Neuroplasticity and the human brain in action

Archive for October, 2013

What We’re Learning at Home, Weeks 11-12

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We have worked for many years now on creating a home that is healthy, and absent of dysfunction. It has taken a lot of time and effort, and much trial and error to figure out how to structure our home life in a way that pleases God and pleases us. We are working to overcome dysfunctional family generational processes. As we’ve moved through the years, charting our own course, I have seen the hand of God. We found for us that it is much simpler to make the big changes needed, when we aren’t tied down to someone else’s education agenda for our kids. Truly it is a daily struggle. We are still far from where we need to be. Nevertheless, I am certain that for now the most likely way for us to attain that healthier reality is to move forward on our present course. Brain Balance has moved us forward in an accelerated way, towards the kind of family we want to be, physically and otherwise. I am so thankful for the way it has helped us to increase our hope. Our kids’ futures have never looked brighter to me.

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I’ve mentioned before that we are homeschoolers. We decided that from August 1st through the end of the program, Brain Balance is our homeschool curriculum. That may seem unconventional or unwise to some of my readers. We subscribe to a number of holistic educational philosophies. We don’t replicate public school environments and learning modes in our home. Utah Code gives homeschoolers a large amount of latitude to determine the specifics of how, when, and what they teach their kids, provided they are receiving instruction in the same subjects that the public schools teach. We are thankful for the way the codes are written, and are active in preserving the God-given right for everyone to oversee their child’s education. One question that comes up is “Why don’t you worry about whether or not your kids are ‘falling behind’ grade level in school subjects?” The answer to that is simple: there are many ways to teach a child in the designated subject areas, none of which prohibit allowing that child to proceed at his own pace. If you teach a child to love learning just for the sake of learning, they will quickly “catch up” with their peers when they are ready.  Research has shown that homeschoolers tend to be at, or slightly behind their peers in the early elementary school age groups, but then jump ahead of many peers around the fifth or sixth grades. My only concern is that they are progressing at their own level, and not standing still. For us there exists a more important objective than academic parity with peers right now.

ed·u·cate

[ej-oo-keyt] ed·u·cat·ed, ed·u·cat·ing.

verb (used with object)
1. to develop the faculties and powers of (a person) by teaching, instruction, or schooling. Synonyms:instruct, school, drill, indoctrinate.
2. to qualify by instruction or training for a particular calling, practice, etc.; train: to educate someone for law.
3. to provide schooling or training for; send to school.
4. to develop or train (the ear, taste, etc.): to educate one’s palate to appreciate fine food.
5. to inform: to educate oneself about the best course of action.

With Dash nearing the end of his three-month program at the Brain Balance Center, I have been reflecting on what we all have learned, and how he and the rest of us have changed for the better. His final assessment on his physical and academic skill levels, will happen later this week, so that report will be coming. What is not found in the progress reports from the center is a record of how he and his siblings have developed in other important areas over these last three months. This growth has been facilitated by the physical changes to our nutrition and environment, but aren’t limited to physical gains. I look at it as a boot camp of sorts, which has been preparing us with the ability to learn (in whatever individual courses are chosen) more effectively and efficiently in future.

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So here is a quick list of important things we have learned, and some of the good things we are seeing. These may seem random, but when taken as a whole, they paint a happy picture of progress for me.

