(Shelley Saban, who is currently participating in the Brain Highways program with her son, is our guest blogger.)
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.
Not that long ago words such as texting, apps, and Google weren’t even part of our everyday language. But now, people talk as though such words have always been around.
I recently realized that Brain Highways families and staff also use certain phrases as though they were commonplace. Such references are often linked to what’s actually happening in the brain.
However, those who are not part of the Brain Highways classes probably have no idea what such phrases mean. So, I thought it might be helpful to not only translate our terminology, but to also encourage others to maybe adopt some of these phrases into their vocabulary, as well.
Here are some of our most common Brain Highways phrases:
1. “She’s in her pons right now.”
Translation: People don’t respond logically or with reason when they are “in their pons” (the primitive part of the brain.) Instead, they most likely react with angst or anger or withdrawal. So noting that a person is “in their pons” serves as a signal to wait until that person returns to the cortex before engaging in further interaction.
2. “He’s in his baby brain.”
Translation: This is a variation of saying that someone is “in his pons” since this is the part of the brain that was supposed to develop during the first few months of life (i.e. when we were a baby). Younger kids tend to identify more with references to their “baby brain” than to their pons.
3. “She’s so ponsy.”
Translation: This reference is used when a person reacts more often in her pons than not. In such case, noting that someone is “ponsy” is now describing more of a character trait than noting a temporary state of mind.
4. “I’m really midbrain-stuck that you forgot my birthday.”
Translation: When the midbrain is not fully developed, we often keep dwelling on a thought. So, noting this serves as a signal that someone is having trouble “letting go” of something that happened or something they’d like to happen.
5. “You’ll like how I took care of business today.”
Translation: Taking care of business is a cortex approach where we express our needs, while also remaining cognizant and addressing what others may need in order to reach a solution. Asking for clarification and acknowledging why someone may want something that is conflicting with our personal needs is part of this process.
6. “I don’t think that’s the true problem, so follow the fear.”
Translation: We often make conclusions and decisions without realizing that some level of fear has played a role in our response. So, when we “follow the fear,” we’re exploring that connection.
7. “I’m going to shine the spotlight on myself because I did forget to tell you about our refund policy.”
Translation: When we “shine the spotlight,” that’s where we look in terms of who’s accepting responsibility. Moreover, if we’re hoping to move forward on something, we soon realize that if we shine the spotlight on ourselves (i.e. What can I do to change the situation?), we’re more likely to bring about a positive change, rather than if we just hope and wait for someone else to do something.
8. “When I heard that my son’s teacher left a message to call, I caught myself time traveling.”
Translation: As soon as we start to think about whatever happened in the past or begin to worry about what may happen in the future, we’ve left the present and are now . . . time traveling.
9. “As soon as I realized that I was time traveling, I told myself to drop the story.”
Translation: Since we cannot change whatever story we’re recalling from the past, and we can’t really know if the story we’re creating about the future will even happen, such thoughts only distract us from the present situation. So, “dropping the story” is a quick reminder of that.
10. “I’m going to slip-n-slide that thought.”
Translation: While we don’t have control over what others say to us, we can decide whether we allow negative thoughts to enter our brain. To avoid that from happening, we can visualize a slip-n-slide running across our forehead. Then, as soon as we hear something we don’t want going in our brain, we can just “slip-n-slide” that thought.
11. “I wrapped a lot of myelin today.”
Translation: Myelination is a term that describes the process of forming a myelin sheath around a nerve to allow nerve impulses to move more quickly. We actually wrap the most myelin when we’re learning something new, working at our edge, and when we make mistakes (if we learn from them). So references to “wrapping a lot of myelin” mean we’ve been learning new information or can be something we say before telling someone how we messed up.
12. “I think you’re playing an old tape.”
Translation: Our subconscious is a storehouse of all memories. So, when something negative happens in the present, this can trigger a memory of a prior, similar bad experience. In such case, that “old tape”—and all the unproductive emotions that were stored with that experience—are now playing, once again. This then only amplifies the negativity already associated with the current situation. However, awareness that this is happening can help put the current situation in perspective.
13. “Let’s rewind the tape.”
Translation: Sometimes we act (or react) in a way that we wished was different. In such case, when we refer to rewinding the tape, we’re saying let’s go back and start again—from the point the interaction went south—and do it the way we’d actually wish we had the first time.
14. “I’m adopting a researcher’s mentality.”
Translation: When a researcher begins to gather information, he’s not attached to the outcome. Rather, the mindset is more one of curiosity. So, the reference to adopting a researcher’s mentality is a reminder to be open-minded when exploring a different approach or learning new information.
When we review these Brain Highways phrases, we note a definite theme. Namely, this way of talking could be viewed as reminders of how the brain works, and how we can then apply such knowledge by using certain phrases that, in turn, guide us to act in a positive way.
