Brain Plasticity – The Means to Re-purpose Skills

Brace yourself: the floodgates of my frustration have been opened today. Last week, I talked about giving processing time: giving time, not a recent societal norm. In the area in which I reside, it appears to me that change is not only not a societal norm, but any attempt to try is met with my favorite display of intelligence (please excuse my sarcasm), “Why would we do it that way? We’ve done it this way for thirty years!, or, “I’ve been teaching this way for thirty years!”

There is conformity and a great amount of grounding in routine. However, when routine becomes the only way after so long, we become stuck. Routine is then a stagnant atrophy. One excellent example and reason for change is obvious in the recent developments in brain plasticity. This recent exploding research has been opening many new doors for those struck with what some consider learning disabilities, various brain trauma, or degenerative diseases. This research indicates that using some creative thinking, we can find different routes to the same location. We can engineer old strengths and create new ones! We can utilize pathways and areas of the brain that once functioned one way, and create a new different way, allowing inhibited or lost skills to flourish differently. The research in development and rehabilitation show us that these possibilities exist. Instead of frustration and closed doors, we can be creative and try new ones. Re-purpose with good chances of success! However, we need to allow time to be a player in the equation, which may be a difficulty for some. We have to magnify what looks small on a general scale, but what is tremendous on an individual one.

Use something a client already has and build on it, or re-purpose the function. For example, when nonverbal children have a need to mouth objects in Music Therapy, I replace the object with a recorder. This accomplishes two purposes: it feeds the sensory need without frustrating the child, and it gives purpose and function to that need. the child can now learn or begin to learn how to control those oral muscles in order to make a sound so they may continue the enjoyable musical interplay. Thirty, fifty, or a hundred years of experience cannot only be extremely useful, but some of the best resources we have, IF the experience is accompanied by openness and willingness to learn more.

The picture in this newsletter is another example. My 150 year old small grand that I have had longer than I have had my kids and has moved with my husband and I 9 times has ended its days and had to be replaced. Few items hold sentimental value for me, but this instrument followed us everywhere. Its means for being had become permanently inhibited. It had been the main instrument in aiding my clients’ development. Remaining open, it is still part of my life and my clients’. It holds their past (their written records) and resources for future development (books and props).

Antoinette Morrison, MT-BC


Steve McCullough


If this is as rowdy as your frustration gets, I think we’ll all be able to deal with it. I enjoy your connection of brain plasticity research to your everyday work with clients. I LOVE what you’ve done with your grand old friend! Thanks for sharing both.


Lois Prislovsky

Well said. And I loved the recorder approach. Smart. As one of my favorite autistic clients wrote, “neurodiversity is more than good its god” as it is beneficial and by design. Thank you for these fresh thoughts on neuroplasticity.

Shell Tzorfas

I so totally agree, stick a recorder in the mouth of ASD kids who would otherwise stick objects in their mouth-like pennies.. One of the reasons they do this is because they have not passed through oral-infant stages even though some might be able to read and write. In my book I call it, “Rebooting the Brain.”


I like that phrase “rebooting the brain”, looks like a read I will have to look at !It appears (One of the reasons they do this is because they have not passed through oral-infant stages even though some might be able to read and write.) that we are thinking along the same lines.

Holly Williams

But we’ve done it this way for 30 years. Love it! The logic of that argument has always eluded me.


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