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Believing the Brain Can Change

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(Shelley Saban, who is currently participating in the Brain Highways program with her son, is our guest blogger.)

Above average! Quite a difference from his results eight months ago.

Everything I do in life has to be researched   . . .  from buying the best hammock to choosing care for my children.  I ask questions. I search the internet.  I seek referrals.  When I first heard about Brain Highways, I discounted it. I didn’t even research it. That was four years ago.

Back then, I was on a mission to find what was “wrong” with my son.  When he was 4, the school district and behavioral clinic at Children’s Hospital concluded that he had ADHD (the combined type).

I was relieved; I finally had a diagnosis that I could work with. My husband and I immediately decided that we’d go to behavioral counseling to find strategies that would work with our son.  We went for several months and developed numerous behavioral charts—all to no avail. We also went for a year to occupational therapy.

After seeing little improvement, the counselor suggested we medicate. The school suggested we medicate. All roads pointed to medicate.

I wasn’t a big fan of medicating, but I had also heard many stories of children who came to be themselves when the medication worked. However, I had also heard of kids who turned into zombies.

After much debate, we took the plunge and tried stimulant medication. Not one stimulant medication, mind you. No, we had to try about four different ones, at various doses. One medication did make him act like a zombie; another one made him hyper and emotional. But then one medication made him just right, or so we thought.

Over the course of the next six months, we were hooked on the meds. We were afraid to stop them because the rebound effect was so intense.  However, even on the medication, our son was pretty emotional, and he would still have a meltdown if things didn’t go according to schedule. But, at least, he was now manageable.

At the same time, we went to a homoeopathist to try and get our son a remedy that would help ease the side effects of the medication. It seemed to do him some good.

So, that summer we took a trip to Israel and bravely decided to see what it might be like to stop the medication. It was scary because we couldn’t remember what lay beneath.

Well, it turned out my sweet boy was there!  The one who was a crying mess for the past six months was gone. I had my baby back, and I felt so lucky. We continued with the homeopathy since we thought that was still working for him.

My son entered kindergarten with a 504 plan and was doing okay. He was still pretty hyper, but his degree of movement was acceptable for kindergarten. First grade also went without incident. But once he hit second grade, everything seemed to unwind.

Our first parent teacher conference was a terrible one. While the teacher had good intentions, she suggested that he needed medication, noting that she had never seen a child with ADHD as bad as his.

Once again, I spun into action trying to find a cure. I called the psychiatrist that the teacher recommended, who asked for a $3000 retainer for six sessions.  Next, I went to an integrative doctor who did allergy tests on him and discovered that my son is gluten intolerant. Gluten was out.

At that time, I also started paying attention to the ADHD boards and going to the support meetings. It was in an email from those groups that someone mentioned Brain Highways.

I remembered hearing about them four years prior, but were they any good? I wrote to the mother who wrote the email, and she highly recommended it.

When I looked at the website and saw the videos, I started to get excited.  I called my husband over and said, “That’s our son!”  The entertaining videos (who star prior Brain Highways participants) clearly showed the connection between incomplete lower brain development and behavior.  It was as though they were talking about my son!  The resemblance between the behaviors noted in the videos and my son was uncanny.

So, I reserved a spot for one of Brain Highways’ (free) Sunday screening sessions. We decided to take my daughter (who was our perfect angel) along to see what they’d say about her. Turns out she can improve her brain efficiency, too (which is something that probably applies to all of us).

The program seemed interesting enough. I thought that I could definitely make the commitment to go for eight weeks.  How bad could that be? Eight weeks of creeping and crawling and then I’m done? Well, not really.

First, there are two eight-week classes (but that’s it—after that, the parents know how to continue on their own) to learn how to facilitate your child’s brain.  Second, I didn’t quite do the math.  Since it takes the average person 150-300 hours of doing the actual brain work in order to be done, that comes out to more like 10 to 15 months (if figuring chronological time) when doing the work for 30 minutes a day.

