Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Erica Learns More About Herself at a Human Brain Exhibit

Erica, a 2011 graduate from Westport, CT USA, wrote her final report about a learning experience that related directly to her own experience. Her entire educational biography was posted just before this one. It was titled "Special Education Student Triumphs and Graduates."
Dear Peggy,
    As I begin to write my latest and final monthly report, I want to say that even though my education got off to a bumpy start, I am happy to say that all of my high school years have been positive, and filled with wonderful experiences and opportunities. I realize that I most likely would have never had these experiences, had I not been homeschooled.
    One of the recent opportunities that I have been very fortunate to experience was an exhibit on the human brain at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. The exhibit was so informative and enjoyable, and I would love to share with you a few of the things I learned from this exhibit.
   Amazingly, the average human brain has 100,000,000,000 (100 billion) specialized nerve cells, called neurons. These cells swarm inside our brain every time we do something, even if it’s just breathing. Neurons make up the central nervous system, and send signals and messages from the brain out to the rest of the body, and vice-versa. They also send messages to the muscles from the brain, and even distribute signals from one area of the brain to another. Just a single neuron can channel hundreds of these signals per second, so it’s no wonder we can think of and change topics at speeds that make high speed internet seem slow.
   Two main areas of the human brain are the Basal Ganglia and the Cerebellum. While these two areas have numerous roles, the Basal Ganglia plays a major role in motivation, while the Cerebellum is responsible for motor control and movement, like walking or riding a bike. When there is damage to the Basal Ganglia, this can contribute to a lack of self-motivation, and when the Cerebellum is damaged, this can cause issues with movement, equilibrium, posture, and motor learning. This was of particular interest to me since I know someone who not only profoundly lacks self-motivation and interest, but also shows movement issues. Even though I haven’t been told that these areas are indeed the regions that are affected in this person, I always had a feeling that it was due to possible brain damage. By learning the exact brain regions that control these functions of self-motivation, interest & movement, I could understand what parts of this person’s particular brain were quite possibly damaged, and in turn, understand the reason these profound issues are present.
   Learning about the ramifications of Cerebellum damage also caused me to have a major “ah-ha” moment, yet this time, the revelation was about myself. I realized that my Cerebellum was probably one of the areas affected by the Grand-Mal seizures I have suffered. The reason a light bulb went off inside my head, was because I realized that I most likely have a mildly damaged Cerebellum, and that’s probably one reason why I have issues with motor learning, motor planning, regulating my equilibrium, movement and posture. This newfound knowledge helps me have a much better understanding of my disabilities, and myself, in turn making it much easier for me to “be good to myself” (as my physical therapist Mike often advises me). 
   Another fact that was of great interest to me was the relationship of the brain and fat. I never realized that the brain is 60% fat, with DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), a type of Omega-3 fatty acid, being the main fat. Hearing this statistic, one might come to the erroneous conclusion that they need to put their brain on a strict diet to reduce the amount of fat. And yet, while it is important to not have excessive fats in our diets, it is also important to keep healthy amounts of fat (especially DHA) in ones’ diet. There are various health reasons for this, but in this particular case, it is so that the brain can remain healthy and function properly. A lack of fat in the brain can lead to neurological disorders, as well as cognitive decline. On the other end of the spectrum, too much fat and being overweight also affects the brain. Research has shown that when compared to people who are at a healthy weight, overweight people had 4% less brain tissue, while those who were obese had 8% less brain tissue.
   Until this exhibit, I never realized the neurological effects of a well-balanced diet and keeping ones’ body at a healthy weight. Not only was the brain exhibit extremely informative, but it also helped to give me a better appreciation of how my own body works, as well as those of others I know. It helped me to more fully understand the intricate workings of my neurological system, and to have an even greater desire to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle. It also sparked my interest to continue learning about the relationship of the brain and cognitive, emotional and social disabilities, as well as medical advances to help those who suffer from these particular disabilities. I truly believe that my interest in helping those with these kinds of disabilities is fueled by the fact that I know firsthand what it is like to have a disability. I also know God has plans to use me in ministering to others with special needs. I know that the brain exhibit was just one piece of the puzzle in my quest to do just that.


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