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.”  

We Are The Lucky Ones

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

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

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

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

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

They Will Continue to Learn and Grow

never stop learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every Child Deserves It

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

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

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

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

I have some thoughts….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Movie in My Mind…..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Morris Center

SCIENCE MATTERS WHEN IT COMES TO DYSLEXIA

science

I’ve had so many discussions about learning with parents of past, present and future clients of The Morris Center.  Parents from all over the world with one major thing in common……giving our children the best possible opportunity to reach their learning potential.  Individually we’ve studied and researched all we can to understand our children’s specific learning challenges and how to help them.  Individually we’ve invested and immersed our children into programs that didn’t meet our expectations.  These disappointments have left us feeling helpless and our children discouraged.  But with each failure, we refused to give up.  In our search for an answer, each on our own, found The Morris Center.  While there’s been trepidation and uncertainty, we’ve all come to the same conclusion.  The Morris Center is legit!

When I first heard about The Morris Center, I thought, “Cool, another intervention, claiming to be the answer.”  I just added it to my long list of programs to look into down the line.  When I finally took the time to look it up however, I thought, “man, this place is bold! They are making some really big claims about what they are able to do.”  The TMC website states, “on average, our clients with dyslexia jump one or more grade levels in reading in one month of treatment.”  I’m sorry, what??!!  One month? We are on year three of a program and haven’t seen that kind of growth.  That can’t be right.  So, I dug deeper. Who is this Dr. Tim Conway?  Like all good investigators, I googled him.  He’s a neuropsychologist (yeah, I had to google that word too just to make sure I knew what it was).   I found his TedxTalk,  “Mixing Oil and Water so Nearly Everyone Learns to Read.”  After watching the video I was intrigued.   In my search for information I found a lot of testimonials about how great TMC is and how it had “changed their child’s life.”  Okay, but who are they?  Are they actors?  Paid spokespersons?  I was hearing the good, but I wanted to find the bad reviews.  I was looking for someone to prove it was too good to be true.  Alas, my search came up empty.  There simply weren’t people talking about how bad this program was.  When I googled other reading programs however, I found a multitude of reviews, both good and bad.  So what’s the difference?  While browsing the TMC  website again, this got my attention:

“TMC changed his life” is a common response we receive after our teams’ treatment. One of the most misunderstood aspects of helping children and adults improve their functional skills is the difference between making weak skills stronger versus learning compensatory “strategies” to cope with weak skills. TMC’s known for using research-based methods, the proper intensity and frequency of treatment and a foundational approach to make weaker skills become stronger – improving functional abilities & leading to long-term improvements.

Dr. Tim Conway, Research Neuropsychologist and Director

Research-based methods…  Isn’t every program “research-based?”  Sure, lots claim to be.  But where can I find this research? And what is the average growth for clients receiving treatment?  I looked but either didn’t find this information on their websites or the information was vague.  When I checked The Morris Center website however, there was a tab just for RESEARCH.  Go ahead and see for yourself. You can read all about it.  I did and immediately noticed something different from other explanations of programs……the terminology. It didn’t sound “educational.”  It sounded “medical.” (neural networks, neural plasticity, functional neuroimaging, left hemisphere, normalization of the activation).   Essentially, the approach is less about helping my kids learn to “cope” with their learning disabilities, and more about rewiring their weak skills to be stronger.  Hmmm…. okay, prove it.  I want to see the proof.  With one click, I was able to see the results of 25 years worth of research TMC has to back up their claims.  Real results. Sustained results.  And a new way of looking at dyslexia for me.  I’ve been told (not by my School district or the educators at my school – they have done an exceptional job with the interventions that have been available to them) my child was born with this and their brain is just wired differently.  I’ve learned that’s not true. Brains are wired the same, but some have inefficiencies (weakness).  I’ve been told my kids will always have to work harder than their peers.  Not true. The Morris Center can “strengthen the processes and develop the skills that are weak. As weak skills become stronger, then learning becomes more efficient and the child or adult feels more competent and confident. TMC helps them unlock their hidden, true potential. Self-esteem comes from success.”  Okay.  Even though it sounds too good to be true, I can’t ignore the opportunity in front of us.  If I can make something easier for my kids, I’ll do it!  So we did. Good move.  TMC is definitely delivering on their bold claims!   It’s been a relief to see dyslexia differently and to actually watch my kids grasp things they couldn’t before.  I see less frustration in their faces and more confidence in their eyes.  I see them recognizing how this is helping and starting to dream bigger dreams. Isn’t that what we all want.  So now more than ever, I’m convinced…..SCIENCE MATTERS!

Self-Confidence is a SUPERPOWER!

2We all want to feel confident.  Confident in who we are, what we believe, and in what we do.  For some people, confidence seems to be a part of their DNA.  I wish I was one of those people. I admit, I’m not the poster child for it.  In my teens, and in the hurricane that is middle school, I probably lost myself a few times and chose to be a wallflower. Insecurity seems like a rite of passage for us all at some point in our formative years and I was not immune to its wrath.

Probably because of my own struggles, I was determined to make sure my kids felt confident in themselves (Cue the self-help/parenting books….I’ve read them all).  I did it all: praising, affirming, supporting, encouraging,  trying new things, staying involved in their interests, nurturing their creativity, staying positive.  I was in for all of it!  And it worked….at first.  I can “confidently” say all three of my kids started Kindergarten with good self-esteem.  They didn’t doubt their abilities.  They felt confident in their abilities. ENTER DYSLEXIA.

