It’s Kind of A Big Deal.

My last post was a year ago.  It was an update on how my kids were doing one year after leaving The Morris Center.  And here we are, two years since.  Is that really possible? Our time in Ocala feels like yesterday and a lifetime ago.  Time really is a thief!  This post will read more like a story than an update, but I think you’ll get the picture.  

Avery, 2 years after TMC

To most of the people sitting in that auditorium, she probably looked like every other kid walking across the stage to accept an award.  But for me and others who know her, and know her story, it was so much more!

We received a letter in the mail from our school, informing us that Avery would be receiving an award at the end-of-year ceremony.  My initial reaction was pride.  That girl!  She is special.  She is thoughtful, empathetic and generous.  She is inclusive to others yet still loyal to her friends.  I love her heart for others.

Side note: I love when she tells me “drama stories” involving her friends.  You know the ones. A friend is mad at another friend for some silly reason.  When she recaps the “dramatic” events, I can identify her as the mediator in the group.  One example (names changed to protect their privacy):  “At recess today, Lucy and Sara were mad at each other.  I pulled Lucy aside and asked her what happened.  Then I went over to Sara and did the same thing.  Turns out it was just a big misunderstanding and miscommunication between them.  I got them together and we talked it out.  They are good now.”  She has legitimately earned the nickname “therapist” by some of her friends. 

Back to my point…..

When we got the letter, I had a feeling I knew what her award would be.  A citizenship award of some kind, recognizing her kindness and compassion.  I’ll admit, I was feeling a bit smug and knew I would probably be posting a shameless mom brag moment on my social media (which has now become my scrapbook….thank you TimeHop for all the memories).  

She took extra time getting ready that night, wearing a new outfit and mascara.  In the car on the way, she was guessing what award she would get.  Her assumption was the same as mine, a kindness award.  Once inside, I held her hand, and glanced at the program.  I did a double-take when I read the title: Academic Awards Ceremony.  Huh?  (Another side note:  Had I read that letter I got in the mail more closely, I would have known what exactly this ceremony was.  But, come on… It’s May madness with 700 places to be crammed into 27 days.  I have 3 kids and she is the youngest.  Her brothers are teenagers.  I am tired just looking at them.  Don’t judge.)  

Anyways, when I read the program, I did see that citizenship awards were going to be announced.  I was still excited for her, but felt a little tug on my heart.  You see, when my boys were in primary school, the academic awards were given out in front of the whole school.  My oldest excelled, got his certificates, and I thought nothing of it.  However, when it was Cannon’s turn, he watched his classmates get the awards and left empty-handed, except for his “hard worker” certificate. That stung a little.  Not just for him, but his classmates too.  I’m grateful to say that the school has since changed things.  The academic awards are handed out discreetly in folders at the same time that the fun “classroom awards” are handed out.  (Yep!  Everyone gets one of those!).  Avery never had to feel that sting.  In Middle School, they send letters only to those receiving awards.  So there we were.  As the ceremony began, I saw a lot of her friends proudly going on stage for being the top students in specific subjects.  Yikes.  With each new name, I watched her face for signs that she might be feeling embarrassed.  But she wasn’t. She was excited about being the kind one.  Finally, it was her teacher’s turn.  Her words: “Hi.  I’m Mrs. Dickerson and I teach 5th grade literacy.  My top literacy students are (student 1), (student 2), (student 3), Avery Martin, and (student 5).  AVERY MARTIN??? Is this really happening?  Both of our mouths dropped open a little.  As she walked towards the stage, I sat in silence, taking in every second.  When her teacher hugged her, I saw her face brek out in a smile and my eyes filled up with tears.  I watched in awe as she made her way back to me. I heard the giggle she makes and I saw the blush on her cheeks, both tell-tell signs when she’s flattered.  Her words when she sat down? “The literacy award??  I was NOT expecting that!” Me neither, sister.  We both couldn’t stop smiling for the rest of the ceremony.  

I know, my reaction was stronger and my feelings seemed bigger than most of the other parents. But you know what?  They should be!  This is kinda a big deal for us!  A milestone moment.  A moment that wasn’t on our radar as even a possibility 2 years ago.  As we filed out of the auditorium, I played it cool, staying casual about it all.  However, on our way to the car, I heard someone shout her name.  It was Mrs. Hemleben, her Kindergarten teacher, and probably one of the best teachers in the history of teachers (that’s my opinion, and I value my opinion). She wrapped her arms around Avery and said,  “Avery, I am so so so incredibly proud of you.  It makes me so so so happy for you.” Then she paused, getting choked up, tears in her eyes.  With her arms still squeezing tightly around Avery she said, “I’m sorry I’m crying.  It’s just that I know how HARD you worked to get here and to see you up on that stage just made me so proud.  You did it.”  And now…. I’m crying.  At that point, no more words needed to be said.  Avery and I both knew.  Mrs. Hemleben gets it.  She understands why this feels like a bigger deal to us than everyone else.  It was a moment I won’t ever forget.  The struggle, the effort, the perseverance, the strength of this little girl has all led to where she is today.  The Morris Center was a launching pad into her new reality.  One filled with optimism and excitement about the journey ahead.  


