Q. At parent-teacher conference today I was told that my 14-year-old twins have “left-brain deficiency.” It sounds horrible, like a disease or something! Have you heard of this before?
A. Left-brain deficiency is simply a label. It describes (in a negative way in my brain’s opinion) a person whose brain has an innate right-brain energy advantage. I prefer describing things, insofar as it is possible to do so, in a way that is less likely to make a brain feel incomplete or inefficient. Do most individuals who have giftedness in the right hemisphere struggle with details, tasks, and expectations related to left hemisphere functions? Definitely. Is society skewed toward rewarding left hemisphere functions (especially in school)? It appears so.
In the book Disconnected Kids by Dr. Robert Melillo, characteristics of a child with left-brain deficiency may include:
- Tends to procrastinate
- Very good at nonverbal communication
- Is usually well liked by others
- Does not exhibit any behavioral problems in school
- May have poor self-esteem, especially when it comes to academics
- Dislikes doing homework
- Good at social interaction
- Makes good eye contact
- Enjoys being around people
- Is not good at following routines
- Has difficulty following multiple-step directions
- May jump to conclusions
- Generally has a very easy going attitude
- May be difficult to motivate at times
Interestingly enough, when you turn that label around and list characteristics often exhibited by a child with a right-brain advantage, it’s relatively easy to understand how such a child would have difficulty in a typical school setting that emphasizes left-brain functions. Here are just a few characteristics and I’ve included (in parentheses using the Benziger terminology) the probable correlation with the cerebral division that accomplishes the task most easily, Sensory Preference, or Extraversion-Ambiversion-Introversion:
- Visualizes—internal mental picturing—quite easily (Frontal Right)
- Is an intuitive thinker (Frontal Right)
- Is led by feelings (Basal Right)
- Dislikes routines (Basal Left)
- Good at abstract free association (Frontal Right)
- Poor analytical skills (Frontal Left)
- Likes images and patterns (Frontal Right)
- Frequently asks why questions about almost everything (Frontal Right)
- Has poor sense of time (Frontal Left and Basal Left)
- Enjoys touching and feeling actual objects (Kinesthetic preference)
- Has trouble prioritizing (Frontal Left)
- Is unlikely to read instructions before trying something new (Frontal Right)
- Is naturally creative, but needs to work hard to develop full potential (each cerebral division has its own form of creativity but exhibiting that in a left-hemisphere style may be somewhat of an oxymoron)
- Would rather do things instead of observe (Kinesthetic)
- Procrastinates tasks that require large amounts of energy (the brain tends to avoid what it knows require more energy expenditures)
- Can often come up with the answer but has difficulty articulating the steps that the brain went through to do that (Frontal Right)
- Sees the big picture (Frontal Right)
- Has difficulty with details and sequential multiple-step directions (Basal Left)
- Likes variety (Frontal Right and Extraverted brains)
So what do you do?
Identify and affirm your twins for what they do well. Help them to honor and enjoy their brain’s giftedness, recognizing that this differs in some ways from what society in general (and often education in particular) rewards.
Help them understand that the way in which their brains function is not well-aligned with expectations in the typical main-stream school system. They can still be successful!
Avoid negative reinforcement and punishment. Use a “when you do this, you will...” approach, always speaking in a positive style and stimulating the brain with hope. Be patient, be viewed as a resource rather than an enforcer, be consistent, catch them doing what needs to be done, and be warmly affirming.
Avoid just asking “Have you finished such and such?” Rather, look at the project or paper with them. For example, if the teacher requires a research project, sit down with the twins, break the project into small steps, and write each step on a large calendar. When the date rolls around, compare notes with the twins, see what has been accomplished, and help them as necessary. Be sure to offer encouragement and affirmation as each step is completed. Remember that a big-picture brain can find it energy-exhausting to break the big picture down into small steps and usually needs help with that. One of the major hemispheric bridges, the corpus callosum, isn't even myelinated until age 20-21, which can further complicate hemispheric communication. (Think of myelin as the brain's asphalt, which paves the neuron highways.)
Understand that the function of willpower resides in the pre-frontal cortex. That portion of the brain is more or less done somewhere in the mid-20's for many brains. It’s important to begin developing the skills of willpower at their age as long as you remember their brains are not even close to being done as yet. Also remember, that willpower can help persist through to a goal. Willpower rarely works well in helping someone NOT do something (e.g., don’t forget, don’t procrastinate, don’t miss a step). Rather, be very specific in what to do (e.g., remember tomorrow we look at your research project, do this before that, spend 15 minutes on this now).