This week, our guest author Megan Kelly is here to share a post about motor planning and CVES™! Megan is an exceptional occupational therapist whose background includes working with children with complex communication needs in an educational life skills setting.
Megan Kelly, Occupational Therapist
Our brains are fascinating. They work in such a way to make us as efficient as possible, and this can be seen in the simplest of daily activities. When I leave the house and jump in my car each morning, it is a process that is fluid, and that can be done using very little cognitive energy. I can easily visualize the steps in my head, since they are pretty much the same every time I do it: I open the door with my left hand, then I flip my purse into the passenger seat. I put my right leg in, duck my head, and slide the rest of my body into the seat while I pull my left foot in and reach for the door to pull it shut. I isolate the key to the engine, and put the key into the ignition without looking. I then quickly turn it to start the car while at the same time reaching back to grab my seat belt to buckle myself in. I turn around to check that the kids are buckled, then slide the car into reverse and back down the driveway. All of these steps are done as I simultaneously rattle off a checklist of things the kids were to bring to school, and argue with my 7-year-old about why he isn’t allowed to wear shorts in 35 degree weather. And so we move on with our day.
Everyone’s cognitive energy is a limited resource. As described by Bruce R. Baker, more cognitive energy is being expended with “controlled processes”, or thinking that requires conscious awareness, than with what he called “automatic processes” , or thinking that does not require conscious awareness. Getting into the car most days is an automatic process, and therefore requires very little cognitive energy. However, controlled processes, such as discussing plans with the children for the day, require more thought and conscious awareness in order to differentiate between what may be in store for a Monday morning vs. a Friday morning. But how does a task become automatic, and therefore “effortless”?
Our neurologic system is an amazing thing. It enables us to take in important information from the environment, translate it into meaningful responses, and then “memorize” effective responses so that they can become a part of our automatic repertoire of motor plans. By creating these motor plans, we are able to reduce the amount of controlled awareness we need to complete a specific task with efficiency. As motor plans are used repeatedly, the cognitive demand of the task decreases, freeing up cognitive energy for other, possibly more important, tasks.
The importance of motor automaticity in our daily lives cannot be underestimated. Getting into the car and starting it up on the way to work is just one simple example of how we get through our day using motor plans that, in most circumstances, require little cognitive energy to complete. Imagine if, every morning, the ignition to the car was located in a different spot. Instead of putting the key into the ignition without needing to think about where to move the key – a very low-level cognitive skill, you would need to use a conscious thought process to start the car. While it seems like that would be a minimal amount of time sacrificed, imagine if no motor plans became automatic to us, if we had no consistent patterns of movement or ingrained habits. Think of how much less productive we would become!
In the educational field, it is becoming common practice to use multi-sensory strategies in order to teach students with a wide range of learning styles. While one student may be a very auditory learner, and benefit from listening to a lecture for instance, another may benefit from visual representations of information that are put up on a power point. Another student may gain the most insight into something through movement, or working on activities with their hands. CVES™ takes this theory of multiple intelligences and multi-sensory learning and integrates it into its system in order to maximize student success in communication. Through using multi-sensory input, motor automaticity can be developed more efficiently and effectively.
CVES™, is a communication system that takes advantage of the brain’s ability to use motor automaticity to make exchange-based communication more efficient and effortless. CVES™ uses a multi-sensory approach, integrating all of a individual’s sensory systems to help her achieve motor automaticity in her communication exchanges just as they would with the more complicated verbal speech. For example, CVES™ provides consistency for the visual system by having the icon imprinted on the foldout, so that the individual can match the icon with the copy on the foldout, keeping the arrangement consistent and organized throughout. Color is also used in order to differentiate the parts of speech to support grammatically correct language development. The use of visual representation also provides a static, consistent representation of information that can help students with correction of language mistakes. Being able to not only see, but manipulate the icons allows for yet another, tactile, manner in which to explore language.
Kinesthetically, students develop a consistent, automatic motor plan for finding certain icons so that conscious thought is not as necessary to find the words he may be looking for. In other systems, presentation of icons is not always maintained in a consistent location, so that students must focus on where to find an icon as opposed to automatically finding the word he is looking for quickly. Additionally, while CVES™ is available in three different language series, with a total of 3 different fold outs in each series, the general arrangement of icons on each foldout is consistent. This means that when a student develops enough competence on a board with fewer icons, he can be advanced to the next board with minimal re-learning of icon locations. He can use the motor memory developed with the previous board and add to it with the more complex language available when more icons are added. Icons are taken from the same place each time, and returned to that place when the student is finished. This provides organization which in turn generates the efficiency we want for students.