Run Your Own Race

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Get Out of Your Own Way!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing Good Ever Came Easy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me:  Oh yeah? What’s easier about it?

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

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

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

 

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

What’s OT Have to Do With It???

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VESTIBULAR                INTEROCEPTION                    PROCREOCEPTION

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

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

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

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

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

 

Wait! Could You Say That Again?

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

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

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

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

Do I even know you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Not So Sweet Dreams From Ocala

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

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

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

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

Brady: SHUT UP!!!!

Oh parting is such sweet sorrow….

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

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

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