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Sushama Kirtikar

It weighs a puny 3 pounds and stays in its ivory tower removed from all the hubbub and activity, so to speak. Yet, it is the seat of power and control without which the rest of our functions would become defunct. It is the incredible, improbable brain.

Moving on to the next segment of the wheel of wellness, let us examine our ‘intellectual self.’ A baby is born with billions of nerve cells called neurons in the brain that awake with each electric burst of synaptic activity. Each nerve connection creates new pathways which multiply into a tangled web that is a powerhouse of information. The denser the web, the greater the number of nerve connections, the greater the brain power we possess.

A baby is like a sponge with every sense absorbing information that creates a new pathway in the brain. Therefore, talking, touching, playing and singing to the baby are all important ‘musts.’ You have heard of some parents reading to infants in the crib or playing classical music to toddlers in playpens. Once the process is set in motion it only gains momentum and accelerates at breathtaking speed as the child moves from toddlerhood and adolescence to early adulthood. After that, the sky is the limit … well not even that anymore, as Sunita Williams reminds us with her space walk!

However, what can start to happen in adulthood is a slowing of mental acuity. This tapering of brain power creeps up on us unwittingly like a slithering snake. There is a reason why it is important to stimulate the brain from an early stage and keep it glossed and buffed on a daily basis. To ward off the venom of deceleration it is essential to constantly sharpen the intellect. Is it any wonder that the natural remedy ‘gingko biloba’ floods the market? ‘Brain calisthenics’ and ‘neurobics’ are some of the trendy terms for activating the brain.

Learning feeds the brain and does not have to end with formal education. At any age, learning a new skill, language or computer program will keep us on our toes. Engaging in skill based physical activity sends a steady blood flow to the brain which gives it the nutrients it needs to stay alert. Board games, chess, bridge, scrabble and other strategy based games help hone our cerebral skills. Solving Sudoku or cross word puzzles, joining a Rubik’s cube club or a book club, learning to play an instrument, creating a hobby and engaging in it regularly, serves to nudge our intellect too. Consider reading for 15 minutes a day an RDA (recommended daily allowance) for the health of the brain. It does for the brain what physical exercise does for the body.

The late Dr. Lawrence Katz, a neurobiology professor at Duke University, suggested challenging the brain at work by turning the clock upside down, rearranging the desk, or using your non-dominant hand to do simple tasks. (Right now, I have moved the computer mouse to my left hand and I feel like a clown attempting a tightrope walk.) Thus, the right brain is activated to decode new information. Usually, we operate in ‘auto-pilot’ mode driving the same route to work, or taking the same elevator, or eating lunch at the same place. By varying the venue and eating outside, there is automatic stimulation to the senses, which as we know creates new neural pathways in the brain.

What is this big to-do about keeping our ‘attic’ straightened, dusted and polished? If human beings are blessed with mental faculties that far surpass any other species, then it is our birthright and lifetime responsibility to develop them and keep them sharp. There is personal gratification in having a keener intellect, being able to do certain things moderately well and even excel at some. Kudos and accolades are but secondary gains. They aren’t even the point anyway. We are looking at a sixth of our being and that part has equal claim on our attention as the others. I may go pick up a brain teaser now and tickle those grey cells.

Sushama Kirtikar, a licensed mental health counselor in private practice, can be reached at (813) 264-7114 or e-mail at

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Dr. Ram P. Ramcharran

Your pediatrician has talked to you about getting early intervention services for your child, so you've let your doubts about your his or her development lead you into making a few phone calls about it. You're worried about your child, but you're also concerned that getting help will mean there is something wrong. These five reasons to skip early intervention may be distressing to you, tempting you to just go on and hope for the best. Don't listen. They're bad reasons. Here's why.

1) I don't want to label my child.

The "label" your child gets to qualify for early intervention doesn't go on his "permanent record" – many kids take off from early intervention programs right into regular education preschools and kindergartens. The idea is to label now so that there's no need to label later. Because those labels that come later stick a lot harder. Also, earlier intervention will help with your child’s development.

2) My family thinks it's a bad idea and don’t agree.

Mothers and fathers and in-laws and siblings are always full of advice, but as a parent, the buck stops with you. You spend more time observing your child than anyone, and if you have concerns, they need to be respected – if not by others, then absolutely by yourself. Follow your gut. Also, you or your family isn’t being honest with you because what you see as normal may be mistaken, especially if you are a new parent.

3) My child will catch up on their own.

Maybe, but you're gambling with your child's life here. When your child is 5 years old and still delayed, you're not going to be able to dial things back. Early intervention will do no harm, and may do a great deal to help. Why take a chance when you don't need to?

4) Children need to play and have fun, not do therapy.

Sending your child to early intervention is not like sending him to boot camp. It's fun. Your child will think he's playing as he does things to strengthen his motor skills and gain meaningful language. You'll have fun watching it too, especially if they are making progress.

5) I'll just work with my child myself.

Terrific! Work with your child yourself! There are lots of hours in the day. Doing early intervention doesn't mean doing nothing else. You'll still want and need to work with your child. But chances are the intervention therapists will be able to give you ways to do that much more effectively.

Remember when your child’s pediatrician is giving you advice to seek earlier intervention, especially if you may suspect there is something wrong with your child. Please don’t delay because it will mean the difference in your child’s life.

Dr. Ram P. Ramcharran can be reached at

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