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Old 08-25-2006, 12:32 PM   #1
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Trying to understand a little more..........

Hi there,

Can anyone shed any light on the different ways in which the brain processes information?

My little boy is four and a half and has a receptive language age of two (just). His conceptual understanding is ahead of that (about three years), whilst his expressive language appears to be far in advance as he memorises phrases from tv programmes and books and uses them in the correct context. I'm just trying to understand how the brain processes the information- if he's using phrases in the correct context then he obviously understands the situation and that the phrase is a suitable response to that situation (for example, I banged my leg today and made it bleed - he said "Are you hurt? Oh, you poor creature. Let me help you" - he's got that from Fern Gully). Yet he doesn't actually have a clue what any of those words mean. If I said to him "Are you hurt" he could answer yes or no, but if I said "Where does it hurt" the 'where' bit would throw him and he wouldn't be able to answer. Do different parts of the brain process visual and auditory information? Is understanding of 'visual' situations different to understanding words? Is there more I can do to help him link things together so he can make more sense of words?

I find it really hard to get my head around!! If anyone can give me any insight before I have to start poring over hideously wordy looking nuerological books I would be very grateful!

Thanks in advance,

Janine

 
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Old 08-26-2006, 08:13 AM   #2
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Re: Trying to understand a little more..........

Yes, different parts of the brain process auditory and visual stimuli and other parts process language itself. This is what makes the brain so incredibly amazing because, in a split second, a person is able to hear, see, and understand things, even though none of it is seemingly connected. Both are individual and quite complex. I will not go into the in-depth neurobiology of this, but just as an overview, I will show how much is involved. (It must be noted that I'm an Aspie neuroscience major, so I'm almost obligated to drone on about this in some way or another... ) The process of seeing requires both the eye and the brain to work together. When light hits the retina, a complex series of reactions occur, involving pigments and photons and proteins changing shape that allow a nerve impulse to be generated to the optic nerve, which is then sent to the brain. There are four lobes of the brain: frontal, occipital, parietal (pah-rye-ah-tal), and temporal. The occipital lobe is responsible for sight, the actual ability for your brain to register the picture that your eye is sending. However, there are many, many more things involved: color, depth, shape, and the complex process of perception. Different areas in the parietal and temporal lobes interpret these things. Without them, the image really wouldn't mean anything. The parietal lobe is what is responsible for visual-spatial abilities and for knowing where the parts of your body are in correlation to the world around you. The fact that you can tell where your left leg is when it's underneath a desk is all thanks to your parietal lobe. Parts of the parietal lobe help someone interpret the depth and proportions of an object. The temporal lobe is usually thought to be related to emotional responses, but it's also highly important with memory and understanding what something is. Parts of the temporal lobe help recognize an object. You may see an image of a cat, but your temporal lobe says, "Hey, that's a cat. I can tell by the ears, fur, and tail." Without this, the cat is just some meaningless picture. The temporal lobe also helps with movement, giving us the idea that we're perfectly still while in a moving vehicle, even though the laws of physics and inertia tell us otherwise. This is just the "simple" act of sight. Now on to hearing. When sound vibrations strike the ear, more complex neurobiological events occur, though not as biochemically complex as the eye. Once sound reaches an organ called the cochlea, a snail-shaped, fluid-filled organ deep within the ear, sound recognition begins. There's an apex and a base to the cochlea, and I believe that high-pitched sounds strike the base and low-pitched ones strike the apex, though this may be switched. Anyway, low-pitched ones take more time to hit the designated spot because they vibrate longer. These vibrations are taken by the auditory nerve to the parts of the brain that decipher pitch, rhythm, speed, etc. This has nothing to do with understanding what a person's saying, just the fact that something is coming out of their mouth, just as if you were hearing a foreign person speak a different language. You'd have no clue what they were saying, just that they were saying something. The process of hearing is much quicker than seeing. Even though seeing is incredibly fast, in biological terms, it's a "slow process." This has to do with the fact that hearing requires less of the complex biochemistry than seeing does. Okay, that being said, I can begin to explain language...
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Old 08-26-2006, 08:31 AM   #3
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Re: Trying to understand a little more..........

There are two parts of the brain responsible for language: Broca's area in the frontal lobe and Wernicke's (Ver-nah-kah) area in the temporal lobe. Broca's area is what most people would think of as "language." It's what enables us to read and write and to understand what is being said to us. Wernicke's area is more of the "behind-the-scenes" interpretation of language, as in memory of objects and comprehensible speech. One can best understand these two areas by looking at what happens in people who have damage to them. Someone who has damage to Broca's area can best be thought of as someone with a stroke to the left hemisphere, and in many cases, a stroke causes the damage. They speak very, very slowly (or not at all) and have trouble coming up with what to say, but they can understand everything that is said to them and still be able to read perfectly. Those with damage to Wernicke's area are more puzzling. They speak fluently, without pauses, but their speech is a jumbled up mess, a "word salad." (People with bipolar disorder talk on-and-on nonsensically while manic, and bipolar disorder has many of its origins in the temporal lobe, probably in Wernicke's area.) They cannot remember names of objects, so they make up their own names. They may see a picture of an apple, know it's an apple, know what the object is used for, but they cannot tell you, "That's an apple." Rather, they'll say, "Oh, that thing is something red and shiny. You eat it, sometimes put it into a pie. It has a core and seeds." They talk around things, rambling. You can probably see many of the autistic similarities here. If I were to guess, I'd say that Broca's area is the part that functions differently in autistic spectrum disorders, as it is used for comprehension. Wernicke's area would have to fill in the gaps for the underused Broca's area, causing memorization of speech- remember that Wernicke's area is in the temporal lobe, and the temporal lobe is responsible for knowing the names of objects. However, this may not be so because the temporal lobe is also responsible for parts of nonverbal communication, such as rhythm, speed, volume, etc. It may be a combination of the two, really. I personally haven't read any articles focusing on the malfunctions of Brocas's and Wernicke's areas in autism. I hope this helped, and if you have any questions, feel free to ask!
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Old 08-26-2006, 07:22 PM   #4
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Re: Trying to understand a little more..........

Gatsby,

That is fascinating! I am also very interested in medical issues, especially the work of the brain.

 
Old 08-29-2006, 09:52 AM   #5
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Re: Trying to understand a little more..........

Dear Gatsby,

Oh my gosh, you may just be the cleverest woman in the world!! What an amazing explanation, thankyou so much for taking the time to type all of that out! I'm going to keep re-reading it as it will take a while for it all to go in, but at least now I am able to understand how some parts of his brain are functioning well and other parts are not, plus it gives me a really good basis to do more research on (and if I could chuck the odd knowledgeable phrase at his patronising paediatrician even better!).

So thankyou - I'll probably pester you with more questions once I've got my head around it! Have you ever thought about writing a little information book about something like that? I've been looking for ages for a parent friendly explanation about how the brain works and haven't found anything that didn't scare the life out of me. You write really well, too - informative without being confusing and your style is really friendly. The fact that you have Asperger's means you know not only how the brain works but what the effects are of ASD, plus you're a great example to all us worried parents about whether or not our kids will do well when they're older! Your parents must be really proud.

Talk again soon!

Thankyou, Janine x

 
Old 08-30-2006, 07:27 AM   #6
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Re: Trying to understand a little more..........

Picali- Thank you so much! Your comments really made me happy. I'm just glad that I was able to help you in some way. I just got my new neuroscience textbook yesterday, so I'll be reading that tonight... Whenever you want to ask something, I'm here!
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