Neuroplasticity and the human brain in action

Posts tagged ‘Homeschool’

Little Blessings and Progress, Days 26-32

Image

 Zenos Frudakis, “Freedom” in Philadelphia, PA
(Not my Photo)

This Frudakis sculpture has always been fascinating to me. I hadn’t thought of it in terms of our current situation until just now. I think that my boys, Dash and Big B, might understand a little bit about what it feels like to be the subject of this sculpture. Confined to a body that doesn’t allow the true self to be expressed. More so for Big B than for Dash, I imagine. But both of them can understand how he feels.

Wordsworth says that “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star, Hath had elsewhere its setting, And cometh from afar: Not in entire forgetfulness, And not in utter nakedness, But trailing clouds of glory do we come From God, who is our home: Heaven lies about us in our infancy!”

images (3)

Thomas Cole, Voyages of Life Series

(Not my Photo)

I suppose that none of us enjoys a perfect expression of our spiritual selves, while traversing our mortal journey. We have forgotten our first home with God, but it must have been a glorious place. I believe that when we are born, we are already perfectly whole spiritual beings, with individual characteristics and personalities already quite defined. We bring much of who we are with us, and that serves to guide us while we are here. But some of us are given physical bodies that limit that expression of our true selves, to varying degrees. As moms, we often feel like it is our duty to seize every opportunity to mold and influence our children for good. This is an honorable impulse. We might even say it is a God-given impulse. We have a clear idea of what our children should be learning and doing at each phase of their lives. A vision, if you will, of what is right and desirable for that child’s development. We trust our intuition, and for the most part it guides us in the right direction. By the way, for a great book on intuition, see this one (cover picture below).

Trust-Your-Intuition-Book-Cover-500

But there is a desire that has permeated my mind for quite some time now, with regards to my kids. Yes I really do want them to be successful and happy. And I have a pretty good idea of what I think that would look like for them. Often it doesn’t match up with what I see from day-to-day. But ever since I sat in a Mom’s Retreat a year ago, and listened to a veteran homeschooling mom, I have paused to consider my ideas. This woman taught us one of the principles that she learned to follow as a mother, and which she clung to in all situations. It became her founding principle of parenting. Here it is. She decided that God knew her kids a whole lot better than she did (and she knew them pretty well).

At one point in their lives, when it seemed like all her kids did was fight all day long, and things just started to get crazy, she decided to pray over it. And she got a specific and unusual answer about how to manage that situation. It was simple too, but she hadn’t come up with it on her own. Any time one of her kids came crying to her about some fight, she asked all involved parties to act out for her what had happened. And then as they acted it out, she stopped and observed for each child in the sequence of events, that he/she could have made the decision to stop fighting. And so they did this exercise over and over, and it helped them stop the fighting. She decided from then on that when she was unsure about a course of action in her parenting, even before consulting a parenting book, or another Mommy friend, she would kneel down and ask God specifically about what to do. Day in and day out, she asked for specific help with decision-making, and she tried to follow whatever that course would be, without questioning it. By choosing to act on those impressions, she continued to receive more guidance, And eventually God had taught her to nurture her kids to become who they were supposed to be. The person that they always were, before they came to her family.

So what does any of this have to do with Brain Balance? Well, I’m starting to see my boys more clearly. I’m starting to get better acquainted with who they are, which we hadn’t been able to see in former times.  I’m figuring out that God does know my kids better than I do, and He will inform our parenting and decision-making, if we will let Him. So I sat down with our BB program director this last Thursday, to discuss Dash and Big B’s one-month progress reports. It was so fun to hear about their triumphs and trials in conquering the physical tasks that they were being asked to perform.

2007_1029Fall20070027
Dash holding Big B at Ft. Worth Zoo, 2007

Big B has made significant improvements with exercises at home. He melts down a lot less, and works hard at completing all of the exercises every day. I wasn’t sure what to expect from his progress report, but I was pretty sure he’d improved a lot, based on what I saw. I wasn’t surprised to hear that his stamina for completing exercises at first was low (just getting him to hold still has been a major trial for his mother in the first six years of his life!). He has shown himself to be resilient though, and very soon he was tolerating all of the tasks and stimuli being given to him. The very first week we brought him, for example, he didn’t even stop to play in the cute playhouse that is in their lobby. He just ran from one end of the room to the other in circles, while he waited for his turn to come.

