Wait a Minute! The Education System is Missing the Boat!

1I’ve spent a lot of time over the last week thinking about The Morris Center and the impact it has had on so many.  So many, yet not nearly enough.  It’s tragic when you think about it really.  Dyslexia affects 1 in 5 people.  Older generations of people may not even be aware that they have it.  They’ve probably always just thought, “school was hard for me.” Thankfully, with time and with science, we have a better understanding of how the brain works and how to recognize inefficiencies, then provide intervention for those learning challenges.  For dyslexia, there are countless intervention programs available.  State education departments and school districts are inundated with different programs claiming to be the best way to help kids with learning disabilities.  So how do they decide on one?  How do they choose one program over another?  I know that education is always evolving and new teaching strategies are important.  But, which one truly is the best?

When my kids were first diagnosed, I was overwhelmed. I didn’t have an education background so I was clueless about what my next step needed to be.  I was at the mercy of our school district (which I  love and must say is one of the very best in the state).  They went above and beyond to provide services and the latest programs for our children.  They did the very best they could with the resources they had available.  I won’t lie and say these programs haven’t helped my kids. They have.  But, there was still something missing.  What was it?  My kids were learning strategies and memorizing rules left and right.  But were they able to retain and apply what they were learning?   Was it making school easier for them?  And once done with the program, are they done for good or is this just going to be an on-going thing?  Will they start a new one when they are finished with this one?  And why are some kids doing one program and others doing another?  How do I know my children are in the best program for them?  Sooo many questions and it all left me a bit unsettled.  My focus started to shift from hoping this was helping school not be such a struggle to making sure their 504s listed every possible accommodation they may someday need.  I was resigned to the fact that they would always struggle and they would always have to work harder than the majority of their peers.  Life just isn’t fair sometimes.

My sister taught special education for 12 years and actually completed 2 years of an Orton-Gillingham program.  It was multi-sensory and supposed to be fantastic.  I never thought much about such programs until after it was a reality for my own children.  Now you have my attention…. With a family FULL of educators I’ve learned that the education system seems to have cycles.  Teaching methods, learning approaches, tools, techniques…….they have all evolved through the years.  We hear things like this:  They say the best way to teach phonics now is…. the best way to approach language is…. kids learn spelling most effectively through…..etc, etc.  Take math for example.  The way math was taught when I was a kid is certainly NOT how it’s taught today (just ask my kids!  They pretty much excused me from helping them with their homework. Thanks, but no thanks).  Some of the new methods are just that….new.  Others however, seem to have cycled back into use.  It’s all a bit confusing for this mom.  I mean, who are “they?” Who decides this?  Specifically with reading programs, who came up with the program?  How can they claim their method works best?  Isn’t that an opinion?  Is there scientific data that shows their specific program is in fact, the best?  And if so, why are there still so many options?  And the BIG question….will these programs help my kids reach their full potential?  So many questions.  The more I tried to understand our options, the more uncertain I became about the programs my children were immersed in.  It felt like the lottery.  It may or may not work.  Needless to say, my mama heart was not feeling very reassured.

And then I heard about The Morris Center.  I listened to my friends talk about the program and checked out the website.  My initial reaction? Too good to be true.  No way.  But then I read an article written by Dr. Tim Conway that made me second-guess all I thought I knew about dyslexia intervention.  The article had my attention when I read this:

“THIS is the SUPERPOWER of Dyslexia, as it is the SUPERPOWER of the human brain for all learning.

IF schools are required to use ONLY well-researched, highly-effective and scientifically proven methods instead of lining the pockets of publishers,

  • NOTE: publishers of curriculum have made hundred of millions of dollars in profit from selling our schools the same methods of instruction for reading that have the same ineffective, unproven, poorly researched and limited effectiveness, but a new packaging and new labels/vocabularly, for more than the past 20 years,

then from these new, well-researched, and scientifically proven new experiences we can expect NEW outcomes. Presently, the US educational system has shown little to NO improvement in the success of teaching reading, despite decades of discoveries in science about how the brain typically learns to read, what are the most likely causal factors for leading to dyslexia/poor reading skills (poor phonological awareness), and how some methods are highly-effective at preventing reading difficulties with evidence-based early intervention at age FIVE years old – YES, in Kindergarten we can already work to prevent the emergence of poor reading skills.”                                                               Read full article here: “What is Dyslexias Real Superpower”

Could the education system really be missing the boat?  Stay tuned for my next post that explains what The Morris Center actually is and why I think it’s really “THE BEST” program for dyslexia…..

