Ask the Expert: What is Functional Disconnection Syndrome?


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Mark Goldenberg, DC, DABCN, FACFN, a board-certified chiropractic neurologist who specializes in the treatment of learning disabilities, dyslexia, ADD, and autism spectrum disorders, describes Functional Disconnection Syndrome, as well as some of its symptoms and treatments.

girl writing in notebookWhat is Functional Disconnection Syndrome and how might it manifest in children?

Functional Disconnection Syndrome means that the two hemispheres of the brain are not maturing or communicating equally. One side of the brain is maturing at a different rate than the other, so the two hemispheres of the brain cannot connect and communicate and share information appropriately.

It could cause a range of different types of symptoms because every child is different—it really depends on where the imbalance is. Diagnoses like ADHD, dyslexia, Asperger’s syndrome, autism, OCD, and Tourette’s syndrome are all different symptoms that might manifest. A child could have attention problems, impulsivity problems, negative behaviors, anxiety issues, learning or academic issues where they can’t process information fast enough, reading issues, socialization problems where they could be socially awkward or not pick up on non-verbal cues in their environment or not be able to read people well. It really depends on what side of the brain is maturing at the slower rate, and that will give a good indication of what symptoms the child might be manifesting. So it could run the gamut anywhere from learning disabilities to social disabilities to behavioral disabilities to attention problems.

Here at Brain Balance Achievement Center, every child receives a very comprehensive assessment over a two-day period of time. These disorders don’t really affect just one system—they affect multiple systems in the body—so we do a comprehensive sensory assessment where we look at more than 650 different types of sensory assessments. We look at eye function, visual perception, specific reflexes, auditory processing, timing in the brain, vestibular function, balance, coordination, academic function, cognitive ability, and dietary change. We’re looking at the whole child and trying to get these areas of the brain to start communicating, firing, and wiring together so that the child could be more functionally capable of learning and really have access to parts of their brain.

Once we know where the deficits are and in what side of the brain the deficit is occurring, then we can very specifically go and stimulate those systems to have them start to communicate and grow through a process called neuroplasticity, which is the ability of the brain to grow and improve with appropriate stimulation, especially in children who are going through growth stages.

What are some ways to improve the communication between the two hemispheres of the brain?

The best way to treat a Functional Disconnection is, first of all, to identify where the functional weakness is. Then, you use environmental stimuli—movement, sound, touch, taste, cognitive, academic, and dietary types of stimulation—because the brain responds the best to environmental stimuli. For example, if we see a child who has a weakness in auditory processing, we would do auditory types of stimulation.

The whole idea is getting to the underlying cause, so we do primitive reflex assessments on children. These are reflexes that a baby uses in the beginning of life to get the brain to start to wake up, but once higher-level systems of brain start to develop, these reflexes are shut down. They’re inhibited. As part of a home program, we give parents primitive reflex activities to do to start shutting down those reflexes so the brain can start wiring and firing and growing more maturely.

If we see that a child has a right hemispheric weakness, we might do specific auditory processing exercises, eye reflex exercises, and timing exercises just to the right hemisphere of the brain. So we’re really not treating a symptom, we’re treating the underlying imbalance by stimulating the weaker side of the brain to get both hemispheres to connect and link up. 

A lot of people will ask, “So what do you do for ADHD?” or “What kind of exercises are you going to do to help my son’s dyslexia?” The exercises don’t help dyslexia or help the child focus better. They focus on the imbalance in communication between the two hemispheres of the brain and improve that communication, so now the child is more functionally capable of learning, and with that comes improved attention, improved academics, better socialization, decreased impulsivity, decreased negative behaviors, decreased anxiety, things of that nature.

The exercises are not anything out of the ordinary. They’re pretty common types of activities, but they’re designed to stimulate the brain most efficiently. It’s not that the children have to do these exercises for the rest of their lives. They have to do these exercises for the critical periods of growth phases in the brain.

Mark Goldenberg, DC, DABCN, FACFN, is a board-certified chiropractic neurologist who specializes in the treatment of learning disabilities, dyslexia, ADD, and autism spectrum disorders. Dr. Goldenberg is currently the director of Brain Balance Achievement Center of Norwalk, a center that focuses on Functional Disconnection Syndrome as the cause of various behavioral, academic, and social difficulties.


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