Thursday, October 3, 2013

Math during a meltdown?

The brain is fascinating. I've spent a lot of time over the past six years trying to understand more about it and how it works. My personal brain works like a plinko game. Ideas bounce and jump, flip and flop, twist and contract. I often have no choice. When my brain finds something to latch onto, it wrestles it to the ground pummeling it into oblivion leaving a soggy mass. For whatever reason, when the motivation behind an action does not make sense, my brain hijacks the facts spinning them until I get it.

As one might imagine, my brain hit the motherload when Genea came.

I can't pretend to understand neurology, not even the tiniest thinnest bit. However, I read a lot and sometimes I find research that might apply to my daughter, even though it was intended for something else. Lots of research being done on PTSD in the military overlaps, for example. This study done by Stanford University was designed to determine the function of the posterior medial cortex (PMC) and the connections it makes.

http://med.stanford.edu/ism/2012/september/parvizi.html

I'll try to summarize (my apologies to the brilliant team at Stanford).

Math cuts off memories.

Yeah, okay, maybe a little more detail.

Actively doing math disconnects the brain from its memories and the energy goes to the area solving the math problem. You can do math OR you can explore your memory but you cannot do both.

The PMC is strongly activated when a person is remembering their past. However, activity in the region is strongly suppressed when the person engages in math.

I took this tidbit and considered it. Memories in traumatized children can occur on a repeating loop, as if they were burned into a pattern.  A child can have difficult memories of past abuse lodged in there. Perceived wrongs, distorted injustices, real wrongs, real injustices. The unfairness of having peanut butter and jelly for lunch when she wanted macaroni and cheese. It's a primal need that's been effected (predictability = safety), but it's the current memory of the unwanted sandwich causing the issue. Doing math tosses up a big brick wall in front of the PMC. It forces out the memory by moving the energy away from the PMC.

(This does not necessarily match up with the research study, I've extrapolated. The experiment subjects were not children or neglected or traumatized. I could well be stone cold wrong. Peruse the link above for all the specifics).

I'd like to point out that the child still has the memories. They've not been eliminated.

So when Genea is having a meltdown, I ask her easy math questions in a soft, calm and pleasant (no matter how I am feeling) voice. If she refuses I can do 2 things. I do a problem wrong. For example, 2+3=4. She may not respond but she knows it is wrong and bada-bing, focusing on math. It's a quirk specific to Genea, she cannot stand something being wrong. She has almost a compulsion to fix it, and so this gets her attention.

The other way is to do simple math, that she understands, near her. She hears it and bada-bing again, focusing on math. Her hypervigilance requires she focus intently on me, so I use it to her advantage. Often she'll scream over any attempts to help her with traditional calming techniques. Counting, breathing, telling her to "be a balloon Genea, be a balloon" (per a crappy-and fired- therapist), she will shriek her toenails off over all of it. Once, when I asked her, "What's 3+3" she screamed back "I know you know what it is!", but then she answered. Sometimes, she can't get to the answer right away, her neurology has become scrambled eggs. I watch her eyeballs vibrate with the effort it takes and give her a minute. It gets her unstuck.

 I can tell you this- the biggest, ugliest tantrums she has can be brought down this way within minutes.

Note, the purpose is NOT to teach her new math or to develop skills in math, or test what she knows in math. It has to be obvious trying to do that would be more frustrating, but I feel compelled to to write it anyway.

You still have to deal with the issue, dig out the current reason for the meltdown and figure out which primal need was offended upon causing the whole thing in the first place. Maybe she is screaming about wanting to play outside in her pajamas, but the real problem is she had a substitute teacher at school. Substitutes are a change and they never know how to be exactly like the regular teacher. What if she didn't know when to send them to lunch? Primal needs- food, safety.  But if you can get her to shift, you won't be trying to talk to her lizard brain with your prefrontal cortex. Math causes a shift.


If you try it, I would love to hear how it goes! Good or otherwise! Or does it sound ridiculous and stupid? Regardless, what's working for us may not work for anyone else. What works for us may not work for us tomorrow! I just like to share when I come across something that helps that I've not heard about before.

17 comments:

  1. I am going to try this ASAP! The only other thing I have found that un-sticks Jon (Seth) from a meltdown is crazy humor. It's like he can't remember what he is so ticked off about if I am being a total goofball. Unfortunately, there is a narrow window of time this works. If he gets too deep into the fit it's a lost cause for humor. I can't wait to try this. I'll let you know how it goes....

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    1. Crazy humor does not work with Genea which sucked, because that was my go-to technique for years! Hope it helps!

