulation of objects, etc. Yet, when on the computer, when the entire parietal lobe seemed to be active - his eye/hand coordination was absolutely excellent. In addition, I felt the parietal lobe was somehow also working "better" in relation to "other areas of the brain" during this time that he played on the computer when his parietal lobe was very active.
For example, in this game, there had to be some communication going on with the frontal lobe as it related to motor activity, planning and execution and memory as it related to that motor activity. Zachary had played this game in the past. He clearly had memorized the traps to avoid and that impacted his "motion" on the screen - or the motion of his hands on the keyboard. Was this not a frontal lobe function? Or was this simply a matter of "goal directed movement" - of avoiding traps and "manipulation of objects" – a function that indeed resided the parietal lobe? I had no way of telling whether or not these "movements" were part of the parietal lobe or frontal lobe functions because, truly, they could in my opinion, fall under either one.
As I thought more about it, I felt that the functions were more those of the parietal lobe... but, again, I had no way of knowing - for sure. Yet, if there was communication between the frontal and parietal lobes, that certainly meant there would be implications in coming up with teaching tools for these children - and that was encouraging. This certainly was all very interesting to say the least!
For example, if goal directed movement went along with touch, visual attention and manipulation of objects (all in the parietal lobe), then, obviously, to get a child to write letters of the alphabet using a pencil, for example, it may be best to provide an example of the "goal" or the letter to be reproduced - perhaps on a building block (to take advantage of three dimensional perception also located in the parietal lobe).
I truly felt that teaching these children had to involve not only making optimal use of the most functions available within a particular area of the brain – but – of making use of - as many functions as possible – overall – in the entire brain! This clearly explained why children with autism, like Zachary, absolutely loved computers.
This was all very interesting to me. Zachary certainly did perform much better while on the computer. He understood instructions, had good visual perception, perceived motion quite well, physically moved his hands on the keyboard or used the mouse to accomplish his task and so eye hand coordination was good (that involved the occipital lobe, frontal lobe and cerebellum – at the very least), etc.
If connections had indeed been severed, and/or communication among the various parts of the brain was limited, how would one go about re-establishing those connections – how would one go about “re-connecting” the brain? To use something like “flashcards” or “speech therapy”, etc., using - a picture here, a sound there -in my opinion, truly was not the way to go because that involved only a few areas of the brain.
If you wanted to “grow connections” among the various parts of the brain that meant you had to be using as many parts of the brain as possible – not just a few here and there – and that – in my opinion – was why the computer was such a fantastic tool for these children! The key was in finding and using those functions that acted as “bridges” across the various parts of the brain. For example, using word associations to bridge the frontal and temporal lobes, etc.
I could think of nothing else that stimulated so many parts of the brain at once as activities involving computer use. And, as such, there was absolutely no doubt that the key to helping these children rebuild connections was to activate as much of the brain as possible - at once – and in my opinion, that very much meant that computers – for these children – without a doubt - had become a medical necessity!
The more I thought about this issue of the difference among various teaching tools, the more it made complete sense. While on the computer, the following parts of the brain could be clearly activated:
The frontal lobe: motor activity, motor planning and execution, activity in response to the environment, memory as it related to habits and other activities, higher functioning/thought processes, assignment of meaning to words [word associations], and control of emotion [frustration certainly presented itself and that meant the child had to learn to deal with it – and this, certainly had to involve that part of the brain dealing with control of emotions]. For Zachary, “words to cope” as provided in my first two books had tremendously helped in this area. One could potentially also, via specialized software, activate the concept of self and language production as children were asked to “repeat” what they heard, etc.
Within the frontal lobe, this left basically only the olfactory cortex [smell] as being inactive while on the computer! Technically, however, via instructions such as “put your hand on your nose and take a deep breath”, I supposed there were ways to stimulate the olfactory cortex also. The fact that “a fan” existed within a computer certainly made the stimulation of the “sense of smell” while at the computer – a possibility. Would it not be possible to generate software that did – actually – make use of smells – smells that could be somehow triggered via software and keyboards and experienced via fans pushing “smells” via the enduser! If we could put a man on the moon, surely we could come up with a way to stimulate the sense of smell while someone was at the computer.
The temporal lobe: auditory processing, memory acquisition, emotion, understanding of language, voice recognition, face recognition, categorization of objects, some visual perception, ability to distinguish between truth and a lie… all these things could be activated within the brain while on the computer.
Within the temporal lobe, this left basically only olfactory processing [smell] as being inactive while on the computer! Note that olfactory functions were found in both the frontal and temporal lobes.
The parietal lobe: somatosensory processing [i.e., virtual reality], spatial processing, visual attention, touch perception, manipulation of objects, goal directed movement, 3 dimensional identification, integration of sensory information that allowed for the understanding of single concepts.
Clearly, pretty well all parietal lobe functions were activated while on the computer!
The occipital lobe: visual processing only
Clearly, the occipital lobe - used for identification of colors, locating objects within one’s environment, ability to recognize words/symbols/drawings, etc. and perception of objects in motion – all these things could be activated while on the computer!
In addition, there could be no doubt that functions residing outside the left and right hemisphere could also be activated while on the computer.
Basal ganglia: involved in the learning of new skills, control of the intensity of mental activity and the sequencing of tasks (conscious/subconscious).
Amygdale: involved in the processing of emotions/perception of emotions in others.
Cerebellum: involved in motor coordination, motor learning, coordination of higher thoughts, emotions and language functions, tracking of moving objects.
Corpus callosum: the bundle of fibers that provided the major “link” between the left and right hemisphere.
Hippocampus: involved in long-term memory formation.
Midbrain: involved in visuomotor functions, visual reflexes, auditory relays, motor coordination.
Pons: Involved in auditory and vestibular functions [virtual reality could impact these].
Thalamus: The gateway or keeper/controller of information, it sent information to specific parts of the cerebrum and controlled information flow to the cerebral cortex (the 4 lobes). Involved in gateway functions between sensory (except olfactory) or motor neurons in the peripheral nervous system (anything outside the brain and spinal cord) and the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord).
Spinal cord: Involved in input-output of sensory information to/from the central nervous system (brain an spinal cord) and the peripheral nervous system (everything else outside the central nervous system).
Although I was not a neurologist, scientist or doctor, surely, there were “other parts” of the brain – parts that were “less known” to the average person such as myself, that would potentially also be activated while on the computer!
Because of all of this, truly, a computer was, in my opinion, absolutely a medical necessity for these children and just as glasses were covered by insurance and replaced potentially every two years, so too did a computer and educational software – especially software that could be developed for the autistic - need to be covered by insurance for these children and replaced immediately upon breakage or after a certain number of years!