The Results Are In….

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

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

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

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

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

Lift Your Head High…. and keep it there!

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

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

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

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

Brady: What does “optical supplies” mean?

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

Brady: (pointed across the street at a business)

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

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

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

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

We Are The Lucky Ones

1

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

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

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

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

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

They Will Continue to Learn and Grow

never stop learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did I Really Just Do That???

It's Kind of Fun to Do The Impossible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Every Child Deserves It

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

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

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

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

I have some thoughts….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Movie in My Mind…..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Morris Center

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.

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…..