What Exactly is The Morris Center?

from the outside looking in, it's hard to understand.

This is the question I get the most and the one I struggle to answer every time.  My answers always seem either too simplified or too confusing.  The simplified version can make people think it’s just another program out there, not much different than some of the others.  The confusing, more detailed answer uses a lot of big words about the trans-disciplinary approaches that most would think don’t have anything to do with reading.  It’s truly one of those things that’s impossible to put into words…..you just need to experience it to get it.

I could leave it there and not worry about if others understand and see why this program is completely different.  I could easily have the this mentality: “my kids are my only priority.  Other kids may be missing out but at least my kids are getting the best, right?”  But I’m wired to want to help others.  If you know anything about the  Enneagram, I’m a solid 2. I find joy in serving and helping others.  My husband has even teased me saying, “all the things you do for others are things you could be charging for, but instead you work for free.” He’s probably right, but it’s part of who I am and it brings me joy to help.  So when I see my kids receiving interventions that are changing the course of their life, I can’t help but think of all the kids out there that aren’t receiving the same.  It’s tragic to see a program with such unprecedented results being so underutilized.  But what’s different about it compared to the other programs???  Here’s my attempt at explaining what I see:

THE PROGRAMS:

NOW! Foundations of Speech, Language, Reading & Spelling                                                                                            NOW! Foundations of Speech, Language, Reading and Spelling®                                       NOW! Mental Imagery for Language, Comprehension, Memory and Reasoning® NOW! Grammar and Writing®                                                                                                                                      NOW! Math Concept Imagery®

  1. THESE PEOPLE GET MY KID:  Dyslexia is so much more than just a learning deficiency.  It’s affected my kid’s confidence & self-esteem. It’s caused anxiety, worry, stress, embarrassment, frustration and anger. They hate having to do “extra” work.  They feel defeated when they watch their peers growing and succeeding while they are struggling to keep up and falling further behind.  It carries over to home, sports and activities.  They feel like nobody understands what it’s like to be them.  But within a few weeks of being at The Morris Center, they all seemed to breathe a sigh of relief.  Why?  Because for the first time, there were people around them explaining the “why” behind it all.  These people are familiar with what these kids are experiencing and they know how to handle it.  They assure them that they can help.  They give them hope.
  2. INTENSITY & CONSISTENCY: Every day our kids know exactly what to expect when they walk through the door.  They check their daily schedule and get to work.  Their days consist of 6 one-one-on sessions, two of which are occupational therapy.  Each session is 50 minutes of instruction.  The kids are getting the maximum instruction at each session.  In a classroom setting, there is always some downtime.  Kids can get distracted when the teacher is working with another student or small group.  Kids can zone out or daydream during a lesson.  At TMC, that’s not possible.  My kids are getting the most out of every minute! This is 6 hours a day, 5 days a week.  With that level of frequency, the process of rewiring the brain is expedited.
  3. A TEAM APPROACH:  After each session, notes are entered into their software program.  These notes show the next instructor exactly where my child left off, what he/she has mastered or needs to continue practicing, along with how their focus level, demeanor and behavior seem to be.  They also converse regular between sessions about specific concerns or observations.  Each hour of my child’s day is documented and the entire team has access to it at any time.  Basically, they are all on the same page, all the time!
  4. PSYCHIATRY:  If your kid has been on or needs medication, TMC works closely to monitor and manage your child’s response to specific medications.  My nephew is ADHD and has been able to begin a new medicine regimen with daily feedback from the staff on their observations on how he is responding to the medicinal therapy.
  5. PSYCHOLOGY:  In my opinion, everyone needs a therapist!  It’s so good to have an unbiased person to listen to and advise you.  For kids, this is especially helpful as they deal with a wide array of emotions.  At The Morris Center, there is an on-site psychologist that meets with each child weekly.  His main purpose is to monitor each child’s well-being while at TMC.  Basically, he’s a life coach.  He offers the kids a safe outlet for expressing their feelings honestly, then works to teach them coping skills that empower them to self-regulate.  The psychologist also provides complementary strategies and methods to the staff to help them best relate to each child and handle circumstances/behaviors appropriately.  Every kid is different and responds to situations uniquely. It’s comforting to know that there’s someone there trained to assess my children’s emotional well-being and teach them how to cope on their own.
  6. PARENTS INCLUDED: This isn’t a drop-off and pick-up at the door environment. Parents play an integral part in the process.  Every morning, we escort our kids inside where we are greeted by staff.  Quick conversations about our kids overall demeanor/behavior/eating while home are welcomed.  If my kid couldn’t sleep/eat, they want to know.  This helps the team prepare for the day.  Each week, we get the opportunity to observe our kids in session.  This gives us a better understanding of how the program is being taught and we can see first-hand the progress our child is making.  It’s encouraging for us to see that our investment is working!  In addition to observations, we have weekly progress meetings with the psychologist, occupational therapist and Dr. Conway.  We get a DETAILED break-down of the week’s progress, complete with pros/cons/plan of action for the next week.  At any time, they can access every word, sound, skill my child has mastered. They track EVERYTHING!  It’s really pretty incredible to see how much detail is documented for each day.