A few days later, we received another letter.  Our school offers regular math, honors math and accelerated math.  Based on your performance, you are recommended for one of the three.  The recommendation for Avery: Accelerated Math (Mic drop)


A Lot Can Happen in a Year

One of my favorite shows is “Fixer Upper”…. a home makeover show.  You know the show….. a family purchases a neglected or dated homes that’s in desperate need of improvement.  The family has pre-conceived ideas about what they want it to look like, but no idea how to make that vision a reality. That’s when they call in the experts…. Chip & Joanna Gaines to the rescue!  Where the client sees wreckage, the Gaines see potential.  The family puts their complete trust into the hands of Chip & Joanna, in hopes that their dreams can come to fruition. Amazingly, after a few short months, the once run-down house is transformed into a magazine-worthy home that exceeds the homeowners’ expectations.  The show ends there, but I would imagine after the camera stops rolling and lives resume to normalcy, the family feels relief.  Their dreams becam reality.  They must feel overwhelmed with gratitude when they think about what this house will mean for their family & their future. family has had our own “Before & After” journey.  A year ago, we just had dreams.  And now those dreams are our reality…… here’s our update.

One of my favorite shows is “Fixer Upper”…. a home makeover show.  You know the show….. a family purchases a neglected or dated homes that’s in desperate need of improvement.  The family has pre-conceived ideas about what they want it to look like, but no idea how to make that vision a reality. That’s when they call in the experts…. Chip & Joanna Gaines to the rescue!  Where the client sees wreckage, the Gaines see potential.  The family puts their complete trust into the hands of Chip & Joanna, in hopes that their dreams can come to fruition. Amazingly, after a few short months, the once run-down house is transformed into a magazine-worthy home that exceeds the homeowners’ expectations.  The show ends there, but I would imagine after the camera stops rolling and lives resume to normalcy, the family feels relief.  Their dreams became reality.  They must feel overwhelmed with gratitude when they think about what this house will mean for their family & their future.

Our family has our own “Before & After” story. A year ago, we only had dreams. Now those dreams are our reality. Here’s our story…


Cannon’s academic struggles didn’t stand out.  His dyslexia could have easily been overlooked (and was for a long time).  On paper, you wouldn’t have concerns.  I’ve even had educators question why we would take such an “extreme step” to get him intervention in another state. His dyslexia isn’t that bad, is it?   People would say,  “well he had good grades before.”  True.  He did.  But the letter grade doesn’t tell the whole story.  It doesn’t tell you how much extra work it took outside of that school building to get those grades.  Unless you saw it all first-hand, you can’t understand just how hard he had to work and how that effort affected him mentally, physically & emotionally.  You see, to perform well in school, Cannon didn’t just go to school, listen to his teachers, participate in class & do his assignments.  When the last bell rang at 3:00, his school day wasn’t over.  He still had the 4th quarter to go.  Like most kids, he enjoyed after-school activities & sports practices…..2-3 nights a week.  It was a therapeutic release after a full day of school.  By dinner, most kids are ready for some down-time.  Unfortunately for Cannon, there was still work to do.  Evenings were spent finishing assignments, reading and studying for tests.  It was the last thing he wanted to be doing before bedtime, but he’s a disciplined kid that wanted to succeed, so persevered.  Day after day, week after week, year after year, this was his norm. By the end of 6th grade, he was reaching a breaking point.  He was in a negative place mentally….tired of school, tired of tutoring, tired of reading intervention programs.  He lived for the weekends but by Sunday afternoon, his anxiety would shoot through the roof as he began dreading the start of another week.  It was a grind and he was not seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.  School was just getting harder.  As fatigue set in, he was reaching the point where he didn’t want to try anymore. In a resigned tone, He would say, “I’m just not one of the smart kids. I won’t ever be.”  It’s a pretty hopeless feeling as a parent to hear your child say he’s ready to give up, when he’s only half-way to graduation.  And what about college?  How are we going to make it? Something has to change.

CANNON- MAY 2021 (one year later)

We left Ocala with a different kid.  Well, maybe not a different kid, but certainly a kid with a different outlook. He was excited to get home to his family, friends & football. What he wasn’t too thrilled about however, was the fact that he would roll right into another school year within a few days of returning home (remember, these kids completed an entire school year and immediately began at The Morris Center, without a summer break).  No rest for the weary.  I knew the first week would be no problem, but I was concerned about how he would do once the “new” wore off.  We were expecting the negativity and heightened anxiety to resume.  We waited.  And we waited.  But surprisingly, it didn’t come.  Now, I won’t lie and say he never had a bad day.  He certainly did, like we all do.  He also faced some physical injuries that kept him on the sidelines during football season & delayed his baseball season.  That was more adversity that we could have done without (I mean, come on…..hasn’t he had enough this year?!).  But from an education/school standpoint, he’s a different kid.  I’m not saying he loves school & loves to read after TMC, but his perspective has changed.  In the past, a week wouldn’t go by that he wouldn’t say the following:   “I hate school.  The teachers give us too much work.  I need a break. Can you just read this for me and write my answers so I can get my homework done faster?  I’m tired of doing extra tutoring and missing enrichment.”

We’ve been home for 9 months and I haven’t heard any of those statements (okay, maybe “I’m so tired of school.  I’m ready for summer”).  The constant negativity is gone.  The long nights of schoolwork are now few and far between.  He rarely asks for help with homework.  His anxiety is so low that his need for medication may be eliminated.  More than once, I’ve heard him make these comments: “literacy isn’t really hard.  I got all my work done at school.  7th grade is easy.  It’s so nice to not have to go to tutoring.” Someone recently asked him about his time at TMC. His response was, “it was worth it.  It’s made learning easier and I can remember what I read a lot more.  School is a lot easier now.”  He even said to me, “man, I feel bad for my friends that are having to do tutoring for dyslexia at school.  They’ve been doing it for as long as me and they’re still doing it.  I wish they could go to Florida.”  Me too, buddy.  Me too.  Before this past summer, if you asked Cannon what he wants to be when he grows up, he would completely dodge the question or say he had no clue.  Now he will tell you he wants to be an orthodontist.  And he just might be one.

