FROM MOVEMENT to THOUGHT
“Without movement there cannot be thought”
- Leonard Koziol
Whether child, adolescent, or adult, people usually present for assessment or treatment at the request or demand of someone close to them who has problems with their behavior. Common presenting complaints usually involve problems in relationships at home, school/work, or both. Trouble managing frustration, adapting to changing environmental demands, and tolerating conflict are frequently important parts of the picture. Often, despite a person’s strong desire to change these behaviors, progress is limited. Why? Most assessment and treatment approaches do not consistently address the powerful impact of individual variability in habit formation and sensorimotor development on overall adaptive function or provide compelling explanations for why this is so from a brain perspective.
Neuroscience research has increasingly demonstrated that many (if not most) psychiatric diagnoses are neurodevelopmental in nature. The seeds of many adult diagnoses can often be seen long before someone presents for treatment, and as many disorders feature considerable co-morbidity, this is especially important to keep in mind. How many clinicians have worked with women, for example, who have been repeatedly treated for depression and/or anxiety with limited success until their underlying ADHD symptoms were recognized, diagnosed and treated? How many people on the Autism spectrum have been diagnosed with “Narcissistic” traits and judged for this, or incorrectly viewed as having “no empathy”? These kinds of misattunements with the people we serve have real impact on their quality of life.
The prevailing models that guide understanding of behavior and cognition within most clinical fields such as neuropsychology, psychiatry, neurology, and occupational and physical therapy are largely ‘top down,’ or cortico-centric in nature. While deep brain structures and the cerebellum have evolved alongside cortex, their roles have either been ignored or incorrectly relegated to controlling movement only. These models have also arbitrarily separated “thinking” and “moving.”
However, what if we considered that brains did not evolve to “think,” per se, but to more effectively and independently guide movement for the purpose of survival? For example, many clinicians are familiar with the term “executive function,” and recognize that problems with executive function skills can be a potent roadblock to independent living. However, most conceptions of executive function emphasize “thinking” over “doing.” In contrast, we see thinking and acting as inseparable, and executive function as the functions a person employs to act independently in his/her own best interest as a whole, at any point in time, for the purpose of survival (see Miller, 2008 for more information).
Researcher Elizabeth Torres puts it succinctly:
“When we move around, some of our motions follow a purpose. They are deliberate and intended to accomplish some goals. Others, a large portion of our movements, occur below our conscious awareness. These motions are highly automatic and fast. Over the years we have developed ways to identify these classes of movements and ways to connect them with the corresponding classes of mental processes.
All motions, intended and automatic alike are inherently variable. Regardless of their functionality, no two movements are repeated in exactly the same way. There are random fluctuations across repetitions of the same motion that constitute a form of re-afferent sensory input flowing from the peripheral to the central nervous system. We can harness these micro-motions in connection to cognitive mental processes involved in decision making, planning and other tasks. These patterns of variability have a stochastic signature unique to each person. This signature is non stationary and serves to dynamically track both our rational intentions and our automatic intuitions.” https://sites.google.com/site/blurbaboutmywork/home
Our trainings and publications are aimed at fostering a closer relationship between current developmental neuroscience research and clinical application. Finding ways to frame neurodevelopmental differences in both non-stigmatizing and developmentally appropriate ways can improve quality of life for the people we aim to help in important ways.
For more information about some of our favorite researchers and studies, see our links page.