Neurological Pruning in Layman's Terms

It is easiest to think of neurological pruning in the same way you would think of pruning a tree. It is a very complex concept that I've spent many hours trying to understand and explain to other people.

It's amazing.

For those parents with an out-of-the box child, it can offer some explanations to why things are the way they are, and why things sometimes seem to change quickly.

Researchers in the past few years have made an amazing discovery that takes place in the brain. It is a process called pruning, axon pruning, or neurological pruning.

They are using thier new understanding to try and explain some of the neurological differences that are present in children with brain-based disorders. It has also been referred to as white matter.

In the Beginning...

In the womb, the brain develops incredibly fast, and it is primed and ready to go with millions of extra neurons.

Shortly before birth, the brain goes through a neurological pruning process and gets rid of matter that is weak or of no use. The end result is a more efficient and effective brain.

The theory then states that if improper pruning takes place, or no pruning takes place, you can end up with a host of neurobiological challenges including ADHD, Sensory Integration Disorders , and Autistic Disorders.

In fact, one of the explanations for severe autism is that pruning never takes place, which causes the brain to be overwhelmed!

How We Pruned

Something almost magical happened with our daughter in the first grade. Until that point, I felt like we were banging our collective heads against a brick wall.

We were doing both occupational and behavioral therapy on a weekly basis. We were practicing strategies at home, but the results were only minimal.

About two months into her first grade year, something happened. She seemed to settle down and “get it.” Things that we struggled through in occupational therapy suddenly clicked.

It was our OT who finally suggested that she was pruning (which is why it is so important to have lots of different people on your team. Different perspectives!)

An Offering of Hope

The good news is that the brain goes through pruning several times throughout the human life span, including several times during childhood and adolescence.

During these times the brain is particularly susceptible to positive interventions. It is a brief window for training the brain.

If, for some reason, your child missed a stage of neurological pruning, there is still a good possibility that it will happen again.