I wish I could say they remained solid in who they were and believed the hype that they could be ANYTHING!  But they didn’t.  Even with all my effort, I couldn’t avoid the slow decline of their confidence.  With each child, I saw shifts in how they viewed themselves and it broke my heart.  Now, I know confidence and self-esteem are developed from more than just academics, but their learning difficulties played a major part in their regression.  With every new year and new academic challenge, I saw them begin to falter.  And I couldn’t do anything to stop it.  Here are some things I’ve experienced with my kids and my nephew in no particular order (and maybe some of you have had similar experiences with your own kids):

  • Refusing to read aloud (even at home).  Instead choosing to read silently to himself.
  • Recognizing in 1st grade that his friend never even studied and got 100% on spelling tests, while he had to study every night to pass the test, only to forget how to spell all the words by Monday.
  • In 2nd grade Cannon started interventions.  He was horrified about being pulled out of class (more so than most kids his age).  He just “knew” his friends thought he was dumb because they kept asking him where he was going (probably only happened a few times).  My solution: “tell them you’re going to spy class with no explanation.”  By the end of the year, all of his friends wanted to go to spy class too.  It worked!  But only for a year.
  • AR reading….enough said.  For a kid that struggles to read, it’s defeating to hear how  many points your friends have.
  • Million Word Club…see above
  • Using audiobooks while others read books only made them feel like they stand out even more in class. So they would refuse the audio option and read (suffer) in silence pretending to comprehend.
  • Academic Awards…..  It’s hard to see your friends with all their certificates and medals as you walk out empty-handed. (Side note:  I believe those kids should be celebrated, 100%! I have one of those kids too.  Just in a more sensitive way to those that aren’t receiving awards.  I’m forever thankful to the teachers who handed them out in a sealed envelope rather than individually…. and everyone got an envelope).
  •  Cannon describes himself, matter-of-factly…”I’m not one of the smart kids”
  • “I have to do this because I’m dumb.”
  • Avery dreaded library day because she had to get a book on her level and she couldn’t get the same color books her friends were getting. She started asking if she could go before school.
  • Cannon’s weekly papers went missing.  I would find them torn into pieces in the bottom of his backpack, often with the grade scribbled out.
  • Avery begged to watch Harry Potter out of the blue. After the movie, she said, “I wanted to watch so I can understand what my friends are talking about. They’ve already read 3 of the books so I only have two more movies to watch to catch up.”
  • If you ask Avery what she wants to be when she grows up, she’ll say an artist.  I love it!  But at The Morris Center, she’s made it clear that she doesn’t see herself going to college because she’s not smart enough. She was shocked to hear some artists actually attend COLLEGE!
  • If homework involves writing, Avery will ask me to spell every word rather than even trying to write because she doesn’t want to make a mistake.
  • In 3rd grade, my girl who has loved school since the first day of pre-school was suddenly crying and begging me not to take her, saying, “It’s too hard.  It’s too much.  I can’t do it.”
  • We left for Florida 2 weeks before school ended for the year.  Avery: “mom, you know the one thing I’m sad about the school year being over for me?  I never made it to the blue group.  You know, with all my friends.  That’s the smart group.  I was just in the middle group.” 
  • Brady was late to after-school tutoring every day.  Upon investigation, we learned he was hiding in the hallway to wait for his friends to leave the room so they didn’t know he was staying for tutoring.
  • In middle school it’s embarrassing for Cannon to have to take standardized tests in a “special room” so it can be read to him.  He asked to just stay in the classroom.

HERE’S THE GOOD NEWS…..  Since arriving at The Morris Center, confidence is growing!  Self-doubt is fading and growth is happening!  You couldn’t have a more affirming environment.  I’m not talking about over-the-top, cheesy praise.  This is given matter-of-factly.  They started by offering praise while telling them what they did correctly/good.  Now they are empowering them to praise themselves, by verbally acknowledging what they did good/correctly. They are teaching them to believe in themselves and to feel confident in their work.  The staff asks questions like, “are you sure that’s right?’  Not because it’s wrong.  They ask it to teach our kids to confidently stick with their answers. Their overall demeanors have changed from serious/hesitant/sad/frustrated to relaxed/silly/engaged/energetic. Other things:

Cannon….  Cannon is reading books ON HIS OWN, during his break time, and saying he LIKES them.  This is huge considering I’ve NEVER seen him read by his own free-will.

Avery…. we are hearing more positive self-talk from her.  She is enjoying reading.   We took a picture of her in front of the Fine Arts Building at the University of Florida and told her she may end up going to college there.  When her dad asked about it this week, she said, “but Dad, I’m a Razorback!”

Brady…. he can tell this is helping and reading is getting easier.  He’s proud of his progress.  He’s reading signs along the road for the first time ever and he’s reading the words on his video games.

Small things make a HUGE difference.  They all see how the small steps they’ve mastered are helping to make learning easier.  Things that were hard before are easier now.   They like observation days when they get to show us all the progress they are making.  They are PROUD of themselves.  Every day we see their confidence grow.  Hoping that continues and they all begin to see just how amazing and SMART they have always been.

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.

 

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……