 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Now a month later, he doesn’t run around the room anymore, but focuses on something to play with. His gains are modest when compared to Dash’s. However, we may appreciate them more enthusiastically. The length he’s had to span to achieve those gains, seem incredible to me. Now for a few specifics on Big B’s progress: He still has much work to do on strengthening his eyes. On all exercises but one, he’s improved. His core muscle strength has improved. He used to have the equivalent of a 3-year-old’s core strength, but now he has that of a 4-and 5-year old, depending on the muscle group. His biggest strides were made in auditory processing. He went from having the audio processing of a 3-year-old to that of a 6-year-old, putting him at his age level. From his coaches: “[Big B] is so much fun to work with!He always works hard in every session. His focus has improved a lot!” From the cognitive coach: “[Big B] always completes every assignment. His listening comprehension is fantastic!”

images (4)

(Not my Photo)

As I sat in the office with the director, I had the advantage of seeing through an observation window that connected to the sensory motor room. I had a good view of Dash’s current session tasks. Just a little visual here: He was walking on a balance beam, with headphones over his ears (transmitting audio input of some kind that he had to filter out, in order to complete his tasks), special glasses on his eyes, the left lens of which transmitted a red flash intermittently (more stimuli for him to filter out), vibrator cuffs on his left ankle and for the first time on his left wrist (both of which vibrated continuously), a sock on his right foot and a bare left foot, and he’s walking along the balance beam, being asked for the first time to toss a small yellow ball up and down while he moves along the beam, first proceeding forward, and then going backward. I was impressed at how well he handled all of that. And he does this type of stuff for half an hour, three times a week.

images (5)

(Not my Photo)

So just a couple of things I remember from Dash’s progress meeting. He is doing really well! In many tasks, where he began at the level of a child much younger than he, great improvements had been made. He’s advanced in varying tasks at a performance level of 1-to-4 years beyond what he was doing a month ago. For example, in one of the visual (eye muscle development tasks, he began at the level of a 10-year-old, and has advanced to his age level, that of a 13-year-old. While his auditory processing is not significantly better than it was a month ago (that of a 10-year-old), his fine motor dexterity has moved from that of a 7-year-old to that of a 9-year-old. In his balance beam skills, he’s advanced from an 8-year-old skill level to that of an 11-year-old. In virtually all areas he’s improved by at least a year or two. From his coaches: “[Dash] is an all-star in the Sensory Motor Room! He is improving in every function. He is talking less and less about ships (one of his favorite subjects, he will teach you all about it if you have an hour). From the cognitive coach: “[Dash] is very creative. His essays are always fantastic. He works hard and fast, and usually completes extra assignments.”

So all in all, it has been a great week. Update on our diet: Still going strong!! Get a load of all the peaches I harvested this week! We have given a bunch away, but we are still working to creatively put away about a third of what you see here. I am steady at six pounds lost. Michael has me beat at ten pounds so far (probably more, but he never weighed himself to get a base line, so we are guessing..). All of our kids have seen their waistlines decrease. This is not good news in the case of Baby Blues, who is already too skinny! So we are working to get more calories into him.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I had a neat experience this week that I forgot to mention. It deserves its own post, but I will just tack it on to the end of this one. On Day 27, I got away to watch a marvelous play with my mom and two of my sisters at the Hale Center Theater. Mom had purchased these tickets months ago, and the day had arrived. I had never seen this play before, so I didn’t know what to expect. It surpassed my expectations. It was roaringly funny, a story about Ethel P.Savage, a wealthy old woman whose greedy children won guardianship over her, and then committed her to a mental institution. Their reason to convince the powers that be of her unfitness of mind? This crazy idea she had, to put all of their late father’s money into a memorial fund, created for the purpose of helping others make their dreams come true. And besides the fact, at a ripe old age, she had taken up acting on a whim, and persisted in the idea that she would be great at it. However, the supervising doctor is far from convinced that she was unfit to manage her own affairs, and spends the duration of the play investigating the question.

The-Curious-Saveage-poster-Hale-Center-Theater-231x300

By the way, we sat on the front row of this little theater. I sat on the very end, an arm’s length away from the actors in different scenes. These hilarious people kept us laughing the entire time! It was a small cast. Most of the characters were mental patients, who became her companions at the institution. Hannibal is a former statistician, who was replaced by an electric calculator, and owns a violin, which he wrongly believes he can play beautifully. Florence Williams, crippled by the loss of her young child to death, carries around a large doll, and mothers it like her son.  Jeffrey was a veteran pilot from the war, at once shot down, and bereft of all his crew members. He believes he has a great scar on one side of his face, which he keeps always hidden from others. Fairy May is a compulsive liar who is obsessed with having others love her. She is unkempt throughout the play, but believes herself to be stunningly beautiful. More on the play here.