As for those grades…. They are still good grades.  They are just a lot easier to achieve now. Throughout our time in Florida, Dr. Conway repeatedly said to Cannon, “You’re going to work less and learn more.”  Thanks, Dr. Conway.  You were right!

AVERY…. MAY 2020

A year ago, my girl was at her breaking point too.  Avery is the girl that gets along with everyone, works hard at everything, and wants to please.  She fears making mistakes, and when she does, she’s very hard on herself.  These “perfectionism traits” can do a real number on her self-esteem.  Avery took on 3rd grade, and 3rd grade won.  The work and the pace were difficult.  She had more “red marks” on her assignments than ever before.  The stack of pencils with missing erasers were a result of her writing words or sentences incorrectly, then erasing everything and starting over (for Christmas she asked for a whole box of erasers to keep in her bag).  She was embarrassed to go to the library because her friends selected books from a higher reading level section and she had to stay in the “baby books.”  There were tears going to school almost every day (a few times it took the sweet principal taking her hand and helping her out of the car). We saw fewer smiles and declining confidence.  My easy going, school-loving girl was sad.  Her light was beginning to flicker.  One tearful night at bedtime she said, “Mama, I just can’t do it.  It’s all too much and too hard.  I hate my brain and having dyslexia.  I feel stupid.  Please don’t make me go to school anymore.”  It brings tears to my eyes right now just remembering that conversation and the look of hopelessness in her eyes.  We felt helpless and unsure what our next step should be.

AVERY- MAY 2021 (One year later)

Our girl is back!  She returned in September with her head held high and a smile on her face.  You could see how proud she was of herself.  Within the first month of school, we saw her confidence soar.  I’ll never forget her coming home from school one day this Fall and telling me about her day.  “Do you know what Mr. LaSalle calls me now? He said I’m the literacy expert.  We’ve been talking about words and why they’re spelled the way they are, why they sound the way they do, and where they come from.  I know all the answers and when nobody knows the answer he says, ‘let’s ask the literacy expert….Avery?’  It’s funny.  Kids were even asking me, ‘what do you think, Avery?’  I can’t believe it.”  Talk about a milestone.  This was the moment she fully understood that her hard work this past summer has changed her life forever. 

The Numbers….

Our school does MAP (Measure of Academic Progress) testing three times a year to track individual academic progress.  I’m not a fan of standardized testing so I’ve paid close attention to this test instead, and used it as a good measure of growth for Avery.  In simple terms, I’m hoping to see her number score increase and for her growth to be comparable to others her age.  

Here’s her progress by Grade Levels…..

End of 1st  – Beginning of 2nd: dropped 16 points (below the national average by 11 points)

Begnning of 2nd – End of 2nd Grade- 3 point growth (still below the national average by 7 points)

Beginning of 3rd – End of 3rd: 8 point growth

End of 3rd –  Beginning of 4th (after the summer at The Morris Center): 7 point growth in one summer

Beginning of 4th –  End of 4th: 10 point growth 

The bottom line….. 

Since attending The Morris Center, Avery’s score shows a growth of 17 points!!! This is real proof that she not only grew while at TMC, she has continued to grow back home throughout the entire school year.  The sky is the limit for this girl!

So there it is… Our Before and After.  

What a difference a year can make.  To say we are proud of Cannon and Avery is an understatement.  Their academic growth is validation that we made the best decision for their futures by taking them to The Morris Center.  But even more important to us is seeing their personal growth.  There’s been struggle & adversity.  There’s been hard work and sacrifice.  And now there is confidence & empowerment; success & celebration.  

After 22 consecutive months of school and intervention, we are ready for summer and a well-deserved break. The Summer of 2020 may have taken away vacation, lake days and free time, but it gave us a pathway to the future and a better outlook on life.  #worthit

The Results Are In….

If you’ve been following this blog, you might be a bit frustrated with me right now. I mean, reading each post no doubt took some time. Some of you followed because you know and care about my kids. Others are part of the dyslexia tribe and can relate to “all the feels.” If you made it through them all, you probably think I’ve short-changed your time investment. It’s like reading almost an entire novel and realizing the last chapter has been torn out. Huh? An entire story without a conclusion. The season finale of a story that ends with a cliffhanger….

Okay, okay….I’m giving myself a little too much credit. I don’t believe this blog stirs up quite that much emotion and I sincerely doubt anyone is eagerly anticipating my next post. But I do feel like I have more to say, and more to prove. It all comes down to results. You can talk a big game about how great a program is and how much you are progressing, but the proof is in the pudding. When we left The Morris Center I wanted nothing more than to post all my kids’ before and after results for the world to see. It would somehow feel validating to prove to others that we had made the right choice to go to TMC. The numbers speak for themselves and there’s no denying the growth. Showing those reports would give hope to so many, yet cause others some speculation (back to the “too-good-to-be-true” mentality). But at the end of the day, I decided it wasn’t my place to post the specifics. This progress didn’t belong to me. It belongs to my children. So out of respect for them, I decided to not share all the detailed data. It’s part of their story and it’s up to them to decide if and when they want to share it.