This is in no way a comprehensive explanation of what The Morris Center is, but it’s certainly enough to show why this place is different.  I dare you to find a program as detailed, strategically executed and scientifically supported as The Morris Center.  The experience we’ve had has far exceeded our expectations and it’s not over yet.

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

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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.

 

Get Out of Your Own Way!

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This post if for parents of older kids with dyslexia.  This is my experience with having a very intelligent pre-teen with dyslexia that needs the program at The Morris Center,  but thinks “he’s fine” without it.

If you’ve had a teenager or pre-teen, you are probably familiar with “the change.”  You know…when one day you look up and don’t recognize the stranger in your home.  Your once gentle, considerate, obedient child has left the building.  In his place, is this grumbling, mouthy, self-absorbed “man-child” that has made it his life’s mission to show you just how wrong, mean and clueless you are about kids today and life in general.   With my oldest son, I was blind-sided and ready to put up missing person flyers.  I wanted to return the multitude of parenting books I had purchased and highlighted…. and ask for my money back.  They obviously weren’t working.  I didn’t know what to do with this new, extremely loud, and at times cruel teenage boy who thought the world revolved around him.  This was his life and we were just living in it.  Nobody told me the kid who once hugged me tightly and wouldn’t leave my side would begin to avoid conversation with me and roll his eyes when I demanded “forced family fun.”  This new person was difficult to be around and, my mama feelings were hurt.  But a mama with grown children gave me the encouragement (and laugh) I needed.  She said, “oh yeah.  Welcome to the teen years. Been there.  Its like you look at him and think an alien has taken over his body.  You will live with this new, exasperating version of your child for a few years.  Then around 15-16, he will come back.  He’ll be back.  You just have to hang on.”  That boy is now 15 and I have to say she was right.  He’s starting to return to himself and he’s maturing into the young man I prayed he would be.

So for child two, I felt like a veteran parent. I “diagnosed” his condition at the first sign.  “The change” had begun.  I padded up, put on my toughest skin and started walking directly into the storm of adolescence.  But unfortunately, just as no two kids are the same, no two “changes” are the same either. There’s a lot going on physically, intellectually and emotionally at this age already.  The changes happening in his brain hinder a lot of logical thinking, and when he’s asked to explain why he did or didn’t do something, his answer of “I don’t know,” may actually be valid (yep, I read that in one of those parenting books). So by nature, all of this is already going on.  Add in a complete uprooting of his normal life and you find yourself in Ocala, Florida basically saying this: “instead of that fun summer at home you were looking forward to,  you’re going to complete an intensive dyslexia program that involves 6 hours of learning, 5 days a week.  You’re welcome.”