Run Your Own Race

Screen Shot 2020-07-06 at 11.06.58 PM

I haven’t mentioned much about my nephew, Brady who is also here attending The Morris Center.  With his parent’s permission, I would like to introduce you to one of the bravest, most energetic, competitive kids in the world.  When you see this copper-headed, rough-and-tumble boy headed your way, you just want to grab him and wrap him up in a huge bear hug. But here’s the problem…..you won’t be able to catch him!  Brady has one speed.  FULL SPEED!  Since day one, he’s had a fearless approach to life.  He was climbing from his crib by 11 months of age.  He makes others around him gasp with his daredevil jumps and flips.  He cries when roller coasters are over because they were too short. One of my favorite stories about him was when he was 3.  Usually he stayed in the nursery on Sundays while his parents attended the worship service at church.  But this particular Sunday, he joined them.  Our church is a beautiful, old church with almost a gothic style, complete with cathedral ceilings adorned with  large wooden beams.  It almost takes your breath away to see.  Brady sat in his Mimi’s arms and studied his surroundings, looking up at the tall ceilings.  He leaned over to his Mimi’s ear and asked, “What is this place?  Is it a castle?”  His Mimi replies, “it’s our church sanctuary.”  He paused and looked around and then said confidently, “I wanna climb it.”  That’s our B.  Fearless from birth.  Adrenaline seeker.

Brady and my daughter, Avery, are two weeks apart (thank goodness he’s older since he likes to be ahead).  They’ve grown up more like brother and sister.  Where he’s bold and busy, she’s calm and content. They can be the best of friends and the worst of enemies.  They will be fighting one minute and laughing the next.  They both have tender hearts and compassion for others.  With natural athleticism, Brady stood out among his peers from the start.  He was the fastest, strongest, bravest.  We all believe he fits the mold of a Navy Seal.  He takes on life with an intense need to not just succeed, but to be the best!  This is the kid that started off with all blue ribbons at his Kindergarten track and field day. Eventually he got a red one for second place. While most of the others traded to have one of each color, Brady took his red ribbon and tore it in half!  He’s competitive to a fault.  A coach’s dream!

He entered school with confidence but quickly became frustrated and overwhelmed.  Sight words and spelling tests seemed impossible.  The days were too long.  The classroom was confining.  The schoolwork was hard. His parents spent countless hours in the evenings trying to help him memorize and understand only to feel defeated to learn he had not  retained any of it by the next week.  It was exhausting.  Thankfully, Brady’s mother was a school counselor who had taught special education for 12 years. She was trained in reading therapy and quickly recognized Brady’s deficits and knew he would need intervention.  She found him the best tutors and stayed on top of his academic needs.   Brady is a smart kid, but even with the extra help, his work was not reflecting his intelligence.  It was in the middle of first grade when he had outside testing that determined he was dyslexic (and possible processing deficiencies that couldn’t be determined at his age).  Second grade was  difficult to say the least.  He tried one reading program with no success.  School continued to be challenging and he began to lose confidence in himself.  He dreaded school every day.  He would hide in the hallways on his way to after-school tutoring to keep his friends from seeing him. He held it together while at school then had angry outbursts at home.  He was mad, frustrated and tired.  So were his parents.  Third grade was a much better year thanks to a wonderful teacher.  She made him want to go to school.  He made progress in her class with a different reading program but was nowhere near where he needed to be.

Enter present day.  Cannon, Brady & Avery are here at TMC.  It was identified through testing that Brady had inefficiencies in his language processing.  That automatically puts him behind the starting point for Avery.  The things she struggles with are different than  his struggles.  It just happened to be the first program that was his weakness. This program follows a very specific progression plan.  New skills are added as you master others.  We saw right away that Brady wasn’t moving as quickly as Avery.  My sister and I started to worry.  Naturally, kids want to compare notes on what they did each day, not to mention living in a tiny apartment together where their only playmates are each other. What would happen when Brady realized Avery was further along?  This was not good for our competitive child.  My sister and I started to panic, but Dr. Conway and the team at The Morris Center quickly eased our fears.  One of the major “rules” in place at TMC is no comparison!  The kids are not allowed to compare with each other.  They know everyone progresses differently and each have different areas that are more difficult.  No two kids are alike and this is not a competition.  After that first week, the talk about the details of their day went away.  They talked about breaks, lunch and fun OT activities but never compared sessions with each other. My sister and I breathed a sigh of relief.