With that said, I don’t think it’s right to keep people in the dark completely. Especially if my purpose is to continue raising awareness and promoting the programs at TMC. The easiest and most succinct way to see their growth is through the bar graphs below (I’m purposefully omitting the standard score numbers for their privacy….excuse the terrible phone pictures):

For all you “statistic/number people,” the results speak for themselves. These bar graphs are certainly important. But as a mom, I’m not hanging my hat on these results alone. You can analyze testing and use it as a measurement for success all you want. But at the end of the day, there’s one thing that is more telling than test scores could ever be. In fact, I believe it’s the best indicator for what a difference TMC has made for my kids. In the bottom of my daughter’s backpack (where I once found shredded pieces of schoolwork she wanted to hide), I found a drawing she did one day while at school. Look closely and you will see through her eyes just how much this program has changed her now and for the future. This is all the proof I need:

(Side note: my aunt, who is a retired art teacher gasped when she saw this drawing. She said not many kids could draw from this perspective….from the back, looking forward…with the backs of people’s heads. I have to think the Mental Imagery part of TMC program played a big part in helping her visualize this way).

They did it for themselves

We’ve had a lot of people praising us for making such a big sacrifice for our kids and for advocating in their best interest.  They’ve offered affirmations and praise for our decision,  and they applauded us for changing our kids’ lives by taking them to The Morris Center.  True…..somewhat.  We did invest in their futures and sacrifice time away from home to bring them here.  However, we aren’t the ones changing their lives.  We are simply the vessel for getting them where they need to be to change their own lives.

THEY DID IT!  They changed their lives themselves.  The Morris Center offered the science, the answers, the tools and the program that guided them in the right direction.  But ultimately it was up to them.  The staff couldn’t do if for them. They had to put in the work.  And it was HARD WORK!  At any point they could have shut down and said, “I’m done.  This is too hard and I’m tired.”  In all honestly, I heard these words from their mouths more than once.  Each time they said something along these lines, that sinking feeling of helplessness would creep into my soul.  It felt so  familiar and gave me flashbacks to just a few short months before. Those feelings had become the norm.   It certainly looked like the same frustration as before.  But this time something was different.  When they would reach the point of exhaustion and feel like quitting, they didn’t.  They still woke up every morning, got in the car and worked their tails off all day.  Sure, they did their share of moaning and groaning about going 5 days a week for 7 hours a day.  But they never gave up.  Instead, they kept showing up and buckling down to put in the work.  They were committed to the program and determined to finish.  

So, what made them continue? What was motivating them?  The trinkets they received at the end of the day from the treasure box weren’t that magical (btw….if anyone needs a stress ball…we got you covered!!!). Why did they willingly go every day and fully engage in learning (ahem….at least most of the time…Cannon, I’m lookin’ at you)? The answer is clear.  This program wasn’t like what they had done before.  This program was working.  They KNEW it was helping them.  More than just the adults noticed the difference it was making.  They recognized it too!  Learning was beginning to feel different to them.  Suddenly, they weren’t dreading those long chapter books.  Decoding words was becoming automatic.  They were not only reading with more fluency, they also comprehended what they read.  They could visualize in great detail the stories they were reading and they were able to recall those same stories days, weeks, and even months later.   By the end, they were challenging themselves to out-perform their last session/OT work/movie-making.  One of the speech pathologists told us about Cannon describing his story and then starting over later, saying, “Let me start over.  I can do that better.”  By the end, learning was different.  For the first time, learning felt EASY!  Even the defiant tween couldn’t deny that this “stuff” was helping him. 

Once home, our amazing support system celebrated Cannon & Avery’s accomplishments.  So many were curious about what they had done and how it had helped.  A lot aren’t exactly sure what we went there to do, but still applauded the success.  Others are in the dyslexia tribe, with struggling children.  They are all eager to know how The Morris Center worked and if it truly was too good to be true.  (I’ll share more about my thoughts on that in another post).  We welcome the conversations and appreciate their interest in our children.  At some point in almost every conversation, we would inevitably hear the praises for our sacrifice.  We had changed our kids’ lives.   And every time I heard that, I would say, “we didn’t do it.  They did it for themselves.”  

Lift Your Head High…. and keep it there!

chin upEvery time I’ve pulled into the parking lot of The Morris Center our last week, my eyes would well up with tears and a lump would form in my throat.  I would quickly blink away the tears and proceed with my regular routine.  Then on Wednesday, as I pulled in for a 1:00 meeting, I saw my nephew, Brady, walking side-by-side with Dr. Conway.  Completely unaware of my presence, they continued their conversation, smiling, talking and laughing. Brady tilted his head up to make eye contact with Dr. Conway as he told him something, and I lost it.  I flashed back to a similar moment, just 4 months earlier.  The same two, walking side-by-side and talking, but with a distinct difference.  Brady’s head hung, his eyes never left the ground and the slump of his shoulders told the story.  This was a kid that was discouraged.  He was tired of working harder than his friends and still not closing the gap in learning.  A kid ready to just give up.

So, what changed?  I think there’s a multitude of factors.  The first would be the people of The Morris Center.  They are just the best.  They connect with these kids on a deeper level than just instruction.  They understand what motivates each child.  When working in a session, the staff empower these kids to believe in their learning abilities….and answer questions with assertiveness, not doubt. The staff also recognizes times when self-regulation is needed for optimal learning, and they offer the kids strategies to do so. They have truly taken a holistic approach to the interventional therapies that best align with each child’s learning needs.

Other factors that can be attributed to the changes we’ve seen have more to do with Brady. Brady is different now.  It feels like he’s grown up the last 4 months.  The intensity and frequency of this program doesn’t change.  It will challenge Brady to the very last day.  Early on, he would come home wiped out….complaining of headaches, tired of learning, etc.  But as time went along, we saw that shift.  Suddenly, he wasn’t complaining about going. He was having an “ah ha” moment for himself.  THIS IS WORKING! Learning is getting easier.  He had good things to say about his days.  He was bragging about how many words he read or what he conquered in OT.  He was processing information faster and “finding his words” when explaining things to us.  The world started looking different for him.  He was reading street signs and billboards.  Dr. Conway himself got a little choked up retelling a conversation he had with Brady during a trip to get ice cream (it was Brady’s birthday):

(In line at the ice cream place….not the exact conversation but close)

Brady: What does “optical supplies” mean?

