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About the Brain

Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.”

Benjamin Franklin

The words of Ben Franklin are appropriate today when we consider the recovery of children from autism spectrum disorders. 

As parents and professionals, we want to see improvement, achievement and success for our children with autism.  Without proper stimulation of the brain, will our children attain the measureable levels of performance we desire?  

A better understanding of the brain (how it works, how to stimulate it to provoke specific responses) may be needed so that parents and professionals can assist children with autism reach their potential.  

The pages set forth compile information from experts in the fields of medicine, neuroscience, neurofeedback, psychiatry and psychology and hope to open the door of learning to the fascinating world of “The Brain”.  

The Function of the Brain 

The human brain is a complex organ that allows us to: think, move, feel, see, hear, taste, and smell. It controls our body, receives information, analyzes information, and stores information (our memories).  

The brain produces electrical signals, which, together with chemical reactions, let the parts of the body communicate. Nerves send these signals throughout the body. 

The Size of the Human Brain  

The average human brain weighs about 3 pounds (1300-1400 g).  

At birth, the human brain weighs less than a pound (0.78-0.88 pounds or 350-400 g).  As a child grows, the number of cell remains relatively stable, but the cells grow in size and the number of connections increases.  The human brain reaches its full size at about 6 years of age.

The Composition of the Brain

The brain consists of gray matter (40%) and white matter (60%) contained within the skull. Brain cells include neurons and glial cells. 

The brain has three main parts: the cerebrum, the cerebellum, and the brain stem (medulla). 

Nourishment of the Brain 

Although the brain is only 2% of the body’s weight, it uses 20% of the oxygen supply and gets 20% of the blood flow.  Blood vessels (arteries, capillaries, and veins) supply the brain with oxygen and nourishment, and take away wastes.  If brain cells do not get oxygen for 3 to 5 minutes, they begin to die.  

Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) surrounds the brain.  

The Nervous System 

The brain and spinal cord make up the central nervous system (CNS). The brain is connected to the spinal cord, which runs from the neck to the hip area. The spinal cord carries nerve messages between the brain and the body. 

The nerves that connect the CNS to the rest of the body are called the peripheral nervous system. 

The autonomic nervous system controls our life support systems that we do not consciously control, such as breathing, digesting food and blood circulation.

Protection

The cells of the nervous system are quite fragile and need extensive protection from being crushed, being infected by disease organisms, and other harm.  The brain and spinal cord are covered by a tough, translucent membrane, called the dura matter.  Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is a clear, watery liquid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord, and is also found throughout the ventricle (brain cavities and tunnels).  CSF cushions the brain and spinal cord from jolts.  

The cranium (the top of the skull) surrounds and protects the brain.  The spinal cord is surrounded by vertebrae (hollow spinal bones).  Also, some muscles serve to pad and support the spine. 

More subtly, the blood-brain barrier protects the brain from chemical intrusion from the rest of the body.  Blood flowing into the brain is filtered so that many harmful chemicals cannot enter the brain.