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  2. I wish I'd thought of that! I did hear or read about this somewhere and boy, oh, boy - did it make sense! My sweetie LOVES math, and in fact, only yesterday was complaining (yes, complaining) that her math teacher is just having them to stuff with WORDS. "What would you prefer?" the therapist asked. "Big pages of problems." quoth my daughter. Big pages of problems? From my point of view she might as well have said, "Nails scraping on a chalkboard." or "Being tied down in a desert with no water." The very thought of "big pages of problems" will bring on a headache for me....but this child has always settled down to math homework with a sigh of absolute satisfaction, and furthermore always proceeds to do not just the problems assigned but every problem in the problem set, including extra credit. It clearly gives her rest.

    Wish I'd thought of lobbing problems at her when she's dysregulated.... like throwing grenades at the enemy.

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    1. MAth practically gives me a coma, seriously. I've mis-calculated things right on this blog to my huge embarrassment. It would have to be basic addition under #10 to help me out!
      You might have heard about the idea from me before, lol. I've mentioned it on fb and other comments.
      Ha ha, love the image of math grenades!

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  3. I am going to try this. We have meltdowns and I am curious if this would work or not. I will let you know.

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  4. Hey, you. My life got super-crazy just when you started blogging again. But, now I'm all caught up. (Are you reading mine? Did you lose your invitation? Want another? This is as per the blog about where all the bloggers are below.)

    I have heard this about math! We don't have tantrums, but we do have disregulation here. One thing that she loves is doing relfex math--tons and tons of flashcards, basically. It's been a help at school this year.

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    1. well hey! I'd love an invitation, never got one before :)
      Where did you hear about the math trick? I'd noticed Genea responded to numbers or math before, but it was just one of the tricks I used among many.

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    2. Oh, gosh--read about it somewhere sometime. :> Maybe...a book on brain trauma?

      Will resend an invitation to your hotmail. So sorry you never got it! Was missing you and wondering if you'd given up all blog reading.

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  5. Sorry - I am having trouble with my computer today so don't know if you already got this comment. Apologies if this is a duplicate:
    Got to be honest - I did not go and read all the research that you cite in your post. I am a teeny bit lazy and a lot busy so forgive me for just trusting you and trying this on your suggestion. Boring intro to the big Hallelujah heard in our house last night. This absolutely works! I used it on my older daughter twice yesterday (sort of hard to admit publicly that my 7 yr still has major meltdowns even being home almost 4 yrs but I have to do that in order to validate this technique). After she had "broken the fever" of her second meltdown of the day she said to me: "Mommy - I like this math thing - it helps me calm down". Wow! All I can say is thank you. I would never have known about this without your post. I will definitely keep this in my toolkit to use with her in the future.

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    1. YAY YAY YAY! I LOVE IT!
      And btw, Genea is 10 and has been with us 6 years so there is no embarrassment for you here!

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  6. Just a quick follow up and not sure if others have noticed this. I used the same technique on my younger one today and it worked but not as dramatically. And I wonder if maybe that is because she doesn't fall as far or as fast as my older one into her meltdowns so bouncing out of them is just not as "OMG look at what just happened". Whereas my older one falls hard and fast and this technique really has had dramatic results for us so far.

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    1. hmmm, interesting. Is your younger one more or less emotionally healthy than your older child? I haven't actually tried this on my younger typical daughter, and now I am going to.

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  7. Hum - interesting question. I don't know that I have thought about my two in terms of "emotional health". Don't judge me as a bad mom - I am just not particularly introspective about me or anything or anyone - I just turn up and try to muddle through the day. I usually fault myself not them when there is a meltdown - what was the trigger I missed? what could I have done differently? What I would say is that my little one is "sunnier" while my older one is more of a "worrier". They just view the world differently.They both have meltdowns but the older one's are epic while the little one's are more along the lines of what I imagine typical toddler frustration looks like (making assumptions here since neither were ever a "typical toddler" with us having been adopted and dragged from everything they knew and loved at an early age). Sorry for this long comment but bottom line is that even though the triggers may be the same for each eg exhaustion, frustration, hunger, etc - their reactions are different so I just put it down to different personalities rather than a mental health issue. I will have to think about that a bit more. But again just wanted to thank you for alerting me to this tool - it is definitely effective with both of them - just the effects are more muted with one than the other.

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    1. Since you mentioned it, I decided to try it with my bio high-adhd daughter. It brought her down a little, though she refused to participate. The interesting thing is when I stopped, she amped herself right back up again. Genea does not do that. When she has calmed with the math trick, I can talk to her reasonably and work through it.

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  8. Interesting! Our son (adopted 16 months ago at age 8) has nighttime fears. After dark, he needs us to stand outside the bathroom door when he's in there, and he needs us to talk to him to prove we're still there. I don't even remember why, but we quickly got in the habit of throwing out math problems to him. He also quizzes us through the door. I will have to try using this when he's having a meltdown. (Assuming I remain calm enough to remember...)

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    1. that is interesting, huh! I had not thought about a daily use sort of thing like that. I'm gonna think about it now though!

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