I love finding quotes that relate to my life or the lives of those around me.  My current choice for Cannon…..“A bad attitude is like a flat tire. You can’t go anywhere until you change it.”
Truth.  He started at The Morris Center with a bad attitude…..mad about missing home, being here with little kids and doing a pointless program that he “doesn’t need.”  (Adding to his frustration was the fact that two weeks prior, he completed his last lesson of a dyslexia program he’s been doing at school for the past 3 years.  He hated the program but remained diligent.  He believed that once he finished that program, he would be done for good.  We however, knew that wouldn’t be the case and his future education would require more intervention).  He started at TMC with two 9 year-olds and an 8 year-old (a 15 year-old started a few weeks later). This wasn’t helping us sell the fact that this program is for ANYONE.  The program begins at a developmental level.  I’m talking mouth movements and sounds.  Simple, but necessary, and the starting place for everyone, regardless of age.  He didn’t shy away from telling us just how dumb it was that he had to do this “baby stuff” with little kids.  The first few weeks were much the same.  We tried explaining the  program’s progression to him but he was in no place to hear it.  However, we felt certain he would soon “buy-in” and realize how this was helping him.  I wish that was the case, but his adolescent self was determined to be miserable and committed  to making sure everyone around him knew it.  The funny thing is that he KNOWS this is helping him and has acknowledged this fact.  Yet he REFUSED to let go of this negativity. He gets his stubbornness honest.

We are now starting our 9th week (7th full week without testing).  It’s not been smooth-sailing.  He still holds onto resentment and anger about being here at times, but there have certainly been some good weeks mixed in.  On the bad days, he’s pushed the boundaries to their limit. One week ago, he crossed over from disgruntled to disrespectful.  His demeanor and negativity was affecting his speed of progress.  He was only making the program longer for himself.  He was essentially wasting valuable time. This was the last straw for us.  It’s one thing for us to see his attitude, but when the staff are acknowledging it, we have a problem. Let’s just say we had a “come to Jesus” talk with him about his attitude and refusal to just accept his circumstances and make the most of it. If he wants to be miserable, we can show him just how miserable it can be (i.e. no technology, no fun weekends, no bike trails).  This certainly got his attention.

Our “chat” was a tough but necessary one.  The part that resonated most was when I told him this: “these people are experts in their field. They have committed 4 months to helping you achieve your potential.  They love their careers.  When you come in here with a bad attitude, telling them this is dumb, pointless, etc…. you are insulting them.  That’s not you and that’s not okay.”  That was a turning point.  He woke up the next morning a completely different kid.  He had found some logic and reason.  He’s shown up everyday since ready to work and with a positive mindset.  The staff have noticed and affirmed his behavior.  We are all breathing a sigh of relief.  They are finally getting to see the “real Cannon.” And we all know that his new attitude will allow him to get the most out of this program in the fastest way possible.

At this point I feel a tremendous amount of gratitude to the staff.  Each of them have played an integral part in this journey.  They’ve shown patience and understanding.  They’ve offered more grace than deserved.  They’ve treated Cannon with respect and professionalism through his defiance.  The psychologist increased the number of sessions with Cannon to offer more support and coping strategies.  Dr. Conway has had one-on-one “brain talks” with Cannon to explain the science behind all of this. One of the coolest parts of this whole journey has been seeing how the staff works as one unit.  They meet together every week to discuss each child in detail and they keep in touch throughout the week to stay informed.  They make weekly plans for each child and share strategies that work most effectively for that child’s attention, learning style, and  emotional state.  This allows the kids to hear a consistent message no matter who they are working with or what type of session they are in.  They meet with the parents weekly and schedule weekly observations of each discipline.  If we have concerns, they are quickly addressed.  When they say they take a trans-disciplinary approach to this program, they are telling the truth!  I’ve never seen anything like this and feel so humbled that my kids are able to experience such a customized learning environment.

So if you’ve considered bringing your teenager to The Morris Center but hesitate to do so out of fear of his “attitude” or perception…… just do it.  I can’t say it will be easy, but it will certainly be worth it!

