Neuroplasticity and the human brain in action

Posts tagged ‘Stressed-out Moms’

Seen and Unseen Progress: Dash, Weeks 7-8

I just watched a great news clip on Fox Channel 13 news. It aired just a day ago. Our fabulous Brain Balance Center director, Tammy Bingham, shares more about the Brain Balance Centers in Utah, and what the program entails. Take a look, here. And if you are interested in more about Tammy’s journey with her kids, see her blog, Our Brain Balance Journey. It’s a great read!

brain alight

(Not my Photo)

All that goes on in our brains is unseen to us, but it affects us profoundly. We daily make decisions in our individual lives that affect us for better or for worse. We invest ourselves in those endeavors which we believe will improve our lives either in the short-term or in the long one. The French economist Bastiat understood this well. He published a brilliant essay in 1848, titled: “What is Seen and What is Not Seen.” One need not be an economist to benefit from his insight. He says among other things:

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There is only one difference between a bad economist and a good one: the bad economist confines himself to the visible effect; the good economist takes into account both the effect that can be seen and those effects that must be foreseen.

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Yet this difference is tremendous; for it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the later consequences are disastrous, and vice versa. Whence it follows that the bad economist pursues a small present good that will be followed by a great evil to come, while the good economist pursues a great good to come, at the risk of a small present evil.

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The same thing, of course, is true of health and morals. Often, the sweeter the first fruit of a habit, the more bitter are its later fruits: for example, debauchery, sloth, prodigality. When a man is impressed by the effect that is seen and has not yet learned to discern the effects that are not seen, he indulges in deplorable habits, not only through natural inclination, but deliberately.

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This explains man’s necessarily painful evolution. Ignorance surrounds him at his cradle; therefore, he regulates his acts according to their first consequences, the only ones that, in his infancy, he can see. It is only after a long time that he learns to take account of the others. Two very different masters teach him this lesson: experience and foresight. Experience teaches efficaciously but brutally. It instructs us in all the effects of an act by making us feel them, and we cannot fail to learn eventually, from having been burned ourselves, that fire burns. I should prefer, in so far as possible, to replace this rude teacher with one more gentle: foresight. For that reason I shall investigate the consequences of several economic phenomena, contrasting those that are seen with those that are not seen.

Now many a reader may peruse this quote, and say, “What in the world does this have to do with anything?” After all, I’m not a philosopher, and Brain Balance is certainly not about economics. But in a way, we are all economists, in the sense that we have to make those daily decisions which we believe will bless our lives and those around us the most. All of us base our choices on the real and personal consequences that follow. As fallible human beings, we may get caught up in capturing what we perceive as real, immediate benefits to a course of action, the end of which is seemingly right in front of our eyes. In this position we often act without considering the unseen, but equally real consequences, good or bad, of that course.

perfect apples

Brain Balance always produces good fruit.
(Not my Photo)

In the case of the BB program, we are discussing an investment that always yields good fruit, both in the short-term and  the long-. As mothers of special needs kids, we learn how harsh a teacher experience can be. We try to foresee all obstacles that lay in our child’s path, and seek to remove them. Then we discover that we can’t remove all obstacles for our child, even if they were foreseen well in advance. Eventually they will have to tackle their own obstacles head-on, and we have to allow them the freedom to do that, even if they fall down along the way. In Weeks 7-8, we saw a lot of falling down at home. We struggled to fit in all of the exercise sessions, and our kids watched more Netflix than they should have. But we also saw some amazing progress in between all the meltdowns (some of which were my own tantrums, witnessed by five little people). Here is a little principle that I learned from Carol Tuttle, author of Remembering Wholeness.: As human beings, we tend to discover the secrets of a good and happy life by living out the reality of what we DON’T want. We make endless mistakes, but if we are wise, we choose to stop making the same mistakes, rather allowing them to inform our vision for the future. Then we exert ourselves to take those steps which will move toward that place we envision. When we have determined finally not to return to what we know, and which we don’t want, then we are making real progress.