With that in mind, note whether you do any time traveling, get midbrain stuck, or are in your pons today. Or, challenge yourself to wrap a lot of myelin, adopt a researcher’s mentality, drop the story, slip-n-slide negative thoughts, rewind the tape, and take care of business today.
See . . . adding just a few new words to your vocabulary may even greatly change your day!
Sometimes the experts are wrong. Eleven years ago, the experts said that Adrian Galvan (who was 6 years old back then) was mentally retarded and had autism because he could not speak or make eye contact, and he threw hours-long tantrums.
Yet, a few years after Adrian began organizing his brain, he was able to clearly communicate his original ideas with others, look them in the eyes, and yes, the tantrums were gone.
But, no, he had still not learned to really read and write since such skills (in natural brain organization) take time.
However, once again, the experts stepped in. At a school meeting, the professionals wanted Adrian’s mother to understand that she was in denial if she believed her son would ever become literate.
Their recommendation was to place him in a life-skills program. There, his educational curriculum would focus on just learning some basic skills that would help him survive in the world.
Collectively, the experts insisted this was the right course of action. Adrian’s mother insisted it was not.
So instead, she decided to home-school her son. The idea was to give Adrian the grace of time to complete his brain organization and to become literate as part of the process. A few years later, Adrian successfully returned to public school.
Flash to the present. Adrian is now a senior in high school.
Much has changed since those experts insisted that a life-skills program was Adrian’s best educational option. For example, Adrian has not only researched how to construct a boat, but he actually built one that he then sailed on Mission Bay. He has led others in many service learning projects and is known for creating incredibly sophisticated, entertaining videos. The list goes on.
So, the recent letter from the principal of San Pasqual High School, sharing how Adrian had been selected as the Student of the Month for the English department, was no surprise to those who know him.
In the letter, it says:
“Adrian is an exceptional student. He comes prepared every day. He assists his peers, and he is a very polite and thoughtful young man. He has earned an A consistently along with outstanding citizenship. His comments on topic always encourage other students to think deeper about the application of the information.”
The letter ends with the principal congratulating Adrian on his academic success. Yes, his academic success.
But this troubling question remains: What if Adrian’s mother had not known about developing the lower centers of the brain? What if she had listened to those experts?
Here’s what’s also concerning: We usually seek an expert’s opinion when we’re the most vulnerable (when we need help).
Therefore, here are some specific behaviors that now cause me to pause and question the credibility of an expert.
In contrast, there are experts who respect and acknowledge that parents, too, have their own expertise when it comes to their kids. Such experts don’t automatically dismiss something a parent brings up, such as a method or program that’s unfamiliar to them. In fact, many of these professionals often express interest to learn more.
Call me crazy, but here’s a thought. Since the brain is involved in everything we do—and incomplete lower brain development can affect behavior, academic performance, coordination, health problems, memory, and more—why wouldn’t we start all discussions about our kids by first asking: What’s actually going on in my child’s brain?
If we don’t know the answer, then why wouldn’t we want to find out before anyone leaps to conclusions or makes recommendations that may or may not prove helpful?
And that’s where Adrian’s mother and the professionals parted back then. The experts were focusing solely on his current academic output—but she knew what was going on his brain. More importantly, she understood that his current output was going to change once more of his brain was organized.
Without question, Adrian’s story is a tribute to his parents, his perseverance, and the amazing ability of the brain to reorganize itself so that it can function as intended. In fact, I’m thinking the principal who just signed Adrian’s recent congratulatory letter would probably find it incredulous to learn that he’d once been slotted for a sparse life-skills educational curriculum.
That’s why I’m hoping that Adrian’s journey will continue to inspire others to also keep the door open—even if an expert tries to close it.
We’re not like the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, who went searching for a brain. But, in truth, most of us have no idea whether our brain is functioning optimally or not.
For example, are we off to work each day, interacting with family members, studying for a master’s degree, struggling with either mental or physical health problems—and more—with retained primitive reflexes, incomplete pons and midbrain development, and poor sensory processing?
If so, our brain is working way harder than was ever intended. That’s because during the first year of life, we were supposed to lay down the neural networks that create what could be considered the ground floor of brain organization.
But what if that didn’t happen—which these days is very common since we have inadvertently messed with natural brain organization over the past 50 years. Then, we were left to build the higher centers of the brain on a foundation that is more like quicksand than cement.
That’s why I’m proposing to make 2013 the Year of the Lower Brain, where everyone now decides to know, with certainty, whether their ground floor of brain organization is solid or not.
But how do we do that? Well, here are some simple ways to get started.
Adults can complete the Adult Brain Organization Checklist to get a sense of their lower brain development. Note that a score of 10 or higher suggests the cortex is working way too hard to compensate for missing automatic lower brain functions. The higher the number is past 10, the greater probability of incomplete lower brain development.
