It has been a while since I blogged about Charlie’s use of his ForBrain. The ForBrain is a piece of Speech and Language kit- it aids Charlie’s listening and speech production by amplifying his voice.
Such a simple premise– hearing your own voice. Why is that helpful? The body uses feedback on itself to provide information about its performance in a constant, dynamic way. When a change is made within the body it reacts to maintain a balance- up vs down, left vs right, high pressure vs low pressure etc. The Audio-Vocal (AV) feedback loop is the ability to hear your own voice; it is important for attention, memory and concentration. This AV feedback is what the ForBrain augments. By ‘gaiting’ (slightly changing the pitch randomly) Charlie’s voice it actively encourages his brain to pay attention to it by making it novel. As he hears his voice he becomes aware of it and can notice the volume, pitch, rhythm and his articulation and can change and adjust it more easily. It also helps a child regulate their own volume as they hear whether they are loud or soft; a child does not come with an in-built volume control, it is learnt with external feedback strengthening the AV feedback loop.
Neuroplastically, this stimulus strengthens the connections and pathways within the brain. As each path is travelled it increases the chances of the link becoming permanent- so as he uses the ForBrain he establishes pathways that may have been damaged and reinforces ‘work arounds’. Each use acts in an additive fashion, building on previous use and temporarily increasing the effect.
Charlie initially wore the ForBrain well but as he grew he became increasingly fidgety and only wore it fleetingly. Now he has grown a little more he has been more willing to sit with it on and perform tasks with it. There are a number of tasks and games we tend to do:
- Singing. An obvious choice- Charlie loves music and songs but is often not particularly tuneful and his articulation tends to be a bit ‘slurry’. When using the ForBrain however he does ‘tighten up’ with his pronunciation and is noticeably more able to change his voice. This has been particularly useful rehearsing for the pre-school play, Charlie is Santa and he is stuck up a chimney so we have practiced singing while wearing the kit.
- Alphabet symbol and sound recognition. We use blocks for Charlie to identify and pick as he phonetically labels the letters telling me examples of words beginning with the letter. As Charlie has a few spacial awareness issues (which tend to be visual) he sometimes mixes up similar letters- using the ForBrain encourages his brain to associate the symbols with sound rather than vision and seems to help him remember the letters more regularly. We tend to build towers with the blocks as he gets them right. We often order the letters and sing the Alphabet as we do it to make the game an auditory task.
- Listening and Instruction Tasks. As the ForBrain is associated with helping develop attention and concentration I also try to use his toys to play games where Charlie has to follow instructions of varying complexity. ‘Can Leonardo take a blue train to the chair?’, ‘Can you put Captain America’s shield next to him?’. We will build up to much more difficult tasks with different stages as we progress. This is an area where I do feel the ForBrain has helped Charlie- he appears to focus much more when using it than without- he also quickly forgets it is there.
As Charlie has aged he has become much more willing and able to use his ForBrain it has become increasingly beneficial. The more regularly it is used is vital for its effectiveness; using it with long periods between will dramatically drop its benefit when not using it. It is a ‘use it or lose it’ principle which develops the brain and that idea is important in therapy- occasional use is helpful but progress will be much slower. Conversely, strong use develops pathways in the brain which become permanent- the phase ‘practice makes perfect’ in this case should read ‘practice makes permanent’.
Overall the ForBrain benefit is obvious; normally it is Charlie’s grandma that notices most- she will regularly ask if he’s been wearing it when he is clear but will also ask if we’ve forgotten to use it often noticing his diction deteriorating. As Charlie’s grandma has a hearing impairment she is well placed to make comment.
The ForBrain is still a relatively new bit of kit but is receiving increasingly good reviews from therapists and parents alike. The fact that it is based on neuroplastic principles is what draws me to it. The fact that Charlie has benefited is brill and we feel that our forays into the wider world of therapy has been so worthwhile.
Xmas 2017 update
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