A baby is born neurologically immature so the environment can wire the brain to survive based on the details that she/he will need to live. It is important to remember that the brain has a built in-service of survival. That means that sometimes less than optimum behaviors and responses to the world get wired into the brain because that is what the person needs to know, in order to survive. Humans have such a huge capacity for adaptability but really thrive with consistency and predictability. Let me explain.
A baby adapts immediately at birth when she/he leaves the water-filled womb through labor and takes the first breath as an air-breathing being. This is proof that the brain and body have the amazing ability to adapt to its current environment. Another example might be less obvious but just as true as the first. A child might live in a highly stressful environment; lack of food, shelter, love and/or consistent risk to physical and emotional safety. The brain produces excess cortisol in order to manage the anxiety of this environment. At some point, this child/adolescent gets access to alcohol or cigarettes and realizes that the physical response to this “medication” reduces the feelings of toxic stress. A swig of drink or a drag of smoke actually suppresses the feelings of heightened awareness and anxiety. The brain wires in this behavior towards addiction in service of surviving the feelings caused by unbearable stress sometimes called trauma.
We now know that the brain wires up based on the environment that it needs to survive in. A child with a diagnosis of ADHD will undoubtedly walk into a room with a sibling or parent and start an argument. The fuss creates a neurological reaction in the brain of the child. By causing a disturbance, this allows the child to unconsciously produce serotonin in her/his brain, this is the neurochemical needed for calm. The behavior proceeds the delivery of the medication, serotonin, needed to alleviate the symptoms of anxiousness and hyperactivity. This leaves the child calm as a cucumber but everyone else in the room is activated and angry. This is what the child needs to do to survive with ADHD, which is why their behavior is so annoying, but it is necessary for them to adjust for their lack of adequate dopamine. Children with ADHD don’t want to be annoying, but when left untreated they are often forced to “self-medicate” by what I call, “stirring the pot.”
The brain will attempt to survive the most effective way it can, in the environment it’s in. The dysfunction will invite disrupted behavior. So, we look at the behavior as a message and find the meaning behind it. We must understand the importance of the environments; physical and emotional before children arrive to give them a chance to thrive.