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A 4-Year-Old Proves the Brain Can Change

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As the brain “wakes up,” it becomes easy to do what seemed impossible in the past.

Jin Xiong is our guest blogger. She is presently participating in the Brain Highways program with her son and husband.

When we started the Brain Highways pons course for our 4-year-old son, we already had completed 2.5 years of all kinds of therapies, as well as received many diagnoses: Autism, Oral Apraxia, Limb Dyspraxia, Global Development Delay (the list goes on).

Needless to say, when we came to Brain Highway for the initial assessment, we didn’t really believe it could help. We thought: Sure, this might be a program that works for everyone else, but not our son. Yet, we still decided to enroll.

We definitely struggled the first week. However, by week 2, we started to see changes! For example, I took my son to a playground with stairs. When he was done fidgeting with chains on the lower half of the playground, he decided to go to the higher part.

But for the first time ever, he just walked on the stairs, without holding anything, alternating his steps, walking straight up all nine stairs!  I couldn’t believe what I just saw!

Walking up stairs—and with zero assistance—was HUGE for him. During our two years of physical therapy, they always told us that our son had low tone and that he needed to be stronger to do such things on his own. But right there–he did it!  He actually did it without even looking.  He appeared so natural walking up the stairs, just like everybody else!

And then his occupational therapist started to see changes in him. Suddenly, he had a better arousal level. He was no longer lying on the floor for the whole session, waiting for someone to rock him or swing him. He was now showing initiative by going over to equipment that he preferred.

Next, we noticed he had a better attention span, staying with in an activity for a much longer period of time. For example, previously he’d do two rounds of Ring around the Rosie—and then just walk away. But now, he was doing five or six repetitions, and all with a great smile.

Overall, our son seems so much more aware about his environment. He now pays attention when people walk by. He will turn to you when you call him. He just seems to be more organized and just seems to have extra energy that then makes it easier for him to pay attention to the world.

His scribble pattern has started to change, as well. Initially, he would just hold a piece of chalk and do a few scribbles, all while looking elsewhere. But now, he’s starting to make vertical lines—and lots of them, as well as arcs, all starting from the same point. Then one day we noticed three circles on the board!  And while he’s creating, he’s now completely focused on what he is doing.

And today, Week 5 of the pons course, he tried to put on his Crocs sandals. I noticed he lined up the shoes wrong—the left shoe was in front of the right foot and vice-versa. But before I could correct that, I was distracted by something else.

Yet, when I eventually turned to help him, I saw him rearranging the shoes so that they were now in front of the correct foot—and then I watched him carefully put his foot in each shoe!

I was very excited! We had never really even taught him how to do that!  While this may not seem like a big deal to many people, it shows that my son does have the ability to differentiate position and do a sequential action.

Best of all, I realize that this is all just the beginning of so many more wonderful changes that will continue to happen. Since we’ve begun Brain Highways, my son has a whole new way of looking at the world, so I’m eager to see what’s going to change next!

And, I’m very grateful  . . .  that through my son, I now know that the brain truly can change, once given a chance to do so.

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Update on Nathan (from Jin)

After Nathan finished the pons and midbrain classes, he clocked another 50 hours of floor time. So, altogether, Nathan has now done 125 hours of brain organization work (We plan to resume floor time now that my baby is a little bigger.) 

When I originally shared the changes Nathan experienced while in the pons course, he had only completed16 hours of floor time at that time. As his brain keeps developing, we continue to see more and more changes.

Nathan’s teacher definitely saw him change throughout the year.  For example, his teacher said that his processing time (to respond) became much shorter. It used to seem like he couldn’t even   hear someone talking to him, or he’d take really long time to respond. But now, even if you call to Nathan from a distance, he will immediately start looking at you.

We also notice that when we’re at the zoo or near a lake, if we say, “Look, there’s a duck,” he now actually stops whatever he is doing at that moment and looks around. That never happened before.

About half-way through the midbrain class, Nathan finally understood the concept of throwing, and he can now throw overhead, using one arm or both arms. That had been delayed for years!

He also runs much better now. It used to be more like a fast walk, but now it’s a real running pattern.

Even walking seems to be easier. He can go a longer distance, walking with us with a good energy level from beginning to end, with no whining, no wanting to be carried, and no more needing reinforcers. And he asks to go for a walk every day.

Climbing has become easier, and the monkey bars now make sense to him.

He now also gets the idea of steering a tricycle or bike — left hand pull, right hand push, turn left and more. And he’s even able to turn while he keeps peddling. These may be lots of things others take for granted as being easy, but this all used to be impossible or so hard for him.

Just recently, Nathan put the body parts of a potato head into each correct spot—something that his teachers and ABA therapists had tried to teach him for years. I think he now has a better understanding of objects’ relative spatial position.

We’re looking forward to Nathan continuing to develop his lower centers of the brain so that he can just keep experiencing life in many more ways!

Here’s Nathan riding his bike for the first time in public:

Taking the Fear out of Vaccine Discussions

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Reproaching parents who do not vaccinate their children has not proven to change their minds.

