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.
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.