No one wants to see their child struggle.  It’s heart-breaking really.  It always helps when you find others who understand your struggle because they are living the same one.  My sister and I, along with our husbands share in this dyslexia journey.  We support and encourage, vent and listen.  We came here together for one mission.  To change our kids’ lives.  We couldn’t anticipate the process because it’s impossible to describe without experiencing it. So we dove in head-first and soaked up all we could with every observation and meeting.  We teamed up and attended meetings together for all three.  My skepticism  lessoned as I saw the growth my children were making.  For my sister however, I would imagine it wasn’t as comforting.  While she was thrilled to see Cannon and Avery advance, it was probably also discouraging to see Brady progressing, but at a slower pace.  Doubt creeps in and makes you wonder if you’ve made a mistake.  You’ve invested financially and emotionally into this program and your expectations for progress are not being met.

These thoughts and concerns led to a conversation with Dr. Conway where we point-blank asked him if this program would help Brady.  Dr. Conway assertively answered with this: “we can help Brady.  It’s what we do.  He’s in the right place.”  Some of you might be thinking, “well of course he’s going to say that.  It’s his program and you are paying customers.”  I dare you to spend one hour with this man and tell me you think he’s bogus afterwards.  Dr. Conway is a Neuropsychologist who has committed the last 30 years to this program.  He has the science to back him up .  There are no other programs that I’m aware of that have scientific evidence that shows their program works.   Dr. Conway speaks with passion and you can see the fire in his eyes as he talks about helping children and adults with dyslexia.  His family is riddled with dyslexia.  His professional mission in life is to get this program into schools around the country and make the science of learning the standard for everyone.  It’s tragic when I think about how many people he could help if his voice could only be heard.

As Brady continues along, here’s the good news.  He is progressing every week. We are seeing growth.  His confidence is improving.  He’s receiving praise and affirmation from people who believe in him.  They are helping him believe in himself as well.  Sure, the language processing has made him start 100 yards behind the others but that’s okay.  This is not a race.  There is no time limit.  Everyone runs their own race.  We want them all to cross the finish line but we don’t care how long it takes.  What matters is that Brady is making progress, and every day he’s one day closer to changing his life for the better.  I applaud  Jamie and Davin for making this sacrifice for Brady and I hope they are able to block out comparison and celebrate Brady’s race.

 

What’s OT Have to Do With It???

What's Got To Do with it?-2

If you visit the  The Morris Center website you can read about their “Trans-disciplinary Team that uses evidence-based science; the science of how the brain learns and improves skills & abilities.”   The services provided include speech, occupational therapy, psychology and neuropsychology.  Great, that’s cool.  But, we really weren’t sure how OT would help our kids with reading.  I mean, neither of them had any occupational concerns that we were aware of upon arrival.  They certainly wouldn’t qualify for any kind of these services at school.  So we thought, “OT will be a bonus!  They’ll get to improve some fine motor skills they already have while in Florida getting help with dyslexia. It’ll be a win-win.”  What role could it possibly play?  We were about to find out….

Have you ever over-heard a conversation or even been part of a conversation that makes you feel a bit insecure or even defensive?  More specifically, has anyone ever said something like this to you: “I hate it when someone _____; did you see how he ______;   I don’t understand why she can/can’t_____.” Sound familiar?  Sure, we’ve all been there.  But what happens when the things being pointed out are things you yourself do/don’t do?  Umm….wait a minute…I do that!  Awkward!  I myself have been there many times and my first meeting with the Occupational Therapists at The Morris Center was no different.