  • We’ve had our iPad since Big B was three. A couple of weeks ago he memorized my passcode for the first time ever, on the first time he watched me punch it in. Now I have to hide it from all of our kids.
  • Dash blew up today at Big B, and was sent to his room. When he rejoined the family, he headed straight outside to mow his half of the lawn without being asked.
  • Freckles mows the lawn super fast now, and does a great job with it.
  • Big B sat quietly and attentively through the whole hour-long Sacrament Meeting a couple of weeks ago. First. Time. Ever.
  • Freckles decided to pick up his Bible yesterday and read through the first ten chapters of Genesis in one sitting. A kid who *hates* reading.
  • Sparkle, Freckles, and Dash have all learned how to create meals for the entire family that are in compliance with our strict diet. Favorites: egg salad lettuce wraps, waffles and breakfast sausage, scrambled eggs with honey lemon tea, honey lemon carrots, steamed broccoli, curry chicken and posho, homemade chili, Brazilian beans and rice, tuna salad on corn chips, sliced apples or pears from our trees with almond butter, carrot bisque, toasted pumpkin seeds.
  • Sparkle, Freckles and Dash have carried out recipe experiments with Mom, in order to find the best treat recipes that are within dietary restrictions. (Brownies, waffles, pancakes, cookies and muffins have each undergone at least five iterations of modifications before arriving upon the perfect formula.)
  • Baby Blues reminds us every day to do our exercises.
  • Baby Blues looks at food labels and pretends to read and tells us whether something is gluten-free or not.
  • All five kids took swimming lessons in the month of September and made huge strides in their progress.
  • We have come to love creating meals together from raw, whole ingredients.
  • Dash has read more classics in the last three months than he has in all of his previous years of life.
  • Sparkle has seen great improvements in her ability to adopt new foods into her diet, including green salads. Another big first!
  • Big B has started singing all of the songs he knows out loud, throughout the day. He remembers the lyrics really well, and has a great singing voice. This is a first for him.
  • Sparkle, Dash and Freckles have all seen improvements since September in the balance, construction and neatness of their handwriting.
  • All of our children are developing healthier physiques and enjoy physical activity more than they did before.
  • Dash just tonight picked up one of his airplane models that has been sitting in his closet. While he used to be overwhelmed with the undertaking, he completed the first model in just a few hours.
  • Baby Blues and Big B have been absorbed for at least a couple of weeks now, with turning anything they can find into a “Beyblade.” The objects vary from  kitchen measuring cups with lemons placed inside them, to halves of stacking balls turned up on ends, and from the glass finials of a curtain rod, to small food storage containers.
  • We have come to enjoy washing our dishes together by hand as a family, since the dishwasher broke in August.
  • All of the kids, — even Sparkle — agreed that instead of going trick-or-treating on Halloween, they wanted to do a Beyblade tournament party with our family, and then watch a Halloween movie, complete with City Cakes Bakery treats that fit within our diet.  Hooray!
  • All of the kids have consistently declined treats at scouting and church events, if they didn’t fit with our diet.
  • Church members have approached us to ask us what they can do to provide treats that our kids can eat. Community support, double yay!

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Yay, we won a scholarship!!

Dear friends, this is a very quick post to say YAY!!!! I put our name in the lottery for Brain Balance scholarships, at the Grand Opening events in South Jordan. Today I found out that we won the lottery for one of the two $1000 scholarships they gave away that day!!!! This is such a blessing, because we didn’t have funds to put Big B through another three months, even though he could benefit greatly by it. This allows for us to put him through another full month of the Brain Balance program, for a total of twelve more sessions. Double YAY!!!

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(Not my Photo)

Grand Opening of South Jordan Center

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Rebecca Smith, Dr. Robert Melillo, and Tammy Bingham

Today I had a short conversation with Dr. Robert Melillo, author of Disconnected Kids, Reconnected Kids, and Autism:The Scientific Truth About Preventing, Diagnosing and Treating Autistic Spectrum Disorders — and What Parents Can Do Now.  I asked him how it all got started. A neurologist by profession, he had been working largely in rehab, and saw the benefits of applying a variety of interventions to help his patients. One obstacle to overcome in moving forward on his course of research was the fact that professionals from a variety of medical fields and therapeutic expertise are not generally inclined toward collaboration with others not of their stripe. But Dr. Melillo knew that to succeed, he needed a team of people to come together,  from all different fields. He was uniquely prepared to meet the challenge, by virtue of his depth of understanding across numerous professional disciplines. He knew as much about nutrition as the nutritionists he recruited. Likewise he knew as much about psychology, and physical and occupational therapy as those therapists did. He possessed the vernacular and understanding needed to reach across professional lines, and inspired cooperation. He brought together a multi-disciplinary team together in one place, and created what became the first Brain Balance center.

