Neuroplasticity and the human brain in action

Posts tagged ‘Utah Family Culture’

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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