Here’s what The Morris Center Website says about the Occupational Therapy component:

“OT provides specific instructive therapy that can assist clients in overcoming sensory processing difficulties, these occur in approximately 50% of the clients and may be one or a combination of the following:

  • Oral-motor and motor planning difficulty
  • Fine and gross motor delays
  • Visual perceptual delayskj
  • Somatosensory deficits (lack of body awareness)
  • Sensory hypersensitivity

OT works to improve overall strength, balance and coordination. Attention is also given to handwriting, oral control and ocular motor skills. This type of intervention helps build self-esteem and self-confidence.”

The word “sensory” makes most of us think about our 5 external senses, right? But wait!  Back up.  There’s actually 3 more internal senses.  They don’t get mentioned by name very often….probably because they don’t exactly roll off the tongue, but they’re kinda a BIG DEAL!  Here’s those big words I mentioned in a previous post:

VESTIBULAR                INTEROCEPTION                    PROCREOCEPTION

Now, I could make it easy on you and explain each of these in detail (thanks to the amazing OTs who are teaching me all about them).  But, this isn’t a medical blog and I couldn’t begin to talk like an expert on any of these subjects.  But I dare you….no, I challenge you, to look these words up and learn all you can about them!  It truly is fascinating stuff!

At that initial meeting, the OT, Dr. Diana Croom-Atkins, did an amazing job of breaking it all down in terms I could understand and how it pertains to my kids and the way they learn.  I should also mention she has specialized training beyond the basic occupational therapy credentials. In a nutshell….these three internal senses serve as a foundation that determines all the others.  Knowing force, writing hard with a pencil, recognizing hunger or headaches, slumped posture, head tilt, fidgety…. these are some of the things I heard mentioned. I’ll admit, with each new mention, I caught myself sitting up a little taller, consciously keeping my head from tilting, examining my grip for the first time.  In my head I was thinking, “oh, I do that; I know where he gets that; yep, me too; uh oh, she must be seeing where they get it all in real-time as she watches me.”   I even  jokingly said to her, “I bet you are diagnosing me as we speak.”  She just smiled.  But really….

As she went on to discuss specific things she’s observed my kids doing, she also explained how it may be preventing them from learning at their optimal potential.  When there are gaps or cracks in these senses, their ability to read/write/understand is deficient.  With OT, they can fill in some of those gaps and make these senses more efficient.  With efficiency, comes higher levels of learning potential. And for my kids, this means they can WORK LESS AND LEARN MORE.  Can you imagine?  How frustrated would you be if you had to work 5 times as hard as everyone else in the room to learn the same things? No wonder we are dealing with anxiety, anger and exhaustion on the daily.  But now we are at a place that is examining our kids to their cores, learning the WHY behind their struggles and then telling us THEY CAN HELP!

As people, one of our ultimate goals is to find joy in life.  It’s possible for us all, but for kids with dyslexia, the road can be longer and sometimes seem impossible.  Struggling to learn leads to struggles in life. As a parent who would do anything to make life a little easier for my kids, this treatment would be an answered prayer.  The more I learn about the occupational therapy component, the more I recognize just how critical it is for my kids.  Who knew?  I have a new-found respect for this important field.  And also….I’m pretty sure I would benefit from some OT myself.  I’m betting everyone else could too.  Maybe I can get a buy two, get one free coupon for the OT……just kidding.

Every day we are on this journey I find myself in awe of the human body and the complex way every part intercepts and intertwines.  How anyone could think there’s not a divine Creator is beyond me.  More than ever, I am amazed by the Greatness of our God.  One week closer to home……

 

Do I even know you?

This whole experience has been similar to looking at your children from a different perspective.  I know my kids better than anyone else on this earth.  I know how they handle happiness, sadness, disappointment, triumph.  I know their struggles and their strengths.  I know them like the back of my hand.  Or do I? As parents our hope is that we can guide and teach our children to grow into kind, responsible, confident young people. We focus on teaching them “our ways” of doing things, encouraging them to overcome adversity, and modeling what we think is important.  Some of it seems to be getting through.  Other things are missing the mark.  When that happens, we are quick to try to “fix” the behavior/habit/struggle that they have.  But how often do we take a step back and ask “why are you acting/responding/melting down?”  Are they just being defiant, strong-willed, or even dramatic?  Maybe.  But it could be about something completely different.  It could be something at a deeper, physiological level.