Actually, I’m glad I didn’t do the math since, truthfully, I don’t know if I would have enrolled. But my husband and I took a leap of faith, and we thought, “We have nothing to lose. Let’s try it out.”

My son, surprisingly, wasn’t that resistant to creeping and crawling, and he LOVED going to the Brain Highways Center.  I mean, his face just beams when he’s there. I figure it’s because he’s getting all the input his brain needs—and that happens without my son ever having to find his own compensations.

The staff is also amazing; they make the kids feel so confident.  I’ve learned that has a lot to do with the kinds of subconscious messages we send.  The Brain Highways staff really believes that each child is a champion when they walk in the door—even though they don’t have all their highways yet in place.  And so, the kids immediately respond as champions when they’re at the center.

For me, it took six weeks until I saw some minor changes.  Of course, the six week reference is misleading in that my son had only completed about 18 hours of the floor work at that time.

Although I still had doubts, we pressed on.

At Week 7, I responded on a course questionnaire that I didn’t feel I was seeing enough changes to warrant doing the second class.  I was skeptical that I would see many more changes.

However, the day after I answered the questionnaire, I had an IEP meeting at my son’s school.  Unsolicited, the principal told me that she noticed a real change in my son. Specifically, he seemed more present, and he was making much more eye contact. Not only did his teacher agree, but she additionally noted that his body seemed much calmer.  In the past, she would see him flailing in line, but now he was walking in line with the other kids.

So, others were seeing significant changes!  Well, I knew, right then, that I was signing up for the midbrain course.

It didn’t stop there. I also received unsolicited feedback from his soccer carpool, telling me that my son was now much more focused, and he needed little prompting to get ready (which was a great improvement from last season).

Then my brother, who lives in Arizona, came to visit and was floored. He couldn’t believe the changes that he saw. He told me that he couldn’t believe how someone could NOT do Brain Highways. That’s the truth.

So, I’ve come to learn that we, as parents, are often the last to see those first significant changes.  Maybe, it’s similar to not noticing that the person we live with has lost weight, while others immediately “see” it.

After our third month in the Brain Highways program (my son now had done about 40 hours of the brain work), the teacher noted that he was doing much better in class. Yet, he was still having trouble in the pull-out program.

However, by the fourth month of the program (now he’d completed about 55 hours of the brain work), he was successful in every environment in school!

The speech pathologist’s recent report also underscored documented changes in this area, as well. The results significantly differ from when my son was assessed eight months ago (with the same tests).

For example, in the section where he’s evaluated for his interactions with peers and adults, he leaped from “sometimes” (bypassing the next ranking of “usually) to the “almost always” column in just about every area.  In the part of the assessment that ranked his ability to show “consideration for another individual’s personal space,” he catapulted from “rarely” to “almost always.”

Eight months ago, this assessment concluded that my son had social/emotional deficits. But today (with those 55 hours of floor work completed), the current assessment states that my son has social/emotional competence!

It gets better.  The summary of this recent clinical report concluded that my son’s “overall performances on standardized assessments were in the average to above average range” and . . . “at this time, does not qualify for speech and language services.”

And what about the ADHD?  Well, before starting Brain Highways, that clinical report (eight months ago) stated that my son was on task 53% of time. The recent report states he’s on task 97% of the time!

The teacher says he’s like a different person.

But I know he’s not. He is actually the person that he always was. It’s just now, with more highways in place, the world can more easily see who he really is as they finally meet my real son.  That, too, is an underlying theme at Brain Highways.

So, I wanted to share my story because, maybe, if I had read something like this four years ago, I wouldn’t have waited so long to find out more.  I also wanted people to truly process that brain organization is not magic (it’s work, though it can also be fun)—and it does not happen instantly.

But the brain can truly change.  And when it does, it’s almost unbelievable.  Yet, once you’ve experienced this, it becomes an undeniable truth— one you just want to share with everyone, with the hope that more families will discover this reality for themselves.

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