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Functional Disconnection Syndrome

June 12, 2011

In the first chapter of Disconnected Kids, Dr. Melillo explains why he calls the whole collection of learning disabilities by the name Functional Disconnection Syndrome, or FDS. One part of the brain develops late or incompletely and then the rest, especially on the other side, which is farther away, cannot properly connect with it. Later in the book, he explains which difficulties are primarily problems with the delayed development somewhere in the right hemisphere, and which are problems originating on the left. Either way, the disconnection is what makes the problems so intractable because you need to have both hemispheres in constant communication with each other.

Brain disconnection means a disconnection with ourselves, with the world around us, and with the people around us. On pages 7-8, Melillo begins his description of these difficulties.

1)    Children with FDS are disconnected from their bodies and do not have an orderly sense of gravity. They do not sense their relationship with space in a normal manner and they have problems with balance, rhythm, and timing. The physical awkwardness that we see comes from a place that is much more significant than a merely physical handicap would be. They do not sense where they are in the world. We feel something of this disconnection when we are dizzy or weightless, or perhaps when we are slightly drunk; they live with it and their clumsiness is an effort to cope with it.

2)    They are disconnected from their senses: sight, touch, taste, smell, hearing, pressure, and heat — or from some of their senses, because they are unable to process certain sensory information, or unable to do so quickly. Many are unable to process material from several senses at once and that is one reason why they are so easily distracted; they are easily overloaded. Sometimes these children process one sense and not another – they may be almost exclusively auditory learners, or almost exclusively visual learners. Many have a poor sense of smell and need to be trained because the olfactory processing area in the brain is so close to centers of social, emotional, and attention processing.  A poor sense of smell is also associated with immune and digestive problems. Wow! The sense of smell is not just a decoration! It needs to be “educated” if it’s not working right.

3)    Children with FDS are often emotionally disabled. There are mirror neurons in the brain that cause us to mirror the expressions and body language we see in others; this mirroring is how we recognize their feelings. We mirror what we see in subtle muscle tensions and we recognize how we would I be feeling if we were making that face, slouching that way, etc. But if a child cannot properly feel his own space and his own sensations, he cannot get any information by mirroring others’. As a result, emotional messages are not received, emotional exchange does not go well, and isolation deepens.

Is there really a cure

It’s very strange, but the diagnosis of these problems is oddly archaic. It is based on the child’s (or paretns’ or teachers’) answers to a list of questions first composed in the 50’s and updated twice since then. How the questions are asked and how the child understands are huge variables. No wonder some people think the whole thing is a crock.

Even so, the proportions of the epidemic are immense. Autism used to be a 1 in ten-thousand; now it is 1 in 150.  If you add up all the other forms of learning disability, as many as one child in six is likely to suffer from one of them. That would be an epidemic by any reasonable definition.

But getting back to the question of cure: yes, many of the children who have come to a Brain Balance center have gone on to lead completely normal lives, and if they are tested again, their answers to the questions are different and the diagnosis is normal. We are just coming up with various ways to image and measure the brain structures that underlie the whole problem.

Here are some articles from Melillo’s website, including a short testimonial from a homeschooling mother of seven children. There is also  a speech he made at an autism conference in May of this year. Very interesting.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Leta Wilcoxson permalink
    January 10, 2013 2:20 am

    This brings light to so much… I always thought my brother was mildly mentally retarted, or special needs… but this explains his sypmtoms to a tee! I wish my parents would have known how to get treatment for him back in the 60’s. He is now in his 60’s and I don’t know if his medicare would cover any of these treatments… So sad that this knowlege was not available back then.

  2. Anonymous permalink
    October 15, 2013 12:24 pm

    I know there is a lot of talk discrediting this. I think it may be more of an inability for the left and right brain to communicate. i.e, more right or left brain dominate. These exercises just help bridge that divide.

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