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Being Realistic Is The Most Common Traveled Road To Mediocrity -Will Smith

(Not my Photo)

This is what we have desperately hoped to do, as we navigate through the Brain Balance program, on many fronts. We have taken a route which, in the short-term has been difficult for the family, in terms of family routine and nutritional changes. Brain Balance demands that we change many things about our lifestyle and schedule all at once, from Day 1. Naturally we are sometimes overwhelmed. But just as a smoker whose lungs immediately clear and gradually heal upon quitting, so have we been rewarded in our physical bodies. Only we didn’t know the extent to which our bodies had suffered under our habitually SAD diet. Only when we actually removed damaging substances did we personally feel the healing effects and recognize how badly it was needed.

free from food addiction

(Not my Photo)

DASH’s HOME PROGRESS:WHAT IS SEEN AND NOT SEEN

He is getting taller! On Sunday of Week 7, we went to visit Grandma’s house, where we got to visit for awhile, and ran into some of my siblings, whom we don’t see that much. One of his uncles who had been away for a number of  months with his work, immediately mentioned that Dash was getting taller. Within a few minutes of Dash entering the room where we grown-ups were chatting, three different people remarked the same. And Freckles too! I’m not sure if they are really growing taller, or if they just look taller because they have been losing the girth around their middles. But we were told by the Brain Balance people to expect that our children could see a period of physical growth, due to the dietary and exercise changes, which I believe we are seeing.

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Baby Blues, Dash, and Freckles: Swimming Lessons

We had all of the kids in swimming lessons this month, three days a week. Dash, Freckles and Sparkle are all making huge strides in their swimming technique, each new session bringing the chance for them to show me some new skill they have acquired in the aquatic realm. I remembered recently that in July when Dash had gone to Scout Camp, and also in months past, his leaders encouraged him to try to do the initial requirements for the swimming merit badge, and each time he tried, he failed. Well after just a week or two of swimming lessons, he went on a scout overnighter, and easily passed off not only the initial requirements, but virtually all of them. This was huge for him, and for us. I am so proud of him! I am also very proud of his sister and brothers, who are not a whit behind him in making great strides with their swimming.

Dash had a singular episode in Week 7 that was alarming at the time. I have since decided it is a sign that he is acquiring greater emotional awareness than he’s ever had before, and one of his BB trainers agrees. It was the night for both Dash and Freckles to go to their respective scout troop meetings. Freckles got out the door OK, but Dash was actually on his bed, and pulled the covers over his head when the appointed hour arrived. With some pushing and impatient words from me, he did get out of bed and come upstairs. But instead of getting ready to go, he laid down on the couch, and buried his head with a pillow. I continued to urge him in strong tones to go get his scout shirt on, and get in the car. I had seen it all before. Usually he relents, and complies with my request for action, albeit grumpily. Today however, no dice. He wasn’t. going. anywhere. I left him there, when it became clear that his mind was absolutely made up.

A few minutes later, I was startled to observe that Dash really did look very distraught about something. Upon further questioning, he mentioned that he was feeling really bad. He didn’t know why, at all. He said, “Mom, I don’t know why, but there are tears filling up in my eyes.” (Said with an inflection of unfamiliarity and surprise.) “I feel really bad, like something big is about to happen, something bad. I don’t understand it.” I asked him what he thought might happen, and he said he didn’t know. Was it something big, or something bad? I asked him. His answer: “Both.” I said, “Have you ever felt like this before?” His answer: “No.” Then he said, “Maybe it’s just puberty starting, Mom, I don’t really know.” In any case, it was an unprecedented display of emotion for Dash, a child who has always had a hard time clueing in to the emotions and inner-worlds of people around him.

emotions flash card

(Not my Photo)

A few days later in Week 8, I made another startling observation about Dash, but this time in a good way. Monday I had a huge Mommy meltdown moment. We came home from swimming lessons and everyone was very hungry, and in the kitchen all at once, looking for lunch supplies. Fighting ensued, because as we all know, too many cooks spoil the broth, am I right? It got pretty intense, and everyone started pushing everyone else, until finally I blew my top.

too many cooks spoil the broth

(Not my Photo)

I was yelling at the kids to leave the kitchen and go to their rooms, because I needed a break! Well it all escalated until everyone was almost in a full-on tantrum. But then the coolest thing happened, which almost makes me happy I melted down. Dash, seeing my obvious state of insanity, started picking up the house and encouraged the kids in a positive tone, to leave me alone and come out of the kitchen. He said something like “Mommy is tired, and we need to listen to her, because she has spent her whole life being our mom.” He alone got the kids to cooperate in exiting the premises. Then when the kids were under control again, he went out and brought all three of our trash cans back to the garage. Another situation which is unprecedented, and which gives me great hope. Either Dash is connecting better with his emotions and those of other people, or my meltdown was so acute and alarming, that it compelled Dash, as the next-oldest person in the vicinity, to re-establish homeostasis!