I’m concerned that pons-triggered-fear-responses are dominating the topic of vaccines.

What do I mean? Well, as the media continues to present stories on parents who choose not to vaccinate their children, we read very emotional letters to the editor and online comments that admonish such parents as being anything from selfish to criminals who should be prosecuted.

Yet, there are facts—not opinions—that are usually omitted whenever this topic resurfaces in the news.  However, such facts can’t be omitted if we’re to have cortex-based discussions on vaccines.

To note: This post is not intended to support one view or another on vaccines. Instead, it’s to help ensure that our limbic system (our emotional part of the brain) is not deciding what is best for our kids.

So, what are some facts that contradict those emotional accusations (since those are not as well publicized)?

The most concerning misinformation is that unvaccinated people put vaccinated people at risk.  But think about that claim.

If vaccinations absolutely prevented disease, then only those who didn’t get vaccinated would be at risk, right? And if so, wouldn’t there be some kind of poetic justice for those “free riders” who refused to cooperate? In other words, just the unvaccinated would become ill.

But that’s not what happens. You can still get a disease, even if you’ve been vaccinated for it. That’s the truth.

So, with that mindset, everyone becomes a potential threat to passing on a disease—if we’re choosing to view people as threatening others’ health and safety whenever they venture out in public.

The media also seems to focus on just one primary reason why parents are opting not to vaccinate their kids, citing that such parents think there’s a link between vaccines and autism. But that infers before autism became primetime in the news, no one had concerns about vaccines. Yet, that’s not true, either.

For example, no one ever suggested a connection between vaccines and autism when my girls were babies. Still, my doctor informed me of potential risks associated with the various recommended shots at our routine two-month visit. In fact, I was definitely told pertussis reactions could even cause permanent brain damage, but I was also assured that such risk was minimal.

However, statistics when it’s one in (fill in a big number) take on a different meaning when you’re the “one” in that equation. My second daughter had that rare—but extremely frightening—reaction to the pertussis vaccine.

I’m talking the kind of reaction where you take a healthy, happy baby to the doctor, and an hour later, she’s having convulsions. I’m talking about the kind of reaction where the doctor is calling you every hour—even though there’s nothing she can really do at that point. I’m talking about one of the longest nights in my life, feeling helpless, just praying the reaction would finally end, that my daughter would be fine.

And she was. But her doctor back then—who was one of the biggest proponents of vaccines–definitely made sure it was written all over my daughter’s medical charts: NO PERTUSSIS VACCINE–ever.

So, in our current discussion on vaccines, we do need to remember that there have always been risks associated with them—long before a potential autism link was ever even suggested.

Those who opt not to vaccinate today are also accused of having a distorted fear of big pharmaceutical companies.  Yet, here again, there are facts to consider when making our own conclusions.

First, no doctor or pharmaceutical company can be held liable for any adverse reaction to a vaccine. Call me crazy, but to me, vaccine safety would be a lot more convincing if those fervently advocating and manufacturing vaccinations were also held liable for adverse reactions.

Second, doctors can and do work for pharmaceutical companies—though this association is rarely made public when such doctors are quoted on vaccine safety. Third, vaccines are a 22 billion dollar industry.

While none of these facts negate vaccines as beneficial, they do at least warrant a pause—and pausing is always a good sign of being in the cortex.

But with a cortex-based discussion on vaccines, we equally need to keep alive why vaccines were created in the first place.  For example, most of today’s younger generation of parents has not had any first-hand experience with these diseases.

So we need to remember how horrific these diseases are and the implications if they ever again became epidemic. To omit that information is just as negligent as glossing over the other facts noted so far.

Cortex-based discussions also always explore options.  For example, today’s kids are recommended to have 69+ doses of 16 different vaccines by the time they are 18.

So, what if some parents choose to vaccinate their kids, but opt not to do all of them? Consider, too, that 145 additional vaccines are currently being developed in clinical trials. That means it’s possible that even today’s parents who follow the recommended 16 may decide to reduce the total number of vaccines for their child if that number continues to rise in the future.

Or, some parents may simply prefer to follow a vaccine schedule of another country, noting that there is not universal agreement among conventional medicine as to when such shots are given.

But it’s those kinds of perspectives, combined with factual information on vaccines, that provide great fodder for lively, cortex-based discussions.  Yet, if we allow fear to dominate our responses—whether it’s related to vaccines themselves or what might happen if not everyone is vaccinated—then no one is a winner, least of all our kids.

So, we can agree and disagree on vaccines. And if we stay in our cortex, we don’t feel threatened if others arrive at a conclusion that differs from our own.

Making Mealtime Pleasant

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With a bit of insight and effort, we can ensure that family meals are a positive experience.

I’m lucky. I have the fondest memories of family dinners, both when growing up and when we were raising our girls. But now it’s estimated that just 28% of families eat together seven nights a week.

Sure, today’s families are busy. But I wonder if family meals have declined because they’re often perceived as stressful. Yet, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Here are some ways to ensure mealtime is a positive experience for all family members.

