Are You Falling Asleep or Overloaded?

Some years ago, I had the pleasure of observing a HANDLE (Holistic Approach to Neuro-Development & Learning Efficiency) evaluation done by a HANDLE practitioner, (we will call her Jessica) with Joe, one of the special children that I work with on a regular basis.

Actions Are Words

Jessica proceeded to set up the play area for her evaluation. The first part of the evaluation required Joe to sit down at the table and pick one toy of his liking on the table in front of him. As Joe sat down and looked at the objects in front of him, he began to stare as if he was hypnotized. His eyes looked at Jessica; however, he seemed not to notice her as if she was not even there. As Jessica continued to slowly explain to him what she wanted him to do, he continued to stare. He then slowly slouched over on to the table in order to support his body and finally slid off the chair onto the floor. In a few minutes both Jessica and I heard intense snoring. Joe slept for the next two hours. Our attempts to wake him were unsuccessful. Every time we gently rocked his body or sang into his ear, he pushed us away and fell right back asleep.

Both Jessica and I believe that a child's behavior is his or her language of communication, so we discussed what Joe's behavior was communicating about the way he interacts with the world.

Interpreting Actions

Based on what we both know about the different levels of "arousal" (a state of the nervous system, describing how alert the individual feels), we realized that Joe's system was asleep. His nervous system may be described as being in a state of low arousal. This means that for his brain to stay awake, alert and focused, he must be engaged in a movement activity. Otherwise he falls asleep. He must be "on the go" all the time in order to send signals from his muscle and joints to the brain in order to know that he exists in a physical reality.

Identifying that Joe's system was in a state of low arousal is very significant since that allowed us to design a treatment plan based on his specific needs. The treatment plan is always geared towards helping Joe achieve a level of optimal arousal (getting him into the zone of optimal functioning). This is accomplished through a set of simple exercises.

Tuning Everything to your child’s system

Knowing the level of arousal of the nervous system allows you to choose appropriate exercises for your child. For Joe, we decided to pick movements that would promote alertness (waking up) integration and organization of his brain.

On the other hand, for a child whose nervous system is on high arousal, I would recommend a series of exercises that primarily calms the nervous system as opposed to an alerting one.

Identifying the specific state of the nervous system of your child is one of the foundations from which you can begin helping your child to achieve a state of balance. This understanding can help you figure out simple ways to make everyday activities easier, increase concentration and focus and help maintain a state of calm and ease. Understanding the state of your nervous system will help you a lot too!

If you would like to learn more about the different levels of arousal and how to identify your child's specific needs you may do so by using the book called How Does Your Engine Run? by Mary Sue Williams, OTR/L.