The more we meet with the staff here at TMC, the more we are studying our kids from a different angle.  So much of what we see at home and don’t understand is starting to make sense.  Why they do certain things or find simple tasks more difficult may actually be related to inefficiencies in their development.  Who knew?  I have been blown away so far by what I’ve been learning.  It’s reminding me of the editing process of photography.  For example, you take a picture of a baseball field.  To everyone else it looks amazing.  But when you load the image into your photo editing software, you start to pick the image apart.  You zoom in on every part of the image and start noticing things you didn’t at first glance.  The exposure could have been brighter, the shadows could be lifted, the color more vibrant.  The original picture was good, but with a little tweaking, it could be even better.  Piece by piece, you are able to make small changes to the image to make it brighter, more defined, enhanced.  And once the editing is complete, you can step back and see how every little part molded together to make an even more beautiful photograph. People are like pictures.  From the outside, we can look great, but when you look closer, you see things that need improvement.  And this place is in the business of making small developmental changes in brains to make them work more efficiently.  How these changes correlate to reading?  I haven’t quite figured it out.  But my friends have assured me to just trust the process and watch the pieces all come together.

I came here confident I knew my kids, but I have a feeling when I leave, I’ll be able to not only know them, but to understand them better.  So go ahead TMC! Keep reminding me of all the ways my kids are amazing.  Then show me how you will make them FEEL just as amazing for themselves.

This Week has been the LONGEST Year Ever! (Week 1 @ The Morris Center)

Whew!  What a week!  For the kids and the adults.  So much testing for the kids, and lots of information for us.  On Monday, we arrived with three nervous, uncertain kids.  We were greeted by the smiling faces of some of the staff who quickly ushered them through the office to show them the routine…..where to put their lunches, how to read their daily schedule, etc.  They came back looking a bit timid still.  Just then, Dr. Conway walked in and said, “Kids, before you get started, come outside.  I want to show you something.”  After a minute I peeked out the door to see 3 smiling faces laughing and examining a souped up mountain bike.  He had their attention!  In that moment I saw their shoulders relax and their chins tilt up a little.  To make it even better, Dr. Conway sat on the couch and softly explained the day to them. (okay, maybe I was too harsh in my initial impression post about those couches…they are comfy…but still…) In that moment, I wanted to give Dr. Conway a big bear hug for easing their anxious hearts (and maybe mine too).

You know how the first week of school is fairly easy…..more about learning the routine than actual academics?  Well, this first week  was NOTHING like that.  They hit the ground running and never slowed down.  The comprehensive testing usually takes 1 week for a kid, but since there’s three of them, they’ve had to split it up over two weeks.  When they aren’t testing, they’re already starting the first language sessions for the program.  The clinic runs a tight schedule every day so that the kids can maximize each moment of learning.  According to Brady, the 10 minute breaks between sessions last only 2 minutes.  OT and scheduled outside play are a welcomed escape from the rigorous mental work required.  We’ve heard, “my brain hurts,” multiple times by all three of them. And you know what?  We believe them!  By the week’s end we had no trouble getting them to bed. They are exhausted.  Each has had his/her share of meltdowns and arguments so we’ve offered a large amount of grace since we understand how hard they are working.  This is some intense testing and we are only on week one. Bless it.

While the kids were busy testing, Mom and I spent about 8 hours at the center in meetings. The actual number of staff members at the clinic  is surprisingly small to me.  It almost feels like they are running on a skeleton crew.  Only certain staff are certified to administer testing, and their plates already appear overloaded.  By the end of the week I could see fatigue on both the kids and the staffs’ faces.  For good reason too!  Some of the staff members aren’t usually in the office 5 days a week but did so for us.  Administering, then scoring the testing results for three is no doubt time-consuming!  These people wrapped up a tough week of end-of-treatment testing for 2 of our friends from Arkansas, then  put in another strenuous week to get us started on our journey.  To their credit, they gave us their undivided attention at each meeting, never rushing us to wrap it up and never showing their fatigue.  They listened patiently, explained things thoroughly and took ample time discussing each kid. We left every meeting feeling better and better.  Why?  Because they love what they do, believe in the program and truly want to see our kids succeed.  The meetings included Clint, Davin & Jamie via FaceTime and left us feeling impressed….and surprised…..and intrigued…..curious and fascinated by what we’ve heard.  We had individual meetings for each child with the psychologist, occupational therapist, and neuropsychologist (i.e. brain scientist).The information we received at each meeting was more than we expected.  Within the first 2 days, they had already identified areas of concern that aligned with concerns we’ve had with each kid.  Even more so, they were pointing out areas of deficit we didn’t realize had anything to do with dyslexia.  It was like an “ah ha” moment for us.  So much of the things our kids struggle with outside of the academic realm are affected by this inefficiency in their brains.  Already we’ve learned so much, yet it’s only the beginning.  I can’t wait to get even more information in the weeks ahead.

