DR. ELISABETH BOUDERLIQUE and DR. BIRGIT DÜRR have specialized in behavioral disorders in children from a neurodevelopmental perspective. In this 2-part series, they were interviewed by PURNIMA RAMAKRISHNA for World Mental Health Day, October 2020.
Q: Welcome Elisabeth and Birgit. Today, mental disorders are among the most common of disabilities. We are seeing an epidemic rise in physical and mental health issues in the last decades and it’s only getting worse. Today we live in a society which impacts our brain’s development negatively in so many ways.
You were both trained by Dr. Robert Melillo from the US. Dr. Melillo is an American chiropractor and researcher who developed the concept of “functional disconnection syndrome.” He has helped thousands of children with various neurological dysfunctions for many years, and his method has been the subject of an independent study done at the psychiatric department of Harvard Medical School.
The study showed that three months of “brain balance” exercises and interactive metronome on children with ADHD had beneficial effects on attention and hyperactivity, and also showed physical effects in the MRT on brain connectivity between the regions involved in the symptomatology of ADHD.
Elisabeth, I would like to know why you ventured into this field of developmental disorders.
EB: After I finished my medical education as an occupational doctor, I gave birth to a daughter, Charlotte, who was born a few days after term with a low birth weight of 2.2 kilos. She grew up following the lowest curve. She was late to sit and she neither crawled nor crept. She walked around eighteen and a half months and was falling a lot. Everyone around me was saying “Don’t worry, every child is different. There is no problem,” but a few months later, Charlotte was labeled with a developmental delay by a neuro-pediatrician. At the age of two she had the development of a nine-month-old child. No reason was given – maybe a lack of oxygen during the last trimester of pregnancy – and nobody had an answer for the delay. Charlotte went through many therapies, such as speech and language, and physiotherapy, but I never saw an impact on her. As a mother and a medical doctor, I was looking for methods that could help her. At some point I had the opportunity to train as a Montessori teacher and I thought it would give her a good educational environment. Charlotte went to different Montessori schools, with the help of an assistant, and later she went to a special needs school. She was very well taken care of, but I was still looking for a way to address the problem at the core, and not just compensate for her difficulties.
When she was thirteen years old, I discovered an institute in Philadelphia and I learned to work with their method with my daughter. It was the first method that addressed the brain, and dealt with lifestyle issues and diet as well. It was an intensive program – I was working six to seven hours a day with her for one and a half years. Then we continued with a home program of three hours a day for another year. Charlotte was making enormous progress in all domains – physical health, speech, sensory – but after some time things stagnated again.
At that point, I met someone who recommended Dr. Melillo’s Disconnected Kids, and that book was a revelation for me. Everything was so logical and I was surprised that such a method was not known in Europe. Dr. Melillo had more than 100 brain balance centers in the US, working with children with learning and behavioral issues. I had the opportunity to take Dr. Melillo’s course in Italy, and was becoming more and more enthusiastic about the concept of brain imbalance and how to correct it. Being a teacher, I was also in contact with many children needing extra help for issues that were not addressed but just compensated. So, two years ago I decided to open a clinic in order to use my knowledge and experience to help other children and their parents. Of course, I continued to help my daughter also.
Q: Thank you so much for sharing your journey, Elisabeth. I hope your daughter is doing much better these days.
EB: Absolutely! But there is still some way to go.
Q: Birgit, what is your interest in this field?
BD: Elisabeth and I have known each other since we were medical students, and we have often spoken about different approaches in medicine. I followed Charlotte’s development over the years and was also confronted with both milder and more severe cases of developmental deficits in my immediate environment. I think we all know families where children have behavioral or learning issues.
After Elisabeth met Dr. Melillo, she called me and said “Birgit, you have to read Dr. Melillo’s book.” What I read made a lot of sense. I was right away able to recognize people around me with brain imbalances, I had always been looking for a simple and effective method, and I saw and still see the huge need, especially for the youth of today. So, after training with Dr. Melillo, I am using his method in my own clinic in Munich.
Q: Could you tell us what is happening in the brain of a child or adult who has difficulties in learning or controlling their behavior?
BD: If I had to answer this question in one sentence I would say that it is a brain imbalance. Dr. Melillo writes, “All of the conditions that adversely affect behavior and learning are related to one problem, an imbalance of electrical activity between areas of the brain, especially between the right and left hemispheres. There is even a name for it: Functional Disconnection.”
Essentially it is a lack of connection, communication and integration between the networks on both sides of the brain. The most common “brain imbalance” occurs between the right and left hemispheres. This lack of integration is usually a result of a developmental imbalance or developmental asynchrony.
When we say developmental, it means that something happened during a baby’s or child’s development which affected the timing of the growth of the right and left hemispheres. The development did not follow its intended timeline. Usually, this starts in the womb. So, when we speak of functional disconnection syndrome, we are not talking about physical damage that affects the brain.
Q: So what is the normal schedule of brain development?