1. Minimize behavior that we already know annoys us. For example, if our child rocks in his chair, we can buy him a vestibular cushion which then satisfies his need to rock without distracting others. We can also create ways for everyone to rock during mealtime (e.g. all family members rock three times whenever something is passed to someone).

If our child likes to stand while eating, we can deliberately leave something on the kitchen counter and then ask our needing-to-stand child to get it for us. This gives our child a chance to get up, only now he’s doing so in a way that helps the rest of the family.

If our child takes forever to finish his food, we give him less food while eating with the family (he can have more after mealtime if he’s still hungry). We can also set a time when mealtime is over—regardless whether everyone has finished the food on the plate.  In such case, the plates are cleared and any food left on the child’s plate is then served to him at the beginning of the next meal, ensuring food isn’t wasted.

If our child has a hard time sitting in general, we can excuse him early, acknowledging that we’ve enjoyed her company and understand it’s hard for her to sit for long periods of time. Who says every family member—regardless of age or differing brain organization profiles—has to sit the same amount of time for a meal?

2. Engage in only positive interactions. During the meal, family members tell stories about their day, share jokes or riddles, give opinions on current events, and answer open-ended creative thinking questions. Speeches on how to be better organized with homework, the importance of doing chores without complaining, and other concerns are tabled for another time.

3. Decide whether good manners trump everything during mealtime. When kids have retained primitive reflexes and underdeveloped lower centers, they often eat as though they were a toddler. For example, they prefer using their hands over utensils.  They’re messy. They chew with her mouth open. They can’t keep a napkin on their lap.  Sure, we can harp on showing good manners at every meal (even though prior reprimands have not yielded a change), but that means we also forego everything else positive that comes with sharing a family meal. So, we need to decide: Is it worth it?

4.  Understand how underdeveloped lower centers of the brain can interfere with how food feels and tastes. When the midbrain is underdeveloped, some kids have an aversion to how certain foods feel—even more so than how the food actually tastes—in their mouth. This child may seem like a “fussy eater,” but it’s different than the child who just doesn’t feel like trying a new food or insists on having whatever he wants to eat.  Does that mean that we turn our kitchen into a restaurant and cook completely different meals for everyone? No. But we find ways to modify within what’s been prepared. For example, if our child does not like tomatoes, we can serve him spaghetti noodles with butter instead of sauce.

5. Include our kids in the preparation of meals. Why not have our kids shop and help prepare the food? How about starting a garden?  How about giving them a chance to plan the menu or even create an original dish?  All of the above help kids become more generally invested in mealtime.

6. Ban all electronics from the table. That, of course, also includes having the TV on in the background.

So, perhaps, we no longer strive for a perfect Emily Post etiquette kind of meal.  Instead, maybe, we look at mealtime as a wonderful opportunity to connect with and honor all family members.

 

 

When Eavesdropping is Good

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It’s sometimes easier to “hear” a
message when eavesdropping.

If you want your child to hear a particular message, then say it to someone else—but while he’s in earshot.

Yes, there’s nothing like a little eavesdropping—especially when we overhear our own name—to make the ears perk up. As parents, we can take advantage of this fact and deliberately create opportunities for our child to eavesdrop.

How does this work? Well, suppose we want to remind our child that he’s not playing video games after dinner if his room isn’t clean. However, if we tell him that directly, he may hear that reminder as nagging or as a confrontational challenge (if he thinks it’s not a fair policy).

Yet, it’s an entirely different ballgame if we casually comment to someone else, “I know that Ryan wants to play video games this evening, and I’m positive that’s only going to happen if his room is clean.”

As the eavesdropper, Ryan still gets the intended message, but now it’s going into the brain in “third” person. He’s merely an outsider hearing a comment that happens to involve him.

And since most eavesdroppers don’t like to announce they’re listening to someone else’s conversation, they probably won’t respond to what they’ve just heard. If so, then we’ve sent the message and avoided a potential squabble. Seems like a pretty easy way to ensure more harmony in the home.

For teens, all we have to do is lower our voice a tad when they’re in the next room, and suddenly they’re tuned in to every word we’re saying. Who knew getting their attention could be that easy?

So eavesdropping probably won’t ever make the list of good manners, but it can expedite communicating a message to our kids without much ado. And that can be really enticing in many households.

Is There a Double Standard in Our Home?

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Do kids lose some respect for their parents if they say one thing . . .but model another?

Kids have a great radar for fairness, so here are some questions to consider:

  • Do we like to unwind when we come home from work, but require our kids to go straight to homework after attending school all day?
  • Do we eat unhealthy food, but serve our kids something else?
  • Do we react and yell when we’re upset, but expect our kids to approach problems calmly and logically?
  • Do we have different levels of tolerance and another set of rules for our sons than our daughters?
  • Do we tell our kids about the dangers of alcohol, but allow them to see us as tipsy (or more) at social or family gatherings?
  • Do we require our kids to clean their rooms, but our own personal space is often messy?

But most importantly . . .  if we have double standards in our home, how do our kids view those mixed messages? How about initiating a family discussion to find out?

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