To assess kids, parents can do this online screening. Again, a score of 10 or more suggests that the lower centers of the brain are significantly underdeveloped.
But what if we want more conclusive proof than a subjective score? In such case, we may decide to take a nine-week online screening course that teaches us how to facilitate a hands-on lower brain assessment, as well as how to use those results to improve daily life.
What if we’re wondering whether incomplete lower brain development might be connected to a myriad of diagnoses (e.g. autism, Attention Deficient Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, etc)? Then, we may be interested in reading “A Lower Brain Connection?” to learn more.
Note that the hum and buzz in my proposed Year of the Lower Brain is different. For example, chit chat around the water cooler now includes talk about who’s developing their pons and midbrain or who’s improving their neural networks, much in the same way that coworkers might be causally talking about working out in the gym last night.
In other words, 50 years ago we thought that just people who were overweight or out of shape might need to exercise. But today, our fitness consciousness has shifted to where we “get” that everyone—including the athlete who is already in incredible shape—benefits from exercising.
So in the Year of the Lower Brain, I’m hoping that we also shift our consciousness to understand that each of us can maximize our brain efficiency. Brain organization now becomes “cool”—not something that we hide from others or think is only for those who are blatantly struggling.
In the Year of the Lower Brain, we now also challenge stress as something we should expect in our lives. For example, it used to be that when people were asked how they were doing, they at least faked, “Good,” as their answer. But these days, ask someone, “How are you?” and more times than not, the person responds, “I’m so stressed” –as though being drained has now become the acceptable default state of mind.
But stress doesn’t dominate a well-organized brain.
So, get to know your brain. Discover if it’s working harder than intended. That’s really a small investment of time for information that may ultimately transform your life.
Everyone messes up. But not everyone apologizes in the same way—or even apologizes at all.
Interestingly, we can glean information about a person’s brain organization by how he or she responds after making a mistake or doing something that adversely affects others.
So, what’s a cortex response to an error?
How might that play out in daily life? Well, let’s suppose we’re 30 minutes late to a family dinner.
If we stay in our cortex and follow the above guidelines, we immediately address the fact that we were late (rather than breeze in as though we were on time and hope no one notices).
We do not mention that the sitter was late or there was unexpected traffic or any other reason that may have caused us to be late. After all, none of those reasons ultimately change the fact that others still had to wait for us.
Instead, we dive right in with an acknowledgment that addresses how others were affected by our tardiness and then ask how we may rectify the situation.
Here, we might say something such as, “I totally understand how everyone must be feeling irritated that we’ve arrived so late, especially since the food now is probably getting cold. We apologize for any inconvenience we may have caused, and we do thank you for your patience. Is there something we can do—like heat up the food or something else—to help get dinner back on track?”
We also share what we’ll do differently in the future. “Just to let you know, we plan to allow ourselves a much bigger window for getting ready and arriving somewhere on time in the future.”
In contrast, here’s what we may do if we’re late for a family dinner, and we respond with our lower centers of the brain.
We never mention that we’re late, but then get defensive when another family member says something about it. (You try getting out the house on time with two small kids! It’s not like you’re always on time!)
We blame someone else. (You didn’t tell me the right time. You shouldn’t have made dinner so early. Sam’s teacher called just as we were walking out the door.)
We minimize being late. (It’s not that big of a deal. So the food is a little cold. We’re not actually that late.)
We become a victim. (Everyone is always on my case. You have no idea how hard my life is. I get it– I’m the black sheep of the family.)
We actually never say we’re sorry, or we do so in a way that doesn’t sound sincere.
Or, we say we’re sorry without putting a period after that thought. For example, we say, “We’re sorry, but” (and then we finish the sentence with a justification). However, the second half of the sentence now negates the first part . . . that included the actual apology.
And since we don’t see the bigger picture when we’re operating from the lower centers of the brain, we never ask how we may rectify whatever transpired as the result of our actions. In fact, we seem oblivious that we even inconvenienced others or that they will now have to pick up the slack. It’s more of an “oh, well” kind of shrug and a “let’s drop it” sooner-than-later kind of attitude.
So what ultimately happens when we respond with our lower brain instead of our cortex? An already bad situation just gets worse.
But if cortex responses are actually more helpful, then why don’t we always respond that way? Well, that’s where our own brain organization comes into play.
If our lower centers of the brain are fully developed, we have a much greater chance of staying in our cortex and responding in kind. On the other hand, if we have incomplete lower brain development, we’re more likely to go into a fight or flight mode as soon as we’re placed in an uncomfortable situation.
So the next time we’re apologizing, we can choose to pause and ask ourselves: Where is this apology coming from . . . my cortex or my lower centers of the brain? If we realize it’s the latter, we might just quit talking—right then and there—until we’re sure that we’re responding with our cortex.
And if we do that, everyone, including ourselves, will be very glad we did so.