EB: Normally the right hemisphere develops first in utero and during the first three years of life. Then the left hemisphere takes over for the next period of two to three years. Of course, both hemispheres are growing all the time, but during the first three years the right hemisphere is around 20% more active, and responds a little faster to the surrounding stimuli. Then, between three and six years, the left hemisphere is a little more active. At the end of the first six years, both hemispheres will have developed equally in terms of maturity, but differently regarding their functions. As the right and left hemispheres continue to develop in alternating periods of two to three years until young adulthood, that slight difference in functioning will increase, so that each hemisphere becomes more and more specialized.
Now, if something happens to interfere with the development of the brain during these first six years, one side of the brain will be delayed or slowed in its development, which often causes the other side to mature and grow faster. This causes a brain imbalance. As the hemispheres develop, this imbalance becomes more and more pronounced, with one hemisphere behind and the other ahead. This imbalance in growth and maturity then prevents the two sides of the brain from properly integrating.
This result is what we call “unevenness of skills” or “unevenness of functional abilities,” where one side of the brain is advanced, even too strong, relative to the other side, which has skills and functions that are underdeveloped and weaker.
There may be several years of difference between certain functions.
In some cases both sides are delayed, but usually we find one side even more delayed than the other. You have to remember that what we need for optimal functioning is the healthy development of both the right and left hemisphere, with their specialized functions, and that both sides need functional connectivity to be able to communicate with one another properly. Whatever we do, we get optimal results when we use both sides of the brain together. Anything that prevents the brain from integrating will cause problems. This is what is at the root of almost all developmental problems, and almost all mental health issues.
What we need for optimal functioning
is the healthy development of both the right and left hemisphere,
with their specialized functions,
and that both sides need functional connectivity
to be able to communicate with one another properly.
Q: What are some of the issues associated with a brain imbalance?
BD: As the brain is involved in almost all functions of the body, an imbalance in the brain can result in imbalances in every system of the body and in every combination. Each person is different, and each person can have a specific combination of strengths and weaknesses, but there are common features depending on which areas of the brain and which hemisphere are affected, and in what way.
Some diagnoses associated with a brain imbalance are ADHD, autism, dyslexia, OCD, memory and concentration issues, depression, and anxiety. But we also find muscle and sensory imbalances that can cause back pain, headaches or dizziness; hormone imbalances that can affect blood sugar and fat metabolism; and often we find immune imbalances that cause allergies, food sensitivities, and autoimmune issues, as well as chronic infections.
All of these issues have been increasing dramatically, and all can be directly associated with a developmental brain imbalance.
Q: Elisabeth, what are the causes of a brain imbalance?
EB: We now know that the environment plays a greater role than genes in creating a brain imbalance. That is what we call Epigenetics, meaning the influence of the environment on the expression of our genes. Around 85% of our genes are there to build the brain. These genes are normally switched on in the womb, and especially from birth, but if something prevents them from turning on, or if they are delayed in turning on, there will be a delay in growth and development of the brain.
Lack of physical activity, poor diet, stress
and inflammation are the primary factors
that affect brain development and
can lead to imbalances in the brain.
One key process in gene expression is called DNA methylation. When exposed to stress, toxins or negativity, our body produces what we call “methyl molecules.” These molecules can attach themselves to DNA segments and prevent their transcription and translation. They don’t alter the structure of DNA but cover parts of it, so that the protein created will be different at the end. This methylation can turn a gene off at any time during life. So, if environmental exposure methylates a gene in an adult prior to conception, it can be passed on to the child and will interfere with their normal brain development. These epimutations can be passed on through several generations. The good news is that genes in the off-position can be switched on again with intensive training and enrichment of the environment.
The cause of brain imbalances is mainly environmental and lifestyle changes that have arisen during the past decades with advancements in computer technology. Lack of physical activity, poor diet, stress and inflammation are the primary factors that affect brain development and can lead to imbalances in the brain. For example, video games can induce a brain imbalance. The left side of the brain is over activated, automatically shutting down the right side.
here are other risk factors as well, such as an undetected brain imbalance in one or both parents (which is quite common), pollution and chemicals, but it is mostly lifestyle factors that are the root of a brain imbalance. It is the accumulation of risk factors that cause an imbalance in the brain. Physical trauma, head injury or psychological traumas can also cause some disconnection syndrome later on in life, but they are not as common as the imbalance occurring from the beginning of the development of the child.
Q: Is it possible to correct such a brain imbalance?
EB: Because each person has a unique combination of strengths and weaknesses, to correct the problem we have to identify the nature of the imbalances, meaning we find the weaker areas of the brain and then we target them with a specific program of mental and physical exercises, sensory stimulation, lifestyle and behavior modifications, along with a healthy diet.
Adopting simple lifestyle changes, activities and exercises will start changing the brain right away.
To be continued.
Watch the whole interview at https://youtu.be/AvEB65sAHiU
Interviewed by PURNIMA RAMAKRISHNA
Elisabeth Bouderlique and Birgit Dürr
Elisabeth is an occupational medicine specialist, who helps people with neurodevelopmental disorders at her clinic in the south of France. She is also a Montessori classroom director for children aged 3 to 6, and for special needs children. Birgit is a general practitioner from Germany, who also specializes in neurodevelopmental disorders. She has completed diplomas... Read more