Dr. Conway:  (probably puzzled by the question).  What do you think?  It’s probably a place similar to where Avery went to get her glasses.  Where did you hear that word?

Brady: (pointed across the street at a business)

Dr. Conway:  How did you know it said that? How could you just read that?

Brady: (shrugged) I just read it.  (BIG SMILE)

Four months ago, Brady wouldn’t have even attempted to read that sign.  Today he is different.  Today he believes in himself and his ability to learn without as much struggle.  His confidence continues to grow each time his book reading level climbs. For the first time, he’s seeing his true potential and he’s working hard to get there.

Thanks to The Morris Center, Brady’s 4th grade school year will look and feel different for him.   Instead of seeing the classroom as a place of frustration and failure, he will hopefully see it as a place of potential and success.  And he may just find that books can actually be as entertaining as video games….

We Are The Lucky Ones


One day, when my children are older and can look back on their journey at The Morris Center, they will both believe this truth: WE ARE THE LUCKY ONES……

It’s true. They are the lucky ones, the lucky few. We’ve found a solution to their learning struggles and they’ve received the treatment necessary to rectify these weaknesses. Academically, the years ahead of them will now look different.  Instead of starting behind their peers, they can confidently line up beside them, capable of learning the same. They are the lucky ones.

But what about the other kids with learning disabilities?  The not-so-lucky ones?  You see, some of these others aren’t just unknown faces to me.  I know them.  I know their families. They are within my own extended family.   We’ve shared the same concerns and fears,  while encouraging and supporting each other along the way.  They’ve followed our journey here at The Morris Center and they’ve sincerely celebrated our progress.  Knowing they are cheering us on back home should make me feel good.  But in all honesty, it’s been a mixed bag.  With every encouraging comment, I feel a pang of sadness for them.  Not pity.  More like a touch of survivor’s guilt.  Why are my kids getting what they need, while their kids are facing another year of struggle and frustration?  I empathize with these parents who are ready to throw their hands in the air.  They are tired of seeing their kids struggle to keep up.  I would have to think it’s a double-edged sword for them to be happy for my kids while at the same time, wishing their own kids were having similar outcomes.  I’ve thought about each of those kids so much, wishing they could be here to receive this intervention.  They deserve it just as much as my kids do.  All kids do.

If the statistic is correct (1 in 5 with dyslexia), there’s a staggering number of kids out there struggling unnecessarily.  Take our school for example…. our district serves over 3,500 kids.  If dyslexia affects one in five people, that means 700 kids could have dyslexia.  700!  In one school district.  700 who will always have to work harder than  their peers and still might not close the gap of learning. It doesn’t have to be this way!!!  There’s a solution and it’s within reach.  My prayer as we return home is to see The Morris Center grow in recognition as a REAL solution for so many that struggle to read.  There are now 6 children within our district who have been to TMC, with more attending in the months ahead.  If these kids are all reaching higher potential than ever before, doesn’t TMC deserve a closer look?  I believe it does and feel a responsibility to other families to share our journey and to offer hope for those who feel hopeless.  To read more about why I believe The Morris Center program should be integrated into the education system, read my blog post Every Child Deserves It.

Cannon and Avery are now a few of the Lucky Ones.  But learning to read and reach your full learning potential shouldn’t be just for the “lucky ones.”  It should be for ALL.

They Will Continue to Learn and Grow

never stop learning

We are almost done. After four months, we will say goodbye to The Morris Center and all the wonderful people that have become a second family to us on Friday.  Throughout this journey, the professionals at TMC have shown up every day, fully committed to helping Cannon and Avery reach their full potential.  They’ve poured hours of instruction, occupational therapy and counseling into our kids on a daily basis.  They’ve pushed and challenged them, coached and encouraged them.  The’ve offered our kids a roadmap to success and have been an integral part in the “re-wiring” of our kids’ brains.  Their combined expertise have helped our kids reach reading levels that once seemed unattainable.  The Morris Center under-promised, and over-delivered.

But what happens next? What happens when we get home? This one-on-one intensive setting is not our reality.  How do we transition back to regular school and how do we ensure our kids are using what they learned here?  What happens if they forget and lose all the progress they made?

That’s just it.  It’s not something they will forget.  The Morris Center website explains it best:

“We apply a unique program (supported by long-term scientific evidence) that has helped our clients with dyslexia re-enter their schools or work place with improved skills that are consistent with their expected range of academic and job potential. Our treatment program is fundamentally different from the approach employed by typical learning centers or tutors — these programs typically treat the client’s symptom or teach them to compensate for their weaker skills. Rarely do these programs or tutors actually aim to uncover the possible causes of the client’s difficulties.

We help build new bridges in the brain (neural networks) that true science indicates are most likely to provide new pathways or better skills. We target treatment only for the client’s skills that need improvement, such as language/learning skills (reading, writing, spelling, comprehension, speaking/expression, memory and critical thinking ), sensory processing, sensory processing, attention and behavior.”

 “As weak skills become stronger, then learning becomes more efficient and the child or adult feels more competent and confident. We help them unlock their hidden, true potential. Self-esteem comes from success.”

Another great thing about TMC is their continued investment in our kids’ lives.  They won’t just escort us to the door on Friday and say, “peace out, see you never!”  No way.  They offer daily/weekly online aide for each child, assisting with homework and time management.  They work to make the transition back into a school environment as smooth as possible.