1116031_10151775041266355_1840346196_o

Hannibal, Ethel P. Savage, Fairy May

Now here is where the play surprised me, and I found myself unprepared for the overflowing emotions that came over me. Endearing people with all of their eccentricities, I grew to love them as they were. So I wasn’t prepared for the last scene, when Ethel is parting from her newly beloved friends. She loved them so much, she actually considered staying in the institution, because she was happy and needed there. But Doctor Emmett’s wise counsel convinces her that her place was not in an institution such as this:

“Jeffrey sees only what he wants to see—an excuse for not facing the future. Does Florence see that her child was taken from her? Does Fairy see what the mirror should tell her? No. They’ve found refuge in an egg-shell world where you don’t belong. For you see yourself clearly, I’m sure. You belong in the world you can best serve. The impulse to live your life with courage was right. Go ahead with your Memorial. And don’t be betrayed by the illusion of contentment. The door is open for you. Make your peace with loneliness.”

But here is the clincher, which found me during the finale, in the spotlight on the front row, then leaving in tears. As Ethel looks back on her friends one last time before parting, the scene changes. Where Hannibal stood playing his violin with a wildly unstrung bow, now he stands, with a perfect instrument, and he plays it sublimely. Where Fairy May stood, with wild hair and agitating behavior, now stands a wholly beautiful and self-assured young woman. Where Jeffrey sat forlorn at the piano, covering the right side of his face, now he exhibited a straight back as he played a beautiful concert piece (accompanied by Hannibal naturally). Where Florence sat previously perched on a couch, fussing over her doll child, now sat in front of her a perfectly healthy, beautiful young boy, who smiled up at her.

This final character transformation naturally affected me most. In fact I’m sitting here bawling, just recalling the instant the lights illuminated that scene. Here was a concept I understood. Each of us possesses inside of us a perfect, immortal spirit. God made us that way. When we finally return to him, hopefully our time on earth will have blessed and nurtured that spirit, even effected by great trials, instead of breaking us. But as Stephanie Nielson has eloquently expressed, we are not our bodies. Each of us is a soul and body combined. The vision of who my sons really are keeps me going when we struggle to make it through the day-to-day struggles, doing yet another set of exercises. We are making important changes. Our journey towards helping them to step into their authentic selves did not begin and will not end with this Brain Balance experience. But it’s such a blessing to see their progress accelerated. Here is one more link that expresses my feelings about each of my beautiful children.

Incidentally, Dr. Leslie Philipp Weser writes this in the forward to Robert Melillo’s book:  “Reconnected Kids,” something that fits right along with the song above posted:

“In Reconnected Kids, Melillo likens the child’s brain with functional disconnect to a symphony orchestra where the conductor (brain) allows the two sides (left and right hemispheres) to become out of sync with each other. To fix the problem all the instruments need to be broughts back to the correct rhythm, harmony, and key. Simply correcting the violins isn’t enough; the rest of the orchestra needs adjustment as well. Similarly most neurological systems in disharmony require more than one solution to correct imbalances. To address only an auditory or visual processing problem, a nutritional problem, a reading problem, or a dysfunctional family problem alone is not enough. Melillo’s emphasis on correcting the entire orchestra is right on target.”

Happy Labor Day to all!

images (6)

Advertisements

Brain Balance Assessment Epiphanies

th (2)

(Not my photo)

Definition of epiphany (n)

e·piph·a·ny

 [ i píffənee ]
1. sudden realization: a sudden intuitive leap of understanding, especially through an ordinary but striking occurrence
2. appearance of god: the supposed manifestation of a divine being
When a parent first sits down to discuss the results of assessments on her child’s development, emotions are mixed. Regardless of what the conclusions my be, some apprehension is present. In our case, not too much, but a little bit. The person interpreting the results for you has the power to either confirm or deny your long-held suspicions about your child. You ask yourself, am I just imagining it? Are these problems really just a product of my not having parented well? All of the critical voices come to the fore at a time like this, and inform the level of a mom’s anxiety. I am a lucky woman, in the sense that my husband always respects my opinions about how we want to parent, and encourages me to follow my intuition as mom. By the time we brought Dash and Big B to the Brain Balance center, we knew that they were neurologically atypical, in varying degrees. Knowing this, I still found myself quite surprised at what we learned. It didn’t completely floor me, because I knew that God was guiding us along. But still at this juncture, the confirmation of my gut feelings was emotional. Scarcely a week has passed since this meeting, and having begun this intensive program, we feel as if swept up in a powerful whirlwind, which is all-consuming.
ImageDash on his 1st Birthday

