Imagine that you’ve gotten tickets to see a world-class orchestra. You put on your best tux or dress, shine your shoes, shave your legs, and curl your hair… all the nice stuff you do for an elegant evening out with your significant other. You arrive at the concert hall and make your way to your seat, a sense of diminutive excitement as everyone softly converses while the orchestra warms up their instruments.
The conductor takes his place in front on the rostrum, his baton in hand, ready to guide and lead the musicians through pages of illustrious and sweeping musical adventures. The orchestra is divided into two halves- strings one the left, woodwinds and brass on the right. Percussion is in the back, ready to keep the structure and rhythm upon which the orchestra will build the complex and beautiful music. The baton is raised above the conductor’s head and as he begins to move it, the orchestra begins to play, gently, softly, tenderly pulling your ears toward the harmonious wonder of such talented artists.
Within moments, you realize something is off. “What is that sound”, you furtively ask your husband. “Am I missing something?” He looks at you, eyebrows raised, and nods… “Something doesn’t sound right,” he whispers.
If you were a musical expert with perfect pitch, you would notice that, while every single instrument is present, polished, and tuned perfectly, and every musician is seated and ready to perform, there is a subtle, yet noticeable lack of coordination. The conductor is trying his best to keep his composure, but he is rapidly growing frustrated.
The strings section has a violinist who is a quarter note behind the other violins. There is a flutist who is playing in the wrong key. Half of the brass instruments are a full measure behind the orchestra. Overall, a strong majority of the instruments on the right side of the orchestra are just plain off. They aren’t playing at the same speed as the rest of the orchestra. Sure, there are a few random instruments that are making some mistakes, but the clear and obvious problem is that the right side of the orchestra is just not in rhythm with the rest of the group!
The conductor, losing his ability to remain calm, speeds up the entire orchestra, hoping that the dramatic increase will mask the growing disparity in the sounds being created. The people in the audience are growing impatient. Exchanging looks of irritation and frustration, people are shifting in their seats, expecting more from the obviously gifted musicians. It doesn’t seem to matter; the music still doesn’t sound right. And changing the tempo has thrown off a few of the instruments who weren’t prepared to play faster; they’re growing fatigued.
A few members of the audience leave. The orchestra and the conductor are embarrassed, but they can’t leave. They are forced to keep playing. The show must go on, but no one is happy.
Sounds awful, right? This is precisely what is happening in the brain of a person, child or adult, with any of a range of problems called neurodevelopmental delays, or what we call, a hemispheric imbalance. These problems can range from severe language delays to processing problems to sensory symptoms to attention and focus issues to severe autism-- and everything in between:
In simple terms, when one side of the brain has more individual regions that are not communicating with each other at the same speed as other regions, leading to an overall imbalance in the connection between the two sides of the brain, the “music” that the brain produces is out of synchronization and lacks harmony.
When this happens, the frustration is often as bad for the child (or adult) as it is for the people who are in the audience- usually the parents and teachers. Referring to the orchestra analogy, the speeding up of the conductor is often accomplished through using stimulant medications. In some cases, this works a little or even a lot, but it renders the music as still “off”, even if less obvious than before.
There is something else that happens as well. In the analogy, it's the percussion is in the back of the orchestra. In the brain, the back of the orchestra is the brain stem. This is where the most basic and primitive reflexes originate. Check out more on primitive reflexes HERE. When the function of the brain is imbalanced, the signal coming from the brain stem starts to really interfere with the function, so now, instead of just imbalanced function, you also have impulses that can cause even further disruption to the flow of the the person’s day. Difficulty sitting still, looking back and forth from a Smartboard to the paper, listening to the teacher while other noises are occurring in the classroom. And this list goes on and on. And the more fatigued the strong areas of the brain become while trying to compensate for the slow areas, the more discord is seen in the symptoms of the person with the imbalance.
We have worked with hundreds of kids and families who have had wonderful epiphanies through learning that this simple concept of hemispheric imbalance is the root cause of so many of the problems their child (or spouse) is dealing with. Knowing the cause of the problem is vitally important because it can give one major benefit to struggling moms and dads:
HOPE. If we know where the problem is, we can put a plan in place to start fixing it!
Do you know anyone whose orchestra seems to have some instruments that are lacking synchronization?