Unique learners need your help to calm the chaos they feel in their mind and body. Sometimes the chaos results from their brains and bodies being too excited, and sometimes from not being excited enough. Regardless of the source, unique learners typically don’t know how to regulate their excitement level so it is just right.
Chaos, unfortunately, is often a regular part of a unique learner’s life. As a parent or teacher of a unique learner, it can be hard to relate. What we experience feels normal to us, and it is easy to assume that everyone else has the same experience as we do.
When it comes to unique learners, nothing could be further from the truth. The brain and body of a unique learner is frequently in a state of chaos. This chaos is a result of how their senses are or are not able to process the sensory information coming at them from all sides.
Sensory information blasts us every minute of the day. Our eyes are constantly processing everything around us, even the tiniest details. Our ears literally hear every sound. We are taking in all the smells that surround us and we continually feel our clothes against our skin. There is a huge amount of information that the brain must process.
In a guest post in PsychologyToday.com, Daniel Hass, a neuroscience graduate student at Penn State College of Medicine (at the writing of this article), had this to say:
“With this onslaught of input, how do we manage to not go completely insane? The key is that we pay attention to only a small proportion of that information and throw much of it away. This process is known as selective filtering or selective attention, and most people do it all the time. Imagine watching a movie at a theater. If you’re quite focused on the film, you’re probably not noticing the sound of squeaking seats, crunchy popcorn, or even the air conditioning whirring through the vents.” (See the full article HERE.)
This selective filtering is glitchy in unique learners, some more so than others. The result is chaotic, disorganized thinking, a chaotic release of hormones into the bloodstream, and often, physical symptoms, such as upset stomach, tension in the muscles, nervous, or jumpy, response to what happens around them.
Put Yourself in Your Child’s Shoes
This isn’t a pleasant experience. Imagine that you have had a rough day at work and traffic was terrible. You feel stressed and tired. You are cooking dinner, and your spouse keeps texting you from the grocery store asking if you need this or that. The television is on, too loud, in the next room. You can hear your children bickering over who knows what. Your four-year-old keeps patting your leg over and over, trying to get your attention.
Can you imagine it? Is your blood pressure up? The level of stress that you started with causes your brain to filter less effectively. The noise from the living room might normally go unnoticed. But in this situation, you are probably seconds from losing it. If you don’t do something to calm yourself, you might.
Welcome to the everyday life of a unique learner. This is often how it feels in their brain and body. They are on sensory overload. Their brains simply aren’t good at selective filtering. Add to that problem the reality that they don’t know what to do to calm themselves.
The ability to calm ourselves is called regulation or modulation. (Here is a definition on our website.) The technical language for what happens as a result of regulation or modulation is “coherence”. Coherence is the opposite of chaos. It is the smooth flow of clear mental operations. In simple terms, coherence is just the brain working properly.
Parents and teachers have a responsibility to try to help provide an environment of calmness and coherence, so the unique learner’s brain can work better. Unique learners don’t know how to do this for themselves.
Finding “Just Right”
Modulating, or regulating, coherence can be compared to revving a car engine or adjusting the volume on your smartphone. When thinking of a revving a car or the volume of music, it is easy to imagine too much/too loud, or too little/not loud enough. There is a “just right” level that is perfect.
When the unique learner’s brain is operating at ideal coherence, the car engine “revs” at just the right amount, not too much and not too little. Using different imagery, the music volume is neither too loud nor too quiet.
The level of the music volume or car engine “revving”, also depends on the situation. In a smoothly running coherent brain, the adjustments to different situations occur seamlessly. Being revved up watching a friend’s exciting soccer game may be a fitting level of excitement. Being revved up may not be as appropriate when visiting the public library. The same level of excitement may be helpful in some social circumstances and unhelpful in others.
Your child has a need for balance and proper modulation. Once you begin to view your child’s actions in terms of modulating music either to a higher or lower volume, you can help your child to regulate their behaviors and actions in different environments. You will need to help your child learn how to turn up and turn down their level of excitement (i.e. modulation) to match specific situations.