So as we head home, we will celebrate the growth Cannon & Avery have made.  They have a new-found confidence in their abilities heading into a new school year.  We can’t wait for them to realize they are working less while learning more. And we will eagerly anticipate watching them continue growing and learning for years to come. Cannon & Avery’s dreams for the future will be bigger than they ever thought possible.  They are beginning a new journey that could not have been possible without The Morris Center.  You can’t put a price on that!

Did I Really Just Do That???

It's Kind of Fun to Do The Impossible

One of the best things about parenting is getting to see our children’s “firsts.” The first smile, the first steps, the first time riding a bike.  We watch in wonder as we see our kids hit these milestones and we celebrate each success.  And if you’re like me, you may even get a little teary-eyed.  Our kids look to us to see our reactions and we share in their excitement.  These firsts open up new worlds to explore.

I’ve witnessed so many of these moments with my own kids, but I would have to say my most recent “first experience” will be at the top of my list of favorites!  You see, a lot of firsts are developmental….things we know will happen or expect to happen.  They follow somewhat of an order and are so sweet to see, but there’s some that are even sweeter.  It’s the ones that are harder to come by.  When your kids conquer things that were a struggle before, you feel a higher level of pride.  This week my daughter had one of those “firsts.”  She READ part of a book that she couldn’t read 4 months ago.  But, hold on. Let me give you the back story.

Avery has the SWEETEST group of friends.  They are fun, kind and loyal.  They are each unique and have strengths and weaknesses that encourage one another to step out of comfort zones and try new things.  I love them all dearly and love that Avery can explore new interests with them.  Thanks to her friends, Avery recently became a Harry Potter fan.  This was surprising to me because her brothers took zero interest in HP.  After school one day, Avery asked to watch the first Harry Potter movie.  Sure!  We watched it, she loved it and immediately asked to watch the next one.  A few days later she watched the second one without me.  When it was over, we had this conversation:

Avery:  That was so good and now I’m all caught up.  Now I can talk to my friends about it and know what they are talking about. 

Me: Oh, have they been watching the movies too?

Avery: No mom!  They have read the books and I know I’ll NEVER be able to read those books so I wanted to watch the movies.

Me: (insert teary eyes and a big bear hug for my little girl)

Fast-forward to present-day……  Her goal since arriving at The Morris Center was inspired by our friend, Emma, who was finishing up at TMC when we arrived.  Avery wanted to able to spell “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” from the movie, “Mary Poppins,” just like Emma. Okay, cute.  That will be great. But I, her mama, want her to also be able to READ the entire book.  Well guess what?  During Week 7, Avery SPELLED “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”   I was impressed!  That was fast.  This small accomplishment led my girl to have even bigger ideas for future firsts.  Avery soon asked me, “do you think I’ll be able to read Harry Potter when I leave here?”  Umm…that book, with all the names and strange places,  is a tough one for me to navigate reading, not to mention being able to comprehend the storyline.   Not wanting to give her false expectations, but at the same time wanting to be encouraging, I said, “I’m sure you’ll be able to read anything you want to read eventually.”  As quickly as it was considered, I pushed it aside and prayed for more attainable goals to be met.

Shame on me for doubting my girl and her abilities.  She put me in my place.  This past week, TMC had a film crew at the clinic, shooting promotional material to share this amazing place with others, searching for an answer.  For one shot, they requested a book for Avery. Dr. Tim Conway, with a knowing look,  gave her a Harry Potter book.  I was behind the scenes watching and when I read the title, I flinched a little and asked in a whisper, “Avery can you even read that book?”  She didn’t answer and the crew reassured me, explaining that they weren’t concerned with audio for this particular shot.  But as the camera started rolling, I witnessed a “FIRST” for my girl.  Without hesitation, she began reading from the third chapter of a Harry Potter book.  I couldn’t hold back the tears that flooded my eyes as I watched in awe….my smart child doing something she thought (and me too) was impossible only four short months ago.  She did it. When the film crew finished, she looked up from the book with a huge smile on her face, walked over to me and wrapped her arms around my waist.  As I knelt down to kiss her head, she reached up and wiped away my tears.  As we left the clinic, she turned to me and said, “Did that really just happen?  Did I really just read that book?  I can’t believe it.”

Believe it, baby girl!  This is just a first of many.


Every Child Deserves It

If a child can't learnI’ve made it clear in past posts just how amazed I’ve been by the differences we’ve seen with my children & the children of friends thanks to The Morris Center. The NOW! (Neurodevelopment of Words) programs have changed their lives, and I am so grateful we made the sacrifice and took the leap to come here.  I know my kids’ futures are brighter and that they will leave here believing they are capable of so much more than they ever dreamed.  This place truly is a hidden gem that is changing lives for so many.  But, not enough lives.

My heart aches for the kids that aren’t receiving the level of intervention that we’ve had. I know quite a few families just at my school district that desperately wish they could follow in our footsteps and move to Ocala, Florida. People that want exactly what I want for my kids. They want their children to have the very best chance of finding success in learning.  They don’t like seeing their kids struggle and want to make learning easier for them.  They want to see their children grow in learning and gain confidence in their own abilities.  But as much as they want the very best for their kids, they simply cannot move to Florida.  They aren’t in the position to relocate temporarily.  Realistically, who is????  It’s absurd to hit pause on life at home and move to another state for a few months.  Who can do that?  We are one of the lucky few families (some probably would label us as ”extremists”) that have been able to do this, but I won’t say it was easy, financially or otherwise.  While I am happy my kids have been given this opportunity, I’m equally sad that so many others don’t have the same opportunity.  It’s not fair to them.  And, as a person that has witnessed first-hand how much this program is helping, it breaks my heart to know this program isn’t even an option for so many.