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Dash in an apron he made in Home Economics unit, Spring 2013

I will end this post with one more observation on Dash, which makes me happy. We decided to take a break in Week 8 from all technology/screens in our house during waking hours for the kids. After a day or two, they stopped asking for screen time, and that is when the real fun began. The kids searched out and found our box of dominoes, and decided to play. Some of the dominoes were missing though, so they couldn’t play a normal game with them. Well Dash, not losing a second, came up with a new game using dominoes that consisted of each person building a tower, and then knocking down each others’ creations in a mock battle. They all played this game for at least a couple or three hours that afternoon. I actually had to take the dominoes away from the big boys, still playing the game, so that they would go to bed.

domino tower

(Not my Photo)

Domino Tower: Not Dash’s but certainly not far off from what he sees in his mind when he builds one. The ability to see what cannot be seen.

I will write another post soon to talk about Big B’s progress, and do a more technical rundown of exercises and improvements, as per the report I received on both boys today.  They have made great improvements in all areas, and in some, it has been exceptional progress. Yay!!! Also, this week we are starting the food challenges. First challenge: Take out all potatoes from our diet for one week, and then add it back in over a four day period, to see if we have any reactions to them. By the middle of November we will have taken out and reintroduced into our diet three more foods too: corn, eggs, and rice. We will know by the end if we have any reactions among our family members to these items. It will be an exciting month!

A Little History

Have you ever seen one of those moms at the grocery store? You know, the harried one. She has tired eyes, and wears old worn-out yoga pants. Her husband’s polo shirt falls well below her generous hips, and her flip-flops plod along resignedly. Her non-descript hair is pulled back in a sloppy ponytail and she wears not a trace of make-up or accessories. She’s got (at least two) loud kids who are so excited to go to the grocery store that they can’t stop clamoring for her to buy this or that, holding up traffic on all sides, while their pleas fall on deaf ears. When she addresses the little cherubs, it is in clipped and stern tones. In Utah, to their credit, people are pretty understanding. We do live in the land of big happy families. But there are times that even the politest of onlookers can’t disguise their irritation or pity as they survey the chaotic space we inhabit. This has been me for many years. I only take the kids to shop with me when I have no other choice. Why? We are a walking circus. My kids are also beautful, funny, irreplaceable treasures in my life. And I love them dearly. But not at the grocery store, not at this phase of our development.

Which brings me to the purpose of this blog. Our development. It’s a vague word, development, defined by many things. One would think I know something about it, since I have an Associate’s degree in Child Study. It might seem unfortunate or lamentable to an outsider that it has taken my husband and I many years to figure out how to address our children’s development issues comprehensively. Our first child was born 13 years ago, and he had issues right from the get go. We didn’t know what was going on with him at the time, but I was absolutely certain that I’d never — in my 27 years of life, and my 15 years of child care giving experience with hundreds of children, normal and atypical — ever known a child who exhibited more continuous physical energy and mental/emotional intensity than this, my firstborn did. Stephen came straight from heaven that way, fiery spirit and old eyes. But I couldn’t figure out why he was different, or explain it to others. We knew for sure he had something going on, when in the first short months of kindergarten he was shutting down emotionally, begging us daily not to make him go back. We decided at the time to ditch public school and homeschool him instead. I’ve never regretted that.

It wasn’t until his younger brother Benjamin came along however, that we started putting the pieces together. By the time we saw that he had developmental issues, we were a decade into raising kids, and American brain researchers had made vital advances toward understanding neurologically atypical children. We have five kids. Stephen (whom I will refer to in this blog as Dash) and Benjamin (Big B) are the first and fourth in the birth order, respectively. Last Fall, when B started kindergarten, I felt a strong sense of deja-vu. By Christmas I seriously doubted my choice to leave him at the school at all. But the school is great, and he loved his teacher. We decided in February that the cost was too high for us to keep the kids in school, and so we returned to schooling at home. Thankfully, the availability of online and conventional education resources and an increase of homeschooling families generally, has made this a Golden Age for alternative education in America. The parallels between Dash and Big B’s issues are striking. However it is clear that B is dealing with a more severe set of developmental challenges than Dash has had. Behaviorally, this last Spring and Summer have been exceptionally difficult for Big B. We became so concerned about him that we decided a fast was in order.

As a  primer here, I should note that we are Mormons. Fasting is a monthly practice for us. On the last Saturday of each month, we reflect on our relationship with God, and begin a ritual that lasts for approximately 24 hours. We finish dinner on this night with a prayer to God that marks the beginning of our fast. We skip the next two meals, and donate the money we’d spend on those meals to the church as a fast offering to help others locally who are in need of assistance. We feel that this practice allows us to lay aside our bodily appetites and focus more intensely on our relationship with Heavenly Father. We decide on a purpose for our fast. And we pray often throughout the day over that purpose. Each person/family’s purpose is different. One month we may fast and pray about a loved one who is struggling. Another time we may ask God’s help with a special challenge we are facing. You get the idea.