 

 

Not So Sweet Dreams From Ocala

Today was a low-key, quiet day.  A day that was still and much needed. The first we’ve had in a few weeks.  There were no alarm clocks, no rushing, no to-do lists, no places to go.  Just a day spent in our tiny house, everyone in their own worlds.  There was lots of tv, iPads, reading, video games, FaceTiming with friends, cooking, napping, a little bike riding & artwork.  We are missing our people but we are adjusting to a new normal here in Ocala.  Tomorrow starts our last week of quarantine and essentially the last week of their summer break.

In our contentment at home, we lost track of time and realized too late it was way past bedtime.  11:00…..a peaceful evening quickly turned into a Brady v. Avery rumble in the living room.  What would have been easily handled and forgotten earlier in the day, turned into a hitting, screaming, crying fit. As they were forced to their respective rooms, they said the best parting words to one another:

(There was a mention of the recycling bin by Cannon…..)

Avery:  Brady needs to be put in the recycle bin!

Brady: SHUT UP!!!!

Oh parting is such sweet sorrow….

When they wake in the morning, all will be forgotten.  But tonight, they were ready to say goodbye forever.

Once in our room, I tried wiping away her tears but realized we had crossed the point of no return.  There were no hugs, words or snuggles that could soothe an over-tired, sensitive soul expressing her strong feelings about a ruined life at the hands of a red-headed boy.  Much to her dismay, there was no “chill time” in her bed with her iPad so she reluctantly snuggled in with her favorite stuffed animals.  She refused my offer to sleep in my bed, determined to remain stoic in her anger.  But a little arm slowly creeped to the edge of her bed and I knew exactly why.  I reached out and held that small hand and gently rubbed the top with my thumb.  She never acknowledged it but certainly didn’t pull away.  In the silence, I lay staring at her small face.  I saw sadness in her downcast eyes and pouty lip.  Eventually though, the sleepiness took over and she began to blink a little more frequently than before.  I wondered what was going through her mind.  Was she thinking about the last 10 minutes or something more?  Life has been a lot lately.  Her little safe and comfortable environment has been completely uprooted in the past 3 weeks.  What she thought was ahead of her & looked forward to for summer is no longer the same.  Was she thinking about her friends back home and missing them?  Was she wishing her Daddy was here to tuck her in?  Was she hoping to dream about running in the yard with our dogs, Sadie & Millie?  Is she fearful of the grueling schedule that is quickly approaching?  Or was she simply envisioning the blue of the ocean and feel of the sand between her toes?  She has a heavy load on her little shoulders.  Some would crumble under the pressure of so much, so fast.  But not my Avery.  She’s put her big girl panties on and walked bravely into the unknown.

And as I lay beside her from my own bed, holding her soft fingers in the palm of my hand, I am sent back in time to when I held her in my arms and rocked her to sleep.  It was one of my most treasured times with her as a baby. No distractions or noise.  Just a mama holding her little girl, watching her eyes blink closed, praying she would one day have the confidence to chase her dreams while knowing how much she is loved and cherished.  Tonight as her eyelids got heavier and the blinking slowed down, I watched them close softly for the last time until sunrise, and I listened to her breathing deepen as she drifted off to sleep.  Once she was finally sound asleep, I continued to  stare at her little face as tears ran down my cheeks.  This beautiful, smart, strong, kind and BRAVE girl is facing all life throws at her head-on.  When the storms of change surround her, she doesn’t turn away.  She pulls on her rubber boots and boldly walks directly into the rain. She also makes sure those walking with her keep up and don’t lose hope.  She may stumble and fall a few times, but there’s no doubt she will stand up and continue on her way, in search of the sunlight through the clouds.   If only I could have been this brave at just 9 years old.  She is my daughter and she is fierce!