Why is that?  Why can’t other kids receive this level of intervention locally? Why did my kids have to uproot their lives, leave their dad & brother behind, miss their summer break and move half-way across the country to receive what all children deserve? It’s not right and it’s not fair.

So what’s the deal?  If this is “so life-changing,” why hasn’t every school in America jumped on the opportunity to provide this for their students?  I mean, this isn’t a new program.  This is not just a program that uses strategies related to the science of learning.  This is a program with CLINICAL RESEARCH. It’s has 25 years of evidence-based research to back it up! Seriously, you can see it all for yourselves. So why is it not stream-lined in our education system?

I have some thoughts….

Now, full disclosure….  I am in no way an expert in the field of education or learning. I have no intent to “bash” any other program or its’ methods.  I am just a mom wanting the best for my kids.   A mom who found a program that I believe in, with scientific data to back their claims of success.  I haven’t found that in any of the other programs I have researched.  And as I advocate for my own kids, I can’t help but want the same for others.

  1.  The Morris Center NOW! Program is hard to wrap your head around.  More specifically, the program is so involved on so many levels.  The intertwining of the  trans-disciplinary approach seems impossible to put into words without seeing it first-hand.  For this reason, I think it’s intimidating to the “decision-makers of education” to fully take on understanding the program completely.  You know, “it sounds too good to be true…”
  2. This program would be impossible to replicate in a school setting.  There is no way to offer what we are receiving here to an entire school.  For that reason, it would be easy to write off as “impossible.”  But hold on…..stay with me…..

Going back to my own kids.  Cannon is entering 7th grade and Avery, 4th grade.  They’ve been diagnosed with dyslexia for 3 years, but they’ve been dyslexic since birth.  They’ve both faced struggles with learning since the very beginning.  We first noticed something was wrong with Cannon in 1st grade.  He’s been receiving intervention since the Fall of 2nd grade.  Each of these programs cost the school money and the after-school tutoring cost us money. Now he struggles with anxiety, which required medication.  I’m hoping that life will look different for him when we get back home.  He won’t need the interventions and the anxiety will diminish as he finds learning to be less challenging.  It’s the start of 7th grade and his 8th year of school and we are just now getting to the place I wanted him to be from the beginning. Wouldn’t it have been nice for him not to have all these hardships from the beginning?  I wish we could have found The Morris Center earlier!

It bothers me that the NOW!  programs aren’t available everywhere and I’ve expressed this to Dr. Tim Conway multiple times.  Every time he just nods his head in agreement.  You see, he has tried for 30 years to get this into the education system with no success.  That must be so defeating.  Yet, he continues to pour into this program and his mission to help kids and adults who struggle with learning disabilities.  Through our conversations, I’ve learned about Dr. Conway’s own struggles with dyslexia.  He told me he was lucky to receive this program at the age of 4 so he didn’t have to struggle to learn.  WAIT A MINUTE!  Did he say 4?  How? And why didn’t we think of that???  (Had I known my kids were dyslexic at 4, I wouldn’t be writing this blog).

More discussions with Dr. Conway gave me more insight into his mission. Already, he’s offering the NOW! Programs online through e-tutoring.  This is just another way to offer help to more people across the world.  He’s in the process of helping launch a state-of-the-art clinic in Birmingham, Alabama at Alabama Game Changers.  This clinic will be able to provide services to more clients than TMC at once and will have a pre-k “classroom” to reach kids early, proactively.  Dr. Conway is proof that early intervention  works.  If the NOW! program was followed as part of the Pre-K curriculum, so many children could avoid the challenges of learning. If you go to the NOW! website you can read more about all of the programs.  Here’s what it says about the NOW! Foundations:

Students become conscious of the mouth actions that produce speech sounds. This awareness allows for the verification of sounds within words and enables individuals to become self-correcting in reading, spelling and speech.

Students use a multisensory and kinesthetic approach to sounds – not only do they discover how to produce sounds, but they are given several dimensions to express them. They will be able to make the sounds, describe how they made them, identify the sounds from a visual representation, and then organize sounds in a systematic way according to how the mouth produces them.

NOW! Foundations’ emphasis is not on conventional reading and spelling; students instead focus on feeling what the mouth is doing while making individual sounds. Students improve their phonological awareness and phonological processing skills by not only feeling the changes in the sounds of different words, but being able to generate them on their own.

My heart wants to burst when I think of the possibilities!   If schools implement this at the pre-k level, think of how many children will begin Kindergarten with the right foundations for learning. This program can be utilized by all students, not just those with learning disabilities.  Sure, some kids will still need interventions and additional services.  But there are quite a few that won’t. (Dyslexia has varying degrees of severity). These children won’t struggle to learn and will be better equipped to handle the normal challenges of school.  Their mental health would also benefit from this early intervention since so much of anxiety and depression can be linked to learning challenges. To me this is a win-win for all parties.   Schools want to see their students succeed. They want them to score well on standardized testing (don’t get me started on my opinions on testing).  They want to provide the best possible environment/curriculum for learning. Unfortunately, funding is a big deciding factor when it comes to this.  In the long-run, I would think the NOW! program would be well worth the investment for school districts.  Early detection and intervention has been proven to be ideal.  Identifying children early means better results.  Better results means less intervention over time, hence less money the education systems have to pay for interventional programs/services.  If the education systems want the very best for the future leaders of our country, they need to provide them with the best possible chance to learn at their full potential. My kids deserve it, your kids do too….. All kids deserve the very best.   The answer is here……..it’s time to take notice!