ImageBig B, on his 1st Birthday

We learned that Dash has, over the years, developed some pretty good coping mechanisms to compensate for primitive reflexes that he still exhibits. These reflexes normally go away during infancy and toddlerhood, but apparently they can stick around for years on end. I was completely unaware that he has some eye muscle immaturity, which has likely interfered with his schoolwork. I won’t detail the full report here, but just highlight some things. With Dash being a great reader, I never suspected that his eyes were anything but normal. In reality, out of four areas of visual testing (ability to do slow and fast eye movements, light sensitivity, eye stability during head movement, etc.) he consistently had delays of at least two years (the eye development of a 6-10 yr.old). One test showed us exactly where he placed his eyes while reading a designated passage. Those with great reflexes and muscle development track smoothly through written passages. But Dash’s eyes moved not so smoothly, tracking back at points, and his effienciency diminished near the end, as his eyes began to tire.

He and Big B both hear perfectly well, but their processing of sound is delayed. While Dash’s balance and equillibrium were normal, his spatial awareness was that of a 6-yr.old. His core muscle strength was that of a 4-8 yr. old. All this and more helped me to understand my 13-year-old much better. Big B’s assessment was even more enlightening, if that is possible. He still retains all of the primitive reflexes. One of them is less pronounced than the others, but all are contributing to frustration in his current executive functioning. His core strength is that of a 3-year-old. While his auditory perception is that of a teenager, his auditory processing is also that of a 3-year-old. In terms of fine and gross motor development, spatial awareness, balance, rhythm, coordination and equillibrium, he is developmentally 2-years-old.

Big B’s eye muscle and vision tests were possibly the most surprising to me. They revealed that his eye reflexes are non-existent, meaning he can’t look to a point in what should be his peripheral vision without also turning his head in the same direction. The effect of this disability is that he’s suffered with a type of tunnel vision. Not that his eye muscles are defective, only they are poorly developed, as if he were still an infant. This discovery made me instantly both sad and hopeful. Sad, because he has labored with it now for six years, and I had not perceived it. Certainly I have added to his distress by my heretofor unrealistic expectations of him, in more ways than one. Especially regarding academic tasks, I have been humbled. I understand now that to press him to “catch up” academically with his 6-and 7-year-old peers is to ask the impossible of him. He is stuck in the sensory-motor stages of development.

I am also hopeful, because I understand that my 6-year-old’s neuroplasticity at this stage in the game is exceptional. I have seen into the wisdom of homeschooling. I felt that God had guided us formerly, and again recently, to pursue this course for our children. Right now Big B is the most needy, but all of our children are benefitting from the home programming exercises, and I expect to see an acceleration of developmental and academic progress as we move forward. Only in homeschooling circles have I found social and philosophical support for the idea that it is best to allow a child to progress academically at his own pace, even if it stretches into the teens. Without an intervention program like Brain Balance, many children are weighed down by these developmental delays, and they have to labor on the conveyor belt public model, despite their disabilities. The solution to these delays, without such helpful supports, does not happen without the passage of time. With the freedom to pursue improvement at individualized paces, what emotional and mental harm could we prevent! Brain Balance is a remedy to the scenario in which a child takes many years to achieve vital developmental milestones. In the homeschool community have we seen the evidence that children do catch up, even if it takes a long time, when they are allowed the freedom to pursue their course accordingly. But how merciful that programs like Brain Balance and groups like the NACD offer valuable intervention services that accelerate developmental processes for kids and families who struggle to efficiently navigate the journey.

After this lengthy post detailing vital ways the assessments have helped us, I hardly need to say that this service makes my short list of “the best money I’ve ever spent” items. Even if a parent chose only to embrace the assessment, nutrition and home programming element of this program, without the in-person sessions at BB, it would help immensely. This objective insight into a child’s reality can only be helpful in fostering a higher quality of family life. We may yet bring our other three children for assessement, as our circumstances permit. I hope in the mean time to take full advantage of what we have learned, and propel all of us wholeheartedly into the intensity of the program. This blog is sure to be one of the best pressure moderation valves I have available to me, moving forward.

Please share, if you think our journey could be helpful to others.

Tag Cloud