As for Cannon…. at the end of this, he may not understand completely or even appreciate just how much this program will change his life.  But I have no doubt he will figure it out when he resumes school and as he progresses through high school and college.  He will recognize just what Dr. Conway has been telling him:  “This is going to help you work less and learn more.”  And once his brain is completely developed (not until age 24) and he’s starting his career, he will realize just how life-altering The Morris Center was for him.  And maybe, just maybe…..he might actually thank us for taking his summer away.

Nothing Good Ever Came Easy

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I’ve already covered a lot of reasons why this place is incredible.  No doubt, The Morris Center is in a category of its own.  But this is HARD.  Like, really hard.  Take a minute to put yourselves in our shoes.  Imagine your kid has dyslexia (and some of you don’t have to imagine it because you already live it).  Every day at school is a struggle.  Every day your child has to work harder than the majority of his/her peers.  He doesn’t love school and has been counting down the days to summer since the second week of the school year.  Third grade is almost over and she can already taste the first sign of summer….the tiger’s blood sno-cone from the portable stand by the red light near your home.  The boat is out of storage and he can’t wait to wakeboard and do donuts on the tube in the middle of the lake.  This was us in April…. anticipating sweet summertime.

Suddenly, things change.  Due to unique circumstances, our plan to be at The Morris Center in November was expedited to NOW!  We literally had 2 weeks to pack up and leave.  In that rush to get things done, we were met with strong resistance from our kids. Lots of pleading, lots of tears.  A sad little girl saying “please don’t make me go now.  You’re ruining my life. I’ll miss sleepovers and all the fun camps with my friends.”  A clever adolescent using his math skills and new, not so nice addition to my name:  “Hello, worst mother ever….So let’s do the math,  From the start of 6th grade to the end of 7th grade, how many days of school will I have without a summer break?”  To put it lightly, they were MAD!  It’s a terrible feeling as a parent to know your kids think you are punishing them when you’re actually trying to save them.  But alas, we persisted, reminding ourselves this was the best thing for them, and if we can just get there, they will understand.

We are now in week 6 of the program.  The fatigue is setting in.  They are no longer pacified by the promise of “fun weekends doing Florida things we can’t do back home.” In fact, they would choose to relax and chill over boogie-boarding the waves of the ocean.  But we still plan activities because we know idle time leads to negativity.  Too much time has them imagining all the “fun” their friends are having back home while they are in “school” all day (the grass looks greener than it actually is since the coronavirus has affected everyone’s summer plans…but you can’t convince them otherwise).  They love keeping up with friends, but each baseball tournament, camp re-cap, lake day picture reminds them of what they “would be” doing if they were home.  They haven’t seen their dad in 58 days.  Being homesick is their reality.

And let’s talk about the work they are doing at The Morris Center.  These kids are working HARD.  This isn’t like regular school at all.  This is six,  1-hour sessions per day of one-on-one instruction.  There is no lag time, no mindless drawing in their notebooks during instruction, no zoning out while the teacher works with other students. No recess with friends on a playground or lunch dance parties in the cafeteria.  There’s no distractions to slow the pace of learning.  This is intense instruction with 10 minute breaks in-between.  These kids are doing a week’s worth of the online NOW program every single day!  Each week is a month’s worth of sessions.  Their afternoons are structured and routine:  come back to the tiny house (aka, our apartment), chill for 30-45 minutes with a snack and some youtube, Minecraft or Fortnite; bike riding or swimming, dinner, downtime, then bedtime.  As parents, we have observations and meetings throughout the week to keep up with their progress.  We are trying to offer well-balanced, nutritious meals to give them the right fuel.  We are enforcing bedtimes since their brains do the rewiring when they sleep.  We are waking them up early, packing lunches, fixing breakfast and sending them back to another full day of grueling thinking.  All of this DURING THEIR SUMMER BREAK.   We are tired, we are homesick, we are living in super tight quarters (3 beds, one room). The struggle is real!