The Movie in My Mind…..

the movie in my mindIf you’ve ever been to Wrigley Field in Chicago, just the mention of its name will bring vivid images to mind.  I can see it clearly.  I’m standing in the middle of an urban neighborhood.  No huge parking lots, just a ballpark tucked between buildings. Crowds of people are gathering in the streets and stopping to take pictures in front of the red marquee located at the home plate entrance.  As I enter the stadium, I pass by the concession stand with a long line of patrons waiting to purchase their favorite ballpark food. There’s a little girl wearing a red shirt with an American flag on the front and she’s holding an ice cream cone.  I continue walking forward shoulder-to-shoulder with a sea of people around me. I finally get a glimpse of the diamond-shaped field and take a quick scan around the stadium.  There’s an umpire dressed in black standing behind the white home plate and there are baseball players in white uniforms and red hats warming up  at every position on the field.  To the right I see a row of baseball players from the St. Louis Cardinals organization leaning against the fence of the sunken-in dugout .   I take in the immaculately manicured grass mowed, quite impressively, to resemble a checkerboard. The first and third baselines are  perfectly lined with white chalk marking the foul lines of the field.  The infield dirt has been raked smooth with the only disturbance being the cleat marks from the players’ shoes.  Beyond the outfield centerfielder, I see the iconic row of green ivy lushly covering the outfield fence. At centerfield, above the lower section of crowded seats, I marvel at the classic hand-operated score board and try to get a glimpse of the person inside that’s flipping the numbers. The skyline above the stadium is a scattering of tall buildings, some with rooftop bleachers for fans to have a bird’s eye view of the game.  It’s a magical place that feels like stepping back in time.

Now, hopefully I “painted” a good enough picture in your mind to envision what Wrigley Field looks like to me, but it might not have matched exactly how you remember/see it.  And that’s okay. It doesn’t have to make sense to you.  Why?  Because the way I described it helps ME remember it.  For example, the little girl with the American flag shirt and the ice cream cone in her hand? That helps me remember that my visit was around the Fourth of July in one of the hottest heat waves the city has had in years. Making movies in your head is a  practice called “mental imagery,” and it’s a hidden gem for learning.

A large number of kids with dyslexia struggle with comprehension (understanding what you read).  Because they have to work so hard just to decode each individual word, they have difficulty holding on to what the story is actually about.  As they sound out each word, the sentences become “choppy” and lack fluidity.  They often decode words WRONG, which can change the entire meaning of the sentence. They read word-by-word and sentence-by-sentence.  By the time they actually finish a paragraph, they feel frustrated by the strain it took mentally,  and they have no clue what they just read.  We can all relate to this in a way. I’ll start reading an article in a magazine and find myself daydreaming or distracted by background noise.  Eventually I catch myself and realize I have no clue what I just read.  No problem, I’ll just re-read it.  Now….. ask a kid with dyslexia to re-read the five-sentence paragraph they just spent 10 minutes trying to finish and they might feel like punching you in the face!  (not really, but you can bet they won’t be very enthusiastic about it).

The Morris Center has a very systematic approach to overcoming dyslexia.  There are 5 programs total (not counting the OT sessions) and they ALL matter.  Other programs have similar methods of teaching that resemble parts of TMC programs.  However, none include ALL five, nor are they taught in the same way. TMC programs are much deeper than they appear on the  surface.  The further our kids get into these programs, the more we recognize the depth of learning that’s occurring.   They build on each other and intertwine together in such a unique way.  Most recently, I’ve been fascinated by the progress I am seeing with the NMI program (Now! Mental Imagery for Language, Comprehension, Memory and Reasoning).

Like the “movie” I made at the beginning of this blog, my kids are now able to visualize what they are reading and “change” the movie to fit the story as they read further.  Even more impressive though has been their ability to store these visuals in their minds and then retell/describe the same stories days and weeks later.  At one session, my daughter was prompted with “remember that story about_______ that we read 2 weeks ago?” With no other explanation she was able to re-tell and describe even the smallest details about that story and the movie she had created in her mind. My jaw was on the floor.

But how is this helpful for reading and learning?  Think back to your history classes.  Some of you probably loved it and had no trouble following the timelines.  Good for you!.  I however, struggled big time!  All the dates, all the names, all the battles…..they all ran together for me.  It would have been so helpful to be able to make “movies” in my mind as I read so that I could recall dates and visualize the different infantries.  I could use colors and hats to separate out the soldiers; badges with numbers on the sleeves of their uniforms  to remember the dates; and unique landscapes to differentiate between  specific  battles.   If I’m being honest, the skill of mental imagery probably would have helped me raise my overall undergrad GPA substantially!  But alas, it’s too late for me.  However, it’s NOT too late for my kids!  They are adding mental imagery to their arsenal of skills that will help them comprehend and LEARN to their full potential.

Most dyslexic people would agree…..Reading is HARD!  But UNDERSTANDING what we read is how we LEARN. So if we struggle to read, we struggle to learn.  When we can’t comprehend, the gap in learning just gets wider.  The mountain gets steeper and it feels easier to stop trying than to keep going.  Our kids and yours deserve better!  They have a mountain in front of them.  They can hike through the rigorous terrain and risk stumbling and navigating paths that lead to dead ends.  Or they can ride the ski lift provided by The Morris Center to the top.  It still takes work, but they can get to the top much faster without the risk of falling.  They’ll get there with less exertion and a new perspective on their own ability.  And as they take in the view,  they will hopefully see even bigger dreams for the future on the horizon.  Now that’s a movie I can visualize,  hold onto in my mind, then re-tell to my children’s children someday….in full detail!

Visit The Morris Center Website to learn more about their Mental Imagery Program: 

The Morris Center