A Season of Gratitude, Part 1
I was lucky enough to spend the first part of my Holiday Season with family this year. I always, except for last year, was able to spend Thanksgiving with loved ones but due to the Covid pandemic, this year was not the big gathering that we have become used to. Nonetheless, my family spent this Thanksgiving with our loved ones.
One of our family members happens to have a son who is just over one year old. He was born with some physical and mental challenges. He was lucky enough to be born in the Boston area where some of the best hospitals and medical schools in the country are located. He was seen and treated by some of the best specialists associated with these prestigious institutions. He now lives in Southern California and has been able to benefit from the doctors and specialists trained at UCLA Medical Center as well as others.
Because of his digestive problems, he had a feeding tube placed at a very early age. The only problem is that he may never learn to feed normally as h never developed his sucking reflex. They are concerned that his brain might not develop properly and he may end up on the autism spectrum.
The parents were in the process of waiting and hoping that he may someday develop the tendency and ability to take food orally. If a child never developed a sucking reflex, hoping he will eventually develop one is not the best strategy. In management terms, this would be called management by hope. From my studies, I made some suggestions.
I reminded the parents that our brain is just like a muscle - you build it by using it. With this child, since he spends most of his day on his back, I made the suggestion that the parents exercise him in a cross-crawl fashion as often as possible throughout the day so that his nervous system develops like a normal child his age. This activity will help to build this child a frontal cortex, right behind the forehead. It is the part of the brain having to do with personality and it is also the part of the brain where speech and the reflex to control the bladder are found.
This “building of the brain” is also true of the sucking reflux and the ability to digest food, so we needed to start a foundation of oral stimulation and response. The sucking reflex should have developed within the womb, so while it will be an uphill battle teaching the brain to elicit a sucking response, it isn't impossible. It has been found that rubbing/massaging the gums (after covering your finger with a finger cot or with latex gloves) can help the development of the sucking reflex. Putting some different tastes on a cloth and putting the cloth on the tongue can also be helpful, for example using different and contrasting flavored suck-cloths to trigger responses like salty, sweet and bitter. These methods will help with the building of the pathways having to do with sucking, taste, etc. These pathways have a lot to do with driving the child’s digestive processes.
I'll continue with some more of my advice in part 2, but I felt so grateful I was able to confidently work with these parents after many years of advanced Neurology training. I know that there are not more than a few health practitioners of any kind who have this knowledge. People live to help others, and in this Season of Gratitude it is nice to be able to share this "brain building advice" that may not have ever been given to them.
I hope that you too can reflect on your 2021 and be proud of how you helped others. Developing children are not the only ones that need ongoing positive stimulation. Surround yourself with things that cultivate gratitude, comfort and good healthy this coming new year and take a moment to reflect on how you can help others.
Stay tuned for more neuro-advice in part 2 coming soon!
Richard Gringeri, DC
The Human Engine Clinic