Motor-skill activities hold promise of rewiring children's damaged brains
The six-year-old boy plays the game Operation, skillfully wielding a pair of tweezers in a school gym that doubles as a research lab. His brain has been damaged by the alcohol his mother drank when he was in the womb, but he's adept at extracting tiny plastic bones.
“When it gets too easy we will have him switch to his left hand,” says Chris Bertram, a scientist at the University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, B.C., who is investigating whether children with a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or FASD, can rewire their brains by improving their strongest motor skills. Advances in understanding neuroplasticity, or how experience can change the brain, have led to therapies that have helped people who have suffered strokes or traumatic brain injuries learn to speak again or move paralyzed limbs. Now, a growing number of scientists hope the revolution can help children whose brains were damaged by alcohol before they were born.
They are testing different approaches – including computer games and other specialized training – in hopes of helping kids with FASD strengthen connections in their brains and boost their cognitive skills. ......
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