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….

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.


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