From his website, here is a little more info:

One of the most respected specialists in childhood neurological disorders in America, Dr. Robert Melillo has been helping children overcome learning disabilities for over 20 years. His areas of expertise include: autism spectrum disorders, PDD/NOS, ADD/ADHD, OCD, dyslexia, Asperger’s, Tourette’s, bipolar disorder, and other attention, behavioral and learning disorders.
As a clinician for 25 years, a university professor, brain researcher and bestselling author, his cutting-edge research and success with over a thousand children in his private program are what led to the creation of Brain Balance Achievement Centers. Brain Balance Centers are cutting edge supplemental learning centers catering only to children with various learning disabilities. Brain Balance Centers use a multi-modal, hemispheric curriculum focused on addressing the primary issue in most learning disabilities and behavioral disorders which is known as a functional disconnection. Dr Melillo and his research partner Dr Gerry Leisman are considered two of the world’s leading experts and pioneers in the area of functional disconnection and its relationship to neurobehavioral disorders. Since they introduced this concept, functional disconnection has become one the leading theories in the world related to Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia and more. Their work is leading the way toward understanding the underlying nature of these disorders and their causes. Their lab is focused on developing effective treatments for these and other disorders.

At this point we can’t foresee all of the positive effects that this experience at Brain Balance will have on have on the future functioning of our boys. But  we have seen enough to feel a renewed hope for their lives moving forward. Both Dash and Big B had huge issues with ADHD three months ago, but I have seen their symptoms drastically diminish as they’ve participated in this program. I was just delighted to be able to meet this good man in person, and to hear about the trail he [and his research partner, Dr. Leisman have] blazed. I can only conclude that he was the right person, in the right place, and at the right time, to bring the professionals together to help him create this life-changing program.

Here are a few more pictures from the Grand Opening party on Thursday, October 17, 2013. All of our kids had a great time. Dash and Big B didn’t want to get off the rides, they were just too fun.

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Amazing Tips on Baking with Gluten-Free Flours

Just real quick, this is an amazing blog post from the Gluten-free Goddess on how to create a good flour substitute for most baking. I have been experimenting on my own, but this post right here has just saved me a bunch of trial and error. I hope it is helpful to someone else, too.

Gluten-Free Goddess on Creating your own Flour Blend

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Resolution for Improvement, Weeks 9-10

September 2012_Bob Hardy

Fall has Arrived in Utah
(Photo by Bob Hardy, Sept. 2012)

In Week 9, we achieved our lowest home exercise output. Ever. I decided that we needed to make a resolution as a family to work harder at completing all of our daily exercise requirements.

We figured that the BB program has three parts to it: Weekly sessions at the center, Home Nutrition Compliance, and Home Programming Exercises. It could be argued that equally important to home programming is the effort to keep the kids physically trying new things (like swimming lessons, a new sport, stretching their physical limits, etc). But for our family, the most we could do was add in a month of swimming lessons, and to go to the park more often. It has been all we could do, just to focus on getting all the home exercises in. Hence we allotted an entire third in our equation to Home Programming Exercises.

This is what we came up with, in a spur-of-the-moment family meeting, on the last day of September. I made each of us, myself included, take a turn making a verbal commitment to do better. I have since modified our committment to include “I will do my best.” It is proving difficult even now, to get all five sets in. We each placed our right hand on a Book of Mormon in our turn, and repeated:

I promise to do my best to do (or to help others do, in the case of Baby Blues and myself) five sets of exercises every day, for six days a week, between now and October 31st. This action will help our family not waste $XXXX.XX (a third of our BB costs, also representing the portion of Brain Balance that we feel home programming fulfills. The other two portions consist of weekly BB sessions and home nutrition compliance). I make this committment in front of these five (siblings and Mom) witnesses. In return Mom and Dad agree to take the kids swimming or to the zoo at the end of each week, and also make a (Brain Balance diet approved) treat on that same day. And they will let me eat all of my Halloween candy (the volume which will be collected at lower-than-normal levels this year).

Now this may seem like trading one Brain Balance requirement in for another. After all, Home Nutrition Compliance represents an equally solid 30% of the whole program. But we have been really good about nutrition compliance since the start. I figure sacrificing a day or two of candy consumption near the end of the program is a lesser evil than continuing down the path of shoddy Home Programming output.