But yet, these kids are resilient.  They show up every day and give it their all (for the most part…the adolescent boy has recently gained some testosterone-induced courage that has him acting a little out of character….let’s just say he’s determined to be miserable and wants everyone else to know by his body language just how miserable he is….but nothing The Morris Center can’t handle).  Sure, they are emotional at the end of the day and have moments that make us mamas want to barricade them in their rooms. But as kids with dyslexia, they are accustomed to having to work harder than others so they handle this better than most.  The good in struggle is the way it will prepare them for life.  Life is hard and it doesn’t play fair.  Everyone will face hard times.  When kids that always succeed face such times, they often can’t or don’t know how to handle it in the best way.  However, kids like mine will look struggle directly in the eye and proceed forward.  They won’t back down.  They’ve learned how to overcome and find success.  They won’t be victims of the unfairness of life.  Instead they will be empowered by those moments and rise above them.

This week was hard.  I felt defeated by the emotional roller-coaster that was only half-way over.  I didn’t know how I would possibly make it and continue to be who they needed me to be.  And at my lowest point, I was given a gift. Something to remind me why we are here.  Something to show me that this is working.  It was a conversation with my daughter on the way home one day:

A: I am reading “Ramona, Age 8” but Dr. Conway said I needed to be reading a harder book so now I’m reading something else.

Me:  That’s great, A.  I’m so proud of you.  Let me ask you….what do you think about all this really?  Do you think it’s helping you?

A: (no hesitation). Yes, it’s making reading easier.

Me:  Oh yeah? What’s easier about it?

A: Well you know big words, like “complicated.”  I used to have to sound it out like “co-m-p-li-cate-ed.”  And now I just say “complicated” all together.

Me:  That’s so awesome, A, and it makes me so happy to hear you say you can tell that it’s helping.  And we’re really only about half-way through.  What do you think it’s going to be like to read when we finish?

A: It’s going to be even easier.   It’ll be like glass….smooth all the way.

 

Bam! There’s my rainbow through the clouds.  The ah-ha moment I’ve been waiting to hear.  I feel empowered to push through.  We can totally do this, together.

What’s OT Have to Do With It???

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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……

 

Wait! Could You Say That Again?

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Vincent Van Gogh once said, “Great things are done by a series of small things that are brought together.”  Well I certainly hope he is right!

This week we finally had our comprehensive evaluations for all three kids.  If you’ve ever had a battery of testing done, then had to sit down with a physician to hear the results, then you’ll somewhat understand what this was like for us.  We spent almost 7 hours of our week just listening to the team break down every test, every observation…. what it all meant, how it affected our kids and how they could help.   There were three doctors from different fields of study in this meeting explaining basically every fiber of each of our kids.  We listened, took notes, asked questions and recorded the conversation (thank goodness!).  After the meeting, on the drive home, we couldn’t formulate the words to even talk about all of this information.  We needed to digest and process all that they said.  It’s been 3 days since and I’m still wrapping my head around it.  We have so many questions, so many concerns and so many doubts.  But at the same time…..it all makes sense!  All of it.  While we may not have understood the science behind it all or how the testing could pinpoint such intricate details, we do see how it all relates to our kids!  And each kids’ results were different but spot-on when you look at his/her behaviors/thinking/reactions/etc..  You know that thing you notice about your kid that’s a little different or unique?  You think it’s just something you notice, maybe a little quirk about him/her.  You keep it to yourself, but one day someone else notices it too.  When they mention it to you, you say, “YES!!!  I THOUGHT IT WAS JUST ME THAT NOTICED THAT!”  Yeah, that’s pretty much what I was thinking the entire time.  So much of the things we notice (or don’t notice) aren’t just quirks.  There’s actually a scientific reason for it.  These doctors not only pointed our these nuances, they explained the why behind them and then how they could make it better.

