Relating Neuroscience to Daily Life
I clearly recall my first day teaching neurophysiology as a doctoral student. I knew the content well, or at least I thought I did, but everything started to crumble a bit as questions came in. Putting the complex into words that are both approachable and accurate is not as simple as it sounds. Fast forward a few years and I had the words, but I was developing my own blind spots—what once seemed complex was now intuitive to me, BUT not to all students. Finding the balance of approachability that passes along our love for neuroscience and digs into deeper topics, necessary for today’s SLPs and AuDs, was part of the purpose of this textbook. —Jerry
Understanding how the brain controls speech, language, swallowing, and other aspects of communication is essential for differential diagnosis and selecting the most appropriate treatments. But neuroanatomy and neurophysiology can be daunting for students. In my program, students refer to the Neuroscience for Communication Disorders course as “anatomy and physiology on steroids.” Most come into the class anxious about the amount of material, as well as the complexity and the difficulty of the material. But, they also come wanting to understand the brain better, how the brain controls speech, language, and other aspects of communication, and what happens to communication when something goes wrong. —Peggy
Relating neuroscience to daily life is one way to make the material accessible to students. Everyone has a nervous system and everyone has life experiences that illustrate nervous system functions. Connections between the vestibular nuclei and brainstem reticular formation become real when they are linked to seasickness and nausea caused by roller coasters. The story of the Gallaudet 11, men recruited by NASA for tests of weightlessness provides additional links. These men had damaged vestibular organs due to spinal meningitis and thus were unable to develop seasickness, making them the ideal candidates for tests that made the NASA astronaut candidates (and those conducting the experiments) sick. (see https://www.nasa.gov/feature/how-11-deaf-menhelped-shape-nasas-human-spaceflight-program)
Of course, not everything is so easily linked to life experiences; the action of neurotransmitters at a synapse is still quite abstract. But links are out there. Botox is widely known as the solution to facial wrinkles by creating weakness or paralysis of muscles (e.g., the frontalis muscle in the forehead). The botulinum toxin in Botox prevents the release of neurotransmitters from a neuron at the neuromuscular junction. Without neurotransmitters, the muscles do not receive the signal that triggers contraction, leaving the muscle unable to move.
A second way of making neuroscience approachable is through clinical cases. Students of speech-language pathology, audiology, and other habilitative/rehabilitative professions are interested in patients and clients and always ask (often to the chagrin of instructors), how course material is relevant to their eventual career. Cases of clients with multiple sclerosis illustrate the importance of myelin to speed up action potentials. When those signals are slowed in affected neurons, cognition is slow, memory can be affected, and motor disorders occur. Comedian Josh Blue, who has cerebral palsy (CP), uses jokes to describe how his CP is mistaken for drunkenness: "My mom's great. She's the only person in the world who can tell when I'm drunk. She's like, 'Josh, are you walking straighter? I heard you come in and put the key right in the door.'" (see https://www.brainandlife.org/articles/laughing-with-him/) These jokes not only add some levity, but also aid in understanding of the cerebellum’s role in coordination and motor control. Strokes affecting different parts of the brain illustrate functional organization. Rare disorders such as akinetopsia (loss of recognition of motion) and alexia with agraphia (difficulty reading with intact writing) highlight how, despite the extensive interconnectedness of the brain, it is still possible to have loss of very specific functions (but only rarely).
So, it comes down to a balance of applications, intriguing topics, and clear illustrations (both metaphorical and literal). We hope our Clinical Neuroscience for Communication Disorders textbook helps you to achieve that balance and connect new generations of future SLPs and AuDs to neuroscience. —Peggy and Jerry