Since we all made our agreement, we have done much better getting exercises done. We haven’t reached the ideal five per day yet, but we have come much closer, usually at three or four. I am also allowing for kids to add in extra exercises one day if they have missed some the day before, in order to keep their cumulative totals up. Often it is Freckles and Sparkle who are working hardest at this. When I can get Dash to help Big B, it is an exceptionally good day. Big B definitely performs above and beyond, when either Dash or Daddy serve as coach.

In other good news for Week 9, we welcomed a beautiful new cousin to our family. This beautiful girl makes four new cousins for our kids, born since June 2013. Two are girls born in Utah from my side of the family. And a set of twins, a boy and a girl, were born in week four on Daddy’s side, in Texas. All are beautiful babies. Here are the photos from the most recent addition, when we visited my sister and family.

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We love this tiny girl. It has been so long since we held a newborn, we are all enthralled. On this day Daddy came home from work to take all of the kids down to visit their new cousin while I held my monthly classics colloquium group at our house. This month we discussed our summer reading selection, The Count of Monte Cristo. Thank you Sweetie, for helping me take a break from all the BB work to do something I love!

Count of Monte Cristo

(Not my Photo)

Speaking of reading, Dash has continued to pick up new books that never interested him before the Brain Balance program. In weeks 9 and 10, he has read “The Real Story of Indians,” finished “Return of the King,” and surprisingly, read Glenn Beck’s “An Inconvenient Book.” He also picked up a new that book that fits with his interests, and read it entirely: “Greatest War Stories Never Told: 100 Tales from Military History,” by Rick Beyer.

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(Not my Photo)

In Week 10, it was also General Conference weekend for Mormons all over the world. So we spent ten hours listening to talks by all of the Apostles and General Authorities of the church, speaking on all kinds of subjects related to the gospel, and gospel living. We made an exception on daily screen time limits, because it was important to us that our kids attend the sessions with us. All conference sessions were broadcast over the internet, so we were home bodies for most of the weekend. Our kids watched all four sessions like we asked, though admittedly they weren’t super attentive or excited through all of them. Since Dash is a Deacon, he attended a fifth session. After a Brain Balance session at the center on Saturday, Dash and I went on a drive through Draper, and took the scenic route over South Mountain while we listened to one conference session by radio.

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Dash and Daddy on their way to the Priesthood Session of General Conference

All Broadcasts available here.

One of my favorite talks at conference was Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s talk about mental illness. This is a subject that many people, LDS and otherwise, struggle to understand, but which is a common affliction in our times. I felt like it extended validation and encouragement to those with mental illnesses, and those who have loved ones who suffer with it, sometimes for their entire lives.  I highly recommend his talk to anyone.

Deseret News Article on Holland’s “Like a Broken Vessel”.

I have struggled with depression ever since we started having babies, and so I appreciate the encouragement. Fortunately for me, it has only been severe during post-partum times or when a family crisis has occurred. The rest of the time it has been mild to moderate. One of the great blessings of following the Brain Balance program has occurred for me in modifying my diet, as I have mentioned in previous posts. I have found that taking out all of the common allergens and refined foods completely has helped my chemistry to balance out significantly.

Moodiness is still there during PMS times, but to a lesser degree. Also I have found that if I eat at normal intervals during the day, and without the junk, I feel better, and I cope with kids’ demands much more kindly. Conversely, if I allow my blood sugar levels to become too low by not eating regularly during the day, I become moody. As soon as I eat something, I feel better. This last scenario is also common to my kids. If no one has been eating at regular intervals, as happens in our home, no one is in a good mood. You can imagine how exponentially worse this was before, when we were eating junk refined foods, which mess with blood sugar in a big way. This all may be common sense for most of my readers, but unfortunately it has taken me years to cultivate healthy meal planning and providing three square, clean meals a day. Thus the positive effects are exceptionally clear for us at this time, when we are beginning to master clean eating. Tally so far: I’ve lost 15 pounds. Michael has lost at least 20 pounds in my humble opinion, but he isn’t monitoring so it is an educated guess. The kids have lost weight, but don’t continuously lose as we do, thank goodness. 🙂

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