I’ll be honest, after hearing all the testing results and then analyzing what every sub-category means for your child, we left feeling a little sad.  So much of their struggles, beyond academics, have now been explained.  So much of what they do/don’t do that drives us crazy are things they can’t help.  Cue the mom-guilt.  I can think back to hundreds of times I’ve been irritated, aggravated, confused about things they have said or done, or things they haven’t been able to do.  It makes no sense!  Until now…. now it all makes sense.  Now I see that they weren’t being lazy, defiant, distracted, negative, slow.  They actually couldn’t help it.  Poor kids.  No wonder they did that……  it broke my heart a little.  However, to the credit of TMC staff, they were quick to discourage us from feeling any kind of guilt.  That’s not the point.  The point is to fully evaluate my child, find their deficits and find a way to help them.  The OT said something that resonated deeply with me regarding senses.  She said, “I would never tell a parent their child doesn’t have any vestibular, proprioceptive or interoceptive senses at all (more on those big words later).  It’s just not working efficiently.”  That’s encouraging and if we can keep our eyes focused on that, it will make all the difference.

Leaving the meeting wasn’t all sad.  We left with a better understanding of why we are here.  We’ve found the deficit, now let’s help them overcome it.  There is hope in knowing that a clinic that can identify such things can also make them better.  They are shooting us straight in all areas and giving us realistic expectations.  Some seem a bit reaching but we are hoping for the best. I now understand what each discipline (speech, language, Occupational therapy and psychology) is doing for my kids.  How this trans-disciplinary approach merges and intertwines together for the overall result???  I’m not really sure.  But like Van Gogh said,”Great things are done by a series of small things that are brought together.”  Let’s press on!

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.

 

 

Let’s Be Honest: We are Terrible About Judging Books by The Cover!

On Thursday we were finally able to visit the clinic, meet everyone and tour the facility.  First impression….the facility itself was underwhelming. Oversized furniture in a small waiting room, cluttered front office, narrow hallways, & walls a colorless hue of beige. Basically it screams MAKEOVER!  Some updating and interior changes are in need.  I know, I know…..this is an office with professionals……a brain scientist, highly credentialed educators, speech pathologists, occupational therapists, creative  and energetic office staff. Interior design is probably not on the top of their priorities.  The work they are doing is way more important and their reputations alone speak for themselves.  Unfortunately we are humans who often judge by outward appearance instead of the heart.  First impressions and the manner in which things are presented matter and can determine success or failure. For a family like ours that has financially invested so much into a team of experts that promise to change our kids’ lives, scrutiny comes with the territory.  We’ve made sacrifices to be here and arrived on a mission to fully immerse ourselves into this rigorous  program. Naturally, we have high hopes but we are cautiously optimistic.  When something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.  Walking into the facility the first day did very little to ease our apprehension.  It is not what you would expect for a place that is revolutionizing the world of dyslexia based on scientific research. Thankfully however, we have friends already in the program that assured us not to “judge a book by it’s cover.”  In all honesty, without their reassurance, I probably would have panicked and left with more fear and doubts about our decision, just based on what my eyes had seen.  Now that would have been TRAGIC!

On the bright side, if I try to look past the dated building, The Morris Center doesn’t feel like a medical facility. The kids certainly found it’s cozy charm more appealing than a sterile doctor’s office. They didn’t seem to notice anything but the fun equipment in the OT room.  (They do amazing work in a very tiny space).

The biggest bright spot of all  is definitely the staff!  The impression they made felt a lot like relief.  They are professionals that are experts in their fields.  They understand the objective and are confident they will succeed.  They are warm and welcoming. They connect easily with each child and earnestly want to know the kids on a personal level.  They explained the program in terms the kids could understand. (For ex….Dr. Conway referred to Cannon’s brain as a Ferrari running on bad gas or not firing on all cylinders. He assure Cannon that when he leaves, his brain will be a full performance Ferrari).

The staff at The Morris Center have a passion for what they are doing, and that passion is contagious.   A program that offers such incredible results and leaves clients in awe deserves to have a cover that matches the inside.

HGTV, if you’re listening….I’ve found your next project…..and I can think of no other place that deserves it more than The Morris Center.

 

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