In May of this year, we determined that Big B would be the focus of our fasting petitions to God. I longed for clarity over what we should best do to help him. I’d been concerned over his development before, but at this point, his distress had become acute. He was so frustrated with his inability to be still, for example. When it was time for us to sit down and read aloud with the kids from a chapter book, he would cry because he couldn’t sit and listen. It was painful for him to attempt it. A child whose motor never stilled, whose restlessness never relented. This ADHD-like behavior impeded his progress in learning his ABC’s. And he had other issues which baffled me: he couldn’t hold the pencil well enough to write almost at all, even after months of practicing. He seemed always to need sensory input, compulsively reaching under my shirt or his dad’s, to stroke our bellies while sucking his thumb. He seems always to be out of balance physically, leaning on others to help him button a shirt or put on his socks. All of our concerns can’t be listed here, but I knew we needed extra help and guidance to meet his special needs.

Within days after my fast, I began to see my prayers being answered in unmistakeable ways. My neighbor over the fence announced suddenly that she and her family were moving to California within a  month, and would be renting their house for a year. The woman (I’ll call her Leilani) who would be bringing her family from Hawaii to rent the home was an Autism specialist. For many years I wondered if Big B and Dash both suffered from some type of Autism Spectrum disorder, like Aspergers. At the very least, I suspected sensory integration issues which sometimes looked like Autism, from what I could tell. When this woman moved into the home over the fence in early June, we became instant friends. We’ve had numerous conversations about Autism in the context of the symptoms I saw in my kids. At one point I told her something about Dash, I think it was about his ability to “push my buttons” in a conflict. She said that wasn’t an awareness that an Autistic/Aspergers child normally possesses. And for the first time ever, I heard a plausible explanation for B’s odd tummy-stroking behavior. She told me it was definitely a sensory issue, and that he needed an expanded “sensory diet” to be able to help him out. No doctor or professional I had asked, until that point, could give me any insight about why a 6-year-old would exhibit this behavior. I’d get a blank stare at best, and at worst, a suggestion that I just wasn’t “teaching him appropriate boundaries.” This new friendship with Leilani was the first answer to my prayers.

And then almost two weeks ago, I discovered that a new Brain Balance Center had just opened up, literally around the corner in South Jordan, and they were having an informational presentation that very night.  The methodology of these learning centers for developmentally challenged kids is based on Robert Melillo’s theory and research about the two hemispheres of the brain. I had read his book “Disconnected Kids” back in 2009, and found myself nodding in agreement all throughout my reading. It seemed to pinpoint a lot of behaviors I had seen in my family, and explained so much. At that time there were no Brain Balance centers near our home, but I thought to myself, “how wonderful would it be?” Now that a center had presented itself, I asked my husband if he would come with me to the info meeting. I was so relieved when he came, and I saw him nodding his head in unison with me throughout the discussion. The presenter was a mom of three kids, two of them on the Autistic spectrum, who described the continual frustration she’d felt in trying to figure out how to help her kids connect the dots in a variety of situations.

We went home from the presentation fully intending to have Dash and Big B assessed, but had no idea how we would be able to pay for them to participate in the program. But after discussing it at length, and tuning in to how we might pursue this course of action, we began to feel strongly that God had led us to this place, and would provide the way for us to accomplish it. I have to quote a scripture here, which I have come to know absolutely as true in my life. It is from the Book of Mormon, and it is spoken by Nephi, son of Lehi, a prophet that left Jerusalem during the time of Jeremiah:

“And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.”

Now it is clear that our deciding to enroll in the Brain Balance center wouldn’t be seen as a “commandment” from God, in the traditional sense. However, we felt strongly that the Lord had led us to this juncture, and kindly let us know that it was time to act, and to change our course, for Dash and (especially) Big B’s benefit. This being the case, there was nothing to do but say “Ok, let’s do it.” So we proceeded to enroll, found financing, and began. Now after having started, we are seeing on the horizon new ways that we will be able to find the cash to pay off the loan we agreed to. This is another unexpected blessing.

Now this post is already long, so I will stop here and say that on Day 3 now of this intense program, we are all feeling better physically and mentally, due to the daily exercises and diet changes that this program has imposed on our family. I’ll go into more detail in the next post. This is my introduction and explanation for this newly-created blog. I hope to document our entire journey as it happens, so that someone else who may be at the beginning of their own journey will find support and validation. Before I close, here is one more link, belonging to the presenter of whom I spoke, the mother of three. She wisely took up her digital pen, and documented their miraculous journey through the Brain Balance program, and now blesses others in like manner.

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