Owen’s brain and interpreting his progress…

A question that is constantly on my mind… Neuroplasticity and how it all works…

At the beginning of Owen’s journey with Lissencephaly I was introduced to the word neuroplasticity…. in short to me it meant that certain parts of the brain could act as other parts and help create new pathways to retrain the brain and learn new abilities. I have always understood it as though a healthy part of the brain may take over and start doing the things the damaged part of the brain was meant to do.

The question that I always seem to stumble upon is – what if there isn’t a healthy part of the brain to do this? With someone that may just have a particular part of the brain damaged I can see how this could happen, but then when I think about Owen’s brain and how his WHOLE brain is smooth and the WHOLE brain is double cortex – I have always wondered how this works.

Also I understand in a typical, yet damaged brain the A and B are there and then we just need to create the new pathway to get to B – but with Owen as the B isn’t there in a specialised form…. we don’t really know where we are going in terms of the destination.

Owen’s brain and double cortex – is also referred to as ‘Smashed Brain’

You may remember from a previous blog post that the neurologist that Josipa works closely with, Doc. dr. sc. Hrvoje Hećimović took great interst in seeing Owen’s MRI. So this question that I constantly find myself pondering over – I asked her and wanted her to ask him also… I asked …. How does neuroplacticity work in Owen’s case? When his whole brain is smooth and he has a double cortex … which part is healthy?? And how does he learn??

Josipa asked the question to Doc. dr. sc. Hrvoje Hećimović and then she went on to interpret the answer to me. She explained:


In Owen’s case it is difficult to speak about level of neuroplasticity because the conditions needed for this are sparse. His brain lack fully functional and specialised neurons, such as for motor performance, for sensory information, for perception etc…

In Owen’s case these neurons are not fully specialised for these functions. Most of them are not in the “normal“ area of the brain where they should be. The problem with this is on two levels; 1. Structural and 2. Functional level. The term “double cortex“ is used in neurology because it is about disturbed development of cerebral cortex, and instead of 6 there are 4 levels and the neurons are often intermixed. These neurons (neural cells) appear to be there random without specific order. So how to explain Owen’s progress is not so easy, because we can’t speak only about neuroplasticity because there are smaller numbers of synapsis, or mirror neurons. But in terms on Owen’s MRI scan we could explain with two possible ways of his progress in spite of the lesion.

  1. Neuronal networking which means that certain neural cells recognised something as a particular movement or taking the position (for example, sitting) where Owen felt secure and well balanced and that was the place where he started to dare to use what he knew from before, with rocking the pelvis. In the beginning it was miscommunication between his feet on the floor which still had a lot of influence of plantar grasp and tendency to press not so clear so the legs went to the extension instead to push into the floor so the GRF (ground reaction force) can pass through his calfs without disturbing muscle tone and he could feel himself more connected with the thighs and pelvis especially his with his sitting bones. Then he could put more variations, more rocking, more pushing with the feet, and start to include rotation in the trunk which was hypotonic and for him extra difficult movement of the head on the top of his spine and following with the eyes. This can explain further progress when we put him in more challenging environment like lifting one foot from the floor and slowly landing it without much effort and primitive reactions with the toes. All that can be possibly explained with grouping of neurons who recognised all forms of these elements and like telling them to look you can join these guys (neurons) who already understand that particular task. So networking has started. And we could add more and more variability and complexity because the starting position was easy and he didn’t need to make extra effort to maintain it. Also we can say for use of hands for a support and crossing the middle line and grabbing his knees or feet, exploring how deep is the ground, how far with the hands…
  2. potential explanation can also be in glia cells which are cells that are not neurons but supporting tissue. Lately neuroscientists discovered that they can sometimes act as neurons because they can communicate with brain transmitters. So may be they started to pretend like they are neurons specialised for specific tasks in parallel to neurons.


So I apologise if I have lost you – but I just find this ever so interesting and wanted to share! It just shows Owen’s progress is even MORE amazing as we stumble to actually even explain it properly. The brain is a marvellous thing and even after all these years we still don’t know everything about it. Now I am not naive and I do realise how effected Owen’s brain is and how this effects him but these daily improvements he is making are just so remarkable given with what he is dealing with in the structure and function of his brain.

We dont spend a lot of time focusing on how he has learnt something – we are just so overjoyed that he is learning … but it is nice to sometimes think a little deeper into how the body and brain develops …. something that we all just take for granted.

Our Young Warrior – is literally reaching his own milestones each and everyday!

Thank you to Josipa and Doc. dr. sc. Hrvoje Hećimović for taking the time to explain this all to me!





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One comment

  • Paula McFarlane February 25, 2016   Reply →

    Thanks Taryn..my pea brain struggles to understand it all but I’m up for trying! There are so many “unknowns” with brain function and if anyone is going to make the sky his limit its Owen xx

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